Focus: Stryper and Michael Sweet Songs: "Sorry," "Yahweh," "No More Hell to Pay," "Murder By Pride," "Better Part of Me"
Michael Sweet is the lead singer and founder of the multi-platinum selling, Christian rock band Stryper. Their 1985 album, Soldiers Under Command was certified gold, the 1986 mega album To Hell With The Devil was certified double platinum with long-lasting influence, and the 1988 album In God We Trust was certified gold.
Stryper has also released four compilation albums and four live albums (They recently released their 13th studio album, Even The Devil Believes). On his own, Michael Sweet has released 10 albums. So, to say that the band, as well as Michael, has had a paramount influence on the Christian rock and metal scene would be an accurate statement.
I recently spoke with Michael about songwriting, faith, and music. He's a devout follower of Jesus. Similar to my previous edition of Built On the Rock with Steve Cobucci from Wolves At The Gate, the bands are both very open and honest about their faith. Because of their musical and lyrical excellence, Christians and non-Christians alike enjoy their music. I hope this interview encourages and challenges you in your life.
Thanks for taking the time to talk about music. With this series, my vision is to focus our priorities on the songs from a band, rather than argue about labels.
Well, that's the most important part. Are the songs moving people? Are they are touching people? Are they changing people, musically and lyrically? That's what it's all about, people get too caught up in labels.
I agree. You've been the primary songwriter from the band from the start, right?
I have been. Sometimes, I wish I wasn't because I get a lot of flack from certain fans calling me a dictator or that I don't allow the guys to write. It's just not true. It's a matter of Stryper having developed a certain style of music, in a certain style of writing. It's frustrating when you read fan comments, based on things they don't know.
I enjoy writing. God's gifted me with the ability to do it. And, I can do it fairly quickly and fairly well. I developed my songwriting skills over the years and worked really hard at it. I always have a song in my head (I'm always whistling or humming). A song is a part of who I am just as much as breathing, eating, walking, or sleeping.
What advice would you give to songwriters today?
I'd say write from your heart and soul. Follow your heart and your emotions. Write from experience. Don't try to have a structure or follow a format based on a band you like or what a label tells you to do. It's art.
Get creative and be original. Do unique things, experiment, try different things. If what is popular on the radio is three-and-a-half minute songs, then don't always write three-and-a-half minute songs. Break the mold. Try to write a seven-minute song. If it's from the heart and something you really poured yourself into, then it's going to be awesome. Amazing. Who knows, it could wind up being a fan favorite. That's what happened to us. We wrote a song called "Yahweh," with Clint Lowery of Sevendust. It's one of our longest songs and it's one of our fan favorites.
1. "Sorry" from God Damn Evil (2018)
"We all, to some degree, end up saying sorry to someone. But, "Sorry" is written for people who keep saying "I'm sorry." People who keep repeating the same mistake over and over again. For example, hitting someone, maybe your spouse, repeated over and over, week after week. At some point, the word sorry loses its meaning, because there's nothing behind it, no action, nothing that changes. It just means nothing unless you do something about it. It's not about Christ necessarily, but it's absolutely about the message of Christ. We can all learn from it. And it's a lot of how I've been writing lately.
Stryper's latest single, "Make Love Great Again," is not a Christian lyric per se, yet it is because God is the greatest love of all—even unconditional. I think we need to apply more love in our daily lives. If we can somehow help add a little more of that message to people's lives, then we've done our part."
The struggle to maintain healthy relationships is relatable regardless of religious beliefs. Whether it be a good friend or a family member, no one has a perfect relationship. Most likely, you're aware of what upsets the other in the relationship.
Michael briefly talked about "Make Love Great Again," a song that offers a perfect solution. When we make love the priority, we care more about other people than ourselves. We're willing to make sacrifices and take steps to avoid causing problems. I challenge us to look at the friendships and relationships around us and examine ourselves. Are we at fault somewhere? How can we make amends? We should not have to be saying "I'm Sorry" as often.
2. "Yahweh" from Fallen (2015)
"Often, people think that I like to do everything on my own. It's quite the opposite. I love collaborating if it's with the right person. But, there's something to be said about working alone: closing the door, turning down the light, and getting lost in the world of the song. I like to work with outside writers, good writers that are very creative and talented. Clint Lowery's one songwriter that I really respect. I reached out to Clint, and he sent me an idea that he had the rhythm for the song. I really was drawn to that. And I took that idea, and basically wrote 'Yahweh.' But, without that co-writing experience, 'Yahweh' would never have been born. So, it was really cool how that worked out.
'Yahweh' is very unique and different for Stryper. It's not a song that you would typically expect Stryper to write and or produce. It's is not only a fan favorite, but one of my favorite songs, too. I put it in my top three Stryper songs. I love how it's almost like three songs in one. The three completely different tempo changes and chord structure changes. It has a lot of different flavors. A lot of work and thought went into it."
This song reminds me of Wolves At The Gate's "The Father's Bargain." It's similar in narrative and musical structure. Both elements are open about the most important part of the Bible: Jesus. Both elements focus on the sacrifice He made on the cross for us, when He later rose from the dead from.
"Yahweh" is powerful and moving. It's a great witnessing tool. It shares the Gospel in an awesome way. Think of someone who needs to hear the message of Jesus, and consider sending them "Yahweh" as a conversation starter.
3. "No More Hell to Pay" from No More Hell to Pay (2013)
"I think every day is a challenge and God is the ultimate challenger. You read the Word of God and it really makes you say 'Oh my gosh, I want to change, I want to be better.' There's no better example of that than Christ and all the answers are in the Bible. If we just read His Word and learn from it, we will live happier, things will be a little easier to figure out. Our lyrics are based on that. We're trying to encourage and inspire people to open the Word of God.
That's why we throw out bibles. We don't throw them out as a gimmick. We started throwing out bibles, hoping and praying people would actually take them home and read them. So, that's really the most important part of what can do. And, by reading the Word, they will be changed forever.
In the early days, we would just throw bibles, with no Stryper sticker on them. I remember getting the bibles left all over the floor. Then, we started putting stickers on the bibles. Since then, we haven't seen one left on the floor. Quite the opposite. It's our most in-demand item. We don't sell bibles though."
Michael is right on the money. God, through the Bible, is the ultimate challenger in our lives. The Bible is more accessible and researchable than ever before, thanks to the modern age of technology.
We have plenty of opportunities to dive into God's Word anytime, anywhere—whether it be a physical copy of a study Bible, a bible app, or a free online devotional series. If you have a hard time reading, studying, and applying the Word of God in your life, get an accountability partner. Do whatever you can to keep the Bible in your heart and mind. It will transform your life.
4. "Murder By Pride" from Murder By Pride (2009)
"We're here on earth. We're sinful by nature, and we live in a sinful world. That will never change until we go to heaven. So, until that time, it's always going to be a battle. But you know it makes the battle easier is putting on the shield and the armor by reading the Word and praying. Remembering God daily, talking to God daily. Making God your friend and putting God first in your life. God, family, and everything else—priorities go in that order. But, we all get that wrong. It's very hard to put God first in our world because God isn't here sitting in the chair and talking with us. He's here with us, but we don't see him, we can't feel him.
We get caught up in the things that we can physically touch, the things of the world. It distracts us from our relationship. I don't think there's anyone that's really figured it out perfectly. But, we need to always remind ourselves and surround ourselves with things and people that will help us stay on the straight and narrow."
How many of us can say that our pride has gotten the worst of us? Most of us can. Pride is a sinful problem we all deal with—no matter what you believe in, what gender you are, how old you are, and whatever the situation is. Michael is right—sin is a problem. And, we can't perfectly eliminate it from our lives. Sin is part of the world and body we live in. What we can do is have the perfect and holy God help us.
It's true. Focusing on our invisible God can be difficult. However, Michael offers some encouragement, as well as a challenge. Surround yourself with things and people that help keep you focused on His path. Who can help you keep the Lord in your life? What can you do to help fight off pride?
5. "Better Part Of Me" from Michael Sweet's solo album Ten (2019)
"It's important to have discipline. It's important to run. It's cliche, but it's so true that we should run from temptation. But, so often, we run to it. We set ourselves up for failure. We have to be careful about that. We need to change the way we do things. Maybe observe your surroundings and everything you're doing that leads you to sin and walk away from all that. In other words, if you're addicted to alcohol, stop going to the bar. Because you will be sitting there watching people drinking and looking at it, and eventually you'll have some. The best way to help yourself to do so is to start with reading just one scripture a day. One scripture. Open the Word, read scripture, and ask God to help you throughout the day and He will.
I always try my best to do it every day. It's such an important part of my day. In our ritualistic life and schedules, it's simple to make habit of. Take five minutes and say a quick prayer and read a scripture and then be on with your day. Whatever it is, we can always make time for all that other stuff but it seems like it's more difficult to make time for God. If we did, and if we do, our lives will change. Without question."
Choosing between right and wrong is often a difficult choice to make in the midst of pressure or consequences. As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit inside of us to help us discern what we must do. Nonetheless, everyone with a decent moral compass faces situations where choosing right over wrong might mean exposing yourself, humbling yourself, or sacrificing time, effort, or money. Michael sings, "Ever since creation/It's self determining/There is shame and there's integrity." I love Michael's focus on the Bible as our source for answers and strength. He even offers a challenge for us again. Make it a habit to read the Bible and pray for at least, just five minutes a day. Make sure this happens, and in a few weeks, I am certain you will see a difference in your life. If you are not a Christian, consider spending five minutes asking God to be your Savior. He would love to transform your life.