I treasure the opportunity to interview people like Michael Sweet. He is a unique Christian. He’s the outcast of the Christian music industry because his audience is mostly secular, and he has survived as a Christian musician without ever receiving Christian industry airplay. His recent book and album reflect a struggling man of God who is honest about those struggles; he exposes many of the intimate details of his life: his weaknesses, his failures, and his struggles as a Christian trying to survive in a den of wolves. I found it interesting that he answered most every question as “we” — even though my questions were directed solely towards him — because his wife and his band are such an integral part of his identity.
His new autobiography (Honestly: My Life and Stryper Revealed) and his solo album (I’m Not Your Suicide) have created a bit of a media frenzy. His book reveals the details about his not so perfect Christian life, and it has caused some in the media to paint him as a hypocritical Christian.
However, if you read the reviews of his book and album on websites like Amazon, you will soon discover that his fans are as intrigued and energized about his new book and album as anything else he has done.
Michael was in the studio at the time of this interview, and he took time from his busy schedule to shed light on the book, the album, the controversy, and his family:
There is a quote that states, “Writing is easy; you just open a vein and bleed.” In hindsight, what was your experience like writing your autobiography?
It was very difficult, not so much the actual writing down of the words. It was difficult to process and put it all together: from being interviewed to transcribing to editing, manufacturing, pressing — the entire process was eye-opening. Lord willing, we got through it, I have a book now, and I’m very excited about it. This book reflects my open, honest heart — good or bad.
The most difficult part was writing openly, honestly, and brutally, yet at the same time not hurting or offending anyone. That’s tricky when you have other people involved.
Was the book intended to be therapeutic for you or instructional to others?
It was absolutely both. The healing process for me was very therapeutic, and I kept reminding myself how much I wanted the book to inspire and encourage other people.
What brought you the most joy when writing this book?
To answer all the questions asked over the last thirty years in one shot — to wipe the slate clean, so to speak. All the questions and rumors are laid to rest with this book. [Laughing] Now when people ask me questions, I can tell them to read the book!
How do you feel about getting beat up by many of the secular writers concerning the content of your book?
It’s not just the secular, we get beat up by the Christian side too. Sometimes they do it in a round-about way, or they don’t do it at all. When Stryper released the album of our career No More Hell To Pay, and we don’t get mentioned at all amongst twenty other albums, it feels like a bit of a jab. We always got beat up from both ends. It’s something I got used to. We never really fit in anywhere. We’re that kid in school that never really fit in. We’re never going to fit in or be part of Christian mainstream. We know there’s a calling on our lives and a direct path and plan from God. We march to our own beat.
Your book created a fire storm of media controversy with Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue. One critic of your book stated you should reflect on positive stories?
[Note: Nikki Sixx slammed Michael Sweet for claiming that much of CRÜE’s official biography, “The Dirt – Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band,” and Sixx’s memoir, “The Heroin Diaries: A Year In The Life Of A Shattered Rock Star,” is “stretched.” Nikki Sixx accused him of being a “non-addict” who is trying to sell his upcoming book.]
Well, people have their opinions. Some want you to live to their plans. As an example, if I say in an interview I just had a really good beer, some people freak out and are often quick to jump and judge and point the finger.
Concerning my comment about Nikki Sixx, I wasn’t bashing him or trying to be negative, I was simply asked a question in an interview, and just honestly answered the question with what came to my heart and mind.
If I’m going to admit to the crime, I’m going to say that maybe I said it wrong. I was trying to say don’t believe half of what you hear. How can you when a lot of these guys were drugged and boozed up. How can you believe everything they write about? It wasn’t a direct hit at Nikki; it was a general statement. Be cautious of everything you read and hear, and take it with a grain of salt, that’s what I was trying to say.
The thing that Nikki Sixx and his fans don’t know is I did the whole alcohol and drug thing. I guess I could have been considered an addict. I wasn’t shooting up heroin, but I was doing lots of drugs, alcohol, and women for years at a very young age. I decided to take a different path a lot sooner that a lot of other people. So I am talking from experience. To the degree that Nikki has? No. But he has not walked in my shoes either.
Do you read your own press?
I read a lot of it. I get people who tell me to never read anything. I don’t come from that school of thought. There are things you need to read and address. If something is said about you that’s false, or wrong, I think you have the right to address and respond. If you never read it, you’d never know about it. Then people will say it doesn’t matter, but it does.
You are not the average Christian artist. During our previous interview you mentioned you provided a poll which stated approximately 80% of your followers are not Christians. You put yourself in a position of great temptation.
God has put us in that position. This is our calling. This is where He wants us. We’re not the norm, we didn’t grow up in the church. We went to church, and today we go to church, but we didn’t grow up in the church or as a part of the music team like a lot of the Christian bands.
You talk about putting ourselves in harm’s way in terms of temptations. Without naming names, I’ve seen more pollution on the Christian side than the mainstream side. We toured with secular bands our whole lives. These guys pray over their food, many of them are clean and don’t drink, smoke, or have sexual relations with other women outside of marriage. Then you go hang around some of the Christian bands, and that stuff’s going on. They’re drinking more, and smoking more, not that there’s anything wrong with that; or they’re having affairs and their marriages are being destroyed, and you’re just thinking, “I don’t want any part of that.”
[Note: The Christian band Emery wrote a book called BadChristian: Great Savior, which admits and observes some of the same problems in the Christian music industry that Michael observed in his comments above. We greatly appreciate Michael’s candid observations as well as books like BadChristian because it helps the Christian community confront these issues head-on and have honest dialogue.]
That’s interesting because I see the secular media trying to find fault in you, to prove you as a hypocrite.
We’re all weak and it is tough. I’m not pointing fingers at any one Christian band. It’s a tough life being in the music business when you’re away from your family for weeks at a time. It’s hard, it’s really hard. It’s a tough calling. We just try to keep strong, stay focused, and keep that relationship solid with our God. We try to spend time together and pray together. Encourage each other the best way that we can. That’s what gets us through.
What specifically do you mean by the title “I’m Not Your Suicide?”
It says: you’re not going to beat me down, I’m not going to commit suicide because of you! Whether it’s physical, emotional, or spiritual. I’m not going to become nothing because of you. I’m going to become something; I am something!
Believe it or not, I was bullied as a kid — not as much as these kids you read about that sadly and tragically take their own lives. I had a tough time fitting in because we moved a lot. I went to four elementary, one junior high, and four high schools. I lost friends faster than I made them. I became a reclusive loner.
The song was written to people who have been beaten down, abused, and had a tough time in life.
So rise above it, be strong because it’s just a season, and a storm that’s going to pass. They’re going to move on to bigger, better and greater things.
It’s a song of encouragement to inspire them to believe that.
I feel that some of your earlier albums contained songs that masked their meaning. The songs on this CD seem to be more open and reflective.
There is a message with this album, and it coincides with the book. For example the song, “How To Live.” When my wife Kyle passed, I didn’t know how to live, or how to love again. Then I met Lisa, my beautiful wife now. She taught me how to love and live again. I wrote that song for her and sang it at our wedding. There’s a lot going on in this album. It’s reflective of my life, what I’ve been through, what we’ve been through — and hopefully not in hidden messages — that are going to inspire people. Maybe they’re experiencing the same thing. There’s a song on this album that can help someone.
I tried to stretch [myself] more on this album. Nothing against the messages of the past. Some of the music was pretty straight forward — “Jesus is the Way,” “God, I Will Follow You,” which is great — but this album is a bit more diverse, not just musically, but in its lyrics and message as well.
You had some big name support on this last album. I sure that makes you feel good to see such a diverse mixture of musicians in a display of solidarity.
[Note: His new album includes guest appearances from Tony Harnell (TNT), Kevin Max (dcTalk, Audio Adrenaline), Chris Jericho (Fozzy), Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake), Electra Mustaine (daughter of Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine), Stryper bandmates Robert Sweet and Timothy Gaines, and legendary drummer Kenny Aronoff.]
Absolutely, and all these people who were guests on the album are my friends. I’ve become dear friends with many people in the industry. They’re just great people. When I reached out to them to be part of this album, they wanted to participate willingly. They were excited about it, and it meant a lot to me.
So I’m thrilled and honored to have these guys on the album.
How is your church life, and do you stay in the Word of God?
I don’t as much as I should. I should be much more in it. I’m very busy, and it robs me of my time with God. Solid, faith-based, fired up churches are hard to come by here. We go to a church in Plymouth, Mass., which we visit every so often, but I travel a lot. So we have church on the bus.
I really miss going to church every Sunday. I’m real picky. I’m OCD, ADHD, I’m a perfectionist and that spills over into my church going. Instead of getting that one line that touches me, I’m always picking apart everything.
Church is so important; I can’t stress the importance. I need to practice what I preach.
Describe to me how you have church on the bus?
You can have church anywhere; it’s not a building. We’ll all go to the back of the bus, read scriptures, pray and have intimate time just sitting one-on-one with each other talking, sharing with each other, and sharing with God. To me that’s church.
How do you and your wife keep each other and your family Biblically in check?
I fail miserably in that department. It comes down to constant reminders: reminding each other about what’s right and wrong, and communication is key. Through communication comes love, and it builds from there. We talk and express ourselves good or bad. I’m blessed with an angel here on earth with my wife.
Does your wife travel with you?
She does on occasion; she recently went to Italy with us. She’s not only my wife; she and I manage the band as well. So we’re really tied up in the business as well. Lisa has a real job which she loves. Our lives are pretty crazy.
If you were to give advice to anyone trying to following in your foot steps, what would it be?
[with a hearty laugh] Don’t do it. Go a different road. I would tell them to let God lead. Don’t step out away from God cause that’s when you’re going to fail. He will pick you up again, but just let Him lead. Sometimes you’re not going to know what He’s doing, and you’re going to question it. He knows what He’s doing and you don’t!
To sum things up: is there a Bible verse that you can offer that summarizes your life as it is today?
My favorite verse is our favorite verse; it’s the one that we use on every single album. Even though it seems cliché: Isaiah 53:5. I love that verse because it says it all: “By His stripes” — by what Christ did on the cross — we are saved, we are healed! If you believe that, you’re going to heaven. That’s everything, that says it all!