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Michael Sweet (Stryper) and George Lynch (Dokken, Lynch Mob) have reunited once again to create Unified, the second album by Sweet & Lynch. I had the chance to sit down and talk with Michael Sweet about the new album, working with George Lynch, life in rock n’ roll and of course….Stryper. I found Michael to be very humble and appreciative for the long career in rock music that he has had to date. Although he has millions of fans of his own, it’s interesting to hear him talk about Van Halen from his view as a fan. Unified by Sweet & Lynch comes out on November 10th. I’ve had a chance to hear the album and I’ve got to say it’s simply incredible. The collaboration of these musicians makes for an excellent hard rock album that simply can’t be missed.
XS ROCK: So this is your second album working with George Lynch. Was this album a little easier to put together than the first one, since you had worked together before?
Michael: You know what? It was a little easier. I feel like it was more thought out. George sent me more complete music ideas, if not complete for most of them. That was a goal of his. And there was definitely a little less work for me to do, which was a good thing because I had a lot of work to do on the first one. On the first one I had to take a lot of music ideas and then complete it. Just a lot less hoops to jump through. On the last one I would cop George’s sound and recorded the guitars to kind of fill in those sections if we didn’t have a bridge or whatever. This time around I didn’t have to do that. I can say this about this album….I think it’s a perfect follow up to Only To Rise. And I don’t know if we could have done any better in terms of a follow up. Little things I listen to, I hear on the album and I wished we’d done a little differently. I wish I’d hit a couple different notes at different times, I wish George, as he puts it “brought the fire” in a couple of more solos, not that what he did isn’t brilliant because it is. I think everyone gets a little more excited when they hear the fiery George, the Promised Land George!
XS ROCK: What are your favorite tracks from the new album?
Michael: Oh gosh! Definitely “Promised Land”. I love the rock / metal tunes like that. I love “Walk”. “Walk” is the most unique song on the album. It’s kind of our epic song of the album. I like “Afterlife” and “Tried And True”. I really dig the way this whole album came out. I’m saying this as humbly as I can say it, I don’t mean this egotistical at all, but how can it not turn out good when you’re working with Brian Tichy, James Lomenzo and George Lynch? Something’s wrong if it doesn’t turn out good, cause those guys are the cream of the crop and it’s an honor for me to have worked with them.
XS ROCK: So tell me about the lyrical content. Did you write all of the lyrics for this album?
Michael: I did.
XS ROCK: You’ve written a lot of great songs over the years. Where do you draw your inspiration for the lyrics?
Michael: You know, it’s funny how it works for me. Usually the way I write a song, is I will have a guitar riff that I like and I’ll play that and create a drum loop for it. So I usually try to get a pattern going, a good groove and then I’ll complete and arrange it. Usually, I’ll start singing something in my head. I’ll usually just sing a word, that will probably wind up being part of the lyric. 9 times out of 10 it’s just some random word that feels good with the song. I just get a feeling for it and then I kind of tap into that when I write the actual lyrics. Once I sit down and have the melody and think about what the music portrays, if it’s kind of a dark, heavy song then I want the lyric to be a little more on the dark, heavy side of things. It just starts coming together. You know it’s one of those things where I’ve been in that situation where that creative well just dries up. You’re trying to pull inspiration for lyrics from somewhere and it’s just not happening. So you just take a day off, a week off or even a month and hope it comes later. Lately in the past seven or eight years, I feel like that well in my creative process, has been like someone has stuck a firehouse in it and it’s just overflowing. It’s crazy. But I’m blessed and I realize that it could dry up again at any time. At least if it ever does, I can look back and say “Well, I had a good run”.
XS ROCK: So were you and George ever in the same room or studio together this time or was it kind of a back and forth collaboration?
Michael: It was back and forth. George was actually going to come out and be with us for three or four days, but it fell through for a number of reasons, but it worked. As much as I don’t like to do it like that, Thank God above it actually worked. And when you listen to the album it doesn’t sound like we were three thousand miles apart.
XS ROCK: So who originally inspired you to start playing music?
Michael: First it was my dad. My Dad’s a singer songwriter and my Mom’s a singer. My Mom used to sing in a trio with my Grandma and my Aunt and they traveled with “Gunsmoke”. They did that back in the 50’s and 60’s. And my Dad, looked and sounded like Elvis. He did some co-writing with Don Imus’ brother Fred. And they wrote a number one country song in 1979 called “I Don’t Want To Have Marry You”. I grew up in a musical family. After my Dad, My first guitar inspiration was Chuck Berry. I play nothing like him, but I used to air guitar to him on my bed, when I was a kid. And then it was Elvis Presley and then as I got older I started getting into Creedence Clearwater Revival and then eventually I got into heavier things like Grand Funk Railroad and Aerosmith, Cheap Trick and then I moved into KISS territory and then I got into Priest and Maiden when I was a little older and then that was it for me. Van Halen was the icing on the cake.
XS ROCK: You’ve played in Stryper, Sweet & Lynch and Boston. Who would you like to collaborate with musically if you had the chance?
Michael: I’ve always wanted to work with Van Halen. Whether it was as a co-writer, co-producer or sing on a song. It’s a dream. It’s a fantasy. Will it ever happen? Probably not. But if it ever did happen that would be my ultimate “Wow” moment musically. I love Van Halen so much. That was the band that changed my life the most, musically. And the other band that I would have felt that way about was Boston and I wound up touring and performing with Boston, so you never say never, man.
XS ROCK: So it was recently announced that Stryper has parted ways with your long time bass player Tim Gaines. I’m not going to ask any questions about that situation out of respect for everyone involved, but I am curious….any hints or news on who the new bass player might be?
Michael: We do have a guy in mind that we’re flying out next Monday. We’ve already talked with him and we’re very familiar with him. We’re going to jam with him and see how it feels in person. He’s a great bass player. He’s got a great look, he’s a great singer. He’s well known and comes from a very successful band and everyone will know who he is. I just can’t announce it at this time. The most important thing about him is he’s a great guy. And we really need someone who’s going to be a team player and just be inspirational and go out there with a smile on their face.
XS ROCK: So I know you’re busy with Stryper and a solo career and George Lynch is busy with Lynch Mob. Are there any plans to do any live Sweet & Lynch shows?
Michael: Yeah. We’ve talked about going out with Stryper and Lynch Mob with Sweet & Lynch as the opener. George and I would have to pull double duty, but I know we could do it. I think it would be a blast, man.
XS ROCK: So any guesses as to when we’ll hear a new album from Stryper?
Michael: Oz and Rob are coming out on Monday and they’ll be here for about 11 or 12 days and then we’ll go into the studio on the 5th of November. The holidays will slow us a bit, but the plans are to turn the album in by mid-January, so you’re going to be looking at an April release, probably. It’ll be through Frontiers Records again. We’ve got a title track already and an album title. It’s very controversial and shocking and when people hear it, their heads are going to spin right off of their shoulders.
XS ROCK: That’s not fair, because I know you’re not going to tell me what it is.
Michael: I can’t! I would in a heartbeat, but I just can’t yet. I’d get in serious trouble. It’s perfect though and when you hear it you’re going to go what? Yeah! That’s perfect.
XS ROCK: So I want to ask you about your Mom. Janice Sweet was Stryper’s manager for a lot of years. Recently I heard that she was undergoing a battle with cancer. How is she doing?
Michael: Unless I’m getting false information, which I don’t think I am from my Mom….She’s doing great.She went through Chemotherapy and quite a long ordeal but she’s doing really good. She’s strong and doing well and God is good!
XS ROCK: I know it’s probably hard to imagine not being in a band, but if you weren’t performing in a band what kind of career do you think you would have had?
Michael: Oh Geesh! I don’t know. I guess I had thought about becoming a doctor when I was like 12 or 13 years old, so maybe a doctor.I always wanted to do something where I was helping people somehow, as cliche’ as that sounds. And what better way to do that than in a band like Stryper. We get the opportunity to help people. and to encourage people and it’s really a great feeling.
XS ROCK: Given your whole career to this point, what are you most proud of?
Michael: Oh, man…I’m just so proud when I meet somebody that tells me a story that they were homeless, destitute or suicidal and now they’re pastoring a ten thousand member church. Those are the stories that really give me chills and make me think Wow! because that lives on. Longer than the music, longer than the clothes, longer than the show….that lives on forever. And to me, that’s what matters. I’m most proud of that, the effect and the influence that the band, the music and message has had on people.
XS ROCK: So what do you think of the current rock scene out there?
Michael: I think there’s some really great stuff out there worthy of turning things around, but I think it’s an uphill battle because rock isn’t on the top of the charts. The format for rock isn’t there like it used to be. But it is for country, hip-hop and pop. It would be nice to see rock bands in general packing arenas and stadiums again.
XS ROCK: So Michael, for anyone that doesn’t know you….what would they be surprised to know about you?
Michael: Oh, man…Umm that I’m just a regular guy. You know, I think because we’re in a Christian band that sings about God and has a deep faith, I think they expect us to be non-human, you know. And when they find out that I enjoy an occasional cigar or a nice bourbon, they get all worked up. There’s a scripture that says “To whom much is given, much more is required” and that is true. We’ve been given a platform and because of that, in many more ways, we are held accountable at a whole different level. And we should be. But, that being said, I think people can go overboard too and judge, and just be brutal and forget that we’re human.
XS ROCK: What would you like to say all of your fans out there?
Michael: Sincerely, I want to thank the fans for sticking by us through thick and thin. With all that’s been said, all that’s been heard, all that’s been done or not done. You know we’ve had some tough times. We’ve been through a lot over the years and those die hard fans, the people that have really believed in us and stuck by our sides and supported us…I want to say Thank You! We wouldn’t be here without you. We really wouldn’t be.
XS ROCK: Michael, it has been absolute pleasure to do this interview with you. Thank you for taking time out to talk to us at XS ROCK today.
Michael: Thank you my friend.