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ReStryped: An Exclusive Interview with Stryper Guitarist Oz Fox

By Larry Petro, News Monkey
Tuesday, October 27, 2009 @ 7:29 PM

“We’re doing everything we can to try to keep everything lined up the way it should be…”

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Ask just about anyone to name a band that would be considered a pioneer or godfather of rock and you would probably get the usual list of answers: Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Who, etc, etc. Ask the same people who would be considered a pioneer or godfather of Christian rock and you would probably get mostly one answer: Stryper. The band burst onto the rock scene in the early to mid-eighties during what would become the ‘hair band’ era and was dismissed by most critics as ‘just a passing fad’. Much to the critics chagrin, here it is, 2009 and the band is now celebrating their 25th anniversary with a new album and tour. Granted, they had a few years of downtime mixed in there, but they are now reenergized and ready to take on the world once again! I had the pleasure of being able to catch up with guitarist Oz Fox recently by phone as the band was preparing to enter into Canada for a few dates on their Murder By Pride tour:

KNAC.COM: Okay first question. Are you tired of all these interviews yet? I’m just kidding.

OZ: (laughs) Unfortunately that’s just the way it goes in this business. If you don’t want to do interviews, don’t get into this business.

KNAC.COM: Your new album Murder By Pride was released just a few weeks ago. Where do you think this album ranks in comparison to other Stryper releases?

OZ: You know, that’s a tough question to ask me, I’m partial to every one of them to be honest with you, with the exception of In God We Trust, that’s probably my least favorite album.

KNAC.COM: Why is that?

OZ: I just, at that time I was going through, I was in a rut with my guitar playing and kind of just wasn’t feeling it for that album. That’s probably my least favorite for that. I definitely have a little bit of personal thing for Against the Law, which is probably my favorite album, just because I really feel that kind transformed my guitar playing, which by the way, was the album we did after In God We Trust. (On Against the Law) you can tell I was really working hard.

KNAC.COM: So you’re pretty satisfied with how Murder By Pride has come out?

OZ: Murder By Pride is now, kind of a, I want to say it’s probably the first solid Stryper album we’ve had since the Against the Law album. But as far as fans go, they say it’s the best album since To Hell With the Devil. It kind of touches on a lot of that old style of playing, that old format of music that Stryper was doing. For the most part the response has been pretty good, they like it.

KNAC.COM: What to you was the most critical element during the recording process of this album to achieving a successful release?

OZ: Well, you know I think it’s a combination of things. Obviously you got to have the songs, songs that are really going to catch your ear, have a lot of good hooks in it. Fortunately for this album as well we have a lot of substance within the lyrics, very passionate heartfelt lyrics. At the same time it’s not to the point where anyone who doesn’t want to hear about Christian values, it’s not going to offend them. So that’s a big plus, you’re always trying to make sure you have a song that people are going to want to listen to over and over again. But what also comes into play is that you have to have performance, you’ve got to have dead on performance so that people go ‘Woah! What was that?’

KNAC.COM: Now the album was released on the 25th anniversary of the release of your debut album The Yellow and Black Attack. Obviously this is no coincidence, but was that an intentional thought from the beginning or did someone just along the way say ‘hey, you know what, our 25th anniversary of the first album is coming up, let’s release this one on that day!’?

OZ: Pretty much that’s what happened.

KNAC.COM: Did you ever think when you first got started in Stryper that you’d even be celebrating a 25th anniversary?

OZ: No, I don’t think we ever thought about to be honest with you. Here it is, you know, it’s like ‘wow’, okay we’re older and we’re not jumping around like we used to, but life’s been good. I mean, look at the Stones, those guys have been doing it for years.

KNAC.COM: Now early on in your careers the critics said you guys were just a passing fad, a ‘flash in the pan’ if you will. But nowadays you can pick nearly any secular rock band that s out there and find a Christian rock artist or band that sounds nearly identical. So Stryper, I would say, is at least partial responsible for opening up the entire Christian rock genre. Not too bad for a passing fad, huh?

OZ: Yeah, I would say (laughing) that’s an interesting subject. I’ve run into many of the Christian artists that are popular artists and they come up to us and say, you know, thanks for doing what you did in the past. And hey, that’s all I need to hear .just a little pat on the back to say ‘hey, thanks for doing what you did’. It’s a great feeling. And hopefully we’ll continue to do that.

KNAC.COM: Okay, let’s talk about the tour for a minute. Originally, when all the press releases went out, it was going to be a two set tour, one set with the current lineup doing the newer material and then another set of the original lineup doing the classic Stryper material. Whose idea was that?

OZ: It was Michael’s idea. Michael wanted to, since it was the 25th anniversary, wanted to reunite the band with Tim for part of the show and come out with new yellow and black style costumes, kind of a whole ‘double whammy’.

KNAC.COM: Now what was Tim’s initial reaction to all of this, or was he in on it from the beginning?

OZ: Well yeah, Mike asked him right when he had the idea. He called him up to talk to him about it and I don’t know what was said, he just asked if he wanted to do it. It all just kind of came together, but then at the last minute, what ended up happening was Tracy, our current bass player, he felt like he needed to be at home with his family. His wife had just had a baby, their fourth child in the past couple of years so they’ve got a bunch of little ones at home and he just didn’t want to take that much time away from his family. His wife needed more help from him. So he juts decided to , you know, bow out. At that point Tim stepped in and said ‘I’ll do whatever it takes to make it work.

KNAC.COM: Now once the whole plan changed and it was apparent that Tracy wasn’t going to do the tour. Tim didn’t feel like ‘Hey what did I get myself into here? I went from playing about 45 minutes to playing an hour and a half?’

OZ: (laughs) Well, you know I couldn’t tell ya what he feels on that one to be honest with ya, but he’s having a good time, we’re all having a good time out here. It’s all good as far as I can see.

KNAC.COM: What happens once the tour is over? Does Tim go back to doing his own thing and Tracy comes back into the band and everyone continues on, or what?

OZ: We really don’t know. After what transpired with Tracy we don’t know if he’s going to want to continue to do it with the kids and…. I don’t know, I really don’t know to be honest. We’re trying to figure that out and right now, there’s just a big question mark.

KNAC.COM: The tour schedule seems to be particularly grueling with you guys getting a day off every 3 or 4 nights. How are you guys holding up at this point? I read this morning that you woke up in your clothes again.

OZ: (laughs hard) Ah, you’re following the updates on Twitter, huh?

KNAC.COM: Yes sir! I get all my updates through there and Facebook.

OZ: Yeah, you know, it is a bit grueling. We knew it was going to be like that coming into to this so we were already anticipating it. My schedule in my life has kind of always been this way. I mean, the way I work. Over the last year I’ve been playing in Las Vegas in a 70’s and 80’ classic rock band called Playground. The lead singer of that band is a guy by the name of Frank Dimino, who used to sing in a band called Angel. We’re doing that every weekend, sometimes 4 shows every weekend, doing 3 to 5 sets a show. That and teaching guitar in California. So that’s between Vegas and California, about 3 hours, 3 and ˝ hours roughly, so my life has been waking up in my clothes quite a bit.

KNAC.COM: So, from your standpoint this isn’t bothering you at all then?

OZ: No, not really you know, I'm just kind of going with the flow. Thank God, I just married again on June 5, and thank God my wife is just as busy as I am, so she understands. You know (laughs again), when you’re living the craziness, you take a lot of vitamins and doing the best to get a good 6 or 7 hours of sleep, you get your Starbucks in the morning and try too eat light. I’m the one who gains all the weight so I need to be careful.

KNAC.COM: So how has it been for you guys interacting with the fans after the sound check, doing the meet and greets then instead of after the show?

OZ: It’s been really, really good. A lot of people have been showing up for them. That’s basically been our meet and greet. This time you could actually purchase a sound check meet and greet pass and the you get too hear a couple of tunes during our soundcheck, which has gotten kind of interesting, because we break into some kind of crazy song in the middle of it all. in fact our meet and greet is starting to affect our live shows because now, last night, Michael broke into ‘Breaking the Law’ by Judas Priest and was jamming it which was really funny.

KNAC.COM: And that was during the show or the sound check?

OZ: No, that was during the show!

KNAC.COM: The past year or so has seen the band deal with a swing of emotions. First, in March, Michael’s wife Kyle passed away from cancer that she had been fighting for some time and so there was some great sadness there. Then in June, you got married again and there was great joy. With relation to Kyle’s passing, it’s well known how Michael obviously dealt with it, but how did the rest of the band handle the situation?

    (At this point there is an uncomfortable pause in the conversation and for a split second I ask myself if I have asked the wrong question. Then I suddenly hear a dial tone and realize that our connection was lost. I call back and essentially have to repeat this question a second time)
OZ: It was a huge devastation to all of us. Kyle was a very key person in the whole entity of Stryper. She was there in the beginning and was a part of, I mean she did our makeup for a long time, pretty much molded the way our makeup went and played a big role in influencing in a big way Michael to stay on track with his walk and his faith. Whenever there was something that needed to get accomplished mike would always trust that she was there to run things at home and do very well with the children and whatnot. All of us loved her very dearly and during the time that she was battling the cancer we were getting in the process of getting ready to do the Murder By Pride album and we pretty much put it all on hold basically, I mean, all we could do was say ‘Dude, spend your time with Kyle and do the best you can to help her’. So we left him alone as far as not putting any pressure on him to get anything done, yet he still stepped in and worked while he was going through this. She pressured him and told him ‘Don’t give up, don’t stop!’ she didn’t wan the cancer to take that away from him. It was already taking so much from him just knowing that she had to deal with all of that. That of course led to the situation where he got the opportunity to tour with Boston and so she didn’t want him to lose that either, so pretty much, as reluctant as he was to do it, she pretty much pushed him, saying she knew that is was going to benefit him, but not only that, benefit all of us, for him to be the lead singer of Boston is an incredible, incredible blessing for Stryper. It got more recognition for us and it was really wonderful having Tom Scholz and all with what we’re doing. That being said, when we lost her, it was at the point where she was suffering really badly. I came out to see them m in September (of 08), you know, just pretty much felt like this was going to be, you know, close to the time. In September of 08 I took the trip out stayed with some friends that lived nearby and she wouldn’t see anybody, it was that bad at that point, and no one knew what to think, no one knew, you had this person in your life that’s wonderful and has such a great heart and um…

    At this point the conversation of Kyle’s death is starting to show emotionally in Oz’s voice and he pauses for a moment to regain composure…..
Excuse me, it gets a little hard to talk about it. So, you’re going through that and you don’t know, you sit there thinking, she’s going to have to go through that and you don’t want her to, so you do the best you can to pray and trust God for it, but then knowing she had to go through that, especially, for her, being such an amazing person and her having to go through that was just unbearable, especially for Michael, and finally, when she went, you know, we all, as much as we missed her, we all had a sigh of relief.

KNAC.COM: She wasn’t suffering anymore.

OZ: Right, right. We have a strong faith in what the Bible says is when we’re obedient to God, we go to a place that’s like paradise., where there’s no more suffering. We feel like our bodies are spirit suits, and there’s s spirit inside that lives in the suit and if we are obedient to God and we follow Christ, we’re going to end up with Christ when we pass, when we leave this ‘spirit suit’, so to speak. So what that tells me is that she is up there sipping on some of the best cappuccino and probably looking down at us and probably, if I know Kyle, going to Christ, going to Jesus, who’s in heaven with everybody right now and she going ‘you need to take care of these boys!’ (laughs) I got a couple of aunts that are probably doing that too! (Laughs harder) I know she’s up there raising havoc, getting a bunch of people for us, trying to get some favor for us. So, I guess you know, it’s working, the albums doing very well as far as the reviews and the response from fans and the interest that we’re getting from so many people. Now we just need to see if everyone in the media will accept us. We’ve got a really awesome video producer who’s done quite a few people, like Megadeth, he’s going to be shooting a video for us coming up here real soon and that’ll open up some doors and finally get us back on TV and in some of the homes of people. That’s the kind of favor we’re seeing these days. There are a lot of really good things happening so, in that respect Michael, I know I’m kind of long winded here about this, but Michael is doing very well and we’re all supporting him. He’s got his son and his daughter out with us on the tour right now and it’s been good. His heart is definitely, he’s a different person now. Now there’s some things you know, sometimes leopards can’t change all their spots, but he’s really making an effort to be a different Michael these days, and that’s one of the reasons why this tour is coming together like it is.

KNAC.COM: As was mentioned a bit ago, you got married in June, congratulations on the new wedding!

OZ: Thank you very much.

KNAC.COM: For those readers that don’t know that you got married or even know that you were involved again, tell us about your new wife.

OZ: (hearty laugh) Well, her name is Annie Lobert. Annie was a prostitute for eleven years and she went through a lot of hell being a prostitute. She had pimps that beta her, tortured her, played a lot of head games with her and pretty much, she was pretty much their slave. Hooked on drugs, she pretty much came to a point in her life where she felt like she had nothing to live for and one day she OD’d. When she OD’d she remembered that she gone to Christian school as a little girl and when she remembered, she cried out to Jesus that he would rescue her. As she was OD’ing and having a heart attack because of the coke she snorted, for the last time I guess, she cried to Christ and asked Jesus to save her from her life. She ended up in the hospital and the doctors told her that it was a miracle that she had even lived and she recovered. After that, while spending a lot of time at a friends house just trying to get her act in gear, she started watching Christian television and it really had a huge change in her life and she set out to help other prostitutes, especially the friends she had that were caught up in that lifestyle and rehabilitate themselves, and be free from being sex slaves, because that’s really what it is. Even though a woman chooses to be a prostitute, she becomes a slave. It’s a terrible, terrible lifestyle. So Annie has set out to continue help these girls get out. She has ministry called ‘Hookers for Jesus’ and she partnered with her church there in South Las Vegas and they set up a house so that girls who are getting out of the business, it’s a safe house where they can come and stay, hide from their pimps, and just be able to start their lives over again. It’s an amazing, amazing outreach, and I’ve become a part of it now, because I’m married to Annie, and what’s neat is I’ve been able to be an example to these women of a Christian, of what they should really have in their lives. They call me ‘papa bears’ (laughs).

KNAC.COM: That doesn’t make you feel old though, does it?

OZ: Ah well, it’s okay, you know half the time these girls either didn’t have a dad or their dads beat ‘em or victimized them, or they were abducted when they were 12 years old by their pimps. That’s how young they start, which is really sad. And if there’s any way that I can be an influence in a good way and help them understand that men are supposed to protect them, not sell them, then I think their getting something good out of that. Plus, on top that, the way I am with Annie, I just love her to death, I love her and I’d do anything to make her feel like she’s special. They need to know that there’s a man out there that will treat them that way. They should wait for that man. That’s the neat thing about Annie and what’s going on. We got married on June 5th and it’s just been a just great experience being married to this girl, she’s just a kick. There’s a possibility that we may be getting a reality show, there’s people looking at us, so looking good!

KNAC.COM: Is she out on the tour with you?

OZ: She’s out visiting every now and then. She’s supposed to show up here on the first (of Oct). Be out with me for about 6 days and then she’s going to hang out with her folks in Wisconsin but she was off a lot at the beginning of the tour so she saw the first couple of dates so she’s coming out at different periods of time. She’s so busy, she’s got so much to do herself, she’s always doing some kind of TV thing, or she’s got stuff going on with the church. She just did the Tyra Bank’s show like a week before I went out for rehearsals. There are a handful of things she does, like speaking engagements and whatnot, so she’s busy as well. But you know we always try to make the time.

KNAC.COM: I have followed the band from the beginning and looking back, at the onset it was very apparent that you guys were a Christian band. Then as time progressed, you guys got to the Against the Law release, which you said was one of your favorites, the message seemed to get somewhat diluted to the point where most of the songs could carry a double meaning and it wasn’t a really obvious Christian message anymore. Of course, not too long after that release the band split up. Was there ever a time when you felt like maybe God was giving you guys a little bit of a thump to say ‘hey! You guys got away from the message, your time is up for now’. Did you ever feel that way?

OZ: I don’t think it was so much that we got away from the message as much as I think our lifestyles weren’t what he would have wanted us to have and he, I think definitely he had a hand in stopping what we were doing, to get our hearts right. A lot of times I feel God’ll do that, he’ll allow something to happen in your life to get your attention. In this case, the band split up and our record company went bankrupt and at that point a lot of the promises were made from the people working that album never followed through. So when the next label took us on, which was Hollywood Records, they couldn’t get anyone to do anything with us. So a lot of the doors were closed all of a sudden at that point. The band pretty much broke up and we all kind of, with the exception of Michael, who went on to a solo project and did quite well on the first album I believe. The rest of us went back into either trying to get some kind of band project going or we went back to work. I know I did. That’s what I did, I went back to what I knew before I did Stryper, which was warehouse distribution. I spent a good 12 or 13 years doing that and just spending time raising my family but also a little frustrated because you know, I didn’t know why I was put in a situation like Stryper and then all of a sudden taken out of it, and I had to come to a lot of deep soul searching. I really come to find out, that is probably for the best, that I didn’t become a success with the against the law period. I probably would have destroyed myself. I thank God that I was able to pull away from that and get on a good path, get my heart right with God. Of course, that didn’t mean I wasn’t, I mean I went through more trials. But a lot of those hard times really teach you something, make you into the person you are and gives you the ability to work through it and maybe help somebody else who may be going through that same thing that you went through. So, you know, there you go!

KNAC.COM: Is it a fair assessment to say that with Murder By Pride the band is now committed than ever to the message?

OZ: Yeah, I would have to say yes. We’re doing everything we can to try to keep everything lined up the way it should be with our faith and definitely we’ve learned a lot over the last I don’t know how many years about what it means to be a true Christian. And everyone has different levels of faith but at the same time we all know we’re here for one purpose, at that’s to bring the message of Christ to the lost part of the world that not too many people reach. And that’s really basically it. Ultimately, that’s our calling and we’re going to continue to do it and we’re going to do it in sincerity and we do not want anyone to feel left out of that. We want to give everyone the opportunity to know and understand what that means. Christ, to us, is everything. If you read in a Bible the words of Christ, it brings life to you, not death. It brings freedom to you, not bondage. You live a freer life because you’re not caught up in feelings that are going to destroy you. The biggest problem people have is their pride. Their self-centeredness, you know, ‘look out for #1’. Christ never taught, he taught us to be a servant to other people. And I love that, because it changes your outlook, it changes your life. You’re not just focused on yourself. The concerns of yourself can actually become your frustrations because things don’t come out the way you want them to and then you get frustrated. Well, if you have an attitude of ‘ I trust you God and I’m going to let you show me what to do and give me a heart that is satisfied with every situation’ then you’re going to look at things differently. If you’re getting taught to love your wife like Christ loved the church and died for it, your wife is going to love you. So many great things are taught in the Bible that’ll put you on track! It’s funny how many Christians don’t get it. They miss the point and they become frustrated. That’s because they don’t put God in the center of their life. If you can picture your life as a big circle, and right in the middle of the circle, there’s a chair. That’s the throne of your life. If you’re on the throne of your life and you only have God in that circle with all of the other things in your life, you’re still going to get frustrated because you’re running things. But if you put God in that seat, and you let him put everything in your life in order according to his way, you’re going to be content.

KNAC.COM: Last question. Obviously, you guys are older now than you were 25 years ago but what to you is the biggest Stryper of 1984 and the Stryper of 2009?

OZ: (long pause) I think our faith in God is probably the best it’s ever been, and that means everything to us because if you don’t have that it’s just a crapshoot. Back then we were young didn’t have much of a testimony. We didn’t have as much experience as we do now. I think overall it’s got to be the wisdom that has occurred over the years is what’s held up the most, we’re a lot wiser. I think it’s a plus in all areas. Now because we know all those things we’re able to look at things in a different way and be happier with the way things are turning out.

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