Michael Sweet of Stryper has been around the block, touring and performing in his influential Christian glam metal band since the early 80’s. Whether you agree with his band’s message or not, you can’t deny that Stryper have some sweet gosh darn harmonies and righteous riffs peppered through their catalogue. Every band has influences, and Stryper are looking back at peers and precursors who inspired them on the band’s new record THE COVERING. Who knows, maybe someday Demon Hunter will cover Stryper.
When it came time to pick out a listing of tunes to cover, all the band had to do was look back upon their club days. “Growing up, before Stryper was even Stryper, we were a cover band,” says Sweet. “We played Gazzarri’s on the Strip for years - we would do originals but also do covers, as well. We always did Priest covers and Maiden covers, all those bands we grew up on and who influenced us. I’m never going to sound like Bruce Dickinson or Ronnie James Dio, nor would I ever try to. And having me sing the song puts our own spin on it. We just all did our own thing and with our own touches and feel – Robert, Tim, Oz, and myself – it has that Stryper feel to it as well.”
Most of the covers work well (especially “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Over The Mountain” which are well suited to the signature soaring Stryper vocals you love or hate). Even if you might be surprised to hear Sweet singing “Breaking The Law”, THE COVERING is worth checking out. I can man up and admit I love this style of metal while simultaneously wearing a Jucifer shirt. Anyway, Sweet talked about the album, the songs, the past and future of Stryper and his rad stint in legendary classic rock band Boston.
To read the full interview click here
Morgan Y. Evans: Let’s talk about THE COVERING! The record is fun and still sounds like you guys. It’s not radical reinventions of these covers. You play them straight but you still made them your own. I especially liked “Over The Mountain”. I was wondering how the idea came about and if you were nervous at all?
Michael Sweet: No. Y’know, we were toying with the idea of a cover album for awhile. We played a few covers out live over the years. It was something we’d always discussed and my wife and a number of other people as well said how great it would be if we did follow through with the idea of a covers album. We just decided this would be a good time. We went in and started covering the songs. We didn’t want to venture too far from the originals. That was purposely done. I’m not a fan, personally, of people that completely do their own take of a cover. Some people are, and that’s fine. I’m not. You lose sight of the original song and what made the song what it was when you do that. We wanted to stay true to the originals and yet put our own little spin on each song and I think we accomplished that, y’know?
MYE: Yeah. I like the distinctive Stryper guitar tones, too. It is definitely you guys. “Heaven and Hell” on the fast part of the bridge… “The world is full of kings and queens”, that part…it’s really cool to hear your tones and voice on it.
MS: We’re endorsed by Line 6 right now. They make incredible Amps, but on that album it was a Mesa Boogie Mark V, which is the tone I use on tour. A couple tours now. Mesa Boogie Mark V and a Tech 21 Para Driver. That’s the Stryper tone.
MYE: It sounds like a studio recording but doesn’t sound fake.
MS: Thank you. Glad you like it. So far it’s been well received and people’s comments have been incredible.
MYE: You guys, or even when Def Leppard did their covers record…You’ve done plenty of material of your own over the years that meant a lot to people. My friend Kwame was telling me the other day, “Oh, that’s so cool you’re interviewing Stryper. That was my first concert when I was 8!”
MYE: You didn’t just get famous off a cover song in the first place and have made lots of great records. This is truly just that you like the material.
MS: Absolutely, man. Those are the songs and those are the bands, man. That is who we are. We really wouldn’t be there without those bands. That got us into music and we wanna show people that.
MYE: How did you decide what songs to do by each artist? Was it hard?
MS: It really wasn’t. It just kind of fell together quite simply, actually. These are all bands Oz (Fox) and I were driving around listening to in high school. Crankin’ Scorpions and UFO and Van Halen! Those were bands we were listening to growing up, so it was very simple picking the songs, actually.
MYE: Right on, man. I was thinkin’ it would’ve been super cool if you covered “After Forever” by Black Sabbath with your band’s message and everything, but I like the songs you guys picked.
MS: (laughing) Well, y’know…if this album is very popular maybe we’ll be forced to do a COVERING 2. You never know.
MYE: I recently heard you were playing with Boston for awhile!
MS: I still am, as far as I know.
MYE: That is so awesome.
MS: I played with them in ’08 on a tour. They’re planning on releasing another album at some point and touring and as far as I know I’ll be doing that as well. It came out of nowhere and was pretty amazing. That’s another band that influenced us. I’ve always been so blown away and encouraged by the sound of that record. The first Boston album. That will always sound timeless. It’ll never sound bad. Having grown up on that and then playing it on stage with those guys was amazing.
MYE: Oh, yeah. I hold it up as THE perfect catchy rock album, especially considering that all that production wizardry was analogue. It’s so amazing. Excuse me, but I just found out you’d been playing with them and of course was sad about Brad Delp, but I when I heard you were involved with them now I thought it was a great choice based on your playing skill and ability to harmonize.
MS: It worked out. There’s another gentleman by the name of Tommy DeCarlo and he basically sang half of the material and I sang half of it and we went out and toured with Styx and it was very well received.
MYE: That’s really cool, man. I was excited to find that out and it is good that Stryper is active too. How does it feel to still be active in music and be able to connect to fans and have people care?
MS: It’s amazing, dude. It really is. I’ve said this before but it is real easy to start complaining when you are running here and there and not getting sleep but you have to step back and realize…we’re really blessed. We’re fortunate because we are able to play when most other bands from our genre and that period aren’t. I’m hearing stories about bands that were multi-platinum that are selling one hundred to two hundred tickets and we’re able to go out and sell out House Of Blues at a thousand tickets. We count our blessings and are thankful. We played out at Namm and it was a blast. It was unbelievable and a lot of great gear and loads of people, obviously.
MYE: If you don’t mind…you’ll probably get asked this a bit…I saw a debate on Youtube that said you shouldn’t have covered Judas Priest or this and that. Music is supposed to bring people together regardless of styles or religion and start conversation instead of dividing. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind talking about that a little bit.
MS: Again, we picked the songs that had a big importance on us and also we wanted to pick songs that were appropriate with what we stand for. There’s nothing at all in any of these songs that I cringe at. Nothing at all. “Heaven and Hell” is a song we would have written! If you read the lyrics it’s speaking about good versus evil.
MYE: Different forces in the world or going through things in life. I agree. It is too easy for people to tear each other down.
MS: People are so quick to judge. They beat each other up. We all do it. It’s really sad, man. We haven’t walked away from our faith and are devout Christians. We just wanna have fun and show people where we come from musically. It’s as simple as that.
MYE: Whether people agree with you or not, also…they can’t take away that you are great musicians.
MS: Thanks. I totally know what you mean.
MYE: Anything coming up you are excited about?
MS: We have a tour starting March 2nd in Seattle. We’re gonna do about 18 shows. Maybe twenty-ish. The whole month. Then we’re going to Mexico and Europe and are coming back for more U.S. dates. They aren’t confirmed yet. We’re just trying to spread the word and tell people we have a new album out. That’s it.
MYE: Any part of the world you particularly enjoy playing these days? Wherever the people are excited and singing along?
MS: Definitely South America. It’s a great place for us. We’re very well received in Puerto Rico and parts of Europe. It’s amazing we can play in the states and sell a thousand tickets and then go to Puerto Rico and sell 5, 6 or 7,000 tickets! It’s pretty incredible and really cool for us to get out there. We love seeing our fans in other countries and it’s good getting out there and that people love it.
MYE: It must feel good to have your songs stick with people. Even your newer material was strong. What about your headspace is different now then when you wrote “You Know What to Do” or whatever? What do you want to do to challenge yourself as a player?
MS: We’ve matured as people and musically and spiritually. I think that comes through in the songs. As a writer and producer I’ve really come a long way. If you look at the lyrics from ’84 to now, they are a lot deeper and I’ve been through a lot. The experience comes through but we continue to try to write songs that will touch people’s hearts and move people and we’ll keep doing that. We plan to do a new all original album sometime soon and have a lot in store over the next few years. We’re gonna try to keep stepping it up.
MYE: Well, keep it up, man. I am a fan.
MS: Thanks for supporting the band and it was really cool talking to you.
Live Photo by Scott Uchida