Intervju med Michael Sweet i Stryper!
För en tid sedan ringde jag upp Michael för ett snack om lite allt möjligt. När han svarade berättade han snabbt att han hade lite problem med sin hund och undrade om jag kunde ringa 10 minuter senare.
Det var självfallet inga problem och intervjun kom sedan att rulla på och handla om allt möjligt som har hänt eller händer i Strypervärlden. Personligen har jag aldrig tagit Stryper till mig, men det är alltid oerhört kul att snacka med alla dessa rockers och alla har ju en historia att berätta.
How are you?
Michael: I´m doing well. My dog had surgery about a month ago and I had an appointment and they were behind so it was out of my control, you know.
Stuff that happens.
Michael: Yeah! Where are you calling from? Are you actually calling from Sweden?
I´m calling from Stockholm, the Capital of Sweden, yes.
The snow is finally gone and it´s almost like summer here, finally. We´ve had a cruel winter that lasted for months and months and now finally the light is back again.
Michael: Thank god! Our winter probably wasn´t as harsh as yours, but we had a pretty bad winter too. They seem to be getting worse every year.
Yeah, most definitely. Well, what are you and Stryper up to now? Are you still on tour in the US?
Michael: We are touring the US. We did a run in March where we did 20 dates and we´re coming to Europe and then we come home for a brief moment. We go to South America in August and Puerto Rico and then we do another US run in September and October. We´re trying to make people aware that we´re still alive, we´re not dead yet.
Sure. What´s it like making music these days compared to when it all started out for you in the 80´s? Is it easier writing music today, since you´ve done it for so long or was it easier back then with the music climate and everything?
Michael: You know, if easier is the right way of putting it, but I mean, I think it´s certainly different, good or bad. The thing about writing music today is… you know with Pro Tools and the digital technology and what not, you can go in and track drums and do edits later to fix the problem. Back in the day you couldn´t do that, you had to get it right, so maybe there was a little more stress back in the day and it took a little longer to make records. I think the enjoyment process is a little higher. This last record we did, “The covering”, we had the time of our lives. It was a fun experience.
A bit about your history. As I gather the name Roxx Regime turned into Stryper.
Michael: That´s correct. What happened was, we had the name Roxx and there was this other band that went by the name Roxx and we added Regime to Roxx and we actually signed the recording contract with Enigma as Roxx Regime, but everybody hated the name, so that´s when we all mutually agreed, the label and the band, that it would be best to come up with a new name and that´s when we came up with the name Stryper.
I think Roxx Regime sounds really cool!
Michael: (laughs) You know what it is, the problem we always found with the name Roxx Regime is that when people would say “What´s the name of your band?” and we´d say “Roxx Regime!” and they´d say “What?” and with Stryper we never get that. With Stryper they never say “What?”.
When you started out, did you plan or make plans… was the thought initially to become the most prominent Christian band or was that just something that happened? Was it the plan from the beginning?
Michael: No, there was no plan! I´ll tell you what happened. We were a regular Hollywood club band trying to make it, like Mötley Crüe and Ratt and all the bands that were on the scene at the time. We weren´t a Christian band! We went to church growing up and had a relationship with god for a while, but then kind of got into drinking and drugging, all the things that typical rock bands from that time period got into and we wound up talking to friend of ours who gave his life to god and we saw a change in him and he really encouraged us to change the direction of the band, so we did and we re-wrote the lyrics and decided, “You know what? We wanna be different! We wanna make a stand for a different cause and not just sex, drugs and rock and roll!”. That´s what we did.
Had that not happened with that friend of yours, would you have become more of the same kind of stuff that all the other LA bands were up to? The sex and the drugs and all that? Do you think that?
Michael: I don´t know! Maybe. I know not musically! We were writing a lot of the songs, all the songs on the “Yellow and black attack” album and a lot of the songs on “Soldiers under command” were written prior to us becoming Stryper. Musically speaking we still would´ve had the Stryper sound and what not, but as far as our spirituality and lifestyle goes, we might have gone down that road of sex, drugs and rock and roll and not know where we´d be today. Maybe dead! Who knows?
Do you remember the first club you played in LA?
Michael: Oh gosh! I remember the first time we played, one of the first clubs in LA, if not the first, was Gazzaris and I was way under age. I was 13 years old and I remember Bill Gazzari, knowing how young I was and having a problem with it, but allowing me to play there and it was a real controversial thing at the time. I was like one of the youngest guys that had ever played the club at that time, but it was illegal. We started at a very young age and that´s when I joined my brother´s band, when I was 13. We started playing backyard parties and then we eventually found our way into Hollywood. Gazzaris we played for years and Troubadour, Whisky, the Country Club in Reseda, so lots of places. I´ve been doing this for a long time and I was just this little punk kid up there, skinny kid and weighed about 90 lbs and soaking wet. Up there jamming it out or trying anyway.
Looking back on those days, of all the tours you did, which one was the most fun? Is there any tour that stands out from all the others?
Michael: Oh my gosh! I gotta correct something, I gotta make a correction! I don´t want any false information going out there! I was 13 when I joined my brother´s band and we did backyard parties and high schools and things like that, but I was 16 when I first played Gazzaris.
Still very young!
Michael: Yeah, still very young and you had to be 18 to be allowed in there. Your other question was?
Of all the tours back in the day, is there any tour that stands out from all the others and were more fun?
Michael: Absolutely! We had a blast with TNT and Loudness! It was an absolute incredible time and Tony Harnell to this day… we haven´t been in contact for a long time, but he came up on stage with us and did “Breaking the law” at BB King´s in New York. He´s a dear friend and he´s an amazing person and I´ve always respected TNT for their songwriting and their musicianship. It was just a cool hang! We toured with White Lion and that was fun too.
Cool! Whose idea was it to start throwing out bibles into the crowd? Was that from you or management?
Michael: No, Michael Guido made the suggestion. He was kind of a mentor of ours and still is and he suggested we´d get these little testament bibles and we started buying them and throwing them out. It became something that Stryper is known for to this day and we still do it.
Do you have any idea how many bibles you´ve thrown out to the crowds over the years?
Michael: Definitely thousands! Back in the day when we were playing arenas, 10-12.000 people, we would throw out 200 bibles at a time. Now we don’t. We throw out maybe 30-40 at each show, but you add up all the shows and average that out, it´s definitely thousands of bibles. We used to throw those out in the early days and they´d be left all over the floor and then we had stickers made up, Stryper stickers and we started putting those on the bibles and once we did that, we´ve never seen a bible left from that point forward!
Wow! You must´ve had an entire truck full of bibles on the road then?
Michael: The way it worked is that we had a portion of the truck. We had three semis, one for light, one for sound and one for backline and the bibles were on the backline semi and we had a lot of bibles and when we would run low, we reordered them. We didn´t take enough out to do the whole tour. We kind of ordered them as we went.
I know about the name Stryper, but why did it turn out to be black and yellow? Why those colours and not, let´s say black and red?
Michael: You know, my brother taped his drumsticks yellow and black way back when we were still Roxx Regime. It lead from the drums being yellow and black to the guitars being yellow and black. He would tape it up. He taped up my Flying V Gibson and the bass player at the time, Eric Johnson… we were a trio at the time and I was the only guitar player and he taped up the guitars and then we started wearing yellow and black and making our own clothes. We used to buy carpet and spray-paint it yellow and black and wrap it around our legs, you know. We were doing all crazy kinds of stuff. We didn´t have a lot of money and we made our own guitar cabinets and we made our own clothes and we really worked hard.
I just saw a short interview with you on YouTube from something called the “700 club” and it was in 1986 and in it you said that initially… and it was bout you getting criticism from the Christian community and you said that starting the band “…was a calling from god!”. Was it like that? It´s hard for me because I´m not religious in any way.
Michael: I really think so! We believe it was a calling from god. The reason why we believe that is because the people that were put in our lives, that miraculously so gave their lives to god. One of the guys was probably the person you would least expect to give his heart to god and we saw this renewal in him and this glow in his eyes, this sparkle in his eyes and we saw the change god made in his life and we wanted that! We wanted that change for us, so we really feel it was a calling. You know, we wouldn´t go back and change a thing. Everything was perfectly put into place and connected the dots and once we committed to that… I´ll tell you this right now and this is the truth! You can take this for what it´s worth! We looked for a record deal for years and we did demos for years to no avail. Beating our heads against the wall and nothing happened. When we committed our band to god and decided to make a bold stand for god, we got a recording contract instantly and everything exploded, ok? We started to sell out clubs, the press wanted to talk to us and that´s not why we did it, but it is interesting that when we did it, that that happened. It just solidified to us, that that´s what we were supposed to do. That´s what we were called to do.
Comparing the US to Sweden, we´re not a very religious country and the US is, but is there a difference touring in different states in the US? Do you still get criticism in places these days?
Michael: We get some criticism. Back in the day we got a lot more, but I guess people are much more open minded now. I remember back in the day, many times we would go to perform a show and we would be ridiculed, totally! We performed in Holland and we got booed off the stage for the first three songs and they were chanting and this crowd wanted to kill us, you know. But once we played, after three or four songs, we won the crowd over and I think what it is, is once people see Stryper, they realize that “…these guys are just a rock band and they´re not too bad at it!”. We´re not about religion! We don´t endorse religion! We just endorse god and we endorse the word of god. We don´t endorse religion. Religion, unfortunately, separates people and confuses people, you know. We´re not a religious band!
During all this time… I saw a clip recently from a show in the US and you were talking to the crowd. Have you ever thought of getting into preaching and did you ever think of becoming a priest or be more involved in church and so on? Was that ever a thought for you?
Michael: In my own way, yes. The calling in my life hasn´t been to become a priest, but I do consider us as ministers in some way, because we go out and we minister people. We do it in a different way. I am involved in church and I actually lead music for three years at my church and I´ve always been involved in church and I love going to church. There are many times when I can´t go and sometimes I go for a couple of months without going to church. When we´re traveling we try to have church on the bus or get together and read from the bible and pray together and try to encourage each other. We´re a little different animal because we were brought up in the world, not the church and we´re not your typical Christian band! It´s a little different for us and I think it makes it a little easier sometimes for people who are Christian, to relate to us. I was giving an interview earlier and we have a lot of fans out there, that you would not expect to be Stryper fans. We performed at Nokia live recently in LA and backstage was Twiggy, who´s with Marilyn Manson and he´s a Stryper fan. He showed us a photo of him dressed up a Stryper member when he was in high school. And then John 5, who plays with Rob Zombie, he´s still got his Stryper bible and followed the band back in the day. There´s a lot of people out there that are fans of Stryper, but they might not admit it.
The latest album “The covering”, how did you end up picking the songs? Did you have a list of like 30 songs and you picked from those and was it a band effort picking those songs?
Michael: The way it worked was that I wrote up a list of just the “no-brainer, not have to think about songs” and there were a lot of those. I wrote up a list of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Scorpions and all these bands and I submitted that to the guys and everyone was like “Yeah, yeah absolutely!”. It was real easy. The only other songs that we kind of went back and forth on was songs like “Highway star”, “Carry on wayward son” and all those were influences of ours. It wasn´t a collective influence. “Carry on wayward son” was probably more of an influence for Tim, than it was to Robert, you know what I mean? KISS was more of an influence to Robert than it was to me, so there were a few songs that were not as influential on all of us, but the majority of those songs was collectively and influence on all four of us.
Did you ever think like “Let´s do something really crazy and cover a Slayer song!”?
Michael: (laughs) No, we didn´t think of covering a Slayer song! We always wanted to play or tour with Slayer just to see the freak out on the crowd. There would probably be a lot of police on hand, let´s put it that way. We thought about being a little more obscure and controversial in the song choice. Like for example “Breaking the law”, if we had covered “Exciter”, you know. We toyed around with “Exciter” and we could pull that off and that I think, would´ve been a little more shocking than “Breaking the law”, so we played it safe in a couple of ways and I kind of wish we hadn´t.
Cool! What about a new studio album then? Are you writing now or is that more far off in the future?
Michael: You know, I write really weird! I´m one of those guys that if I get a phone call from the label and they say “Hey, we need a song!”, I´ll go down stairs and write a song in a day. It´s just weird! I don´t say that to say that all the songs I write are great, good or bad whatever, that´s your opinion, but that´s how I write. If they say “We need a record!”, I go down and work until I have 12 songs. Once it´s time to do a new studio album, I´ll go down and work hard on writing the material for it. We are going in for recording a couple of new songs and some old songs and I just recently wrote a couple of new songs, to prepare for that record and we´re excited about that!
Right! A forthcoming studio album, would you produce that yourselves or would you like to work with a hot shot producer?
Michael: No, no man! Nothing against hot shot producers, but we´re not a band in a position to work with a hot shot producer. First of all they want too much money and they want too many points and we don´t make that much money or sell that many records to afford it. Number two, I don´t think we need it at this stage in our career! I produced the last record and the record prior to that one and the reviews have been great. They sound great and we have a great engineer, Danny Bernini, and he´s awesome. He´s one of the best I´ve ever worked with. He came out of the Record Plant in New York and he´s phenomenal! We found this chemistry between myself and Danny engineering and the studio Spirit House in North Hampton, Mass. and we´ve got a great combination. We´re able to go in there and for 20 or 25.000 dollars, record 12 or 13 really great sounding songs and we´re very pleased!
Do you like working with other songwriters on songs or do you preferably work on your own?
Michael: For Stryper, usually it´s me. I´m open to working with other writers, but it´s just not a road that I`ve gone down or have really had to go down, but I do co-write. I just went to Nashville and wrote with Blair Daly who wrote the Uncle Kracker song “Smile”. I´m into co-writing and I love to co-write! I´m planning some other sessions to do some other co-writing with some other people, but for Stryper it´s kind of what I do and hopefully I´ve gotten good at it over the years. The well is not running dry yet!
Would you ever consider doing a full blown tour in full old school Stryper regalia with the black and yellow stuff and all that? Would you ever consider that or is that just part of the past?
Michael: No, it´s not part of the past. If there´s a demand for it and it´s viable, absolutely! You know, we´re doing this show in Japan this year and I can´t say who or what or where yet, but we´re doing a show in Japan (Loudpark festival Oct 15, Editor´s note) and we´re gonna be sporting the old outfits.
Michael: There is a demand for that. It just depends on where and when and if so, a world tour or a US tour, absolutely! I think it would be really cool to go out there with the original look. I mean, we have to throw on wigs now to get the original hair! (laughs)Yeah, I think it would be fun!
What kind of set are you playing these days? Is it more of a greatest hits set?
Michael: No, we´re not doing any of the old songs! We´ve got a bunch of polka songs that we´ve worked out metal versions of. (laughs) No, of course we´re doing as many of the old classics that we can fit into a 75 or 80 minute set. We do a couple of new songs from the past few albums and then we do three or four covers.
Do you remember the first time you played in Sweden? Did you play here in the 80´s?
Michael: We sure did! I don´t remember specific dates, but we played Sweden in the 80´s, yeah absolutely!
I ´m wondering, do you know of a band called Allies?
Michael: Are you referring to the old Allies with Bob?
I bought a vinyl record (Shoulder to shoulder, 1987 Editor´s note) back in the late 80´s. I bought it at the local record store and from reading the liner notes and so on, I could kind of figure out that they were part of the Christian rock community and was really blown away by how good they sounded. I always wondered what happened to them?
Michael: It was Bob Carlisle singing. A phenomenal singer with a really great voice. He went on to be a writer and he wrote a song called “Butterfly kisses” and that was a big hit, a huge hit! I´m not sure what he´s up to now. He does a lot of jingles and stuff. He´s got one of those memorable, amazing voices!
Great! A final thing, of all the bands you toured with and all the other LA bands you came a cross, was there any band that you felt that you bonded more with than others? Any bands that were more fun hanging around?
Michael: Absolutely! I bonded much so with Ratt with the original line up. Stephen Pearcy and I used to hang out in front of Gazzaris and talk. I bought a white Flying V from Stephen and that was the first guitar to get taped yellow and black. Good friends with Robbin Crosby and Chris Hager at the time, was the other guitar player and he then went on to be in Rough Cutt. I really hit it off with Jake E Lee when he joined Ratt and I was good friends with Doug Aldrich who plays in Whitesnake now. He and I hung out a lot. We hit the town together a lot! (laughs) he´s a super guy and I love Doug. I haven´t talked to him in years.
Yeah, I´ve met him and interviewed him twice and he´s a really nice guy!
Michael: One of the best, man! He´s so humble and what an amazing talent and super human being? And then CC Deville! An interesting thing with CC and Doug, is that they were supposed to be in Stryper.
Oh Doug too? I knew about CC.
Michael: Yeah, CC came down and we were gonna join forces. He got mentioned on “The yellow and black attack” and he was like a Tasmanian devil! He said “ Nah, I want to do the glam thing and and pink and purple…!” and he wasn´t into the yellow and black thing at all. Doug we wound up jamming with. I forget why we didn´t work things out or didn´t try to? I think he was gonna pursue his other band Lion and do that, but that could´ve been. It easily could´ve been.
You´ve got any fun Robbin Crosby stories?
Michael: No fun Robbin Crosby story, but it was always hilarious talking to Robbin with that deep voice and he was six foot seven, a huge guy, but a big teddy bear. Just a sweetheart! We hung out in front of Gazzaris and we hung out in the studio a lot and every time I ran into Robbin, he´d always give me a hug and say “Hey Michael!”. Just a great guy!
Yeah! It just seems like he went down a black hole and everything went wrong.
Michael: Yeah, that´s what I say. The whole rock and roll scene… that can happen to anyone, but it´s really sad and I know unfortunately that he experimented with drugs and what not. It´s just sad, man. Such a great person and he´s no longer with us. It´s a tragedy, it really is!
Sure is! Well, I thank you so much Michael! It´s been an utter pleasure talking to you!
Michael: And likewise!
I wish you all the best with the rest of the tour and it seems like you´re really busy.
Michael: Hey man, thank you for your time brother!
Michael: Alright, god bless you! Bye!