SKILLET: Interview with Front Man John Cooper
With the enormous success of Skillet’s 2006 release, Comatose, John Cooper (lead vocals/bassist), Korey Cooper (keys/guitar/backing vocals), Ben Kasica (guitars), and Jen Ledger (drums/backing vocals) have found their voice in this industry, and have stayed with the brand of rock music that made them a success! Swerving away from their original roots as a Christian rock band, Skillet has flourished as a mainstream active rock band! Having toured for about a year now in support of their current release, Awake, Skillet has continued grow their fan base while firmly planting their music in the psyches of fans across the U.S. Take the lead single, “Monster”, for example. That song has found its way into the heads and ipods of pre-teen jocks, while also appealing to young grandmothers and everyone in between! What does it take to appeal to this wide range of fans? And what approach does the band take when creating their music? Well, we’re about to find out the answer to these questions from Skillet front man John Cooper.
Jen: Your current album is called Awake…it came out August of last year. Since your previous album, Comatose, came out, you guys have just blown up! Tell us about this album and how you think it’s different from your previous albums.
John: What is it about Awake that’s different? When we did Comatose, we started trying to write songs about incidents that people can relate to. It could be everyday issues or it could be more wide…something you’re struggling with…whatever. And I think we did that through Awake, but the only way I’m saying it’s a little different is I think the lyrics are a little dirtier…grittier is probably a better word. Like “Monster”…dealing with a little bit of a darker issue than probably anything we ever talked about on Comatose. And there’s a couple love songs on the Awake album…”It’s Not Me, It’s You” and there’s another song called “Sometimes”. Those are probably a little darker than anything we’ve dealt with, so I think that’s one of the ways it’s a little bit different. Also, I think not only are the lyrics a little grittier, I think the music is a little grittier. It still has the Skillet sound to it, but it’s not quite as clean as Comatose was…it’s a little bit rougher, the guitars are louder, my vocals are a little harsher, and I think that the sound of the record went along with the lyrics in that way…it feels a little edgier.
Jen: You guys worked with Howard Benson who is a killer producer this time! What do you think he brought to the album from a production standpoint?
John: Well, Howard is a really smart, talented guy. He’s been in our top producer lists for quite a long time. Howard’s great with songs, and I really needed some direction because I had probably 35 songs written for the record! I showed him all the songs and got his feedback…what’s good…what’s not…and that’s not easy! It isn’t easy for a producer to sit down and do that! That’s a lot of information, a lot of songs to choose from. Of course I would ask him, “What is it you like about this and not about this other song?” I think that he helped me format a new opinion of what makes a good song…what is the thing that captures people and affects them? Sometimes as a songwriter, you can write something that affects people and grasps their attention, but maybe you just really don’t know why it does. As a songwriter, you tend to think all your songs are good…you don’t really have much of a thermometer, so he really brought that to the table. Another thing that Howard really brought was Howard is known for being really good with vocals…that’s kind of his reputation in this industry. People go, “Oh man his vocals sound amazing!” I don’t know why, but he’s really good with vocals and I think that’s why the vocals are a little more intense on Awake than on Comatose. He tends to like that kind of performance. Some producers don’t like it when it’s maybe a little out there or a little too intense, and Howard really likes those performances. I think it makes you believe it more when you hear it. I was singing really hard when we were recording it! I knew Howard liked powerful performances so I was singing much harder than I did on Comatose, and he’d go “I think you’re singing a little hard, give it to me a little harder!” I was like, “Really? I was giving it everything I had!” But you know, I think that helped, so that’s probably the biggest things that he brought to the table.
Jen: As an artist it has to be really hard to turn over your product to some one and say, “OK, what do you think is good, what do you think is not good?”
John: Oh yeah, it’s painful! The first day I sat down with Howard, we sat and talked for like 10 or 15 minutes. We talked about songs, and I started showing him songs and probably the fourth song I showed him, I was really excited about it, I thought, “He’s going to freak out when he hears this cause it’s a really good song!” I started the song and Howard says to me, “I’ve got be honest. That song sounds like a way to not sell records.” As a songwriter, that’s a little tough to hear…especially when you think it’s one of the best ones you’ve written! But you know what? I was super glad to hear about that stuff! I was like, “Yeah? All right…” I was like, “OK, I’m dealing with a guy that’s really in control, and really passionate about his opinions. He’s going to tell you, he’s not holding anything back!” In that moment I’m thinking, “OK, we’ve got what we need to make a good record here!”
Jen: Your music appeals to an extremely wide variety of fans. My 12-year-old nephew, was like, “Who are you going to interview soon?” I said, “I’m interviewing Skillet.” He said, “Monster is awesome!” I But then, you appeal to adults and everyone in between, so why do you think that your music touches such a wide variety of people?
John: You know, I’ve been asking myself that same question. I mean, once maybe twice a day I call my manager and I’m like, “Now, who is buying this record? It’s selling really well, and I don’t know what kind of person is buying it and seeing our shows!” It’s really weird, at shows you’ll see an 8-year-old kid that loves “Monster”, which I never would’ve thought. But they’re there with their parents, Mom and Dad, and all of them love “Monster”, which is a big surprise! And of course the moms like the power ballads, and then in the same show, you’ve got hard rock fan… the tattoo guys, and 25-year-old plus kids that just want to drink beer and rock and roll! Then you’ve got an incredible amount of high school guys and girls…I don’t know, I just can’t wrap my head around whose buying the record. They say, “What’s your demographic?” and you don’t really know what it is…hard rock guys, or it’s pop, so it’s girls and guys bringing their girlfriends to the show, so it’s varying extremes about who is buying the record right now. I did not expect for that to be the case! If anything, I would’ve thought this would’ve been the case on our last record, because Comatose, I felt, was a little bit more a pop album than Awake. So, you know what? Who knows? I’m just happy! (laughs)
Jen: Do you have a favorite song on the album? I know as a songwriter, it’s hard to choose…
John: You know what? I do actually, and it’s a song that nobody ever expects me to say is my favorite! It’s “It’s Not Me, It’s You”. I don’t know why, I just really like that song. It makes me, I don’t know, it makes me happy, it makes me want to rock! I think it’s kind of funny at the same time! I don’t know why, I just like that song!
Jen: Do you have any guess yet what your next single will be?
John: I really don’t know. “Hero” is on the radio right now…I think it depends on how the song goes. Because it’s not as heavy as “Monster”, if it does well for us, then we can get some alternative play on the song and what not. I can sense that we would release “Awake and Alive” as our next single possibly.
Jen: Your current tour is Awake and Alive tour, so you guys started just recently, correct? Is that right?
John: Yeah, the bands on the tour are really good. I’m a big fan of Red…we’ve wanted to tour together for a long time and it finally worked out! And this new band called The Letter Black I really like. We toured with them a little bit last year, and that’s why we had them back out. I like their band, they’re really good people, and good sound…I’m having a great time, get to see new fans. I think we have a lot of new fans!
Jen: What are your plans beyond this current tour? Do you have anything lined up yet?
John: Well the summer is pretty packed. We’re doing the mainstream radio shows, we’re doing festivals, and all that stuff. So there are a lot of those going on all around the country. We’re going to be at every coast in the next few months doing those. That’s always really fun because there are so many people. It’s a good way for us to get out…a bigger audience who’ve probably never seen us play…maybe only heard one song of ours, so that’s pretty cool!
Jen: So tell us about some influences. What are your favorite bands or what bands influenced your music?
John: You know, this is always a really hard question because I think what makes us a little bit unique is the fact that Skillet has like a melting pot of three decades of music. If you listen to it, you can see there’s a real arena rock flavor of music…like Fleetwood Mac and Kansas and Styx and Journey. But at the same time, I love Metallica and Motley Crue, and that 1980s kind of metal, hard rock thing. I love that! And then you get into the 90s, and I’m really into hard rock, you know Linkin Park and Breaking Benjamin and 3 Days Grace…these kinds of bands, you can also hear that in our music. All of those kinds of bands are influential to our sound.
Jen: That maybe answered your question to why you appeal to so many people!
John: Maybe so!
Jen: I love to ask this question to bands and hopefully you’ll answer it. Tell us the funniest or strangest quirk about each band member.
John: Something funny about our drummer Jen…she grew up in England, moved to the states when she was 16. England is mostly all dance music, they don’t play hard rock, so when she was going to audition for the band, she had not heard any of the songs that I asked her to play…which was from Rush and POD and Nirvana. She didn’t know any of that! She likes hard rock, but she doesn’t know hard rock. People think that’s kind of funny about our drummer. So if you catch her on her own, she’s listening to Lady GaGa. A quirk about my wife, Korey, is that Korey is an extreme introvert. You wouldn’t know it when you see her on stage…she just all of a sudden transforms into this crazy wild person! But if you catch Korey in real life, she likes to read, she likes to be alone and she teaches school to our kids on the road, that’s what she’s like in actual real life. I don’t really know what’s quirky about Dan. Dan is good at anything he wants to do, and he started playing guitar when he was 12. He joined Skillet when he was 16, in fact he finished high school on the road with Skillet. He would do his homework and he would turn it in via email, and that’s how he graduated high school! So yeah, he’s one of those unusual people that can kind of do anything he wants to do. His first love was not even playing guitar…he just was really good at it, a young prodigy kind of kid. And he doesn’t really listen to hard rock music either. I’ve got so many quirks, I don’t even know what my biggest one is! (laughs) I’m crazy! I’m hyperactive, that’s probably not a big surprise, but yeah, I’m a pretty hyperactive person. Quirks of mine…I’ve got some stuff about me…I’m really into working out and fitness and dude stuff! But I’ve still got some chick stuff about me, like I really love shopping! I’m kind of the one that really likes to shop and dress the band and stuff like that…I don’t know what my problem is! (laughs) I really like that kind of thing!
Jen: Who would you most like to meet?
John: Most in the whole world? I guess Bono comes to mind.
Jen: Do you have a favorite phrase that you use all the time?
John: Ummm…favorite phrase…is really actually one of my biggest quirks! I didn’t even think about it, but I do have a phrase. The phrase is, “The doggy likes to rock!” I don’t really know why a few years ago I started referring to myself in the 3rd person whenever I wanted something or whenever I felt like something. I don’t know why I did it…but I started calling myself the doggy, so I’m like, “Oh man, the doggy’s hungry, man!” stuff like that. Doggy’s hungry, or doggy’s tired, or now, the doggy likes to rock! I’ll be like “Man the record sales look really good this week. The doggy likes to rock!” I don’t really know why, but that’s kind of my phrase!
Jen: I know your favorite song is “It’s Not Me, It’s You”, is that the same favorite song you like to play live, or is that a different one?
John: My favorite song to play live is from Comatose which is “Rebirthing.” It’s probably because that is the one that everybody has known. Everybody knows “Monster” now, but “Rebirthing” for the last couple of years has been the song that people were waiting on and they get really loud when we play it!
Jen: If you weren’t a rock star, what do you think you’d be doing?
John: Maybe working with young people in some kind of a way. 9th grade, or maybe pre-high school…I’d be working with young people. I don’t know if it’d be doing it in a church setting…maybe as like a youth kind of leader, or after school programs…whatever it may be to help young people who are having a hard time.
Jen: Do you have a favorite piece of advice that you’ve been given?
John: Yes. When I was a kid, I learned a Bible verse that probably most all church-going kids learn when they’re like 5 years old. It’s stuck with me my whole life and it’s the verse that says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and everything else will be added to you.”
Jen: What 3 things do you have to have with you on tour?
John: On tour, I’ve got to have my treadmill, I’ve got to have Dr. Pepper, and the third thing I’ve got to have is my wife!
Jen: Aww, excellent answer, John! What would you guys like to say to your fans?
John: Come see us play! I typically say we just appreciate our fans. We spend time doing autographs and pictures and saying hey, and we treat our fans well. We know that they love us and they’re like, “We really drove 4 hours to see you play, and a couple months ago we drove 3 hours.” People driving to see you play, you want them to leave having a great time and feeling better about life than when they came. So most of all I’d like to say thanks to our fans for supporting us and we love them and if they come see us play we’re going to give them the best night we can!
Skillet is rocking festival shows all across the U.S. right now, so check their website at www.skillet.com to find one near you! One thing is for sure, Skillet’s live show is phenomenal! You won’t be sorry! Awake is available everywhere now!
Photos by David Molnar