When I think about the band Stryper, I think about high school for some reason. I’m not sure why since I typically listened to bands like Mötley Crüe, Metallica and Skid Row, but for some reason I still always liked Stryper. It could be that one of my best friends growing up labeled them as his favorite band and they were all we listened to when we hung out. Regardless, I always had a respect for Stryper because they were doing something different. Yes, they used to look like bumblebees playing hard rock music, but they were pioneers. They were the first ever Christian heavy metal band to hit the mainstream music world. They became the anti-Iron Maiden and the anti-Slayer, who used to promote the numbers “666” as the number of Satan. Stryper would trademark the “777” symbol, which became popular among the Christian metalheads.
Stryper saw much of their success in the mid-’80s when their third CD, To Hell With The Devil, hit the top of the charts with songs like “Calling On You,” “Free” and the chartbuster “Honestly.” Once the ’90s hit, Stryper had a tough time surviving through the grunge era and the band parted ways, but in 2000, they somehow reunited at a Stryper Expo, which was held right here in Jersey of all places. Last year, Frontiers Records released Stryper’s first studio CD in five years, No More Hell To Pay, which received some amazing reviews from their fans.
Last month, Stryper released their third live CD in 30 years, Live At The Whiskey, which they recorded live at the legendary L.A. club last November. Stryper bring their live show to B.B. King’s in New York City this Saturday night (10/4). I got a call from Stryper singer Michael Sweet to talk about the new live CD, all things Stryper and his new project with George Lynch, Sweet Lynch. Here’s how our chat went:
After 30 years together as Stryper, you’ve put out your second live CD?
Technically, it’s the third live CD. We came out with Live In Puerto Rico and then we came out with Live In Indonesia. This one is a little different in the sense that it’s set in a small club. So, it’s a much different setting and because of that, the audio quality, I think, is better. And it’s just more of an intimate feel overall. It’s really cool. I’m really proud of it. I’m excited and I can’t wait for people to see it and hear it.
Was the Whiskey the only choice to record this live CD? Or was it the best sounding recording of all the clubs you’ve played?
No, actually the first choice was to go to Nashville. This was an idea that I had, and instead of doing a typical live concert recording, I wanted to have them come in and film us rehearsing and then bring in a crowd and do like a soundstage environment and record us in front of a real small crowd of 100 to 150 people. And I thought, “That would be kind of cool.” That didn’t work out.
So, our next option was to do it in a small club. We instantly thought of the Whiskey because that’s where we began. I mean, the first time I played there, I was 15, almost 16 years old, and I just thought, “This is where we began. We’ve played here many times. The Whiskey is such a historical heart and piece of the L.A. club scene, and we just thought this would be perfect.” They were into it and really excited. All the numbers worked out. All the schedules worked out and that’s why we did it at the Whiskey.
Why a live CD as opposed to another studio record?
Well, that’s what we were contracted for. That’s what the label we’re signed to now, Frontiers Records, wanted. That was part of the deal. That’s what they offered. The first album was to do a re-record album, which was Second Coming. The next album in the deal was to do an all-original studio album, which was No More Hell To Pay. And the third album that they requested was the live album. We just gave them what they wanted and what was in our agreement. We certainly could have and would have done a new studio album, but I guess that’s to be saved for another time. That’s actually what we’re negotiating and talking to them about. We’re planning on going into the studio in January of 2015 to start recording our next studio album.
I’m looking at the setlist on Live At The Whiskey, and it seems all your hits are there except for one. Why leave that one out?
You must be talking about “Honestly.” (Laughs) I don’t know. I took a guess. That’s one of those songs that people either love it or they hate it. That was our biggest hit. That was a song that took that album, To Hell With The Devil, just over gold status to almost double platinum status overnight. So, it was a very successful song for us.
But the reason why we left it out… there were a couple of reasons. The first and most important is that legally, we couldn’t record it, because we had done a re-record of that song not long before that with a company called Cleopatra, and they released it on a compilation. So, we had a re-record clause with them. The other reason that kept us for doing so was the fact that we just felt that we’ve got enough recordings of “Honestly,” and we just thought maybe we’d put it on the shelf this one time around and give it a rest for a little while. As a matter of fact, I think that night we did an arrangement of it, where we cleaned the guitars up and gave it a Latin flavoring, and to be honest, we didn’t want to put it on there because it didn’t turn out as well as expected.
A few years back, a band I was playing with opened a few shows for Stryper, and during soundcheck, I heard you guys tear through Maiden and Sabbath, which were technically the anti-Stryper-type of bands. Then you covered them on your CD, The Covering. Was there any backlash from the fans on those choices? Because I thought you guys sounded amazing on them…
There was a little bit of backlash mainly from our hardcore die-hard Christian fans, but I think most people got what we were doing because I’ve explained it many times. It’s not anything out of the ordinary. We were just trying to show people who were interested, which over the years had been almost everybody in our musical history. Over and over again, we were asked, “Who influenced you?” And that was the one opportunity to say in one album, “Here’s our influences.” All of these bands—Van Halen, Priest, Maiden, Sabbath. Oz [Fox, guitarist] listened to Sabbath as a teenager. That was his favorite band. And when Van Halen came onto the scene, they were all of our favorite band. All these bands that we covered just really influenced us musically and our sound. The Stryper sound, you can hear Priest and Van Halen and certain points of other bands in our music.
That being said, would you say that yours and Oz’s characteristic harmonic double leads were influential to a lot of today’s metal bands playing those types of guitars in their songs?
Certain times, yeah, I do! Sometimes, I have to do a head spin and say to myself, “Gosh, did Oz and I track that?” I hear it on occasion in the Avenged Sevenfold stuff. I hear the tone, I hear the phrasing and I think, “Okay, that guy had to listen to some Stryper albums growing up.” Which is really awesome! I don’t really know because I’ve never met them. It’s funny, though; all the time I meet people and run into people I’ve never met before who share with me… For instance, I ran into Clint Lowery from Sevendust. We were on a plane together and he told me that he cut his teeth on and grew up listening and playing to some of the old Stryper albums like Soldiers Under Command and whatnot. It’s really cool to hear those kinds of things. It’s very awesome.
Another question I always wanted to ask was I noticed that your brother Rob’s kit for both shows we played with you was always set up sideways. Is he more comfortable playing it that way?
I think so. There’s a debate as to who started doing that. I know the drummer for Night Ranger does it and he started doing it way back in the day. Rob started doing it way back in the day. I don’t know exactly when. It might have been right when we started performing as Stryper in ’83 or ’84. I don’t know who did it first, but Rob has always done that.
I think it may be one of those things to be different and it’s more comfortable for him. I don’t really know why, but fans seem to like it. He still does it. Every now and then he’ll turn around and face forward just to throw people off. Rob’s got his own style and I think it’s influenced a lot of other drummers. I think it even influenced—some people will laugh and call me a putz for saying this—but I think he’s even influenced Tommy Lee to a degree. We were playing for years before Mötley Crüe was around as Roxx Regime, and Rob was doing the arm behind the head and the heavy hand hitting the cymbals and the high hats and that style, which is comparable to the old Tommy Lee kind of thing, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that. Tommy Lee would probably want to hunt me down and kick my butt for saying that, but…
We won’t go there since we know you’ve already been in hot water with Nikki Sixx. With bands doing full album concerts these days, is there any chance of ever seeing a To Hell With The Devil in its entirety concert?
I think so. The times have to call for it. If the demand is there and at the end of the day… Look, we don’t do this for the almighty dollar, but at the same time, we gotta get paid. We can’t go out to pay to play. If the buyers are offering the money for us to be able to afford to have the outfits remade, put them on trucks with the big amps and the big show and everything to go lug around with the crew and have that overhead, then absolutely. I don’t know that there will be a demand for that. Maybe there will be and it would be pretty darn cool. I would love to go out and recapture the 1987 To Hell With The Devil-era when we were touring with TNT and Loudness and try to capture that. The lights, the sound, the look; that would be amazing!
Speaking of amazing, the last question I have for you is about this Sweet Lynch project you have with George Lynch. I heard a clip of the song called “Time Will Tell”… Mind blown!
Yeah, that’s really cool and that’s a really cool tune. We just recently released a song called “September.” It’s a really cool tune too. It doesn’t necessarily speak for the rest of the album. It’s definitely a bit of the odd man out in terms of stylistically, but it was really a relevant and powerful song for today’s times. We released it on 9/9, two days before the 9/11 anniversary, and it’s about 9/11.
But I am excited about this album because I have a particular style of singing and I can’t escape that. I’m not going to be something I’m not and try to sing like someone else because it’s just not going to be natural. That being said, this album is really different from Stryper, and when people hear it as a whole, they’re going to agree. It’s really cool, man. Some of the best playing I’ve heard in a long time and George, what’s really cool about it in regards to George, we all know and love George from the Dokken days because that’s what put him on the map and made everybody go, “Wow.” He’s still going strong and sounds great and this takes me back to those days. What he did on this album in terms of guitar, they take me back to the Dokken days, and that’s a good thing in a very good way.
I’m really excited for people to hear it. And you know what’s really cool about it, we just stuck to what we do best and that’s our roots. What we all grew up on. James [Lomenzo], Brian [Tichy], George and myself, we all grew up on that great music from the ’70s and the ’80s and we stuck to that, but in the same sentence, we put a little bit more of a modern production on it. I produced the album and I wanted to make sure that it had some modern sounds to it so it didn’t sound dates or cheesy, but musically, it took you back to that time. So, you can close your eyes and you feel like you’re back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and that’s what is really cool about the album.
Look for Sweet Lynch to hit shelves sometime in February, but I’m sure I will be talking to Michael again to promote that. For more on Michael Sweet, check out his autobiography, Honestly: My Life And Stryper Revealed, and don’t forget to grab the new Stryper live CD, Live At The Whiskey. Catch Stryper at B.B. King’s in NYC this Saturday night, Oct. 4. For more information, go to stryper.com.