Stryper, Streaming, and War: The Michael Sweet Interview
Dr. Music talks to the Stryper frontman about his latest solo album One Sided War, his future with Stryper and eventually taking a break.
Dr. Music: Hey Michael! How are you?
Michael Sweet: Hey Scott, I’m doing well, man!
DM: You’re at home in Massachusetts on a break. What does Michael Sweet do on a break?
MS: I do just regular things. I don’t get many breaks often, it’s been a busy past five years. I run errands, get the mail and take the dog for walks, go to the grocery store - standard, typical stuff. My wife has a real job so when she get’s home we have dinner and catch up on our shows and then get up and do it all over again. I usually travel so much, I spend a good 3, 4, 5 days at home just catching up on everything.
DM: Wow, that’s good to hear because the past 5 years have been extraordinary for you. One of those things you’ve done in that time is publish your autobiography, Honestly: My Life And Stryper Revealed. I really appreciate the book. Getting to know you like that was a real pleasure.
MS: Well good, I’m glad. The thing about the book is, I wanted to be brutally honest. I didn’t want to skirt anything or whitewash anything, but at the same time I didn’t want to be hurtful. Everybody seems to like the book, and the goal in writing that was to inspire people when they were done with it, and I hope it did.
DM: I want to ask you about your relationship with your parents. You talk about the publishing company you had with them, Sweet Family Music, and how it was a bad situation. Does that have any effect on the relationship you have with them today?
MS: It does, and it’s always a fine line. When you start talking about your parents in a negative light publicly, people are instantly going to view you as a bad guy. Like I said, if I ever wrote a book I was just going to pour out my heart and be honest. If I could go back and redo anything, that would be something that I would go back and redo, certainly. I wouldn’t have signed that deal with them. And the reason why is not that my parents are bad people or thieves or anything like that, it’s just that I did a deal that was basically ironclad and to this day, on songs that I wrote, I still divvy up all the publishing on those songs. I’ll take care of my parents no doubt about it, but I’ve got two kids, I’m going to get old someday, I need to have some sort of retirement and something to fall back on. It gets tough sometimes when my parents didn’t contribute to those songs, when you got to send a check for five grand every four months, or whatever it is. It just starts to get kind of old after 30 years. I’ve talked to attorneys about it and they’re kind of scratching their heads thinking, “Wow, that’s crazy. You should’ve been out of that deal a long time ago.” But yeah, it does affect my relationship with my parents sometimes. We try not to let it. It’s usually when I ask my parents if we could tear the agreement up and walk away from it, and that’s when it kind of gets uncomfortable.
DM: Another thing that affected me with the book was Tim’s situation. (Editor Note: Stryper bassist Timothy Gaines was released in 1986 prior to recording the To Hell With The Devil album and temporarily replaced by bassist Brad Cobb.)
DM: I know you guys are looking to do a tour for the 30th Anniversary of the To Hell With The Devil album. Is that going to be a little bit difficult for Tim?
MS: I don’t think so. You know, what happened happened and everyone’s kind of moved on from it. We’ve come to terms with it. Tim’s come to terms with it. It’s unfortunate that it happened, but it did. Tim’s proven himself as a bass player, and back in those days we weren’t prepared to allow him to do so. We had our sights set on a certain style of bass playing and we didn’t feel that Tim was able to deliver that back then. But, I think he certainly could have had we given him the chance, and that’s a regret of mine, obviously.
DM: The four albums you’ve been associated with in the past few years have all been extraordinary, and this latest solo album, One Sided War, is definitely on par with that. You’re on a roll, my friend!
MS: Well I tell ya’, I don’t ever want to take it for granted and get cocky and think that it’s going to keep rollin’, because it could stop on any given day. I’m just thankful that I can do what I do, and I’m thankful that the songs keep coming. I feel like God’s really been blessing me and I’m thrilled.
This solo album was an opportunity for me to kind of put to rest the comments from Stryper fans that I read all the time that say, “Oh yeah yeah yeah, I like his solo album but the Stryper stuff blows it away” or “His stuff isn’t as good” or “It isn’t as heavy” or “it isn’t this” or “it isn’t that.” This is kind of the album to put those comments to rest. I don’t think anybody can say that, in their right mind, about this album. I think it holds its own against any Stryper album in terms of heaviness, and energy and all that stuff, and musicianship too.
DM: This is a really heavy album that’s melodic at the same time, without falling out of the hard rock genre.
MS: Right. That was definitely a goal. I wanted to make sure that the melodies were still there but it wasn’t too melodic. You can kind of cross that boundary where it’s too melodic. You get into too many melodies, and you get into too many keyboards, and it kind of starts to date it sometimes in a not so good way. I wanted to keep the melody there, but I also wanted to keep the punch there and make sure it was kicking you along with every song, and I think that was accomplished. I’m very pleased with how it turned out.
DM: Moriah Formica. Wow! She sings a track called “Can’t Take This Life” from One Sided War.
MS: Yeah, she’s killer, man! She’s 15-years old. Blew my mind when I heard her. I did a show with her not long ago and it just blew my mind and I had to have her on my album, and I’m so glad she is.
DM: I saw her do “To Hell With The Devil” with you guys on YouTube, and that’s a difficult song, and she just killed it!
MS: She’s a very talented girl, and she’s only 15-years old! She’s a sweetheart, too. She’s humble, and she’s got the heart to go along with the talent. I can’t wait for people to hear her.
DM: Let’s appeal to the “techie” guys now. Take us through the setup you used to record One Sided War. Did you use one particular guitar in the studio? Is there anything you did in the studio to get the sound that we here on the album?
MS: Well, there are a few things that I did. I wound up having different guitars on the album, which were my new Washburns, so they have a little different tone to them. I wound up doing a few different things with my guitar tone; some extra post-EQing, and going direct with a DI unit, as well as mic-ing. So, that gave a little different sound; a little in your face. And, we wound up tracking everything through an analog console. Normally we stay in the digital realm, but with this we went through the EQ channels of that [analog] console. It wound up adding a little more dimension, a little more depth to it. I can certainly hear it in the low end. We did something similar on Fallen. I can hear the difference in the low end on Fallen versus No More Hell To Pay; it’s got more punch to it. I think One Sided War is more in line with Fallen in terms of the low end and the punch of the album itself.
DM: I’ve heard that another Sweet & Lynch album is coming! Any truth to that?
MS: Yeah! We’re going to do a Stryper album next year, January or February, and once that’s turned in in probably April, I’m going to take some time off and then we’re going to start on a Sweet & Lynch album probably around June. Stryper will come out end of next year, Sweet & Lynch will come out beginning of the following year. And I’m going to do a solo album the beginning of the following year in ’18, and that will come out at the end of ’18. I’m just going to keep going until I can’t do it anymore.
DM: People are streaming music instead of buying it now. So many bands don’t want to spend the money to record something they can’t sell, but you’re putting out all kinds of stuff with a few different projects! How and why?
MS: Well, we’re really blessed that we get a budget in advance and we’re able to go in and record the album for the same amount pretty much every time, which is in the 25-30 [$25,000-$30,000] range. We put a little money in our pockets and put money in the bank account for future. We’ve got a system down. And when we release the album we sell enough units to recoup. We’re one of the few bands that's really blessed in that area. We’re recouping and we’re able to sign a deal again and have the interest from the labels because they’re not losing their shirts with us. The music industry is a real risky business right now, much more than it was back in the day. We are a band that has found a way to make it happen, and obviously I think God’s been blessing us. Other bands, big bands, come to us and say, “How are you guys doing this?!”
DM: Are you going to do any kind of solo tour?
MS: I want to and I have to. I haven’t toured since 2000, so I gotta go out next year at some point and tour solo, and I gotta do a little touring with Sweet & Lynch as well. We want to make that happen for sure.
DM: I always wanted to ask you this question concerning the Soldiers Under Command album. Michael Wagener produced that album, and produced so many other classic albums from that time period. Why not continue with Michael Wagener?
MS: Back in the day, when we went with another producer, it was just wanting to try something different. I think there was also a schedule conflict, and that’s what led us down a path of wanting to try something different instead of waiting. But we loved working with Michael! The reason why we don’t work with him now is definitely a financial thing. We can go and make an album for twenty-five or thirty thousand dollars. If we made it with Michael it would cost at least double that - easily double that. Easily. Maybe even triple that. We wouldn’t put money in our pockets. We wouldn’t put money in our account. And, nothing against Michael at all, but I don’t think it would sell any more albums. Back in the 80’s the producer’s name really helped sell albums. I don’t think, in terms of rock, that that matters these days. It doesn’t work that way anymore.
DM: If I had to play a song to introduce someone to Michael Sweet, what song should I play? What encapsulates Michael Sweet?
MS: I would definitely say something from this album [One Sided War]. This album is the album I’m most proud of as a solo artist, and I think it signifies what I want to do. It wraps up who I am very well; musically, lyrically. So you could pick any song off of One Sided War, for sure.
DM: What advice would the Michael Sweet of today give the Michael Sweet of 1985?
MS: Oh man… That’s a good question. I have no idea because I don’t know that I’d change anything. All those curves have made me who I am today. You go through tough times to make you stronger, and I don’t know that I’d want to go back and re-write my life because it’s made me who I am right now.
DM: You’re quite literally an open book now, with the autobiography and pieces of yourself within your music for so many years. Tell me something we don’t know about Michael Sweet.
MS: I think everyone probably knows everything about me because I’m such an open book. I’m on Twitter, I’m on Facebook, and I’m very honest and open about my feelings and what I’m doing, and Facebook Live’s, and speaking from the heart. I think everyone knows that. So there’s not much. There’s really not much.
DM: What’s at the top of Michael Sweet’s bucket list?
MS: Oh my gosh… The top of my bucket list is to just someday go out and hang out with my wife and travel the country, and not have to work so hard. I work hard because I want to, but someday I’d like to just chill. Maybe take a break from music indefinitely, or at least for a long period of time, and just enjoy life a little bit more.
DM: Michael, thank you so much for your time, I SO appreciate it.
MS: Alright, buddy. God bless you.