|Interview With: Robert Sweet, courtesy of World Gone
Date: September 4th 2000
Where: This was an interview over the telephone.
Geographical Home: Las Vegas, USA
Discography: Stryper albums: The Yellow And Black Attack (1984), Soldiers Under Command (1995), The Yellow And Black Attack re-release (1986), To Hell With The Devil (1986), In God We Trust (1988), Against The Law (1990), Can't Stop The Rock (1991), To Hell With The Devil re-release (2000). Robert Sweet solo: Love Trash (2000).
Available Through: Stryper CD's at CD Now; Robert Sweet's Love Trash through Robert Sweet
Interview By: mpo
Many of you will have heard about the band Stryper. Some will remember the glorious days for the band when they sold millions of albums and played for thousands of people. And who still remembers their eye-catching yellow and black striped outfits? Those days are far behind us now as the members of the band -Oz Fox, Tim Gaines, Michael Sweet and Robert Sweet- each went their separate ways. Oz and Tim played in SinDizzy, Michael does his solo career. But what about that amazing drummer, also referred to as the Visual Timekeeper? Well, Robert Sweet is finally back with a solo record. High time for an interview!
I want this to be a sort of biographical interview starting with your first steps in the music business. Can you tell about the time when music became a part of your life?
Well, I think I was born with music. I was been born in a family where my mother and father were singers and songwriters. They wrote a lot of country and western music. My brother and I and my sister, we were always surrounded by musicians. But the time I was in the sixth grade -that would put my brother in the third grade because he's three years younger than I- we were in our first band together. And I still have the trophy from when we first played a talent contest. I was playing drums, standing up, and my brother was playing bass guitar. And the bass was almost as big as he was. So, going back to when we were kids, it's something we've always done. By the time I was seventeen, and Michael was fourteen, we were working together. You know, playing in schools and colleges and parties and things like that. And a few years later, around 1978/1979, we played in Hollywood. Kind of doing the Hollywood circuit. And a few years later we were signed on Enigma for Stryper. It's something we've always done. I think it came naturally. I guess, it's something we're supposed to do.
I read in the promo package that you started playing guitar quite early, at age nine or eight.
Yeah, actually before I played drums. I kind of plunked around on the guitar. So, I can't say I have a lot of experience playing guitar but it's something I've always loved and enjoyed. If I can go back in time I think I'd rather played guitar than drums. Drums is such a physical workout. You have to be an athlete and a musician both at the same time. But I always had a real love for guitar.
Before Stryper was started you had Roxx Regime and before that there were other bands like After-Math and Firestorm. What eventually led to Stryper?
(sighs) I would call it a prophetic friend of mine back in 1982, walked up to my brother and I and said: "If you take your music in all sincerity, if you do the right thing with your music, if you lift up the name of Jesus with your music, your career is just gonna sky rocket." I knew, I could feel it at the moment, it was something real. I don't know how to explain it. And shortly afterwards Michael and I decided to change a lot of the lyrics to our songs and take a little bit of a stance. Not a religious stance at all, but just kind of lift up the name of Jesus in the lyrics of Stryper. And the next thing I knew it just took off. I mean, it was truly amazing. You know, this was in the days when videos weren't just popular. We came out of a two-car garage with no single on the radio, no videos on MTV and really no press and we were selling 5000 units a day. Just from the underground talking. You know, I think from the excitement being generated out there. I would say that's what led to it. I've been a Christian since I was 16 and I've always believed in the words of Jesus. It's something that I always touches me. I'm not really a religious person. I don't get down on other people because they don't believe the way I do or feel the way I do. But I've always known there's something to these special words this guy spoke 2000 years ago. So, when I was 18 or 19 years old I was saying to myself "I wanna do something different with my life. I wanna do something different with my music. Hopefully some day I will be abled to do music that has this message in it that's just totally different than everybody's". I never wanted to be cliche. I didn't want to go out and write songs about being drunk and go out and party all day. And that's fine. That's what people do. But I wanted to be different and I guess we found a way of being different at it.
And you said there was a change, to take a stance. Were Oz and Tim also part of the band at that time?
Well, actually Stryper was formed before Tim was in the band. And I saw Tim playing at a club in Hollywood and I just felt: "That's the guy, right there!" So it took me about two weeks to hunt him down. And by the time I did he had quit the band he was playing in and he showed up at my house. And the next day, I think that would have been in late 1983, we started striping everything up. We were rehearsing five days a week and shortly after that we had our deal with Enigma Records.
In those early days you had biblestudies after the rehearsals led by Michael Guido. What was the idea behind that?
Well, that was a thing that we hadn't planned out. We didn't sit down and say "hey look, let's have biblestudies". I wish I would have had video footage from those days, but we would just open our doors. It was just a two-car garage full of Marshall stacks and the big drums set. So there really wasn't much room. We would open the doors to people who wanted to hear Stryper rehearse. And, I mean, we would get over a hundred people crammed in the garage. You couldn't sit anymore and that was really dangerous. With a hundred people, I'm sure it was breaking the fire code. And then those hundred people went outside the garage and filled it out until the front lawn. So, that was a while before we went on the road with Stryper, that almost every night there were a couple of hundred people, either in our garage or in the front yard or in the house. Actually, a couple of people who showed up started to ask "can you have a biblestudy. I'm kind of curious about what you're singing about". So, it wasn't really something that was my idea. A lot of the people showing up at the time started to asking if we could let them know about the bible. So, that's when a friend of ours named Michael Guido, who's always been a rock 'n roll chaplain and a great friend of ours, was for quite a few times there to conduct biblestudies for those who wanted to. For listeners who had questions. After we finished rehearsing it wasn't a thing that people were forced to be part of but it was for those who wanted to. And usually everybody stayed. It was really different. I haven't seen anything like this before.
I have read in an early HM Magazine interview that those biblestudies got so big that the police told you to stop.
Actually, yeah. I think it was out of concern. We had so many people. It just go to the point it wasn't very safe. It was breaking the fire code. If a fire would have broken out a lot of people maybe could have got trapped in. The place was just overfilled. The police did show up a few times. They were real nice about it. They just asked "can you guys meet on the front lawn or something". So that's what we ended up doing. We ended up taking it outside and my whole front yard would be filled up with people.
Also part of the early Stryper were the yellow and black outfits. How did that idea come about?
Actually, that was something we did before Stryper. The yellow and black has nothing to do with Christianity or anything biblically. It was just an idea that for years, since 1980, I had done. I always thought that it looked kinda cool and really catchy. It caught your attention and there was no way to miss it. And I incorporated it into Stryper. In Roxx Regime we were doing the yellow and black stripes and I said "we need to keep this idea because even as people see us and they don't remember the name of the band they will remember it was the guys with the yellow and black stripes". So, I just thought it was a cool idea.
So, it was to create a strong visual presence?
Okay. On one of the Stryper albums the band thanks Wesley Hein discovering Stryper. What led to the deal with Enigma Records?
Well, we were in the recording studio making a demo. And the guy that owned the studio suggested that we go and see Wesley Hein and Enigma Records and they had just signed Motley Crüe. And I went down and met Wes in person and all I had was a cassettetape of one song. It was Loud 'N Clear. I just said "nice to meet you. Here is the tape and all I have is one song but I hope you like it and when you feel that you do wanna sign us, please give us a call". And he called me the next day and he said "we wanna sign you". And that was only for one song. That was all he heard. That was all we had the money for (laughs). Back then it was to record that one song at that point in time. But I became real good friends with Wes Hein. We had a great time together. He eventually ended up leaving Enigma to be president of Hollywood Records. That was probably around 1989 I believe.
And the first Stryper record was The Yellow And Black Attack. There are eight songs on it. In a recent interview you told that you intended twelve songs for that album. Uh, those four songs that were not included, were they recorded?
I think two of them were. When Enigma went bankrupt there was a bunch of mastertapes that I don't know where they went. Originally it was six songs on it and two were added later to the remix. But I believe originally it was six. But that was back in the early eighties when an EP was kind of a popular thing. It was cheaper priced and it had less songs on it. But if I could do it all over again I would rather it be ten or twelve songs at least. That was at the very beginning of our career. We had a lot more songs but the record company felt it was okay to put out six. So we went ahead and went with it.
But you didn't record some more that didn't end up on the album?
I think we recorded another song or two but after that we stopped at that because our recording time was over. So, there may be a couple of songs that we've recorded but I don't know where the master tapes are.
On the stryper.com site I read about your favorite unreleased Stryper songs. And you mentioned the fast version of My Love I'll Always Show, Stranded and Marching Into Battle.
Are these songs also recorded somehow?
My Love I'll Always Show is. And that's one of the ones that I know we recorded as a demo back then. But, when I said Enigma split up, the master tapes ended up disappearing. So, I don't know where they are.
And they never showed up as bootlegs?
No. Well, maybe some of them are on bootlegs. But there's been hundreds of bootlegs of Stryper stuff, live recordings and....So it's maybe out there on bootlegs somewhere.
I'm told Stryper once played with Metallica opening for them. What do you remember of that show?
Oh, yeah, that was quite incredible. I mean, the early days of Stryper, we had a lot of real close shows with a lot of people. But this was 1982. I think it was on Long Beach, California. It was in a small building and I think seven people showed up. And of course, Cliff was playing bass. That was before he got killed. They had the other guitar player with them. I'm trying to remember his name. The other singer and guitar player.
You mean the one who is now in Megadeth?
Yes, yeah the guy from Megadeth was with them (Dave Mustaine, mpo). And I thought Metallica was great but it only ended up with seven people at the show, if you can believe that!(laughs)
Unbelievable! What kind of bands did you tour with during the Stryper days?
Well, let's see. We mainly ended up going in headlining ourselves because a lot of people were nervous to have Stryper opening for them. I'm not sure why. But I believe Guns 'N Roses opened for us one time. I know we gave the band Warrant their first big show. Great White opened for us a handful of times. There were so many bands that played with us. I can't remember them all but a lot of them would later on become really really big.
Yeah. Like Guns 'N Roses. You also played the Dynamo Open Air Festival here in Holland. Do you have any memories of that day?
I sure do. That was quite a dangerous day. I remember my brother....You know, the crowd was just wild. There were a lot of great Stryper fans and there were a lot of people who weren't Stryper fans. I remember Michael ducking a chain and a padlock. While playing one of the songs and he was trying to duck it. All he did was just bend down and he was playing guitar and I saw this chain and padlock fly over his head. And as I was watching that happen I was playing drums and moving and I happened to bend down. And I ducked the jar of mayonaisse. And the char broke on the wall behind me. And if one of those things would have hit either Michael or I we would probably both be dead. Because they were coming that fast at us. So it was a pretty wild day. I remember the crowd just fighting. For a minute I thought the entire audience was coming up on stage. I mean, it was wonderful in one respect, but it was a little scary on the other end 'cause the crowd was probably the most insane audience I've ever seen in my life.
Yeah, I can imagine. Back in those days there was also a lot of attention paid to Stryper by the press. I even read that you were in Playboy.
I believe in the early days there was a small mention of us in Playboy. You know, when we first came out, Stryper was so different than what was happening at the time that a lot of people in the press talked about Stryper. And I believe we did end up in Playboy, yeah.
So, it was something that was quite interesting and new to them.
You know, there was a lot of people who didn't like Stryper but I got a hand to the press on this one. I think the press was pretty kind to Stryper. I really do. Everybody gets bad reviews every now and then. But I got to say, we didn't get a lot of bad reviews. We weren't always the band that was the most popular. And a lot of time people loved to hate Stryper but as a whole, I have to say the press was pretty good to us.
That's surprising! Because of the lyrics.
I think so because it seems like a lot of people who are Christians the press usually isn't too kind to. But from my viewpoint I saw the press as kind of being nice to Stryper. So, I don't know. Maybe they sensed there was some genuineness to us.
But regardless of the successes, Stryper came to an end. What are the reasons behind the demise and the breaking up?
Well, part of the reason was that Enigma had gone bankrupt in 1990. We were out on tour. We were just two months in the Against The Law tour and we got a phonecall that we didn't have a recordcompany any longer. And it just completely fell apart. I don't think most people have experienced being on a recordlabel that goes bankrupt. It just destroys you. Suddenly you don't have any more records to sell, you don't have any financial backing, you don't have any of that in place. So, for years we had worked with this company that all of a sudden didn't exist any longer. Our tour got cancelled. The Against The Law record stopped being pushed. It took us about a year, I believe, to finally get signed over to Hollywood Records. But at that point my brother, I feel, was probably so discouraged by everything that happened. He was really thinking about doing a solo career. So, in February of 1992 my brother made the decision to leave Stryper to pursue a solo career.
And were there other reasons behind the breaking up?
Uh, well, besides the recordcompany and besides Michael deciding doing a solo career, I mean, those are the two that I see as preeminent. I don't know of any absolute, very specific reasons beyond that. We as a band went through all the everyday problems that I guess any band would go through. I think if Enigma Records would have stayed together and if my brother would have decided to stay in Stryper and still do his solo records, Stryper would probably still stay together.
In different interviews I have seen quite a lot of reasons mentioned by bandmembers. I remember Michael saying that towards the end the band got kind of a rebellious attitude. Almost like putting God on the shelf. While Oz had problems with his marriage. Did those reasons also contribute to the breaking up?
Well, you've got to remember, when each guy in the band says something like that, I think he's talking about himself. I know for me, I don't feel I was rebellious towards God. I've never felt that way. I think Oz was having problems but he was having problems while Stryper was still together. But I just say there are ordinary problems that any band goes through. That any Christian band would go through. That any Christian marriage would go through. They weren't......I think that when the guys say things like that it leads to this idea that this big horrible conspiracy was going on. And all these hidden, behind the doors things were happening. Really, in this interview I'm speaking for myself. For me, my heart was then and still is, for what Stryper started out as. My heart's always been for God. But saying that, bands still go through problems. All you got to do isto turn on the TV and see all the things that people go through. We can all watch the entertainment channel, each channel.....Everybody basically goes through the same things. For success there comes a lot of stress. And there's a price that you pay. And that doesn't have anything to do with being Christian. Success puts you in a different point in life and there's new things that you have to deal with. It is a wonderful thing. It's a blessing, but it can be a stress too. Maybe part of that led to Stryper falling apart. But, I still believe that regardless of the problems, if Enigma never had broken up, a huge stress wouldn't have been on us to begin with. Because that completely changed our lives. That completely turned everything upside down for us. So, if Enigma would have stayed together and if Mike decided to stay in the band and make solo records while in the band, I think we would have stayed together. There still may have been those other problems that the guys have been talking about, but do you believe they wouldn't have been solved?
Well, that's hard to say....
I don't think it's hard to say because I believe that it definitely would have been solved. I mean, the band had problems when we started. Every band has problems when you begin. Every band has problems when you end. I mean, there's never a time of perfection because we don't live in perfect world. It was what we did. But Stryper had problems when we started. It wasn't only at the end. I think this picture is painted of a perfect band in the beginning turning out to this unperfect band at the end. And that's not how it was. There were problems at the beginning, there were problems at the end, but it's just like a marriage. In most marriages there are problems and you work them out. There are problems in friendship and you just work that out.
Okay, I understand your point. Another question now. The back-catalogue of Stryper is now in hands of Hollywood Records. However, your brother Michael seems to hold the legacy of the band. He re-released To Hell With The Devil and he's working on a DVD. What do you think of that as your brother was the first one to leave Stryper?
Well, I got it handed to him and I think he's done a great job of it. I know that that should be out there and it seems Hollywood Records is willing to work with Michael to release this stuff. So, I guess it's a good thing as long as people wanna see it. And I know people do wanna see it. I would hope that that would mean there's still a desire in Michael to see something happening with Stryper. He was the one to leave the band but somebody's got to do it. It needs to be out there and for years it wasn't. I'm glad to see it out there.
And you hope that perhaps Michael will think about Stryper.....?
Well, I think he does. I'm pretty sure that he does and I think he is right now. It was a very important part of his life. It was the time in his life when he had the greatest success. It was the time of his life when he met his wife. You know, it was the time in his life when he could travel the world and make music that people loved everywhere. You know, it was when the greatest videos he was in were on TV. It was the peak of all of our lives. I'm sure he has to think about it and I know I do. And I'm sure Oz and Tim do. And I've let the guys know of my position and my passion for seeing the band happening again. So, I think he is and it's my hope to soon see the band back together and to be out doing those shows that we used to do.
And due to the breaking up of Stryper you had to step down in music. You had to look from the side-line instead of playing the game. Did that change your attitude towards music. Do you look differently upon being a musician?
You know, from my standpoint, it didn't change my attitude towards music because I was in the music before it equaled fame. Michael and I were playing before there ever was fame. But what most people don't realize is when you have a great amount of success and you go through these tragedies, it's just hard. And sometimes you don't really know how to describe it. But it was just a very very hard time for me. It didn't mean I didn't want to play music. What it meant is I wanted to play music all the more. And that's what made it really though because when all these doors shut around you and you're wanting to do what you do best and you're wanting to continue on with what you feel God wants you to do and you've got all these things on top of you, it's painful. It didn't take away my desire to do music. All of a sudden I felt like "okay, I've put eight years of my life into this, now what will I do?" I'm sure everybody goes through this feeling who's career comes to a screeching halt one day. You have to reexamine yourself and wonder where you're gonna go.
Something else now. There's an article in Guitar World now. On the internet I read the title that goes like: "Stryper Be Damned. POD, Project 86, Tourniquet And Atomic Opera Are The New Leaders Of The Christian Rock Movement". Have you heard about this article?
No, I haven't. People are free to say whatever they want. But, I have to say this: Stryper was the one who started this. There were other Christian rockbands out there before Stryper but there weren't any that went out into the real world. There weren't any other Christian bands as such on the radio or on secular TV, or on MTV, and we were the guys that....We didn't know what was going to happen but what we did was open the doors for all these other bands to be excepted. People can say whatever they want. But of course there's always gonna come new bands out. There's always new music coming out. I think a lot of bands like POD or Creed or whatever, I think they are awesome. So, I'm glad to see anybody get out there who is good at what they do. Especially when they've got a really great message, more power to them! Personally I'm behind any band like POD that would get out there and to what they're doing. You know, if Stryper was to get back together the person who wrote that article might look at it a bit different. Because I know there's a huge following out there for Stryper. And I think people might be surprised to the turn out if Stryper does come back together. And I think the turn out will be incredible.
But at the same time, such a title -Stryper Be Damned- sounds quite scornful. How do you feel about such a title?
I'm kinda surprised by it. Though I'm used to it. I've heard all the stuff before. Where was it that you this at?
Guitar World. Wow....Well, there's always people who like to use the Stryper name in one form or another to try to put us down. But that probably means it's coming back. A person who would write something like that is probably not wanting to see Stryper back together. They just probably know that it's on its way. But I guarantee you, I'll find out who wrote the article and if Stryper gets back together then I'll contact him and I'll ask him to do an interview with him and we'll see his opinion when the band does put themselves back together.
(laughing): Yeah, that's a very good idea!
Hey, I also wanted to let anybody out there know, who's reading or listening to this interview, that if they need information about what I'm doing or about Stryper getting back together, they can go to robertsweet.com. Or if anyone out there wants to order my new record Love Trash, they can contact 1-800 888 314 50 40.
I'm gonna skip some questions because the time is pressing. About Love Trash. The music on Love Trash is a few steps away from what you did in Stryper and, of course, the whole world of music developed and changed enormously. What kind of bands have influenced you over the last ten years?
Well, you know, I don't really know if anybody else has influenced me. I do know that I was a real big fan of Nirvana. So, maybe they were part of my influence. But I don't really look at other bands for influences. I try not looking at anybody. When I write music I want it to come from me, I don't want it to be another version of what somebody else does. But Love Trash is different than what Stryper would be because it's not a Stryper record. So, whatever I do or what my brother does or what Oz and Tim do, it can't be a Stryper record because it's not Stryper. But it's in the same spirit. The songs, they don't sound necessarily like Stryper but the base meaning as far as what lyrics and the intent of the songs and music are, are in the spirit of Stryper.
One of the songs on Love Trash has a lyrical content that I'm a bit puzzled about. It's called Sweet Betrayal. What is it about?
Oh, I'm talking about betrayal like a Judas with Jesus. Before Stryper fell apart I had thousands of friends. And when if fell apart I found I had probably enough friends to count on one hand. A lot of people have read that into that. A lot of times the friendship that's there before betrayal is really sweet. And it looks really nice. And that's why betrayal hurts so bad because it always looks good before it happens.
But to call it Sweet Betrayal it seems to become a little bit more personal as your last name is Sweet.
Uh, you know, I kinda felt that people might look at it that way. But I wanted to have titles that would catch people's attentions. And that's the meaning behind anything that I do. I wanna grab people's attentions. So they pay attention to what I'm saying. If you ask me if it was about my brother, it wasn't about my brother.
Okay. I have two quick questions. Love Trash is your solo thing as you played all the instruments. Are you forming a band to do the thing live?
Yes, I'm gonna be auditioning players soon.
Is your band gonna be called Robert Sweet's Freakin'?
Well, it's gonna be called Freq'en, for frequency.
And how will it be distributed? Doe you have some kind of a deal?
Right now there's a deal that's worked on to get it distributed out there.
And what do you expect from the promotion? What I experience is that World Gone Mad puts a lot into promotion. Almost like it's the promotion of a mainstream artist. So, what do you expect from it?
Well, all of that is in the negotiations. But a lot is up to the company that I'll end up going with. Just because I expect something doesn't necessarily mean that it happens. So, at this point I just want a good company that will get behind me and put it out there in front of everybody and get it out in the stores and give it a good push for radio.