Michael Sweet is a husband, a father and a man who has spent the last 30 years sharing the love of Christ through music. Many say that his band "paved the way" for Christian hard rock bands of today. And since Stryper was the first Christian rock band to enjoy any real success in the mainstream market, being regularly seen on MTV and VH1 and receiving coverage in Rolling Stone, Time, Spin and Newsweek, they could be right.
In this exclusive interview, Hallels.com's Kim Jones talked with Michael Sweet about what's on the horizon for the band, life and the love of a Savior.
I know you guys have your first annual fan weekend coming up and then you've got an album dropping, so tell me all about it.
We do. I'll start with the fan weekend. We have actually talked about doing that for over 10 years. The reason why we never did it, is because we just couldn't come to terms with the scheduling and decide on a time to do it every year so it just got put off and put off. Finally, this year, we had a block of time to be able to do it, but unfortunately, we got delayed because of a number of things that were taking place in individual band members lives that kept us from announcing it. We meant to announce it a good three or four months ago but we wound up waiting a little too late in the game and didn't make the announcement until not long ago. But all things considered, the response has been great and I'm actually shocked and amazed that we've sold as many tickets or packages or whatever you want to call it as we have. We're excited because we are planning on making it an annual event in different cities and adding new things each year - whether it's bringing in other bands to play or whatever it may be. I think it's going to be cool. We'll get around to every city eventually and it will be awesome! The new record, of course, is kind of circled around that. We're going to unveil the video to "No More Hell to Pay," the title track, at the fan weekend and then it's going to go live the following week. Then the record will come out on November 5th. I think it's - and I say this humbly and with all sincerity - I think it's our best record ever. I mean that in so many different ways - not just sonically but passionately and spiritually. The whole package is just God with a little of all of our records rolled into it. Yet it's owned. It's not a copycat of anything we've ever done, yet it does have those flavors. I'm excited. I think that when people hear the full record, I think they're going to be blown away. It's a good time for the band and we're really thrilled.
I've heard some of it and you guys still have it! You seem to just get better with age.
You know, we had some down time when I wasn't in the band, but I always say that we've been together for 30 years and we really have been. It's not in person, but it's in spirit. Going that long with the original line-up, sadly, a lot of the time, you do lose something - whether it's the passion, the energy level or even the chops. I don't think we were ever special. I always thought we were just four nobodies and I always used to say, in interviews, that we were four nobodies from Orange County who God used in incredible ways. Thirty years later, we're still four nobodies from Orange County that God is still using. I think that this record has a great energy to it. You can tell, when you put it on, that we're having fun and we still enjoy what we do. I guess that's probably 90% of a good record, in my opinion.
Backtracking a bit - when The Covering came out, we were blown away. Not just by the song choice and the feelings of our youth, but how you made every song your own without taking away from it. You were having fun then too and it reallly showed.
It was tricky. Some bands go in and completely rearrange covers and do their own thing entirely so you don't even recognize the song. We didn't want to do that. We wanted to stay true to the originals as much as we could because we wanted to pay respect to them in terms of the songs and the bands. They really did influence us as to who we are musically. So we didn't try to reinvent the wheel. We just went in there and stayed trued to the original arrangements while putting little Stryper spins on them. Obviously, with us performing them and me singing them, it sounded more like Stryper doing it. It was fun. We got to break down barriers. So many Christians think, "You can't listen to that stuff. Oh my God! They did a cover album? They're not a Christian band anymore! They're evil. They're satanic. They're this or that." And it's just the furthest thing from the truth. I'm a man that believes we all have our own convictions. So, say for example, if you listened to a band when you were growing up and that band had with it a lot of bad memories of alcoholism or drug abuse or whatever, and you have become a Christian and don't want to listen to them anymore because they bring back those bad memories, I get that. But if you want to listen to that band and you enjoy them, I feel that it's OK to do as long as you're not taking in something that's going to tear apart your spirit and your faith. So that's my take on it, but there are so many Christians who have the mentality of "No, no, no! You've become a Christian so you NEVER listen to secular music again." I just think that's ludicrous.
Preach it brother! I'm right there with you. I frequently get questions about various bands after people have visited some of the, what I call
"hate sites," online. You know - the ones that go after Christian artists, calling them "of the devil," "evil," "satanic" and the like if they have drums or electric guitar or album covers that are "of the world." They find "satanic symbols" in the most innocent and anyone who doesn't agree with them is automatically going to hell.
It's unreal. They get so set on that stuff that is miniscule or they even go beyond that and completely miss the big picture. That's astonishing to me. There are people who devote their ministries to it - like this guy Jeff Godwin, it's been his life and ministry to bring down Christian music. To me, it's like, "Really? That's your ministry?" It's unbelievable. It's like, "What about preaching the love of Christ?"
Exactly! For some ministries (and I use that term loosely) like Westboro, it's all about spewing hate and condemnation. I don't know if you caught it, but not too long ago the Westboro folks caught up with Vince Gill outside of a venue before one of his concerts. Someone caught it on tape and they went after him for "committing adultry" by "sleeping with another man's wife" (note: his wife, Amy Grant). When the lady speaking to him announced, "In the Bible, Jesus says you're going to hell. He talked about that," Vince responded, "Jesus talked about love too, but I guess you guys missed that part."
Hate - that is their goal in life and that is not of God. That's of the enemy. We all know that. I still, believe it or not, four years after my wife, Kyle's, passing, I still read horrifically, hateful stuff on the internet about me being remarried. I just read something recently where the person believes that you're only supposed to have one spouse, one lover. If that person dies and you remarry, you're sinning. Some of the things just make you wonder, "Where do these people come from?" How do you take the Scriptures and twist them so badly? It's unreal! It really is!
I agree. I am blown away daily by some of the things that I see and hear. The God that many Christians present is not at all about love. Since I've been writing online for over ten years now, I've developed my own "anti-fan club" and becoming ordained just made that worse for some of them. I'm a female who dares to preach, who has tattoos and short hair and who promotes Christian rock and rap music (which they know doesn't exist since it's "of the devil"). It's incredibly sad when fellow Christians consign me to the bowels of Hell because I'm trying to share my Savior. Atheists I've met are nicer. They just tell me I'm "an idiot" for "believing in a fairy tale."
Wait a minute! Hold on! You're telling me that you're ordained and you're female AND you have tattoos? Wow! But seriously though, you have to - and you are - keep doing what you are called to do. Seeing things like that is tricky. Sometimes I have to stay off of the internet because I'll read stuff that just gets the best of me. I'm the kind of guy, who will go in and say, "Oh yeah? Really?" and I'll roll up my sleeves. I'll fire back but I have to be careful because I don't want to fire back in hate, I want to fire back in love. There are a lot of haters out there. You have to always realize and understand that nine times out of ten, they are people who just don't have a life, sadly. They sit at the computer, spewing garbage on the internet, because that IS their life. You have to keep reminding yourself of that.
I will. I wish we could make to Nashville for the fan weekend. I've seen you guys in concert and I would be spewing - but it would be praise!
There will be others. Hopefully you and Brian (note - my husband) can come to one of those. For this one, we have so much planned. We just added a live show at Rocketown. We've got a guitar give-away. It's going to be a blast and we're pumped. I leave in a week and I can't wait!