Nearly four decades after co-founding metal band Stryper, Michael Sweet isn’t letting his health get in the way of longevity. Ahead of Stryper’s upcoming album, The Final Battle, out Oct. 21 via Frontiers Music Srl, the singer and guitarist tells the Behind the Setlist podcast he and guitarist Oz Fox are in good health following recent surgeries — brain surgery for Fox and eye surgery for Sweet.
“Oz is great,” Sweet tells the Behind the Setlist podcast while wearing sunglasses following a third eye surgery. Sweet could be seen wearing an eye patch in the video for the new song “Transgressor” and during recent concerts. “But I’m hanging in there. I mean, all things considered, we’re both very fortunate. As we get older, these things happen. You just have to kind of roll with it.”
Sweet’s voice got a helping hand from advice from fellow musicians. Wondering if Stryper should tune down to help the band hit hard-to-reach notes from songs recorded decades earlier, Sweet asked some friends for advice. Kip Winger called tuning down “a career saver.” The 59-year-old singer took the advice and the tuned down half a step (from E-flat to D) for a tour in early 2022. Not only did it reduce strain on his voice, the lower notes gives familiar Stryper songs a new character.
“I think it sounds tougher” and makes songs like “To Hell With the Devil” and “Soldiers Under Command” sound “fatter and bigger,” Sweet says. More importantly, though, Sweet’s voice feels “so much better” after a set of strenuous songs. “I made it through the whole tour. I had no struggles whatsoever. And we did some four-in-a-rows,” he shares. “And, you know, when you get up to my age, you do less and less of those four-in-a-rows. You don’t often do three-in-a-rows. I had no trouble. It was like I was 18 again. It was amazing.”
Looking back at Stryper’s founding in Southern California in the early ‘80s, Sweet puts his finger on one of the keys to Stryper’s longevity. “We were very different in the sense that we were a rock band on the Hollywood scene that became Christians. We weren’t Christians that became a rock band.” That distinction created “a big difference in the way we think, the way we write, the way we produce, the way we sound, the way we perform, who we perform with — everything we do,” he says.
It’s evident in how Stryper covers decidedly non-Christian songs such as Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law,” Black Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell” and the Scorpions’ “Blackout.” “We used to play [“Blackout”] over and over and over again in the garage where we rehearsed. Oz grew up on [Black] Sabbath. We all liked Sabbath. He loved Sabbath. So that was a no brainer to do ‘Heaven and Hell,’” says Sweet. “Van Halen, we’re all huge Van Halen fans. We could probably just do a cover album of Van Halen songs and be totally happy with that because we love Van Halen. Probably my favorite band of all time.”
It’s also evident in how Stryper performs with secular rock bands. In August, the band played at the inaugural Monsters on the Mountain festival in Gatlinburg, Tenn., alongside Night Ranger, Extreme, Queensrÿche and Ratt’s Stephen Pearcy, among others. On Oct. 29, Stryper will board the Kiss Kruise, a floating festival out of Los Angeles headlined by Kiss and joined by Black Label Society, Buckcherry and Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach.
“We don’t come out, sit on stools and preach and shove it down their throats,” says Sweet of the band’s concerts. “But we take them to church in the sense that it’s electrifying. We try to give them an energetic show with powerful music and a message and lyrics so they leave energized feeling like there’s hope. We have enough negativity in the world. We always try to give them positivity.”
Outside of Stryper, Sweet keeps himself busy by working with some of rock and metal’s leading names. He’s a member of ICONIC, which released its debut album in June, along with guitarist Joel Hoekstra, bassist Marco Mendoza, drummer Tommy Aldridge and vocalist Nathan James. In 2021, Sweet released an album with LA Guns guitarist Tracii Guns under the name Sunbomb. He has released two albums with Dokken guitarist George Lynch under the moniker Sweet & Lynch, and performed with the band Boston from 2007 to 2011.
“I’m always doing something,” he says. “That’s how I’m built. I can’t sit still.”