It's a day before Ash Wednesday when Skillet's husband/wife team, John and Korey Cooper, joined me on a phone line for
an in-depth conversation about their newest album, Invincible. Fitting to the season of Lent, John has a confession. Although
he and Korey front a band known for its aggressive, industrial rock sound, the Coopers don't own any music by Nine Inch Nails
(NIN), the genre's artistic and commercial front-runner.
"We did buy Stabbing Westward’s [Darkest Days CD] for that one song, 'Save Yourself,'" admits Korey, "but we don't
like the album."
Given that, John Cooper admits that reviews of Skillet's second album, Hey You, I Love Your Soul, which made comparisons
to Trent Reznor's NIN, frustrated him. "Someone wrote that you could rename our last album The Spiral Upward," says
John, referencing NIN’s ’94 release, The Downward Spiral. "I don't think that Trent Reznor would listen
to us and say, ‘That sounds like my music.’ Even though there are elements that are similar, to me ours is such
a pop record, it's not even in the same category."
The Coopers can take some comfort in the fact that almost every new industrial/pop artist gets compared to Reznor. John
admits, "I've been waiting for at least one person to say that they hear something original in my music." But the Coopers
aren't completely unaware of the sense of lost alienation and deconstructed noise that attracts Reznor's audience. John may
not own it, but he admits he's heard NIN’s critically-acclaimed, two-disc offering, The Fragile.
Still, he says Skillet's move into a more industrial sound was a natural progression. "I just love electronic music," he
explains. "I think if I could pull off what I consider to be pop music, I probably would do it. Every time I try, it ends
up being too aggressive. That's how we moved into an industrial sound. I like big-sounding music and passionate vocals. Once
I've added the guitars on top, to me it just sounds like aggressive pop."
When the Coopers describe their influences as pop music, Korey says they're talking about "Rebecca St James. And Seal.
We like good old ’80s pop like INXS, bands like that."
But the Coopers feel a need to connect with kids. "It's part of being relevant, and doing what we like," affirms John.
"If everyone out there hated industrial music, I don't think we'd be saying that this is the kind of music we have to do.
I'm a classical piano player, so there are many things that we like and could do. I love keyboard music, and I think I'll
always want that connection, but we are motivated out of our desire to reach kids."
Since so many young people get sucked into the nihilism and celebration of teen angst that fuels much of modern industrial
music, John does consider what his lyrics have to say. Of the values expressed by bands like Stabbing Westward, John admits,
"To be honest, I thought their lyrics were just completely stupid, really juvenile. I think [fans] just like that raw music.
I think a band could sound like that and sing about hope, and people would like it just as much." But will kids who value
hard music appreciate the Coopers’ preaching during concerts and offering an altar call? "It's something we know that
we're supposed to be doing," John says. "The primary reason we started doing music was to see people get saved, and for Christians
to get excited about God and make a change in their live. So, we always do some kind of worship [music] during the set, to
give God a chance to move in peoples' lives. That's really what we're about. We're doing this so we can share the gospel with
And for John, what happens in his lyrics is crucial. "If I'm going to write music and say that it's for the Lord, then
I really want to pray about what I'm writing. That's really important to us."
After starting out as a male trio, Skillet has since become a half male/half female quartet. Korey explains how she was
drafted into the band: "Actually, on Hey You, John played all the keyboards. They weren't sure how many keyboard tracks
they were going to add, and they ended up adding so many that they needed a live player to fill in."
By the time the couple settled back in at Memphis' Ardent studios to record Invincible, Korey was in the band, and
Nashville picker Kevin Haaland had been recruited. Following the recording, the original drummer was replaced by Lori Peters,
who'd previously played in a band with Korey.
When it comes to creating new songs, the Coopers divide responsibilities evenly—John writes and Korey makes noise.
"I always write music first," says John. "I always start with the songs and melodies, and then write lyrics. Melody's really
important to me. The lyrics come from things I've been reading in the Bible or a sermon I've heard."
Then Korey adds her bit: "I always do weird programming and sounds, so if John likes some loop or sound and thinks it works
with a certain song, we'll play with them and see where it leads. If he thinks something is cool, he plugs it in." The Coopers
married several months after the band's first album was released in 1996. They met, says Korey, because they attended "related
churches, a part of Covenant Ministries, John in Memphis, me in Wisconsin. I went to a Bible college in England with John's
old pastor and family."
Now church and family play an integral role in the career Skillet has carved out for itself, playing 150 shows a year around
the country. "People are often surprised that we don't run into more opposition in churches," says Korey. "Folk who think
we might look funny often expect that we'll not find much acceptance. Once people see our hearts, they're really cool with
us. You can sense the presence of God during our show, and John brings the gospel, so it's very evident that we're not out
there just to be a cool rock band, but that we're there to minister."