An Interview with Michael Sweet of Stryper & Iconic

There are few artists in the rock world with as much on their proverbial plate as Michael Sweet.

Despite his renown as the singer/guitarist of the revolutionary Christian metal band Stryper and as a solo artist, Sweet remains committed to his creative endeavors. This time, however, Sweet will approach his new project – the newly assembled supergroup Iconic – from a different standpoint.

As for vocals, Sweet, aside from two songs, will take a backseat to Inglorious singer Nathan James in his latest venture, primarily focusing on his guitar playing. Aside from Sweet and James, Iconic also features Whitesnake’s Joel Hoekstra and Tommy Aldridge on guitar and drums, respectively, and veteran bassist Marco Mendoza.

The band’s debut album, Second Skin, departs from the distinctive Stryper sound that Sweet has become known for, adopting a considerably more bluesy template.

Second Skin is slated to be released on June 17th via Frontiers Music Srl and may be pre-ordered here.

I recently caught up with Sweet to discuss the band’s origins, inner workings of Second Skin, and more.

Andrew:
Thanks for taking the time, Michael. What inspired the creation of Iconic and how did the all-star lineup come together?

Michael:
Basically, Serafino [Perugino], who owns Frontiers [Records], reached out to me and was talking about putting together a band with Joel [Hoekstra] and myself, and he wanted to use Nathan [James] as the singer. Which was great, because I’ve been wanting to kind of do something where I just play guitar for quite a while. So, it was really perfect that it worked out like that. And we ended up getting Tommy [Aldridge] and Marco [Mendoza] as well. It’s pretty much, for the most part, the Whitesnake band, and then add me to the mix, and Nathan as the vocalist, who obviously has a similar style to old-school Coverdale. That’s exactly what we went for in the style; the production, the songwriting, arrangements, and whatnot.

Andrew:
It’s been said that you and Joel had been kicking around the idea of working together over the past few years. Is there something specific about Joel that you found appealing and thought would make for an effective pairing?

Michael:
Well, I just think that there’s a lot of, something you see online – at least in my feed constantly – is a lot of shredding guitar players; guys that just shred, shred, shred. And it’s always mind-blowing to see and to hear, but at the end of the day, I feel like the melody gets lost a lot of times. I’d rather hear a guy hang on one note and make it sing than a guy that can play a hundred notes in thirty seconds. And Joel is kind of a combination of both of those; he knows how to hang on a note and knows how to write melodic solos and memorable solos. But also, after hanging on a note, he can throw the fire in there and do something that is pretty mind-blowing, and he does it with taste. So, he’s one of my favorite players right now out there. Certainly one of the modern, new school – even though Joel’s not a kid – he’s more of a new school guy in my opinion, anyway; when I think old school, I think guys of the 70s and 80s. So, Joel is one of those guys that really impressed me the minute I heard him play, and I invited him to be on some of my solo songs, and he just did a killer job. And we always talked about doing something together, so here we are.

Andrew:
Is your chemistry with Joel a result of your songwriting cohesiveness?

Michael:
Well, I hadn’t co-written with Joel until this project. The stuff that Joel and I have been a part of is my solo stuff. And I wrote those songs and he played on them. [He] obviously took them to a new level and really did some great things with those, but the first time we’ve written together was this project. Basically, Joel came up with the riffs – an intro riff, a verse riff, and a chorus riff – and then I had to take those and complete them and make them songs. I added some of my own little riffs in there and made some changes along the way; little things here and there. It’d be really fun to go back – and it is with the Stryper stuff, too – and listen to the original version and then listen to the final version and you hear all the differences. But that was my job; I spent a couple just basically arranging, fine-tuning, adding sections that weren’t there; changing little chords and parts here and there. I was trying to add a little bit of a modern flair to it without making it modern, per se; and that’s always tricky. When you hear it, it doesn’t sound like Stryper. Maybe the guitar tone might be reminiscent of that, because that’s hard for me to escape, being a guitar player in Stryper. I have a very distinct tone, so you might hear that, those flavors in there. But I think that’s a good thing.

Andrew:
Musically, you’ve described Iconic as refreshing and unique, noting that it’s different from Stryper. In your estimation, Michael, what would you consider to be the musical blueprint for Iconic?

Michael:
It’s definitely a little bit more blues-oriented, which obviously is what Whitesnake is all about and always has been. Stryper’s not really a blues-oriented band; I mean, we’ve done some songs over the years that are more in that vein, but for the most part, we’re more of a melodic metal band. You know, it’s just really cool, because the Iconic album definitely has more blues influence in some of the riffs and songs themselves. And obviously, with a guy like Nathan, he’s gonna bring that to the table, too; he’s got a little bit more of a bluesy, soulful approach. It makes it really cool. Like I said, it takes you back to those 1987 Whitesnake days in its glory, and those were some memorable times musically.

Andrew:
My understanding is that you tracked all of your guitar parts in a studio on your own. Is that generally your method?

Michael:
I did, yeah. I was really adamant about that. I prefer to do my parts on my own; my guitar parts and my vocals, too. It’s just the way I’ve been doing things for the last twenty years. I’ve got a studio, and I’ve produced a lot of stuff, and I kind of know what I want and how to get it. I find that when I do go to a place I’m not familiar with or work with someone I’m not familiar with, the results aren’t really what I was hoping for, nine times out of ten. So, I know what to expect when I do it on my own. I went in, I arranged all the songs and then I went into the studio – I think I booked three days – and I went in there and just got a really cool tone and got the right vibe for this album and these songs. And I tracked all my guitar parts, which consisted of two rhythm guitar parts, layering the multi-tracking rhythms, and then some overdub guitar parts as well, here and there. And then after the fact, I wound up doing some solos, as well, and a couple of duets with Nathan. So, I’m singing on two songs. You know, it’s funny, because a lot of the fans are like, “Why aren’t you singing more? Why aren’t you playing more?” I’m blessed to be here and I’m blessed to do it with these guys, and I’m having fun doing what I do. It’s really a different setting for me, and that’s what’s really enjoyable about it.

Andrew:
Is there any significance to releasing “Nowhere to Run” as the first single?

Michael:
Not really. I think “Nowhere to Run” is a really great song and a great first single for sure, but I do think that there are some songs that maybe have a little bit more to them; might even be a little more powerful and there’s a little more depth to a few other tracks on the album. So, I don’t know that I would have gone with “Nowhere to Run.” I think it’s a great song – I don’t know that I would have chosen that as the first single – but I think once people hear the album you’ll know what I’m talking about. There are a few songs on the album that have a little bit more of the “wow factor,” at least in my opinion.

Andrew:
Which one would you have chosen?

Michael:
Oh, gosh. I love “Second Skin.” I think it’s really cool. I’m trying to think of the names of all the songs; I gotta be honest with you, man, I’ve been in Stryper mode and I can’t even remember all the names of the Stryper songs and that was the last album I was a part of. So, I’d have to look at the song sequence at the names again to give you the exact specifics. You’ll know when you hear the whole album, that there are a few songs on there that definitely are like, “Wow, okay.” They bring the heat a little bit more.

Andrew:
When it came to recording the album, did most of the track exchanges happen via filesharing, or were some recorded in a room together?

Michael:
It was all basically mobile. I mean, we weren’t in a room together. Joel sent me the basic ideas, I took those and arranged and put everything together and added stuff that wasn’t there and made them complete songs musically. Did my parts, and sent those off to Alessandro [Del Vecchio], along with some basic melody ideas for the songs, too. I just sent him melodies and vocals from my phone for all the songs, mainly the choruses, and said, “Hey, I think this would be cool, and that would be cool.” We wound up using some of those, as well, and then he went from there and started working on lyrics and the melodies with Nathan. Then Nathan did his vocals, and obviously, they tracked Tommy. Tommy tracked his drums on his own; Marco tracked his bass on his own. We all tracked our own parts in different parts of the world and country, and it just somehow wound up working and sounding like a band that might have been in a studio together. Which is really cool.

Andrew:
With everyone involved in various projects, it seems unlikely that Iconic will ever be able to embark on a full-blown tour, but have there been any talks of even just doing a handful of shows?

Michael:

I’ll tell ya, it’d be a real dream, I think, for all of us – a real fun time – for us to do that. Right now, as I sit in this chair thinking about it, it doesn’t seem like reality, but you never say never. It’s just hard when you’re talking about, two of the guys are in Whitesnake right now touring; Marco’s overseas touring; Nathan’s touring with Inglorious and a number of other projects, and I’m hitting the road to tour with Stryper. We got shows throughout the whole year – and next year. You should see the calendar. It just makes it very difficult for everyone’s schedules to align to do something. So, I don’t wanna say no, but I don’t wanna say yes, either. We’re hoping we can put together some shows, at least, bare minimum, some select shows; fly dates. But in terms of a tour, we’ll have to see. I can tell ya, if we were able to put that together, that would be pretty phenomenal.

Andrew:
Last one. As we’re discussing Second Skin, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to Sweet & Lynch, a collaboration between you and George Lynch that I absolutely love. Any plans to work with George again in the near future?

Michael:
Yeah, actually. That’s a project that I’m doing this year. When I’m touring with Stryper over the next month, I’ve gotta write lyrics for the new Sweet & Lynch album. Then when I get back in June, I’ve gotta start recording the vocals. It’ll get turned in by July or August, whenever it’s mixed and finished, and then I’m sure scheduled for a release early next year, maybe. But yeah, there is a third Sweet & Lynch coming and it’s gonna be great. It’s such a blast and an honor to work with George. He’s one of my favorite guitar players; I think one of everybody’s favorite guitar players. It’s just fun working with him and just being the vocalist. And then here I am with Iconic, just being a guitar player. So, it’s kinda cool. It’s really, really different for me, and I like mixing it up. It’s a breath of fresh air for me.

Interested in learning more about Iconic? Hit the link below:

Be sure to check out the full archives of Shredful Compositions, by Andrew DiCecco, here: https://vwmusicrocks.com/shredful-compositions-archives/

About Post Author

Andrew DiCecco

Predominantly known for his NFL coverage, Andrew DiCecco is a Pennsylvania-based journalist with a profound passion for Rock music and its illustrious history. What initially began as a childhood hobby collecting CDs eventually evolved into a full-blown absorption into the world of Rock and Roll. An aspiring rock historian, Andrew seeks out every autobiography and documentary on Rock artists imaginable to further his knowledge to go along with a growing collection of vintage albums and magazines. Andrew’s musical preferences include, but are not limited to, Def Leppard, Van Halen, AC/DC, Guns N Roses, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Scorpions, Foreigner, and Journey. An innate appreciation for guitar heroes, Andrew cites Vito Bratta, Eddie Van Halen, John Sykes, George Lynch, Dave Meniketti, and Neal Schon as some of his personal favorite players. Andrew is also a regular listener to SiriusXM’s <i>Trunk Nation</i> with Eddie Trunk, his primary source of inspiration.
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