Shawn Macomber of Decibel magazine recently conducted an interview with vocalist/guitarist Michael Sweet of Christian hard rockers STRYPER. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Decibel: To say faith has been part of STRYPER's mission would be a massive understatement, but do you feel as if the process of composing and performing these songs over the years has deepened your own personal relationship with God?
Sweet: Full circle, getting to this point? Yes. In between though? There were times when it had an opposite effect. There were times when I felt God wasn't there and questioned whether there even was a God. When my wife was sick and dying of cancer, I was thinking, "Wow, we've devoted our lives to you, God — and this is what we get?" That was just what was going through my head at the time. Maybe that was selfish or whatever, but that's just the truth of the matter. But to fast forward to today, having gone through all that, I do feel that it has strengthened and taken me much further in my faith. Absolutely.
Decibel: It actually shows quite a bit of ethical fortitude and principle that you didn't cash in on those doubts while you were having them — a STRYPER-abandons-God! record would probably have earned you oodles of fawning press and a truckload of money!
Sweet: [Laughs] Well, we've kind of been there and done that. Maybe not to the extreme it could have been, but when we made the "Against The Law" album that was in some sense a "No God" album. Lyrically, it was still involving and including God, but at the same time our lifestyles didn't portray that. We were bringing booze on the bus, girls on the bus. We were all of a sudden something other than what we had said we were for however many years. We were, in my view, perfect examples of hypocrisy. And we've all done that. We're all human. We all make mistakes. We're all sinners. But the thing about STRYPER is, we're in the public eye and we're going to be held accountable by the public when we fall short. Honestly, I wish other bands were held accountable as much as we were.
Decibel: Several years back, a friend of mine wrote a book entitled In Defense of Hypocrisy, wherein he argued, to be kind of unfairly reductive, that it was better to set a high standard and fall short than to have no standards and say, "Well, at least I'm not a hypocrite!"
Sweet: Exactly. I think we realized — and I've been very outspoken about — our failures and shortcomings back then. I'm not asking for the violins to be broken out, but for some reason STRYPER is one of those bands that is always under the microscope. Everything we do and say. Everything we don't do or say. If we say Jesus too many times in a song, we get beat up for it. If we don't say Jesus enough times in a song, we get beat up for it. It's kind of crazy to me, but those are the cards we've been dealt. We just try to rise above it and keep doing what we're called to do by God, stay accountable to God and ourselves and stay strong. It seems like other bands get away with a lot worse and it only makes them bigger stars. Stryper, on the other hand…
Decibel: Back when STRYPER first broke out there had been a few Christian hard rock precursors — PETRA comes to mind — but nothing like "To Hell With The Devil" or "Soldiers Under Command". Now every metal subgenre — except maybe black metal — has a sub-subset of Christian artists. Is that heartening to you, as one of the members of the vanguard?
Sweet: It is and it isn't. I devote a chapter in my book to this idea that I don't really care for "Christian music." It actually drives me a little insane. We are just as proud and boisterous about our faith as any band out there, but if you're gonna put a Christian tag on us, you should have to put a Satan tag on a bunch of other bands. It's like, why does it have to be Christian death metal or Christian black metal… it's just metal. It's an attempt to put bands, including STRYPER, into little boxes. Well, we run from our box. We're not a Christian rock band. We're a rock band that's comprised of Christians. That's a big difference. And let's face it, Christianity isn't all that highly respected in today's culture. You see Christians portrayed as buffoons in movies and television, twenty-four seven. The minute you say Christian band, instantly a lot of people look the other way or look at you like a joke. We don't want that.
Read the entire interview at Decibel.