As the pioneers of Christian rock music, Stryper exploded onto the metal scene in the 80's, standing their own alongside bands like Bon Jovi and Motley Crue. Then after a decade of albums, tours, and video hits, with an ever-changing music industry and much to the dismay of their fans, Stryper kind of faded into the background.
But now a certain hunger has been building after 15 years with no new Stryper material being released. A hunger that fans felt - yearning for new albums and shows, but also a hunger within the Stryper camp as well to get back out there again and do what they do so well. Now with a new album aptly entitled "Reborn," and with a new bass player, the Stryper guys are back on tour - rocking out and singing about God again the way only they can.
"It was definitely an exciting thing to see us doing this again," said Stryper guitarist, Oz Fox, in a fervent conversation with UnRated Magazine. "I was very passionate about the music from the get-go after hearing the songs when I got the actual demo in my hand."
"I was just really touched by the words - the message it gave. And the arrangements were a lot more modern sounding than what we normally sound like so it was very exciting to be able to do this and to take the challenge of putting the band back on wheels again and moving forward again."
Fox, who'd been working as a warehouse supervisor, was glad to be back to his 'real' job.
"After being apart for 12-13 years and doing other things, mostly working a normal 9-5 job, this was a great time to be back together."
So how did this reunion and new album come about?
"It was actually Michael [Sweet, Stryper lead singer] working on the demos and the songs, he put them all together. And I know my schedule didn't allow for any time to write any music or anything, so it was nice to have some stuff already done and just walk in and play guitar - add my chemistry to the album. The four of us have a chemistry together."
One of the elements of that Stryper chemistry is new bassist, Tracy Ferrie. Fox described what Ferrie's participation offers the band:
"Playing-wise, I'd have to say it's a different vibe - he's very much into the hard rock and heavy metal vibe all the way around. I mean, not only his paying but performing as well. He's really well rounded on that aspect. And believe me, nothing against Tim [Gaines, former Stryper bassist], he's an amazing player and an amazing person, but he just was not into it as much as Tracy is."
When asked if that was the reason Gaines left the band, Fox responded:
"One of the reasons, yeah. He's always kind of felt a little like he was above the kind of music we play. He was more into the jazz kind of thing. And when it came towards the end he cut all his hair off and was trying to go a different route. It was mutual when he left - he felt he needed to step down, and we felt we needed to move on with someone else who would be into what we were doing. So he's moving on and he's on his own now - he writes music with his wife and he's persuing other things now."
"Tracy definitely kind of super-charged the band in that direction and not to mention he's just an awesome person and wants to be encouraging all the time. He's encouraging in working towards the show and the music."
So what has over 20 years in the music industry taught Oz Fox?
"The music industry has changed so much, and people in the business are more careful with their money; record companies and whatnot. And you can't trust anyone. To me, I just think it's like a maze. You kind of have to find your way through and hopefully you'll find the winning door that lets you out to the finish. There are so many different labels out there now and you just don't know what you're going to get, and if you're on a huge label you're either going to do really well or you're not because it's all based on what you look like, what kind of pop songs you have, how old you are, there are all these things - and I don't want to worry about that. To me, I'm here to do something that I'm called to do. And yes, I want to be sensitive to what kind of songs need to be written, what's going to catch people's ears as far as hooks and whatnot but that's just part of what I do. Ultimately, what I care about is sharing my faith with people with the music that I play. And so if God wants to use me in that way he will, and he has, and he still does 'til this day. That's why I'm still here, and the music business can change all it wants - Oz Fox isn't going to change, and Stryper isn't going to change. We're going to continue to be creative with what we do and I'm sure our music will evolve with us."
Fox continues passionately: "This is about what God is doing in our lives. God has put us on this path and we're going to continue to go forward because he says 'go forward.' And we're not going to worry about what record companies say or what they do - if God wants us on this label, we'll be there, if he wants us on another label we'll be on another one. If he wants us on our own label - we've already got 53:5 Records that we put together and that's our own label, we can do that too, it's just where ever God leads this band, it's going to go there. As God led the nation of Israel through the wilderness with the pillar of fire, that's what I want, I want to see a pillar of fire and just follow it."
Over the years, Stryper has endured more than their share of taunting because of the Christian themed songs and the flashy yellow and black regalia. And though they've toned down the hair and outfits - as everyone from the 80's era has - or should have had by now, Sass asked if the band still takes any heat for the their faith-based songs.
"I think we get some. You know, we get some people that are out there still that kind of look at the whole Christian thing and Stryper and whatnot and they mock us and make fun of us. But it seems to be more of the majority that likes us and appreciates what we sing about. We get a lot of standing ovations at marketing meetings, you know with big buyers around the country that buy records and CDs. And people really want to see us come back and to me, that's encouraging. You know, it's not something that's always easy to do but we're willing to take the challenge and we feel God's leading us in this direction at this point in time in our lives, and we're going to come back and do it again the way we know how."
"We took it from both sides - we had Christian people that felt that we went too far, and we had all the mainstream people, especially people like MTV who would boycott us, and radio stations that were heavily into the decadent sex, drugs, and rock and roll attitude would shun us and make fun of us and whatnot. But that's not anything that we were concerned about. At times it did get frustrating but I think we've learned over a period of time we can't worry about that stuff. We are what we are and we were successful at singing about Jesus Christ, you know that to me proves that it really doesn't matter; all that matters is what we believe in. And I honestly believe that the majority of Americans out there want to hear about that, about Christ, just look at "The Passion of Christ" [movie] and how well that sold across the board, people are interested in the things of Christ because we are considered a Christian nation although we are free to believe in anything we want - this country was founded on Christianity - that's a fact. To me, that's one of the reasons why America was blessed through the years, and at this point in time it seems like people are turning back on God and turning to other religions. And like I say, we're a free country and you have the freedom to believe in what you want to, but don't take 'In God We Trust' off of our money, don't take the word 'God' out of the Pledge of Alliance because that's what we were founded on, and if that starts happening you're going to see our country go down really fast."
"I believe the majority of our country has that in them, to know what morals are. People see what's happening to our nation especially in the major cities where there's so much crime and decadence, and child abductions, all of the above, all of these things that are depressing and it's obvious if God was in the element that it would be different. All God ever said in his word is to love your neighbor as yourself and to love God with all your heart. And all the things that go with that - I mean, it would be a better place, a better world - and why not hold to these things? Why not hold to being community oriented, and working for the good things and protecting our kids - and I think that's really what America wants but there are a handful of people out there that, for whatever reason, have turned against God. This is what we get, we get this element of men and women that try to do what ever they feel is right. So with so many people based on however they were raised, or they base their actions on their emotions [and] a lot of bad things happen from that when people don't think clearly and they don't think with the mind of Christ. And that's the reason why we have the kind of world we have with the wickedness that goes on. We're hoping to be able to share with people our faith, and bring some people - not all people, because I don't think everyone's going to change, but hopefully bring some of those people out of that. And I guarantee you; there are Satan worshippers that have done decadent things who have changed their lives because of what God's done with this band. There are people who were ready to kill themselves whose lives have changed because of what they've heard in some of our songs. And to me that makes it all worth it."
Though Stryper's "Reborn" tour still has dates scheduled through the end of November, there are a whole lot of Stryper fans out there who are already looking forward to them coming back to their town. And I think the chemistry was magical enough on this run that we won't have to wait quite so long for the next album and tour.
*Stryper photos taken at Chicago's House of Blues, October 9, 2005 by Stephen Jensen.
Interview by Melanie (Sass) Falina for UnRated