Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #127. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Paul Southwell catches up with Stryper’s longstanding guitarist Michael Sweet.
For metalheads of a certain vintage, the roaring success of American metal band Stryper in the late ‘80s polarised audiences. Undaunted by detractors, their superb musicianship, determination and steadfast dedication to their Christian beliefs has seen them endure setbacks over the years, including a substantial period of dormancy.
Reinvigorated from the positive momentum of reunions, Stryper have been consistently active since around 2005, with frontman, guitarist and chief songwriter Michael Sweet offering some of the band’s most heavy material on subsequent albums. That trend continues with their tenth studio album, God Damn Evil, so we caught up with the talented mastermind of the yellow and black attack.
God Damn Evil feels like a natural progression from Fallen, which was quite heavy.
I’m very happy with it; it’s shaken the cages. We enjoyed stretching out on this album. We’re still doing what is to be expected, but we’re getting a little heavier as we get older, which is interesting because usually when you get older, you get lighter. We’re keeping it real, man.
The riff on the title track has an AC/DC feel to it. Is there an AC/DC influence going on there?
Yeah, that’s the classic ‘80s anthem kind of riff, like “To Hell With The Devil” with a mid‑tempo pace and gang chorus. My brother [Robert Sweet, drums] came up with the title, and it was important for me to write an anthem that takes you back to 1986 and feels like we’re rocking old school.
Are you using your Theta Pro [ISP MS signature model preamp and multi‑effects unit] for rhythm guitars?
I did use my Theta on the album. I also used Mesa Boogies and a Soldano. It’s the same kind of tone, theory and style with pre-EQ before the front-end of the [preamp] distortion to get that half-cocked, Michael-Schenker-on-steroids sound. There are also EQs for the stage-outs and the DIs. My extra EQ band allows me to dial in a bit more midrange. In the old days, we would do four and six tracks of one rhythm guitar. Nowadays, I do a track and Oz [Fox, guitar] does a track, and that’s it. So the guitars are not as produced, but they’re still big. Oz is using Line 6 gear. My Tech 21 [Sans Amp Para Driver] gear was great, but everything is built into my warm‑sounding Theta. I feed an amplifier for monitoring onstage, but all the sound out through the front of house [PA] is direct only. It’s just such a fat, huge, monstrous sound.
Using open chords and letting strings ring out has a huge impact on the power of your sound.
Absolutely. Going from a muted fifth chord to a big open chord sounds like doubling the guitars and it becomes this huge wall of sound for the choruses, like in “God Damn Evil”. Most people play a fifth A chord, whilst I add my little finger across the high strings for a jangly open A with all the strings. I’ve never taken lessons. I’m an ear player, always trying different chords to make it sound better.
“Beautiful” has a great guitar solo which is reminiscent of George Lynch’s style. In fact, the Sweet & Lynch song “Bridge of Broken Lies” has a great Jimi Hendrix vibe to it.
On “Beautiful”, Oz does the first half and I do the second half. We do a lot of that. For the song “Sorry”, I start that solo and he finishes it. For the sporadic harmony parts, we were harmonising with ourselves. I just did two albums with George Lynch, and he has a heavy blues influence – you might not have heard in the Dokken days, but he’s into lots of different styles of music. He’s a soulful player.
How much work went into your signature Washburn guitars [the Parallaxe PXZ-MS2FR and the PX-SolarV6-MS]?
Oh man, they knocked it out of the park. My US custom shop models have identical specifications to what I use; pickups, fret size, woods, neck size, Floyd Rose upgrades – you name it. The import model is coming soon, too. I couldn’t be more pleased with Washburn, they’re fantastic people and they make killer guitars. Sadly, not as many people know about them as they do Gibson or Jackson or all of these other companies, but I’ll tell you what, you couldn’t pay me enough money in the world to go with Jackson. Washburn just take care of me. They get them right, they go the extra mile to do the job and they just blow my mind.
What are the odds we might see you back in Australia soon?
We’re working on some dates for Japan right now, and if we go to Japan, we’re going to plan on hitting Australia as well.