T.S.O.L, the Southern Californian punk pioneers, will finally be touring Australia this August. MORE: EXCLUSIVE: OCEAN …
Before Emery, Underoath or The Devil Wears Prada emerged as the Bible toting metalheads of the world, Stryper was mixing brutality with a beautiful message on the world stage.
MORE: TROPHY EYES: The Dreamers And The Doers // ALPHA WOLF: … And Out Come The Breakdowns // OUTRIGHT: Don’t Holler Atcha Girl
REVIEWS: TROPHY EYES: The American Dream // AS IT IS: The Great Depression // PLINI: Sunhead`// DORO: Forever Warriors, Forever United
Now 35 years into their career, their 17th release God Damn Evil has the band sounding as heavy and powerful as their youthful beginnings.
Being uncompromising with their message of positivity and love, delivered with a thrashy, stadium metal soundtrack, frontman Michael Sweet took some time to talk through why he feels their new material is superior to their early classics, and why Walmart won’t stock their new LP.
HYSTERIA: Where are we catching you today?
MS: I’m outside of Boston at the moment, so pretty far away from you. I have a little bit of downtime over the next week, and then I’m going to perform a week from this Friday, and then after that we’ll make our way to Australia, and then on too Japan.
How do you balance downtime and being a father, whilst also thinking about and looking forward to the next tour?
I have a personality that just flows with it. I’m able to focus on tomorrow and get through today really easily. I don’t really think about it or look back, I just keep moving forward. People that start thinking about it too much, they can be a real hang up, so I try not to do that. It’s how it’s always been, at least for me. In the band, we’re all different, but my personality has helped keep the band focused and moving forward. My wife and I though haven’t had a real vacation, of say a week or two, of say, nine years! I just don’t have a lot of time off. I’ll come home and during that time I have lots of catching up to do, but then it’s time to go out and do it all again. I live out of a suitcase, which is always in my bedroom.
You’ve balanced a lot of different musical hats over time as well. The reunion of Stryper has worked seriously well in the long run, however what headspace do you have to be in now to write Stryper material, as opposed to solo stuff?
I get asked that a lot, but I don’t really think about it. When someone comes to me and says ‘It’s time to do an album’, whether that’s a solo record or whatever, I just start writing. I sit down with a drum programmer and a guitar and an amp and I lock myself in my studio until I emerge with 11 or 12 songs. I don’t think about it. I don’t say ‘Ok, how are we going to do it.’ I just start writing. Occasionally by doing it that way I get comments from fans being like ‘Oh, this sounds like a solo song’ or vice versa with solo fans, but I’m ok with that, because it’s all tied together. My stuff isn’t too far different from Stryper music, or vice versa. It’s all in the same wheelhouse. I just let it happen and emerge, and the rest is history.
How did adding Perry (Bass) change the musical conversation that was going on?
He’s brought so much, he has such a great spirit and he’s so talented and in the pocket. You hear the guy sing, he’s got this real deep voice, but he sings really high! He takes all the high parts, and has been an incredible addition to the band, and we are so blessed to have him!
Given the band was so established, how did his name come into the fold?
Well, we had a few names in mind, and Perry’s name got brought up from our manager Dave Rose, and it was like a light went on, and we thought ‘Yeah, that’s perfect.’ We reached out to him an wound up speaking on the phone which was great, and then we flew him out not long after that and auditioned him, but before we did that and played any music, we had pretty much made the decision that he was our guy based on his spirit and his personality. He’s the kinda guy that you want to be around. Before we played we knew he was the one, but then we played and it was so engraved in our minds and hearts that he was the one.
You’ve been through the line-up change so much now; is that something that your fearful of in the future, or have you come to expect it given how long the band has been working?
Robert and I started the band, so we’ve been around and been together from the beginning, and there’s a chemistry there that’s special—not that it’s not with any other member, but it’s extra special with Rob. I think you need brothers or sisters that you find working musically. Perry was just such a perfect fit though. I’ve asked him, ‘where were you in 1984?’ Not to take away or re-write the past, but that’s how much we love Perry. He’s such a good fit, and is taylor made for this band. I wish we had met him back then, it would have been a different band, there’s no doubt. He was with Firehouse and that didn’t work out for whatever reason, and it took us a long time to find him, but we’re glad that we did.
That chemistry obviously translates to the live show, which I’m keen to talk about. Given the band is ‘fresh’, especially with new material and new members. What has been the band’s headspace in deciding what new material to play, given the back catalogue is so deep?
We always try hard to play new music, because some of the new music is better than the old music. Fans might argue, but that’s ok because you have the memories and histories built around those songs of the past. The new songs are just as good though; songs like Yahweh and God Damn Evil … there’s so much new stuff that’s good, so we don’t want a set of just the old stuff, a lot of bands do that. They rely on the old material primarily. If you come to our show, it’s 50/50. It’s just as important to us, and we love the new stuff. Live, the response has been amazing. People are always surprised that they’ve just heard a new song that’s as good as an old one. God Damn Evil for example, it goes over just as well as To Hell With The Devil does.
I feel I’ve been refined and I’ve learned a lot over the years, so I can give a lot more.
Thematically, what headspace are you in now with your faith, do you have reflections on the old material that you might disagree with, given you’ve matured in your own understanding of your beliefs over time?
I think that not only have my lyrics changed as I’ve grown, especially musically as an artist, but I view some of the past lyrics differently. Life has a way of beating us up. We get put through the fire but we come out refined, hopefully. I feel I’ve been refined and I’ve learned a lot over the years, so I can give a lot more, which has really worked out for me. I just try to keep encouraging and helping people. That’s my goal in life and will continue to be, so I’ve got a lot more left in me.
How has the audience response changed over time towards those themes? Because having a Christian message in the West in 1984 might not have been as inflammatory as it is now given the way the discourse around it has changed.
It’s an interesting time we live in because in some ways I see people are more open minded to our message, and also the opposite. We live in a PC world, and we wanna accept everyone and be tolerant, and of course that’s good, but I also see the other end of that being people disrespecting what people, and we do. We get really nasty comments and letters, and it makes me think ‘Wow, this is 2018!’ In some ways I think we’ve progressed but in other ways I think we’ve regressed, but it doesn’t stop us from doing what we’re here to do. We love what we do, and more importantly we love to help people and give people hope/ offer them hope.
Plenty of bands that are marketed as a Christian band become quite antagonistic to it over time (Underoath is a great example of that in recent times). What has kept you feeling positive towards that world, particularly with things like the Christian City Music (CCM) world in the States and dealing with the pressures of the more fundamental people in that scene, plus dealing with records being pulled from bookstores.
We just purge ahead and try not to let things rattle us. We’ve gotten resistance from the very beginning. It’s not a new thing; we had Christian bookstores in the 80s and recently Walmart decided to not carry the album because the title has ‘Damn’ in it. It shows that we’ve had applause and boos. It’s been from one extreme to the other for 34 years, so we’ve got a very thick skin because we’ve been through a lot. We have the mentality that nothing can shake and stop us. You can’t stop what we’re doing. Who cares? Let’s do it! That’s how we’ve always been.
Looking forward then, how often do you think about the next material? Because I know that you don’t like to spend a long period of time working on records, but rather like it to happen quickly and organically.
It’s completely in the present; I don’t think about it until a month before recording. Then I’ll start thinking and start planning on the calendar. I’m not recommending this, but 3 weeks tops before the guys are supposed to come out to learn the songs, I start writing them. I work really well under pressure, and I like working the moment. I don’t like wasting energy for too long, because if I did it that way, I would dwell on it and manipulate it and change it and it would become stale. I would over work it, but the thing I do now works very well for me. It’s just the process I use, and that’s been the last 15 years on every record.
Catch Stryper on the God Damn Evil Australian Tour:
Friday 17th August // Max Watts // Melbourne
Saturday 18th August // Max Watts // Sydney
Sunday 19th August // The Gov // Adelaide
Tuesday 21st August // The Triffid // Brisbane