When you’ve fronted one of the most trailblazing groups of the MTV generation, written a stable of Billboard charting singles, filled arenas all the world over, said goodbye at the peak of it all, took stock in a thriving solo career, got the band back together for yet another record breaking run and even took a stint co-leading one of the most legendary classic rock acts ever, then you undoubtedly have a story to share. But there’s still much more to Michael Sweet than selling over eight million albums in Stryper or singing and guitar slinging for Boston, including an equally riveting behind the scenes story packed to the brim with triumph, heartbreak and redemption that’s finally being told with unvarnished candor through not only the musical means of the solo CD I’m Not Your Suicide, but also the immensely anticipated autobiography Honestly.
“The album is the story of the book and the book is the story of the album,” says the Grammy nominee and Dove Award winner. “It makes a powerful statement to have them both come out at the same time, especially since both have played such an important role in the full circle journey I’ve taken as of late."
Musically speaking, Sweet is coming off yet another creative high in the Stryper camp thanks to its 2013’s return to form record No More Hell To Pay. Besides making an instantaneous Top 40 debut on the Billboard 200, it landed at #2 on the Top Christian Albums charts, #3 on Top Hard Rock Albums and #6 on Top Rock Albums. It’s certainly a testament to the band’s perseverance, whetting the public’s appetite all the more for Sweet’s I’m Not Your Suicide, which may technically be the follow-up to 2007’s individual offering Touched, but is actually the singer/songwriter’s first full-length original album since 2000’s Truth.
“I think sometimes my different musical influences come out in Stryper, but to a much larger degree, they come out in my solo career,” observes Sweet. “We’ve established a certain style and sound people expect to hear and that’s what we want to play and give. Putting a steel guitar or a country vibe onto a Stryper record probably wouldn’t fit, but my solo albums give me an opportunity to do just that. My self-titled album was arena rock, Real was acoustic rock, Truth was super electric, then Touched was a vocal and symphonic piano album. I’m Not Your Suicide is more in line with Truth, but there’s really something for everyone, from the edgier side you might hear in Stryper, to the lighter side of a piano ballad.”
In other words, get ready to rock out to “Anybody Else,” which benefits from the muscular accompaniment of Whitesnake guitarist Doug Aldrich and Fozzy front man/World Wrestling Entertainment superstar Chris Jericho as it primes itself to be the latest in Sweet’s canon of classics. There’s also the Beatles-esque contagiousness of “This Time,” featuring unmistakable harmonies from Kevin Max (of dc talk and Audio Adrenaline fame), alongside a rock n’ country cover of Neil Young’s “Heart Of Gold,” which plays out as an endearing duet between Sweet and Electra Mustaine (daughter of Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine and a burgeoning country artist in her own right).
Lyrically, there’s also plenty of potency across I’m Not Your Suicide, which is anchored in the title track co-written with Blair Daly (Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sixx:A.M., Rascal Flatts). The affirming anthem chronicles Sweet’s frequent encounters with childhood bullying and even criticism later in life as Stryper was caught between the seemingly divergent worlds of mainstream heavy metal and the Christian faith.
“The title is about multiple subjects tied together, basically going out to anyone who’s been bullied or abused in any sense and serving as a rallying point for not letting someone or a group of people beat you down or take away your value,” he relates. “By being strong, looking at the big picture in the future and moving forward, you’re not their suicide. Musically and lyrically, this project is a soundtrack to rise above your circumstances.”
It’s especially fitting to find the intensely personal nature of these musical expressions supplementing the vastly thorough and revealing subject matter of the book Honestly, titled ever so poignantly after the chart-topping Stryper song of the same name. Not only does Sweet delve further into his rarely discussed youth, but offers a full array of rock n’ roll antidotes, plus several surprises from his family and faith journeys.
“The book has literally everything in it, starting from the time I was born, loving music, being a brat kid pranking my brother, my dad talking him into letting me join his band and even getting arrested multiple times as a kid,” unearths Sweet. “Fast forward to Stryper, and I get into the good and the bad, the fame and the misuse of finances. I go into why I left, why I didn’t want to come back at first, eventually reuniting and the struggles faced doing that. There’s also a portion about moving back up east during a time when I stepped out of music to work at a family business, to my wife Kyle getting sick with cancer and feeling like God wasn’t there for a two year period of her suffering and passing. Then there’s of course my time in Boston right up through meeting and marrying my wife Lisa, along with how that affected my children and our friendships. It’s really an open book and even people who’ve been following my career the whole time are going to be surprised that I’m talking about it all.”
As this double release cycle heats up, Sweet makes a point to mention he’s still most certainly in Stryper (the group is in fact poised to release a live record later this year), but is simply using these solo outlets to channel his unquenchably prolific spark. Besides all those irons in the fire, Sweet also just signed on to a yet-to-be-named supergroup co-starring George Lynch (Dokken, Lynch Mob), James LoMenzo (White Lion, Megadeth) and Brian Tichy (Whitesnake, Foreigner), who are also slated to release a record sometime in 2014.
“Looking back on my life and career, from the school aged struggles, to music industry success and its many challenges, to seasons of tremendous loss and newfound love, to a resurgence in Stryper’s career and the opportunity to say what I want to say individually, I just hope to be a witness to our faith,” sums up Sweet. “We spent the past 30 years sticking to what we’ve spoken about, and even though we’ve been far from perfect, God’s really blessed us beyond our dreams. I’m here to say this is real and there’s power in what God can do. He not only blessed us all back then, but He continues to bless the band and me personally 30 years later in incredibly new ways, which really blows my mind! I don’t care how many copies this album or book sells. I’m only thinking about the opportunity to tell my story, and in doing so, hopefully it will have a positive effect on someone out there going through at least one of the same things I’ve experienced on the unpredictable and unbelievable ride so far.