Michael Sweet has elaborated on his recent announcement that he and his STRYPER bandmates no longer attempt to perform the group’s songs in the original key.
In a social media post more than a year ago, the now-60-year-old guitarist/vocalist revealed that and the rest of STRYPER are playing their music on tour a half step down to accommodate his aging voice.
Asked in a new interview with John The Ninja how he came to accept the fact that he can no longer perform the songs as they were originally recorded, Sweet said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): “When you change anything in a band, whether it’s the tuning of the songs or the stage setup to make it easier for the band to get through the set or whatever it is, and that all that stuff usually comes with age, as you get older, you start to realize, like, ‘Am I compromising?’ You start asking yourself that question daily. ‘Am I compromising? Am I shortchanging the fans? Am I shortchanging myself?’ And it maybe at the end of the day, it’s a silly thought, and most people would probably say, ‘Oh, gosh. Come on. That’s silly. You don’t need to think like that.’ But you still think like that. And especially someone like myself, ’cause I’m a perfectionist — I want everything to be perfect and the best and just like it used to be at our peak.’
He continued: “When we dropped the tuning, I started to feel like, ‘Gosh, am I compromising? Am I letting the fans down and letting myself down?’ But then I reached out to Kip Winger (of WINGER) and I started going online and researching (other bands who have tuned down to make it easier for their singers, like) FIREHOUSE(‘s) C.J. (Snare), Sammy Hagar — I mean, the list goes on and on and on. You could go on YouTube and find most bands, and almost all bands, at my age, they’ve dropped the tuning down. And it’s the way it works, because it does make it easier on the vocalist. And the thing is about not just me as a lead singer, making it easier for me, but also for Oz (Fox, STRYPER guitarist) and Perry (Richardson, STRYPER bassist). We’re singing these three-part high vocals night after night after night and it starts to wear and tear. And all these other vocal coaches come out of the woodwork and say, ‘Oh, you’re not singing right. If you’re singing right, you can get through seven shows in a row tuned up a half step.’ And it’s, like, ‘No. Not true. False. False information.’ Your voice is a muscle, like any other muscle in your body, and if you overwork it, it’s not gonna function properly. It’s just the way it is. You’ve gotta give your muscles time to replenish and to rebuild. Same thing goes for the voice. So, tuning down has helped me a lot to get through the sets. Am I having trouble? Not really. A little bit. But it’s more so based on I’ve got some nodules in my thyroid, and those are really giving me more trouble than anything, because they’ve gotten large enough where they’re starting to press on my vocal nerve and my vocal folds. And it gives me a little bit of a hoarseness all the time, and it makes it a little bit more difficult to sing like I need to.”
Sweet is not the only high-profile rock singer to admit to having trouble hitting some of the notes that he was able to reach several decades earlier. This past July, TESLA frontman Jeff Keith told the “That Metal Interview” podcast that “one secret” to keeping his voice in such magnificent shape is that he and his bandmates “started dropping things down to — instead of in E, the key of E, we dropped it to E flat. On particular songs, where I sing really high — I don’t even know how I hit the notes back then in the ’80s and the ’90s — but I think they can drop as low as… there’s E flat, and then you can drop as low as D,” he said. “And on a couple of songs we drop down to the D tuning, so I can sing the same melody but dropped down a whole step. And from what I understand, you can’t drop any lower than that, or the strings are so loose (that they are too floppy to play). So, we just dropped some keys, and then we tried it on a couple of songs and when we even dropped down a whole step, I still can’t quite hit the notes (on some songs).”
He continued: “Once again, I don’t know how the heck I hit them notes way back then, but all I know is from ‘Into The Now’ (2004) on, I started thinking about, ‘Hey, I’ve gotta watch out what key we’re doing it in, because next thing you know, I sing something that I can’t go out there and do it night after night live.’ I mean, it is 37 years later, so… (Laughs) So, with ‘Forever More’, ‘Simplicity’ — all that stuff — I just started keeping in mind, ‘Hey, whatever you write, you’ve gotta sing it night after night.’ Back in the ’80s, and stuff like that, I wasn’t thinking about it. You just do 20, 30 takes of something, pick the best out of it and go, ‘Hey, there you go. That’s great.’ But I never had the thought in mind of, ‘Hey, you’ve gotta go out there night after night and sing it.’ And back then, I could — thankfully — but today, it’s, like, ‘Hang on a second.’ I’m gonna turn 65 in October. It’s, like, ‘Hang on now.’ I’m starting to fill out forms for Medicare and all that stuff. (Laughs) So (I’ve gotta) be careful with what melodies I come up with, because I’ve gotta be able to do it night after night.”
In October 2022, Sweet told The Rock Experience With Mike Brunn that it was important for him to come out and almost apologize for the fact that he and his bandmates were tuning down because of his voice. “Maybe it’s wrong for me to think this way, but it’s a little bit of a pride issue; you’re proud that you don’t have to tune down ’cause you could do it in the original key,” he said. “And there’s something to be said for that; it feels good to be able to say that. But then I realized everyone tunes down except for maybe a select few — very select few. And those few are bands that don’t sing in a super-high register. The bands like STRYPER that sing in a very high register, belting…
“See, the vocals for STRYPER, and this isn’t to put us on a pedestal, but they’re unique in the sense that not only are they high, but they’re chest-belted vocals,” he explained. “They’re not (makes growling sound); they come from here (puts hand over chest), not from here (puts hand over his throat). That makes it a little bit more difficult to pull off. So when we dropped the key down a half step, I felt like, ‘Wow, okay, this is a little easier.’ I can get through the show a little easier and not have to strain or struggle so much.
“You’ve got all the vocal coaches out there watching right now, saying, ‘Oh, if he took lessons, he’d be able to do it again.’ That’s bullcrap,” Michael said. “It makes me laugh sometimes when you hear these guys say, ‘Oh, yeah, ’cause he’s singing wrong.’ No, I’m not singing wrong. I get my vocal cords checked every year. I’ve never had surgery; I’ve never had nodules. They tell me my vocal cords look pristine. I’m not singing wrong. If I was singing wrong, they would not look pristine. So my problem lies with just aging. Your vocal folds, as you age, they start to stiffen, and there’s not a darn thing you can do about that. Your muscles, they change. It’s just part of life. You deal with it the best way that you can. You stay in shape; that’s important. Take care of yourself, of course. But also, I’ve got post-nasal drip really bad. And I’m always clearing my throat; it’s a real thick post-nasal drip. My doctors who scoped me have said, ‘We’ve never seen anything like it.’ It’s almost like glue on my vocal cords continuously, and that keeps me from being able to sing at the best of my range and at the top of my range. But they also said that they think it’s protected my vocal cords as well. So I’m definitely singing right. I’m blessed to still have the voice that I have. Is it what it once was? No.”
Four years ago, IRON MAIDEN‘s Bruce Dickinson said that he takes pride in the fact that he and his bandmates perform their songs in the original key. “We don’t detune, like some other people do,” he said. “We don’t do any of that. I suppose if one day we have to, we have to, but we don’t have to do it now, and I think the songs sound better as a result of it. They’re meant to be played in that key.”
Back in 2014, QUEENSRŸCHE‘s Todd La Torre said that the fact that he sings the band’s songs in their original key is one of the reasons he has been able to win over so many of the QUEENSRŸCHE fans following the departure of original frontman Geoff Tate.
“We don’t drop-tune,” he said. “When I first got in the band, (the other guys in QUEENSRŸCHE) said, ‘Hey, if you want us to tune down a half a step, if it’s easier for you, don’t be afraid to ask us.’ And I said, ‘No. I wanna do this the best way that I can to represent the songs the way that they really go, and if it’s a struggle for me, I just have more work to do for me. But let me keep trying to do this.’ So I think the fact that those old songs weren’t being played (in the last few years with Geoff in the band)… I mean, some of them were played, but a lot of times they were tuned down or songs were not played in their entirety, like ‘Roads To Madness’; we play that song in its entirety. We play ‘NM 156’ in its entirety. And those fans, they really love hearing that. So the fact that that wasn’t happening, and then when I came into the band, it started happening, it really kind of made it easier, I think, for fans to kind of rally around and go, ‘Awesome!'”
Image credit: Melvin Zoopers