|Meet the Artist: Skillet|
|Written by Christine D. Johnson|
|Tuesday, 30 April 2013 04:00 PM America/New_York|
Two-time GRAMMY-nominated rock band Skillet saw its 2009 blockbuster album, Awake, recently certified Platinum. The group hopes to have that kind of success with its new project Rise (Atlantic Records/Word Records/Word Distribution), releasing June 25.
Skillet—composed of John Cooper, bass/lead vocals; Korey Cooper, keyboard/guitar/vocals; Jen Ledger, drummer/vocals; and Seth Morrison, guitar—recorded the new album in Los Angeles, where the band teamed up again with producer Howard Benson (My Chemical Romance, All American Rejects).
Frontman John Cooper offered his thoughts on the band and new album:
This album has a coming-of-age theme relating to the typical American kid. Were you surprised by how it developed?
I knew that there were a lot of themes running through the songs; however, being that I wrote 72 songs for the album, I was not sure which ones would get picked. Afterwards, it was, in fact, surprising to see how all the songs came together with such intertwined stories, yet [they] have such diverse topics. It is quite improbable that this could happen outside of God’s plan and timing!
How was the cover art chosen?
After we started talking about the story for the record and the themes therein, my wife, Korey, and I along with our drummer, Jen Ledger, began talking about possible artwork options. Jen liked the idea of trying her hand at drawing it, and upon first look, we loved it. Korey and I had an initial reaction that this artwork was perfect for the story. It was mysterious, emotional, and it had a certain sadness to it that mesmerized me.
You worked with Howard Benson again on Rise. Was your experience similar to working with him on Awake?
In some ways, it was similar in that I knew how Howard likes to work. He is involved during songwriting and pre-production times. Howard is good with songs and helping pick songs that catch his ear. I know that if Howard is being moved by something that I have written, I would be smart to pay attention to that. Next, Howard does not really get overly involved during the guitar tracking and tends to leave that to the band. I quite like that approach because I enjoy trying new things, whether it be guitar parts, sounds, rearranging the songs, etc. It’s nice to not have someone constantly looking over your shoulder and trying to make you fit into a box. Howard lets us do our thing in the studio, then he pays strict attention to vocals. He records all of his own vocals and is extremely picky about the takes he chooses!
“Not Gonna Die” has some interesting choral input. How would you describe the sound on this album?
This entire record is extremely cinematic, musical and even theatrical at times. It seemed like we should try some new elements to help bring the story across and have some fun at the same time. It suddenly crossed my mind that having a chamber choir singing opera with leading into a song as theatrical as “Not Gonna Die” would be the last thing anyone would ever expect. I knew it would either be really awesome or really terrible! I guess the jury is still out on which it turned out to be because no one has heard it yet! But we loved it.
Why did you choose “Sick of It” as the first single?
I knew that “Sick Of It” was the first single ever since the day we started recording the guitars for it. It is just a really fun song to listen to. It’s extremely aggressive, but it also has a groove dance beat to it. Also, the lyrics are surprisingly uplifting and positive for such an angry-sounding song. I think that dichotomy makes people want to hear it over and over because it makes them feel good. And when you break it all down, that’s what makes a great song to me.
You asked fans to submit photos of what they are sick of. What was the response?
We got thousands of responses. It was overwhelming how many people are hurting and want to be heard.
Christian retailers will be intrigued by the song “Salvation,” in which a child quotes from Isaiah 53. Tell us about it and the song “My Religion.”
“Salvation” is the climax of the story. This is the point in the story in which our “hero” is faced with the fact the he will never live up to his own expectations. He realizes that he will be let down at times by those he loves. He realizes that he can never be a “good” enough person to find the peace and acceptance that he desperately is searching for. At this crossroad, he chooses to ask God to save him from himself. He experiences the love of God, and his life is changed forever. Side note, the child reading the scripture from Isaiah is my daughter, Alex!
“My Religion” is a song that is breaking down the walls of false Christianity. It talks of stained glass and steeples and priests, etc. Not that those things are evil by any means! But we know that God has called us to be the church, which is the body of Christ. We can enter into His presence at all times because it is God who lives inside our hearts. This song says, “You are my priest, you are my truth, you are my religion, my religion is you.” We also sing a stanza of “Amazing Grace” in this song, which I think is a cool way to get the sentiment across.
Your social media following is pretty incredible. How did you build it to many millions?
Skillet is intentional on spending time getting to know our fans. We signed autographs for years, sometimes hours at a time to let them know how we appreciated them. We also give them tons of access to the band online via podcast, interviews, live photos, etc. We have always appreciated their support and try to be “real” with them rather than treat them like fans, while we are “super-important rock stars.” We are not afraid to act goofy and tell corny jokes, laugh at ourselves when we fall accidentally on stage, etc. It lets people know that we are with and for them.
You’re popular in the mainstream as well as Christian markets. Will that change the band in any way, do you think?
Skillet has always been confident of who we are, whether we are playing a Christian music festival, touring with TobyMac or Winter Jam, or whether we are opening for a mainstream band on a tour that is sponsored by a brand of beer. We have always encouraged Christians to live their faith in an uncompromising way. We have always encouraged Christians to love people and show Christ’s love for the world by our eagerness to accept them rather than be judgmental. On the flip side, we have always been consistent to share our faith on and off stage at mainstream performances as well. There have seen hundreds of emails, tweets, letters, phone calls to my manager from youth ministers and parents who came to watch Skillet perform in front of a mainstream act, mainly to prove what they thought they already knew—which was that ‘Skillet is a sell-out Christian band who never talks about Jesus,’ and they do not want their kids listening to our music. But they came to the show and something happened they did not expect: Skillet shared Jesus from stage in front a beer-drinking crowd! We have never backed down from our faith, and have consistently been vocal about Jesus on and off the stage. I dare say that Skillet is one of, if not the single most outspoken crossover Christian band when it comes to speaking about Jesus on stage. It’s who we are and I don’t ever plan on that changing.
How can Christian retail stores best sell Skillet albums?
The biggest roadblock for Skillet selling records at Christian retail has always been that parents or youth workers or even other Christian kids have heard that Skillet is a “mainstream” band. They wonder if Skillet members are actually serious about our faith. And frankly, I don’t blame them! I grew up listening to Christian bands, and I know what it’s like to love a band and support them for years, only to see them “go mainstream” and then try and act like they were never a Christian band to start with. Subsequently, those bands may have never shared their faith, and even sometimes have denied their belief in God after they became successful in the mainstream. What I hope to see happen is for the fans who have seen us play, and have been affected by our music and message, to spread the word of Skillet’s consistent loyalty to Christ and Christian music with those who are skeptical about our faith. Explain that even though our lyrics are sometimes ambiguous, or “open to interpretation,” it does not mean that we are not sharing the message. We view our songs like I view Jesus’ parables. They are little bits of truth being scattered on the ground. Hopefully, the Holy Spirit will water those seeds, and some will take root.