Queensryche’s Michael Wilton and Stryper’s Michael Sweet: The TVD M3 Rock Festival Interview

The frost is gone (well, mostly), the warm weather is coming, and with it comes another season of outdoor music festivals and amphitheater shows. As if wagging a defiant middle finger at the Fireflys and Coachellas, the annual M3 Rock Festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD has become the late Spring celebration of the hair metal glory days of the ’80s.

Now in its 6th year, the M3 Rock Festival will feature two days of music on two stages, with artists such as Tesla, Kix, Lita Ford, Night Ranger, Extreme, and Stryper among others.

Earlier this week, we spoke with 3 M3 artists and we had a chance to talk to 2 more M3 artists just this week leading up to M3 on Friday—Michael Wilton of Queensryche and Michael Sweet of Stryper. We got their take on M3, vinyl, and quite a bit more.

What have you been up to lately?

Queensryche has been up to a lot of new developments. We’ve been touring for the last year on a very successful release of the self-titled Queensryche CD. It’s garnered very great reviews all over the world, and we’ve toured n that all over the world and the U.S., and right now we are still continuing that through this year, and going into the studio later this year in between touring to begin the next album.

Give us your thoughts on playing M3 Rockfest.

Well, I have lots of mixed thoughts on M3, but it’s always been a great situation for me, personally. I think with this new rebirth of Queensryche, we will prove to the fans that the high energy Queensryche is back, and we are very grateful for the chance to revisit the M3 festival.

Has the response been pretty positive so far to, I guess you could say, Queensryche Part Two?

Oh, it’s been an outpouring of total support from the fans around the world. Fans that had given up on the band are coming out of the woodwork and the support is incredible. The venues that we’re playing, the promoters, the owners are just blown away. We’re really excited about the future of Queensryche, and it’s something that a lot of fans have been waiting for for a long time. It’s at the point where we are ready to blast off.

What differences have you seen or experienced playing and touring in the heyday of the ’80s and early ’90s vs 2014.

The difference is that touring is built on promoting your current recording. Now, in 2014, a lot of bands are just touring to meet their revenue support. Some off of what they’ve recorded in the past, not necessarily what they have recorded in the current.

One word: congestion. Congestion in the marketplace. It’s really more of a tactical way of existence for musicians who don’t make money selling CDs anymore. That’s the big difference between the ‘80s and now. You know, with the advent of the internet, fans can view and criticize and judge based on the live performances captured on iPhones and Samsungs. They post it up, and the average person that sees that doesn’t realize that the audio quality and the vibe…a lot of things have changed.

YouTube is kind of the new radio for a lot of fans. It’s the place to put your videos as well. Now there’s Vimeo, kind of the new VH1/MTV. So things are changing, and you have to really muti-task and really stretch your abilities to keep your band going, keep your career going, because it’s not like it used to be in the ‘80s. At all.

You mentioned the impact the internet has had. Without going deep into it, do you think that the internet played a key part in the breakdown of the relationship between you and your former singer [Geoff Tate]? Did it make things worse?

It’s kind of the old saying, “Any news is good news.” You can look at it that way. In tearing apart the fabric that is the concrete assets of the band, it can be deemed as “not desirable,” but in that sense, it gets people talking, not necessarily about any such topic in a positive manner, but really helps out the intimate news sites and music sites. It’s kind of a 50-50 situation.

One where you appreciate the press, but sometimes those “news sites” just end up throwing gas on the fire.

True. Then you have the whole situation which is confusion. That can be deemed positive or negative, depending on which way you’re looking at it.

Tell us a bit about your new singer.

Todd La Torre is an amazing musician, and that is the big difference now. He’s not someone who just writes lyrics, he’s an accomplished drummer, he plays guitar, he plays keyboards, he’s musically inclined. He comes into the fold as a band member, as an entity that will give a spark to the band, and 100%.

It’s not a dictatorship or anything, open to all ideas. It’s almost as if we’ve gone back to when we were in our young ‘20s doing the E.P. and The Warning album, when we worked together as a band and brothers. Bouncing ideas off of each other. He has made that happen again. He has so much of a genuine fire in him. There’s nothing pretentious, there’s nothing that’s an act. What you see is what you get, and I think the fans love that in Todd. He’s just a real genuine person that kicks ass.

That’s good to hear, especially with a band that’s been around as long as Queensryche. Once that spark gets reignited and the band sounds genuinely excited again…

And you can see it onstage. The energy, we’re playing the songs in the right tunings, we’re playing the songs that the fans want to hear now. Let’s face it, a lot of them want to hear the classic songs, they’ve wanted to hear the classic songs for twenty years, and now they’re getting that chance. With that, now they’re saying, “Hey, play the music from the new album.” We’ve mixed the new album into the setlist, and they love it. They said it all works. We love it, we have our band back.

The new material fits the vibe as well as the old stuff on the E.P. or The Warning?

Oh yeah. Any of the first five or six albums, by public taste, are our most popular albums. It’s just unbelievable. You get the proven assets in the band, it’s gonna sound like that. We’re just trying to hammer that into people’s minds, that these are the guys that wrote those songs, wrote the music for those songs. Of course it’s gonna sound like that.

I think sometimes, in the public’s perception, it can be a tough sell when a band loses “the face.” They may not realize it. It’s the same thing Motley Crue went through. The songwriters were still there, even though they switched singers for a time. Sometimes it can be tough for people to accept, other times it works out pretty well.

Yeah, it just depends on what kind of a band you are and what is your core audience. I look at examples like Iron Maiden. I look at Black Sabbath. Bands that have just done amazing, and it’s because they have a certain niche at what they’re doing. It’s all technique and how you run with it.


Todd, for example, he grew up listening to Bruce Dickenson, Rob Halford, and Geoff Tate. He kind of fits in that mold. You close your eyes, and you can’t tell the difference. The average concertgoer, who doesn’t microscope everything—they won’t know the difference.

Give us your stance on vinyl—not interested, casual listener, or total junkie?

I am a total fan of vinyl. Our latest Queensryche recording was released on vinyl. We released it on different colored vinyl. I still own a record player, and there’s just something magical about playing a record. Hearing the tiny little scratch sound that comes through. For me, I’m old school, I love it.

Tell us a little about your vinyl collection and your home setup.

I’ve got a decent system, I’ve got an Adcom power amp, an Adcom preamp, I think it’s a Sony turntable. I’ve got an original Aiwa cassette player, it’s really nice. It’s even got digital outs that goes into a CD recording system. Really cool. I still have all that, I still have a DAT player, the Panasonic 3700. had it repaired once. We have all these recordings and demos and stuff, where back in the day we used to archive them to DAT tapes. I have all of those, and I’ve got to be able to play those!

What’s one album that’s an old gem, the prize of your collection, or brings back a great memory?

I would say probably the album Rage For Order. That’s where we pushed the envelope in guitar playing, sounds and songwriting. It really was a monumental growing spurt for the band. It gave us the confidence to see what we could do with our creative abilities. It was a very important time.

How about a record from your personal collection?

Oh my gosh…probably Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from the Beatles. I love that album. It’s something that just has magic. I love love listening to that, it makes me feel good. I’m a major John Lennon fan, and that’s something, you’d think from a guitar player, “Oh, I want to listen to Richie Blackmore, or Michael Schenker, or Al DiMeola.” I grew up listening to the Beatles, and to me, still, that’s such a masterpiece. To hear what they did, and the format they recorded it, it just blows my mind.

What’s next for Queensryche after M3?

What’s on the horizon is, the pending lawsuit has come to an amicable settlement, and there will be an announcement soon. That’s all I can say about that one, so don’t even ask [laughs].

What have you been up to lately?

Stryper’s been rehearsing for the past week for the live shows this year. I have an album and a book coming out in two weeks, May 6th to be exact. I just finished, I’m mixing right now, the George Lynch/Michael Sweet/Brian Tischy/James Lomenzo album.

Wow, interesting combination.

That will be turned in in the next five days, and that will come out next year. Stryper has a live album coming out this year, we start on a new album next year. It’s just kind of crazy, in a great, great way.

You’re not bored.

No, I’m not bored. [laughs]

Give us your thoughts on playing M3 Rockfest.

I’m excited about it. We had a little bit of amp issue last time around. I’m one of those guys who will, very politely, I think, I’ll fight for the rights of the band. I remember everyone else getting line checks, and we were told we weren’t going to get a line check, so I kind of got a little up in arms about that.

From what I understand, a few people were upset with me regarding that. We ironed things through, and we’re back! We’re coming back, and hopefully we’ll get a line check this time [laughs]. Just to go out and plug our amps in, and make sure everything is working, that’s all. So we’re excited, it’s a great festival, and they’re keeping that era alive, all the bands that are from our time period are out doing it. Most of them are on M3 this year, and we’re excited.

What differences have you seen or experienced playing and touring in the heyday of the ’80s and early ’90s vs 2014.

Well, the economy and the music industry has changed everything. Back in the day it was about the album. Now it’s about the song. Bands just aren’t able to survive out there in the music industry. It’s very difficult, you’ve got to be creative and come up with new ways to do things. Guarantees have come way down, so it’s very difficult to stay on the road. You just get creative. I think, at the end of the day, if you have a good product, you have good music, and a good band of good quality, people are gonna want it and support it. Stryper strives to put out good, quality stuff, and hopefully we’re doing that.

Give us your stance on vinyl—not interested, casual listener, or total junkie?

I’m not a total junkie, I mean, I never really was. I never had a huge record collection, but I love vinyl. I hear such a difference from one end of the spectrum from vinyl to Mp3s, which I can’t stand. I love vinyl, there’s something about it. Obviously the analog quality, and there’s something even about a good scratchy vinyl album. You put it on and you  hear the scratches and all. There’s just a certain quality that comes from that you can’t get anywhere else. I’m a big fan of 8-tracks too, the same thing applies there. There’s a certain sound to 8-tracks. I never really got into cassettes, or the sound of Mp3s. My choices would be vinyl and CDs, of course.

I think that’s the first time we’ve heard a proponent of 8-tracks on The Vinyl District.

Aww, man. I love 8-tracks! There really was a sound, because the tape that was being used, and just the quality and the way they sound. They have their own unique sound. I always dug them. I thought they were cool.

What’s one album that’s an old gem, the prize of your collection, or brings back a great memory?

Oh, man, there’s so many. When I heard the first Boston album, it blew my mind. It changed my life. The first Van Halen album blew my mind and changed my life. In terms of like jammer albums, ones that would come on and I’d crank it up, live Pat Travers, Boom Boom, Out Goes the Lights. I’d always just crank that one up. I think everyone did. There’s so many good bands. Foghat, I’m a huge fan of the old school classic rock. Bad Company, Foreigner, I grew up on all that stuff.

Same here, it’s all great stuff.

Oh, yeah.

What’s next for you after M3?

After M3, it’s just to hit the ground running and touring. We’re going to be very busy. Doing a couple of ground runs in the U.S., and a couple of ground runs in Europe. We’re doing a number of other festivals, and casinos. Probably, if I had to guess, the whole thing will be in the 40-50 date range this year. I’ve got the book and solo album coming out. I’m hoping to do some touring for that. That will be next year, for sure. For certain, we’ll be touring on the George Lynch/Michael Sweet album. That takes you back to the  glory days of classic rock. There’s a lot of Bad Company, Journey, Foreigner, Van Halen mixed in this album. It’s a classic rock album, really.

Sounds excellent, can’t wait to hear it.

Yeah, man. I’m excited about that one. I think people are gonna dig it.

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Stryper Official Facebook Twitter

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