Exclusive interview with Skillet
We are happy to start with one of our most loved bands - Skillet. Our thanks go to John Cooper who shared his time with us for this one.
Why did you start Skillet and did you expect to have the success that the band is currently enjoying?
I started Skillet because music has always made sense to me. It was one of the only things I was ever really good at. Music always made me feel better when I was down. It got me through hard times of my life and expressing what I believe through music was just very important to me and so starting Skillet was a great way to express what I believe in, write music that I hope could help people, that could maybe inspire other people, and could rock at the same time.
Did anything change in Skillet's when 'Collide' got picked up by Lava Records and then moved to Atlantic?
Yes, things did very much change when “Collide” came out. “Collide” came out and a few months later Lava picked it up and that was a really big deal for us because we really didn’t have much of a home in the Christian music world; we were too heavy, we were too loud, we were too whatever, and all of a sudden when Lava picked it up it just opened up the world to us, opened up a radio to us and also it makes people take you a little bit more seriously to be honest. You’re actually out there, you have somebody fighting for you at radio, trying to get you played and those kinds of things. So one of the best things to happen from that mainstream deal with Lava was just getting some of those opportunities, you know, finally putting music out in front of people. I always felt if people heard the music, I think they’d like it. We just needed to get in front of people, and that was one of the best things that happened with Lava.
What's it like playing to a Christian audience like 'Parachute Music Festival’ compared to an all out mainstream audience like 'Rock AM', do you change your set list, stage banter etc?
What’s it like playing to a Christian audience? I mean I love playing Christian music festivals and rock festivals. I mean our set doesn’t change very much to be honest, we just always set out to be ourselves and to be authentic, to sing what we wanted to sing about, talk what we want to talk about. I will say that the stage banter changes a little bit, not because of authenticity, but just because the crowds kind of prefer something slightly different. Christian audiences are a little bit akin to country music audiences in which they like to know what the songs are about (Why did you write a song? What’s the story behind that, you know? Was there something meaningful that happened? Something when you were growing up, or something that you went through?) Country fans and Christian music fans like to know those things and rock music fans more just want to rock. And so, I’m kind of comfortable doing either one. But I have found that Skillet is able to kind of seamlessly go do Christian shows or rock shows and you know, ninety five percent, ninety eight percent of the show is pretty much the same thing.
4. What would you consider one of Skillets mistakes as a young band tying to make it big?
Yeah, there are so many mistakes, it’s hard to choose one, to be honest. I think one of the things, if I could go back to my younger self and tell myself some good advice, it would be to understand that when you play music, you are in the music business! And I would emphasize the word “business.” I think that I never quite knew that when I was young, I just thought “I don’t want to be involved in business, I just want to do the art, that’s all that matters.” But you’re going to find out quickly that actually it’s not all that matters. The business is very important and if you work at it, if you spend time on it and you work hard, you can have a lot of longevity in a music career. But you sometimes have to put the business hat on, and that can be difficult. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more to it than just making art that you love.
You've stopped playing bass at live concerts recently, what was the reason?
I have not stopped playing bass. Over the last ten years I probably started choosing a few songs that I did not play bass on and that would be songs like “Hero” and “Monster”. Maybe in the last couple years, “Not Gonna Die” was a song I didn’t play bass on the “Rise” album. It’s mainly just because I wanted to free myself up on stage to be able to get closer to the fans. I love to hear the fans singing the songs and sometimes I always give them a chance to sing in the microphone and those kinds of things. So that was the reason, but I still play bass for more than half of the concert. Another part of it is just, I like to give the crowd something new to see, you know, so there’s ebb and flow, it’s not just the same thing the entire set. So I’ll give my bass to someone else and they can play on a song while I just sing and I kind of enjoy that. It kind of inspires me to try new stuff at the show that you can’t try when you’re holding the guitar.
Keeping in mind that Monster has over 3 billion global audio streams and Hero hit more than 1 billion - Has anything changed in your song writing process after that?
I don’t think anything really necessarily changed. I think what’s really funny about writing songs that hit at radio -- “Monster” was our first radio hit, and biggest radio hit -- is you don’t really know why they hit, you were just writing something you thought was cool, something that you believed in, something that you wanted to say and you were unaware that it was going to be that big. I mean truthfully, it took the song about nine months before it ever really got really big, it was a really long haul. And we didn’t know if it was going to be a big radio hit or not, and so I don’t think it necessarily changes the way you write after that, I mean everybody wants to write a song that would hit really big and certainly you want to try, but at the same time, if you’re constantly trying to kind of recreate a moment that you had, you’re probably going to end up failing over and over because I don’t think that you can create that sort of thing. So I think there’s a a lot of providence involved in that. So I wouldn't say that it’s changed the way that I write songs but the power of “Monster” certainly changed our lives and changed our careers.
Is it as exciting as it is to go on stage now as it did in the 90's?
It’s way more exciting to go on stage now than it was in the 90's, because people actually know who we are. I mean, I’m kind of joking. It was really fun in the 90’s for different reasons. It was fun because I was young, I was hungry, I wanted the chance to go out to the world and show them what I had. There was that sort-of, sometimes me and my wife, we’d call it “the Eye of the Tiger,” -- that’s a reference to the Rocky films with Sylvester Stallone. Like whatever it takes, we’re going to hit that stage and we're going to prove our worth to people. The 90’s was also a really exciting time because rock music was so big and people loved rock music and it was easy to win people over in terms of that. But I would say it’s probably more fun now because now, more people know who we are. They come to see us play. It’s not so much that we have to win them over anymore, it’s that we have to give them a reason to come back, you know, hopefully make it the best night of their life. That’s what I would love to do, which I know is a tall order. So, it’s probably a little bit more fun now than it was then. I’ve just always enjoyed it, I love playing live. It’s one of my favorite things to do. I love seeing the fans, seeing the fans sing the song is a real rush.
What advice do you have for an upcoming band who shares the same faith as you?
Advice I have for upcoming bands who share the same faith as me? I would just say to people writing music that have faith in God like I do, and you want that to matter, I would just say this: Have something worth saying. Write what you believe in, and don’t hold back. I think that the best music is authentic. I think good art is authentic and I think that most people agree with that whether you’re a person of faith or even if you’re an atheist or whatever. I mean that also makes good art. I think authentic feeling and authentic lyrics really tend to make good art. So I would just say to somebody out there, if you are like me, if you’re a Christian and you want to tell the world about your faith, then I would say then spend some time asking God what He would have you say. How can I put that into a song? How can I write what I believe in that would actually impact someone and show them the light, show them the way, help them through a bad day, help them through a hard time? Whatever your goals are. But I would just also warn you that the music business can chew you up and spit you out. Lots and lots of Christians go into the music business and after ten years they find that they don’t have any faith anymore cause they get caught up in the music business because it’s really a dark business and it’s all about yourself. So I would just say, be careful of that and ask God to give you the songs and make your time count.
How do you think Skillet has influenced the future generation of musicians?
I don't know if I think that Skillet has influenced future generation musicians. I definitely don't see myself like that. Is it possible? Yes, I have met some bands that that say “Man I was a fan” and there’s bands, for instance, there would be a band that I like, that I am a fan of and I’d get to meet them and they’d go “Man, I’ve been listening to you for ten years” so that’s actually very flattering and very cool. I think one of the things Skillet has done well was that Skillet was always authentic, and we were authentic even when it didn’t sell us records and then culture kind of shifted in which our authenticity all of a sudden worked in our favor. For instance, the fact that we had two girls in our band was very unpopular in the 90s and the early 2000s. But come 2009, 8, 9, 10, all of a sudden, girl power was very in vogue, and people were really into the idea of girl rockers. Well Skillet was just authentically already doing that. Same thing happened with lyrics that were spiritual. Skillet’s always sung spiritual lyrics. It was very unpopular for a long time, until it wasn't. And that sort of changed around Evanescence and the early 2000s. All of a sudden, spirituality’s really cool, and so Skillet didn't have to, we didn’t have to change with the times, we just were being ourselves. If there's anything we have to give, I think it would prove that authenticity and art matters, and there’s a certain kind of power in being honest and in being yourself. Don’t let someone else dictate to you who you should be.
How do you see Skillet in a post pandemic world?
How do I see Skillet in a post Pandemic world? I certainly hope Skillet’s going to be touring like crazy, I mean I have a lot of hope that the world can go back to the way that it was pre-pandemic. I think that people are living in fear in a way now that they weren’t before, but I also think that people are a little bit more aware now that, you know, we as human beings, we don’t run the world, we don’t rule the world, we can’t control the world. There are a lot of things outside of our control and we should be thankful for the time that we have and for the days that we have. So I see it as an opportunity for Skillet to be a real force of hopefully inspiration and we can uplift people out of their bad circumstances.
John and Seth have a side project 'Fight the fury' and Jen/Korey have a project 'Ledger', can we expect full length albums from them in the near future?
I don’t know yet if there’s going to be full length records of LEDGER or for Fight the Fury. Let’s talk Ledger first because I’m so very proud of her. Jen Ledger has done an amazing job, she’s an amazing drummer and an amazing vocalist. She’s such a huge part of Skillet and the Skillet family and we are very proud of her. My wife, Korey, of course, produced her project and wrote with her. I did write on a couple of songs but Korey wrote a lot and produced and has worked very hard to help that project go. We just want to see LEDGER take off – whatever that looks like. I assume that we will do a full-length project with LEDGER, and I hope soon. I know they’re working on music now and I certainly hope that a full-length is in the pipeline because I think Skillet fans really want to hear that. I have a lot of faith that LEDGER is going to break a lot of ground and do a lot of great things. Fight the Fury, I just don't really know. I do think the pandemic sort of changed that trajectory a little bit because the pandemic sort of came in and put everything on hold, meaning I thought maybe Skillet would tour for two years straight and then we’d do a little bit of a Fight the Fury thing, then go back to Skillet. But now, putting Skillet on hold for so long, really means that Skillet is working on new music now and we need to come out with something new soon so when we go back on tour, we’re coming out like thunder and lightning and rocking people’s faces off. So I’m not sure what’s going to happen on Fight the Fury.
What message would you like to send to your fans in the middle east?
I am thrilled we even have any fans in the Middle East! I mean when we first started Skillet in the 90s, there was an internet but the internet was not ubiquitous in the way that it is now and we certainly weren’t buying and listening to music on the internet like we are now. At the time we never thought anyone outside of America would ever hear of Skillet - because how would they? Now because of the fact you have digital music, and it can go across the world- I’ve gotten tweets, and Facebook messages, and YouTube comments from fans all over the Middle East. So, what I would want to tell them is- thank you so much for listening, I hope that our music is a bright spot in your day, I hope it is light in a dark world, I hope it gives you hope. I hope for some people that it has helped and inspired them in their faith in God, and I certainly hope that one day, we get to come out and do some touring and get to meet some of those wonderful fans out there.
Do lady drummers rock harder?
Let’s answer it like this- we have the awesomest drummer ever of all time. Jen Ledger just crushes and she’s amazing. So that’s for sure. Do I think that in general girl drummers rock harder? I probably wouldn’t go that far, but I think that Skillet is very unique in that the two girls that play in Skillet rock harder than any dudes in the whole world. I mean, our Jen and Korey are amazing on stage. All you got to do is go on YouTube, google a live Skillet show and you’ll see some girls just rock like you’ve never seen.
What are you views on some of the sheep leaving the flock like MXPX, Underoath, Marty Sampson and Doug Pinnick for instance?
It has been very unfortunate to see so many people leaving the Christian faith, particularly Christian musicians or Christian artists or songwriters, or even, in America, pastors and leaders in churches and things like that. My thoughts on it is that it’s heartbreaking and it's really saddening. I think that goes back to a question that I was asked earlier when I was asked to give advice to people who are like me, who are Christians that want to make music. When you get away from your local church and your family and you’re constantly touring, you're constantly going out there and speaking - it's not always the healthiest thing. So, I always encourage people to keep tight with your local church and your church leaders and your family. I think that some of these people who have fallen away, it's just an example of that, of people whose faith really wasn’t rock solid and it's been a really sad thing to see. I also think that some of it is just the fact that we don’t believe in truth in the way that we should these days. And when I say “we,” what I mean is our current culture. All across the world, the foundations of truth are being shifted so much, which is why I wrote a book on it. I wrote it because of this very fact. Everywhere I go, I see that people don’t really believe in truth and they don’t have anything firm in their life to stand on and so what they believe changes day-to-day-to-day. The book is called “Awake and Alive to Truth” and you can get that only at my personal website .
14th of May 2021