Not the type of musician to sit idle in between ventures, Stryper lead vocalist Michael Sweet has kept himself especially active throughout these past six months. In addition to the acclaimed return-to-form Stryper studio album ‘No More Hell to Pay‘ which arrived last November, Sweet recently announced the release of his new autobiography, entitled ‘Honestly: My Life and Stryper Revealed.’
Sharing the same release date of his autobiography is Sweet’s first new solo album in seven years, ‘I’m Not Your Suicide.’ For Stryper fans, May 6 cannot arrive soon enough, and Michael Sweet is just as excited for the long overdue combination to be made publicly available to the masses, especially considering the release of his new solo album was delayed for nearly two years as to accompany his revealing and personal autobiography.
‘I’m Not Your Suicide’ is an expansive compilation of recordings which shows the renowned rock artist incorporating new elements into his unique approach, while retaining a cohesive familiar quality. ‘Honesty: My Life and Stryper Revealed’ proves to be a far more personal endeavor which provides both a personal and spiritual insight into the life and career of the famed vocalist.
I recently sat down with Michael Sweet to discuss the stories behind several of the guest collaborations present on ‘I’m Not Your Suicide,’ the common and almost anticipated approach found throughout rock autobiographies, and his hectic schedule for future projects.
William Clark: While there are plenty of familiar sounding moments throughout such songs as “Taking on the World Tonight” and “All That’s Left (For Me to Prove)” which are highly representative of your work in Stryper, ‘I’m Not Your Suicide’ is a far more reflective and personal experience than say ‘No More Hell to Pay.’ Was there a conscious decision behind trying your hand at different territory with your new solo album, or rather was it something which came naturally?
Michael Sweet: I would say probably a little bit of both, I’m one who likes to try new things, you know? I get bored easily when I’m making an album, if I did the same style over and over and over again I’d probably stop doing this because I’d just get bored. I like to try things that are different, and at the same time there’s that fine line you walk of trying new things and experimenting but giving people, fans out there what they want to hear. It’s kind of tricky but I have a little bit more freedom to do that, to try new things on a solo album than say on a Stryper album.
With the Stryper albums, we kind of… we made an album called ‘Reborn,’ we experimented a little more on that. Although it was a really good album, some of our fans weren’t too happy about that, about how we minused guitar solos and high screams and things that they expected to hear. So it’s important for us to stick to the format. On a solo album, I can do whatever I want to do for the most part, I mean I enjoy doing that. I tried a song that has a little bit more of a country flavor to it, a song called “Coming Home.” I grew up around country, so it wasn’t really out of the ordinary for me. So yeah, man, it was really fun doing it! A solo album is just another way for me to express myself in a different outlet other than Stryper, you know, it’s a good way for me to do that.
William: ‘I’m Not Your Suicide’ includes an impressive compilation of guest appearances, for example the album includes two different takes on Neil Young‘s “Heart of Gold,” one of which includes a guest appearance from Electra Mustaine. What was the initial inspiration behind the idea to cover a Neil Young song?
Michael: I’ve always loved that song, it’s always been one of my favorites. I love the music but even more importantly I love the lyrics, I always said to myself back when I was young, when I just a young lad, a teenager, I thought it would be cool to do that song someday and cover it.
I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to do that song on this album, I thought it would be a great fit and I just made the decision. I’m doing “Heart of Gold.” And I ran with it, there is a version which is me singing the song and then there’s a version which I like a lot better with Electra Mustaine singing on it.
What happened with that was I heard her singing a Megadeth song on a local news show in Washington somewhere, and I was going, “Wow. She’s really great. I like her voice, and I’m friends with Dave [Mustaine], and she’d be a perfect voice on ‘Heart of Gold.'” I was actually considering doing a secondary mix of that with a female vocalist, and I just thought “There she is right there. She’s perfect.” So I reached out to Dave and Electra and asked, and she was very enthusiastic and very excited about that, and we did it, we just went for it. Dave produced her vocal, I sent him the tracks, he did it, sends it back to me and I loved it. I thought, “Yeah, this is awesome!”
William: I agree, I thought it turned out very well.
Michael: Yeah, we have a video coming out for that, and it has a little bit more of that country flare to it as well. You know, anytime you hear steel guitar and you put it to Electra’s voice… I know she’s perusing a country pop career, and she’s writing with every A-list writer in Nashville. When her album comes out I’m sure it will be nothing short of amazing, and I’m just really proud to be part of her career early on.
William: The title track from ‘I’m Not Your Suicide’ shows you taking a pronounced stand against child abuse and bullying. Do you feel it was an important to incorporate an impactful message with your new solo album?
Michael: Absolutely. I’ve always been a guy who’s wanted to have or strived to have very strong messages in a song, because music is one of the most powerful tools to deliver a message. So why do a song that’s going to touch a lot of people musically speaking but not have a good message? I just think that’s a waste of the power of music, so it’s very important for me as an artist to have songs that incorporate strong messages, and not just strong messages but positive messages. The world has enough negativity out there, and I think we need more encouragement.
We need more people to wave that flag of encouragement, and I think that’s what I tried to do with this song. Even though I’m not as big as someone like Lady Gaga or Beyonce or Bruno Mars, those people wave huge flags. I’m waving a small flag, you know, but I’m still trying to make a difference. I was bullied as a kid, not to the point of suicide or considering suicide, but still, I had to always try to fit in. I was a scrawny long haired kid, moving from school to school, four elementary schools, one junior high, four high schools growing up. Tried not to get jumped by the cholos and the gang bangers, and I know what it’s like to be bullied.
When I turn on the news and I see these people who are wives being abused or children who are bullied to the point of suicide, it just breaks my heart, as it does pretty much anyone else who’s watching. I just wanted to write an anthem that basically stood up for them and encouraged them. Anyone who’s being beat down to rise above the situation and realize it’s a season that’s going to pass, a storm that’s going to pass and you are of value. You’re valuable, you’re needed. Don’t think for one second you’re not and consider suicide, and that’s what the song’s about.
William: I think it’s excellent that you put such a strong message behind the song. I wouldn’t diminish the value behind the song by saying you’re only waving a small flag, I think it’s gone over very well.
Michael: Well, you know I think it has. I just want the message to get out there. Forget the song, forget Michael Sweet, forget my face. That’s not what it’s about, you know? That video and that song is about something much bigger than me or what I do musically. I hope it gets out there, man, to the masses so it really effects lives and encourages and inspires and changes lives. That’s always my goal, my hope and desire.
William: Timothy Gaines and Robert Sweet make an appearance on the song “How to Live.” Did you feel it was important to include your fellow Stryper band members on your first solo project in seven years, or was there another reason behind the collaboration?
Michael: Yeah, I felt that Stryper hasn’t done a real power ballad in a while. I mean, we did “Alive” off ‘Murder by Pride,’ we chose not to really do a big power ballad on this latest album. We have “The One,” but that’s more of a rock ballad. So I felt like who better than to be part of a power ballad than some of my bandmates. When we were recording ‘Second Coming,’ I had the guys out there in the studio and just felt like this would be a great time to record Tim and Rob and get them on this song.
I already had the piano and guitars done and everything, and we wound up going that route and having it recorded, and they did a great job. Does it just give it a little bit more of that Stryper vibe? Yes and no. In the groove section, yes, but it’s kind of it’s own thing musically. I love ballads, I’m a guy who’s always loved bands like Journey. I just love a good ballad, man, like Survivor. To me there’s nothing more emotionally powerful than a good power ballad, so I wanted to have one on this album, and I’m really glad Rob and Tim were a part of it.
William: As you mentioned when I last spoke with you, the release of your new autobiography ‘Honestly: My Life and Stryper Revealed’ was postponed for two years so ‘I’m Not Your Suicide’ could be released simultaneously. Which effort do you feel provides a more personal look inside Michael Sweet?
Michael: Oh gosh, well… ‘Honestly: My Life and Stryper Revealed’ because it was a very therapeutic book for me to write and I needed to write it because there was a lot of stuff that was kind of weighing heavy on me. A lot of fans have asked questions over the years, and I’ve answered them, but I felt this way I could write a book and address everything and take care of all the questions and question marks. That’s what I did, and I tried very hard, my best, actually, to be very honest but at the same time not hurtful.
I think sometimes these autobiographies you read, they’re trashing everybody. You’re just kind of scratching your head. I tried not to do that, and yet tell a story about something we did or experienced as a group, but not throw Rob, Tim and Oz [Fox] under the bus, you know? I gave my all, and I hope people enjoy the book. I hope they enjoy the honesty, because it is brutally honest, and it gives everybody an inside look at my life and what I’ve been through. All the ups-and-downs, good and bad, that I’ve had over the years.
William: In ‘Honestly,’ you touch upon the fact that despite the multiple accolades and achievements you have gathered throughout the years, Michael Sweet is still known by some as the “Bible-Tossing-Yellow & Black-Bumble-Bee guy.” Is it sometimes frustrating being referenced simply because of your public image during the 1980s?
Michael: Yeah, it is. I talk about that during the book, how I feel certain things overshadow the more important things to me as a person. The message and the music, the Yellow and Black overshadow that sometimes. There’s a chapter in the book about my love/hate relationship with the Yellow and Black and why. So yeah, it is kind of a bummer when people can’t look past the makeup, if you will, and they can’t see us for who we are.
You know, we’re regular guys. We’re not perfect and we have issues, we’re emotional, we’re happy, we’re sad. We’re in good moods, we’re in bad moods, and all-of-the-above stuff like everybody else. To just be put in a box and known as the bumblebee big hair guys from the eighties, it’s certainly limiting who we are and what we are. But you know, I guess that’s just part of the course and you have to accept it and deal with it, continue on doing what you’re doing, and in the end it all works itself out.
William: You also mention during your autobiography that if fans are looking to hear stories about drug abuse and prostitutes, they should “probably read the Motley Crue book instead.” Was it important for you to focus on the reflective and positive stories from your career instead of heavily comprising your autobiography of tales from the darker moments?
Michael: It was, but at the same time it was also equally important for me to be honest and open, and that’s why I do get into some of the things which took place during the ‘Against the Law’ period that caused three marriages to end and mine to almost end. I get into a lot of that stuff in the book. Is it as controversial as Motley Crue? No, but I think half of what we hear about Motley Crue is B.S. anyway, like when you hear stories about Nikki Sixx dying three times and whatnot. It’s like, how stretched is that? I don’t know, man! (laughs) Nothing against Nikki Sixx.
Half of the stuff I read in these autobiographies I just kind of roll my eyes at, because I just think that a lot of these guys just did so many drugs and drank so much booze that their minds aren’t too clear in terms of remembering the past exactly as it went down. I hope that doesn’t come across as me being a jerk, but I guess the big point I’m trying to make here is my book… these are good or bad, boring or exciting, these are the true stories of my life. I guess that’s what I meant by the statement, you know? You’re probably not going to find in my book what you might find in a Motley Crue book, and that’s a good thing! (laughs)
William: That’s probably a pretty accurate statement. How do you personally feel ‘I’m Not Your Suicide’ compares to your previous solo album, 2007’s ‘Touched’?
Michael: ‘Touched’ was a completely different album all around, in all ways. ‘I’m Not Your Suicide’ is more in line with the ‘Truth’ album. The ‘Truth’ album came out in 2000 on Restless Records, that was produced by Bob Marlette. I feel that this album is very similar to that, it’s got a similar flow, it’s got an edgy side, it’s got a lighter side, and I experimented on both a lot and tried different things on both a lot. So I’m excited, I really felt like ‘Truth’ is really underrated, it never really got to see the light of day. This album excites me because I feel it’s as strong as ‘Truth,’ it’s not stronger and it’s going to see the light of day. I think more people are finally going to hear what I do and what Michael Sweet does outside of Stryper. There is a different side to me as a producer and a writer and an artist. I think people are going to experience that a little bit more so on this album.
William: Considering ‘Truth’ came out in 2000, during a period where many rock artists were more or less ignored just because of the state of the music industry, do you think at some point in the future albums like ‘Truth’ will be reissued?
Michael: You know, that’s a good question and a great thought. I would love that. It’s heartbreaking when you as an artist put together your best piece of art, and for whatever reason it doesn’t get the fair shot it deserved. With ‘Truth,’ it’s not even about putting an album out and it getting a shot and the fans speaking and it doesn’t do well. That’s a whole different story. Literally, that record got turned in and two weeks after it got turned in the label closed it’s doors. So, it was over. Just like that. And it just sat there for a long time and did nothing, there was no one marketing it or distributing it, and then Warner eventually bought the catalog of Rhico, and that was absorbed through Rhico from Restless. So it went from Restless to Rhico to Warner, and it just never got a shot at all.
There were big plans, we were going to do a video for “Save Me” and really do it up. Go to rock radio with that song, and I still think if that song had been taken to rock radio in the proper way with that video it would have taken that album somewhere very exciting and a catapulted it to a new place. So, you know, would’ve, could’ve, should’ve. I mean, what are you going to say? All the old cliches, don’t cry over spilled milk, all that stuff. You know what, it’s a good album I’m really proud of, and if it ever sees the light of day and gets a second release or second chance I’ll be thrilled and absolutely happy about that.
William: In addition to Stryper heading out on tour in support of ‘No More Hell to Pay’ and your multiple upcoming collaborations with George Lynch, are you still planning to head onto the road as a solo artist in support of ‘I’m Not Your Suicide’?
Michael: I am, I mean there’s all kinds of things that are being talked about right now that aren’t confirmed, for example wrapping up the George Lynch/Michael Sweet album, and that’s going to come out next year, around this time next year on Frontiers. We’ve got the live Stryper album coming out this year, October/November on Frontiers. We’re doing a lot of Stryper dates this year, next year we’re not going to do so much. Stryper is just going to do the Monsters of Rock cruise and maybe a fan weekend and one or two festivals, and that’s it. We’re going to record a new album next year, but not a lot of touring.
I plan to tour with Lynch, Sweet, [Brian] Tichy and [James] Laminso, I plan to do some solo dates with the band, I’m hoping I can put together a band like you see in the video. In may be Laminso and Arminoff, that’d be pretty cool, and go out and do some dates. Then I’m also doing some other things, like maybe a run with Mike Tramp and a couple other singers, basically working on an acoustic version of our hits and going out and doing some club dates. So, we’ll see on how all that works out. But there’s big plans for next year, for 2015, for sure.
William: I understand you still have several different projects currently in the works which involve former members of Dokken, Megadeth and Whitesnake. Which effort are you currently aiming to accomplish next?
Michael: Oh gosh, to get through this year and not lose my mind and somehow retain my breath. It’s a busy year, it’s a crazy year, and I think it’s going to be overwhelming in a great way. And then next year, like I said, there’s going be a new Stryper album recorded, I’m talking to George about the possibility of doing a new album with the T&N guys and doing that sometime next year. I’m sure at some point I’ll start on another solo album, I may do some other projects. There’s so many doors opening and so many opportunities, Lord knows what is going to happen next, but you know, I’m just thrilled to be given the opportunities and still be able to do this.