Stryper is a singular entity in the world of heavy metal. Many kids in the 80’s wanted to listen to heavy music, but were from strictly Christian homes where music like Van Halen and Motley Crue were banned. Enter Stryper with hard guitar riffs, long hair, and songs about God. Now three decades later and Stryper is touring for the 30th anniversary of the album “To Hell With the Devil.” They’ve donned the classic yellow and black striped leather and spandex outfits and are performing the album in its entirety. I saw the show in New Orleans and then spoke with lead singer Michael Sweet about their show, their music, and their fans.
NerdMost: Michael, when I was at the show I talked to fans to get an idea of who Stryper fans are now, 30 years out from “To Hell With the Devil.” There were plenty of fans who had been listening since early on in the 80’s. But then I also met fans who were not religious or Christian, who were just there for the metal. Is that something that you’ve seen that you’ve noticed in your touring right now?
Michael Sweet: Oh yeah, not only just now, but from the very beginning, even going way back to ‘86-87, when two-thirds of our sales were from “main stream” and only a third was “Christian.” So we’ve always had many people, at least half, who are there that may not necessarily be Christian. I’ve literally over the years met Satanists and atheists or you name it, people of all different types of life who would come to a Stryper show…which is pretty cool.
NM:There were fans who were soccer moms and some grey-haired rockers along with 20 year old kids – a wide range of ages among the fans. Is that new for Stryper?
MS: Definitely. We’ve seen that a lot more lately since we reformed in ’03. Y’know it’s really quite a mix. I always ask the question “How many people have seen us?” and I ask “How many people have not?” And usually just as many hands go up for the people that have not seen us. It’s a mixed crowd and a lot of those people who have not seen us obviously are young people. In their 20’s, even teens. And it’s really cool to see that. It says that right now we are reaching multiple generations and all different types of people. So it’s pretty cool.
NM:What was it like pulling out that yellow and black spandex to get ready for this tour?
MS: Well, you know what, we had done it a few times before. We did in Japan in 2010 and then again this year. We had kind of prepped ourselves. But you know the toughest thing with those outfits isn’t how they look or how they feel or what they’re made of but just how hot they get. Cause they are all layered up. Oz is in this suit, Tim’s in a suit and I’m layered up with this vest, shirt and jacket, as opposed to just going out in a thin t-shirt and open long-sleeve shirt…it’s much more uncomfortable and we get a lot hotter, that’s for sure.
NM: The show was a lot heavier, musically, than what I expected. Is that a new direction for Stryper?
MS: I think it’s what just happened to be coming out right now. We’re not planning or sitting down and mapping out going heavier or anything like that. It’s just taking it’s natural course and that’s where we’re going. I think we’ve always been heavier live than on the albums cause there’s a certain energy. You know the level of energy rises and it’s a different experience to see and hear Stryper live than on the album.
NM: I came into the show expecting kind of a nostalgia act. Bands often come back for a “victory lap” tour. But this didn’t feel like that. The first half was a celebration of the album “To Hell With the Devil” but the second half was “Oh, yeah, we still know how to rock!”
MS: Exactly. That’s the whole point, that’s why we broke it up into two sets. That’s why we come out and do a lot of our new material. Obviously we also do some of the other classics in the second half. But that’s the whole point. We come out and do “To Hell” and then we come out in the second half to show people we’re still doing this, making music and hopefully writing good songs, powerful songs and hopefully we have the opportunity to show people that.
NM: “Yaweh” really showcased your songwriting and musicianship and that Stryper can still deliver at the top of their game. So this tour is not just a one-off thing then?
MS: Oh yeah, absolutely. There’s no set time or schedule. Yes, absolutely Stryper is still going strong. I think that song is one of our best songs ever. That song holds its own against many of the classic Stryper songs like “Soldiers Under Command” or “To Hell With the Devil” anything like that, man. It’s a really powerful song and it’s quickly become a fan favorite.
NM: When I talked with some fans in the crowd, “Yaweh” kept coming up as a song they wanted to hear in your set.
MS: Oh, no doubt. No doubt about it. And it’s probably our longest song we’ve ever recorded, and it kind of goes all over the map in a really cool way. It takes you on a ride. It’s fast and it slows down and picks up again. It’s got different tempos. It’s just a really cool laid out song. It just works. It doesn’t feel long at all. It’s actually a co-write with Clint Lowery of Sevendust, which is kind of cool.
NM:You guys sometimes find yourself in a difficult place with fans, where you are too metal for Christian fans and too Christian for metal fans. How do you deal with that?
MS: Well, we don’t really sit down and try to break it apart or over think it. We just do what we feel lead to do. We grew up on Priest, Iron Maiden and Van Halen, a lot of the bands from the 70’s and 80’s. We just do our thing. We grew up on the streets of L.A. and played all the clubs. We don’t think about it; we just do what comes out naturally. What you hear is exactly that.
NM:Going back to these songs from “To Hell With the Devil,” obviously you’re not going to play all of those songs in a regular set. What was that like revisiting these songs? How did that feel?
MS: Really cool. Particularly “Holding On,” “All of Me,” “Rocking the World,”…I mean those are songs we haven’t played since ’87. We stopped playing them a long time ago. And then as we’re playing them night after night I say to myself “Why did we stop playing these?” because they’re every bit as good as “Honestly” or “Free.” They’re really cool tunes and that’s one thing that speaks volumes for the album itself. There’s no filler on “To Hell With the Devil” – every song holds its own.
NM:I have a theory that “Against the Law” is an ‘alternate universe’ version of Stryper. This is the album that would come from Stryper if Stryper were not a Christian band.
MS: Well, I would say that “Against the Law” is one of my least favorite of our albums, if not my actual least favorite. My least favorite is “Yellow and Black Attack” which I never listen to and “Against the Law” I rarely listen to. The reason why is that although I think it is a really great album, and it has some great performances on it, but the reason that I’m not a fan of it is that it is not classic Stryper.
Classic Stryper to me is “Soldiers Under Command” and “To Hell With the Devil” and even “In God We Trust” to a point, and then coming back full circle for sure “No More Hell to Pay” and “Fallen.” But “Against the Law” to me sounds like Stryper trying to be Van Halen. And here’s the thing…we’re not Van Halen. Imagine for a second if Van Halen made an album where they sound like Stryper. People would be like “What?” “Against the Law” doesn’t sound like Stryper to me.
Also, the fact that we sort of walked away from our faith and presented a different message. We were trying to scowl and look tough, and we’re never going to look tough. It was just the wrong thing to do.
In and of itself I still think it’s a good album, just not a Stryper album. If it was the first album I heard from the band I would think “Wow, this is really cool.” It’s a good album. It’s just not Stryper. That’s all.
NM: Which kind of goes back to what I was thinking about this was a different band. It was almost like a Chris Gaines thing, or maybe Travelling Willbury’s or Sgt Pepper or something.
MS: Right, yeah, I guess exactly. We didn’t plan out or map it out, like I said earlier with the other albums, there was no “Let’s do this because of that.” We did it because that was what was in us at the time. We were rebelling and that’s what that album represents. That’s why I’m not a fan of it.
NM: About two weeks ago, I saw Slayer at the start of the week and then ended the week at the Stryper show in New Orleans. Very different themes musically.
MS: Did we hold our own against Slayer?
NM: You certainly did. You definitely performed and it was not the show I expected coming only a few days after Slayer. One thing with Stryper though, I got this positive vibe from the crowd. One guy in particular came in wearing some grindcore metal shirt and had Slayer and Venom patches on his shorts. I thought, “What is this guy doing here?” He told me that when he was a teenager he went through some dark times and that Stryper and the positive message in your music gave him something to hang onto. He said, “Now I’m a fan for life.”
MS: Wow. That’s really cool, man.
NM:He was not alone. I talked to many people in the crowd with similar stories of “When I was down and felt like I didn’t have anybody I could listen to Stryper and feel like they could help me through this.”
MS: How awesome is that to hear. That makes it all worthwhile. You know through all the good and bad and ups and downs, when you hear stories like that it puts a smile on our face. That’s why we’re here and why we do what we do. To have an effect on people’s lives and inspire encourage them and to help them that’s just the ultimate. That’s the pay-off. And that’s forever. When the music is dead and gone that will last forever.
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