Interview: Robert Sweet (Part 2)

How Sweet it is [Part 2]
by Michael Aubrecht

Continued from above
Return to Part 1

MA: It seemed like every inch of your stage set was black and yellow. How did you guys “stripe” everything?

RS: Nothing came like that. In the early days I did it all and I was a taping monster. The guys did help me, but I’d say I did seventy-five percent of it. That included the drums, guitars, basses, mic stands, amps, you name it. We started out doing it with tape and then I started spray painting things. I had a timpani on the “To Hell with the Devil” tour. I chromed the base of it and then I spray painted the black and yellow design on the bowl. I clear coated it and it was absolutely perfect. No one ever thought it was done with spray paint. I’ve literally striped hundreds of drums and guitars. And the amps too. We used to build fake cabinets because we couldn’t afford them. I would stripe the grill cloth on them. We even striped the PA system.

MA: I remember when I saw you guys live back in Pittsburgh. The second show you played a big theater but the first show was at a ballroom beneath the theater. It was standing room only and I ended up near the left side of the stage in front of your stacks. I remember being blown away literally and being deaf for a couple days after that.

RS: Yeah. We used to turn it up. It was really loud. It’s a good thing that I still have my hearing. When the curtain went up we wanted to look big and sound bigger.

MA: We’ve talked about the gear, how did you guys get all those striped outfits?

RS: In the early days we had to make them ourselves. We went to thrift stores and discount clothing shops. Sometimes we would buy clothes and then dip them in yellow dye. In the end, I just thought the yellow and black looked cool. Of course the stripes were symbolic of scripture but it was just as much of a branding for us. To be completely honest, I’m not a big fan of yellow. But when it is striped with black it looks good. It gets a lot of attention just like the caution signs on the street. We had actually started that before we were Stryper, but once we attached that scripture Isaiah 53:5 to the name it made more sense. It says “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” That to me shows the lashing that Christ took for us to absolve us of our sins, not his. It reminds me that God loves us so much He sent his Son to stand in our place and lead us to salvation.

MA: That is a very powerful verse. I’ve always wondered what was the significance of the 777 Fireman’s helmet bolted on the side of your kit?

RS: I started doing the 777 thing way back. I probably should have had it patented. I was so tired of seeing bands using 666 so I started pushing 777 as an anti-666. As you know the number seven is very prevalent throughout the bible such as God resting on the seventh day. In the Book of Revelations there are multiple references to the number seven. I just thought it was a good answer back.

MA: Speaking of gear, can you tell us about the current set-up that you are using?

RS: I just got endorsed by Yamaha and I’m extremely excited to be with them. It’s such an honor to be included on their artist roster. I’m actually in the process of beginning to put my new set-up together. I can’t tell you any specifics because I’m not even sure at this point. I just went to the NAMM show in January and I was looking at stuff. I was really blown away by their gear. I went over to their booth’s marching section and now I gotta’ get a marching snare on the kit. In April I am supposed to turn in a list of what I want. I’ll probably get the biggest kick drums they have, preferably a 26” that is wide-open. I have so many ideas in my head. Whatever I do it’s going to look and sound great. I’m a hands-on guy so I will definitely be in on the build.

MA: You guys have played epic shows at some remarkable venues. Is there a particular show and arena that stands out in your mind? I’ve watched a few on YouTube and the crowds are huge.

RS: Yes I do. In fact there’s a whole bunch. The Budokan in Japan in 1989 stands out. I loved playing in South Korea at their Olympic stadium also in 1989. That show was filmed for forty-million people. If you go on YouTube type in “Stryper live in South Korea,” go to “To Hell with the Devil,” scroll to the last minute or so of the song and you can watch some great footage of my drum set spinning. I look at that clip every once in a while and it almost brings me to tears. To spread our message to that many people is amazing. I loved playing Red Rocks. There are so many places but those three stand out the most. I always wanted to play The Forum but I’ve never been able to do that. Maybe in the future. We’ve played a lot of places around the world. Sometimes it got so insane I didn’t know where we were. Those gigs we were up on stage performing and then off the stage and out the door.

MA: It is astounding to see thousands of rabid fans in these countries where rock concerts are not the norm. It’s like hitting the big time all over again. Your show in Puerto Rico comes to mind. The audience is right there with you singing and dancing and really appreciating the experience.

RS: That’s so true and we appreciate it too. We feed off of their energy and there really is a give-and-take. The larger the crowd the bigger the energy. The whole band feels it. No matter how exhausted we are it all comes together when we hit the stage. I remember one time we were in Brazil and we did five shows and twenty-one flights. Somehow we made it through. I am thankful and it is a real honor to have the opportunity to entertain and maybe even influence people to believe.

MA: I want to make sure we make time to talk about your faith. That subject is very important to me and I’m sure for you too. Do you have a favorite verse in the bible? Does one particular scripture stand out to you?

RS: I would say it all has an impact. It’s a book about humanity. It’s a book about God reaching out to humanity. There’s a lot of bizarre things in the bible that show human beings for what they are. I would say one of the things that really gets me of course is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world…” A lot of times we look at God as this guy sitting in Heaven who is angry, but by the time Jesus came he was the representation of God in the flesh. God is so intense that we truly cannot understand him. He is so powerful and he is the original rock star. He is so over the top that we just can’t get it. Think about it…He had to have someone come in the flesh so that we could relate and go “Oh wow! I’ve never looked at things that way.” That’s why I know Christianity is real. When I listen to the words of Jesus they change me. It’s like there is a beautiful and invisible fist giving you a “punch” of love right in the chest. I remember reading John 3:16 and I was blown away. I knew once that Jesus said to love your enemies He had to be the Son of God. You cannot be a normal human being hanging on a cross after you have been tortured and say “God forgive them, they know not what they do.” That also blew my mind. That was when I accepted that this was real. No normal man can endure what Jesus did. His sacrifice is the most selfless act in the history of the world.

MA: I’m always drawn to Romans 8:28 that says “And we know that all things in God work for the good of those that love Him and have been called according to His purpose.” I firmly believe that people who are non-Christians have a void in their life whether they know it or not. Those are the people we need to pray for. You guys are out there spreading the message and affecting people who may not have come to Christ yet. The music goes well beyond mere entertainment. It is a blessing to your audience.

RS: That’s always been the joy of it. I’ve found that in my life I don’t really have to say a lot because people walk up and ask me. Through the years it’s been a Rock and Roll experience where we can hopefully steer people towards Christ. That is the hope for me that is in my heart. It’s not necessarily a church way for me. I get uncomfortable with that at times because I don’t want people to think that Christianity is a list of “don’ts” and that you have to be at church every Sunday. It’s not about judging people for having sex or taking this kind of drug. That is not Christianity. If that was true then Islam would be the same way. Christianity is about the love of Christ shining down on us. We live in a beautiful world that is dark at the same time. I’ve always loved being able to watch people really get touched by the Holy Spirit.

I will give you an example. We had this lighting girl back in 1985. She used to razz me all the time. She wasn’t a Christian, but she was a real sweetheart. I loved her. She had this big sticker on one of her road cases that said “Good Girls Go to Heaven – Bad Girls Go Everywhere.” For about two or three weeks she would look at the sticker and say, “Hey Rob, what do you think?’ Finally I said, “Well let me redo it for you because there is something that you left out…Good Girls Go To Heaven – Bad Girls Go Everywhere Except to Heaven.” She stopped. She froze and she never brought it up to me again. Years later, I saw her and she recalled how much of an impact that had on her. She said she looked at the world differently. It’s those simple one-on-one moments when you can affect someone and watch them change their life. That only comes through the Holy Spirit. I’ve never been one to force someone to go to church although it’s a beautiful thing. It’s been more about me speaking to somebody directly and introducing them to the presence of God.

MA: Throwing bibles into the audience is a great way to introduce someone to the Word of God. Somebody who never would have opened a bible suddenly catches one at your concert and goes home and reads it. In a way you are evangelizing by giving them something physical to take with them.

RS: Yes and believe me, that is very costly. I’m talking thousands upon thousands of dollars. I can’t even begin to fathom how many we have thrown out over the years. That said, it’s never been enough. Our hope was to get it out there to the people. I’ve had audience members walk up to me begging for a copy. I have to tell them I’m sorry we don’t have anymore. I’ve heard a lot of stories like a guy put his bible in the glove compartment of his car and ten years later he opened it up while he was going through a divorce. The book gave him strength and hope to carry on. In the 80’s a lot of pastors would get on us by saying we were disrespecting the Word of God. I would remind them that the paper wasn’t holy, the words written on it are. It’s all about changing lives by introducing them to Jesus Christ.

MA: When you guys came out with the song “Honestly” it bridged the gap between the Christian genre and the mainstream scene. It seemed to break down the barriers that some people put up in front of you. It also helped to introduce new fans to your message. Why that song?

RS: That was the era of ballads. When you made a record the record company demanded that you put at least one ballad on it. My brother was working with the piano at that time. He lives and breathes music constantly. I can shut it off and do other things, he can’t. He felt that song should exist and from there it became special. It became one of our biggest hits. At the time I loved the song but I got frustrated because I didn’t want people to think we were a one-trick pony. We had so many other songs that were more Rock and Roll. There was a heaviness to our music. That said it got regular play on MTV and introduced us to a whole new legion of fans.

MA: There are so many bands, most of them in fact that have to play the same songs over-and-over-and-over. It gets stale and predictable. When you guys play a song, every time, you are spreading a positive message to different people. So playing the same songs over-and-over is very important to achieving your goals.

RS: That’s very true. God’s Word doesn’t return void. There’s a lot of conversion that we don’t realize. When we put Stryper together we had a specific goal in mind. To spread the precious and righteous Word of Christ with heavy music. Ultimately we want to conduct our mission so we can hear those words “Well done.” When you’re a teenager you think your life will go on forever. As you get older things come into perspective. You begin to think in long terms. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow but I firmly believe there is life after life. I really do. I have come to see how real faith is. I’ve had experiences that back that up. I want the Lord to be pleased with what we have done in His name. We pray on it all the time. We were anointed to do this.

MA: Evidently your mission has continued to this very day. What are you working on now?

RS: Stryper is going to be working on a new album. We are slated to go into the studio soon. I can’t wait. Writing and recording an album is so inspiring. Every time we learn something new about ourselves. The message will be the same. Come to know the love of Jesus Christ. Stay tuned for more on that project!

Finally, I want to make a point to thank everyone who has supported us and continues to support us. We do it all for the glory of God. Bless you all.

For more information on Robert and Stryper visit http://www.stryper.com.

robert

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3 Comments

Filed under Drums and Drumming

3 responses to “Interview: Robert Sweet (Part 2)

  1. Amazing interview. I think I have read and listened to a hundred Michael interviews. It’s nice to read something in depth (musically and spiritually) about Robert, too.

    • Thank you. Robert is a very sincere guy and I really enjoyed getting to know him better. I was also glad that the interview was more in-depth that I originally planned.

  2. Jason

    wow how boring, nothing about why he didn’t play on the Murder by Pride Album, no response to Michael’s book, this interview has been done a million times

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