Stryper: Bold as Lions
The boys from Stryper have a new bass player, a new album, a new energy, and can't wait for the world to hear their latest release, God Damn Evil, hitting the streets April 20, 2018. I had a chance to spin through the tracks half a dozen times, and I tell you, you won't be disappointed. If you loved the last two releases like I did (Fallen and No More Hell to Pay), then you're sure to love this new one. I caught up with and had the pleasure of chatting with Michael and discussing Stryper, the new release, and other topics of interest.
JM: Hey Mike, this is Jeff McCormack. We've talked a couple times in the past. I'm one of Doug Van Pelt's lackeys over at Heaven's Metal. MS: I know your name, and I know you, but I don't know who that Doug guy is at all. JM: Well he's not someone that's important anyway. He's just some slacker that tries to be somebody. That's why we don't let him talk to anyone anymore. MS: Exactly. (laughs) That's why I went out of my way not to know him. (laughs)
JM: So, let's jump right in. I have been listening to the new album for the past day or two, and really enjoying it. MS: Great, we're excited about it. We're waiting for 4/20 for everybody to hear it, and see what everyone thinks. JM: Tell us about this new chapter in Stryper. What was the process of finding a new bass player like? You mentioned elsewhere that Perry wasn't even on your radar. I've heard mention of Sean McNabb (Lynch Mob/Resurrection Kings/Quiet Riot/House of Lords) and Rudy Sarzo (Ozzy/Quiet Riot/Whitesnake/Dio) as early candidates — did you initially have a short-list of names you were interested in pursuing? MS: Yes, we had a short list, and the reason he wasn't on our radar is not because we didn't now who Perry was. It's just that he has been doing country for quite a while, playing with Trace Atkins and Craig Morgan, not doing the rock thing. So he wasn't on our radar, or probably anyone's radar in the rock genre. But once his name got mentioned, it was like yes, of course! Because we know what a talent he is, and what a great singer he is. We did have a few guys on the list, and yes, we were almost already doing a deal with Sean (McNabb), that was pretty much happening. But Sean was tied up with Lynch Mob, so it didn't work out, and then we hooked up with Perry. And yes, we had Rudy Sarzo and James LiMenzo on the list, and a few guys in mind. But we met Perry, and fell in love with him as a person, which is the most important part of it to us. Bass playing is important, singing is important, but what is most important to us - by like a thousand - is that they are a good guy, a good person, and Perry is that. So we made sure of that first and foremost, and then we heard him play, and we heard him sing, and he just blew our minds. And we said "dude, you're the guy!" and it was a done deal. JM: There are examples of other Christian bands that have included non-believing members. Was it a priority or requirement to find a bassist who was a Christian, or would the band have considered just finding someone who wasn't opposed to playing in a band with Stryper's message? MS: No, it wasn't a priority. I'm speaking for myself; it wasn't a priority of mine at all. Obviously if they were like an atheist, or a satanist, then chances are they're not going to be a member of Stryper. But what I mean by it not being a priority is, I'm guessing a lot of people out there, majority of people, have had experiences with Christian people —- people who call themselves Christians — who it really doesn't line up; their lifestyle or personality doesn't line up with what they say they are. So what's the point of that? If they say they're a Christian, they join the band, and then it ends up being a nightmare because they're not living that way. That's why it wasn't at the top of the list. Yes, it's important, yes it's great if they are, but is it something that has to be? No! We just wanted them to be a good person. And it just so happens that he (Perry) is a believer. But it wasn't like we sat him down first and said "Are you a believer? You have to be a believer, and if not, this isn't going to work out, and you can get back on the plane and fly home." It wasn't like that at all. I've played with non-believers in previous bands, solo stuff, etc. and it was no problem at all. Unlike if you get a believer in the band and it becomes a horror show. Having a believer doesn't always mean it is the right thing to do. I have experienced both sides of the coin. We just wanted (the new bassist) to be a good guy, and we got a good vibe from Perry. We felt initially that he was just an awesome dude. And then we heard him play — we had him learn five songs - and then we heard him sing, and thought this guy is amazing. JM: On the previous album, you acknowledge the name of God as being Yahweh; but titling the album Yahweh Damn Evil, while it makes the same statement and meaning, wouldn't have been as controversial. Stryper has had its share of being controversial in the past, usually unintentionally though. So what led to sticking your neck out into an obviously controversial area like this? Is it the mindset that even controversy breeds attention? MS: No, it's really not, and a lot of people have made their minds up that that is exactly what it is, and that it is why we do what we do, but the laugh is kind of on them because that's not at all why we do what we do. We choose titles, and we choose songs, and we choose a message that makes people think, that makes people talk, it makes people debate and that makes a statement. We don't just do it to make people go, "Oh my gosh." That has nothing to do with it. We chose God Damn Evil because...we had the title a few years back, but didn't go with it. We didn't feel like it was the right time to go with it, but we feel 2018 is the right time because of the times we live in, what we see in society, what we see on the news everyday. It seems like evil is escalating into new levels, to new heights. Like the Las Vegas shootings for instance, we just sat there horrified. For myself, I never imagined I'd ever see such a thing on this Earth. JM: And that is like right in Robert's back yard basically. MS: Yes, right in Robert and Oz's backyard. Oz was out playing a few miles away and had to pack up his gear and go home. Who would have imagined ever seeing such a thing? We have evil, sick people in our world, a lot of evil in this world. Some people would say God has already damned evil, it's already been done, but no it hasn't, not on Earth. So we just thought it was the perfect time to make the powerful statement. And it is not a swear (word), not being blasphemous, not taking the Lord's name in vain, it's a prayer request. It's asking God to please, God damn evil. People say you should have put the comma, you should have made it say damned, you should have done this, you should have done that, but no, we have done what we felt led to do, and that is exactly what we felt led to do. JM: What do things look like for the tour. Often times the tour is named after the latest album. Could you really call this the "God Damn Evil Tour," and what can we expect to see different for this tour? MS: We haven't titled the tour yet, but we might call it the God Damn Evil Tour, because that's what it is, and we'll be playing a lot of songs from the album live, including that one (title track). JM: I like the song, the song sounds great. MS: It's funny how some people — majority being Christian people — who want Stryper, and expect Stryper to follow their rules and regulations and convictions... JM: Legalism MS: Totally...totally. And it's really funny, because when you say things like that, they'll say "Wow!" But it's like, you can't see the log in your own eye...you're trying to remove the speck from someone's but can't see the log in your own? The sin that you carry, the legalism as you put it, it's just astonishing to me that people just don't get it. We're here to do something powerful, and we're going to keep fulfilling that plan. God's hand is on it, we believe that, and we're going to follow his lead. If it offends people, so be it.
JM: The new album still feels very Stryper-esque, and fits musically in line with the consistency of the last couple releases. Though "Take It to the Cross," the first single people heard, tended to reach for a heavier feel in the chorus, and includes a mild amount of growling guest vocals. What was the thought process that led you to go that direction? Were you trying to match the more modern heaviness of many bands? MS: We've got a lot of comments over the years from fans asking us to do something a little heavier, that bordered on thrash, so that was basically our solution and answer to that. We love heavy, we're a heavy metal band at the end of the day. Yes we do ballads, yes we do melodic poppier metal tunes on occasion, but we're a metal band, we always have been. We're enjoying showing our metal in the past few years. Some bands get a little lighter as they get older, we seem to be getting heavier, and we love it, we enjoy it. We're excited for people to hear the whole album, some songs in particular we're really excited about. Like "The Valley," which we have a video coming out for around release time. The video turned out so good, and we love the track. Another favorite of mine on there, that for some reason I keep playing over and over again, is "You Don't Even Know Me." It touches lyrically on the internet, and how people judge one another and yet haven't even met each other. It kind of wraps up our society in a nutshell.
JM: There is one song and it's placement on the album that reminds me so much of a previous album arrangement, and that is the last track, The Devil Doesn't Live Here. It is one of Stryper's heaviest and fastest songs, reminding me of... MS: It is, it is like a modern day Rock the Hell Out of You.
JM: EXACTLY! That is where I was going with it, the song and placement remind me so much of the layout of Against the Law, where you end an album with one of the most powerful and aggressive tracks. Now, you recently posted a list of songs the band is tightening up on for the coming tour. Are there any songs from the Stryper back catalog that the band refuses to play in concert? Someone along the way told me to ask you of your lack of love for Against the Law? Is it true, and if so, why? MS: Yes, it is my least favorite album, for a number of reasons. I think musically we changed way too much. It is not classic Stryper at all. You know, you create a sound, and then you totally walk away from the sound that made you, and that you were most successful with and at, and to take that and wad that up and throw it in the trash; which is what we kind of did on that album. We lost our color scheme, the yellow and black attack was gone. We took on this different persona, where we were trying to be bad, and tough, and mean, and we weren't that. We just became a completely different band.
It's funny, a lot of people love the album, and say it is their favorite album, but it is our least selling album to date. Out of all of our albums, it is the least successful. So you have to take that into account. Many, many fans did not like it either. I put it at the bottom of my list. I don't listen to that album ever, but I do pop in Soldiers. Soldiers is my favorite Stryper album, without question, for many reasons, easily. JM: If I had to make a choice, Yellow and Black Attack ranks high, but probably more for nostalgia sake. It was the first Christian metal album I bought, in my world of owning very much secular metal at the time. I was always a church goer, but never liked any Christian rock I was exposed to, so I stuck with secular metal. But that first album changed things for me, I wore it out in the day, so it hold a near and dear place in my heart.
MS: (Laughs) I put Yellow and Black Attack right next to Against the Law, again for a number of reasons. It obviously was the break for us, and put us on the map, but I feel we were really young, and hadn't come into our own until Soldiers, and certainly then To Hell with the Devil. We were pretty immature musically and lyrically, and I didn't like the mix or production on that album. Then the remix, with the added two songs, was even worse. I can't even listen to that thing. I think I listened to it like one time back when we mixed it, and I literally chucked it out the window. I think the remix was horrific; I can listen to the original mix, but the remix I can't listen to. It is just drowned in reverb and there is no punch to it at all. JM: Well, speaking of the beginning, so much has changed in the past 30+ years since you started. What is the most significant change in the way the band approaches its business and image from the early days until today? MS: We've learned a lot the hard way, and through those hardships, we've gotten stronger become a better band. We've refined everything, I believe. We've matured, and grown into our own, and figured things out. We have a formula, and a way of doing things that just works. I think that is why the last three albums (including the new one coming) have turned out so spectacular. JM: You've commented in the past on the sad state of CD sales and the weakening of a once strong music industry. Stryper was there during the stronger days, with big money put into bands, and you're here now when that is not the case. What are the major difference and what has been changed in the band's business to make it work? MS: We have to be creative, and smart, and invest money, and put money aside for a rainy day. And not over-saturate, a lot of of bands do that, they tour every year, and release stuff every year, and your numbers start to dwindle, we've actually seen it and lived it. We try to tour every other year, and we're just trying to be smart about how we do things. I think that has really contributed to our perseverance and being able to survive. We're in a good place right now, we really are.
JM: It seems there is a new burst of interest in the world of vinyl creation and sales - I bought the new album on vinyl by the way. Do you see it as just a handful of old school fans being nostalgic, or a possible new surge in returning to physical sales? MS: I don't know. Yes, there is a surge in vinyl, but not in CDs. CDs are becoming obsolete, and some people don't want to receive or accept that, but that is where I think it is going. Vinyl is always going to be in demand to a degree, because it is a collectible. Most CDs aren't, because they are mass produced and there is nothing really special. But when you produce vinyl, and only make a thousand, or a certain number that are yellow, and some that are blue, and some that are signed, etc. it makes for a real rarely and a collectible, and that's why people want it. Plus vinyl sounds great. JM: That is my next question, what are your personal thoughts on vinyl vs CD/digital? MS: Well, CDs are convenient, you put it in and it always sounds the same. It's easy, you get in your car and it goes with you, where you don't have a vinyl player in your car. But there is something really cool about vinyl and the way it sounds. There is a great sound to it, and we actually mixed the new album differently for vinyl. JM: That is great to hear, I love it when bands do that and take advantage of the wider range of sound that vinyl has over compressed digital formats. MS: Right, for sure. JM: You probably get tired of the same questions over and over from people like me. So, is there any question or questions that you wish would get asked, but never do? Also, so you know, this interview will be the cover story for Heaven's Metal Magazine online. Anything special you'd like to tell our readers or to rally the Christian metal community or a challenge to them? MS: We just appreciate all of the prayers over the years. Been here 34 years and still going, and we know it has been due in part to prayer. We're blessed to have so many people out there to support what we do, to still be here 34 years later, talking to you. It's amazing and we're just so blessed. God has done so much with this band, and I feel is going to do a lot more. We look forward to the future, and hope to see everyone out there at the shows, and we're just thankful. That's all I can say.