Interviewed by David Felix
Date: July, 2005
Call them “posers,” call them religious extremists, or call them whatever the hell you want! The “Yellow & Black Attack” is back with a new tour and a new album (which is absolutely amazing) and I, for one, am proud to be one of the first to welcome STRYPER back on the scene.
Throughout the years, STRYPER has been ridden with all sorts or controversy -- ranging from protests at their shows for their strong religious beliefs, to a complete change in image and attitude in the early 90’s which some believe brought about the demise of the band. But what I remember is a powerful 80’s metal band which burst into the mainstream with their albums “To Hell With The Devil” and “In God We Trust” making them virtually household names with hits like “Honestly,” “Free,” “Calling On You,” and “Always There For You.” But, to me anyway, their greatest triumph was 1985’s “Soldiers Under Command” which has just about become an all-time classic amongst metal fans. Without stellar production or hours of meticulous editing, “Soldiers Under Command” was able to capture a raw, in your face sound which the band has never truly been able to duplicate… until now!
But more about that in my review! Lead vocalist, guitarist and song writer Michael Sweet was gracious enough to grant us one of his first interviews about the new album and upcoming tour. Here’s what he had to say….
Well, first off, let me thank you for taking the time out to talk with us. I have been a long time fan and I caught you guys at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park a couple of years ago and it was just a great, great show and we’re really glad to see you guys back out in the scene.
Well thank you very much, man. We appreciate all you do as well and thank you for your time and if it wasn’t for people like yourself, we wouldn’t be where we are today and we are eternally grateful.
So let’s start by talking about the new album “Reborn.” This is your first studio release as a band since 1990. What was it like going back into the studio again after such a long hiatus?
You know, I had nightmares about the possibilities that it could be really bad. Number one because it’s been so long since we’ve recorded together and I thought the worst case scenario being “Oh my gosh! What if things don’t click?” And then, of course, I had some fears because we had all kind of gone off in a different musical direction. You can hear that in the solo projects. Not extreme but certainly different enough to create problems in the recording process. But we went in there and it was beautiful! No problems of any kind. I guess what helped was we had recorded two new songs back for the “Seven” record. So it wasn’t like it had really been fifteen years since we recorded together. And then, due to the fact that everything was arranged and written and ready to go, that helped speed the process up as well and there was less room for error.
How much does each member contribute to the writing of the band?
Well, on this record… none. It was just myself. Some people might hear that and be like, “Oh my God! Mike’s on a power trip!” but it’s not that way. Everyone in every band has a different job to perform.
It’s been like that through out time. I mean just go back to all the great bands that we’ve all grown up listening to. There’s usually one or two guys who write the material, possibly one guy who’s like the “show man,” there’s one guy who might be the “visionary” who does all the interviews like Robert use to do for us, he was like our spokesperson. So everyone has their own job and my job had always been to write the music. That was my passion, that was my love so when the other guys were off working or going out or whatever it was, I was writing because that’s what I loved to do and still love to do. I enjoy nothing more than to write songs and I had a bunch of songs ready to go. Actually, I had initially written all these songs as a Michael Sweet project… not a lot of people know that. And, I started shopping it around before we re-formed and then we did a show in Disneyworld that just went so well. It felt like a new band again so I went to the guys and said, “What do you think about the possibilities of making this a STRYPER record?” and they were just floored and very excited about making it happen.
Where did you record the album and who produced it?
I produced it and a friend of mine named Kenny Lewis co-produced it but basically I came home from the 2003 STRYPER tour and took off for the holidays and then in January and February I really dove into programming and arranging songs. Once that process starts for me, I can’t get out of that state of mind. I have a one track mind and I drive my wife crazy at that point because she gets none of my attention at all. But I was like a steam-roller… ya know? Full steam ahead! So between February and March I wrote 12 songs and went into the studio in early April and we recorded them. We did the drums at a place called Blue Jay in Carlisle, Mass. Then we came back down to my studio here in my house and I did all the vocals, all the guitars and then we went to Mixed Emotions and finished it. Now just let me clarify, that was the MICHAEL SWEET part of the process. After it turned into a STRYPER project, we went to a few other studios, Ted Jenson at Sterling mastered it and we obviously did a lot more recording on top of what had already been done.
Unfortunately I haven’t heard the new CD yet (AT INTERVIEW TIME) but I am really looking forward to it. What can you tell me about the overall feel of the album as compared to the old STRYPER style?
It’s not as polished, perfected, over-dubbed and produced as “In God We Trust” or “To Hell With The Devil” which were definitely the most produced and polished records we did. This one is certainly more in the “Against The Law” vein as far as the recording process. A lot less tracks, a little more “raw,” and in your face or it’s like, “Aww man, that solo had the vibe! Yeah there’s a couple of glitched notes in it but it had the vibe and we’re goin’ with it.”…that kind of thing. For “In God We Trust” we perfected every note, ya know? So it’s more like “Against The Law” but not so much musically. It’s its own thing. It’s got a lot of modern flavors to it but there’s a lot of STRYPER in it too. There’re harmonies, vocal harmonies, guitar harmonies, a lot of melody in the vocals… it’s very STRYPER! There’s no denying that only it’s 2005 STRYPER. It’s not and 80’s or 90’s sounding record at all.
What has the reaction been like from the fans and people who have heard the album?
So far people just seem to be flipping out. We put a bunch of clips online and the people who have heard those clips are just amazed. But I think the icing on the cake is going to be the visual aspect of the CD and the artwork. When people see that, they are just floored. It’s completely, to the extreme, of that people are not going to expect what they’re going to see. They’re going to be blown away and be sitting there looking at it like, “What?” (laughs) It’s crazy but very, very cool. One of the most original album covers to come out in a long time and you gotta let me know what you think when you see it.
Now I’d like to touch on this briefly. Your last studio release, “Against the Law,” was an extreme change in both style and image which a lot of people believe brought about the demise of the band. What was the feeling like within’ the band at the time which brought about such drastic changes and do you feel it may have hurt the band at the time?
Musically, no. We were very happy with the record musically. Looking back on it, we are not happy with the choices we made lyrically and our attitudes. It was an inward thing that came out and we had a bit of that rebellious attitude and had a little bit more of the “fist to the chin” kind of attitude… like a “We’ll show you!” kind of thing against all the people who had spoken out against us for years, came out to our shows and protested… those kind of people. But it wasn’t the right thing to do, it was a mistake but that was realistically our attitude at the time. Then we started getting into things like, we had spoken out for years against alcohol. Not that I have an objection to someone having a beer every once in a while. If someone wants to do that, that’s their choice but we started, basically, going against what we had been speaking out against. We’re saying, “You don’t need alcohol” to the audience and here we are back on the bus pounding down three, four, five beers! It was just a contradiction, hypocritical and it wasn’t fliyin’! It wasn’t working and we knew that and it was really eating us up. It took it’s toll after a while. After about a year of that, we came to the realization that this is just not going to work. We gotta get back on track here, move forward, stop messing around and get serious again. So we did! By the grace of God and miraculously we were able to get back on track. It could have gone downhill really, really fast and crashed and burned. We could have gotten involved with drugs, all the marriages could have broken up… it just could have been an utter disaster. But by the grace of God, it wasn’t completely.
Other than the “Can’t Stop The Rock” tour in ’91 and a handful of shows in ’92 which featured Oz Fox on vocals, you guys hadn’t played together in almost a decade until you reunited for a few shows in 2000 and 2001 which finally escaladed into the all out reunion tour in 2003. Whose initial idea was it to get the band back together again and why at that time?
Well, SIN DIZZY had gone to Puerto Rico to do a performance and I was invited down to do a few songs of mine by the promoter. So I went out and not really planning on getting together with SIN DIZZY and doing a few STRYPER songs, it just kind of evolved and turned into that. So I went out there, got invited on stage with SIN DIZZY as a guest, did some STRYPER songs and the crowd just went crazy. That was kind of the beginning. We came home and then there was some interest in doing a reunion tour from a guy named Rich Serpa who came to us, layed out his ideas and we thought, “This could be cool.” Not a reunion tour, I’m sorry, but an expo, rather. So we did it and he did a great job, he’s a great guy and a great friend and did a fantastic job considering the fact that nothing like that had been done before and it was a first time effort. So that was pretty cool, but it just kept snowballing and after a while we were like, “Aww man, why not do some more shows?” Then we went to Costa Rica, did the second expo, Cornerstone… just more and more stuff. And then, we did the two songs for the “Seven” record which turned into an all out tour. So, here we are with a new CD, a new tour and an official reunion! So it’s pretty cool. But I’m really excited over the fact that we took our time. We didn’t dive in and jump on the band wagon of the reunion tours like a lot of the other 80’s bands.
How much did the reaction of the fans on your last tour influence the recording of the new album?
I don’t know that it did, really. But now that you’ve got me sitting here thinking about it, maybe it did. I tell ya what, though, it definitely influenced me as a writer and during the recording process to put something out that was edgy. I, for one, for years have heard stuff like, “Mike’s kind of whimped out a bit. We like his solo stuff, but it ain’t STRYPER!” It had lost its edge so I made the record “Truth” which I thought had a lot more of that edge to it because people were really digging that record, but it also had that lighter side to it with the poppy, piano-ballady kind of thing. But this record is guitar driven and there’s really not a light side to it. Even the ballad “Passion” is edgy. It’s in your face and a rock-powered ballad… if you even want to call it a ballad. So there’s not a light, easy listening, poppy side to this album which is kind of cool because I think people have wanted that edge… that full-blown edge again from STRYPER and we’re givin’ it to them on this record.
How does it make you feel when you step out on the stage and realize people still remember you after all these years and that you’ve touched so many people’s lives?
It’s really humbling. I mean for some reason, we’ve just stopped trying to figure it out but… for some reason, God chose us to do what we do. So much has been accomplished by the band over the years and to step out onto a stage and see how it’s effected people’s lives, the positive effect that it has had and the lives it’s changed is just really humbling because it could have been anybody! It could have been you, it could have been my next door neighbor and we were just four anybody’s because we’re all the same in God’s eyes and we don’t know why he chose us, but he did and it really is touching to see what has happened over the years.
God has always been your driving force in life and that faith and message is conveyed through your music. In this day and age, do you find that message more difficult to get across?
Not really more difficult to get across, it’s just people seem to be a little more numb to everything. It’s almost like everything is accepted now which isn’t necessarily a good thing. So I guess since I really believe that, I guess, to a degree, it’s more easily accepted. But is it really taken to heart? Are people taking the message of STRYPER seriously when they hear a STRYPER song or see a STRYPER show and allow it to change or effect their lives? I don’t know… I hope so but yeah, people accept it and seem to have an open mind but they also seem to have an open mind about a lot of things these days.
Have you ever had questions in your own faith and what kind of advice would you give to people who have?
I have, but more in a way of “Why God don’t you want me to do music at this point in my life?” or “Why aren’t you allowing me to do music?” There were times after I left STRYPER when I was in a dry spell. In a valley, I like to call it, and I couldn’t get anything going musically. But yet I felt like God was giving me songs and God had given me the ability to play music… but I wasn’t allowed to do it. So that was a big question mark. In those ways, yes but as far as actually questioning my faith like should I or shouldn’t I be a Christian? No, never! Going back to when I was twelve years old and I first chose to live for God, I had walked away for years but then we all re-dedicated our lives when I was twenty as a band with STRYPER.
I haven’t looked back from that time till now. I mean I have my short-comings, my failures and my mistakes but I still choose and I always will to live a life for God and make a bold stand for God.
Now I understand you guys have a new bass player in the band, tell me a little bit about him.
He’s an amazing guy. His name is Tracy Ferrie and he use to play for PLUMB, REBECCA ST. JAMES, SARAYA, WHITE CROSS and he did two of my solo tours… just an amazing guy! Heart of gold, same vision that we have, an amazing musician, incredible vibe and just all around pro… he’s the total package and he is the perfect replacement for Tim. Tim’s shoes are incredibly tough to fill, impossible to fill but Tracy really isn’t trying to fill Tim’s shoes. He’s just stepping in, being himself and we’re continuing on as a new band.
After all these years, what’s your relationship like with Oz and the rest of the band?
Really good, man. Oz and I talk constantly. We’re really good friends. We encourage each other, help each other through difficult times and we’re always talking. We probably talk two or three times a week and he’s on the west coast and I’m on the east coast but, we talk a lot. Robert and I probably don’t talk as much as we should, especially due to the fact that we are brothers. But we do talk too, maybe once a week or every couple of weeks. Tracy and I are neighbors almost. He only lives like about a half hour away from me so we talk often as well. So yeah, our relationships are good. I mean they could always be better but when you have families, wives, kids and things to deal with in life, it becomes difficult to spread out your time sometimes.
With your 2005 tour already upon us, how excited are you to be back out on the road again?
REALLY EXCITED! We’re excited to be able to go back out on the road and play some new material. It’s been a long time coming. I mean we enjoy the old material but it’s even more exciting when you get to play new stuff. Sometimes it just feels like you’re going through the motions when you play the older stuff because you’ve played them so many times. You don’t want it to feel that way, but sometimes it does and it won’t with this tour. We’re going to have some new, fresh material and we’re looking forward to seeing some new fans who maybe dig the new stuff and maybe didn’t know who STRYPER was before. We’re looking forward to seeing our old fans out there as well so, it’s going to be a good time for everyone and we’re really looking forward to it.
What’s your live show going to be like this time around?
We’re going to be doing at least eighteen to twenty songs so it should be a good ninety minute to two hours every performance. What we’re trying to do it two to three songs from every album as well as four or five from the new one so you’re up to twenty very easily. But, it’s great time, we’re going to do a lot of music and pull out a lot of old tunes that we haven’t done in years. Songs like “You Know What to Do” from “Yellow & Black Attack.” Possibly “From Wrong to Right,” “First Love” and we’re just going to really try to mix it up and pull some songs out that will make people go, “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe they’re doing this!” So, it’s gonna be a good tour a really good set and people should dig it.
At this point in your life, what are you most looking forward to?
Oh gosh! Wow… I’m just looking forward to seeing my kids pursue their dreams and accomplish their goals. My son is very involved in film and wants to pursue something in that and my daughter is very involved in dance and wants to pursue that. In fact, we just got back from nationals in Vegas with my daughter and it was neat to see how much she loves to dance and see how well they did. They won the title for their division and just came home completely thrilled. So it’s just great to see my kids growing up and accomplishing what they want to achieve and be happy doing it.
Yeah, my biggest regret would be the “Against The Law” period… but I’ve learned a lot from it. And the biggest regret is probably what we put our wives through, what I put my wife through at that time. Just having an attitude, not giving her the time that she deserved and really running her through the mill. It wasn’t a good period and if I could go back and do it all again, I certainly would. But the good thing is that we both learned a lot from it. It strengthened our relationship in some ways. We’re still here, we’re surviving and we’re still happily married and it’s going on twenty years now.
What are your future plans and what else would you like to accomplish with the band?
Well, there are no plans as of yet. I am one of those “live for today” kinds of guys. We got a tour coming up and we have a new album coming out so I’m really focused on that right now. We do plan and there is talk about doing another record after this and another tour and continuing on… which we certainly will. But I’m just focusing on the time at hand and what we have to accomplish now.
What would you most like to be remembered for?
To know that even if it’s in a small, tiny, tiny way, we helped people through life. That we encouraged people and directed them to “the crutch,” if you will, to help them walk through life… which is Christ.
We are here to tell people about that and music is our tool to do that. If we can walk away knowing that we had a small effect on a few lives, then we can go to sleep at night saying, “We did it! We did our job.”
Well that’s about it. Is there anything else you might like to say to your fans?
Just that we are so looking forward to getting out on the road and seeing everyone who comes out to support us. We’re thrilled to be here in 2005 with a new record and to be talking with you on the phone and being given the opportunity, once again, to do what we do and what we were called to do. We thank everyone for continuing to support what we do.
Thanks Again, Michael and I can’t wait to see you guys in September.
And just a reminder, STRYPER is due to hit the New York/ New Jersey area very soon and this is one tour you don’t want to miss! Check out the dates below and I’ll see ya there!
Rock Eyez Review of "Reborn" by Stryper.
- WEBSTER THEATER - Hartford, CT - 09/22/05
- CROCODILE ROCK - Allentown, PA - 09/23/05
- B.B. KINGS BLUES CLUB - New York, NY - 09/24/05
- NORTHERN LIGHTS - Clifton Park, NY - 09/25/05
- MULCAHY’S - Wantagh, NY - 09/28/05
- STONE PONY - Asbury Park, NJ - 10/28/05
- TROCADERO - Philadelphia, PA - 10/29/05