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Skillet. The Rock Band That Doesn't Quit

Posted on May 14, 2013 by John van der Veen There have been 0 comments


Skillet recently made headlines when their last album, Awake, became one of just three rock albums to be certified platinum in 2012, forming an improbable triumvirate with the Black Keys’ El Camino and Mumford & Sons’ Babel. The news that Skillet had sold more than a million albums in the U.S. came as a shock to all but the band’s wildly diverse horde of fans, male and female, young and old—known as Panheads—whose still-swelling ranks now officially number in the seven-digit range. This remarkable achievement was announced just as Skillet was putting the finishing touches on their eagerly awaited follow-up album, Rise (Atlantic/Word).

As soon as the master was turned in to the studio to finish post production on the new album, I sat down with John Cooper

John Cooper

(lead singer) to talk through what was behind Rise. As you will see, while reading this, John is a passionate man. He is passionate about his music. His wife. His family. About Christ.

John: I’m wondering if you could share a little bit with us about the new record, Rise. What’s the story behind this?

John C.: It’s a story about a typical, American teenage kid coming into adulthood and being faced with how brutal the world is. There are shocking things in the outside world, like school shootings, war and all the things you see on the news everyday.

This album is about how those things affect the life of a teenager. And it’s not just about the big problems from outside, but also about problems from within. That is, living in a single family house with an abusive dad, fighting at home, school bullying, just not being happy with who you are as a person and about trying to find faith. The whole record is about finding faith in a dark world. Rising up out of your circumstances. It all leads to a climax of the character realizing he is never going to be good enough. He is never going to do enough, and is born to let himself down. Even if the outside world doesn’t let him down. Even if his friends don’t let him down. He is going to let himself down because he needs to be redeemed. He reaches out to God and basically just says, “I need to be saved. I need something bigger than myself. I want a change and I want to be new.” That is the climax of the album during the song “Salvation,” in which he cried out for Salvation. All of the sudden, he is safe and able to rise up out of his circumstance.

John: John, throughout your discography, you guys have always had one or two songs that have dealt with that person who is being pressured by the elements of this world, by the things of this world. You’ve really kind of encouraged people to rise above it and move past that. This certainly has been part of your call as an artist and as a songwriter through the years. Is this a personal story in a sense, John C.? Do you know this person?

John C.: Right, well there certainly are aspects of me in this person. It’s not a mural. It’s not every little thing that happens. But, yes, absolutely. In fact, I dare say, there are elements of all of us in this person. I think that’s why this record is coming off well.

So far, people are experiencing it personally. I think it’s because most of us can relate to that feeling of worthlessness, or maybe we let ourselves down and we just realize that it’s amazing that someone else would love us, especially God. A holy God, for that matter! That He would like us is real shocking. There are personal things in my life, of course, that contributed to this, certainly.

My mom died when I was young. I was 14. My dad and I didn’t get along for a long time. There were times growing up that I felt afraid and wondered if God was there. When I cried out to Him to help me through those hard times. My story is embedded within this record, definitely.

Good to be Alive
Written by John L. Cooper, Zach Malloy, Tom Douglas

Verse 1
When all you've got are broken dreams
Just need a second chance
And everything you want to be
Gets taken from your hands

We hold on to each other
All we have is all we need
Cause one way or another
We always make it, you and me

This life can almost kill you
When you're trying to survive
It's good to be here with you

CHORUS
It's good to be alive
It’s good to be alive
I was lost and I was gone
I was almost dead inside
You and me against the world
It’s a beautiful night
It’s good to be alive

Verse 2
Driving down this highway
Soaking up the sun
Got miles to go before we get home
And the journey's just begun

We hold on to each other
You are everything I need
You feel like forever
You're a second chance for me

Bridge
It's a beautiful night
Yeah, it's alright
It's good to be alive

John: Your last three records have allowed you guys to walk into various ideologies or arenas of thought where you've been able to speak a very significant message. What has that been like? How has that experience been for maybe you, your wife and for you guys as a band over the last couple of years?

John C.: It has been thrilling, because evangelism has always been kind of what my life is about. Ever since I became a Christian when I was five, it was a natural gifting and leaning towards sharing my faith with people. That longing and zeal has never changed for me. The only thing I think that has changed is the way I do it and the way that we go about it.

To answer that question, yeah, I think Skillet has begun to write songs, as you said, songs we could all relate to, not just Christian people. I kind of look at it like the way that Jesus told his parables. That is—and I’m just going to be honest here, but I hope nobody takes it bad—I’ve been a Christian since I was five, and still when I read Jesus’ words I still sometimes go, “Man, I just wonder why he wasn’t more clear about what he was talking about.” It’s a little elliptical you know? You have to dig in and watch it rise and see what he was pointing at. The only answer I have come up with is that the Bible said if you seek God, you will find Him. I started thinking, you know what? That’s how I’m going to write my songs. I’m going to leave them open to interpretation of things that we can all relate to, and then when people go to the website or they come to the show and they hear me doing an interview, they will begin to hear what the songs are about. I hope to point them toward Jesus in that way. The songs are kind of grouped by a message that people can relate to. That is kind of how Skillet has written our songs.

To answer your other question, it has been thrilling because I love evangelism. They tell of people that have gotten saved from music. Could be the unreachable type, the unreachables of the world and that is where I feel I have a lot to share.

When our last record came out, there was a guy who basically sent me an email saying he heard our song on NFL. “Hero” was playing and he liked it. He said he went to their website and found out who the band was, and bought the song. He said he loved the song and came to a show. One thing led to another, and basically this guy and his wife were both in the pornography industry. They both were filmmakers. The guy got saved and ended up leading his wife to it too. So they were saved now and got out of that industry and have gotten into church. And it was all from hearing our song on NFL. Stories like that are amazing! It’s something only God can do. And we are so honored He is using our music to do it.

What I Believe
Written by John L. Cooper and Korey Cooper

Verse 1
The world around me
Is lost in misery
The only good I've got in my life is you
No meaning, no other reason
When everything feels wrong I feel right with you
So madly, desperate, deeply, obsessed your love is better than life to me
Can I have this moment forever?
Take me to the beginning

CHORUS
You are what I believe
I'll live and die for you
This is all that I need
When nothing is real you are my truth
In the darkness you shine
Can you keep me safe tonight?
When I’m down on my knees
You are what I believe

Verse 2
When we started, wholehearted
I never needed anything or anyone else
I was broken, you made me whole again
The only one I trusted more than myself

So madly, desperate, deeply, I will live for you completely
Can I have this moment forever?
Take me to the beginning

Bridge:
Believe in your love
Believe in your life
Believe that you can put me back together on the inside
Chase all the fear away
Every time I speak your name

Take me
You are what I believe

CHORUS
You are what I believe
I'll live and die for you
This is all that I need
When nothing is real you are my truth
In the darkness you shine
Can you keep me safe tonight?
When I'm down on my knees
You are what I believe

John: That is absolutely amazing, John. And I appreciate you sharing that.

Let’s shift gears now and talk a little bit about the new record. How does a concept record get played live? What is the live show going to look like for Rise?

John C.: Well, at the moment, we are just going to keep showing our shows as we do them. The really cool thing about this record is that I think the songs live on their own outside of the concept period. It’s really cool because with concept records, sometimes individual songs aren’t as strong on their own outside of the full story. We wrote these songs not intending to make it a concept album. The songs themselves do live on their own, and yet the story seems quite clear per song.

That’s why I think this record is kind of unique. It’s a concept record full of songs that stand alone with impact, we hope. At the moment, we are going to keep playing the songs as-is, but in the back of our minds, we hope this album garners enough excitement, respect and sales that we could go out and do a tour. The whole show is basically like theater, not a theater performance, but more like cinema rock. Like a movie all the way through. That would be really great. You can’t really plan on that kind of success. You have to hope for it and wait and see what happens.

John: It’s all about cinema rock, isn’t it? Is there still going to be fire?

John C.: I sure hope so. I love that. Again, going back to Skillet, in the past a lot of people have told me, “When I’m listening to your music or I see the show, it kind of feels like I’m watching a movie.” People have said that quite a lot. I like the theater aspects and the fire. We were adding some stuff this summer that we’ve never done before. I won’t give it away right now, but we’re beginning to add other effects to our show that I think are bringing even more to that sort of theater/movie experience. We’re going to keep adding surprise elements. I hope that fire is always one of them for the rest of my life.

John: I do too, man. I keep voting for fire.

John C.: I agree. It was my birthday [a while ago] and I got these new shoes that I’m really excited about. I put them on and I said to my son, “So, what do you think? Do you like my new shoes?” He said, “Yeah, but I think they would be cooler if there was a skeleton on the side and his skull was on fire.”

John: I love it.

John C., with that in mind, either in a live setting or even on your records, we will hear hints of 80s glam rock.

John C.: Right.

John: I know you were born in the mid 70s. Are you in love with 80s glam rock as much as I am?

John C.: Absolutely. You definitely can hear it. In fact, it’s funny because some people ask in interviews, “Who is your biggest influence?” This is awful to say, but I think that in Skillet’s music you hear decades of influence. You definitely have that 80s glam thing. You see it in the show with the fire and the guitar solos. Everything is a little bit over the top.

Also, I am a really big fan of 70s rock, like the stuff Journey, Kansas, Yes and Fleetwood Mac put out. You can really hear that in the music, too. Even some Meatloaf. It’s got this kind of Queen opera rock thing to it that feels a little dramatic. I think with the strings, it feels a little romantic as well. You can definitely hear all of those. But my voice, I don’t sing like an 80s guy. I sing more like a 90s guy. That is, when I started really singing in rock bands, it was 1992–93, and you had Nirvana, Pearl Jam and all those kinds of bands on the scene. So we definitely have a variety of decades of influence and skill with our music and sound.

John: Cinema rock.

John C.: Yeah.

John: So you are a husband, a father, a songwriter, singer and follower of Jesus. Help the ordinary man—whether in high school, college or married—who has followed your career for the last few years. As someone who is reading this blog who struggles to follow Christ on a daily basis, how do you work that up? How do you follow Jesus on a daily basis and how could you encourage others in their walk?

John C.: That is a great question. The problem is there is not a great answer, like click your heels together twice and take this pill. I wish there were because it would be easier. I think especially what I’m seeing with young people, young people’s attention spans are just so short these days because of the amount of information available. It is constant bombardment with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube. There is so much stuff happening that I think we get drawn into fads. We go, “Man, I’m all about this new TV show, or twit picks. Or the new iPhone.” It’s constant bombardment. Within all of those things, there may be a time for a lot of Christians that they are all about Jesus but then they move onto something else because it’s just constantly moving.

I tell people, “You have to make a decision in your life now, what your entire life is going to be about.” It’s kind of like when I chose to marry my wife. I made a decision and I knew for the rest of my life until I died or she dies, we are going to be married and that is just the way it is. Nothing is going to change that. I have a kid. Nothing is going to change it. You are going to be a father. Nothing in the world can stop that anymore. Even more importantly, that is what it means to follow Jesus. I am making the decision today that my whole life is going to be about Him, and I will do what He says and I just won’t falter from that. I think a lot of it just comes down to making a decision and sticking to it rather than jumping on and off fads.

For me, I made that decision years ago and I surrounded myself with other people who made that decision. My pastor, my friends, and my wife. We all have made that decision together and then when things are hard and the new fad comes in, and I go, “Man, maybe I want to give working out more time than I give Jesus,” I have my wife and pastor and friends chime in, and we all pursue Him together.

I think a lot of Christians don’t make that decision. I always tell people it’s not going to be easier to live for Jesus but you have to make the decision and it can be done. It becomes easier to live for Jesus once you have just made that commitment because that is what your life is about. Instead of finding things that seem more fun, find the most fulfilling thing and that is living for God. Knowing His love, speaking to Him every day and talking to Him. It’s absolutely more fulfilling to your soul than all of these other “fun things.” Anyway, that is what I do. Of course, I read my Bible and I pray, but a lot of it comes down to what our lives are going to be about, and it is Him.

MY RELIGION

Music and words: John L. Cooper and Korey Cooper

Verse 1
Who's gonna save my soul
Nothing and nobody but you
Who's gonna make me whole
Nothing and nobody but you

Can't change me, sway me
Don't know what to make of me
You've got my devotion fanatical though it may be
I love you mind, heart, body and soul
You're the only sanctuary that i know

CHORUS
I don't need to stare at stained glass and a steeple
I don't need to dress to impress all of the people
Don't need no priest
Don't need no pew
You are my religion my religion is you

I don't need no other purpose
You give me a reason
Ain’t their business what I wanna believe in
You are my priest
You are my truth
You are my religion, my religion is you

Verse 2
Who's gonna heal my pain
Nothing makes me feel like you do
Who can drive my demons away
Nothing makes me heal like you do
I love you mind, heart, body and soul
You're the only sanctuary that I know

CHORUS
I don't need to stare at stained glass and a steeple
I don't need to dress to impress all of the people
Don't need no priest
Don't need no pew
You are my religion my religion is you

I don't need no other purpose
You give me a reason
It ain’t their business what I wanna believe in
You are my priest
You are my truth
You are my religion, my religion is you

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me

Bridge
Mind, heart, soul and strength
Belong to you, belong to me
Got my devotion I will follow where you lead
I won't be told what to feel and how to show
My love can't be stopped
Love you any way I want

John: I love it John, and I really appreciate your honestly there. That is really good to hear. One last question before we leave?

John C.: Hit me.

John: Red Bull, Mountain Dew or coffee.

John C.: Oh gosh, you know what? I’m not in love with any of them to tell you the truth. These days I drink coffee, not a lot, but I do drink coffee. I haven’t been drinking sugar or caffeinated drinks. I got off that. I am over six months Dr. Pepper-free. Dr. Pepper was my drug of choice.

John: That’s right, I forgot about that. I’m sorry I should not have offended you by saying Mountain Dew. I should have said Dr. Pepper, Red Bull or coffee.

John C.: It would be Dr. Pepper but I am recovering.

John: You are recovering.

John C.: That is one of those things that I could never touch it again because I’m like a Dr. Pepper-a-holic. I haven’t told anybody that in interviews. You are the first person to hear me say that I’m six months Dr. Pepper-free.

John: Can I ask why you gave it up?

John C.: It was just bad for me. Diabetes runs in my family. I’m like, you know what? I love this drink too much and it’s not good for me so I quit it. I think even more important than that, is they refused to promote Skillet and put anything behind it. So they haven’t put me in a Dr. Pepper commercial. If they did, then I wouldn’t mind drinking it (laughs). I would give them my Dr. Pepper anonymous card, and I would take it up again if they would put me in a commercial.

John: There you go. All right, Dr. Pepper, it’s on the line. It’s all up to them now.

John C.: Yes.

John: John, thank you, Man. You’ve made me laugh. You encouraged me in my walk with Christ today. I appreciate you. I appreciate your band and your ministry and your art. I’m excited about this new record.

John C.: Well, thank you so much. I appreciate it. It was good to talk to you.


This post was posted in Music, Interviews, John van der Veen and was tagged with Featured, Forgiveness, Marriage, Skillet, NFL

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