Centered around two of the more industrious musicians in hard rock, Stryper lead vocalist Michael Sweet and guitar virtuoso George Lynch divide the role of frontman in their new collaborative effort, appropriately titled Sweet & Lynch. The project has been quick to receive the “supergroup” label since the initial announcement of the band’s formation, however when the rest of your group’s lineup is comprised by bassist James LoMenzo (Megadeth, White Lion) and drummer Brian Tichy (Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake), such descriptions come rather naturally.
Sweet personally doesn’t consider his new venture with Sweet & Lynch as an all-star hard rock collective, but rather a fitting homage to the era which moved him and his band members to embark on their careers as musicians: the rock and metal movements of the 1970s and 1980s. For the rock frontman, having such a formidable cast of talent unified on one studio album, the upcoming ‘Only to Rise’ debut on Frontiers Records, provides the ideal environment to return longtime listeners to that same stylistic landmark.
I recently sat down with Michael Sweet to discuss the formation behind the new Sweet & Lynch album, the upcoming Stryper effort, a forthcoming collaboration with Gabbie Rae, and how the music of Van Halen particularly inspired him to move into the realm of hard rock.
William Clark: It seems more and more supergroups, meaning bands comprised of prominent talents from the rock and metal communities, are finding their way out onto the market, however Sweet & Lynch stands as one of the more notable of these recent units. Did you and the rest of the lineup make an apparent effort to not just use that “supergroup” status as advertisement but actually exceed those expectations?
Michael Sweet: Yeah, it’s funny because personally I don’t like the name “supergroup.” I specifically view many bands as supergroups. Like when I think “supergroup,” you know… when Paul Rodgers joined Queen, something like that. (laughs) Maybe that’s a supergroup. We’re just a band trying to make great music and a great album, and it just so happened that we’re comprised of four individuals in multiple bands, you know, that have had success. So I guess if that’s the “supergroup” part of it, we are, but… you know what, man? We wanted to make killer music and a great album, to try to bring people back to greatest era in rock, which in my opinion is the 70s and the 80s. I just think the best music came out of those periods.
William: Having George Lynch in the same band as Brian Tichy and James Lomenzo, as well as yourself, leads to some rather strong anticipations from familiar listeners, not to mention you have fans from each of their respective projects coming into the same album with different mindsets as far as what they feel the album should be like. That being said, what was the process like while creating material for the Sweet & Lynch album? Were there any boundaries set up as far as what could be considered stylistically?
Michael: Oh gosh, you know what, it was a little bit out of the box in terms of the way we had to put the album together musically, ’cause George and I knew right from the get-go that we wouldn’t be in the same room. George had other commitments and had to stay out west, and I’m out east, but all things considered it couldn’t have gone better, I think. I mean, it was just so smooth and perfect, in the sense that George would send me ideas, and they were all great, and I would run with those ideas and make them songs. And that… it was just like clockwork. It was as easy as it could possibly have been. So you know, I think initially, before we started exchanging ideas and going down that road, there was some… you know, there was some nervousness, and thinking like, “How is this going to work? Is it going to work? What’s it going to be like? Is it going to be good? Is it going to be great?” All those questions were there, and then once the songs started coming together, they were gone. Instantaneously.
William: You’ve been rather occupied over the past twelve months, what with the release of your autobiography, your first solo album in seven years, and your commitments to Stryper. When it comes down to your personal songwriting approach, did you do anything differently this time around, as compared to how you may have for a new Stryper or Michael Sweet album?
Michael: Not really. I mean, I prep everything pretty much the same way with every album. When it’s time to start writing the album, I… like for example, the new Stryper album. I knew we had to start recording on the 1st of February, and I had so much time to write it, I started writing it about a week and a half ago. The guys come out here in two days, and I’ve got everything all ready. Once I start the wheel spinning on that, it’s really like accelerating to 100 miles an hour, and continuing at that pace for a week, you know? It’s just all I do, I hyper-focus on whatever I’m doing until it’s done. So you know, it works out that way, and then I’ll go after I do an album – I might go two or three or four, five months without writing one song.
William: That actually leads me to another question. I noticed that you posted an update on the social media threads that you finished the writing for the next Stryper album in a week. Needless to say there’s still more work to be done, but that’s still quite the accomplishment. What can you tell me about the next record?
Michael: It’s really going to be… I’m excited to it, and excited for people to hear it. It’s going to be heavy, not like thrash metal or anything like that, just a real heavy, dark, chuggy kind of vibe to it. I think people are going to hear it and think, “Wow, that’s Stryper?” They’re going to be pleasantly surprised. We’re not going to step outside of our territory or what we do completely, we’re just trying to – you know, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. We’re going to, of course, give people what they want and expect from a Stryper album, but at the same time we do want to keep it fresh and try and do new and better things, bigger things. That’s what we’re going for with this album, and I think it’s going to be a great album. I’m pumped about it.
William: I also noticed that you mentioned the new Stryper album will feature another cover song?
Michael: It will feature one cover song, yes.
William: Well, talk to me! What is it?
Michael: (laughs) Well, I don’t want to give anything away yet. I figure… I’m trying to, out of respect for the band and the label, not talk about song titles or album titles or cover titles, or anything like that. Yet. I mean, really soon, but I don’t want to get into that at the moment. I do think people will be surprised, in a good way, for some. It’s certainly not a song people would expect us to cover.
William: Alright. Moving back to the Sweet & Lynch album, you’ve previously said that you and members of the band took inspiration from such names as Journey, Bad Company and Van Halen, which at first may seem like a broad variety of artists to try and incorporate into a single studio album, especially a debut effort, however it works out to the album’s benefit. Did you and the band intentionally try and create a varietal album?
Michael: Definitely, and I mean, just to explain, I think those flavors are in Dokken and Stryper to a small degree, as well. You know, you kind of hear little bits of Van Halen, and little bits of Journey. You kind of hear little bits – maybe on a small scale, but it’s in Stryper and in Dokken, like in the harmonies or with the melodies, or what have you, because we all listen to that stuff and we all loved that stuff growing up. I mean, who didn’t? Those are great bands with great songs. With this album, Sweet & Lynch, we really did specifically try to go after and incorporate a lot of those older bands, and the effect they had on us, into our music and into the sound of this album.
Like for example, I would call George and say, “Hey man. Give me a song that has a little bit of that old school Dokken vibe to it, ala ‘The Hunter.'” And he winds up sending “Dying Rose,” and it’s got the same groove and feel as “The Hunter,” but obviously it sounds nothing like it, and that’s what I’m talking about. You know, we try to just incorporate all that stuff that people would expect. They want to hear some Dokken flavors, they want to hear some Stryper flavors, and we gave them that.
William: I agree. Briefly turning towards one of those previously mentioned bands, Stryper has offered their own takes on Van Halen songs in their past live performances, as well as covering “On Fire” for their 2011 studio album, ‘The Covering.’ How large of an influence was Van Halen on you personally?
Michael: Oh, they’re really a big influence. I would probably put Van Halen as my most influential band, musically speaking, for me. Not lyrically, just musically. Eddie [Van Halen] really influenced me as a guitar player. Their songs were such a part of my history as a teenager, and they kind of helped write my teenage years, you know? I love the fire that they delivered everything with back in those days. I’m a ‘Van Halen I,’ ‘II,’ ‘Women and Children First,’ “Mean Street”… I love that stuff. I’m just such a huge fan, so it plays a big role on who I am as a musician today, for sure.
William: You mentioned Van Halen wasn’t so much of a lyrical inspiration as far as their approach is concerned. Who do you consider a strong inspiration for writing lyrics?
Michael: Oh gosh, man. I don’t know if I really have one. I mean, I try to write my stuff – all my lyrics are based on my faith and beliefs, based on personal experiences, and based on really wanting to give people hope. I don’t necessarily look at lyricists and go, “Oh, wow. I want to write like him.”
Obviously, some of the greatest lyricists of all time – Bernie Taupin – I respect and love, and just enjoy their lyrics, but I’ve never tried or pursued to be like another lyricist or get inspiration from them, you know? I can say that I feel some bands’ lyrics are… I read some of our lyrics and laugh, and think, “Gosh, how first grade!” You know, elementary school. (laughs) I read some old KISS lyrics, and I read some… gosh, Van Halen lyrics! Some of the lyrics, you read them and you’re thinking, “What was David [Lee Roth] on, man? How did he come up these lyrics?”
William: From the Sammy [Hagar] era, as well. “Time will tell if we stand the test of time.”
Michael: Exactly! (laughs) And it works. So much of lyric writing – in rock and roll, anyway, isn’t just to come up with the clever, hooky lyric that’s smart, but at the same time it’s got to sing well. Not always when you read the lyric, it reads brilliantly, but then you try and sing it and it sings awfully. It doesn’t sound right, you have to try and rewrite it based around that, as well.
William: You also mentioned to me in a prior conversation of ours that you were being considered as the new lead vocalist for T&N, which also has George Lynch in the band, in addition to Jeff Pilson and Mick Brown. Any word on how that project is coming along?
Michael: From what I understand, it’s not. I mean, they were talking about doing an album. George said to me that they wanted me to be the singer on that album. I said, “Of course, that’d be awesome,” and that’s the last I really heard from it. Most recently, I’ve kind of heard through the grapevine from George and Jeff and whatnot, the brakes are kind of being applied to continuing on for now, because everybody’s so busy. I think at some point T&N will do an album, and I’d love to be a part of it, but I just don’t know when that’s going to be.
William: Heading back to Sweet & Lynch, is this a band that you plan on continuing with on a regular basis, aside from your commitments to Stryper?
Michael: Absolutely. I really hope that we can tour and do some dates, I hope that we can make another album. I would love to see that happen, and hopefully that’s going to happen. I think a lot of it is driven by, or determined by the success of this album, ‘Only to Rise.’ It depends on how well it does and if everyone is pumped up and excited about more, so we’ll see how that goes, but I hope it happens, man, because I had a blast making it. I would love to make more.
William: While many artists have been quick to criticize how the advancements in digital technology have severely altered the music industry, however from a different perspective, it seems that albums like ‘Only to Rise’ may not have been made if not for those same advancements. Do you agree?
Michael: Probably. It’s certainly possible, I think it could have been made going back to the 80s. It could have been made if our schedules permitted. We would have spent more money, it would cost more money, but at the same time it probably would have done a lot better in terms of a release, you know?
I’ve said this many times. When we’re looking at five or ten thousand units in the first week out, back in the 80s we could be looking at a hundred thousand, or a hundred fifty thousand units. Times have just changed dramatically, and who knows? It’s possible it could never have been made, but we’ll never know. I’m just glad that it was and wound up happening, and that I was able to be a part of it. It’s an album that I’m really proud of, and it’s exciting to be a part of great music; to be asked to be a part of great music, that’s just an honor. Amazing.
William: Knowing you as well as I do, you likely have some sort of side project currently in the works, because free time just isn’t compatible with Michael Sweet’s schedule. What else is on the radar for these upcoming months?
Michael: Well, we start – Stryper comes out in two days and we start pre-production, and then we go in an start recording on February 1st, a new album. That will come out later this year, I don’t know exactly when, but later this year. I’m also already planning on another solo album, I’m actually talking to a label about that, and that will hopefully be recorded at some point before the end of this year and come out next year. I’m also talking about working with an artist by the name of Gabbie Ray. She’s a sixteen year old singer who’s really, extremely talented, and we’re going to make, when that time comes, a really slamming rock record. You know, showcasing her voice, kind of tailored towards – at least, this is what we have discussed, it will be tailored toward kind of the old school Heart/Pat Benetar, just straight ahead female rock. We’re talking about doing that this year. I’m going to be touring solo, we’re going to be doing some Sweet & Lynch dates, hopefully. Stryper’s doing a few select dates, we’re doing Monsters of Rock, we’re doing the fan weekend, and we might be doing two or three other dates throughout the year. Then, Stryper next year will really hit hard with a full blown tour in support of the new album.