STRYPER Talk God Damn Evil - "It's Us Asking God To Condemn And Damn All The Evil Around Us"
May 4, 2018, a year ago
You know the classics and hits from the ‘80s and MTV…”Soldiers Under Command”, “To Hell With The Devil”, “Calling On You”, “Free”, “Always There For You”, “In God We Trust”. Well, Stryper are not just living off their past, nor have they been since reforming in 2003 for some touring. What is new is as vital as what is old, to Stryper. An album called Reborn followed in 2005, plus a couple compilations, and live DVD. Murder by Pride in 2009, while The Covering and 2013’s Second Coming, a re-recording of songs from the first three albums, saw the return of original bassist Tim Gains. Since then, Stryper - Michael Sweet (vocals, guitar) and brother Robert Sweet on drums, with fellow original member guitarist Oz Fox, recorded two more albums - No More Hell to Pay (2013), and Fallen in 2015. God Damn Evil now completes and bookends a nice trilogy of new music.
In a conversation with Michael Sweet about the latest album he talks about the importance of Stryper making new music, his recent comments about how he ranks the Stryper catalogue and why Against The Law was at the bottom, the mixed reactions to the song “Take It To The Cross”, and why Stryper doesn’t suck.
BraveWords: Why the title God Damn Evil?
Michael: “Well my brother came up with that title about a year or so ago, and we weren’t too comfortable with it at the time, for a number of reason, and not that we wouldn’t use it. Then in 2017 with everything going on in the world we thought it was such a perfect title. And really it’s a prayer request, everyone knows we are believers. It’s us asking God to condemn and damn all the evil around us.”
BraveWords: The artwork for God Damn Evil, same person who did the last two albums, because it’s very similar in style?
Michael: “Yes, we purposely did that and wanted to create a trilogy. The artists name is Stan Decker. He’s really gifted and talented and captured what we’re trying to portray. It’s very reminiscent of To Hell With The Devil, as you said, and we’ve been trying to get back to our roots in what we sound like. We completely walked away from our sound (in a way) and message on Against The Law, and Reborn was really supposed to be a solo album for me, Murder By Pride we were getting more in touch with how to get back to ourselves musically, and with No More Hell To Pay we were back on track. It was a natural progression and learning experience, and especially with Fallen, and now God Damn Evil we are really back in the groove. The band really believes it’s one of our best albums. It’s tough, because you always feel your latest album is the best, but we have so many memories and moments with each album which makes certain albums the best in each person’s mind. But, this one is up there with To Hell With The Devil, Soldiers Under Command, and Fallen.”
BraveWords: How does God Damn Evil compare to Fallen, and more so No More Hell To Pay which I thought the production and mix lacked punch and a bottom end?
Michael: “It did, yeah, it wasn’t purposely done with No More Hell To Pay, but we have gotten better in music production and the mix with our engineer Danny. With the new album we purposely mastered it lower to avoid getting in the loud wars to stay away from over compression and losing dynamics. We tried different mic-ing on the drums and my vocals, used different amps, and also had Alex Solts master it. It’s a little lower in decibels compared to the last few albums, but it’s punchier. You will notice that wearing headphones. And Fallen had a nice punch to it, but God Damn Evil has more snap to the bass, kick drum, the snare. Fallen was mastered hotter, more compressed.”
BraveWords: After 30 years of making music is it hard not to repeat yourself?
Michael: “Not yet. I hope I’m proving that. To me it sounds like we have delivered another album of music that sounds fresh and inspired. But, the goal behind say a song like the title track to God Damn Evil is that mid-tempo anthem, a sort of modern day ‘To Hell With The Devil’. A throwback to the ‘80s sort of. So, maybe some familiarity, but not redundant.”
BraveWords: Did Perry Richardson play any bass on the album?
Michael: “No he didn’t, he had some dates to fulfill with country artist Craig Morgan and we had to complete the album. I wish he did because I’m sure he would have been great. But we got a guy John O'boyle and he did a stellar job. And nothing against our former bass player, but for me as a producer and listening to the whole album, two things stepped up on this album- my brother Robert’s drumming (more fire), and the bass. And I knew my brother had it in him, to deliver more complex and challenging patterns. What I do is program my drum software and my brother takes that and follows the basic rhythm, but creates his own additions. And when I played some of these beats for God Damn Evil he said ‘gosh, I don’t know how well I will do with this or that, it’s not really my thing’. For example, ‘Take It To The Cross’, which is almost thrash metal drums, and he killed it. The bass playing too, I think in some areas of the album has been stepped up to.”
BraveWords: Do you and Oz always collaborate on writing the music, and how does Robert contribute?
Michael: “We don’t always, for the most part from day one I write almost everything. Occasionally Oz will bring in an idea or we will co-write on a few, and Robert came up with the title, like I said, for the new album. But sometimes everyone is just so busy with other things in life that I do most of the work, 85% of the time it is me. This is in the entire history of the band, in my teens right home from school I would work on music and show the rest of the guys and then we’d work on them together.”
BraveWords: With the way the music industry is today, is it worth it making new music?
Michael: “Yeah, it will always be worth it to me. Whether I sell ten or ten thousand albums, because it’s an expression and a way to inspire people. And that’s what makes me happy, and the rest of the band. I know many bands have said “it’s not worth it anymore, not enough sales or money in making new music”. You know, I made a statement recently and Blabbermouth posted it and it got a little blown out because it was somewhat taken out of context, and I said ‘just sell your gear and get out’. I didn’t mean to say that in a disrespectful way, I applaud my fellow musicians and peers, but my purpose of saying that was if you lose your passion and love for why you got into making music, you should reevaluate why you do it. Maybe you should do something else that was my point.”
BraveWords: How many new songs will be in the live setlist?
Michael: “I have a list of 20, and four to five are new, it’s important to play new songs. And of course the classics, but we will rotate a few in and out each night. We are doing ‘Big Screen Lies’ from No More Hell To Pay which we have wanted to do. ‘Yahweh’ still, ‘Take It The Cross’ – but I think most of the crowd will go to the bathroom for that one, hahaha. I don’t know, people were kind of turned off by that one. But some of the comments the people have been saying, I don’t know, they are brutal, hahaha. And our fans have been asking for a songs like that, which borders on thrash, and we wouldn’t change a thing. But change scares people sometimes and they don’t know how to adjust, or they fear that change effects everything, instead of just one or two things, like with this song.”
BraveWords: Any plans to dust off any songs not played live in a while? How about one of my favorites “Writings On The Wall”?
Michael: "Oh yeah, man we have talked about that song for five or six years, I love it. It won’t come out of the box in the beginning of this tour, but we will work it in at some point. Its heavy, we will change the key on it, like when we play ‘Always There For You’ and ‘In God We Trust’, because I just can’t sing that high anymore throughout a whole songs like I did on the original recording. I got to tell you brother, I finally hit puberty, hahaha. Some of my vocals back then were crazy, I don’t know what I was thinking. So now I pick my battles, I wish I still could and I try to do my best to sing that way for the fans. Like anything else, your vocal cords are a muscle and it ages in time. I’m lucky I still have the ability to sing and do the screams, kind of close to the original recordings.”
BraveWords: You recently ranked the Stryper albums and put Against The Law at the bottom. I really like that album and think it’s in the top five. Is it at the bottom of your list because of the change in lyrical content, and not the music?
Michael: “Look, it’s a great album and has some great songs, Tom Werman is a great producer. Here is my issues with it…we lost the yellow and black – which I am not a fan of, but it’s part of us. It’s like Kiss losing their makeup. Lost our guitar tone, love it or hate it. It was still heavy but a little more Van Halen, and our guitar tone is very signature. Changed the songwriting style, except for ‘All For One’, ‘Caught In The Middle’, everything else was very Van Halen-ish. I still like it, but put it at the bottom of the list for those reasons.
BraveWords: But you still always play a song or two from that album live. Will you continue to going forward?
Michael: “Oh yeah, sure. ‘All For One’ is great, we will be doing the ballad ‘Lady’ this tour. We’ve done ‘Rock The People’, ‘Caught In The Middle’. No, it won’t be neglected. And Yellow & Black Attack album was second to last on my list, but we still always do ‘Loud & Clear’, ‘You Know What To Do’, but with that album we were still finding our sound and style. It’s just an immature album, were weren’t refined yet.”
BraveWords: Any misconceptions about Stryper you’d like to clear up?
Michael: “Yeah…that we suck, hahaha. I can’t tell you how many times we hear and see that, but it comes down to one thing…that people just can’t admit that we don’t suck. Maybe they are afraid of the religious lyrics, they hate religion maybe and the natural reaction is ‘Oh, that sucks’. In the early ‘80s when I was around twelve, I walked away from my religion, started drinking and clubbing, and started to hang on Sunset Blvd. At the time, Arthur Blessitt, he was the guy who use to walk around with the cross and preach to people, and I would tell him to get away from me too. It’s a natural reaction. So I get it, but it’s a misconception about us. And the whole ‘80s hair/glam metal band stigma, I cringe when I hear that about Stryper. Look I know we pretty glamy for a time, but Guns n Roses started out with that image too. So why do they hold that against Stryper, and many other bands, but Guns get a pass? When I think glam, I think Poison. Then of course from the ‘70s Slade, NY Dolls, Sweet. Great bands, mind you.”
BraveWords: Any reissues, remasters planned?
Michael: “Not remasters, we are finishing up on an acoustic album. We will do another album of re-recordings from In God We Trust and Against The Law, because we don’t have the rights to those albums. It’s another Second Coming album. Next year I will also be doing a solo album with guitarist Joel Hoekstra and it’s going to be a throwback album to ‘70s rock – Deep Purple, Queen, classic rock with a modern flair in the production. He’s just brilliant, one of my favorite newer guitarist, he’s a true virtuoso.”