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.
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.
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]
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.