Stryper Turns 25
By Andy Argyrakis, senior music editor, GospelMusicChannel.com
It would be impressive enough to celebrate multi-platinum sales status, a plethora of hit videos on MTV and sold-out shows all across the globe, but in the case of Stryper, that also includes being the first faith-based band to successfully embark on a major crossover to mainstream. And now 25 years after the yellow-and-black-outfit-wearers first found fame, the original foursome is back and just as explosive as before, honoring the milestone with a 54-city North American tour this fall, followed by international dates throughout 2010.
New tunes, classic sounds and themes
"I don't think we had any expectations in the very beginning of this blowing up into what did," Fox tells GospelMusicChannel.com backstage at the band's recent House of Blues show in Chicago. "In the '80s, there were a lot of bands, but only a handful that were really successful and we're thankful we got as popular as we did. And to continue to do that 25 years later, wow, what do you say to that? We're just very thankful."
Though the monumental anniversary is certainly a reason to head out on the road, the other catalyst is a brand-new studio CD called Murder By Pride, which hearkens back to the group's melodic glory days, coupled with shades of the current hard rock climate. All the while, the message is just as seeker-friendly as it is grounded in the Gospel, continuing in Stryper's tradition of witnessing to the world and encouraging the church at the same time.
"When I wrote [the title track] I was certainly thinking of myself [and the idea of] going to church on Sunday, hearing the message and leaving feeling like a new man," Sweet explains via email. (Publicist Brian Mayes of Nashville Publicity Group is keeping the singer in strict "vocal preservation mode.") We'll have to let him slide just this once given the grueling tour schedule and fact that Stryper's notes are just as sky high as members' hair used to be. "But then you go throughout the week getting beat up by the world and by your own pride. I have a lot of pride – we all do – and we are being held back and murdered by it. [Even so, it's all about] moving forward and not letting pride hold you back, but rather moving forward in Christ."
Blazing a crossover trail
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"We were called to do this and we needed to make a statement, presenting the gospel in a different way to places where traditional gospel music wouldn't reach," Fox recalls of Stryper's initial strategy. "On the mainstream media side, there was quite a bit of eyebrow raising from Time and Newsweek, who thought Christian metal was controversial, and then on the Christian side, there were people saying metal was Satanic in general. When we would tour, we'd always have secular groups open for us in hopes that it would draw in non-believers thinking it was just a regular rock show. We got flack for that from some churches, but...you've gotta let that stuff slip off and trust God."
As times have changed and Christian culture has become much more accepting of alternative music (not to mention a number of mainstream Christian acts) Stryper's ministry techniques don't seem as extreme as they once did, though they remain just as effective. In fact, the guys still hold onto their pattern of throwing Bibles into the crowd (even at club and bar shows) in hopes of influencing someone who came to the concert based off their celebrity rather than Christianity.
"This year we've partnered with an organization called One Verse," Sweet continues. "They do Bible translations in languages that don't yet have God's word in their native language. We believe everyone, regardless of their beliefs or background, should have the opportunity to read the Bible."
Laying a legacy
"You would have to be a recluse to avoid seeing Stryper references these days," he asserts. "Just in the past few months, there have been mentions on 'Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,' 'The Ellen DeGeneres Show' and the band even shows up in the new Drew Barrymore film 'Whip It' as a major plot point. Stryper opened the doors for everyone out there playing Christian rock today. Before Stryper, there was nothing like this – and they not only broke ground, but carried the cross for it as well. They were criticized and protested, but they continued on. Younger music fans may not realize that Stryper was the first Christian band to go double platinum and the first Christian band to get airplay on MTV."
Canada's red hot rockers Manic Drive credit Stryper as being key influences on its career thus far (even if its musical stylings are decidedly more modern). The trio is absolutely thrilled to be opening up the anniversary concerts every evening. The highly coveted slot came as a result of both bands sharing a showcase slot during Gospel Music Week and being personally chosen by the headliners.
"These shows have been packed out and the energy in the audience is always great," verifies Manic Drive guitarist Michael Cavallo. "They're definitely pioneers and they've made it cool to be bold, between throwing Bibles on stage to touring with Bon Jovi. They were being strong in faith and encouraging people with positive rock well before P.O.D. and Switchfoot, laying the foundation and encouraging bands like us to go for it as well."
About the Writer
Andy Argyrakis is a Chicago-based entertainment writer/photographer who appears in the Chicago Tribune, Illinois Entertainer, Daily Journal, Concert Livewire, Hear/Say Magazine and Image Chicago (to name few). His record label writing credits include Warner Brothers, Atlantic, Curb, EMI and Universal, with additional photo credits for Fuse TV, Live Nation, Nikon, Pollstar, Celebrity Access, Paste Magazine, MTV.com and Vibe.com. He's also the author/narrator of "Access Matthews" (an audio CD tracing the career of Dave Matthews Band) and spends considerable time on tour, including outings with Arlo Guthrie, The Guess Who, Madina Lake (on Linkin Park's Projekt Revolution) and Gospel Music Channel's very own "Gospel Dream" (where he served as season one judge).
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