Stryper – The World’s Most Popular Hard Rock Christian Band Returns!

Abbie Stancato of Rocking Gods House

The standard press release explains that Stryper’s new album No More Hell to Pay will be released throughout North America on November 5th via Frontiers Records.

Here’s what those reprinting the press release won’t tell you: The band Stryper is a band of musicians unlike any other Christian band before or since.

Their music is as hard rocking as ever and very well produced. “It’s the best album we’ve ever done,” explained Michael Sweet, lead singer & guitarist for the band. “I know that’s saying a lot, but it’s the truth. It’s right up there with To Hell with the Devil and then some. I’m very excited about it, and the early reviews are amazing.”

Perhaps I’m biased as a long term fan, but I agree. The songs are everything a Stryper fan could hope for!

I remember listening to Stryper way before Christ was part of my life. I was always a sucker for a hard rocking, well played guitar turned up to 101! Back then if I became hooked by a strong melody the lyrics became secondary to me. Am I the minority?

Several days ago, Michael Sweet posed a question to his Twitter and Facebook followers. He asked if fans listened to Stryper for the music, the message, or both. He explained, “It was amazing how many replied they listen just for the music, some claimed to be atheist or just don’t follow God – it is mind blowing!”

I had the opportunity to speak to Michael Sweet about his life and the band over the last thirty years.

Describe your audience—Christian or mainstream secular?
We do have a mixture. We go from night clubs to the House of Blues to large venues, wherever. In some cases we’re dealing with people who have been drinking all night. They’re drunk and we’re singing about Jesus. And then we have Christians drinking a Coke. We get it all, both sides of the fence. Two-thirds of our audience in the past was mainstream.

I followed you way before I was saved. With a great mixture of secular and Christian in the crowd, what kind of interaction do you have with an audience from a Christian perspective, and how do you balance that?
Because we all grew up in clubs, we know how to do it without coming across as preachy. We don’t take a Bible out on stage and start reading and preaching. That what some Christian bands do.

I just did a show at the Hard Rock Café in New York City for the event, Eddie Trunk, Thirty Years in Radio. I was there with Ace Freely, Sammy Hagar, and Lita Ford to name a few. I’m no way going to pull out my Bible. Oddly enough, and God bless them, my Christian friends and colleagues would, and everyone would look at them as if they’re nuts. There’s a way to do it. You establish a relationship with these people. Some of my best friends aren’t Christians. You establish trust in the relationship, and when that door opens, if it does, that’s when you talk to them about Christ. You let your life exemplify what and who you are!

We do the same as a band. The members of Stryper hold each other accountable; we hold each other up and support one another. Your words mean nothing. Your life means everything! It hasn’t always been easy.

In 1991 and 1992 we fell flat on our face. We let our guard down. We started bringing alcohol to rehearsals, then going out to play telling everyone, “You don’t need drugs and alcohol,” and then we’d get off stage, go to the bar, and get drunk with everybody. That’s what happens when you’re not accountable, let your guard down, and don’t surround yourself with people who are going to lift you, strengthen you, and encourage you. We go out there in the world, but do our best to stay rooted and grounded in the Lord. That takes prayer, reading the word, encouragement, and coming down on each other.

What’s changed about your audience over the years?
We have the hardcore, diehard fans that have been there since day one, which is really a blessing. With a lot of bands their fans get older, and they move on as their lives take them into different directions. Many don’t continue to follow the bands they grew up on, by either buying their records, or going to their shows.

With Stryper, those people keep coming out—from those who were once twenty and are now fifty years old, to those in the second and third generations. It’s really wild to see teenagers wearing their parent’s thirty year old Stryper shirts. These kids are proudly in the front row banging their heads and singing along to every word. That’s pretty mind blowing!

Contemporary Christian music in churches wasn’t even a thought when Stryper began. Is your heavier style of Christian Rock better accepted today than years ago?
I think we’re up against some of the same issues we faced back then. There are always going to be people out there who feel you can’t mix rock & roll with Christian lyrics or Christianity. And of course, there are those who say we can’t look like we do, have long hair, and represent Christ.

It has gotten much better over the last thirty years. People are much more open-minded. It’s kind of an “anything goes world.” That’s both good and bad. We continue to see it all and get it all, but we’ve learned to deal with it and accept it. We just keep moving forward doing what we’re called to do and not letting anything get in our way.

Is your music too edgy for many of the Christian radio stations today?
You’re asking the wrong guy. I grew up on the streets of LA (Los Angeles), not in the church, and not listening to Christian music. Nothing against today’s Christian music, I think it’s awesome. I listen to the music I grew up on—musically speaking.

Through all these years, what song best describes who you are today?
As corny or cheesy as this may sound, I would say “Soldiers Under Command.” Because we are soldiers under command, we’re still going. We’re on the front lines. It totally describes this band perfectly. We play it every night!

Where did the black and yellow stripes originate, and what do they represent?
The stripes were there before the name. My brother (Robert) started striping his drums. Then we began to stripe other instruments and wearing striped clothing back when we were called Roxx Regime. But the label didn’t like the name, and I had to agree. It was hard to pronounce and remember. Since everything was already striped, we came up with the name Stryper. Once we did, we discovered Isaiah 53:5 and applied that to the name, which in some translations means “by his stripes, we are healed.”

When did you become a Christian?
I came into Christ when I was twelve. I went to church regularly, often two to three times a week for about a year to a year and a half. Somewhere in the thirteen or fourteen year old range I started performing at backyard parties and clubs. That eventually led me to Hollywood where I started performing at Gazzarri’s, The Troubadour, and The Whiskey at a very young age. From that then all the way up until the age of twenty, I experienced all the garbage the world has to offer. I lived the whole sex, drugs, and rock & roll thing. Even though I was a kid, I was mature for my age. I grew up really fast. During that time I went to five elementary schools, one junior high, and four high schools! At the age of thirteen, everyone thought I was much older than I was.

At twenty I realized, I don’t want this; it leads to nowhere. I had people coming up and witnessing to me. Arthur Blessitt came up with his famous cross outside of Gazzarri’s with his people. I had some people like Kenny Metcalf and Michael Guido who had come to know God and were sharing it with the band. Eventually God spoke to the entire band, and we all rededicated our lives and devoted the band to God as well.

Did the band collectively and openly discuss coming to Christ?
We did! Robert Sweet (brother and drummer), Oz Fox (lead guitar and vocals), and I all grew up in Christian homes. Tim Gaines’ (bassist) father was a minister. Oz’s mother went to a Pentecostal church on a regular basis, and my family came to know the Lord from Jimmy Swaggart. When we started playing together, before Tim joined the band, we talked about going in the Christian direction and the possibilities of that while looking for a bass player. Tim Fox was the guy we wanted for a few years. We called his home and spoke to his mother. She told us Tim got out of rock & roll because he became a Christian. We all turned white as a ghost hearing that from his mother. Tim came down the next day, joined the band, and we all dedicated the band and our lives together, the four of us in the garage where we rehearsed.

What was it like as a Christian when you became the lead singer for the band Boston?
It was a time when my wife Kyle was dying (diagnosed with stage-4 ovarian cancer), and Brad Delp (lead vocalist for the band Boston) had just committed suicide.

It was during a period in my life when I felt like God wasn’t there. I was literally questioning God in my life. My wife and I had devoted our lives to God, and she was suffering and so sick—dying of cancer. I thought, “What is this?”

I had written something about what Brad meant to me as a singer and a person, although I never met him. Tom (founder and guitarist of Boston) and Kim Scholz read it and invited me to sing at what was supposed to be Boston’s farewell performance. I felt like God had brought Tom and I together. We really needed each other at that time.

It wasn’t long after that I got the call to play with Boston. Some people thought I was trivializing my wife’s illness by thinking that God was tapping me on the shoulder saying, “I am here with you, and I do care, and trust in me, and watch what happens.” Incredible things happened in my life during that period, for myself, for Kyle, and for many others.

I never preached to them, or tried to beat them over the head. I just tried to live my life and exemplify who I am. I went on stage and played the songs I grew up on. It was amazing! Every single night was a pinch me moment. “What is this?” I thought. “I’m up here playing ‘More Than a Feeling’ with Tom Sholz!”

Is there any final message you’d like to share with our readers?
It’s not easy being a Christian. It’s very difficult, but don’t give up. Put your faith and trust in God. Ask Him for strength to get through the dark times, because it does get dark. It doesn’t get easier when you become a Christian. That’s a misconception. It gets more difficult. Christianity is not popular in this world. You instantly become unpopular when you proclaim Christ. Stay strong, stay on the straight and narrow, and I’ll tell you right now, there’s a big payoff. Cling to Him and wait for that day—because it’s coming!

Is Christian Heavy Metal An Acceptable Method of Worship? Read The Article “A Defense of Christian Heavy Metal,” and sound off!