MICHAEL SWEET (STRYPER) INTERVIEW:
December 10, 2013
It’s been a while since Sleaze Roxx caught up with the ageless Stryper singer Michael Sweet, but a few weeks ago he reunited with the website to speak about the band’s new album ‘No More Hell To Pay’ and their upcoming live release. “I feel somewhat embarrassed that the book hasn’t been released. I’ve been telling the fans about the book and it’s been pushed back due to edits — it’s coming out finally next year,” says the frontman about his autobiography. “The ‘Second Coming’ album really captured what Stryper sounds like live. If you come see us live that’s what you’re going to get,” proclaims an ecstatic Michael Sweet as he and the band geared up for the recording of their upcoming live CD and DVD at Los Angeles’ infamous Whisky A-Go-Go. “In the past, like on ‘In God We Trust’ for example, it was so produced and polished that some of that material was nearly impossible to pull off live.”
Sleaze Roxx: You have a new album out called ‘No More Hell To Pay.’ It’s received some critical acclaim by the press and fans alike and is a modern Stryper record that gives a nod to the old school Stryper.
Michael Sweet: It really does. We wanted to get back to our roots. The mistake that bands from the ’70s and the ’80s have made — in fact, we’ve made them — is we tried to reinvent ourselves so we lost sight of what made us popular to begin with.
On this record we went back to our roots in every sense of the word. We gave people — fans or critics — a record that took us back to who we are. There’s guitar solos in every song, there’s screams in every song, energetic songs and big vocal harmonies. Everything that people have grown to love about Stryper — they get that and then some on this record.
Sleaze Roxx: You tackled “Jesus Is Alright” on ‘No More Hell To Pay.’ I’m familiar with The Doobie Brother’s version, but how did this wind up on the new album?
Michael Sweet: Yeah, the Arthur Reynolds Group originally recorded that song. It’s been covered a lot. Like you said, The Doobie Brothers have the most famous version of it and D.C. Talk also recorded a version of it.
Not only are we huge Doobie Brothers fans, believe it or not… I mean who isn’t? We thought it was a fitting song lyrically and musically it fit. The song is a bit of a roller coaster — it takes you on this high speed chase and then it takes you down. It’s a ride and it’s fitting for the record. It’s got all these great tempo changes, great riffs and this ‘Sabbath’ feel in the mid section. It’s really fun to play live. We played it for the first time in Nashville and then again coming up in a few days at The Whisky (A-Go-Go). It’s an awesome song and it represents this band perfectly.
Sleaze Roxx: You also recorded a track that has a Spanish chorus. What’s the story behind “Te Amo”?
Michael Sweet: We’ve always wanted to do a Spanish language album. The reason? We have a lot of fans in Latin America. When we play in the United States we’ll play in front of 600 hundred people but when we go to Puerto Rico we’ll play to 6,000-7,000 people. The popularity of the band there is at another level — not just Puerto Rico, the same can be said about South America or Spain. It’s amazing.
We weren’t able to record an entire album or track this time around due to time constraints, but we paid homage to our Latin fans with “Te Amo”. The track has a main riff that has a Latin flare to it. We’re taking this a step further — after the New Year we will be having a contest where fans can make a video for the song. The winning video will be put on YouTube and will receive premiers through other online outlets.
Sleaze Roxx: There are some strong tracks on the new album — “No More Hell To Pay”, “Legacy”, “Revelation”, and “Sympathy”. It’s going to be hard for you guys to pick what will make the setlist off the new record.
Michael Sweet: It really is. Each song has its own signature and its own stamp. There’s not a lot of ‘filler’ on this album — that was purposely done. We tried our best to record the best material possible. It is going to be hard. We’re adding four (new) songs to the set right out of the box for the show at The Whisky. When we head out on the road next year we will be adding at least 2-3 more to the set. It is going to be difficult to pick what songs make it. I think it will be determined by how well the songs go over in rehearsals. There have been times when your favorite songs don’t translate very well live for some reason, so you don’t do it. That could be the case with some of these songs, you never know? We’ll find out.
Sleaze Roxx: Stryper is a band that can pull off most of the material that you’ve recorded in the live setting.
Michael Sweet: We certainly try. We do try really hard to do the song justice live and not destroy it. I’ve heard many people say this and I find it to be a huge compliment — “Stryper is even better live.” I think there’s a certain energy that comes with a live Stryper show that you don’t get on the album. I think on this record we captured that energy in a bottle more so than with any other record in the past. That’s my opinion. I sense a certain level of energy unlike any other album in the past on this album.
Sleaze Roxx: I found it interesting that you guys banged this album out in an actual recording studio rather than at your home studio or via file sharing. You guys were in a studio together, records aren’t made that way anymore.
Michael Sweet: That’s exactly right — that is what happens. That’s what happened with us in the past. The budgets are a lot lower so it’s a lot easier and cost effective to pass the album around and have each person add their individual parts in their home studio rather than to head a $1,000 a day recording studio.
What we were able to do, thank God, is to record at a studio called Spirit House in North Hampton, Massachusetts. The engineer was the head engineer at the Hit Factory in New York City — his name is Danny Bernini. He’s one of, if not the, best engineer that I have ever worked with. The studio is on 14 acres of land in a private setting and it’s absolutely beautiful. Our friend Paul McNamara owns the studio, he’s a keyboard player and he plays on our records. We got the studio for one fee — we live there, we eat there and we record there. We were able to go in there for two weeks and record the album except for the lead vocals which I recorded at my house. After I record my vocals I head back to Spirit House and we mix the album. We’re able to turn in an album with the band playing in the same room — with an end cost between $25,000 and $30,000. That’s unheard of. Even bands like Ratt and Warrant, they are heading into the studio to record albums for over $100,000. We’re blessed to be able to go out and make records for a lot less.
I think being there in the same room as a band making a record makes a huge difference. There’s something that happens when you’re unified, having fun and breaking bread together that translates to the recordings. When you don’t make a record this way it’s a little less fun. I think that’s a huge factor in what you hear on ‘No More Hell To Pay’.
Sleaze Roxx: I know you’ll be heading out to L.A. in a couple days to record the live album and DVD at The Whisky A-Go-Go. Is this a project that will be issued by Frontiers or will you be issuing this independently?
Michael Sweet: We signed a multi-album deal with Frontiers — it was a three album deal with a fourth option. In other words, if we go shop for another album after we turn in the live DVD Frontiers get the first rights to that. If they renew then we’ll do another album with them. Having said that, the live album and DVD is the third album of the bunch. We did the deal to record ‘Second Coming’, ‘No More Hell To Pay’, and the live album and DVD. You know what’s really insane? All three of these albums would have been recorded within a year’s time. That’s unheard of. Two albums, that’s crazy and pretty rare — but three? That’s crazy.
Sleaze Roxx: Off the top of my head I think the last band to do something like that was KISS in the mid ’70s.
Michael Sweet: Or if you go back even further I think The Beatles recorded three albums. That was a different time. I mean The Beatles were using 4-tracks and literally recording live in studio!
I think Stryper has made quite an accomplishment to put together three albums within a year. These are good records, we’re not cutting any corners here.
Sleaze Roxx: Will the upcoming album and DVD be a dual package, or will they each be stand alone releases?
Michael Sweet: I think it will be a dual package. I would assume it would be? That I don’t know at the moment. I don’t know if they’d release the DVD separate from the audio? I doubt it, but I don’t know.
Sleaze Roxx: As mentioned, you’ll record four new tracks in the set for the live DVD. How much music do you think will be in the set for the show?
Michael Sweet: There’s a lot of stuff that won’t make it. The good news is that the set is much different than the set that we’ve been playing the past couple of years. Like I said, we have the new songs and we’re adding songs that we haven’t played in the set regularly. I imagine there will be seven new songs added to the set. We have a 17 song set drafted for this recording.
We’re planning on adding some interview footage, rehearsal footage from Nashville, and other bonus features. It’s going to be cool. You won’t just pop it in and see us playing live. I can’t wait to see it myself actually.
Sleaze Roxx: What’s the projected release date for the DVD? I imagine at this point in time it’s unlikely we’ll see it until spring of 2014?
Michael Sweet: We’re recording it this Saturday at the Whisky, we’ll edit it a few days after, and then we’ll mix it. I think we’ll turn it in mid to late December? We hope to have it out by May of 2014 or early June? I think that’s realistic.
Then I go into the studio with George Lynch in February of 2014. That music will come out next year. We’ll have the Stryper album and DVD next year, followed by a solo album and a book from me. We’ll probably be heading into the studio with Stryper to record another studio album in November or December of 2014.
Sleaze Roxx: You spoke about the George Lynch collaboration a few weeks back when we last spoke. Is this the T&N project with Jeff Pilson that you’re referring to?
Michael Sweet: No, this is completely different. George and I will be writing together. He will play guitar and I will be singing. I will also produce the record. The band will feature Brian Tichy on drums and James Lomenzo on bass.
Sleaze Roxx: Sounds like a supergroup to me.
Michael Sweet: Yeah, it’s kind of like a supergroup. The Winery Dogs have done it, then there’s Black Country Communion — it’s become a popular thing. We’re doing it! We’re making a record and it will also come out on Frontiers. I can’t wait to get in the studio and start working on that.