Stryper guitarist and vocalist Michael Sweet can hardly contain his enthusiasm when discussing the band's upcoming album, No More Hell to Pay — and rightly so.
Not only has Sweet's songwriting and guitar prowess matured over the years, but Stryper has truly never sounded better.
Whether it's the opening lines of "Revelation," the tasty guitar work in "Saved By Love" or the apropos cover of Arthur Reid Reynolds’ "Jesus Is Just Alright," No More Hell to Pay rivals the band's 1986 monster, To Hell With The Devil, and might actually be their best album to date.
No More Hell To Pay will be released November 5 in North America. It's available now for pre-order at iTunes. Fans get an instant download of the title track upon pre-ordering the album.
I recently spoke with Sweet about No More Hell To Pay and got updates on T&N, his autobiography and another new project he's working on.
GUITAR WORLD: A lot has been said about No More Hell to Pay being the band's best album to date. Is that a fair assessment?
As a writer and producer, my intention is to always make the best record we've ever made. But this record has something uniquely special about it. There's a rawness and energy to it that's similar to the Soldiers Under Command and To Hell With The Devil albums. We had such a great time recording it, and when you're having that much fun enjoying the process, it bleeds through to the listener. This is the record of our career, the one we needed to make.
What was the writing process like for No More Hell to Pay?
I was carrying around my iPhone for a few months, and whenever an idea would pop into my head, whether I was at the supermarket, theater or a restaurant, I'd hit Record on the voice recorder and sing a melody line or hum a riff. From doing that, I ended up having 40 ideas and then went down into my studio and spent the next two weeks arranging those ideas into eleven songs. The only song I didn't write, obviously, was "Jesus is Just Alright." [Note: This Arthur Reid Reynolds song was covered by several artists, including the Byrds, the Doobie Brothers and Robert Randolph.]
Why did you decide to include a cover of that song on this particular album?
That's really our theme song and one that I wish we had written. We've been saying "Jesus is just alright" for 30 years now, but many people don't think that he is. They might think he's not real, or boring or a joke. When you become a Christian, it doesn't mean you have to cut your hair or trade in your rock and roll clothes or sell your equipment. Being a Christian doesn't mean you give everything up. It just means giving your life up to God.
Was that the message you wanted to convey with this album?
My approach wasn't to set anyone back in fear or make them shake or tremble and think that they're going to hell. It was just a wake-up call, with songs like "Revelation," "Marching Into Battle," and "Legacy," and just saying, "Listen, do you know where you're going to go, and are you ready?" That's the message and theme of this record. It's not done in a "turn or burn" sort of way. It's very matter-of-fact. We're all going to get old and we're all going to go someday. The question is, are you ready for that?
Tell me a little about the upcoming Stryper Weekend.
We came up with the idea of doing a fan excursion/weekend event that will take place in Nashville from October 11 to 13. During the weekend, we'll be interacting with fans and filming a live show. Then we're going to edit everything into a live album/DVD package that will be coming out later next year. It's going to be fun.
What can readers expect from your upcoming autobiography?
You're not going to read about me dying 10 times or being a reformed drug addict or beating the snot out of some guy on Sunset Boulevard [laughs]. But you will read about everything I've been through, good and bad, the ups and downs. It's open and honest, and there are no embellishments.
Can you give us an update on T&N?
We were supposed to tour this year, but Jeff [Pilson] has been busy with Foreigner and I've been busy with Stryper, but it is going to happen. It's just a question of when. Sometime soon, you'll be hearing about T&N touring next year.
Are there any other projects you're working on?
George Lynch and I are working on a record that we're going to start recording in February. It's a supergroup/project that will include me, George, Brian Tichy on drums and James LoMenzo, who has played bass for White Lion and Megadeth. We don't have a name for the project just yet, but George and I are writing for it right now.
Any advice you can share with aspiring guitarists?
Be yourself. I think what happens is that people sometimes try to sound exactly like one of their favorite guitarists. And while it's a good thing to be able to add those elements into your playing, it's equally as important to incorporate them in a way where you're able to retain your own style.
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.