An interview with Michael Sweet of STRYPER - talking 'Fallen'!
Prior to the release of Strypers latest creation - 'Fallen', we had a chance to chat with leading man, Michael Sweet, focusing specifically on the new release and Stryper history!
Michael was a pleasure to talk to, and it made for great conversation. Some discussion has been cut for ease of reading, but it likely to be used in a forthcoming article.
SC: First of all, big congratulations on what is an outstanding album! It really hasn't stopped coming through the speakers for quite a few weeks now!
MS: Thank you so much! I'm glad to hear you like it.
SC: A lot of the material on this album could be contenders to be what some may consider to be among the strongest Stryper tracks in quite some time; maybe, the strongest Stryper tracks since the early days. Did you recognise this in the process of making this album?
MS: I did! And I'm curious... What are a couple songs that come to your mind from the album? What would you choose?
SC: I'd definitely have to say 'Fallen'. The vocals on that particular track are very strong. I really like the sound variation in 'Love You Like I Do' because it seems to be one of the big contrasts on the album, and the opening track 'Yahweh'... the work that must have gone into that track alone...
MS: It's so great to hear you say this! I have my favourites, I get really excited when I hear 'Yahweh' because it's so different and fresh for us, and it's quite epic, just over six minutes long and it's got so many tempo changes and whatnot. It's really unlike anything we've ever done before. I like 'Fallen', I like 'Pride', which we have a new music video coming out for this friday. The sleeper track for me is 'King Of Kings', and I don't know what it is, but it's really grown on me and I don't know why. I'm very pleased that Stryper, as a band, have been able to, somehow, figure out how to merge, quite well, the old with the new. It has that classic sound to it - the eighties thing - but it also has a little bit of a modern sound to it as well, so I'm very happy with what we're doing lately and I hope that we can continue down this path.
SC: You definitely have a complimentary contrast of both old and new. Has your writing and production style changed much from the early days, in order to achieve this sound?
MS: It's changed a little bit, it's similar, in terms of... we don't track it live, in a room together. We go in, I'll put down scratch guitar, then we'll track drums, then we'll track bass, and then we'll track real guitars. We do that a little different to the way we did it before, back in the old days. Other than that, it's very similar. Of course, we're tracking in the digital realm, we're in Protools now. Back then we were on two inch analogue tapes and we would lock the machines together to get 48 tracks, so on and so on. I like what technology allows you to do... the way you can save things, there’s no generation loss, y'know. In the old days, if you kept recording a guitar solo twenty times, you'd start to get generation loss on the tape itself. You had to be very careful of that. Now, in Protools, you don't come across that and it just makes things a little easier in terms of saving and tracking. The thing you have to watch, though, is you can 'perfect' things. With Protools you can fix pitch, and you can fix timing. You can go into a very sterile, over-produced direction very quickly and you want to be careful of that, and Stryper tries to schedule a time, and then we go in and we get the album done in that time. The guys go in and we have two weeks to track all the basics, and that’s it! It’s like, “come on guys! Let's go go go!” We're not sitting there, trying to make everything perfect, like we used to, like on 'In God We Trust', for example.
SC: By now, you've got the experience to get in the studio and get things done, because you know your general sound, and what you have to do, but how long did it take to write the lyrical and musical content for 'Fallen'?
MS: When I tell people this, the album 'Fallen' was written in just shy of ten days, they don't quite believe it! It was very fast! It's been a very busy year and I had a window of opportunity to write the album, and, unfortunately, that was right before the guys came out to learn the album and I only had a short period of time before I went and celebrated my wedding anniversary. When I came home, the guys came out. Part of me was a little insecure, thinking this album isn't as good as it should be.. blah blah blah, but I think it wound up being okay!
SC: It's definitely more than okay! I was actually going to touch on the subject of pre-launch response to this album. How have Stryper fans reacted, so far?
MS: So far, good on both sides and people are enjoying what they're hearing. We get people asking if there’s a song that's a little bit more 'typical' melodic Stryper, and I think there's a few on there that they just haven't heard yet, like 'Love You Like I Do' and the ballad 'All Over Again', so I think that when they hear the whole album they'll be quite pleased, at least I really hope so.
SC: What was each individual’s input on this record, does anyone in particular take the reins?
MS: Well, it's pretty much the same as it's always been. I have the majority of the input and it's not because I'm beating everybody down and being the dictator and claiming it to be my way or the highway, because it's not that easy at all. We've all come to the conclusion that I write a particular style of song and that style is the classic Stryper sound that we've established. The other guys write too, but they write songs that typically aren't necessarily or usually the Stryper sound. That's why I wrote most of the songs. Y'know, Oz contributes ideas and everyone has their parts and sections and we'll talk about trying different things, and it adds so much, but for the most part, I put everything together, here in my house, by myself.
SC: Have you ever found it overwhelming to be a classic rock band, making new music in 2015? Do you feel like you've got anything to compete with?
MS: Well, you know what, oddly enough, there's less competition now. I don't feel competitive. I just do it because I love it. There's no radio for our band, we get very little radio airplay, but that does mean we're not under pressure to write radio hits and songs for that purpose, so we kinda get to do our own thing and have some of that freedom, and because of that, I'd say it takes the pressure off.
SC: Have you noticed a change in your fan base over the years? if so, in what way.
MS: The fan base has definitely changed a bit. After the break-up in, when I left in 92, we didn't do anything new until 2003, so we lost some of our fan-base, but we've been regaining that over the years, and I think Stryper is at a very strong point now. I think we're at a really good place in our history and our career and I feel that we're at our peak! I know the numbers don’t necessarily line-up with that, but the music industry is so crazy right now, with record sales and all that, but that’s just how it is. We go out and play sold-out shows and our albums do well, and people get excited, so it just feels like a great time right now.
SC: I don't want to go into the religion/Faith side of the music too much, because I think it's important to focus on Stryper as a hard rock band... But do you find that the topic of Faith in music is a little less of an issue with people now, whether they believe, or not?
MS: Well, I think we've come a long way, from the eighties, certainly but I still think we have a long way to go. For some reason, we feel and see discrimination at times, because of what we are and what we sing about, but, you know what? Compared to 85-87 I think we've really come forward leaps and bounds and I'm very happy to see that. I'm all about fairness and if you're going to allow this band to do this and sing about the devil and whatever, you should probably allow us to do what we do.
SC: Sure! There tends to not be so much talk about the likes of the more 'traditional' heavy metal music and the lyrics they choose, but then you've got Stryper, working ridiculously hard, producing music that's just as heavy, but being criticised because of the focus of the lyrics.... it seems very unfair.
MS: Exactly, I couldn't agree more. It isn't fair in those times when we are discriminated against or we lose a show because of it, or even a tour. Sometimes it gets back to us from our agent that we weren't able to play this festival, or get this tour because we're a Christian band. I just think “Wow! Really?” We're a rock band that just so happens that we're Christian guys. First and foremost, we're a band and we go out there and play great shows, we have fun and it certainly doesn't feel like you're going to church when you see Stryper play!
SC: There's a lot of people releasing records this year that are a million miles away from their older material. If a Blackie Lawless fan can get to grips with it, surely, soon enough, a lot of people will have to be a little more accepting.
MS: Absolutely! I respect Blackie, because he has turned his life around and you have to applaud him. That's a brave thing to do.
SC: Let's talk about the inspiration for the album, is it solely based on Christian faith?
MS: Our main inspiration always goes back to God. It comes from God's love, His grace and mercy, and this album is no different. A lot of the songs are based on the Bible, and taken directly from the Bible and they're just positive lyrics. We want the listener to hear our music and actually be encouraged and be inspired in a positive way. I'm not sure about you, but I know that when I was a kid there was music that had a negative effect on me and made me feel a bit weird. I might not have known what it was about, but it did something, and that's the power of lyrics. It goes in your head, your brain is a sponge and it absorbs the information and if all we have going into our mind is angst, sex, drugs, over and over again, it makes an impression on us. Stryper is a band that made a commitment to try to give people the polar opposite of that, which is just good, positive stuff.
SC: There's been a lot of reviews of 'Fallen' that pick up on the positive energy. I think everyone’s feeling that side of the album, they’re also picking up on the progression of Stryper that we touched upon earlier.
MS: That’s good! Some people are into the really dark stuff, and that’s fine. Whatever. But, in simple terms, we try to shine a light in the dark, and that's what we've been doing for 32 years. It's good to know that people hear the difference, considering back then, we looked like drag queens! *laughs*
SC: Stryper have been known to pull-off some incredible covers in their time, and the cover of Black Sabbath's 'After Forever' on the latest album is no shortfall... How did you come to choose this track?
MS: It may be be a shock to some, but Sabbath is one of our favourite bands. We grew up on mainstream, secular music and we weren't Christians our whole lives, you know? We listened to bands like Deep Purple, Iron maiden, Judas Priest, UFO, Van Halen... We loved all these bands and we played this music. To me, I felt like doing a Black Sabbath song - 'After Forever' would fit the album musically, and even more so, lyrically. I've been referring to them as the first Christian band, and people get a kick outta' that, but a lot of Sabbath's lyrics are 'Christian', they really are.
SC: Sure. when you get past the typically dark Iommi riffs and melodies and focus on the lyrics, a lot of the tracks are dominated by suggestions of Christian Faith, probably more so than anything else.
MS: They are, most definitely! It's quite shocking as they have a label of being a dark/Satanic band and they're really not.
SC: Last but not least... Do you plan to tour in the UK during 2016, at all?
MS: Absolutely! We plan to tour the UK next year, we just don't know exactly when. We're planning out a worldwide tour just now and will definitely tour the UK.
Interviewer: Christiane Robinson