Published on May 22nd, 2019 | by Michael Ray0
The Yellow & Black Attack Redux: Metal Band Stryper Will Play The Soundstage at Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee, on Sunday, June 2, 2019
Isiah 53:5 says “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes, we are healed.”
A verse from The Bible is not the typical place that you would expect a Metal Band to find its name, but from that verse, the Southern California Band, Stryper was born.
Brothers Michael and Robert Sweet formed their first band, Roxx Regime, in 1983, but seeing the state of debauchery in the current music scene, they decided to rebel against the messages of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll to form a band built around their faith as Christians.
With two gold albums and one platinum, Stryper will bring their “History Tour” to The Soundstage at Graceland in Memphis on Sunday, June 2, 2019.
“We are extremely excited to play Graceland. We are all huge Elvis fans; I mean I saw Elvis at the Forum in LA on the same day that the guys in Led Zeppelin did,” says singer and guitarist Michael Sweet.
The far-reaching grasp of the young truck driver born in Tupelo has inspired generation upon generation to pick up a guitar and chase the dream of being onstage living the life of a rock star.
“Elvis is in my DNA. My father, Phil Sweet, is probably the biggest Elvis fan there is. He looked like Elvis. He sang like Elvis. He got together most of the musicians who had backed Elvis in the day, and actually recorded an album with them. In Vegas for a time, he was an Elvis impersonator named Clint Reno. When we played Memphis a couple years back, we got to take him to Graceland for the first time and he was in heaven. We had other music around the house, Creedence, even Sabbath, but Elvis was the one I would be bopping around to as a kid playing my air guitar.”
Since the beginning, Stryper has always swam against the current amid other bands in the era when hairspray and excess ruled the Sunset Strip, from the music steeped in their faith to the distinctive yellow and black striped outfits worn onstage.
Despite not fitting into the standard mold of their contemporaries, in the early 80s they were a house band at the infamous Gazzarri’s on Sunset, along with fellow rockers Ratt.
“We would play a set, then Ratt would play. You know Gazzarri’s had The Doors and Van Halen as house bands too. We played with Ratt when they were still Mickey Ratt. We played with WASP. The crowds were always great and they didn’t put too much thought to the whole Christian rock thing, they just enjoyed the music for what it was, great music.”
1985 saw the release of their sophomore album Soldiers Under Command, which went Gold. It was the first ‘Christian’ metal album to do so.
“Categories like that are really my pet peeve. I would walk into a record store and ask ‘Where are your Stryper albums’ and the response would be ‘well if you go to the back of the store, in the very far corner, is our Christian section’ while all the other metal albums were right up front to see. We are Christians in a Metal Band, not a Christian Metal Band, there is a difference.”
To Hell with the Devil, the follow up to Soldiers, gave the band its biggest selling album to date and a Grammy nomination for Best Gospel Performance by a Duo or Group, Choir, or Chorus, reaching Platinum status and once again, by Billboard genre status, it became the first Christian metal release to do so, holding on to that distinction until P.O.D’s album, Satellite, was released in 2001.
With the release of this pivotal album, Stryper was in heavy rotation on MTV with the singles “Honestly” and “Free,” leading to some criticism from the very faith that they put upfront in all their music, namely from famed televangelist Jimmy Swaggert.
“That one hurt. My brother and I (drummer Robert Sweet) were led back to know God through Jimmy Swaggert. He was a huge spiritual influence on us. We still just tried to show grace and not judge, despite what he was saying. It’s always been my belief that you have to be careful not to judge people. If you do, chances are that all of your sins will find you. No one is perfect. We have all had sin in our hearts and lives at some point, so casting judgement on someone is just something I will never do.”
With mainstream success comes the inevitable pressure to keep it.
In God We Trust was released in 1987, reaching gold status for the band, but falling short of the heights of To Hell with The Devil. After a worldwide tour the band hit the studio to record their fifth album in a rapidly changing musical climate.
Against the Law hit the shelves in 1990 and was a dramatic change of style for the band both musically and image wise. They dropped the yellow and black striped outfits in favor of more traditional metal leather outfits, and the Stryper logo with Isiah 53:5 was missing from the album.
Met with lackluster sales, this would be the last album recorded for Enigma Records, after six years. After being signed to Hollywood Records and releasing a Greatest Hits album, Michael Sweet left Stryper to pursue a solo career, and without its primary songwriter/singer, the rest of the band went their separate ways.
“Those were some tough times. The label had really failed to understand the direction we wanted to go as a band, and I had one vision in mind, while they had another. They wanted another To Hell and that just wasn’t where I was at that time, so I decided it was a good time for me to make the kind of records that I truly wanted too.”
Sweet kept busy with solo albums and taking vocal duties over for classic rock band Boston. It wasn’t until 2006 that Stryper released a new album, appropriately titled Reborn.
The band’s members had been on stage together a few times and reunited to record two new songs for updated Greatest Hits on the Hollywood Records label, which led to a tour in support of the album, reinvigorating the band in the process. With a new label, Frontier Records, in 2013, the band continued to release new material, solely produced by Michael Sweet.
“I am just not a big fan of outside producers. I understand the need for them sometimes when a band needs direction, but we never did, and 50 percent of the time, they are not needed. I knew where I wanted the music to go and the sound I was looking for. All of our self-produced albums hold their own against our earlier releases, in my opinion.”
Never one to rest on his laurels, Stryper is currently working on their 13th studio album, and Sweet has his 10th solo album in production along with a project called Sunbomb with LA Guns and ex Guns N’ Roses guitarist Tracii Guns.
“I really want us to be remembered as a great metal band. Metal. Period. I mean metal and rock are about rebellion, right? Well then Stryper may just be the most metal band ever, as we rebelled against the norm of metal from the beginning to now. We didn’t compromise our beliefs and made music that we are proud of. I have no regrets about what we have achieved as band, none.”
When I asked him what he would like his contribution to music to be remembered as, he had this to say:
Stryper will be performing at Graceland Live Soundstage in Memphis on Sunday, June 2 with doors opening at 6 and show to start at 7. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 the day of the show. Find tickets online here: www.gracelandlive.com