Interview with Michael Sweet of Stryper

How’s the tour been going?

The tour has been good. We started on the 3rd of March in Seattle and we’ll be ending on the 30th. I think we’ve got twenty dates total for this run. We’re going to Mexico in May for 4 dates, then Europe for 8 dates, and then South America for 7 dates. We’re also talking about doing another US run. It’s going good — it’s just tiring. As you get older, it’s harder to tour. These songs are all in a certain vocal range, so it really does a number on the voice, especially after three or four shows in a row.

Sounds tough. You have some cool festivals dates coming up, including Sweden Rock Festival.

Yeah, we’ve got Sweden Rock and a few other festivals in Europe. I think we have one in Germany and one in Spain. We’ve got a lot planned. We’re just trying to spread the word about the new record.

Nice. Your new album, ‘The Covering,’ features some heavy-duty covers. When did the decision to do a cover album come up?

We toyed with the idea of doing a cover album for a long time. It’s not like we woke up one day in the past year and said, “Hey, let’s do a cover album.” We had thought about it a lot, but it never felt like it was the right time. After having played the song “Breaking the Law” by [Judas] Priest live over the past few years, and seeing the response we got from people, we felt like maybe this was a good time. I presented the idea to the label, and they thought we should do it. Then, I wrote up a list of songs and showed them to the band. We all grew up on the same stuff: Scorps, Maiden, Priest. It wasn’t a drawn-out process to pick the songs at all.

You did, however, include one original song, right?

Yeah. After giving it some thought, and the possibility of getting some flack from certain people for doing it, I thought it would be fitting to do an original song that solidifies our faith. We’re not walking away from our faith because we’re doing a cover album of mainstream secular songs. That’s why the song “God” is on the album.

Many years ago, when Stryper was a trio, you guys also did a lot of covers in your live sets. Did you play originals or were you actually a cover band in the beginning?

We always threw in originals, but we did a lot of covers back in the day. We used to be called Fire Storm, and then Aftermath, and then Roxx, and then we changed the name to Roxx Regime. We were a trio for quite a while. There was myself on guitar and vocals, my brother Robert, and a gentleman by the name of Eric Johnson on bass. We did that for a long time. A lot of these songs are ones that we covered and grew up on. They’re basically the songs we learned how to play to.

Your approach to ‘The Covering’ is interesting. Many of the songs seem to be arranged and produced in the same vein as the originals.

Yeah. I produced the record and was very adamant about the fact that I didn’t want to change the songs too much. I wanted to stay true to the originals because the originals are so great. And out of respect to the originals, I wanted to keep them the same. By doing that, we’ve gotten a few negative comments. Some people will say, “Oh, man, why didn’t they change them up?” But, I feel like so many times, people that do covers switch them up so much that it’s almost disrespectful. They’re trying to make it their song and it’s not their song. [It belongs] to the band they’re covering. We wanted to pay homage to the songs, but at the same time put our own little spin on them and add some Stryper flavor. We did that primarily with the guitar solos and the vocals.

You didn’t produce Stryper’s 2005 album ‘Reborn,’ did you?

‘Reborn’ was co-produced by our engineer Kenny Lewis and I. It’s always kind of difficult to talk as a producer while being a band member. I don’t want to come across — although, I may — as some guy who wants his hands on everything.The reality is that I’ve co-produced or produced every Stryper album. But, it’s sometimes not credited or perceived that way. There was one producer, who I will leave nameless, who got the sole producer credit on one of the albums, and he did nothing — literally nothing. A lot of people don’t know the behind the scenes stuff. On ‘The Covering,’ I said, “Look, I want people to know that I produced this album, so I’m going to put my name on it.” It’s not just about getting tones and arranging the songs. It’s about budgeting the album, booking the studio, finding the people to help engineer, and so much more. I’m really into producing these days, more than I ever have been. I want people to know what I can do as a producer.

Let’s talk about the artwork. Who are all the characters on the cover and inside the album sleeve?

My thoughts and visions were to have a character that has fallen out of the will of God — so to speak — or gone to the dark side. In doing so, he’s scarred from the battles within. If you open up the album, there are four characters which are supposed to represent us, the band. The characters are kind of praying for, counseling, and encouraging the guy on the cover to battle the evil that’s in him. Then, when you look on the back, he’s transformed and reconverted through the transforming power of Christ. That’s really the gist of it.

How many cover tracks are you playing live? Will you be changing your live set when you head over to Mexico and Europe?

Yeah, we’re planning on it. We do four covers right now. We’ve also added some old Stryper songs that were in the vault for years. We’ve now switched up the set enough where people are feeling like it’s a new set. We wanted to do something a little different on this tour. We’re having a blast playing the covers. They’re going over really well. “Heaven and Hell” is really cool to play live. It’s funny to see the response sometimes when we first start a song like “Heaven and Hell.”

I noticed that you changed a couple of the lyrics in “Heaven and Hell.”

At the end of the song, Ronnie James Dio sang, “You’ve got to bleed for the dancer” over and over again. I decided to change that lyric to “Look for the answers.”

Were you in the studio when you decided to change the lyric or was it all premeditated?

It was beforehand. I was reading the lyrics and that was the only thing that I was a little uncomfortable with.

Lastly, as one of the two lead singers in Boston, are there any exciting projects coming up that you’re preparing for?

No, not yet. I may get the call and it may happen, but right now there’s no confirmed tours or anything that I’m aware of. I know they’ve talked about doing more in the future, and I’m sure they will. Hopefully I’ll be a part of it. It’s one of those things where I don’t really hear a lot of information and don’t really know a lot about what’s going on. I’m not sure that anyone in the band really does. I think everybody’s kind of on hiatus/vacation until they get the word that we’re going out.

And you covered a Boston tune on your last album, I believe.

That’s right. We covered “Peace of Mind” on ‘Murder by Pride.’ Tom Scholz played on it. I think it’s the first time he’s ever played on someone else’s music, which is kind of neat.

That’s awesome. Thanks for taking some time to chat with us.

Great. Thank you.

Pick up Stryper’s new album The Covering.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their tour page.