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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Exclusive Interview: Stryper's Michael Sweet Details Solo Project with Joel Hoekstra, Todd LaTorre, a New Documentary & More


ICYMI

When you say the name Michael Sweet in rock circles it's always met with positivity. Some people may choose to hate on Stryper, the band that he co-founded way back in 1983, but they adore the frontman and with good reason. He's calm, gracious and as connected to himself as he is to those around him. Sweet's fellow musicians gush about his talent while hoping for an opportunity to work with him somewhere along the way, which says a lot about the kind of man that he is. 

I was fortunate enough to catch up with Sweet recently and he was excited to spill details on his new solo project, a Stryper documentary, and more!

Cate Meighan: It has been a while since we last spoke. How are you doing?

Michael Sweet:  I'm good! I've been busy, traveling a lot so I'm just trying to catch my breath now, but life is good.

CM: I read recently that you're back in the studio working on a new solo album. How's that going?

MS:  Well,  I went in about a month ago and I was there for about ten days. Then we did three local shows and I left for Japan with Stryper. Then, I went back into the studio for another four days when I returned. I'm a little tired but I prefer to stay busy and to do what I can when I can, because that day may come when I can't do these things. Whether it's voice loss or something physical or whatever.  The project that I do next could tank, I mean who knows (laughing). I just don't want to take what I do for granted and so I try to do as much as I can when I can. We don't know what tomorrow will bring so if I have opportunities that I feel good about to go and sing, record, or perform then I'm going to take them.

CM: How's the new album coming along?

MS:  It's really great. I always go into a project with expectations and sometimes I meet or surpass them, but sometimes I don't. Sometimes a song might be a little bit of a letdown and not what I had hoped for but with this album so far, everything is as I've expected and then some. Now granted, I don't have the lead vocals done yet so the pressure is on me. (laughing) I hope the lead vocals turn out how I hear them in my head and how I would like them to be, but you never know. You just don't know until you get in there and you start singing and you get it done.

So far though the songs all have incredible energy. I've got Will Hunt playing drums on it and John O'Boyle is playing bass. The rhythm section is phenomenal and the guitar tones are great. I'm going to have a different guest guitar player on every song, with a solo of course.  I've got Todd LaTorre of Queensryche joining me on a song and it's just turning out to be a really cool album. I think that it's going to surpass my last solo album and that did really well, but I think this one is going to be even better.

CM:  Todd really seems to be at the top of his game right now. The new Queensryche music is just fantastic.

MS:  Todd is a brilliant singer and he is really finding his place in that group. He stepped into a situation that would be high pressure for anyone and he is coming to the table and then some. I think that he is finding himself and becoming more comfortable in that situation and so he's just killing it, plus he's drumming as well! He's a great guy and such a hard worker that he deserves every bit of the success that he's finding. They don't make em' like that, guys like Todd are few and far between.

CM: The last time we spoke you were working on a project with Joel Hoekstra (Whitesnake). Is that still in the works?

MS:  We were originally trying to put together a Michael Sweet/Joel Hoekstra album with a real classic rock kind of vibe to it. We were ready to move forward and had some meetings about it and to be honest we just weren't able to come to terms with a record company to release it. It's tricky when you need a certain amount of money to do what you need to do. There's a fine line because a lot of musicians go into it with the idea of going and making a record to just have fun. Now that I've got kids and grandkids and a mortgage to pay, I have to be a little more cautious with what I take on. This is what I do for a living, I don't work a 9 to 5 job, so it has to make sense financially and for Joel too because he is in a similar situation. So it's hard when the things that you creatively want to do just don't work out from a business standpoint. What I did was have Joel write a couple tracks that I'm writing lyrics for and those co-written songs will be on my new album. He'll be playing the guitar on those and they're basically all done. One is called "When Love is Hated" and the other is called "Never Alone" and they're killer tracks.

CM: Is there a tentative release date yet?

MS:  I'm still not sure. It's definitely going to be this year. We're talking about a summer release and I'm turning it all in by the end of April and so we're probably looking at a July or August release. It depends on how much set up we need with licensing deals worldwide and those kinds of things, but I would say hopefully July/August.



CM: The business has changed so much over the years and the way that artists make their money just isn't like it used to be. The money's not in record sales at all so you've got to be smart and strategic in order to keep working.

MS: Absolutely. I mean, there are things that I've done for free and I'll do more of those things when I have the time. There are times when I'm offered money to sing a song and then I'll have my agent calling with potential shows where I'll make double that and I'm looking at my bills and I have to choose wisely. It's really hard because you don't ever want the business to outweigh the love of what you do but at the same time, you have to think about the business as well because you've gotta pay your bills.

CM: It almost feels like you have to be very cut and dry with it.

MS:  You do, no question about it. I really try very hard to balance it and not let the money take my love for what I do, because man, I just really love doing it. If I was 18 years old I'd just go and do 100 projects for nothing because I love it so much.

CM: Where does your writing inspiration come from?

MS:  I've got something built inside of me that makes me always want to inspire people. Am I a guy that has it all together or that has all the answers (laughing)? Gosh no. I've got my issues and problems. I've got things that I have to work on and overcome, but I still can make someone smile or give them hope and encourage them. That's something that's built within me and I view it as a waste of time and effort for me to release an album that doesn't have that. What's the point? If people are going to be listening to this stuff for years to come then why not inspire them with a song rather than just singing about sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll?

That's just how I feel and so I get inspiration from life, I get it from the bible, my family and friends. There are so many things that inspire me and so with every album, I just want to help and encourage other people too. It's an important thing, it's every bit as important as the music itself and it's always the message behind the music. It's why we've (Stryper) been throwing out bibles forever. We never start preaching to people and telling them what they should or should not do. We just toss them out with the hopes that maybe they'll check it out. We try to steer people in a good direction, that's what it comes down to and at the end of the day, it's all about love. We're trying to give them hope, grace, and love, instead of hate and despair. If we can play a small little part in giving people what the world needs more of- and that's love, then we've done our jobs.

CM: Do those same gifts then flow back to you?

MS: Oh yeah, we see the stories and it's the old thing of you reap what you sow. We've sown a lot and we continue to reap a lot. We've seen how the lives of some people have been affected by what we do. We've met people who were suicidal or addicts and they've turned their lives around in a positive way. It's so awesome to hear that we've played even a small part in helping them and that lives on far beyond the music. The music is fun and amazing but the message is what changes and transforms lives.



CM: You're always so busy. How is the rest of this year shaping up for you?

MS:  I'll be splitting my time a lot but this summer I'm mostly on the road with Stryper. I think we start rehearsals May 2nd in Nashville and then we'll be touring into late-June. I'll be home for part of July and prepping for another project that I can't talk about (laughing). But I'll be recording vocals for that (laughing), it's just nuts. There's always something to do and if something falls through then I'll try and get some solo shows booked. I'm in that place, thank god, where I'm able to work and stay busy. So many of my peers are brilliant musicians, so successful and they just can't get anything going. Every project falls through and I've been there. I went through that from 1996-2000 where nothing seemed to work out and all I heard was 'no'. Then finally the doors started opening up again, Stryper started touring again and the last fourteen years have been a blur. I don't know where the years have gone.

CM: Do you have any regrets about that 'blur'?

MS:  My biggest regrets would be passing up opportunities with my family and friends. My attitude with the music is that I need to do it while I can, but that does come at a price sometimes. That's the stuff that I may look back on someday and be really brokenhearted about and regret. My son's birthday just passed and I was in Japan at the time. We're going to celebrate and make up for it, but those are the moments that can be a little hard to take. Then at the same time, there were years that I did have at home when I could or should have been out on the road. I left Stryper from 1992-2000 and I did some touring then but I got to spend a lot of time with my kids too. There are always pros and cons and I think it always comes with some built-in regret.

CM: Any other musical tricks up your sleeve right now?

MS: Well (laughing), we're doing a documentary that's not going to be so much about the band, but it's going to be about the people that the band has affected. It's really incredible and I think that it's going to be pretty powerful. We've already started work on that but we've got a long way to go with it. Then we're also going to start work on a new Stryper album at the end of this year into early next year. So there are plenty of things on the horizon and in the near future. It's going to be a great year.

Check out Michael's official site for updates on new music and dates. You can head over to Stryper's official site as well for tour dates, merch & more!






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