A New Generation of Fans: Stryper Reunites
Back when Christian rock was just getting off the ground, hard rockers Stryper led the charge, not only in the church, but became quite possibly the most influential crossover act of all time. Besides amassing gold and platinum sales status with blockbuster albums like Soldiers Under Command, To Hell With the Devil and In God We Trust, the foursome comprised of sky high singer/guitarist Michael Sweet, guitarist Oz Fox, bassist Tim Gaines and drummer Robert Sweet was also a mainstay on MTV thanks to monster singles like “Calling On You,” “Free” and “Honestly.”
Even if the band was best known when hair was high and spandex was king, “The Yellow and Black Attack” is earning a massive resurgence now that all four original members are back together. Fans first got a taste of the studio reconvening on 2011’s The Covering (which paid tribute to the group’s classic rock influences), but it’s only fitting to find its follow-up Second Coming focusing exclusively on Stryper material. Though the bulk of the collection features re-recorded hits and fan favorites, a pair of new tracks (“Bleeding From the Inside Out” and “Blackened”) are helping the veterans get back into today’s game with a bang.
“The really interesting thing with some of our songs, although I don’t know about all of them, is that I think they are basically timeless,” shares Michael Sweet with www.uptv.com in a colorful phone conversation. “It always sounds kind of weird, almost egotistical, coming from the artist and I don’t mean it that way at all, but I think some of the songs are timeless and re-recording them has kind of proven that. We won’t name names, but some bands re-record their songs and it sounds like it’s right out of 1987 or 1988. I think a lot of times it’s not just the song, but the actual recording process, the way it was mixed or the effects used. I really tried hard as a producer to make sure it was 2013 and that it wasn’t over-produced or saturated in effects. It’s more of an in-your-face raw sound, which is really more typical of a Stryper live show.”
The new lease on life didn’t just happen in the studio, but also behind the scenes as the project marks the Stryper’s debut disc for Frontiers Records (also the home to rock n’ roll royalty like Styx, Yes, Toto and Whitesnake). Besides giving the group greater visibility, it also ensures members have total control of their tunes from here on out, which wasn’t exactly the case the first time around.
“The primary goal was just to make a record and cut out the middle man in terms of obtaining the rights of our old songs,” reveals Sweet. “When our songs were pitched to film and TV [in the past], every time there was interest, they’d have to go to the label that owns our catalogue, which is Disney, and there always seemed to be an issue with either Disney wanting more money or not getting back to them in time. We grew tired of that and said ‘you know this is crazy, let’s go re-record these songs like a lot of bands have done.’ We weren’t even going to offer it to the fans, but once we got in and started making the record, it was turning out so good we thought ‘wow, this is really cool and maybe the fans will actually enjoy this.’”
Early reviews have been unanimously stellar and Sweet seems especially confident that his role as producer helped Stryper resolve a lot of the technical problems that hindered the original recordings. “On The Yellow and Black Attack, there’s hardly any bass, things are drenched in reverb and delay, plus the guitars are thin,” he critiques. “On Soldiers Under Command, there’s no bass at all, literally like it’s muted, and on To Hell With the Devil, the cymbals are gated on most of the songs. A lot of things drive us crazy and keep us from being able to enjoy our [old] records, so making this record was a way to rectify that.”
Throughout that musical journey, it was only natural for personal memories of Stryper’s rocket ride to fame and subsequent impact on the world at large to pop into the picture. Sweet can only laugh when recalling some of the more trendy (and sometimes downright outlandish) outfits befitting the time period, but he still marvels at some of the band’s accomplishments, even though he doesn't take a single shred of credit.
“I was of course thinking about the glory days, the heyday of our number one videos on MTV and breaking down those walls,” Sweet reflects. “The only way I can explain it is that it shouldn’t have happened but it did and I think it did because God allowed it to happen... We really believe that God’s hand has been upon this band and opened doors that would never have been opened, including being number one against Bon Jovi and Motley Crue on MTV. Does that happen in the real world? No it doesn’t, but it happens in God’s world and God can do anything. He controls everything – I really believe that – and He’s proven that many times over with Stryper.”
With all the pieces back in place once again, some of the group’s goals are picking up right where they left off, but there’s also been some changes when it comes to everyone’s aspirations circa 2013. “They’re the same in the sense that we want to encourage people, be a light in the dark and share the gospel with the world going anywhere and everywhere we can to do that,” confirms Sweet. “But I think they’re different in the sense of the way we want to do it. We strive for not repeating ourselves, whether it’s a song or writing a lyric. I don’t want a new lyric to be the same as last lyric. I don’t want a new song to be the same as the last song. I don’t want a new performance to be as same as the last performance.”
Any ardent fan who checks out the latest album will likely agree the band is starting a fresh chapter that just so happens to sound better than ever, and if concert crowds have been any indication, an entirely new generation is signing up for the Stryper army. These days, when Sweet asks an audience who’s seen the band before and who hasn’t, the show of hands is split pretty evenly down the middle, suggesting that ongoing radio airplay of the oldies and YouTube searches for the classic videos, coupled with the new material, has afforded the band a literal Second Coming.
“A lot of those people [who’ve never seen the band before] are made up of younger people wearing vintage Stryper t-shirts, so I’m guessing that maybe their parents turned them on to the band, they borrowed their dad’s t-shirt and came to see us play,” he adds. “I don’t know, but it is pretty cool to be somehow reaching and touching the younger generation now 30 years after we began!”
About the Writer
Andy Argyrakis is a Chicago-based entertainment writer/photographer who appears in the Chicago Tribune, IllinoisEntertainer, Daily Journal, Concert Livewire, Hear/Say Magazine and Image Chicago (to name few). His record label writing credits include Warner Brothers, Atlantic, Curb, EMI and Universal, with additional photo credits for Fuse TV, Live Nation, Nikon, Pollstar, Celebrity Access, Paste Magazine, MTV.com and Vibe.com. He’s also the author/narrator of "Access Matthews" (an audio CD tracing the career of Dave Matthews Band) and spends considerable time on tour, including outings with Arlo Guthrie, The Guess Who, Madina Lake (on Linkin Park’s Projekt Revolution) and Gospel Music Channel’s very own "Gospel Dream" (where he served as season one judge).