Interview /Live Photos: : Robert Cavuoto
Building upon the success of his 2016 release One Sided War, Stryper frontman Michael Sweet returns with his tenth solo studio release aptly titled, Ten. It will be released in North America on October 11th via Rat Pak Records and available in Europe via Frontiers Music SRL.
Ten features an all-star guest lineup that includes appearances by Jeff Loomis of Arch Enemy, Todd La Torre of Queensrÿche, Tracii Guns of LA Guns, Rich Ward of Fozzy, Joel Hoekstra of Whitesnake, Gus G of Firewind and many more!
Michael is a powerhouse vocalist with tremendous range who is continuously creating memorable hard rock & classic metal riffs for our generation whether with Stryper or on his solo CDs. He offers thought-provoking lyrics with strong melodies; songs that sizzle and make the hair on your arms rise.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael to talk about the making of Ten with his illustrious list of special guests, how it all came together, and to provide some insight into what projects lie on the horizon.
Robert Cavuoto: I realized that I couldn’t think of any other musician who is pumping out more music than you on a regular basis. What drives your musical work ethic?
Michael Sweet: That’s a good question. I just follow my heart when it comes to writing, recording, and releasing projects; whether it’s a solo, group, or with Stryper effort. What happens with me is I’ll write and record an album within a year, and once I’m in mixing mode; I’m already itching to write another album. There is just a continuous desire to write and record in me. When I was a little kid, my parents used to think there was something wrong with me as I would sit on the couch rocking back and forth singing songs that I made up; singing badly mind you [laughing]. That process started back then and has been part of my DNA ever since. I can’t escape it as sometimes it’s a blessing and other times a curse. I can’t sit and enjoy a movie because halfway in I’m thinking about a song. That’s what makes it so easy to pump out music and I don’t think that will ever go away; at least I hope it doesn’t as I never take it for granted. I hope to keep recording and pumping out album-after-album. By the time I leave this Earth, maybe I’ll have 75-100 albums under my belt.
Robert Cavuoto: I’m sure your fans would be excited to hear that!
Michael Sweet: It would be pretty amazing. I don’t have a goal; I just follow my heart and able to put out an album every year or so. I don’t push or force it; it’s just the way it’s working out lately.
Robert Cavuoto: For this CD, you have enlisted some great musical guests to perform on each song. Did you write the songs then send it to the artists to add their flavor or was it more of a collaborative effort?
Michael Sweet: As I was writing the songs I was writing with people in mind. Like the song “Now or Never,” I wanted Gus G on that track. Once he confirmed he would do it, I went more in the Ozzy direction with the background vocals. That song was tailored to him. Jeff Loomis [Arch Enemy] reached out to me and said he wanted to be on the album and I knew instantly that “Better Part of Me’ was the song. I had “Son of Man” worked out for Andy James. So I wrote songs with people in mind.
The only two songs that were a collaboration were the two songs with Joel Hoekstra [Whitesnake]; “Never Alone” and “When Love is Hated.” I asked Joel to write the music, and he sent me three songs. I picked the two on the album and wrote the lyrics and melodies. Those are the songs that are a little different from the others; in a great way. That was my way of giving everyone a taste of what Joel and I can do together as we’ve been waiting to do an album for a long time. Those two songs have more of a classic rock/metal vibe.
Robert Cavuoto: Was it a big undertaking to work with each artist to achieve the vibe you were looking for?
Michael Sweet: I would send each guy a song with time markers and notes. For example, I would say, “Play something melodic here, add dives with tremolo here, or do your own thing on the solo.” For the most part, everyone did their thing. There were some edits when we got the tracks back as some things went a little long, and we didn’t want it to be overkill on the song. In all fairness to them, they didn’t have the lead vocal track when they tracked their part. I was doing the lead vocals while they were adding their parts. The tricky part was trying to get everything back in time while they were traveling and touring. There were a few tracks I got the day were mixing their song. It was a nail-biter, but it all got done and worked out beautifully.
Robert Cavuoto: Was there anyone that you wanted on this CD, but they weren’t available?
Michael Sweet: There were just two guys. I always wanted to work with Mick Mars [Motley Crue] as I wanted him on my last CD. He was excited about doing it and then wasn’t able to do it. On this CD, I sent a track to Nuno Bettencourt [Extreme], but it was difficult for him to do without the lead vocals in place. I then sent that track, “Forget, Forgive” to Howie Simon who did it and nailed it with no problem. I try to stay connected with everybody as there are so many guitar players that I admire. All the guys that you hear on this album are the guys that I watch on YouTube at 1:00 in the morning. I reached out to Steve Lukather, and he wasn’t available, I would love to get Joe Bonamassa on a track. There are so many get players that I want to work with in the future.
Robert Cavuoto: You come out of the gate on fire with “Better Part of Me” then the “Lay it Down,” it’s a nice 1-2 punch to open the CD. Tell me about the art of sequencing.
Michael Sweet: That’s always the tricky part. It can be tough, and this album was just as hard to sequence. I always want to come out of the box and end with a “Wow” effect. So we have the bookends of “Better Part of Me” and “Son of Man,” and then in-between, I wanted to keep the flow going. I brought it down to get a little mellow with the ballad. Then ramped it back up again and ended with a big boom. I worked hard to sequence it and don’t think I would change anything. It’s an eclectic and diverse album as not every song sounds the same. I love trying different things from song-to-song, yet at the same time, I want it to flow and have focus.
Robert Cavuoto: My favorite track is “Son of Man” with Todd La Torre and Andy James. Is it difficult to strike the perfect balance of rock riffs, melodic hooks, and spiritual messages then find two guys that would be will to perform on it?
Michael Sweet: Not really. I reached out to Todd and asked him if he would sing on “Son of Man” and sent him the lyrics. We are good friends and talked about it on the phone. Todd and I are really good friends. He is an atheist, and I’m a Christian, but we respect each other. We respect the fact that we have different views, different ideas, and beliefs. At the same time, we are human beings and love one another. Sadly we see people who don’t respect one another on different sides of the coin whether its religion or politics. It boggles my mind when some say they voted for Trump or Obama and they are demonized and destroyed. It blows my freaking mind because we are all human beings. So if you are religious or an atheist that is no reason to hate each other, I think it is important at the end of the day to realize we all bleed the same, we have our ups and downs, and will die in the end. It’s important to respect each other regardless of our differences. Todd and I get that and thought he was the perfect guy to sing it as he is one of my favorite singers. I don’t care that he is an atheist. I’m going to get some Christians that will get on me for that; I already have. I get it, and they don’t. If I lose fans over it then beautiful; because I just don’t want those types of fans, it’s a hard thing to say, and I’m not going to whitewash it. I have many Michael Sweet and Stryper fans who do “get it,” and they are best fans in the world. Sometimes they don’t, and we just have to rise up, smile, and carry on.
Robert Cavuoto: I can’t agree more! Did you and Tracii Guns both use your Charvel EVH guitars to record “Ricochet?”
Michael Sweet: [Laughing] You know I might have used it on that song as I had it in the studio at that time. I don’t know if Tracii used his as he tracked the song in his home studio in LA. That’s a hidden gem on the album. It’s a song that didn’t get a lot of attention during the process; now people are telling me that like it.
Where Joel’s solos are more pristine and precise; Tracii’s is more raw, dirty, simplistic, and great. It’s a throwback to UFO’s “Too Hot to Handle” which is one of our favorite bands.
Robert Cavuoto: Did you know Tracii back in the day playing in Hollywood?
Michael Sweet: Our paths crossed but we didn’t know each other back then. We didn’t get to really know each other until the past couple of years when we met for the first time through our guitar tech who works for Stryper and LA Guns. I went to his local show where we met and hit it off.
Robert Cavuoto: What is the status of the Sunbomb project with him?
Michael Sweet: I will guest on it. It has now become his solo album, and we will do a full-length solo album together in the near future. I’m still a little confused on “what’s what” with that CD [laughing], but yes we are working together. Joel and I also want to do an album together someday before we leave this Earth [laughing]. He is probably one of my top three guitar players out there now, and I love him. I think he is brilliant.
Robert Cavuoto: A few months back, you had a social media run-in with Marq Torien of the Bullet Boys. Did you learn anything from the experience as it relates to dealing with problems on social media?
Michael Sweet: Here is the thing; I was bullied when I was a kid. I don’t take shit from anybody, and I’m not going to. Some people think I should because I’m Michael Sweet, a Christian. That should not allow people to wipe their boots on you. Marq is an interesting guy, very opinionated, and who would sometime chime in on my tweets in a not so positive way. I just had it with him on that last one and ended up blocking him. That’s the easy solution. If you don’t want to deal with it, it’s easy to hit the block button. I have nothing against Marq; I like him. We had done a few shows together and hugged each other, so that is why I was surprised. I couldn’t understand why he was coming at me in that way? Sometimes it’s more about getting attention. I chose my battles now, and there are times that it’s not worth getting into. If someone were to attacks me, my family, or my integrity, I’d stand up to it. I’ll get in the ring and duke it out. I’m not afraid to do that. I’ll stand up for my convictions any day of the week
Robert Cavuoto: In all the times that we have spoken, I don’t think I have asked you what guitar was your first major purchase?
Michael Sweet: Oh, man! In 1978 I purchased a 1972 burgundy Gibson Les Paul. I was probably 15 years old and worked at a liquor store to save up for it. It was the first guitar that I purchased with my own money. It was about $800 used. I don’t have it anymore as I wish I did. It was a real beauty. I got a photo of myself with that guitar which I’ll post. It’s probably worth a pretty penny now! [Laughing].