Interview: Stryper's Michael Sweet
The Stryper frontman talks gear, The Covering and a new Stryper album.
What’s your amp set-up like on The Covering?
The actual recording process was strictly digital. The amps on this album … there’s one amp alone used, the Mesa Mark V. They sent me that amp for the last tour and I was completely blown away. I’ve always been a Mesa guy, so when the Mark 5 came out, I thought, “I’ve got to hear this!” They sent me one, and I was completely blown out of the water because they were somehow able to capture the best qualities of all of their heads and roll them all into one head. You literally can get all the Boogie tones out of that one head. I always had two or three heads to get different sounds, but with this one you don’t need anymore.
That head is the tone on the entire record, my tone. My tone is the Mark 5 through a 2x12 Road King cab. One side [of the cab] is closed-back and one side is open-back. The open side has an Electro-Voice Black Label; the closed back side has a Celestion Vintage 30. Both are miked with (Shure SM) 57’s.
You also served as the producer on The Covering. Was it difficult approaching the album as a producer, especially on a covers album where you’re trying to find the balance between preserving the sound of classic songs but still making sure they have the Stryper sound?
It’s tricky. You’re juggling many things at once and you’re walking the fine line of trying to please everybody and be all things to all men, and you can’t be. I had to realize at some point that we had to be true to ourselves, and try to give the fans what they want but at the same time just do what we do, and do what we do best, which is more in the style of the song “God” [the original song on the record.] That’s really what Stryper does best. That up-tempo, twin-guitar, high-pitched, high-octane vocal style, and that’s what we did. And we tried to pick songs that were kind of in that vein. There are no ballads, everything’s just kind of punching you in the face. I’ve very happy with how it came out.
Tell us about the song “God.” It seems that when bands put originals onto cover albums, it’s usually a throwaway track, but “God” sounds like it belongs right up there with the best of Stryper.
[laughs] That’s funny you say that. I just did an interview and I said the same thing. A lot of bands, when they do cover albums or best-of albums, and they include an original, it’s almost like their B-side. With “God,” I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to release a song that made people say, “Wow, these guys can still do this”
The song came quickly. Sometimes songs don’t come quickly, sometimes I take months on a song. But that song came immediately. I was lying in bed and I got the melody [sings melody] in my head, went downstairs, grabbed a guitar, kind of figured out a quick chord progression. Then I called my home phone from my cell phone and played it, then went back to bed [laughs]. I woke up the next day, figured out an arrangement, wrote the words over a cup of coffee and that was it. The guys came out about a week later, I showed them the song and that was it. Thank God, I think it’s one of the better Stryper songs, and so far the reviews and the comments have been way better than we ever expected. We’re pleasantly surprised that people dig it.
You know, Van Halen came out with the best-of, and I was excited to hear new material. Some people dug it, but I guess I was expecting Van Halen energy. You just can’t just pull a rabbit out of a hat, snap your fingers and you’ve got that magic. I think a lot of that comes from how the band’s getting along, where they are in their lives, how young they are, how motivated they are. You know a lot goes into that. Amazingly, we were able to capture that on this record, that special energy that Stryper had back in the day. A big part of that was that we have the original line-up, and we were excited about making a record with the individual line-up.
Is “God” the predecessor to more new Stryper material?
It is! We’re planning on doing a re-record of a number of tracks, for a lot of different reasons, and we’ll probably do a couple of originals to add to that. And then we’re also planning an all-original album, relatively soon, not too far off. I’m writing for it now, I’ve been writing for it for the last three. I’ve got maybe six or seven ideas, a couple completed songs.
Can you give us an idea of what the new material might sound like?
I’m really wanting to go down the avenue that “God” is on and stick with that format. I think that’s what fans are expecting and what they want to hear from us. And hopefully we can kind of re-invent the wheel and get the band and the band name back out there in the spotlight and remind people that Stryper is still alive.
Check back soon for an exclusive online edition of “Dear Guitar Hero” with Michael Sweet.
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