Friday, March 6, 2009

Interview with Robert Sweet from Stryper

Charlie from Anthrax would have totally rocked this kit during the State of Euphoria years. Where are those cymbals hanging from? Heaven?


Stryper, the band, the myth...the christian bumble bees. For the better part of the 80s, Stryper successfully co-opted metal and reapropriated it into a parent-safe, christian racket...smart move. A few years back, I had the opportunity to speak with Robert Sweet, Stryper's drummer, after a show. He was playing with a band from the midwest called Planet Scream, during some time off from Stryper. This interview was originally done for a previous endeavor in metal journalism that went nowhere. For that reason, I'm posting it here in Metal Inquisition for all to enjoy.

First allow me to set the scene. I should tell you that I drove a short while to make this interview happen, which in retrospect is a bit embarrassing. I arrived, and parked my car in the muddy parking lot of a bar in a hellish little town. In attendance were roughly 100 people, pretty much all of them there to see Mr. Sweet, not the band he was playing for. I guess the same was true for me. Even the flier for the show had his name printed larger than anything else on it, including the band's name. Now that I'm reading this interview for the first time in years, I can think of a million questions I could and should have asked him. Leading up to the interview, some of my friends came up with questions I should ask him. Most of the questions, as you can imagine, were pretty provocative or downright nasty...and thus insanely funny. But I chickened out in the last minute. I remember looking down at my little notebook, and seeing these awful questions. I couldn't do it. It would have been tough to get any such questions answered, since Robert had a large band manager hanging behind him who would have surely put me in my place. Some questions would have been enough to make the large man pound me into the ground. Getting your face re–arranged is embarrassing enough, having it done by Stryper or a Stryper staffer can be downright demeaning. Can you imagine you show up to work with a busted nose, and you have to tell people that you basically got your ass beat by Stryper? Not cool. So, I opted for subtle sarcasm instead, which I hope some of you enjoy. In some questions I'm trying to be funny without him noticing (like the questiong about the pole and the vaseline.)

I recently went back and heard the tape of this interview, and I was surprised to hear evidence of slight fear and hesitation in my voice, especially when asking him some of the more embarrassing questions. Hope it was worth it. Enjoy the interview.


Ooofah! I guess the mismatching hair and goatee are part of the yellow and black color scheme?


I’ve heard great stories about you on tour, one being that your 60 inch gong fell on your head while you were playing, knocking you down on the floor. But the story I really love about you is one that has to do with a long pole, some Vaseline and the guys from Great White. Is that stuff true?
Well, that makes it sound bad. I can explain.

Well, yes. Please do. Explain away, because it sounds nuts.
It was White Lion, not Great White.


But still, would that make it any different? The things involved in the story alone are a bit out there.
Well, so White Lion opened for us on the “In God We Trust” tour. What they did, is they put Vaseline on the pole that I used to climb up to my drum set. It wasn't a random pole. Anyway, I slipped and almost busted my kneecaps because of the vaseline. It was terrible.

Ahh, I see. That's less fun than what I imagined.
Well, come on. See, there’s tons of stories, here’s one that's real also. We were playing Radio City in New York in the “In God We Trust” tour, we had all this pyro and someone had mistakenly pushed all this pyro underneath my drum riser which was made of grating that my seat was bolted to. When the bomb went off it came up through the riser and hit me right in the face. It was a powerful, black powder concussion. I was black; I couldn’t see or breathe. It was the end of “Soldiers Under Command”, the guys were strumming away, and I had to run off the stage, run to the end of the stage where there was fresh air to breathe take in a big gulp run back up the riser while the guys are still strumming and finish the song holding my breath. I was completely black, my hair was black, and my face was black. I was no longer black and yellow stripes; I was just completely black. There’s tons of those stories, I should be dead.

One of Robert's early sketches for Stryper's on-stage outfits.

Oh man, that sounds terrible. Not the explosion, but the part about getting your hair all messed up! You guys were very put together as a band.
Well, it was bad. By the way bro, I hope our set was okay tonight. I couldn’t hear what was going on up there.

Oh, it was fantastic. True Heavy Metal! [Total lie on my part. I didn't hear a note they played. I showed up late and missed the show]
Was it?

It was!
Thank you.

So, what was the first album you owned as a kid?
Was it christian music?
It was definitely Grand Funk Railroad actually, around 1970. I was 10 years old and I wore that record out. Then I bought the Kiss “Alive” record. After that, the next big influence was Van Halen. I didn’t want to copy, and wanted to be myself. I started to turn my drums sideways I was trying to have a different set up. Most people would ask me I was a lead singer when they met me, so I thought “This is what I want, this is good.” I didn’t like the image of drummers, most of the time the drummer was hidden behind the drum set wearing a pair of shorts, you didn’t even notice him. If the band had put a drum machine there it wouldn’t have mattered. So I said to myself that I wanted to change that. I wanted people to see what drummers really do, and see how hard they work, to see how hard they try and how painful it all is.

Oh it's painful, especially if the band you're touring with puts Vaseline on your pole!
Yeah, that was a tough day. I love those guys though.



During the 80’s, Stryper was an extremely popular band. There was even a comic book made about your life named “Soldier of God”. Was it hard for you to stick to your principles as a Christian having all these temptations around you like drugs, alcohol, groupies and unecesseraly large drum sets­?
No, in my opinion women are beautiful, they’re a gift from God. For me a “wife” is simply “life” with a “W”.

Hmm. Well, yes. If you replace the "L" in "life", it spells "wife". That's true.
Right. To me, Christianity is a focus on Christ; it’s not necessarily a list of wrongs or rights, even though there is wrong or right. If you think too much of do’s and dont’s you get your eyes of the main focus. So, was it hard? No, the bigger the band became the easier it got. It’s what I wanted to do, if I weren’t a Christian I would have still played rock and roll music. You know, it was like taking two hammers and hitting some tin five thousand times an hour while having fun. The bigger the band became, the greater the opportunity became to voice our message of Jesus.

Where did the yellow and black striped scheme you used in all your records, the logo and your outfits come from? Were you guys into bumble bees or something?
Ha, ha. No. I came up with that, I just thought it was a great look and you couldn’t miss it. If you couldn’t remember the name of our band you would remember that we were the guys in yellow and black stripes. I thought it was pretty rock and roll lookin’. It was flash, it was in your face and I loved it. I still love it.

The bands color scheme changed at some point to blue and black. Big change. Why?
That was a major, major mistake. I wish it would have never happened. I love that record “Against The Law”, but the image that went along with it was a mistake. If I could go back in a time machine, Stryper’s image would not have changed, because I think it was an awesome image. Even though the image changed back then, the vibe was always really the same.

Are you familiar with a band called Nocturnus? They talk about time travel a good bit.
No, I'm not familiar.



They're really great. In the 80s, you were known for having very large drum sets, which were rather inventive. What was your favorite or biggest set from that time?
The biggest drum set I ever had was 105 pieces. I had 8 bass drums, and a 5000-watt monitor, so I’m lucky I can still hear. My drum set was a city, it was too hard and time consuming to take apart, so it was picked up by a forklift and put into a large semi truck. It had 70 microphones, and over 30 cymbals. It was incredible, I loved it. There was a set in front of me and one behind me. I would play the chorus on one and then spin and play the verse on the other side. It was fun.


But with only two feet, how did you use 8 bass drums?
I spun in a circle and played them with my feet.

So you are a drummer, and a gymnast at the same time?
I don’t want to say that I’m Mr. Great, but I do try with my heart of hearts. I’ll give it the best I have, so I really try.

How many horrible fashion styles came together to make this outfit happen? Jesus. Nice J-Lo glasses. Is he starring in a remake of Charlie's Angels for the Trinity Network?


Would you and
Dave Lombardo, or Fenriz from Darkthrone, do a double­–bass battle like the Buddy Rich and Gene Kruppa drum battles? You could call it “The Battle Between Good and Evil”? It could be a pay-per-view special. What do you think?
I think Dave's an incredible drummer, I really do. I told him that one time. I went into his dressing room at the Ritz in New York and I just said “I think you’re an incredible drummer”. I think he’s a better drummer than I am, but I don’t think good drumming is all what you do, I think it’s how you do it. And I look at myself as a simple drummer, what’s more important than your ability is the vibe that you give off. Like its not what you say, but how you say it. That’s how I look at drumming, because there’s always gonna be somebody who’s better. Could I do that with Dave? Sure. I think it could be fun, I think he’s an incredible player.


In your concerts, you always threw out Bibles, which I always thought was a very interesting concept. Where did the Bibles come from? Did the band have a Bible sponsor of sorts? Did the label or did the band buy all of them?
We bought them. The band paid for the whole thing. We felt it was a good thing to do. So we did it. It felt good to do that for the kids. But listen, thank you bro. Thanks a lot, but I really have to go.

OK, thank you.
Thanks.

48 comments:

  1. Robert Sweet is my uncle. Honest to God.

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  2. I'm pretty sure he's Nicleback's Dad judging by the dark/light follicle color scheme too. It never was and never will be cool to dig Stryper.

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  3. I like how you not only get to mention the Nocturnus time machine and Fenriz. Brilliant interview, but I'd really like to read the questions you were asked to ask by your friends. Have you still got the notebook?

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  4. Sorry, just re read that, it should read 'but also Fenriz.'

    My bad.

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  5. He really played into your hands with the nocturnus reference, i can just imagine him thumbing the lyrics to the key and leaving yellow stripes down his pants.

    Question, whats stryper got against the colour blue?

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  6. i don't have the questions anymore. sorry. i think the sarge wrote some of them back then. he emailed me a few. i know i wanted to ask him if he saw a conflict between being a christian and basically dressing up like a woman.since i play drums, i was fascinated by the fact that he had this huge kit but basically played the simplest beats in 4/4 time. for that reason i wanted to ask him if he felt it was a sin to have so many drums, and yet do so little with them.

    on a closing note, i'd like to say that i'm currently in south america, and i'm able to get online easily because everyone here leaves their wireless networks without a password. fantastic!

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  7. I was always intrigued, back in the day, about tales of guys at Stryper concerts setting the tossed bilbles on fire and hurling them back at the stage.
    Did that really happen?
    I badly wanted to believe it the time. That, my friends, is metal.

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  8. This is A-grade shit, Lucho. Nothing funnier than taking the piss without people picking up on it, even though the sarcasm here is as subtle as a sledgehammer. Which makes the guy a total numbnut.

    Oh man, that sounds terrible. Not the explosion, but the part about getting your hair all messed up!

    For me a “wife” is simply “life” with a “W”.

    Hmm. Well, yes. If you replace the "L" in "life", it spells "wife". That's true.

    The bands color scheme changed at some point to blue and black. Big change.



    A+!

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  9. as soon as i saw him mention time travel, i knew there had to be a nocturnus coming right afterward. thanks for delivering, lucho!!

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  10. The other questions would have also been brilliant, it's still a killer post! I always hated Stryper, even as an impressionable youth. If you take the letters from the word STRYPER and rearrange them, it always spells LAME DOUCHE BAGS.

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  11. alex, when i get back home i'm going to look to see if i have them. i know i have an envelope with lots of interview questions from over the years. perhaps its in there? i'll look.

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  12. Alex, don't you prefer this kind of taking the piss, where the dude's oblivious to the fact the entire interview? That's comedy gold mastery. I'm sure the other questions were funny as hell, but the interview would be over before it began.

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  13. i have to say i was partially inspired by Stuttering John from the Howard Stern show..but notice (for you familiar with the show) that his interviews lasted about six seconds. my favorite one was when he asked James Brown "James, has your scrotum ever ripped in half when you do all those splits on stage?", James Brown looked at him in insane disgust. I still think that french guy who asked david vincent if he liked pie, or the goo goo dolls, of if there's alligators near his house. this guy is a genius. go watch the video now

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMOgLKYHFm4

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  14. Just to underline the possible metal-culture significance of the "burning bible hurling" rumors...this could be the direct ancestor of the stave church burning craze!
    Confirmation, anyone?

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  15. http://www.nardwuar.com/

    Check out the archived interviews, some classics in there!

    Who asked ya!

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  16. This is absolutely hilarious. Well done. Nevermind Lombardo, let's see this guy and Mike Browning have a drum-off, haha!

    Also, I'm pretty sure any Soldiers Under Command will get slaughtered when the Droid Sector comes.

    ENTER THE DROIDS!

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  17. Nice work Lucho. When I worked in college radio I interviewed a Christian rock band who proceeded to witness to us with mouth foaming enthusiasm. That was one of the single most frightening experiences of my then young life, and I was raised by Irish Roman Catholics.

    What I would like to have asked Mr. Sweet is whether Stryper ever thought about spreading the good word by leaving cassettes of The Yellow and Black Attack in hotel room drawers.

    As for White Lion, a quick mosey over to Mike Tramp’s website will provide instant reassurance that Robb Flynn disease is alive and well and currently living in Australia.

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  18. Asa...you put me to shame. How did I not think about the soldiers vs. the droids? I hereby surrender my post on this blog. I suck balls. How did I not see that one?

    Does anyone write fiction out there? I would gladly post a submitted short story depicting the battle between the droids and the soldiers. damn it!

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  19. That David Vincent interviews ACE!

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  20. Lucho, i want to call bullshit so badly here...no way you asked him about Nocturnus. if you really did, well....that is hilarious.

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  21. Funny interview, but i'm actually finding it kinda hard to hate the guy. I mean, they may have been a goofy christian band with a stupid schtick, but shit the dude appears to be pretty legit at least. he seems like he's genuinely into the music and stuff for the right reasons, and he was cool about answering all the questions.

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  22. i agree, the guys is not a horrible dude at all. he was nice to me, which made it harder for me to ask him bad stuff, only because he's christian. he struck me as a rather clueless, aging california dude...that's about it. there's far worse things in life. seeing him there in that horrible setting, i just saw him as a working musician who didn't really deserve getting crapped on.

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  23. Holy shit, when I saw the Stryper title I expected something to do with his brother's wife who passed away like yesterday or something...glad you guys didn't poke fun at that!

    Anyways, I actually like Stryper, it helps me balance out all the death metal that I listen to...in a weird way...

    (by the way, killer blog, just discovered it a few days ago, read almost all of the archives too, that was a fun week!)

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  24. john, glad you like the blog. i hope we have enough ammunition to keep going for a good while longer. i see it this way, everyday a new horrible death metal album is made somewhere on earth...so with that alone we should have years of poking fun ahead of us. hooray!

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  25. I feel sorry for him, in a certain way...can't you do something similar with someone more aggressive, like Anselmo, Benton, Nugent or Rollins?

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  26. Chris, yeah Ilove it when th piss is being ripped and the interviewee doesn´t know, I was justinterested in seeing what Lucho's friends came up with. Yeah I agree the interview would last all of three seconds with piss taking question. I was curious is all.

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  27. Full disclosure: I took a good friend to see Stryper around '05 as a birthday goof wearing a T that read "Smoke Crack and Worship Satan."

    When we got to the *sold-out* show, we noticed two distinct kinds of fans: chubby 35-yr-old Long Island woman... and a bunch of young, squatter-punk/metal types wearing ironic Satan-themed T-shirts.

    Stryper? They f'n owned... and my friend Bram is immortalized on some crappy Vh1 countdown show with the Bible he caught that night.

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  28. that's an amazing birthday gift, the gift of stryper. the gift that keep on giving.

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  29. lucho, remember when we intervied Mike Pornoy with G. a few years back?? that was pretty funny, i forgot all about it. he was a nice enough guy but man i didn't give a fucking fuck about anything he had to say haha.

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  30. "i agree, the guys is not a horrible dude at all. he was nice to me, which made it harder for me to ask him bad stuff, only because he's christian. he struck me as a rather clueless, aging california dude...that's about it. there's far worse things in life. seeing him there in that horrible setting, i just saw him as a working musician who didn't really deserve getting crapped on."

    Well, I think that this sums it up right here.

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  31. Say what you will, Soldiers Under Command has some raging riffs on it!
    Surrender, Reach Out and of course the title track are all A+++ heavy melodic rock tunes that border on metal.
    I totally missed this interview the first time around!
    A+++

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  32. I'm from So. Cal and knew Robert Sweet before Stryper was formed in the days of Roxx Regime.

    Interesting way to treat a skilled drummer who gave you the time and respect to politely answer your questions and try to supply you with responses.
    By the way, Robert's been giving interviews for 26 years and has fielded far more sarcastic questions than yours. He's not clueless - he knew what you were driving at with the vaseline comments. He simply sidestepped the questions in his typically classy manner and tried to move the conversation along.
    I believe legitimate music interviews are done with the purpose of discussing and critiquing MUSIC - not to make fun of the guest. I've read more professional interviews written by seventh grade school newsletter editors.

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  33. the last comment say's it all in mature nature.it's interesting to see how people change and become so self seeking and get a rise out of bashing good character yes the interview was intersting but robert did everything in good taste. look at it this way he's still bashing away instead of working at home depot. he loves music. he found his purpose in life we need to find our own. oh just a reminder those guys had church people protest their concerts but they rocked out for those who attended no matter what. to the interviewer you found your nitch you might go somewhere. keep it up just smooth out the rough edges.

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  34. Saw Stryper last month for the first time. Robert is amazing on the drums, not sure why you would label him "simple."

    And since Robert has never heard of Nocturnus, like most of the planet, how does dropping their name make for good fun? Why would anyone expect a Christian rock musician to be familiar with death metal?

    Your attempts at comedy aside, I enjoyed the interview. Thanks for posting.

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  35. This interviewer is a fudge packer... what a waste of time reading your questions. Your jealousy and envy shows with your lack of professionalism. At least this guy was in a band that sold millions of records. What have you've done to be so smug?

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  36. I can see the humor in it, such as it is; lowbrow, teenager-pretending-to-be-clever humor on the level of prank phone calls, but I suppose it has an audience.

    What I find obnoxious is the attitude in retrospect, attempting to portray this guy as an idiot for not "picking up" on this brilliant sarcasm. How about appreciating the fact that the drummer showed you respect with his time, consistency between his conversation and what he claims to believe, and professional courtesy even when it may have been obvious he was being "punked"?

    I find it similar to screwing with the counter person at McDonald's who has a professional obligation to stay nice, and then bragging to your friends in the parking lot about how you "owned" him.

    No. He just tolerated you.  

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  37. I don't find this interview funny at all and I believe Robert Sweet is a very good and talented drummer that deserves a lot more respect because of the kind of person he is. Stryper has given us a far better message than 99.9999% of the bands we've all listened to over the years.

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  38. The interviewer is a shallow, JR. High minded punk. He should take down this lame site.

    Robert Sweet has had more success on some Tuesdays than the interviewer has had is whole life.

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  39. The real funny thing is that Robert knew you were trying to make fun of him and was very Cristian about the whole thing... but, of course, you have no clue or idea of what being a Cristian really is about, do you? Yes, Stryper has made (and still make) mistakes, like covering Ozzy songs, only because they're humans.

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  40. stupid interview, like others have said. funny how you think he's so beneath you, yet you have to stand on his shoulders to convince the world how awesome you are. by the way, stryper is KICKING ASS the last several years on youtube. find me another 80s group this in-shape and playing this clean:


    1985 live in japan
    1989 burning flame (IGWT), live
    2006 greatest hits, live in puerto rico
    2006 seaside festival, live in norway
    2010 25th anniversary tour, live in tivoli
    2011 uncovered, live in the netherlands
    2012 live in norway

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  41. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  42. Well, it's 2013. I just went to see Stryper a couple of weeks ago while I was vacationing in New York. They absolutely sounded better than ever. Michael was "in the pocket". He can still hit all of the notes which is a lot more than most bands from the era can do. They are a great band, they have great music, and they still are sounding and performing great! They definitely deserve some respect. Digitaldreamdoor.com has them #17 in top 100 hair/glam bands of all time. They have their place in history and I am not afraid to say that I like Stryper.

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  43. Lame interview. Robert was surely better than you.

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  44. After reading your interview and your comments on how you so cleverly outwitted Robert with your double-speak, I have to ask you... Dude, what are you, twelve years old? I am embarrassed for you! Dude, put away your bubble gum, turn off the cartoons and get to bed, because it is SURELY past your bed time!

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  45. Awesome post and great interview you have shared .
    Remove White Background

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  46. I just saw Stryper play two nights ago. They played with Skid Row and blew totally upstaged them. It's so funny how you thought you were making fun of Robert. He didn't care. He was classy about it. And then he ended the interview...lol

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  47. When intelligent commenters come in and show respect the interview and his fourth graders conveniently disappear. How is that vomit garbage Suckturnis working for you they're just so Sweet

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