Hot on the heels of just-released (and AMAZING!) new Stryper record No More Hell to Pay, lead singer and guitarist Michael Sweet agreed to sit down with me for an interview right before the Thanksgiving Holiday.
Now, I have been a Stryper fan since 1986, so to say I was nervous and excited is putting it mildly. It’s not every day you get to interview a legend of hard rock/heavy metal. I muddled through as best I could, and Michael was in great spirits, so we actually had a really, really nice chat. See?
Amps: Michael, before we start, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting you several times at in-stores and meet and greets, and you’ve always been so nice to my friends and I so this is huge for me right now.
Michael: Aww, well man, it’s a pleasure to be talking to you. Likewise!
Amps: All of my buddies back home in New York wanted me to ask this. How on earth are you singing as good, and at times better than ever after all these years?
Michael: (Laughs) well thank all your buddies, and thank you for thinking that. I don’t know that I necessarily agree. I’m trying to sing better than I did back then. My voice has changed a lot, I’ve lost a little bit of range, and it’s a little bit grittier and deeper. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a bad thing. I mean, so far it’s working in my favor. I’m counting my blessings from The Good Lord Above that I’m still able to sing. Some guys aren’t and that’s a real bummer. That’s sad. When you have a voice and you’ve been singing your whole life and then you can’t…I can’t even imagine that. Hopefully and prayerfully that day will never come for me.
Amps: You were very active on social media during the recording process. You issued a lot of statements that this was some of the best AND heaviest work you’ve done. Not only did you do that, but you totally backed it up. I want to know when YOU knew what a piece of gold you had in this record.
Michael: I just knew in my heart before we even started recording and before I arranged the songs. I had a bunch of ideas on my iPhone, just la-la melodies, me humming ideas into the phone at the grocery store, wherever. And I just had a feeling during those moments that this is gonna be our best album. I just knew it, maybe because of that confidence and going into it with that level of confidence is part of the reason why it ended up turning out so good. And I really still believe, and I’ve said it, I’ll keep saying it, that it’s our strongest album. And some people may not agree with that, and that’s OK. But I believe it’s our best album. It’s the album I get most excited about. And it has nothing to do with the fact that it’s our newest album, it’s just that I really dig the way it sounds and the flow of it and the energy from song to song. Every song has its own thing to say and its own signature. I just get really excited about this record.
Amps: Even though it’s a heavy album, my favorite song was “The One” right from jump as soon as I heard it. Do you have a favorite?
Michael: You know what? I have a few favorite tracks. I like ‘em all, but some songs I find myself hitting repeat on, songs like “Legacy” and “Renewed”, “Saved By Love”, those high-energy songs that are great for driving a Corvette down Route 1 at 100 miles an hour. Not that I’m encouraging anyone to do that (laughs), but just the energetic tunes on the record I’m really diggin’.
Michael: Well thank you, man, thank you! It’s a ballad, but it’s a little different for a Stryper ballad. It’s not your typical syrupy piano style, it’s more guitar-oriented, and certainly more of a rock ballad.
Amps: I did reviews of the record for a couple of outlets, and in one I said, “If Murder By Pride was a home run, then this one is a grand slam!”
Michael: Wow! That’s-that’s amazing dude, and thank you very much! Now, how do we top it? I hope we can. And I hope we do with the next album. You know there’s a lot more to come, we’ve got the live album coming out next year and we’ll probably go back in the studio end of next year, maybe early 2015 and do a new album, probably a Covering II, maybe a Third Coming to hit the songs on In God We Trust and Against the Law. So over the next two or three years we’re gonna be very busy.
Amps: So funny you bring up Against the Law. In the summer of ’90 I drove my girlfriend NUTS with it, “Two Bodies (One Mind One Soul)” in particular. I had just gotten my license, and that thing was in the tape deck constantly! I think she was ready to hurt me over that one!
Michael: (laughing) That’s awesome!
Amps: We’re talking about the record and how well it’s doing. How does all this overwhelmingly positive response make you feel? It’s been insane!
Michael: It has been, and it’s incredible! We’ve outsold any album since ’05 two to one and we live in an era where sales are declining. Practically every artist that releases a record every two or three years, they go down in sales. Some artists not as much, and some a lot. We outsold all our albums in the first and second week out. It feels really good and it gives a lot of hope, not just to the band but to the music industry. It’s cool to see record sales going up, at least for us, and maybe that’s gonna be a trend for other bands, and it would be nice to see. I don’t know why people are buying less albums these days, it’s all about the one song and that’s really sad.
Amps: I’m with you, I’m an album guy. I’m a drive-to-the-store, read-the-liner-notes kind of guy.
Michael: And there’s something to be said for that. It’s really cool to hold in your hand, and visually see it, listen to it as a whole, the entire album. Because bands write albums with a purpose and they sequence them with a purpose, not just for one song. But that’s the age we live in, though. It is remarkably sad, and I don’t know how we can turn that around.
Amps: I argue with a friend of mine all the time because he lives for that SHUFFLE button, and I scream, “NOOOO!!!” constantly.
Michael: I know!! Do you know how much time and thought goes into sequencing an album? Why not just take a book and shuffle the chapters around? It’s ludicrous.
Amps: I am FIERCELY Anti-Shuffle, so I’m with you there.
Michael: It’s even more heartbreaking when you work three months on an album, spend four or five months setting it up and you release it, and you see on iTunes the popularity scale of one song through the roof and the others have one bar.So everybody’s downloading the video song or whatever, and it’s like “Really?” I’d get it if the other songs weren’t any good, but I think this album is one of the rare exceptions where there’s no filler on it. It stands on its own.
Amps: You’re real good friends with Todd La Torre. The clip of you both doing “Surrender” on YouTube is excellent. Do you guys ever share your techniques for keeping your voices in shape?
Michael: Oh, Todd’s amazing. Better vocalist than I am, by far. But we just kind of just do our thing. We talk a lot, we’re buddies, and what a great guy who I respect immensely and I support him even more so. He’s the real deal, no doubt about it.
Amps: What did you think of Queensrÿche’s new self-titled release?
Michael: I love it, I really do. I feel like they’re getting back to their roots. And that’s what more bands should do, that’s what we did. It saddens me when I’m a fan of a band and I go buy their album that’s been worked on for the past ten years, and you put it on and it’s like, “What is this?? Really? You couldn’t do better than this and you had ten years to do it?” And Queensrÿche got back to their roots with Todd La Torre and they gave the fans what they wanted.
Amps: Absolutely. I do have to tell you this: I do a Top 10 list of albums every year, and I THOUGHT I had my list set, but along came November 5th and somebody had to go and change that, didn’t they??
(Is this happening? Am I really scolding Michael Sweet??)
Michael: (Laughing) well I hope we’re on it! I didn’t do it on purpose. That’s funny, man. You know, a lot of great records came out this year. The Winery Dogs, what a great record, Queensrÿche , I’m a big fan of the new Dream Theater, too. I think the album is helping keep rock and metal alive. They’re a great band. Alter Bridge put out a great, great record as well. A lot of good stuff to pick from. It really is cool to see. It’s waving that flag and keeping rock alive. There is something MAJOR to be said for rock records and rock bands, man.
I feel like sometimes country kind of, and I love country, I grew up on it, but it kind of takes the lead and sadly rock records, some great ones get swept under the carpet. And that’s a bummer to see, man, for me, anyway.
Amps: I agree with you. I’m a country guy, too. I pretty much live and die for Carrie Underwood (Michael laughs), can’t lie about that.
Michael: I love it too, man. And what’s funny about it, if you take the vocal out of half the country songs on the radio now, they’re rock records. With country anything goes and that’s cool. I actually have on my solo album coming out, I cut a couple songs, a remake of “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young, and I’ve got Alexa Mustaine, Dave’s daughter singing on it. And I’ve got one called “Coming Home” that’s pretty much a straight-ahead country rock song. The track’s got steel guitar and all with me singing it. And then I’ve got the edgy side of the record, there’s a song with Doug Aldrich from Whitesnake doing a solo, got one with Tony Harnell (T.N.T.) on it, and those are tracks that could have made it onto No More Hell to Pay. Doug has the perfect blend of rock and blues, he’s phenomenal. And a guy who’s right in line with him is John Sykes, that great combination of the two.
Michael: We’re doing lots of dates. Some here, then we’re going over to Europe and doing some dates in May. We’re coming back to the States, then going overseas again. We’re gonna be doing a lot of back and forth, and we’re also doing Mexico for the first time. We’re planning on going to Australia, Japan which is long overdue. We haven’t been there since 1989. We’re gonna be touring a lot next year. We’re really blessed. And we’ve gotten a lot of help from sites like Noisecreep, we love having the number one video almost four weeks going.
Amps: I voted! I voted!
Michael: Thank you! What’s cool is that it can inundate your life so you can literally get nothing done but vote for us on Noisecreep (laughing)!
Amps: You have such a rabid fan base. When my album review went live, the fans hit my site from every corner of the world, Michael.
Michael: We have a really strong core base of fans out there. And we’ve retained that for a really long time, which gives us an edge because our fans are so loyal. A lot of bands, their fans come and go, maybe tastes change or whatever. Stryper has kept that fan base, and we wouldn’t be here without them, we really wouldn’t be.
Amps: Anything else you’d like to say to your fans across the globe?
Michael: We love all of you. You know that, and we always will. God Bless all of you and have a Happy belated Thanksgiving, a Merry Christmas and we look forward to seeing you all on the road. And you too, Damian. I look forward to seeing you out there and meeting you.
And with that I left Michael Sweet to go and finish his Thanksgiving preparations. He was also beaming over the fact that he just became a Grandfather and couldn’t wait to spend more time with the little guy. In an ever-increasing world of “Me-first” and disingenuous people, it’s so nice to talk to someone who is just a great guy, and a true music fan. Pick up No More Hell to Pay wherever records are sold and crank it. This is arguably Stryper’s best work yet.