Stryper’s Michael Sweet shows no signs of (and has no desire to be) slowing down anytime soon. With the release of his latest solo record, One Sided War, this will be Michael’s busiest year. Michael sat down with Shockwave for a very intimate and in-depth interview about his new album, Stryper’s 30th anniversary tour, his accidental tribute to Gene Wilder and the origins of the Stryper logo.
So, I have to start off by saying that I’m definitely excited for you because you have another new album in the Michael Sweet world. As of, literally last Friday, your new album, One Sided War, is out.
Yeah it’s crazy, I’m blessed and I’m thrilled. It always seems a bit like a whirl-wind to me because there’s so much going on from interviews, to touring, to recording and flying and busing and training and all of that kind of stuff and it’s a blur, but a good blur.
Absolutely, but I can’t imagine that you’d want it any other way.
I don’t know that I could have it any other way, it’s just not my makeup and my personality. I love turning that knob up to ten all the time, man, and just cranking it and going forward, fast forward. I love it.
Let’s talk about One Sided War. It just came out on Rat Pak Records just a few days ago and so far, with the reception, how are you feeling about it?
I’m feeling great about it. I try, very hard, not to get caught up it the numbers. As we all know, it today’s music world, the numbers are terrible so you can’t go by the numbers. I’m just thrilled to be working with a label that believes in me, a label that wants to work with me, that has a vision for what I do and is just equally as excited about it as I am, and I feel that with Rat Pak Records. So, obviously, Stryper has a deal with Frontiers and just to be sitting here 32 years later from when we first formed and we still have record deals and we still have funds and finances to be able to make the music we want to make, and to be able to go tour, it’s really miraculous. I never take that for granted and I thank God everyday for it, and I’m thrilled to be able to sit here and tell you that.
When it comes to making a solo record, what is it about your solo material that differs from what you can do with Stryper?
It’s not like I sit down and I plan it all out and have a sheet in front of me and I say, “I want to do this, I want to do that, I want to make this different, I want to make that different.” I don’t do it that way at all. When it’s time to do a Stryper album, I write the songs. When I have twelve songs, I teach them to the guys and we go record them. Same thing with the solo album. There are times, it’s rare, but there are times when I do write a song for Stryper, if I’m downstairs in my studio writing songs for a “Stryper” album, where I might take that song and put it away and say, “I don’t know if this really fits on this album.” But, that’s super rare. For the most part, those 12 songs, that’s what’s going on the Stryper album. Those 12 songs, that’s what’s going on the Michael Sweet album. Sometimes there’s similarities, like I’ve had people ask me why couldn’t “Save Me” [Truth album] have gone on a Stryper album or why can’t “Golden Age” or “Bizarre,” [One Sided War album] why couldn’t those have gone on a Stryper album. I’m getting that right now online, people are asking me why couldn’t you have made that part of a Stryper album because it wasn’t a Stryper album. [Laughs] Stryper had already recorded an album and released it back in November. It would have been too soon to do a Stryper album but I wanted to go and record, so it just so happens that it wound up being a solo album.
You got to do some vocal work on this album with a relatively new, young talent.
I assume that you’re talking about Moriah?
Yeah, Moriah is a 15 year old girl from the New York area and I did a show, she opened for me and she blew my mind — my wife’s and my mind — and couldn’t believe how gifted she is and was and the power that she sings with is astonishing. She was singing Heart songs and Halestorm songs, Skid Row songs and just nailing them, as good or better than the original which is blowing my mind. So, when I did the solo album, my wife suggested I should work with her and I felt like I wanted to get her on this album and I did. I asked her if she wanted to be a part of it, she agreed, and I think she’s a rock star. I think people are going to hear her name the world over and very soon, before you know it, people are going to know who Moriah Formica is. She’s that talented. She plays guitar and I don’t just mean rhythm guitar, she solos, she plays lead guitar and she’s a great player. She’s an amazing singer, a great writer and she’s 15 years old, just crazy.
Another person who you worked with on this album, who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with, was Ethan Brosh.
I did. Ethan is an incredible, local player here in my area, in Massachusetts. Berklee grad and he’s just a killer player, man. I started working out solos on this album and I started realizing that it started sounding a little too Stryper for my taste. Once I realized that, I called and contacted Joel (Hoekstra) right away, I knew I wanted those two on the album and they really brought a lot to the table and helped to take this album to new levels and I couldn’t be more proud of those guys.
Do you have plans to tour on this album because you are preparing for the 30th anniversary tour of Stryper’s To Hell With The Devil record?
I do. Not this year. This year is all about Stryper. It’s exciting to go do the To Hell With The Devil album but I’m not going to lie, I’ll tell you, I’m a little bummed that I won’t be touring any solo dates this year because I’ve got a solo album out. It would be nice to go out and do some dates because everyone’s excited about it right now and they want to hear it. But, this is the year to focus on Stryper, as it should be. We’ve got the 30th anniversary for To Hell With The Devil, that’s a big one. Later, after we finish this year, we’re taking the holidays off, we’re going to record a new Stryper album and then a new Sweet & Lynch album (George Lynch, Dokken and Lynch Mob) and then I’m going to tour and do some dates and not only play songs from One Sided War but play songs from all my other solo albums as well. I want to put together a really killer band. I’m hoping I can get Will Hunt [drums] to go and tour with me. Ethan and/or Joel or both and just put together a band where people come and see it and their chins are, literally, hitting the floor.
Are the dates you have up for the To Hell With The Devil tour the final dates, or are you going to be working into next year a little bit?
Well, those are the finalized dates but we are going to be adding more dates this year. I think we’re going to be looking at around 40+ dates, that’s the goal. Into next year, I don’t know. I don’t think so. We’re doing the Monsters of Rock cruise but then we’re suppose to start recording an album in early February so I don’t think we’re going to have time to do a full-blown tour next year. Definitely some select dates but not a full-blown ground tour.
You have tons of fans, myself included, that follow the little videos that you post on Facebook and with the album just being released, many fans who didn’t watch them will still have the opportunity to get in on what you did. It’s almost a little poetic but with the unfortunate passing of Gene Wilder, you did your own little Willy Wonka thing with your new album.
You know, it’s weird, that thought actually crossed my mind today. It’s very odd. We were calling it the “Golden Ticket” and we put a hundred tickets in a hundred CDs and if you get one of those you win something, anything from a T shirt, to a jacket, to a guitar. Yeah, Gene Wilder has gone and passed and, obviously, the world knows not only his brilliant talent as an actor and a comedian, but also as a person and what a great guy he is and was. But, I never even thought about that at the time but I had a lot of people referencing Willy Wonka’s chocolate bars with the Golden Tickets in them.
With the success you’ve had with Stryper, your abilities to put out all these solo album, what do you attribute that to? How do you sum up the exciting life of Michael Sweet?
I think it’s a number of things. I think it’s persistence, I think it’s determination, I think it’s a clean lifestyle, I think it’s faith-based, it’s God’s blessings. I believe that, 100%. So, it’s a number of things, man. I’ve had a really interesting and incredible life and I hope and pray that there is a lot left. I’ve got a lot more to do and I’m excited about it.
Is there anything going on, currently, in music that you would change?
Oh my gosh. I’m one of those guys where I try to live my life making wise choices so I don’t regret or want to go back and change things later on in life. I talk about some regrets in my book [Honestly: My Life And Stryper Revealed] and things I would go back and change but over the last ten years or so, not really. [Laughs] I try to make the best and most wise decisions in my life, not just musically speaking, but on a business level, my family when they’re involved or what have you, I try to make smart choices.
I’ve got to ask as a fun question: how’s it going to be performing on the To Hell With The Devil Tour in the original outfits?
Well, we’re going to find out. We did it once in Japan, only once and we’re going to find out at the end of September because that’s when the tour kicks off officially and we’re going to wear those outfits every single night, so it’s going to be interesting, man. It should be fun. [Laughs] It’s a big part of who we were and who we are, the yellow and black, and people get excited about seeing that, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for people to come out and actually see us in those old outfits, man. It’s not going to happen again, that’s for sure.
I wanted to ask you this question the last time we spoke but it kind of got away from me because we were doing a lot of Stryper talk. Since we’re on the topic of the old days, what’s the significance of the Isaiah 53:5 passage that you have underneath the Stryper logo?
When we changed the name from Roxx Regime to Stryper, we wanted to have something to solidify that a little bit more and give it a little more importance. We found the scripture, Isaiah 53:5, which in most translations, not all, but most it says, “by His stripes we are healed.” Meaning, by what Christ went through on the cross, being crucified, dying for the world and our sins, we are healed. And, that’s always under our logo. Everywhere you see the Stryper logo and the Stryper name, you’re going to see, underneath it, Isaiah 53:5.
As a final question, winding it back around to One Sided War, you and I spoke once about the promoting of one of your most recent albums and you felt it wasn’t getting the push it deserved. How do you feel so far with this record? Do you feel you’re being looked out for?
Oh yeah, with Rat Pak, fantastic! Comparing it to all the other bands out there, I’m very blessed. Stryper gets a big push from Frontiers, I’m getting a big push from Rat Pak, absolutely, they’re doing an amazing job. But, it’s a different time we live in. The music world is not the same, numbers are down, sales are down, it’s very difficult for artists and for bands to survive and stay alive in the music world that we live in. So, taking that into consideration, I’m really blessed because I’m an underdog. I’m a part of a band, Stryper, that was always the underdog and the band that people, probably, would have written off first and here we are, still together and here I am still making albums and touring. It’s really, quite miraculous, if you ask me.
Michael, it’s a pleasure, man. You’ve always got a fan in me and you’ve always treated me well. I hope that all the other writers, myself included, have always treated you with the respect you deserve.
Hey buddy, I so appreciate it. You’ve always been great and it’s been an honor talking to you again, and thanks for your undying support in waving the flag. It never goes unnoticed and it’s always much appreciated.
Catch Stryper on the To Hell With The Devil 30th Anniversary Tour starting at the end of September and running all the way until the end of the year.