“Do you both agree that we should have named the band Guns N ‘Moses?” Stryper’s Michael Sweet asks this question, bluntly, to Guitar world on Zoom. But the singer-guitarist is not referring to his longtime Christian metal team. He’s talking about Sunbomb – the new side project of Tracii Guns, the main man of LA Guns. Before we can analyze Sweet’s impassive delivery, Guns, who is also on call, laughs out loud, “I’m okay with that!”
All kidding aside, the question highlights an apparent paradox around Sunbomb: how the hell did a nice guy like Sweet find himself singing about Guns’ heavier-than-ever exploration of black-metal-tinged doom and classic heavy metal?
The Guns / Sweet couple takes on a little more meaning when you learn how much the two musicians have in common. They both grew up in SoCal during the heyday of ’70s hard rock.
Each guitarist has been deeply influenced by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal as well as six-string greats like Eddie Van Halen, Michael Schenker and Randy Rhoads. LA Guns and Stryper gained international fame thanks to the rowdy ’80s Sunset Strip scene, and both outfits are still going strong today.
The guys also shared a guitar technician – who was the matchmaker that led to their relatively recent friendship. They even tried launching an LA Guns / Stryper tour, but “it was very hard for the promoters to swallow,” Guns says.
Sunbomb’s music started to take shape a few years ago. Guns was working on songs originally intended for a solo release for his label, Frontiers Records. He sent one of the unfinished tracks to his new friend Sweet for his opinion. “He dug it out,” Guns recalls. “So I asked if he wanted to sing on it. It was the very innocent start of our collaboration.
This track – a heartbreaking cut called Life which features Guns unleashing a black-metal-style tremolo-picking swarm – kicked off a nasty collaboration that ultimately resulted in the full debut of Sunbomb, Evil and Divine. Besides the Norwegian end of the 90s of Life, the 11-song hard album unfolds like a love letter to Guns’ favorite youthful acts: from Sabbathian doom (Take me elsewhere, Best ending) and Led Zeppelin blues-meets-crossover thrash (Born to win) to the dynamics of Randy Rhoads (No tomorrow) and beyond.
Sweet proves to be a capable accomplice throughout Evil and Divine, which also features performances by drummer Adam Hamilton and bassist Mitch Davis (with a guest shot by LA Guns bassist Johnny Martin on They fought). Guns took care of all the guitar duties, allowing Sweet to focus only on vocals and channel some of his favorite frontmen including Ronnie James Dio and Rob Halford. âI don’t sound like them,â Sweet qualifies, âbut I tried to get a little more out of this album.â
âPutting the music together is one thing, but getting vocal tracks from Michaelâ¦ I was losing my mind! Guns exclaims. âI would say to my wife, ‘Come here and listen to this!’ For me, Sunbomb is already a 100% successâ¦ I get better as I get older! I’m just thinking that right now in front of you all … [Laughs]”
Tracii, what inspired you to start Sunbomb, and what does it give you to express that you can’t in LA Guns?
TRACII SHOTGUNS: âI never wanted to make a boring instrumental record. I love the songs and I love the impact. I like stuff that is either really sad or brutally on your face. I’m able to do this at LA Guns to a pointâ¦ It can’t be heavier than Ozzy Osbourne. But I’m really into this whole new wave of British heavy metalâ¦ So I just started writing this stuff.
âAnd when I got married, my wife, who’s Danish, listens to black metalâ¦ I thought, ‘Shit, those riffsâ¦ I understand! It’s good, it’s like Randy Rhoads times 10. ‘ [Laughs] Modal guitar parts in the metal, which is very rareâ¦ Michael and I had recently met. We had known each other for a little over a year at that time. We really wanted to do something together, and that was the outlet. “
Michael, were you also a big fan of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal growing up?
MICHAEL SWEET: “Oh yeahâ¦ When I first heard Judas Priest I was in second year in high school and my sister was driving me to schoolâ¦ I heard Unleashed in the East. Diamonds and rust blew me awayâ¦ It changed everything for me. I started looking for bands like Maidenâ¦ then Dio and Ozzy Osbourne and Randy, and that’s where it blossomed.
FIRE ARMS : “And Def Leppard, right?” These first tipsâ¦ â
SWEET: âOh yeah, Def Leppard. We covered these songs, Wasted. I dug them out when they got more pop and more suited to radio. “
Michael, do you remember Tracii’s pitch? Were you immediately down or did you have reservations about tackling a âdoomâ record?
SWEET: âI remember it very well. I was at Michaels [craft store] with my wife Lisa, and I get this beep on my phone and I open it. I’m sitting there at Michaels listening to the song on my phone. [Laughs] Everyone uses the words ‘dark’ and ‘doom’ and all that, but it was really different for Tracii and for me. The combination of us together doing something different really made for a unique album in a fresh and fresh way. I’m really proud to be a part of it.
Tracii, let’s talk about the recording. Did COVID have an impact on the way the album was created?
FIRE ARMS : âI had recorded all the guitars in 2018, 2019. Then Adam, who was playing drums, he got these things right away. I recorded everything on the floor of my apartmentâ¦ with a HeadRush. I had never recorded anything like this.
SWEET: âIt’s great. God bless the technology we have to get great guitar sounds like that. As far as the way I do the vocals, I have a great string here. I did about 14. albums at home; I like to do it that way. I can take my time and I have a Neumann and an Avalon and everything sounds clean and it works.
Tracii, you unveiled a new Kramer Gunstar Voyager at NAMM. Has this been recorded?
FIRE ARMS : âNo, it wasn’t. I did not receive the prototype until about eight months after I finished all the guitar tracksâ¦ I played a guitar on the whole album, my Rick Nielsen 1959 Les Paulâ¦ with the HeadRush [and] the preset I made especially for the album. No wah or anything. It’s directly in the interface. I recorded in Logic. I didn’t record to Pro Tools on this one, as I had to take advantage of the drummer track in Logic to really put those tempos or beat changes together.
Michael, what’s your main ax these days?
SWEET: “I have the Washburn Michael Sweet [Parallaxe] models. I’m not at Washburn anymore but they still produce themâ¦ I just made a deal with a company called Sully Guitarsâ¦ He signed me up which is really cool. It’s called the Revolution; it’s basically like a King V and I’m really digging. This is my main guitar, for Stryper anyway.
Tracii, Life shows some black-metal style tears in the verses. Did it take a long time to build your stamina?
FIRE ARMS : âI have been doing double picking since I was 10 years old. It wasn’t so much about working up to record the song, but the thought of playing it live scares me. [Laughs]”
Which black metal bands have influenced you?
FIRE ARMS : âThe stuff from the early 90s is pretty trashy, which in a way appeals to me. I can apply this style more to LA Guns, just loud and hoarse. But I really like Satyricon’s live album [Live at the Opera]. These tones are very soft. And [drummer] Frost hits so light, but it sounds so powerful. It’s like a swarm of mosquitoesâ¦ And Marduk is really cool too, and Gorgoroth with Gaahlâ¦ Life it’s like an LA Guns song, Speed, but you can’t really tell. It has the same Diary of a madman finger pattern.
Michael, black metal is often anti-Christian. Are you able to appreciate the musical aspects despite the lyrical content?
SWEET: âI appreciate music for the sake of music. Of my favorite bands, none of them are probably a Christian band per se. If a band sings about the devil or Satan in a real way, but I like the riff, I can separate that. I’m pretty sure when people think of black metal, Michael Sweet doesn’t appear on the radarâ¦ [Laughs] I can safely say that. But I didn’t try to be “black metal man” with the vocals. I just did my thing.
Take me elsewhere tap into another dark Sabbath-style darkness …
FIRE ARMS : “Take me elsewhere is a direct structural theft of the song Black sabbath. I never hide where I get my ideas from … I found a riff that has movement … with a guitar sound from the early 80’s. It’s bigger, bigger and … it’s okay change your mood in five seconds. The arrangement is the same, but I think Black sabbath is in key of G and it’s key as low as my guitar would go. [Laughs]”
Tracii, Sunbomb explore many classic elements of metal on Evil and Divine. Is there a song for you that sums up the vision for the project?
FIRE ARMS : âIt’s so hard. For me, it’s like a long song with changes in tempo and dynamics. Some things are brutally fast … Life to that [black metal] picking style in the verse. It only happens once on the album, yet it sticks … Then we have a blues song, Born to win, it sounds a bit like [Led Zeppelinâs] How many more times. “
SWEET: “Oh yeah, there’s a bit of a Zeppelin vibe.”
FIRE ARMS : âIt’s a progression of the blues. But I played it on a 12 string one octave down and then the chorus comes in – I don’t even think it’s half time, it’s like quarter time. It’s like, Woah, the engines just stopped on the plane! [Laughs]
âThat’s what I was really trying to get on record in terms of dynamics. One way or another, it all fits together. I think people who really like the heavy side of Dio, Priest, Sabbath, Ian Gillan Sabbath, Deep Purple, the first Maiden, the first Leppardâ¦ if they don’t like this album, they’re not fans of metal. [Laughs]”