Interview and Live Photos by: Robert Cavuoto
On April 20th, Stryper will be releasing their 10th studio album God Damn Evil via Frontier Records!
This album is by far the band’s heaviest and most powerful album to date! The opening infectious track, “Take It to the Cross” features a guest appearance from Matt Bachand from Shadows Fall & Act Of Defiance on the death growls and shows that Michael Sweet, Robert Sweet, Oz Fox, and new bassist Perry Richardson have zero intentions of mellowing with age. “Sorry” and “Lost” are two songs in the classic Stryper vein but with a heavier edge while “Can’t Live Without Your Love” showcases that Michael can still write some brilliant ballads! Fans of Stryper’s previous two releases, No More Hell To Pay and Fallen will find that Stryper’s signature sound is still intact and continues only get better over time. The band will also embark on US tour starting on the East Coast this May!
I caught up with Michael Sweet to discuss the creation of God Damn Evil, how the band is re-energized with new bassist Perry Richardson as well as a discussion on the state of the music industry!
Robert Cavuoto: When writing songs for Stryper do you try to out-do your last CD? If so, what do you use as a benchmark?
Michael Sweet: I don’t really benchmark it against anything. I do it with the attitude that I want to improve things and make it a little better. It can be the songwriting process, the recording process, the musicianship, or the performance. It can also be a number of those things combined. Hopefully, we are doing that with every release whether for Stryper, Sweet & Lynch, or my solo projects. If you go into it with that type of thinking and come close, that’s all you can ask for.
Robert Cavuoto: God Damn Evil is very powerful, not only lyrically but musically, how do you capture Stryper’s signature sound CD after CD?
Michael Sweet: In Stryper, everybody has a unique style in the way they play and sing which is going to help make up that signature sound of Stryper. Regarding the songs, I’ve written almost every song for Stryper. It was the same for this album. There was some collaboration on some parts. For example, Rob came up with the title of the album, God Damn Evil, and I based the song on that. I lock myself in a room to write and stay really focused. Sometimes I’ll stay in that room until I have 20 or 30 dirty coffee cups and I need to take a shower [laughing]. I tend to work really well under pressure, that’s the way I do every album. I don’t start writing the album months in advance. I don’t like doing that, the reason being when I put too much thought into something I start to get sidetracked, or distracted or over-perfect rewrites which tends to change things to the point that I lose sight of what was magical about the song. I start a week before pre-production then the guys come out to fine tune them.
Robert Cavuoto: Regarding your guitar solos, do you improvise or do you plan them out prior to recording?
Michael Sweet: We just send everything to Joel Hoekstra, and he plays it all, and we fake it. [laughing] When Oz and I are recording we start with the basic tracks drums, bass, and rhythm guitar; then it starts to become clear who is going to take the solo. It really about the feel of the song whether it will be mine, Oz’s, or both of us. That’s how it has always been. With that said, I like to work out my solos in advance. I’m not a big improviser. I can do it, but chances are I’m not going to be happy with the outcome. I like to spend about an hour on each solo and write it section by section. I’ll take a four or eight bars section and work it out, then the next section and so on so; this way they are almost like a song within the song.
Robert Cavuoto: As you are doing the majority of the writing, does Robert and Oz help keep you in check as not to deviate too far from Stryper’s unique sound?
Michael Sweet: I think it the other way around, what I mean by that is there are times when songs are sent to me, and I’ll be the one that says it is deviating too far and doesn’t work. When I write a song I’ll send it to the guys, like with this album and they responded “Very Cool” or “Love it.” I would think if it sucked or didn’t fit they would certainly let me know.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about the significance of the album artwork and the title track?
Michael Sweet: Robert came up with the title idea a few years back, and we didn’t go with it because we felt like it would be a little too bold for that time. Fast forward to 2017 when we started the writing process for this album; I suggested using it and everyone was like “Wow it’s a bold statement!” We now live in bold times and need a bold statement. It’s not so much of a statement as a prayer request; it’s us asking God to damn evil. It’s that simple. It has created controversy. People are asking how we can take the Lords name in vain, or how can we be so blasphemous or swear? Stryper has been around for 34 years and never backed down on what we stand for. It’s odd that people are going to question what we mean by that statement. It boggles our mind! We have to keep explaining ourselves until we are dead and gone. Most people get it, the album cover hammers it home, and the lyrics seal the deal!
Robert Cavuoto: The album cover is quite interesting and detailed, just wondering if the band members are painted somewhere in the background?
Michael Sweet: [Laughing] No, but that’s a great idea! We thought to put certain people in there who are the definition of evil, but we didn’t go there as not to stir the pot and upset people. Within the imagery, you can make out what we are trying to say; that love of money, sex, and food are like Gods to people. Everybody’s becomes addicted and puts it above God. Its God coming down and slamming a staff saying, “Enough!”
Robert Cavuoto: Perry Richardson is Stryper’s new bassist, what made you select him?
Michael Sweet: We are excited about having Perry with us. It feels like a new day and chapter in the history book of Stryper. The best way to describe Perry is if Comets were racing towards the Earth and we only had an hour to live, Perry is one of those guys who would open the door and say, “Guys it’s going to be okay!” [Laughing] That’s just his personality; he is a really positive, joyful, and awesome person. We need that in the band. He fits the bill perfectly and a real Godsend. Then you add he is a killer bassist and singer. He wasn’t in our radar because we didn’t know too much about him. When his name was brought up, we were like, “He sounds perfect.”
Robert Cavuoto: Was there an audition process and how many bassists tried out?
Michael Sweet: We had talked to Sean McNabb and were going down that road with him; it got that far. We had reached out to Rudy Sarzo, and we were going to talk, but the thing that brought a little concern was that I don’t think Rudy sings. Rudy is known for his bass playing and showmanship, but he is not known as a singer; unless I’m wrong. Perry is known for having an amazing voice and for being one of the best background vocals in the business. We also thought of James Lomenzo as we worked together on Sweet & Lynch. The minute Perry came on the radar it was a done deal. We flew him out and enjoyed every minute of hanging out. Once we heard him play and sing, we told him he was our guy.
Robert Cavuoto: You mentioned his positive energy; does the band feel re-energized now?
Michael Sweet: A hundred million percent! I have been comparing it to the way we felt like it was 1983 when we were getting ready to break out and looking for the right bass player. That’s how it feels with a similar level of excitement. We are so excited and can’t wait for everyone to see him when we are on tour. When people see us, they are going to say, “They look, sound and play better than ever have!”
Robert Cavuoto: I saw your recent tweet about Best Buy discontinuing the sales of CD’s in their stores. It seems like just another blow to the music industry.
Michael Sweet: It’s interesting times we live in as bands are trying to figure out how to thrive and make it work. CD’s are becoming obsolete, and in a few years, they will be. Best Buy won’t carry them anymore, and that will trickle down across the board. It’s all about streaming and to some degree about downloading, but not much. The scary part about streaming is the artist doesn’t get paid very much. It’s sad when you spend three months of your life making an album and investing so much into it only for people to stream or download one song. It’s really a bummer. The art of holding something in your hand is a thing of the past. There was something really special about buying vinyl and CD’s to look at the artwork and read the lyrics or liner notes. You would then listen to every song, even the song that you didn’t like at first would become your favorite six months later because you kept listening to the entire album. Now people just download or listen to the single and don’t even hear the other songs. I wish there was a way to for people to download the entire album, but you can’t do that because people would be up in arms. I wish people would just give every song a chance!