John Knowles of Metal Exiles recently conducted an interview with guitarist/vocalist Michael Sweet of Christian hard rockers STRYPER. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Metal Exiles: ["No More Hell To Pay"] is the heaviest STRYPER album, period. Is this what came out of you guys naturally or was this preconceived?
Michael: It was definitely preconceived, and I think it came naturally, to a degree, too, once we set our sights on that. We have heavy in our blood, we grew up on heavy. Some of our favorite bands of all time are [IRON] MAIDEN, JUDAS PRIEST and VAN HALEN. I think what happens with a lot of bands is you stray from your roots and your past, and we've done that. This is a full-circle album for us, coming back 100% to where we came from. And that's what we wanted to do; we wanted to kind of hit people with a "bam, bam, bam"...no filler, every song hold its own, stand on its own, and also the album keep a flow, keep driving and not slow down too much. And that's pretty much what we did. There's only one ballad and it's not a typical STRYPER ballad, it's a guitar ballad. Other than that, it's really just getting in that ring with the prized fighter and going twelve rounds; you just kinda get beat up. It's a real fast-paced, heavy record.
Metal Exiles: Tell me about the writing process, is it generally you writing most of the material and riffs?
Michael: The way it's always worked from the very beginning is I've written most of the material, I mean, 99% of the material. There's only a few songs over the years that I haven't written. But the way it works is I'll have the idea on a recorder, lately it's my iPhone, and for this album I had over 40 ideas of me humming melodies or guitar riffs into my phone. Then I would go home, get my guitar out and then I would arrange chords to that idea and create the basic structure of the song. And then once I had those ideas, I recorded those onto my iPhone with me humming the guitar riff or whatever, and then when it was time to actually start pre-production for the album, I spent about 11 or 12 days in my studio arranging all the songs. I got all 12 songs arranged, and then I had the band come out, I taught them the material, and then we went on the Monsters Of Rock cruise and we all took a live CD of us rehearsing the songs. Then we went into the studio after Monsters Of Rock and we recorded it. So the way the process works for me is I'll get away from writing, like I haven't written a song since then. I've just been kind of clearing my head, and then I've got to dive in in the next week actually to writing a new record that George Lynch and I are going to be working on. Once I get into that mode, I'll be working on a song everyday, until I have 12 or 13 songs.
Metal Exiles: How is the vibe within the band right now? Tim [Gaines, bass] has been in an out since the reunion. Do you feel that the four of you guys are a solid permanent band now?
Michael: I think so, I mean we live in different states, we don't see each other as much, so we're not as close as we used to be, but that doesn't mean that we're distant. We don't dislike each other. But it does mean that we don't spend as much time together and I think with any relationship if you don't have communication and you're not hanging out, you can put distance between yourselves, and grow apart, to a degree. I think that's happened to us over the years. I do believe also, though, in saying that, that there's a lot of life left in the band. I think we're proving that with this album, and we plan to tour, we plan to make more albums, more music, and do a lot more until we can't do it any longer. Or someone in the band doesn't want to do it any longer. I do think it's important that we stay together with the original lineup. I think that speaks volumes, and it's very important, it's very unique, it's very rare. And I would rather not continue on if any one of us was not here. We did it before with Tracy Ferrie and I don't want to do that again. I don't want to go down that road again where we bring in someone different, I'd rather just stop doing it.
Metal Exiles: For anyone in the "Christian music" scene, I've always found that the label "Christian" followed by the musical genre to be a little absurd. How do you feel about that? I mean, you guys are prominently labeled "Christian metal" on your own web site, the Frontiers web site, and in any and all media coverage. Do you think this is necessary?
Michael: I don't... I don't like it. We got in a little bit of a debate recently, Oz [Fox, guitar] and I did, because Oz feels that if we don't term ourselves a "Christian" rock or metal band, we're going to offend our Christian fans. And I feel the exact opposite. I think our Christian fans are supportive enough and smart enough to know that we're not offending them by not wanting to be labeled a "Christian" band. We've never swept our faith under the carpet. We're as bold as we can be, at all times, in interviews, in songs, on stage, you name it. So we never run from that, ever. But at the same time, being labeled a "Christian" band really hinders us, and hurts us. When we're put in the Christian category at a record store, if someone's coming in who's not a Christian to look for our album, they're not going to go to the Christian category to buy it. I just think that people fear religion, and Christianity often. It's certainly one of the most hated subjects of conversation at the dinner table along with politics. We're a rock band that's comprised of Christians, that's what we are.
Read the entire interview at Metal Exiles.