If there is a genre of music that has bands who are in the game for more than 30 years, it’s definitely heavy metal, so it’s never surprising when a metal band puts out its twelfth album in thirty-four years. But what is surprising is when a band puts out one of, if not their best material thirty-four years into their career. This is where Stryper come in, one of the pioneers of “Christian Heavy Metal” put out the critically acclaimed “God Damn Evil” in April this year. Recently, I was lucky enough to jump on the horn to band frontman Michael Sweet, to chat about the band’s natural progression in sound, career longevity and Stryper’s triumphant return to Australian after an eight-year absence.
Firstly, congratulations on the new album, God Damn Evil, its definitely a very hard hitting, modern take on the classic Stryper sound. What was the writing process like on this album, compared to previous albums? Did you take much influence from newer music, or was it just a natural progression on the way the band was heading?
It was definitely a natural progression for sure. We just do our thing, and to use the old cliche you get on a bike for the first time in a while, and you never forget how to ride it, it’s kinda like that. We were apart for years, I left in 1992 and we didn’t get back together until 2003 and then we didn’t make new music again until ’05. So it took a little time to get back in the swing of things, but I think we started figuring out how to do that by about 2009, that was when we really found ourselves again and we’ve really been going strong ever since.
From listening to the past few albums, you can definitely hear the togetherness of the band again and a little bit of modern influence, especially on “Take It To The Cross” (the opening track of the new album), you’ve incorporated some metalcore stylings of scream vocals and even a breakdown at the end, how did that come around, because it is a big departure from the “classic” Stryper sound.
Yeah, I am – we’ve got that in our blood. We’re a heavy metal band at the core, we grew up on Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Van Halen – its all we listened to. And we’ve never been a thrash band by all means, but we’ve had our fans says over the years, “Why don’t you do something that borders on thrash? Do something a little heavier”. So that song was really our answer to that question we’ve been getting for last 7-8 years. It’s still not like Slayer or Megadeth or Anthrax or any of those bands, and we’ll never be that because it’s not who we are but it was fun just stretching out a little bit and trying something with a little more edge to it and a little more different for us.
In recent years there’s been a big resurgence of 80s metal bands, you’ve probably seen that first hand, have you noticed many younger fans go to Stryper shows these days? Be it by themselves or with their parents?
We have, and its interesting to me. Because you go back to when we first came back in 2005/2006, and we had a few younger fans, but over the past few years we’ve really seen a surge of younger fans, I don’t really know why, I wish I had an explanation for that, other than the fact that maybe there’s a lot of parents turning their kids onto Stryper and bands like us. But we sen teenagers coming to our shows, in old vintage shirts, and during songs, I’ll ask them where they got the shirt and they’ll say they borrowed it from their parents, so I think that’s the case. And it’s really cool that there are a lot of younger fans who are discovering our music and that we’re speaking to them now, and 34 years into our career its quite astonishing really, its very cool.
On a similar subject, recently I was in Japan, and at every record store I went to, the Stryper section was massive, was your success outside of America a surprise to the band initially and are you surprised that the popularity has maintained itself over the years?
Absolutely, we never knew what to expect and to be honest we didn’t expect anything when we were 20/21 years old back in ’83/84, and the fact that it really did spread across the pond to other countries in Europe, Australia and Japan, it was and still is mind-blowing to us. And we were really popular, not only in Australia but definitely Japan in the late 80s. We made a video “Live In Japan” and played at Budokan, we did quite well there. So its always surprising to think back on those times and we still have a fan base there, and in Australia too and that’s why we are excited to come back to both countries because we’re very grateful for the fact that we still have all these fans that still support us 34 years later.
As you said, Stryper are heading back to Australia in a few weeks for the first time since 2010 and fans are always excited to hear the classics, but are you excited to play the new album, but also songs from the albums “No More Hell To Pay” and “Fallen” to Australian crowds for the first time?
Absolutely, we doing the best we can to fit in every from the last three albums, as well as the older records. We’re doing a few from Fallen and No more Hell To Pay, I can guarantee that. But we’re going to be playing at least 5 songs from God Damn Evil, so that’s the primary focus because its the most recent album. And then of course we fit in songs from all the alums from the 80s, but that’s when it starts to become difficult because we have a big catalogue now, so trying to fit everything into an hour and a half is always hard, but recently we’ve been playing around 20 songs, so its a great setlist.
That’s great to hear! I’ve found with the older bands I’ve seen recently, that obviously they want to push the newest album which is understandable, and with Stryper especially your newest release is one of, if not your best album, so obviously you have to try and replace an older song with something new to push that out there. Has that worked for you, because fans these days mainly want to hear the vintage tracks live?
That tends to be the case across the board with every band, the fans want to hear the classic material, and sadly they aren’t familiar with the new songs we release because there’s no real format for it. It’s not like the 80s when every radio station was playing it, MTV was playing it and people knew the music and could hear it multiple times daily. Nowadays its not so much the case, but we’re still trying our best to write and perform our best material to date, and its very import to us to get out there and play it live and to continue recording and making new music, and I feel like some of our best songs are coming out of us now. I would even go on to say that this album (God Damn Evil) is our best album, I’ll like it better, personally, than To Hell With The Devil, and when you say things like that, the fans gasp and go up in arms because they hold those albums very close and have fond memories of them.
Obviously, a lot of Stryper’s lyrical content is about togetherness, overcoming hardship, and mostly positive messages, a lot thing is mostly due to your faith and Christianity, but do you find a lot of your lyrics can be related to the state of affairs in the world today?
I think back in the day a lot of our lyrics were about love and relationships, and mostly on the positive side. But now some of our lyrics are more on the negative side about the state of our society and what’s going on around us, and it’s not always a positive thing. We’re really diving into lately what’s around us in terms of social media and the internet. Everyone seems to live on their phones and the internet and anyone and everyone can go an say what they want about anybody else, and a lot of the times we see it it’s really negative. Kids are committing suicide because of things that are said about them online and its a crazy world we live in, and I believe a lot of that negativity is due in part to social media, so that’s the focus of this album (God Damn Evil) lyrically, I’ve written quite a few songs on that. But at the same time. they always come back to the message we’ve always had, God’s love, faith, hope and all the things that are important to us, as a believer, as a Christian.
Just before I let you go, as I said, you’re coming back to Australia, 30 years since the first time you played here, tell me about the first Australian tour, did you expect to play to venues you did and the pandemonium you caused.
I remember the first tour perfectly. I remember in Melbourne we had a lot of people gathered out the front of a record store for a signing, and we basically had to be taken out of there in a paddy-wagon by police, it was very interesting because we made the papers and TV news. We’ve always had a really great following in Australia, standing behind us and supporting what we do. We haven’t been able to make it back as often as we like. We did 3 tours in 5 years in the late 80s and we would love to come every 2-3 years still. But unfortunately, it’s not always the case. The last time we are out was 2010, but we are coming back, but we’re just thankful that the people are still there and care and want to come to the shows, it’s all that matters to us. We’re very blessed and fortunate to still be doing this in general, let alone in Australia. So we can’t wait to see old friends, makes new friends and show everyone that Stryper are at the top of our game!
Stryper 2018 Australian Tour Dates:
Friday 17th August MELBOURNE Max Watts
Saturday 18th August SYDNEY Max Watts
Sunday 19th August ADELAIDE The Gov
Tuesday 21st August BRISBANE The Triffid
Tickets On Sale: Wednesday 6th June 9:00am local