Skillet has been a band who has significantly impacted the Christian rock scene since their breakout with Forefront Records
in 1996. Now impacting the mainstream with their newest record Collide, Skillet's frontman John Cooper sat down with
us to discuss the new album, direction, and life on the road... |
This interview took place on: 6/6/04.
Jesus freak Hideout: Skillet has been making music for eight years now. What keeps you going and where do you
see the band going from here?
John Cooper: Yeah, '96 is when our first record came out... So many things keep you going but
there are those times when you're like, "Man, I don't really know if I want to do this," y'know? "It's hard" or "It's exhausting"
The thing is, that's really hard, is when you don't see yourself getting any bigger and you don't feel like you're gaining
any ground. There's not a lot of light at the end of the tunnel like it won't be this hard next year, and it kind of continually
is year after year. So luckily we have been able to see some growth and there's always that hope that "things will go really
good next year -- maybe we can get a bus?" That was a big deal, y'know? We were in a van for five years and it was really
hard cause you're driving yourselves all night long... And then you finally get to the place where you get a bus and it's
so great. Then you're like, "OK, we really need to get a driver!" *laughs* And obviously what the biggest thing is
just what you feel you're supposed to be doing, what you feel called to be doing. During those times, for Korey and I, we
would kinda feel like we could quit and be happy right now. And that's not, as we'd pray about it, what we felt we were supposed
to do. It has always been really clear to us that we were supposed to keep going. So obviously, that's the biggest reason
you do anything. But I want to say, without some of the changes that have been occuring in recent times for Skillet, I think
I'd just pretty much be burned out and ready to quit. *laughs* JfH: Yeah, I've been running the site
for about eight years now and we're still pretty small, so I can kind of relate to the frustration in that... Yeah,
it can be frustrating sometimes. And sometimes it's weird cause in the Christian market, it's a different kind of animal than
just plain music. And it can be the case that, in the right situation, it'll be easier for newer bands to do really well and
better than you because of lots of different variables that might not apply to the mainstream music world. You start asking
yourselves, "Man, are we just no good? Are we just not very good if people aren't buying our records?" It's difficult, y'know?
JfH: Fans have been wondering... Has Skillet totally forsaken their electronica sound for good?
John: You know what? I have no idea, actually. I never really know where it's going to take us.
And I never would've thought it would've taken us all the places that it has -- just playing music and writing and evolving
-- I never would've thought all those changes would have happened. In the moment they felt right. So I can't really say "for
good," but I love the new sound on the new record. I think it's our best sound, our most marketable sound for sure. And I'm
really enjoying it but it's hard to say. I wouldn't be surprised if we added more of that in.
JFH: How has parenthood affected life on the road for Skillet?
John: Well, of all the ways that it's really affected us, it's a lot harder. Being on the road
is so much more work with a baby. *yawns* Cause you're constantly having to work around her schedule. And typically, we play
late and we get to bed really late. We usually get in bed by 1 or 1:30 and then she's up at 7 everyday. It's just so tiring.
You get up in the morning, and you turn on her little thing she likes to watch and you're just sitting there like "Omigosh,
I'm so tired!" And then you do it again that night. So that's really the only thing. I wouldn't really say
it affects us much in another way, but the band certainly has a real family atmosphere. And the band members really love my
daughter Alex a lot. And typically the situation could not be that way and could be where the band's always worrying about
having to be considerate for this baby, not watching movies really loud at night or not do this... It could potentially get
a little bit weird like that but everybody in Skillet is really great with her. It's just like a big family. We're pretty
lucky in that way for sure!
JFH: What bands are you guys really into right now?
John: It'd be really different for everyone. For me... *yawns, followed by group laughter* Excuse
me! At least it's not video. *laughs* Our song "Savior" obviously just got released so this is really the first time ever
I've been listening to mainstream radio all the time only to hear my song. *laughs* I don't know if that's cheesey, but it's
the truth. So really for the first time in my life I've been listening to a load of just radio. I've never really listened
to the radio before. And I find it really interesting that already my tastes are changing. You know how you hear a song and
you don't love it but after you hear it like 30 times you begin to kind of like it. But I'm still really into hard rock, but
I don't listen to a ton of it, cause I don't love a ton of the new bands. I like P.O.D.'s Satellite record a lot,
I think it's awesome. There's really hardly any Christian rock bands I think I'd listen to, honestly. It's not that I don't
like them, I just don't happen to listen to them, y'know? I mean I like Pillar and Kutless and Jonah33 - bands like that I
like. I don't really buy a lot of those records for some reason. I do buy a lot of real pop type music like Enya and stuff
like that. Really ethereal type music. I enjoy listening to that in my house when I'm doing stuff. It's easy.
JFH: What artists have really influenced Skillet's new sound?
John: There's probably loads of bands who have influenced it a little bit. I don't really know
how they did but they did. I would probably say bands like P.O.D. -- we don't even really sound like that, but I think it's
just the rock side of what we do. The fact that it's unashamedly rock and even metal a little bit. Bands like that
-- Linkin Park -- even though I don't think we really sound like that... I really like how they don't have any inhibitions
about being a rock band. And I think that's what some of our electronic shift was about. In '97, if you were a grunge rock
band, y'know, you just need to go away! *laughs* I remember when that second Bush record came out, because that first record
was so big, and I remember hearing their singles like every minute on the radio. And I remember just one week they
completely shut off, not playing anymore Bush, not playing anymore Candlebox, y'know, all those groups. I love that music
but there was a lot of fear that if we put out another record like our debut, it's just gonna tank because it just wasn't
selling -- especially in the Christian market. Grammatrain wasn't doing good... JfH: See, I love both
of those records - Lonely House and the first Skillet record. Alright!! I picked them
up when they first came out. Yeah! The first Grammatrain record's cool! I just really liked that
style. I still have a guilty pleasure of listening to both of those records. I like it too, but I was just realizing
this wasn't gonna go in the Christian market. So we just made the decision to change it. Now we weren't planning on changing
like we did... *laughs* that was all kinda... all about studio. But the real heavy rock bands... I've never been a big Creed
fan, but I can say influence in terms of the fact that they're really not ashamed to do what they do. They were a
grunge band that came after grunge and they still did good and wrote great songs. And now everybody's
copying them. And now everybody sounds like Creed, right? So I can't really say specifically, but I would
say definitely my two favorite rock albums in the last several years was P.O.D's Satellite and Linkin Park's first
record. That was just a bad record... in a good way. *laughs* Such and awesome record, man. I hate rap but I liked
that record. *laughs*
JFH: Can you tell us the story behind your new song "Open Wounds"?
John: Yeah, "Open Wounds" was basically because we did this deal with Lava Records and Ardent
wanted to release the album to the Christian market in November. We wanted to wait and release both at the same time in February,
but it just didn't happen. And it just kept getting pushed back and shelved until late April or May and because we had that
extra time we thought "Why not record another song if we've got this extra time?" *the church office answering machine goes
on, nearly drowning out John as he talks* So we went to meet people from the label, we were signed already, and I hadn't hardly
met anybody from Lava Records. And I was just gonna go up and meet with them and meet with a songwriter and try to write with
them. And "Open Wounds" basically started from a line that said "You can't stop me from falling apart, this self-destruction
is all your fault". We were talking like that and I said "This sounds like a relationship song and I don't write 'bad'
relationship songs because I have a great releationship with my wife and it's just foreign to me." And we were talking, me
and this guy Kevin, and he said "Well what about other relationships like friendships?" And I said "No" and so we started
thinking and it just reminded me that I really had wanted to write a song on this record about my relationship with my own
Dad and how I felt growing up. And even how it's gotten better and how God's really redeemed that relationship. And that's
how it started, really. I didn't want it to be too dark, but I thought there are so many people going through what I went
through in high school, that even if it was really dark, and you can't find the Christian message in "Open Wounds," it's not
really about that. It's about 'this is how I felt and I wanted it to end.' So it was hard for me at first. I was praying a
lot for conviction, "This song - is this about me or is this just an idea that I think can be good for someone else?" And
I ended up doing it for us and I thought, at the very least, what will happen is somebody hears it and buys the record and
hears the message from another song. But I thought, 'Is "Open Wounds" something they'll play on Christian radio?' I don't
really know. It's not about that kind of message. But I'm expecting that there will be tons and tons of people that will be
like "Man, I relate to that song so much!" It's pretty hardcore in the lyrics, but y'know... *chuckles* I
agree, and it's not hateful... Yeah, that's right. It's not rebellious, it's a hurt song. It's not like an
"I hate you"... Yeah, and I think everybody can relate to it. Yeah, and the first line of that
song -- which I didn't write, this other guy wrote it so I'm bragging on it cause it's not my line -- is "In the dark
with the music on." Man, if I would have heard that in high school, I would have bought the record. I'd have been like
'That's me, man.' Go upstairs ticked off, y'know? *chuckles* Even in high school, you think there's nothing else in life except
for that. *laughs* It's the biggest thing ever that you're in this argument, y'know?
JFH: Can you explain the image on the cover of Collide?
John: Yeah, it's just basically that we're trying to depict the image of faith and fear colliding. That whole struggle of wanting
to live your life as a believer in a world that's bombarding you with fear and violence and hate everyday. That's just basically
the biggest thing, honestly. With evil and wings... it mainly just looks cool! *laughs* But this was the idea behind it. And
then the mannequin at first, I just thought really looks cool, but it does have the image of a lifeless body and then there's
a war going on.
JFH: What's one message you really want youth to take with them after listening to your music or going to a Skillet
John: I think really the message of this record is that you go through times of pain and times
of suffering in your life and you will be hit with being afraid in our world - even in our country in the last few years since
Alien Youth came out with the war, September 11th, and all these things. Those things are going to happen and becoming
a believer doesn't mean they won't happen to you, you know what I mean? They're still going to happen. But, in the midst of
all this turmoil and facing all these issues, there is hope. There is a reason to live. It's not like I want this to be a
"suicide message" album in any way, I'm always just shocked at how many people I meet that are having suicidal issues and
stuff. I can't believe it! It's so foreign to me. But I meet them all the time. So that's even in it. Despite all the things
you go through, there is a hope. Coming back to the record, there are a lot of dark songs and dark issues on the record. I
do think that this record is less of a youth group album than Alien Youth. I mean, it is and it was supposed
to be. And we really believe this record was supposed to be written for a different audience as well. And I don't mean unbelievers,
but I mean people who are going through some of those issues. And I think the only real difference between this and a Korn
record or Tool or something like that is we do talk about some of those issues but there is an underlying hope. Like in the
song "Collide," we are talking about all these things but "there is something deep inside that keeps my faith alive."
That kind of thing you don't hear on those other albums. *laughs* And that's the message of our shows. It seems like
usually when a record comes out, there's a different slant on what it is we're talking about on stage. It's almost like a
different target. Alien Youth was targeting the church - radical Christianity and living it out - and this album
isn't targeting that same audience. But I think if Collide hadn't been signed to a mainstream label and "Savior"
hadn't gone to mainstream radio, had the same album cover, same record, same everything, then there would have been a lot
less people saying "Oh you guys are changing and selling out." It's just the fact that you can buy it and it says 'Lava Records'
on it, y'know? So it's a little unfortunate in terms of that. But the annoying thing in that is, even with Alien Youth,
so much of the focus on Alien Youth - live shows, website, Bible studies - you don't need to live your life because
of something someone else is telling you to do, you need to live your life by what the Bible says. You need to pursue God.
But what's really annoying to me is everybody was so into that message but then we don't take that and do anything with it.
It's like we're all "Amen-ing" but we don't know, "No, no, that applies to you and you're not doing that!" It's not
really that different, we're just singing about different things, it's not a big deal. And it just seems like it hasn't had
the impact that we really wanted it to! *laughs*
JFH: How do you guys keep your faith grounded on the road?
John: It is different. And this is also a part of some of the things we talked about on Alien
Youth, It's definitely different because I think most believers in our country don't really have a real alone time with
the Lord and don't really know what it's like. And I'm not saying it's just like that with everyone else, it's hard for me
too, but it's just always been my issue in life. How do I pursue God and just find that time in His presence so that I'm changing?
And what most all of us do is that we just don't do that, but we go to church on Sunday and Wednesday night and we feel good.
*laughs* And we learn enough on Sunday that we kind of change as the year goes on. We start to not curse when we're around
our friends or watch nudie movies or whatever it is you're trying to change when you become a Christian. And eventually you
just kind of enter into the Christian lifestyle after several years but you've not really done anything about it and just
kinda go to church. And you worship and feel good for the rest of the week. So you can't do that on the road because you're
never at church. The thing I usually tell people is really the way that we keep ourselves grounded and on fire for God and
zealous is just the same way that we're supposed to be keeping that way even if we're at home -- and that's just disciplining
yourself to spend time with the Lord and ask Him to change you. And there is a family atmosphere within the group where we
can challenge each other and worship together -- whatever we want to do -- there's definitely that. But you definitely do
miss what I think church is really about. Church life is about your brothers and sisters - the family of God worshipping together,
being there for each other. You miss all of those things. But you can still have the sharpening with each other in your own
relationships if you want that. We've always been struggling and striving to have that within ourselves. Again, I think it's
a misunderstanding of what church is supposed to be. Church isn't "I hear a really great message on Sunday!" *laughs* I say
that and people get offended, but if they hear how I mean it, it's really not offensive. But there is hardly any church in
America on Sunday where I'm gonna hear something that I've not heard or don't know, you know what I mean? Now they may quote
Hebrew and stuff, I don't know all that or claim to know everything about the Bible, but pretty much anything they're
going to talk about... I mean I've read the Bible and have been to church since I was a kid so I know all that... NOT that
you shouldn't be going to church!! But I'm saying it's not about that teaching, y'know? It's about worshipping together
and your brothers in Christ. It's about living for God all week long as a family, y'know? Don't make me start preaching...
JFH: What made you choose "Stand" for the Veggie Rocks VeggieTales record? And was it awkward at all
to record your own rendition of a song directed to young children?
John: Yeah. You know what? Even while we were doing it, I'm like, "This is stupid, I should not
be doing this." "Maybe this is dumb?" Y'know? In the end, I really like it. Uh... I don't think anyone else really likes it
though? *laughs* John: I like it, I think it's funny. I think it's hilarious! Have you
heard the original? John: Yeah, have you? Yeah, they sent us a CD with twelve songs and when
we listened to it, I really didn't like anything. The reason we chose it is because Korey said "Hey, listen to this chorus!"
Cause it says "Stand!" and the everybody goes "Stand up! Stand up!" and she said "We can do that because everybody can scream
it really loud! And I was like, "Alright, let's do it..." And even when we were there I'm thinking we shouldn't be
doing this, I shouldn't be doing this whole project. But in the end I love it. I think it's super cool. And I think it's hilarious
that it starts really pretty and then it's like ripping your head. But I haven't talked to anybody except for like two people
that like it. Everybody else is kinda like "What?!" You know what the problem is? They called it Veggie Rocks. They
shouldn't have. They should have called it Veggie Pop. Because it's not a rock album. It's like two of them are rock
songs. They made it sound to us like it's going to be a rock album. When they got it, I think everybody was a little
bit flabbergasted! *laughs* Veggie Pop Rocks is what they should've called it!
JFH: What's your favorite Skillet song of all time? What's your favorite to play live?
John: I think "Locked In A Cage" is my favorite of all time of ours. But my favorite to play
live... The newer ones are so much more fun to play live because they're heavier, y'know? I really love playing "Savior."
Yeah, for right now I'm gonna go with "Savior" because I'm out and I can't think. I used to really like playing "Stronger,"
which is not a popular song, but it's really fast. That used to be my favorite probably... That was really fun to play. *smiles*
Kevin: "Locked In A Cage" was the first song I heard from you guys. Cool. We're gonna maybe redo
that song on our next record.
JFH: When do you think you're going to do another record?
John: I don't know. It'll probably be a long time. John: Really?
Yeah, because "Savior" is just out. They work these mainstream songs... I can't believe how long they work these songs. Because
in the Christian market you put it out and in a couple weeks it's done really well. It's like [in mainstream], it could be
on the charts for sixth months. Like Switchfoot - they worked that song for like ten months or something. I just
can't imagine that. So we've got awhile. And it's weird because it's like we're starting all over, y'know? We're getting paid
like three hundred dollars to do a show and that won't even like pay for our driver, y'know? You're starting over for an audience
who hasn't heard of you. It's pretty unusual. You're opening up for bands... it's pretty weird but I like it, it's cool. John: It's like a rebirth. It is, it's just like that. Except we're old, y'know? *laughs* We're not
nineteen anymore! It's all good, though.
JFH: Any favorite Christian bands?
John: I haven't heard too many recently as I would like to is the problem. Y'know, I used to
be a really big Pax fan. I really love Pax's first record. And I love Benjamin Gate's first record. That kind
of shows you where I'm at with Christian music. I'm about three years, four years away. And Benjamin Gate's not doing anything
right now. I mean, I do like Pillar, I thought that Fireproof was a really good record. I don't even really know
the new, new bands. Like Staple and those really heavy bands? I actually like a lot of them but I've not heard enough of it
to say. Y'know, I heard Demon Hunter for the first time... *smiles* That's heavy. I mean that's heavy. But
I like it actually. I was kind of into it, but I only heard one song.
JFH: Any last comments?
John: No, man, I talked way too much! *laughs*