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Voice In The Wilderness: An Interview with Robert Sweet
By Zik Jackson
Almost eighteen years after brothers Robert and Michael Sweet formed Stryper and practically took the world by storm, Robert Sweet still has fond memories of the band, the fans, and the phenomenon that continues to this day. Transplanted from his birthplace and longtime home in California, this young-at-heart rocker shares his memories from his home in Summerland, Nevada, in the desert just outside Las Vegas. Being the “visual timekeeper” on the drums for nine years with Stryper has affected Sweet’s life in a profound way. Having traveled the world with one of the most successful bands in the history of Christian rock, Sweet continues to be amazed at the effect the quartet had on both Christian and mainstream audiences. “Even more popular than Stryper’s music is the impact that we had,” says Sweet, with a sense of awe. The effect lives on, through dedicated fans and their websites, and he continues to receive fan mail. “The Internet has been miraculous in a sense,” remarks Sweet, “…it’s pretty wild.”
A lifelong musician, Sweet got his first drum set at age eight. He started his first band in high school with “Mike” in the mid-1970s. Through the Baptist Church, Sweet became a Christian at age 15 in April of 1975 although he had always believed in God. “I just thought the world was too perfect to have come together on its own,” he reflects.
Reminiscing on the early days of Stryper, Sweet relates a story about praying for money to help get the band to the next level once they started catching on in California. Their brand of showmanship and skill packed out clubs wherever they played, and the underground word-of-mouth buzz about the band spread like wildfire. “We came up with a number of $100,000 for what it would take to get some equipment, an office, a truck, and the other things we really needed to take off,” says Sweet. He then prayed about the matter, and within a few days, a miracle happened. Stryper was playing a gig at a club with a budding Bon Jovi and a still-unknown Poison in 1984. Controversy was swirling around the yellow-and-black-clad rockers for their unique evangelistic techniques, namely “heavenly metal” music with a Gospel message and their practice of tossing Bibles into the crowd during shows. A woman from a local church, incensed at the t-shirts, posters, and other paraphernalia the youth were bringing in, decided to go to the show to put Stryper in their place. What happened instead was her heart and mind were changed after seeing the genuine message and sincerity in the band’s efforts. By the time she got to the band’s dressing room to bawl them out, she was in tears and instead told them, “I see what you are doing and I want to invest in it. I want to start out with $100,000.”
This was just one of many doors God opened up for Stryper on their road to worldwide fame. Another was the call from Nice Man Entertainment, who saw the opportunity with the yellow-and-black theme to create merchandise for fans. Before they knew it, Stryper had another $100,000 advance in their hands, and the yellow and black attack went to the ends of the earth, blaring the Gospel all the way with their Jackson/Charvel guitars.
After a hugely successful
run through the eighties and into the nineties, the band’s members went
their separate ways. Michael Sweet launched a solo career.
Robert settled down and started a family, and has released his own solo
album, entitled Love Trash. Hardcore Stryper fans need not
despair, though- the band reunites for a “Stryper Expo” in Azusa,
California in May 2001, the second of its kind. All the original
members of the band, along with some new bands and a horde of fans with
Meanwhile, there is Love Trash, the solo project from Robert Sweet with the eyebrow-raising title. And if you thought that was curious, check out some of the song titles: “The F Word” (referring to forgiveness), “I’m ?@#$%&!”, and of course the title track, “Love Trash.” “I wanted to catch people’s attention,” confesses Sweet. “I named all of the Stryper albums and I thought it was important to have something that grabs your attention.” He knows he’ll probably catch flak for being on the edge… again… but he has developed a bit of a tough skin from his many years in the life, taking barbs from both sides of the fence. On one hand being accused of not being “Christian enough” in either physical appearance or musical expression, on the other had being considered a religious zealot by the secular world for taking a bold stand for Christ. Nevertheless, this voice in the wilderness refuses to be silenced.
For more information or to
book Robert Sweet as a session drummer, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
or contact World Gone Mad at email@example.com