Stryper's Michael Sweet: "God Formed This Band"

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Stryper, the world's coolest and heaviest '80s Christian heavy metal band of the '80s, comes to Scout Bar Monday night, touring behind last month's covers LP, The Covering. It's an appropriately shiny and heavy disc of covers from artists like Black Sabbath, Van Halen, Sweet, Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin.

Known for their "yellow and black attack" for the colors of their stage clothes, the band is easily the most iconic Christian band still going, and no doubt holds a place in the greater sphere of metal as one of the best-dressed, even if they praise the Lord and not the man downstairs.

If it wasn't for founding brothers Michael and Robert Sweet, a lot of kids who grew up in the church wouldn't have been bitten by the metal bug and would still be playing praise and worship-style music.

We talked to the band, who seemed to all be in the same SUV, earlier this week as they were driving to a photo shoot during rehearsals for this new tour. Michael Sweet was driving Rocks Off interviewed him, so we made sure not to say anything too controversial, lest we injure the whole band.

Rocks Off: Why a covers album?

Michael Sweet: We grew up on these songs and played them all live for years way back when, before we were Stryper. We still sound check with some covers for fun, and we added "On Fire" by Van Halen to our stage set in the '90s and Judas Priest's "Breaking The Law" a few years ago too.

It seemed like the perfect opportunity and the right time to make a covers album. We wanted to cut loose and let the focus be on the fun and joy of the music. No thoughts, and just went in and had a blast on songs that influenced us.

RO: Any songs get left off?

MS: Yeah, W.A.S.P.'s "Animal" (laughs). No, no. I'm kidding, and I actually heard that Blackie Lawless leaves that out off his set because he's a Christian now. There were a few songs we discussed and talked about, like "Exciter" by Priest and some alternative Van Halen songs. It wasn't a lot of thought that went into picking the songs though.

Van Halen out of all of those is probably our biggest influence. When they came on the scene, they were a big influence on all four of us. They changed music.

RO: Speaking of all the bands on The Covering, did you ever cross paths with any of them on tour or did you ever get a whiff or hint of their debauchery?

MS: Prior to Stryper we had our days, and we would be dishonest to say otherwise. We were 13 and 16, playing backyard parties and doing everything that came with it. We rededicated our lives to Christ - I did at 20 - and we devoted 100 percent of what we do to God and the rest is history, until we take our last breath.

RO: You taught a lot of people that you could have a Christ-filled message and rock...

MS: We grew up going to KISS and Van Halen shows. We didn't grow up in the church or get molded in the church like most other Christian bands. We came up in the rock scene and that is why we were a bit different in terms of delivery and approach and how we sound. We were called to go out in the world and into the bars, where other Christian bands aren't comfortable going.

RO: For a lot of Christian kids you were the first exposure to heavy metal.

MS: We were in the right place at the right time and it was all about timing with us. When we rededicated our lives to Christ, we were one of the first bands to come out like us.

Prior to us you had Petra and others, but none were as edgy or packaged quite like us. God formed this band and called us to do what we do. Because of that so many doors were open and so much history was made.

8 p.m. Monday, March 14, at Scout Bar.

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