The Music Room: Hey man! Before we get started, a happy Easter season to you. I hope you and your family had a good one.
Michael Sweet: I appreciate that. We did. It was very low key. We went to church then we went to a nice meal later in the afternoon. It was awesome.
TMR: Very nice. I want to dig in to “God Damn Evil,” the new record and the tour to follow. I spent the weekend listening to the record, and what a great time to take in that album while we’re getting ready for Easter.
MS: Oh man, absolutely. There are some really strong powerful messages on it. Songs like “Take it to the Cross,” it’s the perfect Easter message. I mean literally, that’s what we’re called to do. Take everything to the cross. That’s why Christ died on the cross. For all of our sins and all of our faults and whatnot. Just lay it at His feet. But we fail and forget to do that.
TMR: Yes we do. Let’s get into the album title. Obviously, it caught some people by surprise…many before they even heard the record. But listen to the message, “God save the people but God damn the world.” I was drawn to Genesis where Abraham was pleading with God to spare Sodom if he can find fifty just people (Genesis 18:16-33.) I was hoping you could talk about the title and the song a little bit and what you mean when you say “God save the people but God damn the world.” I don’t think everyone may get that.
MS: Definitely some people don’t, and we’ve been doing our best to explain with posting lyrics and whatnot. It’s really talking about our society and our times. There is so much evil in this world. We see it go to new levels and new heights daily. One thing that instantly comes to my mind at an incredibly high level, which I never thought I’d see is the Las Vegas shooting for example. I was just sitting there watching in shock and in horror. I went back in time to 9/11. These things are just at a level that we never thought we’d live to see. That stems from pure evil. Evil people. Evil thoughts. Evil Actions. We felt like it was the perfect time in 2018 to release an album called “God Damn Evil.”
“God Damn Evil”:
We power up the empty screen
And let the games begin
Far beyond it’s poisoning
Is a special kind of sin
We open locks
And break the chains
To let the devil in
We’re losing all of what remains
In a war we’ll never win
A war that never ends
God Damn Evil
God Damn it all
God save The People
But God Damn The Walls
Self control is all but gone
The weak time after time
Take the bait and break the bond
But never pay the crime
The only saving grace is love
And we know where that lies
It’s what we feel unworthy of
So we don’t claim the prize
We never claim the prize…..
God Damn Evil
God Damn it all
God save The People
But God Damn The Walls
People get caught up in well, you should have used a comma. Well, you should have said damned. You should have done this or you should have done that. The people that are doing that are kind of missing the point. That’s okay. People think it’s a swear, or blasphemous, or us trying to be controversial. It’s none of the above. It’s us just trying to make a bold statement and make people talk. Most important is to make people pray. To ask God, through prayer…God, damn the evil. God, condemn the evil. That’s really all it is.
TMR: I think people get too hung up on words whereas God examines our hearts and knows our intentions.
MS: Absolutely, no doubt about that. And we know our hearts. We know what we’re here to do, and what we’re called to do. We went with that lead, man. At the end of the day…and no disrespect to the fans, but we’re not going to listen to a fan when they say I think you should go change the title. We’re not going to say, well okay…we’ll go do that right now. It doesn’t work that way because everything we do we talk about, we discuss, and we pray about. We literally take it to the cross. Sometimes a select few seem to forget that.
TMR: I actually have “Take it to the Cross” next on my list to talk about. It’s such a strong opening track for a record. The chorus on that song…obviously people have talked about already, it’s a little different than what some people are used to. I wanted to see what your influences were when you went in to record that track. It almost has a Halford sound to it.
MS: Halford all the way. Rob Halford is my favorite metal singer. I have a handful of favorite singers. My favorite pop-ie/rock-ie voice is Steve Perry. I’ve said that over the years. And I love Paul Rodgers for rock, blues and soul. There are so many great singers out there. But my favorite metal singer is Rob Halford. It always has been…he influenced me. I was certainly channeling my inner Rob Halford when I was singing that. On occasion…I’m nowhere near the singer that Rob is nor will I ever be, but on occasion, I’ll do that. I’ll specifically try to think, what would Rob do? That song specifically. It’s really weird. With that song, there is no middle ground. Either they love it or they hate it. I keep reminding myself that people that hate it must not like Rob Halford either.
TMR: The cool thing is that I am coming off Judas Priest’s “Firepower” record, which is so strong and going right into the new Stryper record. It’s a nice segway.
MS: The funny thing about it is that you might hear some Priest nuances throughout the album, like “God Damn Evil,” (makes guitar crunching sounds.) The verses, that’s very priest-ish…from “Britsih Steel” kind of vibe. We’re big Priest fans, man. We’re huge Priest fans.
TMR: They are great. I think you guys ended the record…I mean the whole record is great, don’t get me wrong. “Take it to the Cross” starts off with such a strong statement, and then to end up with “The Devil Doesn’t Live Here,” is just a killer tune.
MS: It’s got a very Priest vibe too. It was important for us to start fast and heavy, and to end fast and heavy. All of the stuff in between is just real. It kind of grabs you by the collar, shakes you up and says hey…listen (laughs.) Some my favorites…you’ve got “Lost,” “Sorry,” “The Valley.” I love “You Don’t Even Know Me.” I don’t know why, but that’s one I keep playing over and over again when I listen to the album. I always go back to that one. There’s just a certain thing about the feel of that.
TMR: One thing that we talked about a little bit is that we live in a world where everyone wants to, and can give their feedback instantly. I’m sure that by being a musician you get it on one level. Then by being a Christian, people want to say you’re not being a Christian right, and you’re doing this wrong. How do you, as a musician and as a Christian, deal with that? How do you deal with the negativity and keep yourself so positive and focused?
MS: It’s tough, man. We’re only human and it’s going to wear on us after a while. When we do start expressing our views or our feelings about it, we can’t do that. People get on us for that. “You’re being a little too opinionated,” or “You’re voicing your thoughts a little too much, man…that’s not the Michael Sweet I know.” You hear comments about everything. If you’re wearing sunglasses…” you’re wearing sunglasses, why aren’t you letting the light of soul shine? What are you covering up?” It’s ridiculous some of the stuff we hear and read. It’s like wow. But most of the time we let it roll off. It doesn’t affect us at all. As a matter of fact, we laugh about some of the comments. It’s our comedic hour sometimes. But sometimes there’s one comment that’s made that just gets under your skin. Lately, in the last few years, I’ve been calling people out.
TMR: I’ve noticed a few times where you personally or the band have come out very directly and addressed things. I’ve always thought it was a classy way to handle things.
MS: Oh yeah…then people have a problem with that. I’m going to tell you right now…I’ll tell you something about me. Nobody…and I mean nobody is going to wipe their dirty boots on my carpet. No one’s going to come and wipe their boots on me, man. If someone comes onto my page and for no apparent reason they’re disrespectful or start disrespecting other people on there, myself or the band…they’re going to be gone so fast their head’s going to spin. And then people feel like well, you’re a Christian, you can’t do that. ABSOLUTELY I CAN DO THAT. There is no reason for anyone to put up with that nonsense.
But I don’t want to confuse that with how much we love our fans. Most of our fans…you’re not going to find any other fan like them. They are so loyal. They’re so loving and supportive. They’ve been there for us since the very beginning and always are…and probably always will be. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. But there are those rare occasional knuckleheads that feel like they have that entitlement to say and do whatever they want. We’re at a point in our lives…maybe we’re getting too old, I don’t know. We have no patience for that.
TMR: You talk about your fans, and that leads into my next question. Some of my best friends are non-believers but they are huge Stryper fans. I think it’s great, but I’ve also always found it a bit strange. I mean, you guys are not subtle about the message. Have you seen that a lot in your experience? Perhaps a lot of your fans are not believers but really dig your music?
MS: All the time. I even go as far as to say that maybe even half of our fanbase. I see the comments constantly online. You know, I’m not a believer, or I don’t believe that there is a God, or I’m an atheist, or I am a satanist, or I’m this or that. Personally, I think it’s fantastic. It tells me whether it’s just the music, the energy, or the look…they’re listening to us. That message is still going in.
TMR: Planting seeds
MS: Planting seeds, man! If we could plant some hope is somebody’s heart and mind, we’ve done our job.
TMR: I imagine that there’s been more than one person who has come to Christ through the music of Stryper and I think that is really cool.
MS: I would say over the years, literally thousands upon thousands. And a lot of those people have gone on to do incredible things for Christ. Be it they are pastors now, or they’re worship leaders now, or they’re teachers…or whatever. Before they came to know God through Stryper they were suicidal, addicted to drugs or addicted to booze. They’ve turned their lives around…through the music of Stryper. That’s just amazing!
TMR: As a songwriter, it’s hard enough to come up with songs and good ideas. When you incorporate scripture into it…just like you did in “The Valley” with Psalm 23, does it make it harder or does the scripture actually inspire the song? I guess what I’m asking is how does your songwriting work, especially on a song like “The Valley?”
MS: I always come back to scripture as a writer. I like to apply my own personal experiences in life to a song, but I also always like to come back to scripture. Like in the song “The Valley,” I’m talking about I’ve lived my life trying to be a solar light in the darkest sea.I’m talking about my struggles and how every day I’m purging through it and getting through it. But at the end of the day…Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death… That’s how I get through it. I want to remind people of that with every song I write.
TMR: As strong as the songwriting and the vocals are on the record, there are just a ton of big powerful guitar riffs. I’m curious, do you have a stockpile of riffs that you go, man, that would work perfectly for this song?
MS: (laughing) Man, I wish. I don’t. The way it works is…I work really well under pressure these days. I don’t start writing an album until a few weeks before we’re supposed to start recording it. Sometimes I have a few ideas left over on my phone from the last album, but this time around I had no ideas. I locked myself in my studio and started writing. It’s basically one song a day. If you said to me right now, hey Michael look, I want to hire you to do an album. I want you to start today and I need ten songs in a week. I would basically work every day until seven or eight days from now I would call you and say I have your songs. I’m able to focus under pressure on writing and get it done. Thank God. I don’t want to take that for granted because the day might come where I can’t do that. But I’ve been able to for the past six or seven albums and it’s worked out.
TMR: I’d say so. I’m curious about how it was coming off the 30th-anniversary tour of “To Hell With the Devil” and going into the new record. Did you tap into the vibe from that record since you spent so much time with it on tour? Did that influence any of this record?
MS: It might have subconsciously. I didn’t sit down and say I want to write an album that really takes us back to the “To Hell With the Devil” era. But I’m sure playing those songs and revisiting those songs that we didn’t know played a small part in that. I know that to be the case with “No More Hell to Pay” and “Fallen” where I did revisit some of those old albums. “Soldiers Under Comand,” “To Hell With the Devil” and even “In God We Trust.” I think that there’s a certain style that we had, and a vibe that we had. It’s important not to lose that entirely on future work. That’s what brought all of the fans on board. We don’t want to alienate that or the fans. So this album takes you back. There’s a lot of little flavors that you’ll hear throughout that are going to take you back to the 80’s and early ’90’s before we parted ways. But at the same time, we’re really trying hard to incorporate a modern flare with it too so it’s not cheeseballs. We’re trying hard not to regenerate the same stuff over and over again. That becomes stale and lifeless.
TMR: The only time I have had the pleasure of seeing you guys live was on the 30th-anniversary tour. I’m looking forward to seeing you guys with Kix on May 26th in Versailles, OH. What can we expect on this tour? How do you build a setlist when you have a new record and obviously so many things that people want to hear?
MS: I think I put thirty-five songs on a list, trying to incorporate everything. I sent it to the guys and they loved it. We changed a few things and we’ve narrowed that down to twenty songs now. We’re still going to draw from those other fifteen songs throughout the tour to change things up and make it interesting. The setlist is going to be between eighteen and twenty songs…probably pushing twenty. That’s a good long little setlist.
TMR: That’s going to be an amazing night. I’m really looking forward to that.
MS: I have to warn everybody coming to the shows…make sure you pee before the show. Because you won’t want to leave the set. You’re not going to want to go to the bathroom mid-set because you’re going to miss something.
TMR: So empty before Stryper goes on.
TMR: Having Perry (Richardson) in the band now is really exciting being a big Firehouse fan and kind of following him a little bit. What has he brought to the band from a live standpoint? What is the new dynamic like?
MS: I’ll tell you the truth, man, we’ve only played with him once. That was for five songs during an audition here at my house in my studio. He’s coming out here in just under two weeks with the band. That’s when we’re going to rehearse for a solid week here at my house. We’re really going to get down to it at that point. We already know he’s a great player, a great singer, and a great guy. We’re not even questioning how that’s going to go. It’s going to be amazing. He’s going to shine during the set, he’s going to shine during the tour, and people are going to love him. They already do.
TMR: To wrap things up here…obviously the band went through a season, and you are coming out of that season. Is there a scripture that you can point to that helped you through that season?
MS: You know what dude? Most recently…and not to take the easy way out, but Psalm 23 man. I mean honestly, I have been living by that scripture over the past year. It’s such a simple and powerful scripture, but it’s such a true scripture. We are to fear no evil. We are to continue walking through the valley of the shadow of death. No matter what it is, how dark it is, or how heavy it gets…God is with us. God’s going to protect us and God’s going to get us through it.