2013, Features, Interviews — June 20, 2013 at 7:30 am

John Cooper of Skillet


“The album is a very spiritual journey of trying to find hope in a hopeless world, and trying to find faith and say who am I and rising above these things that keep us chained.”

Following your ‘big’ album is a daunting task, so after 2009’s ‘Awake’, an album that took Skillet to new places (literally) and had the band play countless shows allowing the album to go on to sell over a million copies, now four years since ‘Awake’ Skillet are about to release their new album, ‘Rise’ and what an album it is. Bigger things are on the cards for this band, so if you haven’t heard them before, maybe now is the time to get on board.

So after accepting the award John gave me for the absolute most awesome website name he’s ever done anything with (appreciate that John), I had a great chat with the Skillet front man about their rockin’ new record ‘Rise’ and the concept and creation of it as well as his take on the evolution of the band and potential touring plans for 2014…

Firstly, congratulations on the new album, it blew me away!
Thank you so much, I appreciate that Troy.

‘Rise’ is released this Friday here in Australia, it’s been a few years since ‘Awake’ are you excited to unleash new music upon the world?
Oh yeah, honestly I wish that this record could’ve come out a year ago, I feel like I’m having a kid you know *laughs* like is this baby ever going to get out? We just toured so much, the good news is that when our last record ‘Awake’ came out, it hit with such, for me, shocking success that we just toured and toured and toured, and the more we toured the record just wouldn’t stop selling which is amazing and brilliant and I couldn’t believe the sales of it, but it just caused for a really long writing time. I mean we wrote for three years, seventy two songs I wrote for the record and I was ready to kill everybody… I was going to kill my manager, my label, I even told my A&R guy that man I never thought I was going to record this album, and he’s like going through we’ve got to do this and this and this, so man I tell ya, I cannot wait for this record to come out, I’m so very excited about it and I’m excited about the songs and playing it live and all of that stuff.

I was reading about the concept behind ‘Rise’, but when you were creating the album, obviously with seventy two songs as you mentioned, was this something you consciously wanted to get across or did it evolve into the story it’s become?
Yeah funny thing is no, we were not trying to make a concept record, that never even crossed my mind, I just had written all those songs and I knew there was a lot of threads,  when you write seventy songs you’re going to be talking about a lot of similar things, you know?  There’s only so many ways to say the same thing over and over, but I knew there were threads when we chose the songs, the fifteen we recorded, it was about two weeks into the thing and I told my manager, I said I feel like these songs are more important than just songs, I don’t know how to explain it, there’s something going on, and it finally hit us, like you know what? This is telling a story and we just need to embrace it and tell the story and that’s what we set out to do, and to be honest, it was really easy, I think I spent about twenty minutes putting the songs in order, and I was like yeah, this is what I want to say through these songs. The only real difficulty was trying to find a way to tell the story, and I knew I wanted to do some interludes like for instance the 911 phone call and that kind of opera choir that we have, I knew I wanted to do some things, but I wondered is that narration, do I have movie clips, and how do I get that point across without being cheesy or trite or almost overstated and that took some finessing, that was a bit of work.

I have to say I was listening to the album on Sunday morning nice and early and it was a beautiful sunny day and ‘Good To Be Alive’ came on and it literally made me look outside and agree with the song, when writing a song like that, what’s your inspiration?
Well, frankly it’s what you just said; it’s just like that feeling of yes there’s bad things happening to all of us and yes they are important, like the economic collapse around the whole world its happening, but a lot of these things we get so worked up about are not the end of the world. Some of the things we deal with in our lives, some things are more important than others and in the end, man, lets don’t take for granted the wonderful things that we do have and that strikes me when I get stressed out when a show doesn’t go the way I want it to or the album’s not selling the way you want it to and they didn’t like the song I wrote and blah blah blah. Then I get to come and hang out with my kids and play Batman with my son on PS3 and you just go ‘you know what? What am I complaining about here? It’s good to be alive’ so it really is that simple of a concept.

Other than a couple of killer ‘ballads’ in there, the album really is one rockin’ beast, to me it almost feels like you wanted to do so much more on this release musically compared to even ‘Awake’, so when you sat down with these songs, how did the arrangements come together to make these really stand out?
Yeah, you know believe it or not, you might be the first person that has said that which is a little surprising to me, because I really did… As soon as ‘Awake’ came out and I really loved the record, and that record hadn’t been out for six months and I told my wife, I said ‘you know what? I really feel like the direction we need to go on the next album, it needs to be more of a rock band, it needs to be more raw and heavier and I don’t mean like psycho metal, I just mean it needs to sound more like when we play live and needs more parts and more drum fills and more guitar riffs. I just set out to write the record that way and we did that, but I don’t know if a lot of people necessarily know this because it is that way, but we set out to make it happen and there are times when we give room to the keyboards to really do their thing, and then there are times when we were like ok, now it’s going to be the guitar riff time, like ‘Circus For A Psycho’ is a good example of that, that’s just a straight up balls to the wall rock song you know, and I don’t know I think we just wanted to mix it up a little bit. Another thing also that brings that out on the record is that we got Andy Wallace to mix it, Andy Wallace is best known for Nirvana ‘Nevermind’ and Linkin Park’s first two records and I like the idea of somebody coming in and just mixing this very raw and passionate and I think that’s what comes through on the record.

You’ve also gone back to Howard Benson as producer, what is it about his style that works for Skillet?
You know, I like working with Howard as he’s been in the business a very long time and he is just good with songs and he’s very simple, Howard has done some genius things, I don’t mean simple in a bad way, I mean in a good way he boils it all down simply to what makes a great album and that is that he just likes songs and it doesn’t matter if you have great guitar riffs or drums, he’s like I just like the song. I like that because I feel capable of doing the music on my own and I feel capable about making a dynamic sounding record, but I needed him to come in and help me choose the songs and massage them and make them hopefully the best they could be. So I enjoyed working with Howard again, we’ve done some good stuff together, so you know, if it ain’t broke kind of thing… *laughs*

So overall, is there a particular message you wanted to get across specifically with ‘Rise’?
The concept of the album is actually kind of simple, basically it’s the story of your average teenager coming into adulthood and being faced with the ever growing darkness of this world, and the fact that in America we’re experiencing the most violent times in our country ever, it’s crazy the amount of school shootings and bombings and teen suicides, and not to mention all the acts of God, with hurricanes and floods and earthquakes. The teenager is just getting the world and going this is a scary place, and not only are all those giant things happening at the same time, my life is a scary place too *laughs* fighting with my parents and being bullied at school and being told who I have to be and how I have to act just to fit in by Hollywood etc and it’s a journey. The album is a very spiritual journey of trying to find hope in a hopeless world, and trying to find faith and say who am I and rising above these things that keep us chained.

You were last here in Australia in 2011…
That’s right, in fact, we were there about three weeks after a bunch of floods you guys had down there at that time.

So I have to ask, are there plans to come back and see us in Australia?
There are no plans on the table, but, as a lot of people have been asking me, ‘what’s in the future for Skillet?’ and I don’t know if you’re going to ask me but I’ll just tell you now *laughs*. The clearest thing that is in the future for Skillet is overseas touring. That trip we made to see you guys was the first overseas show that I’d played in ten years, it just wasn’t something that I wanted to do before then, and it wasn’t feasible and I had two kids, and my wife is also in the band and it’s hard to leave the kids at home and go to Australia for three weeks or something. But we did that Australia trip and we loved it so much, we did Australia, New Zealand and Japan and it was such a huge amazing trip that we decided we needed to do more. This year in fact, 2013, Skillet is touring as much overseas as we are here in America, we’re going to Europe with Nickelback in October/November and we’ve already been to Europe once this year, so all I can just say is I’m sure in 2014 we will be coming to see you guys again because it’s clearly on the table that we need to do it and are enjoying it as well.

Looking back over the sixteen years since the band began, how have you personally seen the band and yourself evolve as artists and people?
Whoa man, well, we certainly have evolved a lot *laughs*the thing I would say is most different about me now than when I started and this is also a good way to tie in if there are younger people that want to know any advice that I could give them, I would tie that into this answer as well which is that, I don’t think I realized when I first started this band, that being in a band also means that you own a business, I just didn’t really get that concept, I just loved music and writing it and playing it. Now I’ve realized that playing music is such a small part of my job, which at times is a little maddening *laughs* but that’s just the way that it is, so you’ve got to be smart about the way you run your business in an ever changing music world. When I first started, we were still selling tapes, cassette tapes and I never dreamed in 1996 that people would just be buying music on their computer or stealing music on their computer for that matter, it never would’ve crossed my mind. You have to keep changing the way that you do your business and you have to keep finding ways to feed music to your fans and find new ways to reach those fans. A lot of things have changed but the one thing that I would say Skillet has done really well through the years is that we have always found ways through the years to get our music out there besides radio and that is a good thing about the internet and how that’s really helped a lot of bands like us is that there’s a lot of things you can do on the internet to get your music out, and there’s a lot of people that want fringe music and Skillet has been a fringe band for a long time until our last record when we finally got radio play. That’s probably the biggest way that I’ve changed I would say.

Has there been a standout moment throughout your time together so far that has made you realize why you make music?
You know, I’ve got an answer for that that’s general, it’s not one moment, it’s happened a lot and that would be when I meet somebody and it’s hard for me to imagine, but when I meet a fan that says ‘your music saves my life’ and sometimes they cry and they tell me how they wanted to commit suicide, and I met a girl who had been sexually abused for years and years by one of her parents and she wanted to kill herself and she had been suicidal, and she heard one of her songs and it changed her life and it gave her hope. When I meet people like that that give me those type of stories, that is so much better than rock and roll, and rock and roll is pretty awesome *laughs* rock and roll is awesome but having a song change someone’s life is just so mind blowing, and being out on stage and seeing people sing your songs and you know that it’s affecting them, it’s just a good job to have in those moments.

Thanks for your time today John and I’ll see you in Australia soon yes?
It was great to talk to you and I sure hope so, by God let’s do it.

Essential Information

From: Nashville, USA

Band members: John Cooper – Lead vocals/ bass, Korey Cooper – vocals/ keyboards/ guitar, Seth Morrison – lead guitar, Jen Ledger – drums

Website: http://www.skillet.com

Forthcoming release: Rise (June 21 – Warner Music Australia) – Check out our review of ‘Rise’ HERE

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