Few rock and roll movements have endured with the sustained vitality of that guitar-blazing culture from the 80s known as glam metal. Before major label money began raining down on Sunset Strip, a frenzy of cutthroat, fame-seeking glam bands battled—sometimes physically— for gigs, chicks and of course, cash. With L.A. as the epicenter, Van Halen’s first major label deal would quickly pave the way for acts like Quiet Riot, Motley Crue and later acts like Poison and San Diego’s Ratt.
Thirty years down the road and millions of dollars, beers and lines later, precious few of those bands still exist in recognizable form, and fewer continue to make music worth hearing. That Stryper stands among this elite pack, strains credibility at first blush. After all, their overt Christian message, as well as their eye-popping yellow-and-black stage garb saw them pigeonholed by some as gimmicky or worse, preachy. And yet behind a potent one-two punch of their debut and its platinum-certified follow up, To Hell With The Devil, Stryper kept pace with the glam metal pack in both sales, sound and MTV exposure.
The dawn of the 90s would see them relegated, along with Motley Crue and the rest of that scene, to B-list status as mainstream tastes shifted towards Kurt Cobain and Seattle’s grunge movement. Where some glam metal stories ended here, Stryper’s continued through the next two decades, seeing the musicians spiral into the very same perils that plagued their secular confederates on Sunset Strip. They would call it quits in 1992, reunite periodically in the ensuing years, eventually reforming to record their stunningly successful 2005 outing, Reborn.
They have since celebrated their 25th anniversary, released several albums of new material and one album of metal covers. This year saw frontman Michael Sweet release his memoir, Honestly: My Life And Stryper Revealed, to effusive reviews and not a few jaw-dropping revelations (no pun intended). Our own Jamie Blaine, a lifelong Stryper fan, sat down with Michael to discuss his book, his band and what’s next for Stryper.
One of my first concerts was Stryper on the In God We Trust tour.
(laughs) Well, thank you, brother. That is cool.
It was expensive. If we made a hundred grand guarantee, we spent a hundred and twenty five. Three buses, three semis, spinning drum risers, neon No Devil signs. That’s how we went bankrupt.
And this was in a 3,000 seat auditorium. I mean, we certainly appreciated it, but what was the motivation to bring a show that big to a small town?
Mostly it came from my brother, Robert. I was more about the music and song writing and he was a big visual guy. Robert’s main influence was KISS. So we were doing a KISS-level production but unfortunately, we weren’t making KISS-level money.
Well, we started out playing the Strip but we were still heathens then. From age fifteen until about twenty, that’s when we started on the Strip and that’s when all the debauchery took place. Drinking, drugging, chasing girls…. But then we rededicated our lives and changed our name from Roxx Regime to Stryper.
But you played the Strip as Stryper, right? Like Gazzarri’s and The Whisky?
Oh yeah, we played the Troubadour, other places on the Strip. We still play The Whisky. In fact, we just did a live album there.
I don’t know. C.C. believes in God. Spiritually and philosophically, I think it could’ve worked. But musically? I’m just not sure. What would Poison have sounded like with Oz on lead guitar? There was a real tight network of musicians around the Strip in that day so there are all sorts of mutations that could have taken place. But C.C. wasn’t really into the yellow and black.
Slash nearly joined Poison but he didn’t like the makeup. That’s just one degree away from Slash being lead guitarist for Stryper.
I don’t know about that one, man. I guess it’s interesting to think about what could’ve been.
So you’re drinking beer with Lemmy and discussing God….
Yeah, Oz and I were in Germany on a promo tour for Against the Law. We ducked into a pub to have a beer and there sits Lemmy. So we go over, introduce ourselves and sit down to talk awhile.
Ah, man, I’d have to say I left feeling like they weren’t too positive. I guess something had happened along the way and Lemmy was upset with God. I don’t know. But he was very cool with us and obviously he’s a deep guy, an incredibly well-read and intelligent man.
Did you have conversations about faith with other artists? Any of them ever reach out to you in tough times because of who you were and what you believed?
Many, many times over the years. And it still happens. I don’t want to betray any confidences but people struggle, you know? In those dark places, man, we’re all the same.
I wouldn’t say any of us were like, really close friends but we saw each other in passing and there was talk between the two camps about a “Heaven and Hell” tour. They were in their prime and we were in ours. Obviously it didn’t happen but I think it would have been a great show. Mötley are good guys, man. We’re all just searching, trying to find our way and you know, we’re in this thing together.
So Stryper has four back-to-back smashes on Dial MTV, platinum records and sold-out shows — and you guys are burnt out, drinking a case of beer and buying assault rifles, trying to figure out a way to go on.
Well, we’ve got beer on our rider now. So if you come backstage you’ll see us drinking a beer after the show or maybe a glass of wine. I don’t see a problem with that. If we got drunk and acted like buffoons, that would be different.
But this was cases of beer. And AK-47s.
Yeah, there’s no doubt, we fell hard. Against the Law was a tough time.
I remember seeing an article in Rolling Stone that said, “Stryper’s new record won’t contain any obvious references to God. The members of Stryper now admit they smoke and drink alcohol but still consider themselves Christians.”
You know… I think the difference between Stryper and a lot of other Christian bands is that we talked about our sins. I don’t mean to call anybody out or be judgmental but I saw these other bands. They were doing the same things we were – or worse. I wanted to be the first to admit, “We blew it”. Everybody falls, man.
Stryper was so popular in the late 80’s they made a cameo on NBC’s “The Golden Girls”
Everyone wonders about what happens after the lights go down – tell me about hip waders, cranberries and being Ranger Mike.
My family was in the camping and cranberry business and I needed to get out of music for a while. So I pulled on a pair of hip waders and picked cranberries. Then at night, I would patrol our campground, checking on campers, reminding people to put out their fires – being Ranger Mike.
You ever get recognized?
Oh sure. One night I went up to tell these campers they had to put out their fire. And they’re blasting “To Hell with the Devil”. This one guy looks at me kind of sideways and finally asks, “Aren’t you Michael Sweet?”
That could be a little awkward.
It was about twenty people too! I confessed, took a seat and we hung out for about an hour. It was cool. I had to learn to be okay with whatever path God had me on.
It was actually a very peaceful time for me. I needed to get my heart and mind right. But I also wrote a lot of great songs for the Truth record in that era so I think it was good for me.
How did the Stryper reunion take place?
One of our longtime fans, Rich Serpa, had organized a Stryper expo and asked us if we might perform. We agreed and it was so well received that we started thinking maybe things could work again. It turned out to be the right time, right attitude and enough water under the bridge.
Last year’s No More Hell to Pay is not only my favorite Stryper record, but I think it’s one of the best new metal releases in a very long time.
I appreciate you saying that. We work hard, man. Try our best to do great albums and great tours. We want to give people perfection and at the same time bless them with the music and lyrics too. So yeah, to get some validation is nice.
So what’s next?
Right now Stryper is touring and our new record, Live at the Whisky will be out in September. Also I just finished a record with George Lynch that’s scheduled to come out next year –
What’s that called?
Cool. Any plans coming up with Boston?
Not right now but you never know. Boston was incredibly influential to me growing up so to sing for those guys was a real honor. But next year Stryper will be going back into the studio to make a brand new record. Still doing our thing.
Awesome. Thanks for your time, brother.
God bless, Jamie and thank you.