A few days ago I caught up with John Cooper, Lead singer and Bassist for Christian Rock outfit Skillet. We had a chance to talk about their latest record “Rise” and raising a family on the road. Skillet is currently on the road with fellow Christian rockers, Third Day so make sure you catch one their upcoming tour dates.
SPR: Thanks a lot for taking time out of your day to chat with us. How’s thing’s in the world of Skillet? Seem like they’re busier than ever for you guys.
Cooper: Man, its always busy yea know. I don’t know if it’s ever been easier or harder, but we just keep going. But things are going good; we’re getting the music out there and traveling to new places and new opportunities. It’s certainly busy, but that’s all good.
SPR: So your latest record “Rise” has been out for almost a year now, tell me a little about the writing process for this record.
Cooper: I started writing for the record virtually right after the last record came out. I enjoy writing, and work pretty hard at it even after an album has come out. So I started writing pretty early and had written 70 songs for the project. I kept writing and even wrote with some other people, did some co-writes and met some new fokes I had never met before. An one thing we noticed at the very end of that process is that there are themes running through the songs. An that’s what happened on this album. We chose the songs we thought were best for the record and then after we looked at those 15 songs, I said man there’s a lot of similarities here. There’s definitely a theme running through, seemed like there are things burning in my heart that I was wanting to say. That’s when we first got the idea of making this a concept record. Cause I felt like it was telling a story.
SPR: You mentioned you wrote 70 tracks for this record. How did you guys narrow it down to say “these are the 15 tracks we want to put on the record”?
Cooper: You know that’s sorta the hard process, but basically for us it was a matter of getting my producer, and A&R guy and myself together, and we talk about what we’re passionate about. Then we duke it out. It defiantly extremely hard to pick songs when you have that many, but that’s how that went, we just wanted to do everything we could to get the best songs on the record.
SPR: Well you did a great job, cause I can say that “Rise” is one of the few albums that I genuinely enjoy all the tracks from start to finish.
Cooper: Thanks man we appreciate that.
SPR: “Rise” has been extremely successful selling almost a 1/4 of million copies to date and coming in at #4 on the billboard Rock charts and #1 on the Billboard Christian Charts. What do you think makes this record so successful in both markets?
Cooper: I think that Skillet has had a high hill to climb, trying to walk that line between both worlds. But I’d say the reason now, that things are working for Skillet, is cause we kind of have our own fans. An I don’t think its just “Christian” fans; I don’t think it’s just “Mainstream” fans. I think it’s all kinds of people you’d never expect. Yes, there are some youth groups, but there are some old rockers, and there are heavy metal guys, and there will be some kid living on a farm, and Skillet was the thing that put them in touch with the world. It’s very eclectic when you go to a Skillet show. You’ll have 5-year-old kids singing “Monster”, and there will be 60-year-old dudes that grew up listening to Led Zeppelin, that Skillet is their favorite band for some reason. Then you’ve got the youth groups, and then the beer-drinking crowd. It’s eclectic and the fans are the reason we’re here. I think we’ve just written songs that aren’t always the most popular on the radio. They’re just songs about what we believe and we’re genuine about those songs. We don’t try to be……. You know there are some Christian people that would like to see you be a lot more overt about our faith, and they say “Ah you guys aren’t really a Christian band, you don’t ever say Jesus in your songs.” And that don’t like it that we don’t do that, and really beat us up over it. An every once an awhile there are people on the other side, that say “Aw man you guys talk about Jesus to much and I don’t like all that Jesus stuff.” And they beat us up over it, but I think Skillet is one of those bands that has no apologies about who we are. We just write what we believe and say what we believe, and I think that our fans like that about us. Whether they’re religious or not religious. It’s kinda become a funny thing to me, how many people I’ve met, and they come up to me and they say “Hey I’m an atheist, I don’t get this Jesus thing at all, but I like the way your music makes me feel, thanks for singing those songs.” It’s something I always laugh about, cause it’s not something you expect to hear. An I love that; I love having all different types of fans.
SPR: Shortly after “Rise” was release I was listening to a local secular radio morning show that plays you guys a lot and they made the comment “They’re not a Christian band anymore.” Not in the context that you guys had lost your faith, but because you cause are now being played on Secular radio stations and are touring with non Christian bands. It seem that if you’re in a Christian band that argument in some form starts day 1, whether it’s “There’s no way they’re a Christian band cause they play heavy music.” or once a Christian band starts to get some mainstream attention “Oh they’re not Christian anymore because they’re getting radio play on non Christian radio stations or they’re touring with non Christian bands.” Whats your thoughts on this?
Cooper: I think again you’ve got to know who your fans are. That’s what I’m learning more and more, that our fans don’t necessarily care about those kinds of labels. An we do get a lot of that criticism, but I look above it and say you’re not who I’m writing for, I’m writing for the person who buys the Skillet album and I think they understand who we are. As well as, for me personally, I know that people aren’t just listening to the music, they come to the shows, they go on the Internet and they’ll read the interview that you and me are doing together, or they’ll go on youtube and watch a video where I talk about my songs. People will find out why I wrote these songs. So it will have what I call an evangelistic life to them. But because the songs are written in such a way that is open for interpretation, and it’s not just written for Christian people, it’s written for everyone. An that’s why I think the songs are powerful and hopefully they’re effecting people.
SPR: One thing we like to do is get our readers involved when we talk with artist’s, so when we found out we would get to speak with you, we had our readers submit questions and we picked a few of them to ask you.
Cooper: It’s probably not as glorious as they my think. But, typically it’s this. As you know my wife plays in the band with me, and we have 2 kids on the road with us, they are 11 and 8 and they are in school of coarse. So the kids start school with our nanny and my drummer Jen teaches my son. An me and my wife we’ll work on music, and in the dressing room we’ll maybe do a workout. We’ll have lunch with the kids, I’ll get on the phone for an hour or so, to do interviews. Maybe do some reading. Then the day guys really busy, around 3 o’ clock I do my interviews, then we have VIP stuff where we go and meet fans, and then we’ll take photos with radio winner’s stuff like that. Then we’ll play a show. It’s not extremely glamorous. It’s a busy day. We do a lot of demoing in the dressing room for new records. We bring a little tiny recording module out. Then we sometimes go visit radio stations just to say hi to them, and that’s about it.
SPR: Another Reader (A Mom I might add) wants to know how you and Korey balance, touring, writing/studio time and family time?
Cooper: I think that’s the hardest thing, I think to walk the line with us is being a quote rock star and being a parent. I think we have to very much schedule our time. I think we’re an extremely regimented band, and my wife and I are very regimented. I think most bands they just wake up whenever they want to and they just chill out for a few hours till the afternoon, when they do their interviews and stuff like that. But we’re very regimented, I want all my things to be done by lunchtime, so I can see the kids and eat lunch with them. Then I have to do my next group of activities, so I can be done with my things by 4 or 5 o’ clock, so I can hang out with my kids then. We play a game, read together, or play PS3, whatever that may be. The same thing goes for me and Korey, we have to make time together. I invited her on a date tomorrow to go to lunch in the middle of the day. It may be 30 minutes here or an hour to go to lunch. But you have to regiment those times together or else you’ll find that you’re always busy, and talking to fans or other people on the tour.
SPR: One last one. One reader wants to know, If you weren’t playing music what would you be doing?
Cooper: I’d probably be doing some form of youth ministry. I love young people, that’s who I’ve always love working with, and our music is quit young, we have a lot of young fans. I don’t know if I’ll ever grow out of that. I have the heart of a teenager. So I think I’d be doing youth work of some sort whether it was paid in a church, or I was a youth leader, or taught bible studies to youth people or a youth program after school, something like that. I just love young people and helping young people that are hurting, it’s kind of my life’s work I think.
SPR: Well thanks a lot for speaking with us, we’ll be seeing you in Greenville South Carolina March 27th.