Arguably one of the most prolific songwriters/vocalists/producers in hard rock music, Michael Sweet managed to find time in between writing, recording and producing albums for his legendary Christian-metal band Stryper and for the critically-acclaimed 2015 album Only to Rise with George Lynch (Dokken, Lynch Mob, as well as an extensive Stryper tour, to put together his incendiary new solo album One Sided War.
The album, which highlights Sweet’s soaring, emotive voice, his remarkable ability to craft kick ass songs that are tuneful and powerfully melodic, will be released on Aug. 26 on Rat Pak Records. It is a tour de force that utilizes every aspect of Sweet’s remarkable talents as a writer, producer and musician, and also showcases his ability to draft superlative players to help him implement his ambitious creative vision in the studio.
Sweet’s own excellent rhythm and lead guitar playing is augmented by the breathtaking solo work of current Whitesnake axe slinger Joel Hoekstra, as well as by up-and-coming New England guitarist Ethan Brosh. Evanescence drummer Will Hunt also plays on the album as does bassist John O’Boyle. Canadian bassist Todd Kerns (Age of Electric, Slash) was enlisted to play bass in the live video shot for the lead-off single Bizarre.
“I had a pretty good idea of who I wanted to work with once I got started. I love Joel and I always wanted to work with him. He is a good friend of mine and one of the most respected guitar players in the world, from my point of view. And Ethan Brosh is a local guy and a friend of Stryper who is also an incredible player. I knew I wanted to have him on the albums too,” he said of his impressive cadre of guitar virtuosos.
“I actually reached out to Nuno Bettencourt as well and he was going to do it but he just didn’t have the time because he’s working on a new Extreme album. He was going to play on a few songs as well. Someday that’s going to happen.”
With a voice that is truly distinctive and revered within hard rock circles, it’s a challenge sometimes for the uninitiated to differentiate the music he creates for Stryper with his solo material and now his stuff with Sweet & Lynch. But Sweet himself said there is a distinctive identity for each project.
“I think if you were to put them all on the same CD player or on the same iPod, you’re going to hear differences, but you’re obviously going to hear similarities too. With George Lynch, he brings a style and flair to the table as a musician and writer that Stryper doesn’t necessarily have. George has his own unique style and you know it’s George instantly on the first note he plays,” Sweet said.
“Initially for this new solo album, I started working out all the guitar solos on my own because I really wanted to step out as a guitar player and put to rest the comments where people seem surprised to learn that I am a guitar player too? I have been hearing that my whole life. But once I started working up the solos it started sounding more and more like a Stryper album because of the guitar tone and my style of playing and my singing on it. So I wanted to be a little different and that’s when I called in Joel and Ethan. So yeah, there is always going to be those similarities but at the same time, if you put on this album, you are going to hear major differences too. There are songs on this album that don’t sound anything like Stryper, like Radio.”
With Stryper, the music created by Sweet is overtly Christian and the band has worn their faith on their sleeves as a way of differentiating their content since their heyday in the mid-1980s, building a large and loyal fan base that endures to this day. But the band has always had a large secular audience because of the ferocity of the musicianship, and how the songs are just so well-crafted heavy and memorable.
One Sided War is a secular rock album, but it is definitely infused with a spiritual dimension, something that is represented fairly starkly with a cover that shows a portion of an image of a crucified Jesus Christ.
“I think the world knows what I believe and what my faith is and the imagery of a one sided war made sense with the story of Christ. Often enough it’s a one-sided war on both sides: you have people like me talking about Christ and then people get all bent out of shape about that. And I think the song Bizarre has a real spiritual message to it. It speaks about how bizarre it is that we all have these God given abilities and talents and a way that we can go out and do incredible things because of our brains and the way we’re built and made, but at the same time we waste so much of that on absolute silliness and hatefulness and all this craziness. And I was thinking, ‘gosh, that’s bizarre.’ We could do such great things but we choose to do such crappy things. And that’s what that song is about,” Sweet explained, adding that if any song on the album could be said to be overtly Christian it would be I Am.
“There’s no doubt about that one. The song I Am is the most bold song, spiritually speaking, because that was written from God’s perspective. I Am being a Biblical name that God gives himself.”
The title track, while having a tangential reference to the sometimes one-sidedness of religious arguments, was born from a decidedly more Earth-bound issue.
“Some people might laugh and say, ‘let it go,’ but I really have let it go. But Nikki Sixx [Motley Crue, Sixx A.M.) and I had a little thing a while back and then Sebastien Bach got into it with me as well. I actually should say that Nikki Sixx had a thing a while back – I really didn’t have a thing. I made some comments and they didn’t like them and there you go. But that’s the whole point of the song One Sided War. It’s these guys who start a war, or feel the need to comment on something and then this ‘war’ ensues and eventually you realize that it’s a one-sided war because you’re not really participating in it,” Sweet said.
“Because on the other side of the fence you’re kind of sitting there scratching your head going, ‘what’s your deal? What’s your problem?’ So it’s really a one sided war and that’s pretty much where the song began and that was the idea for that lyric. And I see it online daily: I see it with many people and sometimes it’s with your family or neighbours where somebody gets really upset about something and you’re just left baffled wondering what they’re so upset about. You put down your weapons but they’re still firing bullets at you. So that’s the gist of the song.”
The song Radio is a tongue-in-cheek jab at artists who try to cross genres with the intention of capitalizing on current musical trends. In this day and age, it’s rock artists trying to cross over into the country realm because it’s perceived as the top choice for concert goers and record buyers.
“I tried it myself, so I am the target of the mockery as much as anyone. I went to Nashville to try and write with country guys. But the difference is I actually grew up in a country and western musical family. My dad co-wrote a number one song in 1976 with Fred Imus called I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You [for Jim Ed Brown and Helen Cornelius.] And I used to play on some of my dad’s country sessions. So it’s really mocking rock guys like Steven Tyler and even me who go to Nashville and try to be country guys. I am just thinking it’s kind of silly, although you can’t really decipher who is really trying to cash in and who is really legit about it,” Sweet said with a chuckle.
“I grew up in country, plain and simple and one of my favourite artists of all time is Buck Owens. But am I going to Nashville and try to become a country and western star? Never! I might like to write or co-write a country song someday and enjoy the process, but I am a rock guy. I grew up listening to Buck Owens, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline and those sorts of artists around the house. But I was a rocker at heart. I loved Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Van Halen. I always had long hair and I was more drawn to Kiss and rock bands, so that’s the path I chose and I am glad I did. So the song is about me trying to convince my band to dress country and go country if we’re ever going to have a number one single. It’s pretty funny, and the video we did is hilarious too.”
The music on One Sided War is harder and heavier than anything Sweet has done on a solo album and possible even edgier than Stryper at its intense and bombastic best. And this was deliberate, he said, wanting to make a real statement as to his authenticity as a rocker.
“It’s an album that I purposely took in a heavy direction with, which I usually don’t do in terms of solo albums. It was an opportunity to put to rest some of the criticisms by naysayers who have said over the years, ‘oh his solo stuff isn’t as heavy as Stryper and it’s not as good, blah, blah, blah.’”
For One Sided War, Sweet chose to sign a record deal with the New Hampshire-based independent rock label Rat Pak Records, primarily because of their enthusiasm for the project.
“I am really pleased to be working with Joe O’Brien who runs Rat Pak and it was because of their level of excitement and their vision. You don’t normally find that level of excitement with a record label. The last time I recall seeing that and experiencing that was with Enigma Records back with Stryper in the 1980s. It was hard to describe that level of excitement and vision – you could sense their intensity and love for the project was equally as high as the band’s. And I feel that with Rat Pak as well. Joe is a musician; he is a guitar player and he loves this kind of music. And he is a Michael Sweet fan and a Stryper fan and I am a Rat Pak fan – so it just works,” Sweet said.
“And with the state of the music industry in this day and age, relationships like that are really important today. There are bands out there that I personally know that are on labels that don’t even like them. And I am thinking, well how is that working out? It really is a relationship and a partnership. You as the artist has to have that level of excitement and the label has to have a vision and the artist has to have a vision and vice versa. You are contracted to work together, so you’re partners. And if that relationship isn’t functioning, it’s kind of weird and probably isn’t going to work out quite like it should.”
Sweet said he hopes to tour in support of One Sided War as well as working again with Lynch in the near future.
“I think Sweet & Lynch will tour next year as well. So look for some select Stryper dates next year, but definitely solo shows and Sweet & Lynch dates as well. And George and I are working on a new album to come out early next year as well as me working on a new Stryper album. The Stryper one will come out in 2017 and Sweet & Lynch will come out I the first part of 2018 and then I will probably do another solo album that will come out in 2019.”
In the interim, fans will have the chance to enjoy One Sided Story in late August. For more information on the album and Sweet’s plethora of other projects, visit him on Facebook or http://www.michaelsweet.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at email@example.com
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