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Robert Sweet: In a State of Blissed
Interviewed by Noel Lloyd
For many musicians that once upon a time attained a measure of fame in bands now long dead, life offers a paradoxical dilemma.
Do they settle to bask in the ever-dimming glow of past rock-and-roll glories, appearing in VH-1 reality shows and headlining county fairs across the country? Or do they seek to attain more success in a new band, updating their music to fit a more modern rock sound?
Or you could be like Robert Sweet. He's done both. The former (and current) drummer of Stryper has a new act, his group Blissed.
One of the premiere gospel rock bands of the 80s, Stryper was arguably the first Christian-oriented group to successfully cross over to the mainstream. As well known for their Bible-tossing, yellow-and -black-outfit-wearing stage antics as for their signature big-hair heavy metal sound, Stryper acquired legions of fans both in the Christian and secular markets. They even scored a top-40 hit with their ballad “Honestly.”
Enough history and big hair. Blissed, composed of drummer Sweet, lead vocalist David Pearson, bassist Jeff Miller, and guitarist Trevor Barr, is a project about which Sweet is clearly excited.
“Blissed was one of those divinely inspired accidents,” says Sweet from his Las Vegas home. “I flew up to Canada [a couple of years ago] because I was hired for some session work. I met with Trevor and Dave. They were really nice and I sensed there was a kind of magic in the air. I told them, ‘Let’s experiment.’ I was impressed with them. I realized there was a chemistry.”
Out of events of this meeting, Blissed came to life. For Sweet, the band presented new opportunities to pursue a totally new direction musically. “It is kind of like where Stryper left off,” he explains. “It is a light shining in the heavy metal darkness. It is me getting to cut loose drumming. I was tired of the safe band being poppy.”
And the sound of Blissed is far from poppy. Their recent album Waking up the Dead features a raw rock barrage that is both unbridled and intense. Their music mixes modern rock with a noticeable nod to the '80s legacy of Sweet. While dark in their sound, Blissed’s lyrics belie this image, focusing more on a positive message.
According to Sweet, their sound just developed on its own, free of other musical influences. “I really wanted to sound like ourselves," he elaborates. "I didn’t want to copy anyone else. We didn’t attempt to be modern. We simply just did it. Sometimes there is what you just feel. I just sat behind the drums and played.”
Although not a follower of trends, Sweet nevertheless is not blind to them. “I think music is all a cycle,” Sweet reveals. Music is coming back to what it was like in the 80s. I think it is coming back to guitar solos. One of the things that was great about the 80s was the fun. The '90s were depressing and the 80s were more geared on happiness.”
Although now with a new band, Sweet naturally addresses the obvious topic of his former band, Stryper. Talking with Sweet, you quickly realize he embraces his legacy. “I am 100 percent fine with my past,” says Sweet. “Stryper was a great thing. I had a great time with it. It was wonderful. I don’t deflect anything from it. I am known for my past. “
Sweet then points out the differences between the two bands. “These guys in Blissed are younger [than me]. Stryper was all the same age,” he says. “I get to cut loose in Blissed. Stryper was more straight ahead. [With Blissed] We’ll go off the cuff, we’ll lengthen something for the heck of it. With Stryper, people expect a cuter thing. Blissed doesn’t sound like Stryper. We are heavier than them.”
Differences also abound in each bands spiritual focus. While both groups are made up of Christians, Blissed is more subtle where Stryper was more blatant. In other words, don’t expect any Bibles to be tossed from the stage at a Blissed show.
Although clearly a part of Sweets past, Stryper continues as a part of his present. In fact, he often does double-duty. Stryper has reunited periodically since 2000 and still plays in shows around the world.
Sweet admits he even pulls out his old yellow and black attack pants just for the Stryper shows. “I just wore a pair of them at Disneyworld ‘cause they are a really cool pair of pants from The Hell with the Devil,” Sweet laughs. “They were made too tight 20 years ago. “
No word if they are now any tighter.
Sweet looks at his past fame as an asset to making Blissed more of a household name. “As far as the public goes, those who have never heard of Blissed before, they probably heard my name and it might attract them to listen to it,” Sweet notes. “If they heard the other guys names, they might not know who they are but that is only because I have been around for a long time. I always have looked at it as I am the guy who helps people to hear what Blissed really is. There are people 20 years ago who saw me play and now go see me play again. I am hoping that we will appeal to everyone.”
His experience also gives the band a veteran to turn to for expertise. “A lot of people may look at me as the leader simply because of my past, and that is fine,” he says. “I’ll do the best I can and try to lead. There are times when the guys listen to me and I’ll give my opinion. I’ve already been there and down that. They are pretty smart guys, they know what is going on. But when it gets down to it, it is band thing.”
With such a history in the business, Sweet has developed some profound opinions on the music industry as a whole. “It is a hard world out there, especially in the music industry,” he says. “It has changed; record companies do things a lot different then they did in the 80s. In one way, I think it is a bummer, and in another way, I think it is good. I think there was a time when you could get a record deal a lot easier and companies would put out a larger amount of money to let you do your thing.
“You have to be careful with business as a musician. If you get into it too much it can kill you and yet if you don’t get into it enough it can kill you. You have to know what is going on and you have to be able to direct your business life. It’s tough. There seems to be a real push for the Internet thing and that is all fine and dandy, but there is nothing like having a label behind you that is pushing you and setting things up for you and getting you out there, whether it be on TV or radio, to do your thing. Once you have the huge organization behind you, you can really do a lot that you can’t really do if you are the little guy selling a record off the Internet.
Sweet does acknowledge the Internet is a useful promotional tool; however, to him, the live show remains as the best way to meet and draw new fans.
Married and a father of four, Sweet not only has seen changes in the rock world, but in himself as well. “I have the greatest rock and roll wife in the world,” he says. “When I was single it was a world of difference. It is hard to tour with a family. When I am gone it is tough.”
As for the future of Blissed, Sweet radiates positive vibes, especially about Blissed’s next album. “With the next record, we want to focus on the heavy stuff,” he says. “I never got to do a whole record that was like 'wow.' If you thought our first album was dark, wait until you hear the next one.”
Unfortunately, he was more unsure as to when the album will actually be done. “I wish I could tell you when we are going to cut that next album, but in all honesty, I can’t tell you right now,” says Sweet. “There are so many different factors. It depends on how long we will be out touring, who we get to produce it, where we are going to record it at. There are just so many different things and I don’t think any of us know right now. We have been working on some tunes individually. And when we catch a time to get together, well put it together.”
For now, Sweet is clearly focused on his career with Blissed - and equally as comfortable hooking up with his old buddies in Stryper, Refreshingly humble, Sweet readily acknowledges the fans and those in the press are responsible for a lot of his past and present success.
As to his future? "I want to stay positive and maybe shred a few drum sets along the way."
Rock and roll, Robert. Rock and roll.