In my time here at IVM, I’ve gotten the opportunity to do some pretty cool interviews. This interview, however, comes full circle for me. John Cooper was the first musician I asked my “signature question” to, during the Alien Youth tour in Casper, Wyoming. But, nerd questions aside, John and I talked about some pretty serious stuff, too. Read on:
Lee: Obviously, we want to start by talking about the new album. How do you feel it’s being received so far now that it’s been out for a little under two days (our interview was Wednesday afternoon)?
John: That’s right… 36 hours or something is all it’s been. You know, our fans sure seem to be loving it. That’s your first goal, really, you just want to make the fans happy. The worst thing would be to have your fans say “oh, yeah. I’ll try to get used to it.” Or something like that. I sent out a bulk tweet today, and I was trying to answer people back, but there were just hundreds of them coming in yesterday… I sent out a tweet saying “Thanks everybody for the notes and the congratulations.” Our fans are just really going mental about it, which is really what we want to do. Make those fans happy.
Lee: Yeah, I mean… we gave it a really great review, and we’ve got a lot of people on there saying, “Man, these guys are back.” Or, “they’re really innovating.” I mean, it’s just good to see. I’m excited for you guys for the album.
John: Oh, great. Well, thank you so much. I appreciate that.
Lee: One of the fan questions that came up was around the fact that you’ve risen up through the mainstream market, but it was also really great to see this Ardent Worship feel towards the end of the new album. Did you feel any pressure to tone down the faith elements or the worship side of the album?
John: To be honest, no. I didn’t really feel any of the pressure. I think it’s because Skillet is just somehow become successful over the last 6-7 years just by doing what we do. We had a record that came out in 2006 called Comatose. That was a gold selling album, but we didn’t have any mainstream radio hits on it. I think it was just word of mouth and underground sales and from playing a lot of Christian festivals. I think Skillet just builds an audience based on us singing about what we believe in. That has seemed to work for us.
It’s funny, because on the last record, Awake, there was a song on it that not many people wanted us to record. They said it felt like it was a little too Christian and they didn’t think people would really go for it. But, we went ahead and recorded it on the record anyway. That was a song called “Awake and Alive,” which ended up being our biggest radio single.
It was a big surprise to me. I remember people saying to me, “that’s just a little too Christian-y.” You know, I loved the song and I felt it needed to be on the record so we recorded it. I’ve just learned that we usually win as long as we sing about things we believe in. It’s cool that you say that. Some people will come in and say, “Wow it’s so cool, they’re so open about their faith…” and then others will say, “I think they’ve watered down the faith message to appease other people…” You know, we’re just writing songs that we believe in and getting that message out in the way that we feel best fits the material.
All that to say, no, I really didn’t feel any pressure, in terms of trying to appease a certain audience. I just wanted to write from my heart.
Lee: You know what, I appreciate that, quite a bit. Now, probably the single most asked question was can we get… or is there ever any plan to do another Ardent Worship album?
John: That’s funny. I can’t believe that. I think we sold like 30,000 copies of that record. So, it’s funny to know that people even know it exists. All that to say, I sincerely doubt we’ll ever do that again. Only because it’s just not something we feel called to do, even though… you know, in its time we really enjoyed it. The way it started was… Me and another guitar player from another band at my church we both knew each other and played on the worship team at church, but we were not in a band together.
We decided to get together and start up a band called Skillet that was a side-project from our other two bands. It was just natural while we were doing concerts to say, “Hey, let’s do a worship song.” We both believed in it and it was a powerful way to see God move at shows. It was really cool. So, we started doing that and that eventually led into us for… “Hey, go see Skillet play, in the middle of their show they’ll do a couple of worship songs.” And we became known for that, which is why we ended up doing that worship record.
All that to say, it’s really become clear to me that… I love worship music and I love leading worship music… but what I feel called to do with Skillet is rock music. So, I doubt we’ll be doing that in the future, but you never know. I’m not saying “definitely no”, I’m saying, “I doubt it.”
Lee: On the new album, you talked a lot about it being a concept, which I thought worked out fantastic, but how was the recording process different from previous efforts with that concept in place.
John: Truthfully, the funniest thing is that we did not intend upon making a concept record. So we were just recording the record and as we were recording it… something about the songs just felt bigger than songs, and I didn’t know how to explain it. I was trying to say that these songs feel more than songs, they feel important to me, and there’s something else here.
Finally, we decided that we needed to be making a concept record and then that seemed obvious to me. The only difficulty came when we were deciding, “Ok, besides putting the songs together in a particular order and telling people it is a concept record, how do you make that a little more clear?” That was where the difficulty came. And, the album has got interludes on it… and we didn’t know, do we have someone narrating it? Or, telling a story? Do we have sound effects, or how do we get to that point? And that took a lot of brainstorming.
We ended up coming up with the idea of the 911 phone call and news reports basically to just give you a taste of some of the terrible things happening in the world. Then we got ideas subsequently after that, but that took a little finessing. That was one of the harder parts of the actual recording process.
Lee: You’ve continued to identify really well with teen and young adult markets as your band has matured. Is that something that remains intentional or does that come into consideration when you’re planning a new album?
John: It’s not intentional. I think it’s just the way that I write. Our music has always tended to be very young. We’ve had some negative press and some positive over that fact. Especially in the Christian market. For a long time there were a lot of people who would say, “Ah, these songs are just so young.” But, it’s just the way we write music. And, I think that’s the reason that we continue to sell more and more records. Skillet fans tend to stay with us for a long period of time. And, I think that we gain new, younger fans because of the things that we sing about.
It’s probably just also due to the fact that I have a very young personality. I’m into comic books, movies, and wrestling, and pretty much all of the video games that young people are into. I just tend to be kind of young in spirit. I think our music has always had a passion to it, and I think that passion is most relatable to younger people, because they’re going through so many emotions and passions themselves.
Lee: By the way, since you said you love comics and wrestling… and Jesus, of course… you and I are now friends. But… One of the threads of questions we had on here was, “What lead to finding another female drummer? Was that intentional or did it just kind of happen?”
John: You know, I wasn’t planning on it, honestly, after Lorie left. I mean, I was like, I really don’t care…it would kind of be cool to have another girl drummer. We had become known for that. Funny enough, now it seems like an obvious thing… c’mon everyone loves girl drummers. But, the truth is, when we originally got a girl drummer, that was not the case. People kind of looked down on us a little bit about it.
In the Christian market, we never got press about it. The Christian market just didn’t care about it at that point… or Skillet at that point, actually. But, in the rock genre it was a little looked down upon by… you know, this is a male dominated genre, if you have girls you just think they’re more like a pop band. “You’re a little bubble-gummy.” But when Lorie was quitting, I thought, “Yeah, it’d be great to have another girl,” because we’re known for it, but it’s not necessary.
So when we did the auditions, you know Jen auditioned and I just thought she was amazing…and fantastic…and wonderful…and it was just kind of a clear choice for us. Not because she’s a girl, but because she’s the right fit. And, of course, now it would be hard to look back and imagine Skillet without Jen. Now everyone loves the girl drummer, but truthfully… five, six, seven years ago that just wasn’t the case. Skillet was probably one of the only bands that had a girl drummer besides White Stripes, Kitty, maybe Barlow Girl.
Lee: What ways do you see God working in your life right now?
John: You mean in my personal life?
Lee: Yeah, if you don’t mind answering it.
John: No not at all. I think I was just expecting the question to be, “How is God working through Skillet?” It’s probably one of those things that is ongoing. If you would have asked me five years ago, I probably would have said the same thing, but it’s always new and fresh to me. It’s just in how we have to trust God for everything.
You know, I come on the road with my kids and for me the stresses in my life would be; “Am I being a good dad by dragging them out on the road all the time?” They don’t get to play with their friends and play sports and have kind of a normal kid life. Am I being a good husband? Me and my wife are here on the road, you know, we live in a bus with ten other people. Is the new album going okay? You get a lot of comments about people who really love the record. Then you get comments like, “this album is really watered down. They don’t love Jesus anymore.” And, it stresses me out. And, I pray about it, and I feel that it’s not fair.
In the end, you just have to say, “You know what, that’s not what life is about.” Life is about leaning into God and trusting Him. He’s in control and if that means my kids are out here on the road and they don’t get to play sports, then that’s okay if that’s what God wanted. We just have to trust Him and put it in His hands. That is probably the main thing happening in my life at the moment, and it certainly has happened before. And, it will probably happen again.
Lee: A lot of fans asked, “Why did Ben leave?” and “How has that been since?”
John: Skillet has had a lot of band members and it sounds like a lot of the people writing in to you have been around a long time… a lot of panheads, which I love. I appreciate them. I think the thing with most members is… we just tour, a lot, and this is a very hard lifestyle. Most haven’t been on the road for fifteen years. We’ve been lucky to have been a band for so long and to continue to get fans…
You know, I think with Ben, he’d been in the band for ten years, touring full time and he just got to a place where he was ready to do other things. Which I always knew would happen. He’s really talented and he’s really into producing and into writing and engineering other albums and production and all sorts of other avenues.
So it wasn’t a surprise when we talked and he said, “You know, I think I’m ready to hang this up.” So… we still go to church together. We’ve got a good relationship and, in fact, for anybody who’s going to come see us play live this summer; Skillet’s got a brand new show. We are incorporating some video elements into our concerts, which are really cool, and Ben Kasica, our former guitar player… I hired him and his production company to do all of the video and filming.
So, Ben and I spent quite a lot of time together doing these videos. In fact, you can see one of the videos if you go to YouTube and look up the “Rise lyric video,” it’s a little animated video and his production company did that for us. We did that together. So we have a good relationship. When people leave Skillet, it’s just about, “Hey, I’m ready to get off the road. I’m ready to have a normal life… meet somebody…get married.” All of that kind of stuff.
Lee: You mentioned that you guys have been a band for a long time, how much longer do you guys see yourselves making music?
John: Man, I love making music. I certainly hope we’re lucky enough to do it for another ten years. I’m not looking to stop. I’ve always wanted to make relevant music and pray that that is so. When the time comes that maybe my music is not relevant anymore… I could see myself reconsidering and doing other things. But, we know that God is telling us to keep moving forward with it, keep doing what we’re doing… and, we’re just getting so many amazing tweets and Facebook messages… about how our songs are helping people in their lives and people are coming to God through our music.
That’s just so thrilling and amazing, that I don’t see us stopping anytime soon.
Lee: We also had some Canadian fans ask if you would be heading to the Great White North anytime, because they said that they felt a little neglected and they want some love.
John: You know, we are not doing that much in Canada. Now, we are doing a festival in Canada in July. In Quebec. I can’t remember the name of it, but it’s their biggest one. We’re going to be playing with Guns and Roses that night. Now, we never go to that side of Canada. We’ve hardly, never ever ever been over there.
Otherwise, I honestly don’t know what we’re going to be doing. This year, we probably won’t be, just because we’re so busy. We’re going on a tour called “Carnival of Madness” in August and September. That’s kind of a mainstream rock tour with Shinedown and Papa Roach. Then, after that, we’re going to go to Europe for two months opening up for Nickelback. So, we’ll be over there doing that. So, we’re not going to be in the country the last three months of the year.
Lee: It’s good that you mentioned Papa Roach. We did have a question… I wasn’t going to ask it, but since you brought them up… Papa Roach’s more recent album sounded a little more positive, a little more faith-filled, and they were curious if that was kind of your effect on them… or what effect you feel you’ve had on bands outside the Christian faith.
John: Well, you know, it probably would not be my place to say what may or may not be happening with that particular band, Papa Roach. But, I will say their singer Jacoby and I are good friends. We met a few years ago on tour and I really love him. He’s a really good guy. We love the band. And I want to mention that sometimes it’s easy for Christians, and I’m not saying it’s not justifiable (hopefully nobody gets offended), to have opinions about people we’ve never met. Like, for instance Marilyn Manson or somebody like that and think, “Yeah, this guy is this this this…” But, it’s different when you meet somebody.
I’ve been lucky to go on some of these tours and meet people who probably aren’t believers and certainly do a lot of things that we would say, believers probably shouldn’t do… but, once you meet the people and become friends, you begin to love them. I’m just blessed to have a good relationship with a lot of the bands we tour with. Stonesour. Shinedown. Three Days Grace, and all these bands. And with all of these bands we tour with, I really believe that they see the light of Christ in us in the way that we act, the way that we treat people, and in our songs. And whether they would then go, “Hey, I want to become a Christian,” or not, it’s not necessarily what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the effect that we have.
But, I will say that with every band that we’ve toured with, I’ve had at least one member of that band come to me and want to talk about Jesus, and want me to pray with them, and talk to them about what it means to be saved, and how to live for God, and things like that. And, even talk to them about how to break addictions and so on. It really is an incredible chance to share Jesus with the other bands. And, I will say, I wouldn’t be surprised if… I will say, I know of some of those bands who have been changed because of Skillet, but I don’t want to call anybody by name and embarrass anybody. So we’re just going to keep doing what we do and keep praying that we have that effect.
I do love going out on these tours and bringing the light into dark places. I think that’s what Skillet is called to do, and secondly I think that’s what all of us Christians are called to do.
Lee: So, I have just one more “real” question, and then my signature question that I always end with. I wanted to throw a bone to We as Human, I’m reviewing them later this week and you, of course, signed them to your label Hear It Loud! How do you feel that they are doing and also are there any other bands that you’re looking to sign.
John: We as Human is the very first band I’ve ever signed. I truthfully never wanted to sign bands. That’s not necessarily something I wanted to do now. I just love the band. I just love the music. I brought them to my manager and I said, “You’ve just got to work with this band.” And, the manager said, “Hey, I’ll do it, but I want to do that with you.” And, I said, “No, I don’t want to do that.” And, he said, “You need to. I’m not going to do it unless you do it.” And, I just believed in it and I love the music. And, we made an amazing record with We as Human. It’s so good, and I’m so proud of it. So, yes. The band is so cool, and I love the guys, as well. I couldn’t be any more proud of this record.
Other than that, I’m not saying, “I’m not signing any other bands, but I’m not looking to at the moment.” My hands have been full. But, if i find something I love, then I’ll probably get talked into that, too.
Lee: Alright. Cool, so this last question… I just want to say really quickly that, you were actually the first person I ever asked this question to, when you were in Casper, Wyoming, for the Alien Youth tour. And, now I’ve asked it to dozens of bands. It’s kind of cool, this is full circle for me, but “Who’s better, Batman or Superman?”
John: Batman. Easy.
Lee: That’s what you said last time, too. I was hoping you’d changed it.