Since their formation in 1983, there can be no doubt that Stryper have become the most celebrated Christian metal band of all time.
Comprised of Michael Sweet (guitar/vocals), Oz Fox (guitar), Tim Gaines (bass) and Robert Sweet (drums), the band, which has been delivering music to the faithful for nearly three decades, will begin work on an album of all new material early next year.
In the meantime, Sweet, the man responsible for such hits as “Honestly," “Calling On You” and “Always There For You,” is about to unveil a new, guitar-centric solo album (still untitled) to coincide with the release of his autobiography this fall.
Sweet, known primarily for his vocals in Stryper and having recently completed a four-year stint as front man for Boston, is eager to showcase his guitar prowess.
We spoke to Sweet before Stryper headed to Europe for some shows. We got his thoughts on the new solo album and book as well as his plans for the new Stryper album.
GUITAR WORLD: What do you want to achieve with your new solo album?
I’ve felt that I’ve been somewhat neglected as a guitar player, and it’s not me boasting about myself or anything like that. The truth is, I’ve always been a guitar player first. I started playing when I was 5 and actually didn’t start singing professionally until I was 12. This record will be an opportunity for me to shine more as a guitarist.
Do you think it may be due to the fact that people have always seen you more as the “voice” of Stryper instead of the guitarist?
Possibly. But here’s something not too many people know, and it’s something I talk about in the new book: Originally, we were a trio. For quite a while we were just a three-piece and I did all the guitar. It was awesome. Eventually, we wanted to fill out the sound more and do more harmony solos, and that’s when we started looking at players.
Who were some of the guitarists you looked at?
We auditioned quite a few players, including C.C. DeVille and Doug Aldrich. We eventually decided to go with Oz (Richard Martinez).
I’ve always loved the harmony guitar work in Stryper.
Thanks. We tried to do it a little differently. You go back to the days when you first started hearing those really cool harmony solos, like Thin Lizzy ("The Boys Are back In Town"). We tried to take that in a different direction and do a little bit more with the harmony and more complex soloing. I think that’s one of things that made us stand out as a band.
Are there any “special guests” appearing on this record?
Absolutely. Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake) plays on one of the songs. I love the way he combines blues with shredding. It’s the perfect combination. Tony Harnell (TNT) sings with me on a track, and Chris Jericho (Fozzy) also sings on another song. Then there’s Kenny Aronoff on drums, John O’Boyle on bass and Paul McNamara on keys. There are 12 songs total and some real rocking tracks!
Do you have plans to do a solo tour to support the album?
I do. It’s been 12 years since I last did any solo dates, so I think it’s long overdue. It’ll be a different outlet for me and I’ll get to express myself in a different way.
Tell me a little bit about your autobiography.
The working title for it is Honestly. I like that title. That song was our biggest hit, and it’s also an honest and open book about my life, so it seems to fit.
I was interviewed for 17 hours and those interviews have all been transcribed. It’s now just a matter of editing them down. Right now, I’ve been busy so it’s been a bit difficult, but the goal is to have the book 100 percent finished by the end of this month.
Once that’s complete, we’ll coordinate a release date for the album and book. Prior to that, most likely sometime in August, we’ll be offering singles on iTunes, one every few weeks until the release date.
What was your songwriting process like for a song like “Honestly”?
For me, it starts with inspiration. I typically get inspired by something I see or hear. For example, if I hear a really great song, that inspires me to try and go write a really great song. It’s inspiration that fuels the fire.
“Honestly” was one of those songs that just came about because at the time, I remember being inspired by everything that was going on in the band. I also wanted to go write that classic “power ballad” that I felt we didn’t have. So, I sat down at a little electric piano in my garage and wrote it. Now, I’m by no means a piano player, but I can do enough to get by. Most of my songs begin with inspiration.
What’s next for Stryper?
Right now, we’re finishing up a re-record album of our classic hits. Then we’re going to begin work on a brand-new, all-original Stryper studio album, most likely coming out next summer. We’re really excited about that.
What’s the new Stryper album going to be like?
We’re going into this new record with the mentality and thinking of making it like a To Hell With The Devil 2. That’s not to say it will actually sound like that album, but we really want it to be as great as To Hell With The Devil, which was our biggest album.
We want people to put on this record and go; “Whoa! Wow! This is as good as or better than To Hell With The Devil! We want the new album to be a powerhouse and we’re going to do whatever it takes to make that happen.
Keep track of Stryper at their Facebook page and official website.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.