When you take one of the greatest voices from the ‘80s and you pair it with one of the most influential guitar players from the ‘80s, you know the results are going to be pretty impressive. That’s exactly what happened with the band Sweet & Lynch. The project pairs the vocals of Michael Sweet (Stryper) with the blistering fretwork of George Lynch (Lynch Mob/Dokken), along with Brian Tichy (Foreigner/Whitesnake/Billy Idol/Ozzy Osbourne) on drums and James LoMenzo (White Lion/Megadeth/Lynch Mob) on bass. The band has frequently been called a super group– and with good reason. These prominent musicians recently came together to create the album, Only to Rise, released in January via Frontiers Records.
When we had the privilege of speaking with Lynch, of Sweet & Lynch, he was at the tail end of a steady stream of interviews regarding his many impressive projects. In the midst of working on his most recent project with KXM and preparing for his upcoming tour with Lynch Mob, one could say he seemed to be enjoying a few moments of peace before it all.
Lynch is known best for his work as lead guitarist with heavy metal band Dokken from the late ‘70s to the late ‘80s. After parting with Dokken, he went on to form Lynch Mob, another heavy band featuring his work as a guitar virtuoso. More recently, among several other projects, Lynch joined forces with Sweet creating the hard rock sound known as Sweet & Lynch. At this point in his career, Lynch has etched his name into the stone of metal history and is often noted as being one of the greatest guitar players of all time.
Flash back to the beginning of it all; before all the fame and the glory, before Sweet & Lynch, and before his involvement with Dokken in the 80’s. What started it all? What was the spark that lit his fire of passion for guitar and music alike? Lynch responded, “I think primarily what happened was when I was very young, before I even played guitar… I think I first started playing guitar around 10… I had this kind of musical inclination in my head. I would just kind of hear, you know– not trying to make myself sound like a genius or anything– but I remember just always walking around and kind of hearing this music in my head and then playing melodies in my head and playing drum beats… and so I finally got a guitar in my hands, you know, after hearing and being exposed to the Beatles. I didn’t think I had any natural aptitude; I was just driven by the desire to emulate the music I was hearing in my head” Lynch paused to reminisce. “And then, of course, I was born in a time that put me as an emerging musician in my teens. I got to witness the emergence of British invasion music and The Beatles and (Led) Zeppelin and (Jimi) Hendrix and (Eric) Clapton and, you know, everybody else [laughs]. It was really just the best time to be a guitar player in his formative stages. It inspired me for the rest of my life,” he continued.
After a short pause and with a smile in his tone, Lynch went on to recount a more recent memory of shared moments with his son. “It’s funny, I was just sitting with one of my boys the other day and he’s always plucking around the guitar, trying to learn songs. He likes the old stuff like Pink Floyd and Hendrix. He loves Hendrix! And he always has me show him stuff. And I was showing him a Hendrix song off of Electric Ladyland. And it’s funny, it brings back all these things for me too. These songs that I never thought to learn note for note and now I’m learning it with him, so it’s pretty cool,” Lynch relished.
In case you weren’t already impressed by Lynch’s long list of accomplishments in the music industry, he has also created a part-time business for himself assembling and embellishing guitars. What started as a hobby for Lynch eventually led to the creation of his notable side business, Mr. Scary Guitars.
“Well, I’ve been assembling guitars most of my guitar playing life, since I was very young. I actually used to go into my dad’s shop and tinker around with the crappy instruments I had back then. St. George’s and things like that. You know, just yard sale $20 guitars and I would experiment with the necks and the frets and swapping the pickups out. And later on, when I was teaching for a lot of years, off and on, before I became a recording artist… what would happen is I would end up assembling guitars for my students to sort of supplement my income. And I’d get bodies and necks from different places and the hardware and pickups and I’d put them together and finish them and set them up. And they got really nice, playable, beautiful instruments for not a whole lot of money, which would help pay the rent. I learned a lot doing that. More recently, I started doing what I would call ‘embellishing’ guitars as a hobby. And I did three or four like that. You know, I applied the snake-skin and metal work and did some different things to them, but didn’t really do anything as far as building the bodies. And I sold those guitars and I thought ‘You know, I could do this. This is fun!’ I started taking luthier classes, which I still continue to take. One thing lead to another and I started doing it as a kind of part-time business. So, I limit myself to ten guitars a year and I make them by hand in my shop in North Hollywood and then I work on some of the aspects here at home and my studio. They’re all unique, round-up, hand-built and, you know, people love them! I’ve never had a person that was not completely blown away.”
While some might worry his guitars exist simply to “look pretty on the wall,” Lynch asserts that they are completely functional. “I’ve got my own kind of style. I’m a desert person from my heart, so I take a lot of elements from the desert and incorporate them into the guitars. I do what’s called a Snakehunter where we actually capture rattlesnakes, we skin them and put take the hides and lay them into the guitars. The snake head is laid into the butt of the guitar and the rattles are incorporated into the design. People sometimes look at them and they’re misconstrued as just pieces of art. And I guess you could look at them that way, but primarily they are functional. They are total monsters and they are incredibly playable,” said Lynch. Some of Lynch’s desert-inspired work and guitars can be viewed on his website.
Flash forward to the beginning of Sweet & Lynch: How did two of the most recognizable names in ‘80s rock come together to create this album in the first place? Lynch recalled, “Mike and I had been touring. I was touring with Lynch Mob and he was touring with Stryper. We shared an agent so we had been traveling together and doing shows together and we started talking about starting a project where we could start working together. We didn’t really have any way of doing that, but we liked the idea of it. And this record company from Italy came along and offered Michael and I a project that they were trying to put together. It was actually created by the record company. So they hired Michael as producer, sort of the lead guy, and they brought me in to do what I do, write songs… the music part of the songs—not the lyrics. And we did that! It was probably one of the easiest records I’ve ever been involved with. It wasn’t effortless, but there were very few obstacles and challenges creating something for nothing. But it went really smooth and was a lot of fun!”
According to Lynch, the recording process behind Only to Rise, much like the album itself, was anything but ordinary. “I could name like three different projects and three completely different ways of doing records but the Sweet and Lynch one was done through file sharing. So Michael and the rest of the band were back East in the studio there and I was working in my own studio here in Los Angeles. I would write some music, I’d send it to them, they’d arrange it a bit and then record some drums and bass. Then it’d come back to me and I’d add in the guitar based on that arrangement then they’d add the vocals and mix it. So we were actually never in the same room together at the same time,” said Lynch.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat and there’s also more than one way to record a hit album. Lynch went on to compare the recording process of Only to Rise with the process behind some of his previous projects, illustrating a few of the different methods he’s used in the studio. “When it came to KXM, which is Ray Luzier, Pinnick and myself, we went into a vacant home which had a studio built in it called Sound Mountain, a couple hours away from Los Angeles and kind of in the middle of nowhere. We basically just moved in there for ten days. We’d never played together, we didn’t have any songs and we wrote songs and recorded them that day on the fly. So it was very risky. We knew we only had that ten-day window! We managed to write and record a whole record all together in ten days. It was just all of us working equally hard together. That was a great experience. And then the Lynch Mob record that came out recently, Sun Red Sun, with myself, Oni Longan, Robbie Crane and Scot Coogen… that was more of a traditional record which was written in rehearsal studios after a long period of time. A lot of work went into writing the songs as a band. You know, reworking a song over and over again and keep making changes, really getting it fine-tuned and then recording it with a producer. That was way more traditional. So there’s three distinct ways of recording an album, at least from my experience,” explained Lynch.
Fans of 80’s rock and metal will not be disappointed in Only to Rise, if the list of Sweet & Lynch influences holds any weight. “I think there is such an eclectic pool of influences on that record. I mean you listen to one song and it sounds like Van Halen, we were kind of going for a Van Halen vibe. There’s another song that sounds like Iron Maiden. There’s another song that sounds kind of ‘Dokken-y.’ There’s another song that has kind of a Robin Trower feel to it. So they all share kind of a common thing, which is that they sound like Sweet & Lynch, Michael and myself obviously. But then each song, I would say, has its’ own unique derivative,” said Lynch.
Going hand-in-hand with Sweet & Lynch’s full length album, the band also recently released a music video for their country-esque single, Dying Rose, which can be viewed below. “From a musical and song composition stand-point, I really loved the way Dying Rose came together. I think it’s an anthem. I think it’s just a beautiful song on all levels and it just makes me feel good when I listen to it. That was actually derivative of a Dokken song,” said Lynch.
The album itself can be described in large as melodic with a few pounding rock anthems in between. Sweet’s soaring heavenly vocals complement Lynch’s serpentine solos and dynamic riffs in Only to Rise. On the album, Lynch has regarded the track Recover as one of his favorites on the album, citing the guitar solo as being a particularly monumental one. Although this album is a solid nod to the ‘80s, the sound itself is absolutely timeless.
When a musician becomes involved in as many projects as Lynch, one might wonder what makes each project stand out in the mind of the artist. When reminiscing on his experience with Only to Rise, this was an easy question for Lynch to answer. “For me, it’s a full circle record. It’s kind of circling back around and coming back to where I started from and where my recording career started. It has a lot of the elements we incorporated into records that we did back then. You know, back with Dokken’s Under Lock and Key and with Michael’s records I would imagine. That kind of writing style, I don’t even know what you’d call it. It’s just a frame of mind that you’re writing to have it played. And I hadn’t felt that in years… decades, really. I’ve actually been asked by people, who will hire me to do some kind of writing or recording, specifically to come up with something reminiscent of the Dokken era and I hadn’t been able to do it very successfully and I don’t know why. But doing this Sweet & Lynch record, I didn’t even think about it, it just happened! Like it used to back in the day. I guess, I don’t know why it happened… but I felt like I was doing a record back in the 80’s, only in a healthier way! Without the drugs and all the bad stuff involved, the silly makeup, and stretchy pants [laughs]. And working with James and Michael, since they’re the best of the best,” Lynch explained.
Lynch went on to explain some of his favorite aspects of Only to Rise’s creation. “The number one thing that excites me about this record is the opening and the sound. It sounds great and we’re all really happy about the record. But beyond that, I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people over the years, saying ‘well why don’t you do what you used to do?’ and I think this album has kind of addressed that, you know? Because I kind of did do what I used to do after all these years and it’s been cool! I think I’m serving these people and giving them what they want. And it’s what I want, too! I mean, I like this music and think it’s great,” said Lynch, pausing thoughtfully. “What left a bad taste in my mouth from the music I did back in the 80’s was the social band situation. We haven’t had that problem with Sweet & Lynch. We’re all great friends and we all get along. We all joke around and everyone does their job and there’s no bull shit at all. I’ve learned at my age that that is the prerequisite to starting a band with someone. Just work with people of decent character, that are honest and do what they say they’re gonna do. Even if someone’s a great musician, if they create havoc it takes all the fun and joy out of it. That’s why I think Only to Rise was such a great record, because it was so enjoyable. I was able to just relax my body and relax my mind and just let the ideas flow,” Lynch continued.
With Only to Rise having received rave reviews from fans and critics alike, one can’t help but wonder what’s to expect from Lynch and all of his guitar-shredding talent in the coming months? To this, Lynch responded, “We just finished a new Lynch Mob Record. We had Sun Red Sun that came out last December. We have a new record that we just finished and we’ve got Jeff Pilson, from Dokken, playing bass which is just awesome. That record will be coming out next summer and then I get to work on trying to get a distribution deal for the Shadow Nation documentary and the soundtrack for that as well. We’ve been working on it for about five years. It’s about Native Americans in music. Then after the soundtrack I’ll be going into the studio with the Infidels with Angelo Moore, vocalist from Fishbone and the rhythm section from War and Tower of Power. It’s kind of a heavy funk. It’s Band of Gypsys from Hendrix with other elements,” explained Lynch.
After having covered Lynch’s many current projects, one might wonder whether there will be room for a Sweet & Lynch tour in the future. To this, Lynch responded, “Right now, we all have so many projects, it’s really tough. We’ve all got our anchor bands. I have touring plans with Lynch Mob. We’re going out this year and we’ve got about 38 dates so far and they’re adding to that almost daily, so we’re gonna be busy on the road in the fall. So I don’t see any other room for any other bands this year, or at least not through the fall,” he said regretfully. “I wish I could have all my bands on one tour, you know? It’d be great! We could wear different costumes in each band… a moustache in one band, an afro in another, a jumpsuit in another, you know [laughs],” joked Lynch.
The Sweet & Lynch team seem to have quite a lot going on this year which will likely just transition into an even bigger and better year for them, and for their fans. Using the instruments that have taken them so far up to this point, each part of this successful hard rock quartet continues charting the course which will ultimately lead to their supremacy in rock n’ roll. And whether or not Sweet & Lynch ultimately winds up going on tour, there are still 12 tracks of classic rock goodness awaiting you music-lovers on Only to Rise.