The yellow and black is back

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First Posted: 7/15/2013

If you missed Stryper’s signature harmonies and spiritual messages back in the ‘80s, you’re getting another chance this Wednesday to say “To Hell with the Devil.”

The original lineup is back together and rocking Brews Brothers West (75 Main St., Luzerne) in support of the group’s latest EP, “Second Coming,” and they’ll be playing at least one new song from their upcoming album, “No More Hell to Pay,” due out this fall.

The Weekender caught up with singer/guitarist Michael Sweet to relive the days of spandex and big hair, but also to talk about the future of the Christian glam metal band.

THE WEEKENDER: So many stories have come out of the ‘80s music scene in California. What were some of your experiences there?

MICHAEL SWEET: Oh, gosh. I just remember, being so young, I was wide-eyed and mouth open, just kind of lost in the awesomeness of it as a kid. I was somewhat protected from all the crazy stuff that you hear about and read about in people’s autobiographies. At the same time, I was there in it. I had many times when I was falling down drunk and couldn’t remember the night before. I was just a kid, for the most part – 16, 17, 18 years old – playing…with Mickey Ratt, which went on to become Ratt, and hanging out with Stephen Pearcy and drinking and smoking.

I remember them as very good times. It was just an incredible journey, and to be a part of that scene that was so explosive. Everyone went to L.A. to make it… Everyone was going there to break and to make, and many of them did, and we were blessed and fortunate enough to be one of those that did.

W: Stryper is often credited with helping to bring Christian rock to the mainstream. Would you agree with that?

MS: I think so. It always feels a little odd saying that when you’re the one who was a part of it. It feels a little awkward, almost like you’re boasting or bragging, but since I’m being asked the question and answering it, yeah, I think so. We were certainly on the front lines. There were other bands that had brought Christian music to the masses, but not the mainstream: bands like Petra.

They hadn’t crossed over. They had primarily played to and performed to Christian audiences, but when we came out, we were performing to mainstream audiences in clubs and venues around the world, death metal festivals with bands like Testament and Raven. We were doing that whole thing. We were doing it a little bit – well, a lot – differently. It just kind of evolved and exploded and turned into this thing where we wound up eventually, as you know, getting airplay on MTV and having No. 1 videos up against Mötley Crüe and Bon Jovi. There was no explanation for it other than what we believed at the time and what we still believe today, and that is that God was driving the ship.

W: What was it about your music that you think spoke to people?

MS: I think because we were raised in the church to a degree – we all grew up around God and knowing about church and God and religion and spirituality and the Bible and all that stuff. We all knew about that, but yet, at the same time, we all walked away from God and dabbled in mainstream secular music. We weren’t listening to Petra. We were listening to Iron Maiden and Van Halen and Judas Priest and all these bands that we grew up on – UFO, Scorpions, Kiss – and that’s what we were drawn to. That’s what excited us and inspired us musically, so I think because of that, because of the history that we have, we were unique… Yeah, our lyrics were, ‘Jesus is the way,’ and really bold, we were throwing out Bibles, yes, but still, at the same time, the delivery was completely different.

W: And Stryper has never shied away from playing with or covering those types of bands.

MS: No, not at all. It’s funny, because we always seem to take flak for whatever we do. I think that’s just par for the course; we’re always going to take flak for whatever we do. But we’re staying true to ourselves and true to our own convictions and who we are as believers, and people either accept it or they don’t. We just did a cover album to show people where we come from musically. Yeah, we took a little heat for it, but yet, at the same time, there are a lot of people that never really listened to us before who were drawn to that album and enjoyed that album.

W: You took some time off from Stryper, then started a solo career. What made you come back?

MS: After putting my equipment in a closet and literally considering giving it up altogether, I realized this is not me. Music is me, and it’s so in me. It’s so instilled in me that I can’t escape it. I can’t run from it. There’s always a song in my head. It’s my life. It’s who I am, so I aggressively started pursuing it again in ’99.

W: How do you retain your legacy as an ‘80s band but also stay relevant today?

MS: I think you walk that tightrope, that fine line of trying to stay with modern production and keep things sounding like when you put it up against anything else that comes out now that sounds relevant and holds its own against that, but yet at the same time, you stay true to who you are in terms of what people expect to hear. And with Stryper, people want to hear harmony vocals, high screams, harmony guitar solos – there’s a certain thing they want to hear.

W: Do you guys still have your famous striped jumpsuits?

MS: We do have some striped clothes. We wear less stripes these days, but one of these days, I’m sure it’s coming, where we’ll put on the full head-to-toe yellow and black and maybe even go do a tour, kind of like Kiss putting their makeup on again. I’m sure that day will come, and when it does, I think it’ll be awesome.