Stryper | The Voice of God

“I believe in hard work. Just because it’s easy to release music now doesn’t mean it all should be released.”

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Christian hard rock band Stryper has broken barriers throughout its entire career. They hold the title of the most successful Christian band ever, paving the way for bands like Casting Crowns, among many others. Yet, without the pioneering work of this band, it would never have been possible.

Founded in 1983 under the moniker Roxx Regime, vocalist/guitarist Michael Sweet, brother Robert Sweet on drums, Oz Fox on guitar, and Tim Gaines on bass were called to a hard rock/heavy metal sound reminiscent of Black Sabbath, Van Halen, and the like. Yet they were put off by the constant message of sex, drugs, and violence. They felt it was time for a band that truly rocked, but for a more positive purpose. Changing the lyrical direction and the name of the band, Stryper emerged in yellow and black stage costumes, with a dramatically heavy, yet very melodic sound, which, from the release of their first EP, 1983’s The Yellow and Black Attack, made them stand out from the rest. Taking their name from a verse in the King James Version of the Bible, Stryper set out to take over heavy music, with a message from God.

In 1985, the band released its first full-length album, Soldiers under Command. Surprisingly enough, the album achieved Gold status in the U.S., and the band was on its way to stardom. The next release would shock even the band.

1986’s To Hell with the Devil went Platinum, and spawned three Top 10 MTV hits, with tunes like “Calling on You,” “Free,” and the monster hit “Honestly,” a power balled adored by the MTV audience. After the release of the album, a very successful tour followed. They had succeeded in bringing their music, and its message, to the masses.

The band folloup with two more Gold albums, namely In God We Trust. In addition to including hits like “Always There for You” and “Keep the Fire Burning,” the album won two Dove Awards.

Now, 30 years after the release of their most successful album, the original band is taking To Hell with the Devil on the road to celebrate the anniversary. Hitting 23 cities, they will grace the stage of St. Louis’s own Ready Room on November 8. Not only will they play the album in its entirety, it’s a two-set show, featuring a second set of hits and new material.

Word from the band—and the industry—is this will be the band’s last tour, at least for a long while. I recently spoke with Michael Sweet, and he gave me the low down on all things Stryper.

It’s been 30 years since your groundbreaking album To Hell with the Devil. What can we expect on this tour?

It’s hard to believe it has been 30 years! We’re thankful to have the best fans in the world that have allous to continue to do this for all these years. It seems like just yesterday I was in the garage working on songs. I had my guitar and a cheap Roland keyboard, and I’d go back and forth between the two. Some pretty good ideas came out of that keyboard, though, like I figured out the sound that would eventually become the intro for “Sing Along Song.”

But as far as this tour is concerned, it’s a two-set show. The first set is all To Hell with the Devil played in sequence. Well, there was that one night in Wilmington, North Carolina, where I accidently skipped a song, but we went back and played it. But most nights, when I don’t forget a song [laughs], we play the album in its entirety from beginning to end. Then we come back and we do a second set of some new songs, mixed with some fan favorites off the other albums.

Also on this tour we have something pretty cool and new. Actually, Stryper is only the second band to use this next to Keith Urban. It’s an app called MyFansDemand; you can download it before the show. It’s a free app, and you get to vote for the encore song. So after our second set, we go backstage and look at the results from the voting and we come out and do whatever song got voted highest that night. It’s pretty cool.

Did you ever anticipate, back in 1986, that you would be performing these songs 30 years later?

You always hope that you will, but you just never know. We turned this band over to God and really followed Him, trusting His will would be done. We certainly didn’t expect to be going this long, but we’re very thankful that we are.

What artists are gracing your CD player these days?

I still like listening to the artists that influenced me the most in the beginning: Van Halen, Judas Priest, Sweet, Black Sabbath. Those acts (and a lot more) were instrumental in my development as a musician.

But I’ve gotta be honest: I haven’t had a lot of listening time lately. I just released a solo album as well called One Sided War. I’m constantly working on new material, either for my solo projects or for Stryper, so my listening time has been minimal. But when I do listen to other music, I tend to gravitate toward the older stuff.

The internet has caused a lot of changes in the music business today. Do you feel this is a good thing or a bad thing?

I think, like with any big change, there is both good and bad. I think the industry still has some catching up to do with the public demand. The public has made it very clear they like streaming their music, be that on Spotify, or Pandora, or whatever. But the industry hasn’t figured out a way to fairly pay the writers and artists through those formats.

I think there’s no question that everyone—musicians, industry people, and fans alike—would like to see the artists and writers being treated fairly. It’s just still a new platform and we all just haven’t figured out how to make it the best it can be for all sides involved: the fans, the musicians, and the industry.

With the internet comes great opportunities. More music is available now for the public to consume. But there also comes great responsibility. Just because it’s easy to release music now doesn’t mean it all should be released. I believe in hard work. I believe in honing your talents and really working on your craft. And I believe that great songs deserve to be heard. In the internet age of instant gratification, those attributes don’t always rise to the top.

But I’m happy with the changes overall. It’s easier now than ever before for people to hear Stryper’s music and the message God has given us to share with people. For that, I am incredibly thankful. On a business front, I just think we all have a little catching up to do before the playing field is leveled for all involved.

I know you have been quoted as saying that the band will go on hiatus after this tour. Is this, indeed, the last Stryper tour?

I don’t want to say it’s the last tour; I really don’t know if it is or it is not. But we have been doing a lot of touring over the last four or five years. We’ve hit a milestone here with our 30th anniversary of To Hell with the Devil. We’ll need some time to recharge and see what God wants for us in the future—if He wants a future for us at all. We will be taking some time off; as for how long, I really don’t know. | Marc Farr

Celebrate 30 years of To Hell with the Devil when Stryper plays the Ready Room in St. Louis on November 8. Full tour dates are as follows; tickets are available at the artist’s website.

10.26 | Summit Music Hall, Denver
10.28 | Sokol Auditorium Underground, Omaha
10.30 | The Tree of Joliet, Joliet IL
10.31 | House of Blues, Chicago
11.02 | The Cabooze, Minneapolis
11.04 | The Limelight Eventplex, Peoria IL
11.05 | Forum @ Hal Rogers Center, Hazard KY
11.06 | Mercury Ballroom, Louisville
11.08 | The Ready Room, St. Louis
11.09 | Marathon Music Works, Nashville
11.11 | The Intersection/Showroom, Grand Rapids
11.12 | Agora Theatre, Cleveland
11.13 | Alrosa Villa, Columbus OH
11.16 | St. Andrew’s Hall, Detroit
11.19 | Stone Pony, Asbury Park NJ
11.20 | The Gramercy Theatre, New York
11.21 | City Limits Saloon, Raleigh NC

About Marc Farr 238 Articles
Marc Farr is the Live Music & Assignments Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. He's so invaluable to us, we've nicknamed him Mr. Music. Reach out if you have coverage ideas! "I know it's only rock and roll...but I like it!"
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