Michael Sweet of Stryper: "We Have Always Thrown Bibles And We Always Will."
When the Christian rock band Stryper first emerged in 1983, many people thought they were both a marketing ploy and tasteless joke. After 1986's To Hell With the Devil sold over two million copies, so-called Christian bands started popping up everywhere.
Stryper back in the day
Somehow, brothers Michael and Robert Sweet have kept some form of Stryper alive, on and off, for nearly 30 years. Speaking from his home in Massachusetts, in anticipation of tonight's show at House of Blues, Michael discussed the legacy of one of the first Christian metal acts.
How has Christian rock changed from when you started in the '80s to now?
I think it certainly implies the same thing. It's a band made up of Christian guys who deliver a different message. The way the bands and the music have evolved is really different. We came out at a time when it was not so acceptable or popular to have Spandex on and have big hair and run around all over the stage. We came on the scene with the likes of Petra and Baby Grand. We were certainly shocking. Nowadays, anything goes and there's nothing that really shocks people. Everything's been done and then some. I come from the old school of melody and guitar solos. We put more thought into musical arrangements. Nowadays, it's less about that and more about angst. But I can appreciate that stuff, too. It's a different time.
When you first started the band, were you worried people would think a Christian metal band was just a marketing gimmick?
I'm sure some people thought that way. The truth is that it wasn't. If you look at the bands we were in before Stryper, we were wearing those yellow and black Spandex outfits.That's who we were and that's how we presented ourselves before there was Stryper. It just continued on once we decided to give our hearts to Christ and we decided to change the lyrics and let that be the message of the band. We weren't trying to use gimmicks and be something that we weren't.
When you first put those god-awful outfits on, did you look at one another and wonder how you got into this mess?
Yes, a little bit. My brother is more of the visual guy, it was more his idea. He was the guy who painted the drums and the amps. He encourages us to go down that road, to have that yellow and black look. I was more of the music guy who stayed at home on weekends writing songs in the garage all day long. We worked as a team.
Former televangelist Jimmy Swaggart was never a big fan of Stryper, but another televangelist, Jim Bakker, was. What did he understand that Swaggart didn't?
I don't know that it was what he heard. Having met Bakker but never having met Swaggart, I think he was intimidated by us. Maybe he was fearful of the new generation of Christian music. He was just kind of scared and fearful of it. Jim Bakker was more open-minded and more accepting. He knew that things were changing. He was really cool. He came and watched us perform and we all went and hung out at Heritage. We got to know him and he was really a great guy.