Michael Sweet has spent the last few decades roaring guitar strings with a stack of solo albums while rolling with the holy warriors of Stryper. He’s still a soldier under command, but when not focused on the yellow and black attack he’s working his solo material spreading the word a different way.
In spite of his West Coast roots, Sweet’s been an East Coast Boston boy since 1995. “It feels more like home to me and so far the winters aren’t getting to me too badly yet. They call it the Hometown of America. The pilgrims landed here, Plymouth Rock, the whole nine yards. It’s a really nice town, incredible art, food and music, a great place.”
The cover art for his tenth solo effort is a bold, striking image matching the numeral milestone. “I named the album Ten based on my tenth solo album, then wrote a song on the Ten Commandments. My wife and I presented it to the artist and he came up with the artwork. It’s brilliant. The five pillars on each side represent the Ten Commandments. The city represents the world; the big X in the middle is the Roman numeral ten. At the top is a person standing representing Moses. I like how it turned out. We thought, wow, this is perfect.” Sweet also released a three-part YouTube series detailing the album’s progress.
Opener Better Part of Me features Jeff Loomis of Arch Enemy, “I wouldn’t have had Jeff if he hadn’t reached out to me. I was putting stuff on Instagram, showing all the guests players.” Loomis sent him a private message saying he’d seen Stryper and would be honored to play. “I was familiar with Jeff; he’s one of the best guitar players out there. I haven’t met him but hope to someday soon. He nailed it, did his tracks, sent them back and I thought wow this is phenomenal.”
This is Sweet’s second time flirting with extreme music. “The closest we’ve come to thrash is Take it to the Cross on our last album. We’re not a thrash band. We just like experimenting, stretching out and exploring boundaries a bit more these days. We enjoy doing that yet not wandering too far from who we are. It’s gotta be from the heart. We have to represent what’s inside and what the fans want to hear as well. We built our fan base from this style and have to stay true to that.” Though not extreme, they’ve inspired a few mosh pits. “We’ve seen a few in South America and Europe when we’re playing a heavy festival. We do one of our heavy songs we might see people moshing, things get a little crazier than normal but it’s rare.”
There were a lot of musicians Sweet wanted on Ten. “Steve Lukather’s always been one of my favorite players and always will be. I admire Steve for being such a unique player. I’ll never forget an event at Guitar Center years ago at the fiftieth anniversary of Marshall. Steve and a bunch of other players were there, some of the best guitar players you can imagine. We got up to play then Steve got up and literally destroyed them all. He didn’t try to, but he was that good. He was too busy but someday we’ll work together.
Sweet offered Extreme’s Nuno Bettencourt Forget, Forgive but creatively he wasn’t sure what he could do with it. “Everyone received the music, no vocals. I gave them marks where I wanted them to play and everyone did a killer job.” Sweet sent it to Alcatrazz’s Howie Simon and he just destroyed it.
Sweet writes Stryper’s heavy songs and has shown a heavier side with his past two solo records. Whitesnake’s Joel Hoekstra played on When Love is Hated and Never Alone. “Joel wrote the music for those songs. I wrote the melodies and lyrics, it was our way of showing the world what we can do when we do an album together. We’ve talked about that for a long time. I put him at the top of my list as well. I think he’s the best of the younger generation guitarists.”
The Son of Man lyric video features some custom computer generated biblical text from Wayne Joyner. “He’s super talented. He knocked it out of the park. He did all the lyrics videos for Stryper. He created stuff tailored to the song so you’re glued to the screen. They’re better than most videos. I’d rather watch a Wayne Joyner lyric video than most music videos these days by far.”
From Loomis to Joyner, Sweet’s no stranger to unique collaborations covering Neil Young’s Heart of Gold on his sixth solo album I’m Not Your Suicide with Megadeth offspring Electra Mustaine. “I’m a big Neil Young fan,” Sweet admits. “Dave and I developed a friendship. Electra has been pursuing a music career. They travel a lot but she had the time and took it to a whole new level. I love her voice, such a deep and sincere voice, angelic and pure. She knocked it out of the park. We’re gonna hear a lot more from her in the future.”
Recently Sweet posted comments about opening for next summer’s Mötley Crüe stadium comeback tour with Def Leppard and Poison. “I post in the moment, if I’m thinking something and it’s on my heart I talk about it. I’m very passionate. When I see a lineup like that, I think how perfect Stryper would be in it.”
It’s not about money, as they’ve paid their dues building a loyal devoted fanbase over the years. “We stay in shape, play well and still deliver the goods. That’s not bragging, that’s just stating facts. We’re a perfect fit for something like that.” (Note: A few days after this interview, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts were announced as openers).
If they had been chosen to open it would’ve been salvation before the sex and sin, so to speak “That’s the thing, when people see us, most have this preconceived idea about a Stryper show being preachy. It’s nothing like that and anyone that’s seen us knows that. We put on a rock n’ roll show just like Mötley Crüe, Poison, and Def Leppard. The difference is, we’re singing about God. We’re singing about things besides sex, drugs, booze and girls which has been done a gazillion times by a gazillion bands. We’re the odd man out doing what no other band does. You’re gonna be entertained and leave saying they rocked, and put on a good show.”
They’re serious about their content, lyrics and message but also grew up in L.A. with Mötley and Poison performing in the same clubs at the same time taking a different path and direction at an early stage. They didn’t want to become victims of excess or fall into the pitfalls of the lifestyle. They’re thankful they took the path less traveled.
A lot of the keyboard warriors and haters have never given them a chance or seen them live. “If you come and see us, good or bad, you’re gonna leave most likely a fan,” Sweet says.
They almost did a few shows with Slayer once. “We were booked on a show in Mexico with Slayer. We thought OK, this would be cool, but it didn’t happen. It depends what we’re feeling in the moment or if schedules permit. We’re a band that will do almost anything, go anywhere, anytime with almost anyone and perform. We’ve been applauded and booed. We’ve had things thrown at us and had people cheer us on, one extreme to another. We break down barriers and they can see first-hand we’re not what they thought we were.
Many years ago Sweet was saved through TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart’s ministry. “Jimmy helped a lot of people,” Sweet recalls. “God used Jimmy to get to me. Sadly we all know what happened. You have to be careful, we’re all sinners. It’s a daily battle.” In the ‘80’s Swaggart denounced Stryper branding them wolves in sheep’s clothing, protesting at shows as being in league with the devil.
The ‘80’s gave way to many rumors, feuds and tours that never happened including a phantom Mötley Crüe tour and a feud with King Diamond. Sweet acknowledges Diamond’s association with the dark side but has never had a beef with him or met him. “I think he’s a great singer with phenomenal range and still has the power and is out there doing it to this day. Maybe we’ll meet and do something as well.”
They’ve stayed busy recording and touring since their early ‘00’s return. “It’s just been a blur ever sense, knocking on 2020’s door. We’re writing a new Stryper album in January. It’s phenomenal how productive we’ve been over the past 15 years.”
Though not chiseled in stone, yet, Ten is now available in all media forms.
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Website – https://www.michaelsweet.com/
Stryper Website – http://www.stryper.com/