IN CONVERSATION ABOUT STRYPER
Gary 'Rockulus' Clarke
A band that is notorious for both their public and personal faith in their religion while simultaneously releasing some very well received Hard Rock music since adopting their band name of Stryper back in 1983, they've sold in excess of 10 million records worldwide and have accumulated some impressive statistics in the process.
Whether you were smitten with 'To Hell With The Devil' back in 1986, or dazzled by their 2009 modern-sounding album 'Murder By Pride', Stryper have been on the radar for many, many years plying their trade with the best that they have to offer.
Generally acknowledged as showcasing their talent in two chapters after initially calling it a day back in 1992, only to surface again with their 'Reborn' album in 2005, Stryper are enjoying a second chance to improve their status.
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Within the world of Stryper, this year is a special year as they have unleashed for their fans not one album, but two albums! Earlier this year in March they released 'Second Coming' which contained 16 tracks, 14 of them were re-recordings taken from material that featured on their first three albums. They added two brand new songs which set the tone of what was going to appear on their most recent album, 'No More Hell To Pay'.
So when MetalTalk was given the opportunity to talk to the main man in the band, they looked around and were unable to get their hands on their top scribes. Instead, they sent me out on the mission to get whatever morsels of insight I could from him, and this is the result.
This year is all about celebration according to Michel Sweet, lead vocalist and frontman for the Hard Rock band Stryper. Not only is the band celebrating their 30th anniversary, but they are also extremely proud of their latest studio album 'No More Hell To Pay'.
"I don't know how we did it, but I believe that we did make the best record of our career, I think it's our best record ever", states Sweet with genuine conviction when I was fortunate enough to link up with him across the Atlantic. "It's quite an accomplishment and it's really something incredible to be able to say 30 years after we formed, it's really remarkable."
Knowing how most artists and bands tend to state such positive overtures about their latest work, I pushed Sweet to elaborate on the elements that made this their best album thus far. "Just striving to give everybody what they want, what they've been asking for, you know, get back to our roots. Give us those guitar solos; give us those screams; give us the melodies; give us the big choruses; all the stuff that Stryper is known for."
On a roll to clarify his point, Sweet continued, "Records like 'To Hell With The Devil' that was our biggest album, so you know we kind of went back to that. It is easy for a musician and the band to say oh this is our best record, but you know; its one thing to say it and it's another thing to back it up. I feel like we're backing it up, we delivered the goods. We're not just going on a crappy record and you know, talking it up hoping that people will believe our crap. We've actually delivered I think the best record of our careers."
With his justification quite clearly articulated, and any tension in the virtual air dissipating, Sweet continues with his momentum. "I'm not gonna say it's the best, amazing record if I produced it and it's really not. I mean, I'm kind of embarrassing myself if I'm gonna do that, and there's been records I have produced that I haven't said anything about because they didn't turn out as planned for lack of money or the guys in the band didn't deliver, or whatever."
Tempting as it was to enquire further about those occasions where Sweet wasn't so satisfied with the recorded results, I was more intent on trying to explore other avenues in the time that we had together. Acknowledging the release earlier this year of 'Second Coming' was one of those avenues.
"The initial idea behind it when we first started recording it was not to even make it available to the fans. We were making that record for ourselves and for our publishing company because we wanted to cut the middleman out of licensing for film and TV, middleman being the company that owns our catalogue."
Sweet referred to how whenever the publishing company approached these forms of media ouput, their enquiries were either left unresolved or dismissed. "We'd have to go through Disney and Hollywood to get their approval and they either would not get back to us or they would say no and it became a bit of a nightmare at times."
Motivated by such restrictive and problematic red tape proved to be a positive turn of events as Stryper found themselves really pleased with the re-recorded results; "Once we got into it, we started realising how good it was turning out. We thought y'know what, the fans would love this, let's make it available to them."
His enthusiasm and energy are tangible as Sweet highlights how it was at this moment they hooked up with a record label and signed a multi-album deal. He informed me that this deal was for three albums. "Those three albums were 'Second Coming', 'No More Hell To Pay' and then we're doing a live album in a week and a half at the Whiskey in Los Angeles. That's a live DVD/live album and that'll be released sometime next year."
Stryper are proud of their accomplishments during those glitzy and glamorous days of MTV and achieved four number one videos. Maintaining their love of such promotional tools, they have two official videos so far connected to their current album 'No More Hell To Pay' that includes one for the title track and another for the song 'Sympathy'.
"Videos nowadays are so different; we don't live in the time where you make videos for one hundred and fifty or two hundred thousand dollars like we used to. You know we made the videos in the past, like 'Always There For You' you know, that was a three hundred and fifty plus thousand dollar video! Now we made these two videos 'No More Hell To Pay' and 'Sympathy' for under ten thousand dollars plus a documentary."
Knowing how notorious the band were linked with Christianity and their public displays of faith, I wanted to know how Sweet felt about people judging the band more on their religious beliefs than their actual music.
"It is quite frustrating, it's pretty sad you know. It is something that I've lived my life trying to overcome and rise above, and usually I'm able to but sometimes I'm not."
He puts his ideas into a visual example: "It's like somebody looking at a piece of art, a painting that's beautiful and they look at the name of the artist and they say oh I hate it because he did it."
Sweet is keen to express his thoughts on this specific point, and elaborates. "Instead of looking at what we do musically a lot of times people will look at the name Stryper and because we're Christian, that label, that tag, they'll instantly assume ahh they suck! It can't be good 'cos it's Christian. It's really sad because that doesn't apply to the other side, to the other extreme. Why isn't that applied to bands that are Satanic?"
He then provides his resolute response to this line of thinking: "I mean, I don't get it. I tell you what, if anybody sucks in the batch between Satan or God, it's the Devil." Sweet lets out a suitable chuckle after delivering his viewpoint.
With time disappearing so quickly, there was sufficient time for Sweet to hypothesise over the possible reception to 'No More Hell To Pay' if it was released after their commercial high point 'To Hell With The Devil'. "I really believe if this record had come out in 1988, following 'To Hell With The Devil', I think that it would have taken Stryper to a whole different level and we'd be a household name today. That's my opinion. We would have been on a whole different platforming level in the category of the Bon Jovis, and the Kiss' and the Mötley Crües of the world."
Despite stating such hypothetical claims, he still retains the air of a humble guy, a human being with his own belief system and an almost fragile sensibility.
Opinions and perspectives are always subjective and relative in their own context, but when you're the creative element of a piece of work and know how much has been invested in it, does that mean you have the ultimate perspective and insight to the level of quality on show?
Does that mean your view point has the utmost clarity and therefore your verdict depicts with undisputable accuracy the most insightful interpretation? Whether you know the answer to this philosophical curiosity or not, one thing is for sure, Stryper are celebrating their 30th anniversary this year in style and are very excited about this second chapter of their life.