Todd Newton of BigMusicGeek.com recently conducted an interview with STRYPER frontman Michael Sweet. An excerpt from the chat follows below.
BigMusicGeek.com: The first time I listened to [STRYPER’s live CD] “Live At The Whisky” (2014) in a Surround Sound setting, I noticed the presence of a third guitarist in the center channel. Has the group been touring with a third guitarist without announcing it?
Michael: “We didn’t have an extra guitar player. We went in and touched up just a few things. There were a few spots where there were some clunker notes and vocals. We went in and we spent about two days touching stuff up. Then we mixed it all. [Hit Factory/Longview Farm alumni] Danny Bernene, the guy that mixed all of the STRYPER albums during the past six or seven years, mixed that as well. He’s a brilliant guy, man. He did some really cool things. I’d go out and get a cup of coffee and when I’d come back in, he’d saym ‘Hey, come check this out.’ There would be some plug-in that he was putting on the mix and I’d be, like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ So I’m really pleased for how it turned out for a live album. It’s funny because people on Blabbermouth think it’s some conspiracy theory that we’ve used backing tracks on occasion. They’ll be, like, ‘He lip-syncs.’ And I’m, like, ‘Yeah, I have before.’ And ‘Yeah, we do on some songs.’ I’m not ashamed to say that and I want to break it down for everybody. For example, on the last tour, we wanted to do the song ‘God’ (from ‘The Covering’) and in order to pull that off, we needed some help because it’s got a big choir at the end and some extra guitars on it that we wanted to pull off live without bringing in another guitarist. So we had some stuff on tracks and that’s what we played to. I’m the first guy that will talk about that stuff. Who cares? If you want to break it down, let’s compare STRYPER using tracks on two or three songs out of an eighteen-to-twenty-song set to bands that use tracks for the whole show and have been their entire careers. But let’s not get into all of that. It’ll really disappoint some fans.”
BigMusicGeek.com: As a musician with a “trained ear,” is it easy for you to determine when a group is using backing tracks in a live setting? Is it really obvious or do you need to be a trained ‘student’ of a band to understand what to look for?
Michael: “I can go see a band and literally know instantly. Anytime you see a drummer with a computer and he’s wearing earphones, they’re using tracks. You don’t even have to hear anything. I’ve gone out and done festivals and played with band after band that used tracks. My view on is that I think it’s fine as long as you’re using them for some enhancement. If there’s a really cool guitar line or hook that you can’t play because you’re playing the other line, it’s okay to use a track to play that. Or if you’ve got keyboards on some songs and you can’t afford to take out a keyboard player. It’s also okay to use those tracks. Or with background vocals. If you’ve got this giant choir like we do on ‘Yahweh’ (from ‘Fallen’). We can’t pull that off live. So do we not play the song live? You know what I’m saying? As long as it’s for enhancement, it’s fine. I don’t have a problem with it. The thing I have a problem with is some bands, again I’m not mentioning names because I’ll get in trouble, who are out touring right now, who are not going to be touring anymore, use an absurd amount of tracks. You might as well just play the album, ya know? That I’ve got a problem with. It’s overkill. The point of this semi-rant is that I’ll talk about whatever, man. I’ll tell you exactly what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”
BigMusicGeek.com: Your honesty on this subject has definitely been an eye-opening experience. Good or bad, it’s appreciated.
Michael: “Absolutely. And like I said, we keep it to a minimum. On the last tour we did in 2014, we might have had four or five songs that had some tracks to enhance and help us. It was all stuff that we really wanted people to hear live that we couldn’t pull off live. ‘God’ was one of them. I think we also did it with ‘Honestly’ (from ‘To Hell With The Devil’) because we don’t have a keyboard player on the road. Normally, I’ll play to the piano track and that’s kind of, like, ‘Meh.’ People want to hear the whole band on that one, ya know? But who is going to play the piano? Well, we had a piano track and we all played to it. …That’s another one where we do it some.”
Read the entire interview at BigMusicGeek.com.