Interview: Stryper's Michael Sweet
If ever there was a band whose music and message were so tightly intertwined, it would -- without a doubt -- be Stryper. The glam-rockers saw unparalleled success for a Christian rock band in the 1980s, with their landmark album To Hell with the Devil becoming the first Christian metal album to achieve platinum status.
Hits like “Calling on You,” “Free” and “All For One” made Stryper a household name before their 1992 break-up. After more than a decade off, the band reconvened in 2003 and have since released two albums of original material in the new millennium, both of which have earned praise from fans and critics alike.
Now their sights are set on bringing the band back into the spotlight.
Stryper’s latest offering, The Covering, finds the band examining its roots and taking on classics by hard-rock and metal heavyweights, including Black Sabbath, Van Halen, Iron Maiden and Deep Purple.
Stryper frontman Michael Sweet handles the daunting task of producing on the album, adding to his lead vocalist and guitarist titles. But Sweet will tell you he’s a guitar player, first and foremost. Those who think of him as another lead singer prancing around with a guitar may be surprised to know he actually penned most of the solos on Stryper’s early albums, not to mention providing half of the twin guitar attack Stryper is so famous for.
Sweet recently caught up with Guitar World to talk gear, The Covering, and the possibility of a new Stryper album.
GUITAR WORLD: How it does it feel to finally start getting some recognition as a guitarist and not just a vocalist?
MICHAEL SWEET: It’s a bit surreal. It’s one of those things were I kind of just didn’t think about it for a long time. I had a lot of people coming up to me on this last tour, noticeably, saying, “We didn’t know you play guitar,” and that that was the biggest surprise of the night. And I said, politely, “How did you not know I played guitar?” I’m playing guitar in the videos. I don’t know, it just kind of blew my mind. But it’s nice, you know, because I’m a guitar player first and a singer second.
So Stryper have a new album, The Covering, which is made up of covers of songs that influenced the band. How easy did the track listing come together? Were there any songs that were brought up that the band had to veto?
Prior to confirming all the songs for this one, we had a few songs get vetoed. We had always messed around with “Fox on the Run” by Sweet, and we toyed around with the idea of doing that one instead of “Set Me Free.” But, you know, I felt that we needed to be appropriate with the subject matter and the lyrical content, and that song is primarily about a girl that got heavy, and the guy doesn’t want to know her name anymore. I thought that’s not really what the message of Stryper is about or should be.
All of the songs that you hear on The Covering were very easy. I compiled a list, submitted to everyone and we all agreed on them. “On Fire” (Van Halen), back in ‘91 we were playing live. We’re all heavily influenced by Van Halen, more so than any other band on the record. That band, more than any other band, energized us to take things to a new level in our band.
Eddie certainly changed everything…
Definitely, man, and as a guitar player is one of my biggest influences. I don’t really play anything like him. Maybe sometimes I’ll do something like a hammer-on that’s got that Eddie sound that he invented so well. I’m a big Randy Rhoads guy. Randy and Eddie are two of my biggest influences, and we had to throw an Ozzy song on there with Randy [“Over the Mountain.”]
What guitars are you playing on the new record? Is it mainly your custom Carvin?
The Carvin, on this record, is all you hear out of me. Oz used his guitars, an old Jackson soloist. The Carvins are killing it for me, I love them. I have them spec out the neck to my custom PRS 24s, so if you close your eyes, you’d swear you were playing a PRS.
How did you get started playing Carvins? I know you were into Jacksons for a while, then the PRS guitars you play in Boston.
I was having trouble because I bend a lot, really wide bends and the guitars would go out of tune ever so slightly, and I didn’t want that at all. PRS doesn’t offer a locking tremolo system, so I reached out to Carvin. I had a Carvin way back in the day that I really liked, and they built me two replicas of the Randy Rhoads guitar: 24 frets, Seymour Duncan pickups, the Blackouts. I gotta tell you man, these guitars are just simply stunning. They are the best Stryper guitars I’ve ever had. They stay in tune, they sound amazing, they feel killer, the balance is perfect and they look killer.