Hard work and determination are the two keys for success in any facet of life. For dynamic rock singer/guitarist Michael Sweet, the road has been paved with gold starting with the success of Stryper some three decades ago– leading into a lengthy solo career, and even a stint in legendary rock band Boston. In more recent years, Sweet teamed up with guitar heavyweight George Lynch for a project simply known as “Sweet & Lynch” to produce the album Only to Rise in 2015.
On August 26, Sweet will release his 7th solo album, One Sided War, via Rat Pak Records.
Sweet recently sat down with us and shared the past, present, and future workings of the accomplished singer, guitarist, songwriter and producer.
For Sweet, his involvement in creating music started early-on, and it’s something that he has no intention of slowing down on, either.
“I got my first guitar when I was five and I just loved it and played it and had nothing but just a drive for music from that day forward. My dad started teaching me chords and as I got a little older, my brother and I won first place in a talent show and then once we did that, that was the first time that the ‘wow’ factor really hit home. The applause and the people and just being on stage with that feeling… the rest is history. I’ve been involved with music my entire life,” said Sweet.
According to Sweet, The Beatles and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty are two of his biggest songwriting influences. “I love the simplicity of a great riff and a great lyric. Not too complicated or too deep, I like the simplicity of it. I like when lyrics are just very simple, yet powerful. And I love riffs that are very simple, yet very powerful, as well. I think the Beatles and Creedence Clearwater Revival are two examples of doing that, absolutely in the best sense of the word. They’re just amazing, incredible.”
While fans have typically come to know Sweet’s solo projects as a means to learn about the softer side of Michael Sweet and break from Stryper’s iconic heavy sound, Sweet says One Sided War may surprise them.
“It’s the heaviest album I’ve ever done. A lot of times, Stryper fans expect heavy and when Stryper doesn’t do it, that’s really a big issue. But when I don’t do it, it’s not as big an issue because fans typically expect a lighter side of Michael Sweet when I do solo albums, and they say that all the time. This is the album that I kind of wanted to put all those remarks to rest and I wanted to do something that was edgier and that compares to Stryper on that level. It holds its own against anything Stryper’s done, for sure.”
On his upcoming solo album, Sweet said he’s excited to have been joined by a number of some of rock and roll’s most talented. Backing him on the record are Whitesnake guitarist Joel Hoekstra, Evanescence drummer Will Hunt, bassist John O’Boyle and East Coast shred-master Ethan Brosh. “I’m really, really pumped about the level of musicianship on this album. It’s literally at level ten, ten being the highest number. I couldn’t be more excited,” Sweet exclaimed.
When asked which tracks fans should check out first on One Sided War, Sweet had a few in mind.
“I’m a big fan of the fast-tempo songs like Bizarre and Golden Age,” Sweet began. “There’s another track on there called I Am, and it’s got kind of a Ronnie James Dio vibe to it. There’s also a really fun song, which is a parody lyric. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s about rock guys going to Nashville and trying to be country guys. Without naming names, we know who those guys are. I’ve done it too, so it’s written for me, just as much as it is for those guys. It’s a song called Radio. I can’t wait for people to see the video and hear that song because it’s all about fun, it’s a great riff.”
Sweet said the title-track, One Sided War, is also on that list of tracks to check out.
“One Sided War is really about people that fight one-sided wars. Whether it’s someone in your family or a neighbor or someone online for that matter, that just wants to keep the war going and you’re just basically saying ‘Enough already, I’m done with this. Let’s move on,’ and they just want to keep it going. It becomes a one-sided war and it’s sad because we see that on a daily basis in the world that we live in,” Sweet explained.
Stryper, formed in 1983, has long been labeled a “Christian metal” band, following the success of To Hell with the Devil. The album was nominated for a Grammy award and was the first “Christian metal” album to achieve platinum status ever. Despite its success under this label, Sweet admitted he has never been a fan on the band’s assigned genre.
“I hate all these labels… I don’t like labels, that’s just me. And I feel that it’s limiting, especially to our band,” said Sweet. “For example, I can’t tell you how many times people go to Best Buy and they can’t find our album and I call the store and find out it’s because we’re in the back corner of the store in the ‘Christian’ category. And that happens all the time. I’ll personally go into a store and say ‘You got your Stryper albums?’ and they’ll say ‘Yeah, back there,’ and I’ll go back and there’s a Christian category in the back corner with one copy of the Stryper album. But then you’ll go up front and there’s Megadeth and there’s Slayer and other bands that we should be under the same category with. That’s what’s really upsetting to me because it feels like we’re being overlooked and not found and it’s just wrong.”
In honor of their third studio album’s 30th anniversary, Stryper will be touring the nation for the “To Hell with the Devil” tour this fall. Sweet said the tour has been stirring a lot of excitement in their loyal fans and that the band will be donning their memorable yellow and black costumes as part of the album’s celebration. “Things have been going really well with Stryper. We’ve been touring, there’s a real excitement and quite a buzz going on with fans right now. We’re gonna put on the old outfits and we’re gonna do the album in its entirety from start to finish and we’re really, really excited about that. That’s going to be a blast.”
According to Sweet, Stryper plans to start working on a new album in early 2017. The band released their most recent album, Fallen, back in 2015. “This year’s all about Stryper. I’ve got an album coming out August 26, but I’m not gonna do any touring this year solo. It’s gonna be all Stryper this year, but next year I’m definitely going to tour solo and I want to do some Sweet and Lynch touring, as well. There will be a few select Stryper shows here and there, but not a whole lot of extensive Stryper touring next year. I would say that that will happen in 2018. We like to take a little time off and not over-saturate the marketplace and go to one particular city five times every year, like a number of bands do. It just doesn’t help matters, I don’t think,” Sweet said.
Though many of the tour dates have not been posted yet, fans can check out the list of current dates on Stryper’s website.
Despite his busy schedule, Sweet says he is already well into the process of planning his projects for next year.
“We’re definitely gonna do another album and George and I are planning on starting that January or February of next year. There’s gonna be a Sweet & Lynch and a Stryper album kind of taking shape at the same time,” said Sweet.
All in all, Sweet sounded to be in a pretty good place. He took a moment at the end of the interview to thank the fans that have followed him throughout his three-decade-long career.
“I’m just excited about what’s happening in my life overall right now and, musically-speaking, as an artist. I can’t thank the fans enough for always supporting and being there for me. They allow me to do what I do. I tell you, I’m grateful. I’m very grateful. I just turned 53 and I’ve been doing this my whole life and not many people get that privilege and honor and I’m one of the few and I never take it for granted ever.”