|Michael Sweet (left) and Tracii Guns of Sunbomb (Photo source: facebook.com/SunbombMetal)|
If the past several months have taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.
When Frontiers Records first announced the release of Sunbomb’s debut album, Evil and Divine, more than a few eyebrows were raised. After all, Sunbomb pairs Michael Sweet, who brought Christian-themed Hard Rock/Metal to millions as the singer/guitarist of Stryper, and guitarist Tracii Guns, the decadent Sunset Strip veteran of L.A. Guns and the pre-fame Guns N’ Roses. Would such a seemingly disparate combination actually work? Forgive me, Michael, but Hell yeah it does!
While many “supergroups” suffer under the weight of high expectations and underwhelming results, Evil and Divine features some of the finest material ever created by either musician. Just take a listen to the burning Dio-era Sabbath groove of the must-hear “Take Me Away.” It is the sound of two distinct creative souls meeting at the peak of their respective powers and showing the world that some of the best things in life come from left field. And that’s just one example of the downright heavy – and often soulful – moments on this bulletproof 11-song collection.
The album also features the grittiest vocal performance of Sweet’s career, proving once and for all that he is as much an intense Metal belter as he is a mainstream balladeer – something that diehard Stryper fans (yours truly among them) have known for years but may come as a shock to anyone who judges the man’s career on “I Believe In You” alone.
On a personal note, Michael is one of my favorite people in the music business: Open, giving, straightforward and someone who calls it as he sees it. He’s Rock ‘n’ Roll through and through and always a great conversationalist – and a person willing to listen to and exchange ideas with people who may not necessarily see eye to eye with him on religion or other areas of life. This point was brought home to me last year when I – a Satanist – showed up in one of his Facebook threads to give him my respect and support. His response of “Thank you, brother” caused a bit of a stir but ultimately resulted in one of the most enriching exchanges between Facebook users I’ve ever witnessed.
With this in mind, I used this latest interview with him as an opportunity to address our drastic differences in religious beliefs head-on in addition to discussing the Sunbomb record. It resulted in one of the best experiences I’ve had in my career. We approached things as gentlemen in a very frank and honest way and – gasp – reached common ground on many things. With Michael’s blessing, I present our full conversation below with as few structural edits as possible. Michael has my deepest respect and gratitude for his willingness to engage in a chat of this nature. I’m a proud fan of his work with Stryper and beyond, and I look forward to our next opportunity to touch base.
It’s nice to hear from you again!
Of course! Thanks for talking to me, buddy. I appreciate it.
This is actually our third interview together.
Well, maybe we’ll be at 30 or 40 someday!
I’d love that! I’m also the Satanist who went on your page last year and gave you props.
Hey, man, you know what? Dude, you know what I preach, and it’s all about loving your fellow neighbor. We’re all brothers and sisters. It’s so interesting how people obviously jump on that ‘separation’ bandwagon and try to divide and separate. It’s crazy to me. God bless you, man! Great to talk with you again. Thanks for giving me props!
Definitely. I’ve seen the band live, and nobody was out there with a clipboard taking a poll on who believed what.
(Laughs) We’re still going. We’re planning on a new album in January; it’s already set. [Guitarist] Oz [Fox] is getting better and feeling well [in his fight against brain tumors]. We’ve still got a little fuel left in the tank, as they say. There’s more to come, for sure.
Right on. Let’s dive into Sunbomb. The combination of you and Tracii is somewhat unexpected, but I think it’s a combination that works extremely well on this record. I cover a lot of Frontiers artists, so I know that sort of collaborative/partnering album concept is a staple of that label. How instrumental was [Frontiers President and A&R Director] Serafino [Perugino] in getting this whole thing put together with you and Tracii?
That’s a good question. Usually, Serafino is very instrumental and the guy who’s basically throwing the idea out there on the table with a lot of these projects. But with this particular project, as far as I know, it originally started out as a Tracii Guns solo album. He was talking to Frontiers about doing a solo record. I think it eventually morphed into a ’supergroup,’ if that’s what you want to call it. It became Sunbomb, but the way I always understood it was it was a solo album. I was just kind of singing on Tracii’s solo album, but it wound up being much more than that. It’s really cool, because it’s got those elements of L.A. Guns, and it has some Stryper elements. I think that’s a given. Love my voice or hate my voice, I have a distinctive voice; it’s easy to tell who I am and where I’m from. So, it’s gonna have the Stryper flavors and the L.A. Guns flavors right out of the box, but it’s also got something really different about it. It’s not a polished record. Stryper is definitely more in that polished vein when it comes to the way that we produce albums. There are more overdubs and whatnot. This is more of a raw approach. My vocal style is a little bit more raw, and there’s not as many pretty harmonies and multilayers going on. There’s just more of an in-your-face approach [with this]. That goes for Tracii’s playing as well, which is really cool.
Did you guys have a lot of history together as far as being friends prior to this whole project taking place?
One would think so, but no. We grew up in the same area at roughly the same time. I’m a little older than Tracii, but he saw and certainly heard of our band back when we were Roxx Regime. That’s going back to 1982, 1983. I, of course, had heard of Guns N’ Roses in the early days when Tracii was a part of that. I actually saw Guns N’ Roses perform with Tracii, so this is going way back. And then with L.A. Guns, our paths of course crossed so many times. It’s really interesting that we’ve never met until recently – basically in the last two-plus years.
How were the logistics of this album handled? Did you guys have an opportunity to start on this prior to lockdown, or did most of it happen during this strange time we’ve all been facing?
The project started before lockdown; it just took a long time to complete and dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Tracii had started working on this, I’m gonna say, maybe even three years ago – certainly two and a half. That was right around the time that we met. He started working on the guitar parts and whatnot, and he had another singer in mind; I’m 99 percent certain it’s the bass player for Whitesnake [Michael Devin]. He was going to sing on the project, and something happened and that didn’t work out. Then, Tracii asked me to do it. There were some little bumps and hurdles to get over with the lyrics. I got the first lyric, and it was about burning witches. I just felt like that wasn’t something I preferred to sing. I didn’t want to alienate my fanbase. I have to feel passionate about whatever I sing. It has to be something that I believe when I’m singing so that I can sing with conviction. I thought it was like April Fools’; I thought it was a joke when I read the lyrics. Most of the lyrics were just not in my wheelhouse, so they had to be rewritten and reworked. It took a little time to do that with our busy schedules – and then with COVID, obviously. But we eventually got around to it and made everything right, and then I got it sung and turned it in. Everybody really liked it – Tracii especially. The rest is history.
Obviously, both you and Tracii have been doing this for a long time. You have a lot of records under your respective belts, and you obviously both know what a song is supposed to be. You’re both coming at this project with a lot of experience. But having done this album with Tracii, what would you say you each brought to the table for the other person that might not have been there without the opportunity to collaborate in this way?
I think you stretch a little bit and you experience a little bit more when you’re working with other people. Obviously, when I got the music beds for each song, I listened to them and thought, ‘Okay, this is different for me. This is not what I would have done if I wrote these songs.’ But that’s a good thing, because it’s different. It’s a little darker and a little bit more raw. That being the case, it made me want to explore a little more and just kind of push myself as a vocalist and definitely stretch out a little bit more. It’s not that when you hear these vocals it’s something completely different; I didn’t try to reinvent the wheel or anything – nor could I. I have the sound of my voice, and it’s always going to be there. But I just tried to make things a little bit more in-your-face and raw and open and not over-perfect things – keep it a little more like we’re almost live in the room performing for you, with the good and the bad. It’s almost like a live performance in terms of the sound.
I started the conversation on Sunbomb by mentioning what I call ‘the Frontiers way’ – putting different people together and trying different things. Some of those albums are good, but some of them – no names mentioned – do sound like a one-and-done kind of thing. But this sounds like a fully realized, living and breathing band to me. With that said, what might the chances be of this becoming something that continues to do songs and perhaps even plays live at some point?
That would be amazing, and I think there’s a good chance of that. The problem we’re all faced with – even more so now – is the backup. COVID knocked us down and out for just over a year. We’re all trying to figure out how to move forward – all the bands in the world – and where to play and how to play and if we can afford it. Obviously, capacities and guarantees are down. The cost of jet fuel is up, and flights are up. It all plays an important part in whether bands like us can tour or not. Of course, bands like KISS can tour; they’ve got all the money and backing in the world. But with bands like L.A. Guns and Stryper, it’s a little more difficult. We rely heavily on the numbers; if they’re not right, then we can’t tour. I think once we kind of get out and get past this crazy pandemic situation, which I think is going to happen, the chances of [Sunbomb playing live] are far greater. There’s no reason why Tracii and I can’t go do at least some ‘weekend warrior’ dates – maybe not a ground run, but certainly some fly dates and do a few shows here and there in key cities. That would be great, man, I would love that.
I want to switch gears and bring up a topic that I’ve wanted to talk with you about since the beginning of the pandemic. There have certainly been times over the course of the past year when I’ve watched the news, lost people due to the virus or experienced various other things, and the song I’ve referred to most in these times is the Stryper song ‘Lost’ from God Damn Evil. That’s certainly helped me feel a bit uplifted when I needed that experience. Obviously, you’re a Christian artist. As such, a lot of people look to you to use your faith as a way to project positiivity and something they can find solace in. How has your faith enabled you to continue to be that public messenger? At the same time, how has your faith helped you personally deal with the unprecedented challenges we’ve all been facing for the last several months?
My faith has certainly helped me get through the past year and a half especially – and my entire life. The darkest point of my life was 2007 through 2009 [with the illness and passing of my first wife, Kyle.] That being said, I’ve fall into depression; I get bummed out, concerned and fearful like everybody else. I’m flesh and blood and human, and it happens to all of us. But my faith does help me get through it. My faith runs really deep. Whether other people believe it or not, I believe that God has helped me and kind of steered the ship throughout my life. I’ve seen it firsthand; I’ve seen miracles and things that shouldn’t have happened that made me say, ‘Wow! Okay, I believe.’ I see it over and over again. Certainly, right now at this point in time, it would be a really easy time for me to lose my faith and to walk away from my faith. I’ll be honest; sometimes, in the back corners of my mind, I question God, too. I think, ‘Hello. Where are you? I don’t see you.’ I’ve been there and done that many times. But somehow and some way, maybe through a simple prayer or maybe through a scripture or someone calling or texting me, I zero in on my faith again and say, ‘Okay. This is where I need to be and where I want to be’ and continue down that path.
I appreciate your answer. One thing I’ve always admired about the opportunities I’ve had to converse with you is your openness and honesty about these issues and that you’ve faced challenges. I think that’s so important, especially these days when I think our greatest strength comes from finding commonality with people.
Absolutely – no doubt about it. Even though it’s a cliché that’s used so many times and almost corny, we really are all brothers and sisters. We’re part of one race. It bums me out to see such division over race still. It’s another cliché, but all lives do matter. We’re all brothers and sisters just trying to figure out life and trying to get through it, survive, pay our bills and put food on the table. In that process, we should be concerned with each other more. We should love one another more and take time for one another. And we don’t, because we’re so caught up in the craziness of this world and our schedules – get up, brush your teeth, eat your breakfast, go to work, come home, eat your dinner, go to bed and pay those bills every month. It’s a struggle we all face, but because of all that stuff, we lose sight of the most important part – which is to love one another. That’s my view.
Absolutely. No matter what religious inclination we have, we all know we start our physical life at Point A and end it at Point B. Some folks like yourself believe in Point C, and that’s fantastic, but we all have those struggles from Point A to Point B. I think the goal is to find some kind of common ground, whether it be through music or whatever. That’s the lesson I think we should take from the last 12 to 15 months.
For sure. It’s interesting, because you do see that lesson being learned and applied by some – but yet by others, it’s almost the complete opposite.
That leads to my next question. Your Facebook page is my favorite to follow – not necessarily because I agree with every word you post; I certainly do not – but I find it refreshing that an artist like yourself – who has a fanbase that may or not follow you in some of your thoughts – still posts what’s on your mind. I find that increasingly rare with a lot of musicians, especially when everything kind of results in a finger being pointed. Why is it important for you to continue to take that position and use social media in the nature you have?
My thinking is that maybe it’ll help somebody. It’s not about Michael Sweet; it’s about much more than that. I’m guilty of this too, but some artists’ pages are always about promotion. I do a lot of that myself, but at the same time, I want to make it about helping people. I want to make it about inspiring and encouraging people. That’s the most important part to me – and also on my tombstone, if it’s written that they remember that, ‘Well, I didn’t always agree with this guy, but he was the real deal. He wasn’t this way in public and then that way in private.’
I’ve met so many people who are one way in public and another way in private. I want to say to them, ‘Why don’t you just be this way in public? What’s wrong with that? Why do you have to present this fake façade image?’ It’s just so weird to me. For example, you’ve got Tom [Araya] with Slayer. I respect Tom – this is no disrespect to him at all – but he’s in Slayer with pentagrams and this image and [mimics Araya’s singing style], and then he’s a church-going Catholic, you know? And that’s great, but my point is, I want to be the same Michael Sweet on stage and off stage. I feel that’s who I am. You might come into my life and spend a day with me and hear a few f-bombs come out of my mouth, and you’ll go, ‘Whoa, I wasn’t expecting that from Michael Sweet!’ But I’ve talked about that before; I’ve said, ‘Yeah, I drink. I smoke. I swear occasionally.’ I’m flesh and blood; I don’t pretend to be something that I’m not.
Frankly, I think that makes what you’re saying even more valid.
Well, it’s important to me – being real, flaws and all. Because I am real and because I lay it all out there, that also opens the door to turn people off and lose fans. I have a lot of Christian fans who follow what I do and what we do, and when they hear I’ve just smoked a cigar, they’re unfollowing me. I just think, ‘Wow. Okay.’ Those are the people who don’t get it, in my opinion. It’s all about judging, and it’s all about the small, little piece of what life should be and what the message should be instead of the entire piece. I just feel like, wow, it’s so backwards and so old. It’s such an old way of thinking, and we need to progress. I just want to be honest. I would love to go to a church and have a pastor come out and say, ‘Man, I got drunk last night. I could hardly wake up this morning. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but it happened, and I just want you all to know that these are the things that happen in my life. I’ve got issues with this or issues with that’ – just that real, from-the-heart mentality.
Well, the ability to embrace obstacles and overcome them is what I feel is perhaps most in line with God.
Yeah! What happens often is that people pretend to be something; when they fall, everyone’s blown out of the water. We all fall. Every single person. I don’t care who you are; you have some issue, some weakness, some temptation – something. We all fall, but we like to point fingers at those who do fall and not at ourselves when there’s so much in our closets hidden deep away.
On another note, you have the new Sunbomb record, and you just released a new version of Reborn. You mentioned there’s new Stryper music on the way. There’s always something in the works with you. Obviously, nobody has a crystal ball with what the world is going through right now, but if you had your wish based on what you’re up to at the moment, what can fans expect to see from you for the rest of 2021?
The Sunbomb album is out, so you’re going to hear most about that over the next few months, for sure. I turned in music that Joel Hoekstra [Whitesnake] and I co-wrote for a new album for Frontiers that has Nathan James [Inglorious] singing. It’s got Tommy Aldridge [Whitesnake/Thin Lizzy/ Ozzy/Black Oak Arkansas] on drums and Marco Mendoza [Dead Daisies/Whitesnake/Thin Lizzy/ Bill Ward Band] on bass. That’s really cool; that’s going to be a great album, man – a throwback to Whitesnake and just really cool. Then, I just finished this new inspirational album that I did. It’s really unlike anything that I’ve ever done. It’s not a Metal album; it’s not even a Hard Rock album. It’s just a really cool throwback. It’s got some ’70s flavors to it, some ’80s flavors to it – more guitar and acoustic bass, lots of organ. It’s just really laidback and cool. Every song is different; every song tells a story. I’m very, very happy and super-excited about that album. I’m going to be talking to labels over the next few weeks and expect to hear about that. Then, I’ve started getting songs from Alessandro [Del Vecchio] at Frontiers for a new project he and I are working on. It’s going to be more in the Journey/Boston/Survivor kind of vein. I’ve started writing lyrics for that. I’ll start singing that in June, and I’ll turn it in in July. After that, in November, [George Lynch and I] start on a new Sweet & Lynch album. It’s going to be a little different, with a different drummer and bass player. [Alessandro] and I are co-producing it. We had to kind of figure out a different way to do it, mainly due to finances. I like to do things a certain way, and it takes a bit of a higher budget to do that when I’m producing albums. But Frontiers wanted to figure out a way to make it happen on a little lower budget, and we were able to do that. It’s gonna be cool; I can’t wait for that. Right after that, in January, the guy come out here and we start on a new Stryper album.
EMAIL JOEL at firstname.lastname@example.org