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Stryper is a band that just won't quit. After a strong run in the '80s, a hiatus in the '90s, and a return in 2005, the metal band keeps churning out new albums, including their latest, God Damn Evil. Our very own John Underdown had a conversation with frontman Michael Sweet about the album's controversial title, the album making process, and how Sweet approaches songwriting (Note: John wishes to thank to his brother, Jim, for helping with the interview transcription work)...
This interview took place on: March 13, 2018.

Click here for Stryper's Artist Profile page.

  • JFH (John Underdown): I feel like we should start with the title of the new album, God Damn Evil. One thing that I thought was interesting, in the press release you mention that you felt now was the time for using the title after considering it a couple years ago. I was wondering if you could unpack that statement for me?

    Michael Sweet: Sure, well my brother kinda threw that title out a few years back and we all liked it, but didn't feel comfortable using it at the time. Thought it might be a little too much, didn't feel right. Fast forward to 2018, actually 2017, we started talking about it again and I threw the idea out there and we all kind of digested it and thought about it and felt like this was a great time to use such a title because you know, we live in a crazy world right now. As we can see on the news, on the internet, it's pretty crazy when tweets are going back and forth about nuclear war. Obviously aside from that, all the evil we face and see, the Las Vegas shooting, the recent school shooting, there's so much going on that makes us all sit there and wonder, how can this be? But we know how it can be, especially as believers and those who have faith. We understand what's going on. We felt it was a bold statement to say, "God damn evil", which is, to us, a prayer request. We're asking God, we're not telling God, we're asking God to damn evil. "God, will you please condemn evil?" People hear it and see it without understanding it and think we are doing it to be shocking or controversial or just swear or just to be idiots, and it's never been like that with us. There's always been a reason why we do what we do, a method to the madness. We just have to have the opportunity to explain to people what we are doing and then once we do, they get it. Sometimes they don't but usually they do and so, it's a bold statement for bold times, man, and it was a perfect time to use it.

  • JFH (John): Obviously Stryper has used bold titles in the past, like, "To Hell With the Devil". Do you feel like in general Christian music doesn't take much risk in promoting a message or in challenging the culture?

    Album Cover

    Michael: Absolutely, without question. I feel that they are bold in some ways in terms of the message, obviously, but it's a safe world. It's my view of Christian music, from what little I know about it, but it's having grown up around it. I used to play Sweet Comfort songs on the worship team when I was 12 years old, so I've been around Christian music a good part of my life. It's always kind of cookie cutter, it's always the same style, it's always the same message, it's always presented the same way. And for that reason I feel that you're absolutely right, they don't take a lot of chances. Stryper is the exact opposite. Stryper kind of breaks down the door of chances, comes at you swinging, and "hey, we're going to shake things up and rattle the cage in a big way". That's what we've always been about and I think we're even more about that in today's times and today's world. Especially with this album, for sure.

  • JFH (John): Yeah, I actually felt like in general this album kinda felt like Stryper cutting loose lyrically and musically. Do you feel like you have a greater freedom in making music today?

    Michael: Absolutely, I mean there's a great freedom. We try to listen to our fans and give them what they want, but at the same time we want to do what we feel led to do, and we've never felt more freedom doing that than we do now. And then, you add to the fact that we have a new bass player, Perry Richardson, and we're a new band because of that, because of one guy. We feel this sense of-it's so hard to explain-we feel recharged and renewed and we're so excited about having him. He's a very joyful guy, when he comes in the room he's got this big smile on his face, he's always smiling. He's one of those guys that if it were the end of the world today, Perry would call you and say, "Hey man, we're going to be ok." He's just that way, and it's really cool to have that in our band. I'm not saying we're not like that! I'm saying he brings this extra helping of joy into the band. It's really cool, man. Then he's a really killer player and a killer singer and there's a lot of excitement that comes with that too. I think that, going through that phase of finding Perry and becoming a new band to some degree and making a new album it translated, it transferred over to the album. I think that's coming out as you listen to this album as well.

  • JFH (John): I also felt like the production process sounds different, like it sounds heavier, the drums sound crisper. Was there anything different in the production process?

    Michael: Oh yeah, we did a lot of things differently. We used some different outboard gear, a few different micing techniques, different amps. We purposely tried to not have the cymbals be so overbearing, yet retain the high end of the cymbals. That's important when you're doing hard rock and metal. Robert has a certain sound and sometimes with our albums the cymbals can overtake things very quickly. Used a different mic chain for my vocal so it's a different vocal sound, more crisp and clear. And we didn't get into the loud wars when we mastered it. This album is actually 4 or 5 db lower than previous albums. But we didn't want to over-compress it because it was important to us to retain the transients and the dynamics of the kick drum and all the things that pop out, the snare, the kick, when you squash it all and make it one level when you compress and master it too much, you lose all of that. So we retain that and that's why it's got a punchier sound, separation is really nice. We're very happy with how this one turned out and we also used a different guy to master it as well.

  • JFH (John): Yeah, I think the album sounds great! One thing I noticed while listening through the album was that there isn't really a ballad on the record and relistening to the previous two records I also noticed there wasn't really a ballad on there. Do you feel less pressure in writing a song for the radio?

    Michael: Yeah, I mean, it depends on what your definition of a ballad is. So if you're talking a piano ballad, you're right. But we did have a ballad on No More Hell To Pay, we did have one on Fallen, and then we do have one on this album too, it's called "Can't Live Without Your Love". It's more of a guitar-oriented based ballad; it's not a piano syrupy ballad, it's more of a rock ballad. We didn't really sit down and try to plan out, "OK guys, so we gotta have one ballad, we gotta have 2 heavy, 3 radio, we gotta have…" We didn't do that. We just wrote the album and went and recorded it. We went with what we felt good about. And the songs that we liked, whether anyone else likes them or not, we like them. And at the end of the day that's what's most important to us. We have to be happy with what we're doing or why are we doing it? 'Cause it's art, you know, if you're not feeling what you're painting, why are you painting it? So we really liked the album, we put it in and listened to it and called each other and said, "Wow, we love it!"

  • JFH (John): Looking at some of the songs specifically, the album leads off with "Take it to the Cross", which was also the first single, and it's a pretty clear gospel song. And I felt like it was an appropriate song, given the title, could help people see this isn't a "Westboro Baptist" type of album. How do you, as you look at the gospel, how do you balance in the gospel ideas of judgment and love and forgiveness?

    Michael: Well, it's important to step back and really focus on what the Bible tells us to do, what God tells us to do through His Word. Unfortunately, we live in the world, in the flesh, because of that we tend to want to many times do what we feel we're supposed to do or follow our lead instead of God's lead, but I think it comes down to just loving and not judging. We're very fast and quick to judge. If you notice online, people will say something positive and then a lot of people will start giving their opinion in a negative way feeling that they have the right or thinking they have the right, because that's the world we live in. They don't have the right. I think it's important that people just think before they speak, or think before they type or post or whatever. And we're trying to, with this album, say that with songs like "You Don't Even Know Me" and "Lost", "God Damn Evil". If you read those lyrics, those lyrics are referring to exactly what I just said.

  • JFH (John): A couple of other songs like "The Valley", I was wondering if you could share some background of the writing process for that?

    Michael: Well, it's a straight ahead chuggy song, mid tempo style of stuff that we really like and enjoy playing. Lyrically it's just talking about a person that struggles and what they've been through and going through it and at the end of the day [they're] going to trust the Lord. "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil…" because I trust the Lord. Psalm 23, it's a powerful psalm and those are powerful words to live by. Musically it's very powerful too, simple and straight ahead but very powerful. And we did a video for that that won't be coming out until after the album comes out and man, it's probably going to set some people off. It's not your typical Stryper video. It's out there, in an interesting way. It delivers with the message, it really backs up the lyric and backs up the song but I can see people saying, "This is a Christian band?" They're already saying that about "Sorry" because we have a girl and a guy in there in a volatile relationship. People are like, "Eh, this isn't about Jesus!" Well, yes it is. It absolutely is because it's encouraging people to get their relationships in order and love one another and trust one another and not be manipulative and lie to one another, so it is about Jesus at the end of the day.

  • JFH (John): It seemed like a lot of the songs were about figuring out interpersonal relationships and the power of the gospel in that. What was the head space in coming into the writing process for those songs?

    Michael: Well that's where, in my opinion, the core of our problems lie. We all claim, many of us claim to be Christian, but we certainly don't act like Christians most of the time. We do on Sunday, in front of the pastor but then in our private lives, we don't at all. I don't as much as I should, and the point of the album and a lot of the lyrics is, let's stop being idiots. Let's stop being so hateful, let's stop giving our negative opinions, let's start loving each other more, let's start being more positive, lifting each other up instead of tearing each other down, like we do online. It's astonishing to me, I go to some Christian forums and some of the stuff I read it's like, wow, if this is Christian, I don't want it. It's crazy to me. I want God, I want Christ, but I don't want that. So that's the message of this album, "You Don't Even Know Me" is talking about [how] you don't know me yet you judge me, you're saying all these horrible things about me or us and have we ever even met? No, we haven't. And that's the world we live in.

  • JFH (John): One of the songs specifically that I was intrigued by the concept was "Sea of Thieves". I was wondering if you could unpack the idea behind it a little bit for us?

    Michael: Well, I'm actually going to read the lyric right now: "We are alive and we are breathing/We are surviving through it all/For as long as hearts are beating/Faith protects us when we fall/Love is second to none/The brightest star in the sky/The story is just begun/We're not here to live to die/Stand-stronger than an ancient tree/Land is just beyond the open sea of thieves." So the sea of thieves, again, coming back to what I was just talking about, the world we live in, it's a thief, it robs us daily. But there's hope if you look up and you look to God, you stay strong in the Lord. If you can do that and stay focused, keep your eye on the prize, you'll get through the sea of thieves.

  • JFH (John): A question that I have out of curiosity, not necessarily related to the record, you have your hand in a lot of projects, with solo work and with George Lynch and it seems like you are doing a lot of them back to back. How do you stay fresh in your songwriting as you go from project to project?

    Michael: You know, what's really helped me is the way I write songs and albums these days. I don't do it daily, I do it when it's time to do an album. So that's what keeps me fresh. I feel like if I did it daily and I wrote songs daily I would be repeating myself and turning in the same cookie cutter stuff. But what I do is I'll take 2-3 months off from writing or 4-5 months off then when it's time to do another album, be it solo, Sweet and Lynch, or Stryper, I dive into it and I get all my gear together and I start and I don't stop until I am done and 9 or 10 days later I emerge with 11 or 12 songs. And that's just the way I do it, it's the way I've been doing every album for the past 10 years.

  • JFH (John): So you guys are about to go on tour to promote the new album, what can fans expect on the coming tour?

    Michael: We're going to shave our heads…*Laughs* They can expect a band that is ready to rock, man, we're so ready to get out there and do it. We're pumped and I think that's going to come through. Every song we play live the fans are going to feel the excitement and we're going to feel it. We're going to feed off each other; it's going to be great, man. We're going to play a lot of these new songs, songs from No More Hell to Pay, Fallen, and of course God Damn Evil and we're going to be doing classics as well. Like I said, we're a new band, we got a new player, he's really excited, he's super excited, Perry is. We're going to be feeling that and feeding off his excitement, we already are, and it's just a cool feeling, it's such a great feeling.

  • JFH (John): When Stryper reformed in 2005 did you think the band would keep going on as long as it has?

    Michael: You know, I didn't really think about it. In '03 when we got together and toured, I would say no. I thought we were going to do the one off tour and that was going to be it. And then I did a solo album, called Reborn and I was shopping it. And we went down and did a one off date, Stryper, with Tracy Ferry, the new bass player then, and I played them the album and they loved it. And we wound up making that a Stryper album and releasing it in '05. So from that time on, from '05 until now, it's really been this constant progression and really just putting the pedal to the metal and driving a 100 miles an hour it feels like. It's been a blur, it's crazy. There's no slowing down that I'm aware of. We've got a lot more left in us, man. I would even go so far as to say, at least another 20 years. If we're still here on earth, Lord willing.

  • JFH (John): I would be up for it! I got one last question for you, I submit all the artists I interview to a stupid question at the end of the interview, so this is a kind of a weird question. Would you rather make an appearance on the TV show Ghost Hunters or Man vs Wild with Bear Grylls?

    Michael: I think Man vs Wild, yeah, the Ghost Hunters thing is not my thing at all, it never has been. So Man vs Wild, for sure.

  • JFH (John): Awesome, that's all I've got. Michael thanks for doing the interview and I hope to see you guys on tour when you come through!

    Michael: Hey, my friend, thank you, buddy! Thanks for the support and God bless you. Stay well and we'll be looking for you out on the tour!

    Stryper's latest album, God Damn Evil is available now wherever music is sold!

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