Seeing that I’ve built a reputation as being the glam metal guy in the team, it should come as no surprise that I’ve been a huge fan of Stryper for a long time now. I recently covered the band’s front-man Michael Sweet’s newest effort Ten, one that took a much more metal-oriented approach than most of his past albums. Obviously, I would jump at any opportunity to speak to him or interview him, and today that’s exactly what I’ve got here for you. I had the chance to speak to Michael over the phone and go over some things that piqued my interest.
Earlier this year, I saw Stryper in my home-town, so between that and the new solo record, there was plenty to talk about. In this interview, Michael discusses his most recent album, as well as some of the recent events with Stryper and their last tour. At the end, I asked him to give some insight on being a Christian in the world of heavy metal. So before I begin to ramble on the intro, let’s get to it!
Michael: Nichalas, how’re you doing man?
Nick: Good, good, how are you doing?
Michael: I’m doing good! It’s a sunny day, it’s not too cold out, and I’m breathing!
Nick: So I’ve actually been a huge fan of Stryper for a while but never got around to checking out the solo albums until recently. From what I understand, Ten took a much heavier approach than previous efforts, maybe more in line with Stryper. So what made you want to take that step?
Michael: Well, I got tired of hearing all of the comments from people that say, “oh yeah, we love Stryper but Michael’s stuff, it’s too soft” ya know? I’ve seen and read and heard comments year after year after year, and I just said, “ok, really? Well, here we go.” What I tend to do on solo albums is that I’ll have a heavy song or two, but I’ll have a lot of more straight-ahead kind of stuff and ballads and whatnot. On this album, I just decided to go straight out metal and keep it heavy. I did the same thing on the last album One Sided War. It was basically my answer to those questions over the years; “can Mike do that?” and I’m like well of course I can. I’ve written most of the Stryper material over the years, so I would hope everybody would know that I can do heavy no problem. That was just kinda the solution; to record a couple solo albums. Now, does that mean the next one will be heavy? I don’t know! It might be all ballads, it might be something totally different.
Nick: So mostly just to cover the entire spectrum? Stick it to those Blabbermouth comments?
Michael: Exactly! Just to prove a point. Like, those doubters, people that doubt you and say, “he can’t do that” it’s me saying, “oh really? Well, here you go!” And it’s funny because a lot of those same people will say “wow! Didn’t know he had it in him!” *laughs*
Nick: So I noticed that Ten has a lot of guest musicians such as Tracii Guns, Jeff Loomis, Todd La Torre, and whatnot, how did you go about choosing who you wanted to be on this record?
Michael: Well, as I was writing each song, I was thinking about the guest in mind. So, “Lay It Down,” for example, as I was writing it, I was thinking of Marzi, and I thought, “Marzi would be perfect on this song.” Or as I was writing “Now Or Never,” I was thinking of Gus G, because I have that vocal breakdown that was very Ozzy, and I thought, “ok, Gus played for Ozzy, he’d be perfect on this track.” So I was thinking of those guys and those guests as I was writing each song, believe it or not, and it just worked out, man! It wound up taking shape and perfectly worked out.
Nick: Good! Is there a story behind the title of the album Ten? At first I thought maybe it was the tenth album but checked and realized it wasn’t.
Michael: It is the tenth album!
Nick: Oh! I must have miscounted!
Michael: Yeah, I’m including two versions of Truth that I released, so it is my tenth solo album. But there is also a flip-side to that coin, and that is that the title track is based on The Ten Commandments. So for those two reasons, I thought that it was perfect to title the album Ten.
Nick: Absolutely, I never even would have thought of that.
Michael: Yeah! And it’s a simple, powerful- I’m a fan of those one-word titles for albums. I love a simple “boom” ya know? But the title of the next solo album might be ten words, it might be long words.
Nick: Always gotta keep them guessing.
Nick: Looking at a couple of the songs, I noticed that “When Love Is Hated” seems to have a bit more edge than the rest of these, whether that was intentional or not, do you mind shedding some light on what this song is about and what inspired that?
Michael: That’s fine if you think that, I actually wouldn’t agree that it has more edge. I’d say the most edgy songs would be “Better Part Of Me” and “Lay It Down.” But it’s different; it’s got a different feel to it, and the reason why is due to the fact that that’s a co-write with Joel Hoekstra. So that was a way for Joel and I to give everybody a taste of what’s to come when he and I do a full-length album together. And I love Joel, he’s such an amazing player, and it’s gonna be fun, it’s gonna be great when we do an album together, which is right around the corner! Not far from here, we’ve been talking about it for like four years. It felt like an eternity, but it’s sooner rather than later that we’re gonna do that.
Nick: That’s good to hear! On the flip-side, “Let It Be Love” I found to be one of the softer ones, and another favorite of mine. I mostly like it because of the acoustic building blocks and whatnot, so basically the same question but for that song.
Michael: Totally! I loved when I was growing up, cruising around in my Convertible Cougar XR7, I had these stereo-speakers in the back seat with Blaupunkt amps just cranking! It would literally pin you to the steering wheel. And I used to crank albums, like Van Halen I and II, and British Steel by Judas Priest and I’d just drive around cranking these albums. But at the same time I’d throw in a Journey album, such as Escape and I’d listen to that just as loud. So as much as I’m a fan of metal, I’m also a fan of great ballads, and I love a good ballad. “Let It Be Love” is a strong song that I’m very pleased with how it turned out, and I hope the world gets to hear it someday.
Nick: For sure; I totally agree, and I’m the same way. I’ll go from ’80s pop albums to death metal, so I definitely get that.
Michael: Yeah, I’ll listen to Loverboy and Night Ranger, and at the same time I’ll be listening to Priest and Maiden.
Nick: So regarding the live shows, I would imagine that Stryper and Michael Sweet solo draw different audiences. Does that make for a different type of experience on the stage, or is it not much different?
Michael: I would say it does, and it would, but the last time I toured as a solo artist with the whole band was back in 2001; so it’s been a long time, almost twenty years. I’m planning on doing some dates next year with the full band, so it’s gonna be awesome. It’s definitely a different dynamic. With a solo band, it’s a different guitar player, different drummer, different bass player, so there’s a whole different thing to it. As much as I love the Stryper tour and touring with Stryper and doing that, I miss doing the solo thing with the full band because I haven’t done it in quite a while. I remember the excitement when I did that, the excitement level was really high, and it was really special and unique, so I look forward to doing that again. It’s gonna happen in 2020.
Nick: Nice! I actually saw Stryper this year at the Lancaster date, at The Chameleon Club.
Michael: Oh wow, ok!
Nick: So something that really struck my interest, what made you guys decide you wanted to cover bands like KISS and Judas Priest and do covers as a large part of the set in between the original Stryper tunes?
Michael: Well, we did an album called The Covering, and it did really well. It consisted of covers plus one original song, but eleven covers. And it was basically to give people a little taste of where we come from musically. We wanted to do that in a tour as well, play some covers, and show people the bands that influenced us and made us who we are today. So that’s what that was all about. Some people didn’t know what to think of it or how to take that, but that was sorta the whole point of the tour. And it was fun, man! We had a blast, going up there and playing some of these covers, and it took us back to the good old days of doing covers in the clubs back in ’82, ’83, and ’84. It was really a lot of fun.
Nick: Sure thing, it definitely caught me off guard. I guess the name would have given it away with history in the name, but I must not have noticed.
Michael: Hey, no worries! Next year will be different, we’ll come up with something different, and we try to make every tour special and unique for people so that we’re not just burning out and doing the same old thing over and over again.
Nick: Yup. So, my last question segues from that, and it’s a little bit more for me than it is the readers. Being a Christian who loves heavy metal myself, including some of the “darker” bands, if you will, I’ve found it easier to relate to you. Stryper was a band that kind of helped me into that mindset. Since we both clearly draw influence from classic metal acts when people ask you something like, “how do you enjoy a band that aren’t from a religious background?” What do you tell them?
Michael: I never buy into that. Not just with music, but with other things in life too. There’s this mentality with Christians and with the church that once you start going to church or you become a Christian that you have to give up everything; sell your clothes, sell your house, sell your cars, sell your music, and give it all up and start from scratch. I don’t buy that; I think that’s ridiculous. So I apply that to music as well. I think if something is going to make you feel bad, or take you to a place that you don’t want to go, then by all means, get it out of your life. If that’s music, or a band, or a song? Get it out of your life. If that’s cigarettes? Get ’em out of your life. If that’s booze? Get it out of your life. But if it doesn’t take you to that negative place, or that bad place, and take you backwards instead of forwards, there’s nothing wrong with it. If you go in my kitchen right now and open the cupboard above the refrigerator, you’re going to see three or four different bourbons in there. Some people might see that and go, “What? Michael Sweet? He’s got bourbon in his house? What? No! It can’t be, he’s a Christian!” *laughs* You know what I’m saying? That seems to be the mentality, usually.
Nick: Definitely. Usually, what I tell people when someone hits me with that, I tell them that I see it as no different than The Exorcist film, where it was actually written by a Christian but obviously contains such dark subject matter, but you can still enjoy it. I’ve actually never heard it interpreted that way, so thank you so much for putting that into perspective.
Michael! Yeah! Again, if you have a problem with something, then deal with it. It’s gonna be different for everybody. What happens from time-to-time is that we as Christians, we try to push our convictions onto other people. So, in other words, if I’m a Christian and I’m a recovering alcoholic, and I don’t want to even look at the stuff, I might go to other people who are drinking and tell them they shouldn’t be drinking. But they may not have the same convictions; they may not have been addicted to it. So let them live, if they don’t have a problem drinking a beer or two, let them drink a beer or two! But I think that we as Christians tend to try to apply those rules to everyone, and that’s not the way it works. But anyway, that applies to music as well!
Nick: Sure! Well, hey, I wanted to thank you again so much for doing this. I’ve been looking forward to it, I’ve been spinning the new album a lot, and I look forward to what you’ve got coming up!
Michael: Well, buddy, I appreciate it man! I’m glad that you like the new album and you like what you hear, and I’m gonna keep putting them out, as long as I’m here on Earth.
Nick: Sounds good to me man, thanks again.
Michael: Alright my friend, God bless you man, take care!
Nick: Yup, see ya!
Ten was released on October 11th, 2019 through Rat Pak Records and can be found at the label’s website.