Exclusive Interview: Michael Sweet From Stryper

Stryper will celebrate their 35th anniversary with the upcoming release of their 10th studio album, God Damn Evil, due April 20, 2018 from Frontiers Music SRL. Produced by frontman Michael Sweet, the band returns with their most powerful album to date, doubling down on the hard rock/heavy metal sound that earned them a worldwide fan base.

“We thought long and hard about this title,” says Michael in response to thousands of fan comments. “It was actually considered quite a few years ago and it just didn’t feel like the right time. Now, with all the evil in the world that we see around us on a daily basis, it made perfect sense. It’s a very bold statement yet a prayer asking God to damn/condemn evil. Nothing more, nothing less.”

God Damn Evil is the first release since the recent addition of bass player Perry Richardson, who joins original members Michael Sweet (vocals and guitar), Robert Sweet (drums) and Oz Fox (guitar). Perry is best known as a founding member of the multi-platinum band Firehouse.

Rock Confidential caught up with frontman Michael Sweet to talk about God Damn Evil, upcoming projects and the responsibility of positivity.

Do you feel a responsibility to make Stryper a positive influence?

I do. I try to have a positive influence on people with the music that I write and record, and the words that I say. At the same time I’m really honest. If you ask me if I like a particular album and I don’t, I’ll say it. Sometimes that comes across like I don’t care or I’m a bit of an a-hole, but yes – I feel a sense of responsibility. I think all artists and people in the spotlight should consider that we have people looking up to us, admiring us and looking to see what we do and say. It’s important that we inspire people.

Social media has allowed us to have multiple personalities. People pretend so much online that I’m afraid we’re not seeing much truth anymore.

People are easily offended by honesty. There’s a fine line between honesty and hatred. Some people go online if we or another band posts a new video and just start attacking it. If they hate it, why are they there? Why say anything? That’s not honesty to me. That’s the society we live in where everybody feels like they have the right to speak their mind and most of the time it’s just nasty stuff. If someone does it tastefully and isn’t disrespectful by being honest we should all learn to accept that and respect that. It’s really sad if you say you voted for somebody and you get attacked for it. Just let people live and have their choices and have their own opinions. Debate respectfully, but you don’t see that too often online.

I’m pretty sure face to face conversations would be a lot different than what we read online.

Are you kidding me? Half of the clowns that make comments about me wouldn’t dare say it to my face. I’d take ’em down. I’m not a violent guy by no means but some of the things that have been said… I’m sure many other people feel the same. You’ve just gotta laugh it off. The “keyboard warrior” mentality – sitting behind a keyboard saying whatever they want. If they were in front of the person saying it to their face, I’m guessing they probably wouldn’t say it.

We just mentioned the sense of responsibility in Stryper to be a positive influence. How has that changed over the years?

I feel like it’s gotten more intense, especially with the times we’re living in. Man, this world needs love more than ever and it needs positive people and things put out there. There’s enough negativity in the world. We felt the responsibility back in the 80s, obviously. We were very serious about that. Now we’re even more serious about it.

Have you ever written a song solely because of divine inspiration?

Absolutely. Quite a few, for sure. There’s the other side of the coin you’ll see on God Damn Evil that’s about the society we’re living in. Specifically the internet. People can tweet or Facebook and say whatever they want in a negative fashion and you can see the ripple effect. What comes from that is really sad. There’s a number of lyrics about that on the new album. Divine inspiration, absolutely. I feel like God’s speaking to me and giving me the lyrics. It’s a no-brainer and boom – it’s there. We’ve always wanted to be a band that’s made a difference, or at least tried to, not just with the music but with the message. The message to us is even more important than the music, and that’s saying a lot. It matters to us, in terms of our legacy, of what we do and what we leave behind.

It was cool to see a video for “Sorry,” one of my early favorites from God Damn Evil.

It’s funny because we really get some flak for those desert videos. (laughs) There’s a reason why. Rob and Oz live in Las Vegas. Our director, Jamie Brown, also has a place in Vegas. It was just much easier to do it in Las Vegas. That’s why we do desert videos. I think it’s a great video. Jamie just killed it and did a fantastic job. Wait until everybody sees the next one.

What can you tell me about it?

We have a video already in the can and wrapped up for the song “The Valley.” It’s really cool, man. It’s a powerful song that kinda make the hair on your arms stand on end. The video does the same. It’s very different for Stryper. It’s unlike any video we’ve ever done. We shot it in multiple locations in Las Vegas, one being an abandoned dam overlooking a valley. We got some really cool footage there. We got some great footage in an old abandoned house. We did some really interesting stuff within the video that I think people are going to say, “Wow. This is cool.” It will come out sometime after the album is released.

Releasing “Take It To The Cross” first definitely got people’s attention.

That song is completely by itself stylistically. It’s unlike any other song on the album. That was our answer to the people that wanted something that bordered on thrash and was a little edgier. “Sorry” is a little more of a groove, straight-ahead hooky tune. That’s probably to be more expected of Stryper. Every song on this album is completely different. From “Lost” to “You Don’t Even Know Me” to “The Valley” to “God Damn Evil.” Every song is different. A different tempo, different feel, different groove but yet they all work together for the good. We can’t wait for everyone to hear it.

I’m a guitar tone junkie and when I hear some of the solos on the new album they sound like they were dialed in straight from an In God We Trust session.

Good – I’m glad. We have – love it or hate it – our own unique sound. There’s a tone we have that we try to retain for every album. It’s a little different from album to album, but this album stands on it’s own. It’s got a little more fire to it. The guitar tones are more in your face and bigger. We really worked hard on that. Yet, they’re Stryper tones. We have our own thing going. We preamp that amp with a parametric EQ and get that half-cocked wah thing going. That’s the Stryper sound, man.

Let’s talk a little about songwriting. When I hear a song like “The One” on No More Hell To Pay I can also hear “Blue Bleeds Through” from your third full-length solo album Truth. When I listen to “Can’t Live Without You” I maybe hear bits of “Someday” from your first full-length solo record. Is that ever intentional or is it just reflective of your writing style?

It’s probably just part of how I write. I never sit down and say I want this song to be a continuation of that song or I want it to be similar. I’m a big ballad guy. As much as I love the heavy stuff like Priest and Maiden I also love all those old school ballads. I enjoy writing those songs. “Can’t Live Without Your Love,” I can’t wait for people to hear that one in particular because I think it’s just a really well-rounded ballad. It’s not a syrupy ballad and certainly not a piano ballad. It’s a guitar rock ballad and I think it’s one of those songs that will probably make people say, “I’ve been waiting for you to do something like this for a long time.” It’s the only ballad on the album. Some might say “Beautiful” is, but it’s really not. It’s exciting. We’re really happy with how the groove of the whole album turned out. There’s something extra special about the groove.

Are you still humming riff ideas and melodies into your phone and recording them for writing purposes?

I still do. Usually what happens, about three or four months out from recording an album I’ll start doing that. I’ll hum ideas into my phone and then go back and listen to it and pull from that and create chords around that idea and create a song. I haven’t done that since we turned in God Damn Evil, but I’ll probably start doing it once we get out on the road in May or June. I’ll start getting my ideas going. Then the next album will be a solo album or one with Joel Hoekstra. I’ll start writing a couple of weeks before we start recording. I like working under pressure. It helps me to focus more and it helps me deliver more.

So the album with Joel will be a group project?

Yes. Joel and I are going to write everything together. He’s going to be the guitar player and I’m going to be the singer. It will be like Sweet/Lynch. We’re going to come up with a band name, get some killer players. We’ve already talked to a few guys. It’s going to be awesome, man.

Is it in the plans to re-record more songs from the Stryper catalog?

It is. We’ve always wanted to do that with five or six songs from In God We Trust, five or six from Against The Law. People might wonder why we’d do that. I really believe, and we’ll have to prove it, that we can outdo the production on those two albums to make it more modern, more in-your-face, and today. Same thing we did with Second Coming. We’ll add a couple of more songs from Yellow And Black Attack. We only did two from that album on Second Coming, so maybe we’ll do “From Wrong To Right” and “Co’mon Rock” or something and then add a couple of new songs.

God Damn Evil is out April 20, 2018.

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