It’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years since Christian rock giants Stryper released To Hell with the Devil. The monster album, which features the dual-guitar attack of Michael Sweet and Oz Fox, spawned several classic tunes, including “Calling on You,” “Free,” “Honestly” and, of course, the title track.
These days, you’ll still find Stryper doing what they do best—delivering their uniquely infectious music and message to a fan base that’s hungry for both. Stryper’s latest release, Fallen, continues that trend and is considered by many to be their heaviest album to date.
Stryper is Michael Sweet (lead vocals/guitars), Oz Fox (guitars/vocals), Timothy Gaines (bass/vocals) and Robert Sweet (drums).
I recently caught up with Sweet and Fox before Stryper’s sold-out show at the Whisky A Go Go in Hollywood to discuss the 30th anniversary of To Hell with the Devil, new music, gear and more.
Stryper are about to play another sold-out show at the Whisky A Go Go. You guys have played there quite a bit over the years and even recorded a live album here. What do you like most about the venue?
MICHAEL SWEET: The Whisky is a legendary place. I remember the first time I played there; it was with Kevin Dubrow and Dubrow (they weren’t called Quiet Riot at the time). We’ve all been playing there on and off over the years with Stryper and with our solo projects. There’s a lot of history there and something special about it. It’s really small and there’s no place to put your gear. It’s a bit of a zoo—but it’s still the Whisky!
You’ve called Stryper's new album, Fallen, as the band’s heaviest album to date. How have the new songs blended in with the classic Stryper hits?
SWEET: Perfectly. Our albums are all a little different, but when we play those new songs live, they all blend well together. It’s the same energy and there’s no trickery with the live production. We open with “Yahweh” and have also added “Fallen” and “King of Kings” to the set.
OZ FOX: “Yahweh” is such an epic song.
SWEET: It’s a larger-than-life song that’s got everything. It’s got a little bit of an [Iron] Maiden, [Judas] Priest and Metallica vibe and is also Stryper-ized. It’s a really cool tune.
Let’s talk a little about the 30th anniversary of To Hell with the Devil. What goes through your mind when you look back on that album with so much perspective?
FOX: I still can’t believe 30 years have passed. It’s a memory that just keeps going. I was actually just looking at the picture of us from Japan in the suits on our way over here today and was blown away.
At the time, the band had already released The Yellow and Black Attack and Soldiers Under Command. What was the mind set when going into those writing sessions?
SWEET: We always strive to out do ourselves, so when we made To Hell with the Devil, we wanted to make it better than Soldiers. We just went in and made a record, and it just so happens that it wound up being our most successful and most beloved. God really blessed that album.
FOX: I think it came at the right time, too. Back then, MTV was doing the whole Dial MTV thing and we also had video budgets. The music definitely fit in with what was going on but it was also different enough to have its own niche.
What can you tell me about the controversy over the album’s original cover art?
SWEET: There were some Christian bookstores and carriers that wanted to carry the album, but they had a problem with the cover showing angels and the pentagram being ripped from Satan. They thought it was too controversial, and because of them threatening to not carry it we decided to change it to a black cover. It actually wound up making it even more controversial because now the album is really rare.
Was there a moment when you knew To Hell with the Devil was going to be something special?
FOX: I remember when we put the cassette of the final mixes in my Ford Escort and sat there listening to it. It was amazing and I even remember saying, “Wow! This is going to do it!”
SWEET: It was a "chills" kind of feeling, and everyone who heard it felt that same way. We knew it was going to be something special.
Do you have plans to celebrate its 30th anniversary this year?
SWEET: Yes. We’re going to put the outfits on again and do a tour that I think is going to start in September and run through the end of the year. We’re going to do the album in its entirety, from top to bottom.
Michael, can you give me an update on your next solo album, One Sided War?
SWEET: The album is done and will be out in June. I’m really happy with how it turned out. The vibe from everyone who’s been involved has been that people are going to love it. It’s an album with a more guitar-oriented heaviness to it.
What’s your setup like these days?
FOX: I’ve been playing a few new GMWs. They’re [GMW Guitarworks] a company out of Glendora, California, made by a guy named Lee Garver. He’s really good at making custom, replicated guitars that are solid and of really good quality. One’s a pointed Explorer—like the original guitar Charvel made on the back of the Soldiers album, but with a twist. I’ve also got a replica of my first Soloist that has the crazy striped pattern on it. I’ve recently gotten my hands on a GJ 2 guitar, which is Grover Jackson’s new company. I still have a few Jacksons, including the old Bengal Tiger one from the To Hell with the Devil days that I bring out for my gigs in Vegas.
SWEET: I wanted to sign a deal with a company that could really get behind what we were doing. I met with the Washburn people and fell in love with them. Their stuff is phenomenal and they’re great people with a vision. They’ve built me a couple guitars: one is a custom Solar V and the other is an MS Priestess with all of my specs: Teflon saddle pickups and a Big Block Brass on the Floyd with locking tuners.
How about amps and effects?
SWEET: We’re doing things a little different in the sense that we’re using pedals for our tone and the amps for power. Oz uses Boogie and a POD HD 500 and I’m using Marshall and an ISP Theta Pro, which is a new all-in-one pedal. It’s a little different from the old days where we’d run pedals in front of the amps and use them for distortion.
What excites you the most about the next chapter in the career of Stryper?
FOX: For me, it’s exciting to still have the original lineup and to be able to go out and sing about what we believe in and do some great music. Fallen was the album I felt was where I wanted to get. There’s such a rawness to it.
SWEET: Who knows what the future holds? Hopefully and prayerfully, we’ll continue to do albums. Right now, the plan is to start work on another Stryper album in January. We’ve gotten great reviews and fan response from our last two—No More Hell to Pay and Fallen. Now we’re going to have to figure out a way to out do them. The question is, how do you do that? We’re just going to write from the heart, give our all and then pray for the best!
For more about Stryper, visit stryper.com.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.