It’s Thanksgiving time and if you are a STRYPER fan, you’ve had a lot to be thankful about this past year. The band has returned with a thunderous new full-length album, “No More Hell To Pay”, their first album of new material since 2009’s “Murder By Pride” and recently held their first official Stryper Fan Fest in Nashville a few weeks back. There are still more new releases and much touring to come in 2014 and I recently called frontman/guitarist Michael Sweet to talk about it all, read on….
Legendary Rock Interviews: Hi, Michael, thanks for talking with us again, I wanted to start by asking you about the debut of the official Stryper Fan Fest that happened just this last month in Nashville. I wasn’t able to make it but it looks like I missed a lot of fun, how was it?
Michael Sweet: It was great. We wound up going live with it a little on the late side. Our plans were to announce the weekend about five or six months ago and we ended up announcing it with a lot less notice. The show itself at Rocketown was announced very last minute but with that being said, it was incredible. We had an amazing turnout, great response and just a great vibe overall. We are already planning on doing it every year in a different city. I am not entirely sure what city we are going to be doing it in next year but we will be announcing it after the first of the year.
LRI: I would love to cover that. There is something really unique about those fan interaction weekends, it’s more fun than most fans have in a lifetime. I was at the original KISS Kon and it was great. Without putting yourself on too high of a pedestal, did you get a sense of how special it was for the fans who attended?
Michael: Oh, absolutely. We spent a lot of one on one time with them and we stayed at the same hotel, ate breakfast and lunch with them. We hung out with them and talked with them. We went around from table to table and sat and talked and got to know each person or group of people personally, one on one. To me, that was really the coolest part of it all. I think the weekend was far beyond anybody’s expectations, the fans’ the band’s, everyone’s. We were just blown away and we look forward to next year.
LRI: I talked to you about the covers album and I talked to you earlier this year about the re-recordings album. It seemed like you guys were rejuvenated by making those albums and it was the first time all four of you had worked together in the studio in some time. How much do you think working on those releases affected the band vibe here on the new album, “No More Hell To Pay”?
Michael: You know what, I’ve been asked that question often lately, most recently by yourself and I never really gave it any thought but to be honest, it has caused me to really think about it. I think that not only the re-recordings album, “Second Coming” but also the covers album, “The Covering” really helped us get more in line with and in touch with our roots. It made us focus on where we came from musically and therefore got us back to that way of thinking which is exactly what we did on “No More Hell To Pay”. I think we have gotten back to our roots 100% with this album. I think since we returned, we were slowly making our way there from album to album. “Reborn” was a little more modern and then of course, “Murder By Pride” which was a little more Stryper, a little more old-school but still had a lot of modern style and flavor to it. This album is 100% old-school and it’s what everybody expects to hear from Stryper but at the same time it has the benefit of modern production so it holds its own against anything else coming out today, which is really cool.
LRI: I heard so much of the comparisons to the heaviness of your classic album “To Hell With The Devil” that I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Sometimes it feels forced when a band tries to replicate a style from 2o or 30 years ago but this definitely has that same solid production that “Murder By Pride”. What I really love about this album is that the melodic side of the band remained intact. That was also one of the hallmarks of “To Hell” and songs like “The One” and “Te Amo” are among my favorites here. The band has, in many ways, become even heavier since 1987, was there ever a concern that Stryper was becoming “too heavy” and shedding it’s melodic sensibility?
Michael: Not really. If anything, we were really going moreso for heaviness on this record, we had that in mind consciously. Maybe subconsciously we had in mind to keep much of that melodic sense as well but there was definitely an effort that was consciously made by all four members to go on the heavier side. I’ve been talking about it for years, saying “Look, the next record is going to be heavier” and it is. I mean, we’re never going to be a thrash metal band or a speed metal band, that’s not who we are and we don’t want to be something we’re not but at the same time, we do kind of cross over into that type of territory from time to time on songs like “Renewed” and “Legacy”. We do like to get heavy, that’s part of who we are and obviously if you go back and listen to songs like “Rock The Hell Out Of You” and things like that, there were a lot of songs in our past which were kind of bordering on a real heavy, almost speed metal kind of vein. I am not gonna say that we don’t love a lot of bands that perform, write and produce in that kind of style; that’s definitely part of our roots as well but moreso our roots fall into that melodic metal style of bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and then of course hard rock and classic rock like Van Halen and all the bands we covered on “The Covering” pretty much. That’s our “smorgasborg” of influences right there.
LRI: I’m glad you mentioned “Renewed”. I think the fact that it closes the album says a lot about the overall strength of the material on “No More Hell To Pay”. I realize it’s been a few years since the last album of all original material but were you at all surprised by the amount of good stuff you guys had to work with on this album?
Michael: I hope I don’t sound egotistical when I say this but no (laughs). What I mean by that is, so many times we’ve heard people say, like when we did “The Covering”, they’d say “Oh, I get it, the well’s run dry” or “Oh, those guys don’t have it anymore, they can’t write their own stuff, that’s why they’re doing a cover album”. Then when we did the re-record album, those same people were like “Oh my god! Clearly, they’ve just run out of ideas and are retreading their past”. I guess, in a way, this record is like a polite fist in the air to all of those people like “Yeah, really? really? We should hang it up? You counted us out?, I don’t think so!” It’s like “Ok, if you think we’ve run out of ideas completely here’s a few more for ya”(laughs). And I really do say that humbly, I don’t mean to say that as a jerk but to say that I don’t think we are ever going to run out of ideas. As long as we’re inspired and we’re passionate about what we do, we are gonna keep making records that are relevant and that people like. We’re always gonna have people that don’t like us and we know that. We could produce the best record since sliced bread and there are going to be pockets of people out there that say it sucks and Stryper’s a bunch of wimps because that’s their opinion of us and nothing we do, say or release is going to change their minds. I think the people who have been fans of ours since the beginning and even newer fans can listen to “No More Hell To Pay” and see that we clearly still have a lot more to say.
LRI: I wanted to ask you about the song, “Water Into Wine”. That’s one of those tracks that totally has that old-school feel to it, doesn’t it?
Michael: Again, we’re big fans of the straight ahead rock bands of the past, a band like AC/DC, is one of our favorites and that song has kind of that four on the floor, AC/DC feel to it. It also is reminiscent of some of our own material from the past, songs like “Two Time Woman” from “Against The Law”. We love that kind of stuff and there’s something to be said for that simple, straight ahead, in your face, medium type of rockin tune and then lyrically, it’s a very powerful song obviously about how Jesus turned water into wine and the miracles he performed and will continue to perform. It’s just a bold, powerhouse song that just comes at you and kind of smacks you in the face.
LRI: I know that Stryper has caused controversy everywhere, all the time ever since it’s inception among non-fans, the general public and even among fans. You guys caused a stir with the album covers over the years and there are sometimes even fans who complain that the message has been understated in recent years. I am not getting that at all on this album, if anything the message is as bold as ever, it’s just wrapped around some pretty intense music. Was that on your mind at all this time around?
Michael: Absolutely. You know, for some reason I think some people think that for some reason, maybe it’s because we were so bold in the past and had so many songs that mentioned Jesus in the title even or Jesus in the chorus, lyrics like “Jesus is the way”, “Jesus makes me wanna sing”. I think that sometimes when we don’t have Jesus’s name mentioned that boldly some people tend to get up in arms and think “Oh my god, they’re not bold anymore” or “They’re not a Christian band anymore” but that’s really kind of silly if you think about it because as you mentioned John, if you read the words, they are as bold as they can be and as clear as they can be. There is no denying what we are saying with our message and what it stands for.
LRI: Your work is not even remotely done since you have a solo album, a book and a new live album on the way in 2014. How are you gonna work on all those projects, balance all of that and still handle the normal promotion and touring cycle that comes with a new album like “No More Hell To Pay”?
Michael: I don’t know (laughs). I try not to think about it because if I do, I get overwhelmed but yeah, I’ve got a lot going on, it’s crazy and then on top of all of that I have to write a new record with George Lynch. He and I are recording with James Lomenzo and Brian Tichy starting this coming February, so there’s also that. I don’t know how I’m gonna do it but I’m gonna, like anything else, just keep on and do it. If I approach things like that, it seems to all work out so I just keep moving forward. I wake up in the morning, I open my eyes, pour my cup of coffee and just do it.
LRI: The fans are so excited about “No More Hell To Pay” and it’s sure to make a few top ten lists. Are you going to be out there on the road supporting it with a lot more dates soon?
Michael: Absolutely. Not so much this year but in the new year, yes. We just had a few special things planned for the rest of 2013 including the Whisky show we filmed for the live CD/DVD which will be out next year. We have a few dates in the new year, one here in my home state and one in New York but then starting in April we are gonna hit the ground running. There are gonna be a whole slew of STRYPER dates starting in April including Canada, the States, overseas, possibly Japan, South America, just a whole lot of dates that are gonna be taking place.