Interview: John Cooper from Skillet

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By Andra Jenkin

I spoke with John Cooper, frontman for Skillet, and discovered he was a man unafraid to talk about positivity, identity or the darkness within.

I’m Andra from Libel.co.nz in New Zealand. How’s life treating you today?

Very good, thank you it’s great to chat with you.

Yeah, likewise. So its Wednesday morning here, where and when are you right now?

(Laughs) I’m from the past. It is a Tuesday night and I am actually at my home. I live in the State of Wisconsin which is kinda by Chicago.

So you’re getting some time to spend at home on this tour?

Yeah I’m at home now. We’ve got a couple of easy weeks until we see you guys.

That’s great, and then you’re doing the States and then Australia and then New Zealand in November, is that right?

That’s correct, yeah.

What’s the best thing about touring for you?

Best thing about touring? Well, I love performing and I love the fans, I love seeing the fans sing. You know what, I rewind, the best thing is seeing the fans sing the songs, when you’re on stage. That’s where the energy is you know, but I do love performing. I love getting a chance to go on stage and play songs that I love and that I believe in and try to whip the crowd up, and then when I see the fans sing the songs, that’s the absolute very best. Most of the things about being on the road are hard, and most of the things about being on the road are not fun, but it’s all worth it when you get to get on stage, that’s pretty fun.

Unlike a lot of musicians you’re in a band with your wife. Does your family come with you on tour as well?

Yeah. I have two kids that have been on the road ever since they were babies, since they were born basically. Now, they have never come to Australia though or New Zealand but they’ve come to Europe with us, because when we go to Europe we’re typically gone for a month or six weeks and it’s too long to leave the kids. Other than that they tour with us all the time, they’ve been on tour with everybody, they’ve played with Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie and Metallica and Aerosmith, anybody, pretty much, you name it, they’ve been at the show with.

How do you protect them in an environment that’s really notorious for its excess?

Yeah, you know, we’re always together and I’ve always found that kind of the best way for my kids- I mean obviously there’s some things that I don’t let them watch, but I’ve always tried to say to them, ‘There’s going to be a lot of people at the shows that say things that I don’t agree with, that do things that I don’t agree with and that believe things that I don’t agree with, but it’s good to be friends and it’s good to accept people for where they come from and what they believe and let them do their own thing and you can do your own thing.’ So it’s been really beautiful way to see the kids grow up, realise that there’s a lot of things out there that their parents wouldn’t approve of, but even when you disagree with someone it’s good to be friends with them and love them for who they are. So I’ve really enjoyed that aspect and not to preach too much but that’s something that our world really needs right now and I think that they’ve kind of gotten to see it, really their whole lives they’ve been seeing that.  

I see a lot of fans talking about you being a role model for them, what does that mean to you?

Well I think it’s cool. I’ve loved rock music since I was a kid. I was 5 years old when I first heard Michael Jackson, which was a life-changing moment for me. I still remember where I was and what I was thinking when I heard it the first time, and I’ve always been star-struck, I’m still star-struck with bands that I like. I don’t even try to hide it usually. It’s a little bit of a faux pas if you’re in a band like Skillet, which is a pretty successful band, and we go and play with Metallica or something, and the rules are I’m not supposed to be too much of a fanboy, but I just can’t help it I’m just such a fan of the music and I idolise people in music all the time. So I assume that that sort of thing may happen and that’s why I feel a great measure of responsibility for how I treat the fans, how I act towards people, what my life looks like. A lot of rock stars say that they don’t want to be put on a pedestal, but probably because of my faith I believe that that’s not, I mean, it’s a little bit of a cop out. Ideally, especially because of my faith, that I should be living the life that would speak about truth and light and life and positivity and all of that kind of stuff and I think it’s cool if other people see that,  and see that I’m not a hypocrite, that’s pretty important to me.

Your faith is stamped all over your music, to what degree does it define your identity as a band?

Do you say my faith?

Yeah, your faith.

Oh, yeah. Ok, I’m sorry.

It’s obviously core to your music.

Yes.

To what degree does your faith define your identity as a band?

Sure, that’s a great question. That’s a great way of putting that. I don’t think anyone has ever put it to me in that exact way. Yeah, I think you’ve got something really cool there which is that even when Skillet is not singing about my faith, in other words even if Skillet is singing a love song for instance, or a break up song (laughing) or a song about, you know, we had a song on one of our last records called Sick of It. It’s a song that I wrote about school shootings here in America, like kids killing kids, and I wrote the song called Sick of It, and it almost feels like no matter what I write people take it as a religious song even if I don’t intend it to be a religious song and I think that that is coming from a very kind of, intangible quality which you just called identity which I think is the perfect word for it. I think Skillet has an identity that is very spiritual. It doesn’t mean that everyone that likes Skillet is Christian, or even religious, in fact we’ve got lots of very non-religious or even anti-religious fans but there’s a quality to our music, a spirituality that they connect with. I think that’s a really cool thing, I think you can’t fabricate that, I think that you, as a band, you need to be who you are and have your own identity. That’s why I think bands like, well that’s why I think Nine Inch Nails is so great for what they do, there’s an identity that you can’t fake there’s just a darkness to that music and an angst to it that I think is really artistic.

For sure.

I think Skillet has one that is very spiritual and I think that’s cool too.

So listening to your lyrics when you’re talking about songs like Sick of It, you have lots of themes of buried anger and hidden shame and sound like a lot of making sense of the chaos of the world through God. Is that personal, is that a persona that you put on when you’re writing, or is that kind of a view of the world?

I do sing a lot about angst. I mean, in general I’m not an angsty person. In fact I’m a very, kind of extremely positive optimistic person and I’m friendly and I’m very much a people person but I can relate to the angst of being in a dark place and feeling like there’s no hope, and I can very much relate to a place where I’ve felt neglected to the point of angst that I wanted to hurt someone, and it wasn’t going to be myself, it was going to be someone else, and I can relate to that sort of darkness, that, if my life has to suck that bad then someone else’s needs to suck also. So I do sing a lot about dark things. There’s usually a bit of a hopeful feeling to the music, and light at the end of the tunnel. But I like being open about those feelings because lots of people can relate to it.

You’re bringing up darkness and at the moment round the world and particularly in the States there’s a lot of division and divisiveness, polarising opinions, the world has changed so much, and culture has changed since you started out, what role do musicians, and specifically Skillet, play in bridging that gap and trying to connect people. Is that something musicians should be there to do?

Sure, sure. Well, you know, it’s such a multi-faceted, it’s a great question, its very multi-faceted. And obviously so many different philosophies going into one thing. I think a lot of different musicians now are trying to be very positive and they’re trying to sing about positivity I think the irony here is that Skillet used to get beat up on pretty bad for being a Christian band, because they just said, ‘It’s just so positive. All they ever sing about is positive things.’ And it’s funny that culture’s very much just come around and as much as Christian music is made fun of I think that music right now they sing about things and sound very much like Christian music ten years ago. But I do think that it’s a good thing to sing about positivity in general and one of the things that I think that I can do, which you asked me a little while ago. I think that right now there’s a lot of musicians in America and a lot of celebrities going ‘Will you make the world a better place?’ so all they do is come out yelling at people who don’t agree with them because they think they’re making a better place and I think that something that I can do is maybe help bridge the gap between people and say, ‘Hey, it’s okay that I have a religious faith that is different than your s and I’m going to accept you for who you are and you need to accept me for who I am and we can disagree about things. There’s just no civility I think that’s the issue. I mean, people got to learn to kind of agree to disagree and not hurt each other, I think that’s a pretty important thing. I think if celebrities stopped yelling at each other on social media that would probably be a pretty good start.

Monster is on constant reply in our house, it’s my son Aslan’s favourite song.

(Laughs)

He’s 8 and he’s found it through Youtube and Beyblade videos and gaming. Are you finding you’re connecting to a lot younger fans through gaming?

Oh yeah absolutely. The funny thing about Skillet is that Skillet has always had an eternally young audience. I have no idea how that happened, but it has and when you said it was in your house I thought to myself I bet she’s got a young kid, you know, ‘cause I hear that every day -

(Laughs)

-every day that my 5 year old wants to hear Monster over and over. We never had any idea that kids were going to like that song in fact my label didn’t want to release that as a single, they were just like ‘It’s just kind of silly and it’s a rock song, I don’t know if a lot of people will like it,’ and it’s the biggest song of our career. It’s just a really funny story. But yes, all that to say, we do have younger fans, it’s very much growing, but we keep getting younger fans. The gaming it helps because WWE video games have always been very supportive of our music, we’re always on sports whether it’s football or baseball or American football whatever it is, our song’s on sports quite a lot, and all those things will help you get a younger audience. I think that’s pretty cool. In America, I don’t know what it’s like down there, but in America a lot of the rock community kind of looks down on the younger audience so they might think I don’t want to play that Skillet song, I don’t want to be listened to by a bunch of kids, it’s almost looked down on, like, we want old rockers and I don’t really know why that is the case, ‘cause certainly someone has to realise that if you don’t get young fans then they’re going to die out. I assume they know that, but maybe it hasn’t crossed their minds (laughs).

(laughs) Aslan wanted to know how long it took you to write Monster. Do songs come in a flash of inspiration, or are they something you agonise over?

Honestly it’s one of those ones that happen really fast. It happened kind of really fast and then it was almost like, it was so fast and simple I didn’t know if it was even really good and I showed it to my wife Korey, she was like, ’Oh that’s really good.” and I said, “Really? I don’t know.” and I liked it but there wasn’t like a mass excitement about the song until we played it the first time live, we played it for fans. I told Korey, I looked at her on stage, I was like ‘Oh my gosh this song, this is going. Something’s happening that’s never happened to us before.

That’s wicked. And what does the future hold for Skillet?

Well there’s a lot going on in Skilletworld. Of course we’re coming to see you guys which I’m very excited about. It’s time, it’s about time. Since about 2011 we last came to New Zealand. We’re finishing up a record now; we’re about 70% finished with the next Skillet album that we’ll release next year. We’re trying to make sure that we’ve gone to places in the world we haven’t been in a long time, like to see you guys and there’s a lot of other little projects going on, you may know that our drummer Jen has a side project, her own record that is called Ledger. And we produced the record. My wife produced mostly the whole record and we wrote songs together, and supporting her and what she’s doing. Spreading her wings a bit as her own solo artist we put quite a lot into that, and thirdly, I just announced last week that I’m doing a side project. The EP is going to come out this year. The project is called Fight the Fury, it’s different than Skillet, it’s heavier, it’s a metal project and letting me let my hair down and go a little crazy. It’s heavier than Skillet it’s meaner than Skillet. It’s a bit progy, and it’s just, bang your head stuff that I think there’s a portion of Skillet fans that are gonna really sink their teeth into.

I’d say that I’m one of them.

Awesome, love it.

Yeah, that’s sounds great. I don’t have much more time, but I just want to say thank you for your thoughts and is there anything you want to say to your fans here before you get here?

Well, I just want to tell the fans thanks so much for listening after all this time, we get tweets all the time down from you guys part of the world and thanks for listening, thanks for supporting, thanks for listening, hope to come out have a great time, and can’t wait to come out have a great time I can’t wait to come down there. I had the most amazing curry when I was in New Zealand last time it was, this lamb curry was unreal, so I can’t wait to come out and eat your food.

That’s awesome, I’d love to see you, thank you for your time.

You got it, great to chat with you Andra.

Skillet

 Tickets via  https://metropolistouring.com/skillet-nz-2018/

Tickets via https://metropolistouring.com/skillet-nz-2018/