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| 20 November 2019 | Reply


According to a recent press release: “Building upon the success of his 2016 release One Sided War, Stryper front man Michael Sweet returns with his tenth solo studio release aptly titled, Ten. The new album is scheduled for release in North America on October 11th via Rat Pak Records and will also be available in Europe via Frontiers Music SRL. Ten features an all-star guest lineup that includes appearances by JeffLoomis of Arch Enemy, Todd La Torre of Queensrÿche, Andy James, Tracii Guns of LA Guns, Rich Ward of Fozzy, Joel Hoekstra of Whitesnake,Gus G of Firewind, Howie Simon, Ethan Brosh, Marzi Montazeri, Will Hunt of Evanescence, John O’Boyle, Mike Kerr and Ian Raposa of Firstbourne and more.” We spoke with Michael about the new disc, music writing and production, Stryper sucking, and much more…

Toddstar: Thank you so much for taking time out for us.

Michael: Of course. Thank you.

Toddstar: Some exciting stuff going on for you – a new album out, Ten. What can you tell us about this album that the fans may or may not know the first or second time they listened to it, Michael?

Michael: Oh, gosh. Well, it’s just a straight t ahead metal album. It’s been out for a month. It came out on the 11th of October and it’s definitely the edgier side of Michael Sweet and giving everybody a taste of what I can do in terms of metal because I’ve heard many comments over the years that people think that when I am on my own I am on the soft side and this is kind of me saying, “Well, no. That’s not true and here’s some edgy stuff from me.” I’ve written a lot of edgy songs over the years, a lot of Stryper metal tracks. I guess people aren’t aware of that. I don’t know. But this was just my heavy side in terms of solo, and have a lot of guests on it, a lot of great players and different guests. Todd La Torre doing a duet with me. I’m just really pleased with how it turned out, man. I’m hoping everybody is digging it so far.

Toddstar: Well, the first tracks I ran to, because I’m a big fan of Joel Hoekstra, were “Never Alone” and “When Love Is Hated.” Those are two that just jumped out to me because I knew he played on him. After listening through it, they were some of my favorite songs, but there’s other songs on there. Like you said, going with the heavier side, you grabbed Jeff Loomis, who was known as a heavier player. Is this album just reaction to fan feedback? As you said, you’re known as the softer side of rock as a solo artist. Was it that fan reaction that made you want to spread your wings or just you saying, “Nope. It’s about time I just unleash the other side”?

Michael: Yeah, I wanted to definitely, as you put it, unleash the other side. When I get in the car and I listen to the album, I know there are certain songs that I repeat that I just love the feel of. Some of those being “Better Part Of Me” and “Lay It Down,” “Son of Man,” “Shine.” I just wanted to give people a throwback to the 70’s and the 80’s of some of the greats like Maiden, Priest, Van Halen. Those are the bands that really inspired me growing up. I feel like that style has been forgotten. I know it’s 2019, and I know music evolves and music changes and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. It still doesn’t make it as good as it used to be. Those were the glory days. You can’t touch some of those bands and albums from the 70’s and the 80’s. Deep Purple and Maiden and Priests and Van Halen, you can’t touch them. I can’t name one band in 2019 that even comes close. Can you?

Toddstar: I’m all over the board now. I might be able to name something that I liked as much as the first time I heard Maiden, maybe. Yeah. I think…

Michael: I’m not just talking in terms of energy and performance and talent to be able to sing and play. I’m not talking about that, but I’m talking songs too. That’s the thing that’s really missing these days. In my opinion, take it for what it’s worth, you know what they say about opinions, whatever. But in my opinion, I buy albums, I stream albums, I listen to albums, I go on YouTube. New Priest, and I got to give it to Priest. They made the best album they’ve made in years. Is it still on the level of some of their greatest albums? Close. It’s pretty doggone close, but the reason why it’s one of the best albums they’ve made in years is because of the songs. The production is great. It sounds tough, but it’s got some killer songs on it. If you don’t have a song, you don’t have anything and you don’t have squat. A lot of these new albums coming out from bands, it’s like, “Where’s the material? Where’s the song?”

Toddstar: I had the same discussion with another singer not too long ago. You’ve got to have material. You’ve got to have a foundation. You can go out and be the best singer or the best guitar player, the best touring band, the best live show, but if you’re delivering crap, you’re delivering crap.

Michael: Yeah. It’s like whether I am or I’m not, I’m trying not to. I’m really, really, really trying hard not to release crap. I’m trying hard to release stuff that’s on par and up to par and on the level with the past. The songs that I’ve written that people love from the ’85, ’86, ’87, ’88, I’m really trying to write songs that are as good as those or better, but yet relevant in 2019 and they have some of the old school flavors but they also have present day flavors as well. That’s the hard part. It’s hard to stay in 2019 and go back to 1989.

Toddstar: Well, I think you’ve done a great job of doing that with your solo stuff and projects. I still regularly spin both releases from Sweet & Lynch. I think you did that same thing there where you got away from what you want to call the softer side. George Lynch is a great guitar player and he’s written heavy stuff on his own as well, but I think you helped carry that 80’s rock and metal vibe into the late 2010’s with strength.

Michael: Well, I’m trying, man. Even with the Sweet & Lynch stuff, again, this is my opinion, George, I put him on my top 10 list of guitar players, but I feel like a lot of stuff that he does is getting away from the George that people want to hear. I want to hear the old George. I want to hear the George that made me a fan. Here, I’m just ripping fiery solos where it’s like, “Wow.” He’s doing a lot more bluesy kind of stuff and his tones changed and it’s a little more single-coil sounding versus humbucker sounding. I want to hear the meat, and that’s what I tried to bring to the Sweet & Lynch stuff. I tried to keep it in that direction. I even said to George, “Let me hear it. Let me hear some fire. Let me hear some of the old stuff.” He would send me something and say, “Here, I brought the fire at the end of this one.” That’s the stuff that I love. I tried to bring that to the Sweet & Lynch project and I try to bring that to the Stryper projects, and the Michael Sweet projects and whatever I’m a part of, the fire, the energy, the stuff that fans want to hear again.

Toddstar: I’ve seen you guys live and you definitely deliver this fire. You talked about George Lynch and his guitar playing because I brought up Sweet & Lynch, but when you’re looking for that content and the songwriting side, once you’re in doing the production, are you looking at it in its entirety? Are you putting more focus on the vocals, knowing that you’re going to have a guitarist back you up? What eyes do you put on when you’re putting something into the production phase once you’ve got something written?

Michael: On everything. That’s the key to a good producer is you’ve got to look at everything and listen to everything. I put as much time into the drums as I do guitars, and bass as I do vocals. Everything has to be perfect, and great, and grooving, and meshing together like glue, gluing together. The bass needs to glue the drums together, and the drums and bass need to glue the guitars and vocals, and that bed needs to be right. I look at everything and I pay attention to everything. I think what helps me to do that is I’m a closet drummer. I used to sneak out when my brother was in school, when I was a kid and play his drums. One of these days, we’ll do that live and do a switcheroo and people will be like, “Oh, okay.” I was a bass player when I was young, granted the bass was bigger than me, but I played bass. We won a talent show when I was in third grade and I was playing my dad’s Fender jazz bass in a basement amp. I started playing bass and I’m a guitar player. I’m a singer. I play a little piano, not much. I wouldn’t call myself a pianist, but I could play bass, drums, guitar. I can play multi-instruments and I love them all. When I listened to an album, I listened to them all. I listen to drums, bass, guitars, vocals. I listened to everything. I think that is crucial when you’re making an album, and it’s so important.

Toddstar: I’d agree. The one thing I always like, and you’ve delivered on this time after time, is the fact that while the vocals may shine on a track or the guitars may shine on a track, the tracks all come together showing how well the band or the players are as a unit. How important is that to you as a producer and a performer that while there might be those individual shining moments, that the entirety is more valuable than the individual?

Michael: Well, it comes down to the song. It starts with the song. If you don’t have that, you just don’t have anything to build upon. You’re building a house upon the sand, not a solid foundation, so it starts there. Then, once you have the song, everything else revolves around the song and you need to play for the song. When you’re doing a guitar solo or guitar overdubs, you need to be playing for the song. What works well with the vocal and off of the vocal? What works well with the bass groove and the notes that the bass player is playing? You have to play for the song and think of that. How do you build a song? How do you dynamically bring it down when it needs to come down? A lot of guys are just on 10 all the time and they’re just shredding. You’re sitting there thinking, “Okay. Well, what do I do with this?” You start literally using the delete button in Pro Tools. You start cutting and removing, is what you do. I’ve done that before. I’ve gotten tracks from guitar players where it was too much and overplaying, we just hit the mute button. Then, they get the track back, and they’re like, “Yeah, but you didn’t keep the part where I was shredding over the vocal verse.” I’m like, “Well, because there’s a vocal singing a verse.” These are the things you have to think about as a producer and make the call on as a producer. I think it’s funny. This ties into what you’re saying, but when we mix an album and we send the roughs off to the band, I get a kick out of it. Because Danny and I, the engineer, we’ll laugh about it. I’ll say, “Okay. Here we go, man. Here’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to send it out.” The drummer’s going to comment on the snares not loud enough, and the guitar player is going to say, “Man, my solos aren’t loud enough,” and the bass player is going to say, “Man, I’d love to hear just a little more bass.” It’s really funny because nine times out of 10, that’s exactly what happens.

Toddstar: I can only imagine. With your “day job” in Stryper, you have to keep that consistency and that cohesiveness whereas again, on your solo projects or other projects, you still bring that consistency of the unit being more important than the individual.

Michael: At the end of the day, it really is. Believe me, there are times when I mute out lead vocals where I’m doing ad libs at the end of the song or in between verses and stuff and it’s just too much. You want to do the right thing for the song, whatever that is. Sometimes it is someone just going off. There’s a song called “Now or Never” with Gus G and the solo is a very long solo. It keeps going and going. I told Gus, “Just do it. Go, man. Shred.” That’s what I wanted for the song. I wanted him to just go off and it’s so cool. I love it. So sometimes that that works well, sometimes it doesn’t though. You’ve got to think of the song and think of the album and cohesiveness of that.

Toddstar: You mentioned Gus G. We talked about Jeff Loomis and Joel Hoekstra. You got Rich Ward from Fozzy on the album. Who out there is the guitarist you’d love to work with that you haven’t had the opportunity to yet?

Michael: Well, I reached out to a company that represented him he was with a few years back, and that was Michael Schenker. I love Michael Schenker. He’s probably one of my biggest influences. One of the players I listen to the most, and it didn’t work out. I think they responded with Michael wants $60,000 or something like that. I just laughed because you’re lucky if you get a $60,000 budget for the whole album. If Michael’s getting much more than that, you’ve got to tell me who his label is, man, I want to talk to them. But it didn’t work out, obviously because of the finances. But I would love to work with Michael someday because I really admire his playing and respect him as a player. It’d be a dream to play with him. Is it reality? I have no idea. A few other guys I really love. Everybody knows how much I love Eddie Van Halen. In this lifetime, will that happen? I doubt it, but I would love to work with Eddie in some way, shape, or form. I really admire Neil Sean, Steve Lukather, Joe Bonamassa. There are so many guys that I love and admire and would be honored to work with.

Toddstar: From that side of the coin, Michael, who are some of the songwriters that influence you? I have a favorite songwriter – I love Desmond Child. Who out there would you love to work with as a songwriter?

Michael: I love Desmond too, but I do also like that most of the songs were co-writes with Desmond. You bring Bon Jovi into just some of those. Some of those co-writes were the best songs. Desmond obviously brought a lot to the table, but as did the co-writer. Everybody knows how incredible Diane Warren has been. I listened to the songs she’s written over the years. I would love to write with her someday. I’ve been doing some co-writing with country writers. There’s guy by the name of Blair Daley out of Nashville. He’s written a lot of stuff, rock and country, but I’ve co-written with him. I love Blair, and I love his style of writing and just think he’s so incredibly talented and gifted and maybe we’ll probably do some more writing together, but I love guys like McCartney. Gosh. Eddie, I love Eddie as a writer. Eddie Van Halen. There’s so many great writers and it’s not just the genre or the style, but it’s the passion that goes into the song, and the thoughtfulness that goes into the song, and is it well thought out or is it just three chords? Sometimes there’ve been massive hits that have just been three chords. That’s not to take away from that. But without naming names, there are some writers that I don’t really get that everyone else does. Again, I’m not going to get into that, but they have hit after hit, after hit, after hit, after hit. I’m just thinking, “Wow. I’m just not getting it here.” Maybe something’s wrong with me, but hey.

Toddstar: Unfortunately, I’ve never seen a Michael Sweet solo show. I know you’ve got some dates coming up in Australia. I’ve been able to see Stryper. I love the way you control the flow of a show. You can see people who know some legend or myth of what Stryper is or was, or should have been or wasn’t, or whatever. You can see the band winning the crowd over. How important is it to you in a live situation to not only cater to the fans who are there and have been there, but to make sure that there’s one new kid or adult picking up that CD or going and downloading something the minute they get home? How important is that to you?

Michael: Well, it’s important for me to give 110%. Lay it all out there on this stage. Give your all, because you’re not going to have another opportunity at that exact moment, on that exact stage in time with that exact crowd. It’s never going to happen again. It’s not going to repeat itself, so make it count, make it the best. I always try to have that mentality with every show. Whether it’s acoustic or Stryper or whatever it is, I really try hard to go out there and just give my all and lay it all out there. It’s a big deal because you are making a first impression with the number of people in the crowd. I always ask the question, “How many people have seen Stryper?” Half the crowd’s hands goes up. Then, I say, “How many people have never seen Stryper?” Half the crowds hands go up. A lot of times, it’s the first time for many people in the audience seeing the band, or seeing Michael Sweet. It’s very important to give them something great to remember.

Toddstar: I remember Rocklahoma, 2008 or 2009, most people saying to me at the end of the night you guys were the best surprise. It was cool to have some “metal heads” finally giving you guys your due, and not just in their bedroom or in their car.

Michael: There’s this preconceived idea that Stryper sucks, and it’s true. It’s funny. It is. It really is funny, but it’s so true. I don’t mean all people. We have a really big core following out there. Obviously, not with those folks, but with the people that don’t follow Stryper, the metal heads that follow every other metal band but Stryper, they have this preconceived idea that we suck. We must suck because we have Christian lyrics, or we must suck because we have yellow and black clothing, or we must suck because we came from the 80’s, and we’ve been referred to as a glam metal band, or we must suck because of this or because of that. Nine times out of 10, maybe even 10 out of 10, their preconceived notions are blown to smithereens after they see us.

Toddstar: I’m going to say you must suck because you’ve been doing this almost 40 years professionally.

Michael: When people come see us, those haters, most of the time after the show, come up to us and say, “Man.” We’ve had people come and say that do our face, but they come right up and they say, “Man, we hated you guys. We thought you sucked, but we never saw you. We saw you tonight and we’re going out and buying the catalog. You’re one of our favorite bands now.” We have had people say that. It is rewarding, but at the same time, we get on the bus and I just shake my head and I think, “Gosh, it’s so sad.” Because you don’t give us a fair shake because of what we sing about? But yet, you’ll give all the other metal bands a fair shake because they sing about Satan or they sing about sex? Wow.

Toddstar: That’s so true. Michael, you’ve done a lot in your career. You’ve toured with a ton of people, and you’ve recorded with a ton of people. When was the last time you were personally starstruck by one of your peers?

Michael: Oh, gosh. It doesn’t happen very often. I’m one of those guys where I stay in the shadows. When we go on a rock cruise or we go do a festival and there’s a bunch of stars, like we did a big festival in Spain, and we played with KISS, The Scorpions, and Ozzy Osborne, all these big bands. There were big stars everywhere. What’s typical, is in our group, a couple of the guys in the band will be, “Oh, I want to talk to him and say hi to him.” I’m one of those guys that’ll be a little quieter and not be as, “Oh, can I get your autograph?” I’m a little more behind the scenes in that regard, but it hasn’t happened very often. I met Tony Iommi and I think that was a moment, for sure. I met Eddie Van Halen way, way back. I was there when they were shooting their Live in Fresno DVD, and briefly met him. That was a moment. It hasn’t happened very often though, but those are a couple guys that made me go, “Whoa.” But the guys that would do that, if I can meet them, if I got to meet Elvis and guys of that level, I would have been like, “Oh, my gosh.”

Toddstar: On the flip side of that, what’s it like for you when you get that kid that’s just stuttering and stammering to get the word out because he’s meeting his idol? How does that make you feel and how do you react and play to that, especially since you’re a lower key guy?

Michael: Well, it’s very, very humbling when you meet somebody that you’ve inspired and you’ve had that effect on. It’s very humbling and it’s incredible actually. It’s quite a feeling to know. I always try to view it as, “Okay. I’ve inspired this kid to play guitar or to go to church, or to do good things, or to be a better player. In some way, some small way I’ve inspired this kid. That’s always so gratifying and so humbling and such an incredible feeling.

Toddstar: Well, that’s awesome. I’ve got one more for you. If you could go back to speak to yourself in 1983, knowing what you know now, how would you advise yourself, Michael?

Michael: I would advise myself in a few ways. That would be to be cautious of the folks that promise you the world, and just don’t expect the world. Just work hard and set your expectations high, but don’t expect the world because you’re not going to get the world. I would say also, be financially smarter. Don’t misuse funds. Back in the day, we’d get budgets of two, three, $400,000 and we’d spend it all on the recording. I think back on those times and I think of now, we could have done so much with that money and now we could go and make an album for $30,000-$40,000, the hard cost of recording. Back in the day, we could have done the same thing, maybe spent double that, $60,000 instead of $200,000 – $400,000, and we could have invested that money or donated or there’s so much more we could’ve done with the money. I would do things much differently in that regard, for sure.

Toddstar: Cool. I’ve been fortunate enough to interview with you a couple of times over my time as a journalist and it’s always been a pleasure. I keep waiting for the opportunity for myself to be in town in the Detroit area when you guys are around so I can walk up, thank you for being the performer you are, and the idol and the influencer you are to your fans.

Michael: Well, thank you, man. I appreciate it, and much more to come. We’re going to keep going, keep making music, keep touring and see how much more we can get in before we leave this earth.

Toddstar: Everybody can run out and get their own copy of Ten from Michael Sweet on Rat Pak Records and wait for the next time Michael Sweet hits your town solo or Stryper.

Michael: Yes, sir. Man, hey, thanks for your time, my friend. God bless you and thanks for everything. I look forward to seeing you sooner than later.





Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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