MICHAEL SWEET Fends Off Thyroid Cancer, Readies New STRYPER Album: 'I Think It's Our Best'

May 21, 2024

By David E. Gehlke

STRYPER frontman Michael Sweet underwent treatment last October for a growing nodule on his thyroid. It was the latest in a series of health issues for Sweet, who previously dealt with a detached retina. Yet for the repeated trips to the doctor ("I don't like going to the doctor," he laughs) and potential impact on his career, Sweet is upbeat and excited about the future, particularly the just-completed new STRYPER studio album. While the new STRYPER platter won't see the light of day until later this year, Sweet has just released the second SUNBOMB long-player, "Light Up The Sky", with his partner, L.A. GUNS guitarist Tracii Guns. Tracked just before Sweet underwent thyroid surgery, "Light Up The Sky" doesn't hide its BLACK SABBATH and Randy Rhoads-era Ozzy Osbourne worship. However, it proves to be an appropriate catalyst for Sweet's vocals—including some rafter-reaching moments that would have made the 1980s version of himself proud.

The focus of BLABBERMOUTH.NET's conversation with Sweet was to be SUNBOMB, yet the man's surgery, future STRYPER plans and social media presence took precedence. For all the flak Sweet catches online for speaking his mind, he shared some pretty prescient and easy-to-grasp points about simply being kind to one another — a good lesson during these turbulent times.

Blabbermouth: Before we get into SUNBOMB, can you share an update on your voice? Are you optimistic that you'll return to full strength?

Michael: "I'm optimistic. Always optimistic. My voice, obviously, isn't the same as it was 30 years ago. That was pre-surgery. My voice is different, not that it's in bad shape or feels bad or I feel like I can't sing; it's just different from years of singing. Now that I've had surgery, it definitely feels even more different because they had to cut through a few muscles. It feels like someone's hand is around my throat ever so gently. There's a little pressure and a little bit of a tickle in my voice all the time, plus more congestion. It's something I'm going to have to work through and I will. Eventually, in time, I'll get back to where I was pre-surgery."

Blabbermouth: Have you had any vocal issues before?

Michael: "No, and I'm very fortunate. I get my voice scoped every few years. I go to Mass Eye And Ear in Boston. They scope me out and check things out. I've had polyps but no actual nodes, which are more serious. Polyps can go away on their own. I've had those before from overusing my voice, like singing when I was sick; things like that will do it to you. I've been very fortunate. I have a post-nasal drip that the doctor said saved and preserved my voice and protected my vocal folds. But this surgery was a different situation. I have a nodule in my thyroid, so they were getting large enough to where they were creating pressure and taking up space in there and starting to affect my voice."

Blabbermouth: It's a cliché, but true: Your voice is an instrument and you have to take care of it.

Michael: "It is. I'm always joking with my brother [STRYPER drummer, Robert]. He says, 'Yeah, I'm not sure if I'll be able to play tonight. My arm is sore.' I say, 'I think you'll be able to play.' At the end of the show, he hasn't even been singing and he's lost his voice just from playing and breathing heavily. I'm like, 'Well, dude. Good thing you're not the singer.' [Laughs] Singing, it's a whole different thing because you're susceptible to the environment, to the air, to the humidity, to the dryness, to allergies, to the food you eat. So many things affect your voice."

Blabbermouth: Then some singers won't talk to the fans out of fear for exactly those reasons. There are a lot of variables that would lead you to get sick.

Michael: "You got to be real careful. I prefer talking to people. That actually warms your voice up. Talking is okay, but when I went backstage at M3 [festival], I was yelling because it was so loud. That's not good. You have to be really careful, proactive and cautious, as well as take care of your voice as a singer. Even then, you're going to have issues. You have to go out and deliver when you can't deliver. That's why I'm glad I play guitar. If I ever can't sing, we'll just hire a young lad and I'll play guitar."

Blabbermouth: Moving over to the new SUNBOMB. Tracii wrote all the music. Are you comfortable in a role where you just have to provide lyrics and sing?

Michael: "I'm fine as long as it's good. [Laughs] If it's crap, I'm not fine with it. You know, that's the thing and this isn't to take from anyone I've worked with, but there are times when working with George [Lynch, on their SWEET & LYNCH project] when he sends me a song and I'm like, 'Dude. Come on, man. You can do better. Let's work on this one a little bit more.' It's got to be good, or we're just, unfortunately, wasting everybody's time if it's not. That old saying, 'Your first impression is the biggest impression.' Every album we release is our first impression, no matter what group it is."

Blabbermouth: Have you gotten more particular? Are there certain things that you wouldn't let skate by that maybe you would have in the '80s?

Michael: "Back in the '80s, we spent a lot more time trying to perfect things from album to album. By the time we got to 'In God We Trust', we were spending six months on an album. Six months and 600,000 dollars. Back on the first album, we spent two weeks and 20 to 30 thousand dollars, more like today's standards. There's something to be said for that. You listen to that first album; it has this cool energy and is raw and vibe-y. You can suck the life out of it really quick with too much time and money, for sure."

Blabbermouth: There are a lot of references to BLACK SABBATH and Randy Rhoads-era Ozzy on the SUNBOMB record. Are you a fan of that style of guitar playing?

Michael: "Oh yeah. I grew up on that stuff. I grew up on bands like CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL and BAD COMPANY, FOGHAT. As I got a little older, I got heavier. I got into [JUDAS] PRIEST and [IRON] MAIDEN and Ozzy. I wasn't a huge SABBATH fan. I was a big Ozzy fan, but not as much of a SABBATH, but Oz [Fox], our guitar player, was a big SABBATH fan. He actually almost got kicked out of the house because his mom didn't like his SABBATH album. We all grew up on that stuff. We used to cover all that stuff. When I was 15 or 16 years old, we covered 'Paranoid', and Randy and Eddie [Van Halen] were huge influences on me as a guitar player. I love all that stuff."

Blabbermouth: You hit a pretty impressive high note at the beginning of "In Grace We'll Find Our Name". You would never know you're a guy heading into surgery based on that.

Michael: "That was right before surgery. Post-surgery is when I recorded the new STRYPER album that nobody's heard. You'll get to hear the difference. There is a little bit of a difference post-surgery. I think my voice has a slightly clearer tone. Maybe a little more high-end to it, but there's not much of a difference, to be honest. I didn't have any trouble. There was no damage to the vocal nerves. Any trouble that I might have had or will have in the future will be strictly be based on the muscle and retaining that muscle memory and learning how not to strain my voice. In terms of the vocal folds and the nerves, there is no damage."

Blabbermouth: That had to be a scary time, right?

Michael: "It was. I had an option to wait. My cancer hadn't spread yet. It was still contained in one small area. They told me that I could wait a little while, but there was no extreme rush. I just didn't want to mess with it. There are too many pre-surgeries required, like lymph node removal and all that stuff. That would have been far too much. I had it done and said, 'Screw this.' It felt right between SUNBOMB and STRYPER, perfectly."

Blabbermouth: Obvious question: Are you getting sick of going to the doctor's?

Michael: [Laughs] "I don't like going to the doctor's. Who does? Whenever I go to the doctor's, my eye doctor and thyroid surgeon and my endocrinologist, they're all in Boston. I have to drive from Plymouth to Boston. It's about an hour and a half to two hours to drive with traffic. You can't get out of there quickly. I'm there for what should be a regular, half-hour appointment, I'm there for three or four hours. It's an all-day thing. We have dinner up there. We leave at nine in the morning; we get home at nine in the night. It's a whole day. But I've gotten used to it. I'm counting my blessings. Things could always be far worse. I'm just here and talking to you and still making music. I'm really grateful for that. Sincerely."

Blabbermouth: You're very active on social media. What made you get into it? And what do you get out of it?

Michael: "My brother is one of those guys who stays off social media. I respect that. I understand it. At the same time, I don't. What I mean by that is you alienate yourself from the fans when you're not on social media. You're in the dark. You don't really know what's going on. You're not in the know and all that sort of stuff. I like being involved, and I also like making the fans feel like they're a part of what we're doing. If I'm going through a situation, I go and share it. Some people say, 'You share too much.' I say, 'That's my choice.' I like doing that because I think the fans respect it. They feel more involved. Let's face it: without the fans, we wouldn't be here. I always call them 'friends' and not 'fans' and they really are. There are some weird friends out there. [Laughs] There's a few of them and people that take it a little too far. Sometimes I have to block some people. I'm not afraid to do that and I never hesitate to do it, but I like to be involved and keep fans in the know. They're my friends. If I run into them in person, I'll have dinner or breakfast, coffee, whatever."

Blabbermouth: You don't always take the most popular of positions, which I'm assuming is when you have to block people.

Michael: "People think I block them because I'm being a dick. The truth of the matter is I wouldn't say I like disrespect. That's whether I'm receiving it or someone else is receiving it. I will put an end to that quickly. It's how I'm made. If someone comes in…having a different opinion is one thing. I'm totally fine with that. But when you come in and you're disrespectful and nasty, I won't waste my time. It's 'You're out of here. You're done.' It's the way I am."

Blabbermouth: Some people will likely make comments about you on social media who would never say those things to you face to face.

Michael: "I'll take it a step further: There are people who make those comments online and I'll see them in person and they're as sweet as can be. Then I'll remind them, 'Remember that comment you posted a couple of months back?' Then they're like, 'No. No!' It's hilarious. [Laughs]"

Blabbermouth: I think back to the picture you took with King Diamond a few years ago. It just shows we're all human and can find common ground.

Michael: "At the end of the day, we're just two regular people who pretty much do the same thing every day. We get up and do the three Ss and go through that route. He has different beliefs; I have different beliefs. It doesn't mean we shouldn't be able to talk and take a photo together and maybe have dinner together. People get all up in arms and think I've gone to the other side or he's gone to the other side. It's so crazy."

Blabbermouth: Do you want to share anything about CJ Snare's [FIREHOUSE] recent passing? You have Perry [Richardson, bass, ex-FIREHOUSE] in STRYPER now, so I'm sure it has been a rough period.

Michael: "It has been. What a shock, more so to Perry. They go back with CJ to the early 80s when they were in MAXX WARRIOR. The biggest lesson to be learned, and for all of us, is not to put off red-flag medical issues. If you're having problems, go to the doctor. Don't put it off. The sooner you can deal with it, hopefully, the better. You'll have a longer life on this planet. I think CJ, unfortunately, had some issues. By the time he went, without knowing all the details, I think it was too late. It spread and was more aggressive. He had a battle on his hands. Unfortunately, he lost that battle. It's really sad because he's such an amazing guy. Only 64 years old."

Blabbermouth: The new STRYPER: What can you say about it?

Michael: "People laugh sometimes when I say, 'I think it's our best album.' I say that with every album. But this album is really special. There's something about it that is really special. We sent it to the label [Frontiers Music] and they all came back and said, 'Wow!' The owner, Serafino [Perugino], said, 'This is a monster album.' You guys nailed it. It has something really cool about it. There's a fire, an energy, there's a throwback to some songs when it gets to the choruses, it's memorable, singalong anthem-y styled chorus. But it's heavy. The guitars are in your face. It's heavy and chugging, but it's got a little more of a melodic sense. I think fans that want the old are going to love it and the fans who want the new are going to love it."

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