INTERVIEW AND LIVE PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
TRANSCRIPTION BY ANDY OSBORN
Stryper is a Christian metal/hard rock band from California, USA. The band was formed around 1983 when bassist Timothy Gaines and guitarist Oz Fox joined their forces with former Roxx Regime members Robert and Michael Sweet. Stryper became the pioneers in the mainstream popularization of Christian rock/metal music. Stryper enjoyed great success during the mid/late ’80s. Their most successful album was TO HELL WITH THE DEVIL, which went platinum in 1986. The band also got two gold records for their albums SOLDIERS UNDER COMMAND and IN GOD WE TRUST. Unfortunately, the band started to lose its popularity in the early ’90s. The band’s last release was AGAINST THE LAW, which was released in 1990. At that point, the band tried to change its image and lyrical message drastically. The sound was heavier and gone was their trademark, the yellow and black clothing and big hair. The band really tried to get rid of their old glam image, but although critics liked the band’s new style, their old fan base claimed that they were not true to their roots, and the album sold poorly. Michael Sweet left the group in 1992 and decided to concentrate on his solo career. The rest of the guys decided to carry on without him, but it wasn’t long until the band split up.
During the following years, Tim and Oz formed the band Sin Dizzy, Michael released several solo albums, and Robert played in many bands, including Blissed, who released an album in 2002. In 1999 Michael joined Sin Dizzy on stage in Puerto Rico, and they performed a number of old Stryper classics. It was his first performance with Oz and Tim since his departure in 1992. The next year, the first Stryper Expo was held in New Jersey, and there, for the first time in eight years, the whole original Stryper performed together on stage. The band did some more gigs now and then, and in 2003, they were asked by Hollywood Records to write some new music for the upcoming 7: THE BEST OF STRYPER compilation. A full tour followed, and next year band released its first live album, 7 WEEKS: LIVE IN AMERICA.
Timothy Gaines departed in late 2004, and he was soon replaced by Tracy Ferrie, who had earlier played in Michael’s solo band. The band started to record a new album, and as a result, they released REBORN in August of 2005. The CD was the group’s heaviest to date, and it received a positive response both from fans and critics. In 2006, after two years of production, the band finally released its first DVD: GREATEST HITS LIVE, which was filmed in 2004 in Puerto Rico. The group started to work on the follow-up for REBORN in 2006, and since then, the album’s release has been delayed for many reasons, but it should finally see the light of day in the summer of 2008. Last November, I managed to sit down with the whole band in Turku before their sold-out show in Turkuhalli, and here is the latest from the Stryper camp. Enjoy!
It’s great to have you finally here in Finland, and it’s especially great to see Robert here. There were a lot of rumors saying that you’re not in the band anymore? Was there any truth behind those rumors?
Robert: In fact, indeed, I wasn’t in a band for a while.
What was the reason for you leaving for the band?
Michael: Actually, we have decided to keep that private. Everything is fine now, and we decided not to talk about the reasons behind it, ok?
That’s fine. You have been recording a new album for a while. Is it Michael playing drums on the album, or did you use someone else?
Michael: Well, the drums on the album are played by our good friend Kenny Aronoff.
Would you tell me some more details about the upcoming album? When is it going to be released?
Michael: We don’t know when it’s going to be actually released, but we are shooting for probable summer. Hopefully, it’s out in the second quarter, maybe in May or in June? I’m halfway through with the lead vocals right now, so when I go home, I’ll finish that up. We’ll do photos in January, and then we’ll start to market it and maybe go on tour in September?
What kind of musical direction will the new album represent? The latest album REBORN was your heaviest album to date. Are you going to continue that kind of direction on your new album too?
Michael: No, the new album will be much more into a melodic direction. There will be lots of melodies, guitar solos, stacked vocal harmonies, and high screams. It does sound a lot like the stuff that we used to do in the past. I’m sure that old fans will be pleased when they hear it.
Speaking more about REBORN, how did that album actually sell?
Michael: It did fairly well. Not as good as we expected, and I feel like it could have been accepted better than it was, but that’s because it didn’t receive the proper promotion or marketing. I think it’s a good record, and those who have it seem to like it, but unfortunately, not many people have it. Do you have it?
It was around 2003 when you guys did a reunion with all original line-ups. What made you decide to get back together after those years?
Michael: It just felt like the right time. I was doing things, other guys were doing things, and I felt like it was something that needed to be done. When we officially reunited with Stryper and started touring again, it just felt right. It was like God’s hand was upon us, and we felt that it was what God wanted us to do. We all agreed to it, but it didn’t feel that way back in the early nineties, and it just didn’t feel right. Something either feels right or right, and it’s just that simple.
If I remember right, you did some shows as a guest singer for Sin Dizzy, which was a band of Oz and Tim Gaines at that point, in the late nineties. You did some Stryper songs together?
Michael: Sin Dizzy played a show in Puerto Rico, and I was asked to come and play some solo material. What happened was that we got up there and did some Stryper songs. There were like 9,000 people there, and we just had a really good response. The headliner was a group called the Supertones, and the people were really there to see us because when we left the stage, many people started leaving. We played Stryper songs, and the crowd just went crazy; it was a great thing. We were like, wow, there are still a lot of fans out there and a lot of desire to see and hear this band. It was just surprising.
When Michael originally left the band in 1992, the other guys decided to carry on for a while without you as a Stryper. Oz was singing then, Michael how do you like Oz as a singer?
Michael: He’s a terrific singer, in my opinion, honestly! “laughs.”
Oz: Thanks, man, “laughs.”
7: THE BEST OF STRYPER came out in 2003, and that’s about the time that you guys started seriously getting back together. There are two new unreleased songs on the album, “Something” and “For You.” Were those songs written at that time, or were they some leftovers from some earlier sessions?
Michael: Those were new songs that I had written that we went in and recorded as Stryper. What happened was that the label called us and asked if we could do a best of and I suggested doing a few new songs. They were hesitant, but I told them that the songs are ready to go, and I submitted a budget, and they said it was alright. Once that album was released, you did your first tour as a band in more than ten years. Now afterward, what was the biggest difference between that tour and tours you had done in the past?
Oz: Obviously, it was different, and we were more or less playing the music. We were asked to play 36 dates across the US, and I would have to say it was more focused on the music and us just being together. I took it as us just testing the waters and seeing how it would go. We did these shows, and some of us felt different from others, and we weren’t sure if we were going to continue, and it just turned into a situation where we didn’t know what was going to happen. But it certainly likes the 1980s where we played arenas and 8,000-10,000 people coming to see us; It was much smaller venues like House of Blues with about 1,200 people. It was more focused on that and celebrating the band and being back together, and that’s where it ended. It wasn’t the same as it was in the eighties. We were older and no longer wearing spandex, and it just wasn’t the same except for the fact that it was the same people. And we still felt like we needed to speak about Christ in our music because that was the most important thing for all of us. If that is an answer to the question?
At that point, was it clear that you will continue your career and start recording a new album?
Michael: Not at the end of 2003. We weren’t sure that we were going to reunite permanently. I think it was more of; we thought it would be the only tour. It was kind of a celebration, and we all thought we would go our separate ways. But then it began to flourish, and we felt like there was more to be done with this band.
Original bassist Tim Gaines was let go in 2004, and Tracy replaced him. Whatever happened to Tim at that point? Did he get fired, or was there something else behind that decision?
Michael: Tim was not asked to leave the band. It was simply a decision made by all parties. It wasn’t a big drama there. It just happened. We separated on good terms.
Well, this wasn’t the first time when he’s been out of this band. In 1986 he was briefly replaced by Matt Hurich, and although he later was invited back, he doesn’t play at all on TO HELL WITH THE DEVIL album.
Michael: Matt was there with us just for a while. Tim was back after few months, but yes, he didn’t play bass on TO HELL WITH THE DEVIL. It wasn’t Matt either, and it was a guy called Bradford Cobb. He’s a great bass player. If you listen to bass lines on that album, you will notice that they’re a little different from Tim’s. Bradford’s playing style is more straight-ahead, and it did fit great on that album.
Where did you find Tracy to replace Tim?
Tracy: I had played for years in Michael’s solo band, so they knew me that way.
You recently released a DVD called LIVE FROM PUERTO RICO. You were still using your old trademark, yellow/black “bumblebee” suits on that tour. Are we going to see any stripes on tonight’s show?
Michael: That was just a single show, and it wasn’t part of a tour. We didn’t have the bumblebee suits, but I had a striped shirt, and we had the cloth over our cabinets, so there was a lot of yellow and black. You won’t see that tonight “laughs.”
Oz: The problem is that it costs a lot to get that striping done. What we did back then we just had some material to cover the amps and whatnot. But it’s not like it used to be with stripes everywhere. Coming up to play in Europe, if we wanted to do that, we would have to have all the materials be here because it’s too expensive to bring it up.
How did you originally get an idea of using yellow, black stripes? I mean, does it have some regional purpose or something like that?
Robert: We used to use stripes before Stryper. The Yellow and Black has nothing to do with Christianity, and it was just something I had done myself for years because I always thought that it looked cool. I remember when we were still called Roxx Regime, we used those clothing and everything I said to other guys “we have to keep this style, people might not remember our band name, but they will remember the guys in yellow and black stripes.”
It’s funny that nowadays, there are even black metal bands telling Christian messages in their lyrics. What do you think about them?
Michael: I don’t really know much about them. I don’t really dissect their music or think about it. I don’t know a lot about the black metal scene.
Oz: We don’t listen to that kind of music. As far as Stryper is concerned, we focus on our type of metal and not black metal or death metal. There are Christian death metal bands, but I don’t know the bands personally. As far as their Christian walk goes, if they follow Christ and reach people in that genre of music, then we are all for that.
Do you think that their message will change over the years?
Michael: I’ve heard some stuff, and it’s hard even to understand what they’re saying, so it’s not like you can even hear their message. If you can’t understand what they’re saying, it’s…
Tracy: Maybe if a young person hears the music and likes it, they will read the lyrics later and get the message that way. As long as the message is good, there’s nothing wrong there?
Michael: Have you ever heard of green metal?
No, I don’t think so?
Michael: Oh, well, it’s huge in the United States. I’m just kidding! [laughs]
Speaking some more about being a Christian band, do you guys have some strict rules that allow you to play only in a band with other Christians?
Oz: There is a fine line. Me, being a believer, I couldn’t feel right in my heart being in a band that was advocating sex and drugs and all that where the members are sleeping with a bunch of different women and shooting up. To me, I don’t want to be around that. I would rather be with Christian people.
Michael: You see a lot more Christian bands nowadays. I think that bands like Switchfoot and POD have switched over have really good music and can reach out to people who are not Christian. I see a big difference now in the Christian music scene, and it seems like a lot more people are drawn to it. I think people are drawn to it. People really are searching for something, and there really is something to be noticed in Christian music.´
BOSTON AND RON JEREMY
Michael, you have recently been working with Boston. How did that come about?
Michael: My wife was really sick, and during that time, the singer from Boston committed suicide. I got an email from a guy who runs a Boston fan site, and he asked me if I wanted to comment on his death. I did, and he posted it, and Tom Schultz read it, contacted me, and asked me to play a benefit show. From there, it went from me singing one song to me singing three songs and playing guitar for the whole set. Now he’s asked me to record with them and tour with them. So I am facing the fact that they are not Christians, but they have been a better example of Christianity to me than even some Christians. No drugs, no drinking, polite as can be, and very giving. Their music and lyrics are clean. I prayed about it, and I felt like it was okay for me to do it, and I did it.
So will you do that tour with Boston, and when might it happen?
Michael: I’m not going to say absolutely, but the way it works is they only do something once the planets align. So once the planets align, yes, I will do something with them. Tom has invited me to be a part of it, and we’ll see what happens?
One of the strangest shows you have played must have been the one you did last April in Atlanta. I’m talking about an event which was organized by XXXchurch.com (the #1 Christian porn website) and World Impact Wrestling… They even had Ron Jeremy (adult star) there; want to tell some more about the event?
Michael: It was different. It was very different. There was a wrestling ring right in front of us, and we could reach out and touch the ropes. We had never done anything like that before, and the church that put it on, I think, it’s amazing. They are going after the porn industry. They are going after the people who are in porn and the directors and producers. I don’t know how porn is accepted here, but it’s probably just as bad as it is in the States. Porn is just something that is just everywhere; you turn on your TV in your hotel, and it’s there, and it’s all over the internet, it’s just so accessible. It’s a terrible thing because kids can see it, and it’s just despicable.
Oz: The Bible says that sex is for two people who are married. Once you get exposed to this kind of thing, it veers away from God’s plan for sex. When a little kid sees this kind of thing, even by accident, they absorb it, and you can never take that back. It is really just a terrible thing, and this church is reaching out to people. Many people are caught up in it, people are addicted to watching it, and they can’t stop. It’s something they can’t let go of, and hopefully, this church will help people get out of that. It’s a pretty cool thing.
Tracy: The event was very clean, and I thought there would be scantily clad women and things like that, but just scantily clad wrestlers! Old men in their underwear…There was a mock debate where each side knew what the other one was going to say so that it would be fair. They each knew what they were going to say so people could hear the church’s view and Ron Jeremy’s view.
Michael: It was kind of strange, the church people had people dressed up in bunny costumes, and it was almost like a performance because it was all planned and rehearsed. It was strange.
Speaking more about interesting tours and gigs you’ve done, in the early days, you did some tours with such names White Lion, Skid Row, and Mötley Crue, but in 1982 you did a show in California with Metallica supporting you. Do you guys have any memories from that show?
Robert: Actually, we did never play with Mötley Crue, but we did play with Metallica. They were supporting us in Long Beach in 1982. I remember it was a really small place in and it was a really small crowd. There were maybe ten people in there? They had Cliff Burton playing bass and Dave Mustaine on the second guitar then. That was a long time ago.
Michael: I also remember that Guns n’Roses opened for us once at some point, and we did a tour with Great White and Warrant. There are so many bands we have played with…
You also played some shows with Anthrax circa 1983, right?
Michael: Yes, we did play with them too, but that was just one show.
At the very beginning, you tried some different players in your band before you find your permanent lineup. Wasn’t CC Deville from Poison one of the names who did play you at the beginning?
Michael: He actually was there for a moment and did some playing, but he was never an actual band member. He did find his success a few years later with Poison.
Ok, our time seems to run out. This is the very last question. You guys have been here in Finland for a few days now. How does our language sound in your ears Finnish? What do you think of it?
Michael: [laughs] I notice you guys roll your “R’s” a lot. It isn’t easy to understand anything you guys are saying. I’m more used to Spanish and when I come to Scandinavia and hearing the languages seems like a huge combination of them all. It’s very strange.
Ok, guys, thank you, and have a good show tonight!
Stryper: Thank you
FOR MOR INFO GO TO: WWW.STRYPER.COM