|Rock the Universe Pre-Coverage|
|Part 4: Skillet - John Cooper|
I spent a great half an hour on August 5 talking with John Cooper, the founder, bass player and lead vocalist for Skillet. John is the kind of person who tells it like he sees it. He doesn't pull any punches trying to sound politically correct and I respect that. His faith and trust in the Lord are what leads him, not what other people think. I had a blast talking with him and I think you'll enjoy reading what he has to say.
Kim: So how are things going?
John: Things are going pretty good. We're doing fine. Things have been pretty busy but the shows have been really great. We've even played some new music which has been excited and our fans are glad 'cause we haven't had a new record out in about two years. I think that's making them happy (I hope). We're gearing up for a new album release in November.
Kim: Yeah ... what should we expect from Collide since Alien Youth was edgier than your previous releases?
John: Yeah...well, Collide is much more of a straight rock album than our last couple of records have been. We've lost that industrial edge that we had on Alien Youth. We do have some electronics, but we've gone for a stripped down rock sound. It's mainly a lot of big, rock guitars. The funny thing is that we've ended up with a lot of piano and a lot of strings on the album. That was something we hadn't planned on, but it's been a nice change for us. It's like super heavy rock with some strings coming in here and there. It's kind of a little bit of an identity shift for us, but our fans kind of expect that I think. I think our fans are going to like it. It's a more aggressive album and it's got a lot more low end than our other records had. I think that are fans are going to be excited about it (I hope).
Kim: Skillet tours constantly. Is the addition of little Alex going to change your tour schedule or is she going to grow up seeing a lot of the country?
John: I think the latter is going to be the case. We did take some time off when she was born and didn't play as much, but we're getting busy again. My sister-in-law is on the road with us helping watch her. We've made it work on the road because we feel that's what we're supposed to be doing. It's been hard, especially on my wife Korey, who, of course, plays keyboards. She has to get up early with the baby and deal with her during the day. It's a lot of hard work for her, but we feel it's what we're supposed to do so we're sticking it out for as long as we can.
Kim: What influenced your decision to become a "working musician" instead of just singing and playing at home and in church?
John: It was a really big decision. I'd been doing music for so long. You never really know if you're going to be able to do music for a living. I did it for a long time and basically didn't make any money. But that's the case, you pay your dues. I was at the point where we had an album coming out that wasn't a demo, it was a for real album and I knew it was going to be in stores. We were going to push everything and I thought "you know, I can do this for a year to see if it goes or not." The very worst that could happen was that it wouldn't go and we wouldn't make any money. I had to quit college for it, but that wasn't a big deal because I didn't like college so (laughs) that was easy. We felt like it was the right thing to do. We felt like we had really heard from God on that. And you know, a year is such a short amount of time. Even though I wasn't married at the time, I got married pretty soon after and me and my wife knew that we were going to stick it out. If we didn't make any money it didn't matter, we were going to try it because it was what we wanted to do, and more importantly, it was what we felt called to do.
Kim: You guys are going to be at Rock the Universe in Orlando next month. Have you ever played there?
John: Yes!! We did play there two years ago. It was a fantastic time - a great time. We played with dc Talk and Relient K that night and it was just awesome. That was exciting for us and I can't wait to get back.
Kim: Are you planning on hanging out and enjoying the park after the show?
John: I don't actually know the answer to that but I sure would love to. I love, love, love that kind of stuff. I just don't know if we need to go on to another show or not. We'll be definitely hanging out for a little while. We're going to be playing a couple of new songs that day. I'm really looking forward to that show.
Kim: Tell me about the best show you've had this year.
John: Off the top of my head ... we played Cornerstone Festival up in Illinois about a month ago and we had a great, great time. That was a really good one and probably one of my favorite ones of the year. It was so hot, but the crowd was just great. They were singing really loud. It's great when a crowd knows your songs and sings them really loud. That's just awesome. I sing, of course, and when I don't have to sing I just let the crowd sing and I can hear them over the music. That's when I know that I'm at a rock and roll concert.
Kim: What's the most memorable moment you've ever had onstage?
John: You know, it would probably be a bad moment. You know how you tend to remember those bad moments? Like someone is heckling you or something? Just this year we had a show and I was talking about what it means to be a Christian and I had a guy start saying back to me that basically, I was making it too easy. He was saying "no, no, we need to baptize these people tonight". He was arguing with me in front of about 3000 people. It was ruining the concert. You forget about all of the really great concerts and remember the one guy screaming at you from the audience.
Kim: You guys perform at everything from convention centers and festivals to churches and high schools. What is your favorite type of venue to play?
John: I really don't know. It just depends. You like different venues for different reasons. Festivals are really great, because you get a lot of people, but it's not always better because you can really lose that intimate setting and you've only got a short amount of time. You're one of many bands that is going to get time. They're not all there to see you play, where as at a smaller concert, everyone came to see you play. It really just depends. I really like the crowds and the intimacy at our shows. It probably makes up for not having as many people because it can be better. You know?
Kim: Have you ever stepped out onto a stage with a set list in place and had God say "Nope - you're gonna do it this way...."?
John: Yeah, that's definitely happened. Never in such a way that it completely wrecked our set (which would be OK), but is has happened. Sometimes we'll play a few songs and I'm like, you know we just need to stop and do a worship set. We've done that before, where we cut out three or four of our songs and decided to end the last 20 minutes of the set with all worship. I'm not opposed to that happening, but I really have to hear from God to know that's the thing to do. It's always been good. Our fans love it when do worship songs. It's always gone pretty good, and it's happened quite a bit. More than I can remember.
Kim: Who writes the Bible studies on the site?
John: It depends. I've done some of that, my wife has done some of that. One of our sister-in-laws has done some of that as well. Actually, she had some time off and she went through our songs and wrote some Bible studies for them. We all like to put things on the Internet. It can be just little encouraging things, or other things that we like to talk about. Normally, I'm the one to do it though.
Kim: What would you say that God is teaching you right now?
John: God is reminding me who I am and that my life is about a lot more than rock music. God's calling on my life is so much more important than just being successful ... whatever that means. You know, in terms of selling records and being popular. My calling in life is so much more important than that. If you really want to get down to it, it's actually what success is to me ... fulfilling my calling for God, not money and music. It's just God calling me to do it and I'm doing it like I'm supposed to do it. Those are the things that are really on my mind now, especially with the new album coming out. You want it to sell a lot of records and you want it to do better than you've ever done before, and all that stuff.
Kim: Being online as much as I am for work, I see sites where people are saying that Christian rock isn't a good thing, that it's too worldly. I'm sure you've heard it. How do you deal with attitudes like that?
John: It doesn't happen that much to us. We've been pretty lucky to not have a ton of that, but it does happen sometimes. Not many people actually come up to me and say that, even though they may think it. Some people at our concerts, they may say something like "you know, I wasn't into this and I have to admit that I didn't think you were Christians because of the way you dress and blah-blah-blah. But after seeing your show I know that you're for real and I want to ask your forgiveness." Actually, that has happened quite a bit. I think that once people see us play that they begin to know that we're for real and why we do what we do. They're just skeptical at first because it's so loud and we look so dark and all that kind of stuff. I'm not really that bothered because it goes with what we preach. We preach radical Christianity. We preach that God's not interested in outward things. He's interested in inward things. So we're not bothered by it, and I think that sometimes it even gives me a chance to bring things like that up.
Kim: I read somewhere that you had said that there are times when you walk into a church and people look at you like "Oh man, there is no way that he belongs in here," and that you don't get acceptance until you've talked with them, and they know that you're for real. They've seen what you're about and that you do what you do to Glorify God.
John: Yeah. The thing is, everybody has their own prejudices, even though they may not know about them. It's something we have to grow in. The church has got to get better about knowing what is important to God. We still have to deal with our own traditional thinking. God wants to wreck that. I think that's going to be something that really changes in that generation that we talk about ... The one that is going to be radical for Christ and see revival in coming years. I think that maybe this generation is seeing something that previous generations have just missed over and over again. You know?
Kim: Yes, tradition can be easy to get stuck in and hard to break out of.
Kim: What do you see in the future of Skillet?
John: I have no idea at all. We're open to whatever. There is a possibility that we'll do this another five years. There's a possibility that it won't go that long. I guess there's even a small possibility that it will go on for another 10 years. It really depends on what happens, and what doors God opens up for us. There are a lot of considerations and a lot of unanswered questions at the moment. I can honestly say that I have no real concern for that question. I don't mind if it's only a couple of more years, or if it's a long time. We need to hear from God every year. For the past couple of years I've been saying, "I wonder what God has for the future - I just don't know".
Kim: The whole dynamic of the group, with you and Korey being married, a female drummer and a young guitarist is different from what you traditionally see.
John: Yeah, that's for sure. There are a lot things that are different about us. We're really passionate about our local church. We've got a church that we're a part of that we love and love going to. It's a sacrifice to be away from the church. We really miss our family and stuff when we're on the road, but a big part of our family is our church at home.
Kim: John, I really appreciate you for taking the time to talk with me. Is there anything you would like to say in closing?
John: No, I think we covered it all. I don't really have anything else I'd like to say. Thanks so much.