SWEET & LYNCH – Strength In Numbers
Sweet & Lynch (l-r): Michael Sweet and George Lynch
American metal supergroup Sweet & Lynch was initially the brainchild of Serafino Perugino, founder of Naples, Italy-based record label Frontiers Music Srl. Serafino approached vocalist Michael Sweet of Christian metallers Stryper with a view to him forming a Frontiers-backed supergroup, erstwhile Dokken and current Lynch Mob guitarist George Lynch coming onboard soon thereafter.
“There’s no real great story there,” George corroborates. “It’s just kind of boring. A label got a hold of me. Frontiers put this together actually, so it’s kind of a label created project. As you know, Frontiers has a lot of 80s bands on their roster – legacy groups – and obviously they understand the music. They’re huge fans, and they support that kind of music. Some people over there had the idea of putting together a sort of supergroup for lack of a better term. They got a hold of Michael and got a hold of me, actually, and asked me if I would like to get involved, which I obviously did. Then we got Brian Tichy (ex-Whitesnake) and James LoMenzo (ex-Megadeth / ex-White Lion) to fill it out. It was actually pretty easy, which is kind of unusual in this business (laughs) – for things to be easy.”
During a conversation for a December 2014 Metal Forces feature, the axeman spoke of issues in generally maintaining stable line-ups through the years. “This is nothing like that,” he observes. “It’s about as easy as it could possibly get (laughs). The songs came really easy. There were no hiccups; it was very quick and painless, and a lot of fun. Boy, I wish they could all be like that (laughs), but anyway.”
Approached with a view to forming Sweet & Lynch, George was obviously receptive towards the idea. “First of all, I don’t like to say no,” he explains. “I don’t like to disappoint people and secondly, there’s nothing more I like than just staying in the studio. I really prefer that to being on the road. I just love the creative process, especially when I’m called on to write. I get hired frequently to just play guitar on things that are already written. To me, that’s more like a job sort of, but a project like Sweet & Lynch where I’m called upon to write the music… That to me is what I live for. I love that; I love being in the studio and just creating stuff from scratch, and then watching it turn into a finished product. I just love the process.”
And as well, the composer held Michael Sweet’s vocal abilities in high esteem. “We had been doing some shows together,” he remembers. “His band Stryper and Lynch Mob were out for about a year, and running into each other frequently. We did the Monsters Of Rock Cruise together. We also did quite a few dates around the country in the States here, and ended up doing some travelling together. In the process of hanging out, at some point we discussed the possibility of maybe finding a way to work together someday. One of the things I like about Mike is that he’s not a bullshit guy at all. He’s a really dedicated hard worker; he does what he says he’s gonna do and that goes a long way with me, because there’s a lot of people in Hollywood that aren’t like that (laughs). They end up wasting your time.
“It can get very, very frustrating, so that meant a lot to me, and stylistically what he has going on, and the fact that he’s taken care of his voice so beautifully, and sings the way he does. Obviously, he’s a great singer and prides himself on his compositions – his hook writing and his arrangements – and he’s a producer. He’s the whole thing; he just does it all. He brings a lot to the table, and so I thought ‘Well, we could make a pretty powerful record.’ To me, him and I have the same kind of chemistry to the listener… Even though I didn’t really work by writing with Don (Dokken, Dokken vocalist) in Dokken very much – I hardly ever wrote with him – to the listener, I think Michael and I pairing up has that same kind of chemistry between the guitar and the singer. Stylistically, he’s kind of in the same world as Don. We could do a record that’s maybe reminiscent of Dokken in some way, and sort of bring back that chemistry.
“A lot of people have been sort of hoping that I would do something like this for a lot of years. From what I’ve been able to gather from feedback I’ve heard over the years, people have been like ‘You do all of these other projects and different kinds of music, but what about what you used to do in the 80s?’ I didn’t even know if I could do that any more, and so I thought that it was an interesting challenge. When Frontiers and Michael called me up, I thought ‘What if I can do this? I figure that I’ve gotta roll up my sleeve, and give it a shot.’ It worked. I think it worked.”
Albeit sharing musical traits in several areas, endeavours outside of the Dokken realm for George weren’t and aren’t mere Dokken facsimiles. “Everything that I do, and that any musician does…,” he begins. “We’re not working in a vacuum. What we play is a product of our environment, and the people that we’re playing with and so forth. Me playing with Oni Logan (vocalist, Lynch Mob) and Mick Brown (drummer, Dokken and ex-Lynch Mob) and Anthony Esposito (bassist, ex-Lynch Mob) is gonna have a completely different result than playing with Jeff Pilson (bass, Dokken) and Don Dokken. I learnt some things from playing with Dokken; I learnt some things that I liked, and I learnt some things that I didn’t like that I didn’t really wanna have in a band. I definitely wanted a singer with more soul, and more grit, and a little dirtier, and a different type of lyricist. Somebody that was a poet and could paint surreal pictures with his lyrics (laughs), and have a certain vibe onstage – just all kinds of things.
“I wanted a really tight band; tight in the sense that we were a tight-knit group of brothers that worked really hard. We did work really hard; we played constantly, and just kept honing and honing, and fine-tuning it. Fine-tuning the songs, and fine-tuning our sound in the early days. We really wanted to have that blues element – that kind of legacy rock element – but with a mystical kind of quality to it as well. I think we created something slightly unique, our own little sound that I think endures to this day. I can’t play that way or write that way without anybody else but Oni. When I get together with Oni, we have a certain thing that happens (laughs). It’s awesome.”
The musician’s words paint a markedly different impression to those shared in the aforementioned December 2014 Metal Forces feature. At that point in time – a mere three months prior to this fresh conversation – Oni had displayed commitment issues within the Lynch Mob fold, and had flown the nest. “That’s happened quite a bit over the decades, since 1989 or 1990 – when we first got together,” he admits. “I don’t even know how many versions of Lynch Mob there’s been (laughs). There’ve been quite a few, but I guess Lynch Mob is really Oni and myself when it comes down to it.
“And yeah, we have put together a new band. Just to complicate things further, the band we are taking out on the road is not the band that’s playing on the new record that we’re working on right now for Frontiers Records. Oni and I are just finishing up this new record – he’s got two or three songs left to sing on. He’s actually working in the studio right now as we speak, and trying to finish that up. It’s being delivered April 1st, so I’m thinking July it’ll be released. We’ve got Jeff Pilson playing bass, who has joined us on bass for this record. Brian Tichy is on drums, the drummer from Sweet & Lynch and the same drummer from T&N.
“The band that’s going out on the road is not Jeff and Brian, though. It’s Sean McNabb from Dokken actually, which is kind of ironic. We have a new drummer who’s an unknown guy, but he played in Kyuss in the early days. He’s just a really, really great guy who’s an interesting guy. I’m a big fan of the whole southern California desert rock scene; I’ve got a place out there, and I’ve got a lot of history out there. For me, having him in the band is really adding an extra layer of just this whole other vibe that I think really fits Lynch Mob, because we are essentially a desert band. We came out of Arizona; we all lived out in the desert and are a product of that, and that permeates our music and continues to. I think he’s a great addition.”
George refuses to divulge the identity of the desert rock sticksman assuming live duties. “I don’t wanna say his name right now,” he replies.
Oni’s return to the Lynch Mob fold suggests recent problems between the pair have since been resolved. “Listen, Oni and I have had our ups and downs obviously,” the axe-slinger concedes. “He’s come and went many times, but I’m always optimistic and hopeful that people can work things out and make things work (laughs). Right now, we are. Right now, it’s going really well, so no complaints. I’m not gonna let the past spoil the future.”
George had previously attempted to give each respective Lynch Mob member equal ownership in the venture, efforts which ultimately proved futile. “We did try it out again, and that didn’t work,” he chuckles. “The equal ownership thing, I’m really a huge fan of that – I believe in that. I did everything I thought I could do to make that as democratic a situation as possible, where everything was equitable straight across the board – everything – and it ruined the band. Still to this day, I can’t figure it out, so we’re not doing that this time, but never say never. Right now, we’re just playing it safe. We’ve got Sean and the drummer in the band, and we’re gonna go do some dates in 2015. We’re gonna see how it goes, and then re-evaluate it at that point.”
Returning to the topic of Sweet & Lynch, James as well as Brian had both performed alongside George on past endeavours, although this didn’t prompt the pair’s involvement in the project. “They weren’t actually my suggestions,” he discloses. “It was kind of Michael’s pursuit. I think I had maybe chimed in with some opinion about who we should use, but I can’t remember now. Having said that though, I have played with Brian – as I mentioned earlier – on multiple projects. He’d been in Lynch Mob for a bunch of tours. James LoMenzo had done at least one tour with Lynch Mob that I can remember, so we had all played together. We all live very close to each other actually, except for Michael. It was very comfortable. It’s not like I had to get to know anybody, like play with a stranger and do a strange, new project. I was playing with people that I knew, that were friends and that I was familiar with. That made it cool, although I have to say, we never recorded in the same room at the same time (laughs). We never saw each other.
“I don’t know if that even mattered, but it was still nice to have Brian and James on the record though. They’re great players, obviously – amazing players – and the record sounds so good. I mean, it really does. I am probably just dating myself, but all of this new production with just brick-walling everything, making it loud and un-dynamic… I mean, it was really nice to hear a record where it’s got some of those old school qualities. It’s polished and it’s powerful, but it’s also dynamic. Yeah though, these guys are pros. Brian is a super pro and James is a super pro, and it’s recorded very, very well. I think you have to credit Michael for the production, because he definitely had a huge hand in the way that record ended up sounding.”
The guitarist recorded his parts for resultant January 2015 full-length Only To Rise at his own studio. “I worked with my own engineer Chris Collier, who we call ‘The Wizard’,” he credits. “He’s a phenomenal engineer; he’s just an all round great person. He’s the whole package. Anyways, we work independently. What the label and Michael asked me to do is write a batch of songs instrumentally, which I did. We discussed the direction, and what we wanted to accomplish. Then I took to my file cabinet and just went to work, and kind of subconsciously was thinking ‘Well, we’re rooted in the 80s but modern.’ It was just derivative of this song, or that song.
“He would bring up certain songs, like a Dokken song for instance. He’d say ‘George, I’d really like it if you could come up with something that’s sort of reminiscent of ’The Hunter’ (from November 1985’s Under Lock And Key).’ That’s a Dokken song. I said ‘Okay, I’ve got that,’ so I’d write that down, and then when Chris and I would get into the studio. Chris would program a beat and I’d say ‘Give me something like ‘The Hunter’,’ so we’d listen to the song and go ‘Okay, let’s program something similar to that tempo.’ Then I’d build off of that and write something obviously different than ‘The Hunter’, but in the vein and the spirit of ‘The Hunter’. By the time Michael got the song, he did his own thing to it and he wrote ‘Dying Rose’, which has a huge hook. Beautiful, my favourite song off of the record. Unless you told somebody that we were thinking of an old Dokken song, and that it was derived from an old Dokken song.
“I don’t think anybody would’ve thought that it was when listening to the song, but there are other instances, like going for an early Van Halen vibe. There’s a song on there that has that kind of vibe. I had my inspirations and sources that I was pulling from, and then I’d make a bed for basically most of the record. Instrumentally, some of the songs were pretty complete while some were just three parts. I’d just send them over to Michael and the guys, and say ‘Arrange it however you feel you need to arrange it.’ That’s gonna happen when you’re working independently and remotely. I’m gonna write some parts, and then Michael’s gonna look at it and go ‘Well… I’d rather have this part here, and I’d rather shorten it or lengthen it, and so forth.’
“They did all of the arrangements, and nipping and tucking. Once they put all of their parts down, they sent them back to me. I went in and did a second round of rhythm guitars, and then I did all of the solos as well. The last thing I did was the sweetening I like to call it, where I just add an acoustic part, or a clean part, or a 12-string, or some weird effect, or feedback. Who knows? Just all of the ear candy stuff that really creates other levels and dimensions so that when you’re listening, it’s not so one-dimensional.”
Lending such musical ingredients to a given composition can generate the difference between a demo take and a fully realised track. “I did this project with Ray Luzier (KXM), which is pretty close to the Korn band in certain parts if you listen to Ray and what’s going on with that,” George observes. “Also, our engineer Chris has been doing some work with him. Ray was actually working on The Paradigm Shift (October 2013) pre-production when we were working together, and I saw the process that they went through. It’s the same kind of thing. They’re bare bones pre-production tapes, as most bands’ are I imagine – they’re just that. There’s not a lot of stuff on top, but then when you listen to the record. You hear all of the synth stuff and the whammy guitar stuff, and the effects and the backward vocals and everything (laughs). It really makes a huge difference.
“Oh, by the way, the pick-ups that I use are from Rob Timmons. They’re called Arcane Pickups. He’s standing over my shoulder, making sure I mention that (laughs). I’m actually sitting right outside the shop here, so he’s like ‘Make sure you mention the pick-ups in the interview’ (laughs). I have my own pickup line with Arcane Pickups, so that’s why he wants me to mention that. Mr. Scary is one of the models, yeah. I’ve got another pickup called the Desert Eagle, which is a single coil pickup. His company is Arcane, and they’re all hand wound. They’re just insane – you’ll never need to buy another pickup. You might be thinking ‘Should I get Seymour Duncan? Should I get Bare Knuckle? Should I get this or that?’ No, just get Mr. Scary and Desert Eagle Arcanes, and you’re fine. You won’t need any other pickups (laughs).
“Another person who wants mentioning is Jeorge Tripps from Dunlop, a very famous pedal maker guy. Dunlop makes pedals, which are unbelievable. I work with them a lot; we’re designing some really awesome pedals. He’s actually standing over my shoulder right now, making sure that I mention him in the interview. Dunlop Manufacturing make MXR pedals.”
As well as drawing inspiration from erstwhile concern Dokken, the axeman drew inspiration from several other sources. “I can’t really remember what I was pulling inspiration from,” he ponders. “‘September’ is obviously ‘Wasted Years’, by Iron Maiden (from September 1986’s Somewhere In Time). I blatantly ripped that off, no question (laughs). Let’s see… And there’s the Van Halen song that ends really badly (‘Only To Rise’). The biggest problem I had with that record was the end of that song where it just ends with an abrupt drum solo that fades out. I was like ‘What?,’ but it’s got a definite early Van Halen vibe – I was definitely going for that.
“It could be early Dokken too because we had songs like ‘Til The Livin’ End’ (from Under Lock And Key) and ‘Turn On The Action’ (from September 1984’s Tooth And Nail), and those were kind of in the same vibe, so I’d say that that was Dokken / Van Halen-inspired. That’s back in the day when you had to have a fast song on the record; it was like ‘Oh, we need a ballad… And we need a fast song’ (laughs), so we’d always write these upbeat, double bass things in Dokken and in Lynch Mob.”
Ballads like ‘Love Stays’ and ‘Me Without You’ additionally complement Only To Rise. “We’ve got a couple, like two or three on there,” George muses. “I don’t think they’re traditional ballads in the sense you would think of ballads, like an 80s ballad or anything. I think they’re just really beautiful songs that happen to be ballads (laughs). The thing is, with Michael’s stuff, I think he’s very religion-centric in his lyric writing.”
The prospect of a second Sweet & Lynch platter is unclear at this point. “We haven’t even got to the point of thinking about that,” the songwriter notes. “I think one of the things that we really wanna do is do a record with Michael; Jeff Pilson, Mick Brown, and myself wanna do a very Dokken-esque kind of a thing. Just without Don, with Michael replacing Don. We think we’re gonna call it Nekkod, which is Dokken backwards (laughs).”
Dokken alumni George, Jeff, and Mick had cut material as T&N in recent years, issuing lone effort Slave To The Empire in October 2012. “Right, but we’re not gonna call it T&N,” he clarifies. “We’ll call it something else.”
Sweet & Lynch have ambitions to become a touring entity, although whether this will transpire is currently uncertain. “I can’t really say right now,” the musician divulges. “We’ve got an agent working on it, but we have no concrete plans to tour yet.”
Only To Rise was released on January 23rd, 2015 in Europe and subsequently on the 27th in North America, all via Frontiers Music Srl.
Interview published in March 2015.
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