Can't Stop The Rock?
By Brett Christensen
You'd have to live in a cave to not hear of the latest rumblings going on in the rock world. Kiss in makeup? Roth back in Van Halen? (short-lived) Those were the big wave makers, but what of other rock reunions? Cinderella, Dokken, Motley Crue, Ratt and Poison are bands that have rejoined to do what they do best. The Christian music scene has even seen reunions in the form of Neon Cross and Barren Cross. With rock being viewed as the ugly sister of the music family in the nineties, lately it's hip to be square. If you ever had a favorite band of yours break up, then you've no doubt dreamed of their return. For me and for a ton of others, that band is Stryper. More than just a band, to many they were the tool that God used to shine His light in their world. (In 1986 I heard "Calling on You," and my life has never been the same.) Could it ever happen? Will it ever happen? Who better to answer this question than the once striped ones? For the first time since their breakup, read the candid words of Robert, Michael, Tim and Oz in one interview.
Robert Sweet's views are as steady as his drum beats. Since the band's demise, his haven't changed much. "I've always wanted a reunion, simply because I never thought it should have gone away. Friendships, marriages and businesses all go through rough times. There's not a band out there that hasn't gone through it, but that doesn't mean it should just fall apart and you should just quit. So, I would be all for it, absolutely. People think we had rough times just at the end, but we had rough spots at the beginning and all the way through. But, it was a wonderful thing, and those were the best memories of my life. I saw so many people touched through our message and I saw so much great music being played. If there was ever a time in my life when I was a blessed person, it was then. Who knows if it will ever be like it once was, but there are bands like Aerosmith who came back bigger than ever. I don't look at it as strictly a music or a money thing. I never have. The magic won't be whether or not Stryper comes back together. I think the magic will be if God's hand is on it." The music scene is definitely not what it was when Stryper was together. If they were ever reunited, would it fall on deaf ears? "Last summer I toured with King James in Sweden and Norway, and did a bunch of concerts with them. There were hundreds of teenagers who were 15 through 17, who were totally into Stryper, that approached me. There is definitely a new generation of Stryper fans who seem to want this reunion as much as the fans who have always been there." Indeed, there do seem to be many bands from the eighties coming back together for reunions or tours. But is it out of demand for some good ol' rock music, or a quick buck? "I'm glad to see a lot of bands getting back together, but I don't think it's a money thing. I think the reason many of these bands are coming back together is because they're unhappy with what they're seeing out there in the marketplace. There were so many great songs and bands from the eighties, but the negativity towards the eighties today is terrible." Is that mentality due to just being tired of eighties music? "There are eighties bands out there that are still doing well, like Metallica (who opened up for Stryper at one time). I remember when Pantera had big hair. They're also from the eighties. There are some bands that just made the right choices and hung in there and didn't split up. I applaud any band that has the courage to stay together under fire." At one time, the only members of Stryper even saying the word "reunion" were Robert and Michael. Does Robert see any change with this? "When Stryper fell apart, we all went through our own personal hell. It was probably the roughest time of our lives. But now, looking at Oz and Tim, it's like seeing two new people. Their attitudes are fantastic." But is now the right time? "We're never guaranteed a tomorrow, and as Christians we should know that. Our lives could be taken from us tomorrow. So, why do we waste years when we have something we know God has given us, and then wait for some sign?" Any last thoughts? "Stryper stopped on our sixth record, the number of imperfection. For a band who put 777 on everything, we should have a seventh record. We were about achieving a goal, it wasn't just a paycheck or doing music. It's affecting the culture in which we live. Tons of bands made music, Stryper made history."
Many readers were startled to read what Tim Gaines had to say last time HM talked to him. He didn't want anything to do with Stryper. Has that changed? "At this point in time, Oz and myself are putting our efforts into Sin Dizzy, as opposed to trying to get Stryper back together. Not that we're opposed to getting back together, but we're just waiting on the right situation to happen. We don't want it to happen just for the sake of getting back together." If the band did reunite, what would it sound like? "I feel our highest point musically was Against The Law. I would love to see us continue on in that direction." So, does Sin Dizzy continue in that direction? "Sin Dizzy sounds nothing like Stryper. The sound is a cross between Stone Temple Pilots and Nirvana. Maybe a little Rush influence also. We've been together for about three years. It was originally an off-shoot of what was going to be a solo project for Oz. Oz asked me to play on some demo tapes, and we just ended up jamming Sunday afternoons in the garage. We started writing songs, and in the period of a couple of years, we wrote enough songs to make a set. We just gave the whole thing up to God, seeing where He would take it. He's really the director of everything that's going on right now. It's nothing we're trying to push. We're getting radio play on local stations, and we're building a local following." With the success that Stryper had with its "double meaning" songs (like "Honestly"), is that something Sin Dizzy will do? "Stryper always had candy-coated lyrics, where you could make of it whatever you wanted. As far as the Sin Dizzy project, the lyrics are heavy duty and to the point. It's in your face, where you know what we're talking about." Do you still have regrets about being in Stryper? "For so many years in Stryper, I wasn't comfortable with being in that situation and being a Christian. I felt like I was being tugged in different directions, trying to please different people. I was so worried about blowing it. When we did Against The Law, it was a relief on my part to give up that pressure I was under. We were under so much pressure for many years to be squeaky clean and do everything by the book. But, it seems like there's so many different books out there to live by, with the different denominations and their rules. It was just impossible to please everybody." Anything to say to the HM-heads that have supported Stryper? "I just want to thank people for the support they have given me. Even after Stryper broke up, I know there was a lot of people praying for me. It helped pull me through. From the end of 1988 'till February of this year, I was drunk every day. I had some heart problems from the stress I was under and the drinking. When I was laying on the table in the hospital, hooked up to the machine, it was like a slap in the face. God was speaking to me, giving me my final chance to get it together and do what He originally called me to do. It took a lot of time and growth over the past year to get me where I am now. He had to let me get to that point where everything just fell apart, to get me at now where I am with my faith."
Ever wonder what happened to the wild man from Stryper? I did, and I was surprised by what he told me. "It was like three years there where I had to get away from everything, and that included everyone involved in Stryper. I had to clear my mind, and get back in the game of life. Once you've been a rock and roll musician and you've made money doing it, you don't want to do anything else. You tend to strive to want to continue in that. It's a very tough business. It's very competitive and, if your head's not on straight, you definitely can get into some heavy financial burdens by not going out to find other work. It can really take a toll on your life, and it caused my marriage to almost break up. Finally, I had to give up music altogether for a while, and seek the Lord. I got into the Word, did a ton of praying, and got involved in church. It was a miracle that my marriage turned, and it all worked out. It changed myself inside on how I should be as a Christian and a husband. Now that I have a better perspective on things, God has slowly put me back into music. But doing it in a different way, with a different frame of mind." What have you been up to since Stryper? "After Stryper, I started out throwing newspapers. From there, I worked as a temporary employee, loading trucks at a warehouse. They ended up hiring me and moving me onto processing orders for the warehouse. I started to show my creative talents, and the supervisors took a liking to that. So, when the Warehouse Supervisor position came up, I got the job. I've been putting in 12 to 14 hour days." Wow! And how many children do you have? "I have three children now. Paul is nine, Leah is seven, and we have a two year-old named Tara." Tell us about Sin Dizzy. "Sin Dizzy has been together for three years now. But we can only get together on weekends, but there's even weekends that we don't play together. Everybody's got busy work schedules. Right now our families are our priorities, and we have to earn a living. It's one of those things where God's moving it where He wants to move it, and we're letting Him." Do you still play lead guitar? "I'm not into the lead solo guitar work anymore. I'm more into songwriting and singing." Many people who have been touched by Stryper have been hoping for a reunion. "It's very encouraging to hear how lives have been changed by Stryper. To be honest, Stryper wasn't what we should have been spiritually speaking. I can't speak for the other guys, only for what was in my heart. My focus wasn't on mostly being an example, it was focused on wanting to be a rock star and a success. All that kind of stuff just starts taking over. I don't believe that the band as a whole was rooted like we should have been, which is the reason why some of the stuff happened near the end of the band." Looking back, how do you feel about Against The Law? "Against The Law was the most unified album that we produced. But, in First John, it talks about, if you're a Christian living in sin, it's like you've never known the Lord. To me, there was sin happening in the band, and it shouldn't have been happening. And the reason why it was happening is because we didn't know the Lord like we should have. Again, I can't speak for the other guys. I think God was merciful, He allowed us to come to a halt. Now He's dealing with all of us, trying to show us exactly how we're supposed to be living, and I'm so thankful for that. It's a lesson learned when you realize your mistakes." So, a Stryper reunion is someday possible? "Unless all four guys from Stryper can have the same understanding of what the Lord's will is for us, it won't happen."
It seems that, whatever reunion might take place, is in the hands of this now solo performer. "I talked to Oz not too long ago about it. I always thought that both Oz and myself would be the two who would take the longest to want to do it, but he sounded into it. It's one of those things where it's got to be right. I don't want to do it for the money. If it's what God wants us to do, it will happen. But only if everyone can do it without messing up their lives and priorities." Being clear across the country from his former band members might hinder this possible reunion. How does Mike like it in Massachusetts? "I've blended in. Everyone warned me about how much I would hate the rain and the snow, but it's not a big deal. It's just a different world. It's beautiful. I like the four seasons here, and the kids love it up here." Many fan club members thought you were through with music, because they haven't heard anything in about a year. "Our computer crashed on us a while back, wiping out our entire address list for the fan club. We want to apologize for not responding back to people. We're trying to rebuild the list, so people can write in again to the PO Box." So, what have you been doing with your time? "My father-in-law owns a campground with lakes and cranberry bogs. This summer my wife ran the office, and I became 'Ranger Mike.' I would fix things, and then ride around in a jeep and ask people to put fires out. When trouble-makers came in, I'd have to escort people out. It was scary sometimes, because I didn't have anything to protect me other than God. It was kind of crazy, but it was a chance to witness to people." So, in 1988 it was "Keep The Fire Burning," and in 1996 it was "Put It Out!" "Exactly. Hey, there's a new song!" he laughs. Working in a public place like that, did people recognize you? "There were a lot of people who didn't know who I was, and then at the end of the summer figured it out. One guy even had a Stryper tape in his car, and didn't know it was me!" (more laughs) Any word on a new record deal? "I want to be real careful with who I wind up with. I don't know who it's going to be, but I know that God knows. Music is my calling, and I'll always write and play music for God." Even with the way the industry currently frowns on anything associated to the eighties? "Music always comes around. In the eighties, everyone laughed at the music from the seventies. Now disco's in again, and everyone's dressing like they did back then. It'll come full circle." A message for Stryper fans about a possible reunion? "To all the Stryper fans out there, hopefully someday there will be a reunion. Thanks for all your letters and prayers. I'm not Stryper, and I hope no one expects me to be Stryper. I'm just a guy who used to be in Stryper, who's putting out songs on my own. Thanks for being there through it all." hm
Write to Robert at: 25530 Riverbend, Suite 7H, Yorba Linda CA 92687.
Write to Tim & Oz at: Sin Dizzy, PO Box 822, Rancho Cucamonga CA 91729-0822.
Write to Mike at: PO Box 599, East Wareham MA 02538.
Brett Christensen is a freelance writer who plays with computers by day, DJ's at night, and is a total eighties boy all the time.
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