The Hippo


Jul 21, 2019








Stryper. Courtesy photo.


When: Sunday, Oct. 5, at 7 p.m.
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 2 Young Road, Londonderry 
Tickets: $$45-$55 at 

Metal ministry
Stryper visits NH for unplugged Tupelo set

By Michael Witthaus

Michael Sweet of Stryper found music at an early age. In junior high school, he was sneaking into Southern California rock clubs to play rock and metal, inspired by Van Halen, Judas Priest, Aerosmith and Scorpions. It lasted until age 20. 

“I lived a lifetime in that seven-year period,” Sweet said. “We did the alcohol, drugs, sex — everything that goes with rock and roll. Then we said, we want to do this for a different purpose.”
That meant injecting born-again faith into a hedonistic music style. It’s beyond understatement to call Stryper’s brand of Christian rock an anomaly in the early 1980s. 
“There wasn’t anything heavy,” said Sweet. “We really shocked people. Dressing like bumblebees, running around screaming; people weren’t ready for that.”
The group seemed to arrive at just the right moment. It fit between an explosive L.A. street scene and a growing cadre of young rockers questioning its excesses. Sweet and other band members — his drummer brother Robert, guitarist Oz Fox and bass player Tim Gaines — started attending the youth-oriented Calvary Chapel, where they were surprised and pleased as other rockers began to fill the pews. 
“All these kids in the Hollywood club scene were finding God and joining us,” he said. 
Soon, Stryper enjoyed unprecedented success, opening for secular acts like Ratt and Bon Jovi while getting noticed by the faithful. The band’s first LP went gold, and 1986’s To Hell With The Devil was the first contemporary Christian album to sell over 2 million copies. Videos like “Free” and “Calling on You” became MTV staples. 
Things slowed down and the band split in the early 1990s. Sweet did well as a solo act; but the others failed to capture the old mojo. A decade later, the making of a greatest hits album led to a reunion tour; Stryper has soldiered on since. A new CD, Live at the Whiskey, comes out this month. It follows 2013’s No More Hell to Pay, the band’s first full-length studio album with its original lineup since 1991. 
Though Stryper’s music is rooted in faith and belief, “We’ve never been a band to come out, open up our Bibles and start preaching,” Sweet said. “But many people have said it feels like going to church [with] that sense of having a personal experience with God.”
Lyrically, songs like “Sticks and Stones,” from Stryper’s last studio album, can be enjoyed by non-Christians, said Sweet.  
“We aren’t trying to be sneaky when we write songs that can relate to all people. There’s one called ‘Honestly’ that I’m singing from the perspective of God singing to us, but someone might take it in a relationship sense. I think that’s great.”
However, Stryper’s 30-year musical journey began as and remains a mission, and that remains the biggest source of satisfaction for Sweet, the band’s principal songwriter. 
“It’s one thing to go out and rock and do these things for the love of it, but it’s a whole other thing to do it for the purpose of trying to encourage and influence and inspire people,” he said. “When I meet someone who says, ‘Hey, I was a drug addict, I was a drug dealer, and I gave it all up when I heard ‘To Hell with the Devil’ or ‘Soldier Under Command’ and I’m now minister of a 10,000-member church’ — that’s the stuff, to me, that matters.”
Few Christian bands share the long-term chart and concert success of Stryper, Sweet admits. 
“But all the gold and platinum records and million dollars in the bank doesn’t even compare … when we’re gone, all the other stuff is going to burn. When you’ve helped someone’s life, and many other lives because of that one person, that’s crazy amazing.” 
As seen in the October 2, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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