SKILLET - Victorious: Declaring the Victory


The newest release from Skillet has been sprinkled out to us over the past weeks in the form of a few early released singles, but finally, the whole album officially lands today. I recently caught up with frontman John Cooper to get some details on the new album, as well as the band’s forthcoming graphic novel Eden. I’ve known of Skillet’s work since seeing their videos in 2000-ish but became a real, product buying, concert-going fan since 2003’s Collide was released. So, for 16 years now, my family and I have devoured each new helping that Skillet released. When I told my children, who are now in their teens and early twenties, that I was about to talk to John Cooper – well, let’s just say they think I’m a little bit more famous now.

Skillet band

How do you approach the writing process for each new album? Are they just songs written over the time since the previous album, or is there a sit-down writing session before each album, and then consciously written with a certain approach and theme for the album?

JC: I usually write while I’m on the road. The most inspiration I have is while we’re touring, of course, we’re always touring. I think a lot of it, for me, is getting inspired from the fans. Meeting the fans, hearing their stories at like a meet and greet, or notes they may give me. That really inspires me, so I do most of my writing while we’re touring.

On this record, it was cool because we brought a traveling studio around on tour. So when we get inspired, we write and record straight away if we were in the mood. There is time, though, where we have to make a concerted effort and say, “We need to write today.” We‘ll schedule times to get together and write, and we’ll save up ideas for those times, and then sometimes we don’t feel inspired and have no ideas. So, we’ll go in, and pray, and ask God what we should write about and that sort of thing.

Some bands say they can only really write when they have an inspiration, but I am not that. I think writing also requires discipline. I love writing, and I love creating, and it is not real difficult for me to get into that headspace.

You speak of being inspired by the fans. Do you get much of a chance to interact one-on-one with kids on the road? If so, what kind of needs to you find with them, and do you have any stand-out testimonies from them that you can share about the inspiration they’ve drawn from your music?

JC: We don’t get as much time as we used to when playing small clubs and places, where we could hang out with them for an hour or two. But we hear some really amazing stories, and they are always “God” stories. It is surprising to me because I know what music can do, but I’m still surprised what my music can do; that God can do through my music.

We do have a lot of fans that are not religious, not Christians, outside of the church, etc. I met this guy at a show, and he said he had been married and had a two-year old kid, and his wife left him with the kid and wouldn’t let him see her because he had drug problems. He heard one of our songs on the radio and realized he needed to go into rehab. Our song kind of became his reason to fight. He went into rehab for a year and got off of meth addiction. When I met him, he said he’d been clean for three years, and the judge had recently given him rights to see his daughter. And he says it all came from hearing our song.

We hear stories like that almost every day, and it is always shocking and amazing what God does, it is truly humbling to see how God can use me like this through the power of music.

My understanding is that for the first time, most of the production control on Victorious was handled by you and Korey. What powers does that give you that were previously not held by you, and would you want to do it again that way?

JC: It was great for us. Korey and I have co-produced most all of our albums, just usually without the credit on there. We were listed on the Comatose record, but to me, it doesn’t matter whose name is listed on there, I just want to make a good record. So I don’t care whose name, but what gets frustrating is when you’re really fighting with a producer over the way something should sound, and then, in the end, it ends up sounding like you would have had it sound to start with, but you had to fight to get it there.

I don’t mind the fight if it makes it better, but I was noticing that the fight was really making anything better, it was coming out the same way but just with a lot of headaches. One of the guys at our label said he didn’t know why we weren’t just producing things ourselves rather than go through the fight. He said he knows we could do it, and we should.

It is very liberating, because you’re free to try stuff, and if it doesn’t work well, you haven’t wasted anyone else’s time, so that’s kind of cool. And it gave us a little more time and opportunity to care about the small things. That’s something I have always liked on Skillet records, the small things with production. Like the symphony parts that not everyone hears the first time around. One guy recently told me about the new album, that he has listened about six times, and keeps hearing things he didn’t hear before. That’s the kind of things I particularly like about a record. And we were able to work on those type things because we weren’t on anyone else’s time schedule or budget.

In a music world where many bands are short lived, Skillet has not only outlived many of its peers in the music world, and seems to be growing and advancing more and more with each release. What would you attribute to that, and is there a conscious game plan taken before each album to approach things to stay relevant?

JC: We’ve been really blessed for twenty-two years now. There are a lot of reasons why we’re still around. Some of them are more metaphysical and harder to quantify. There is kind of an inherent kind of spirituality about the music. Of course, we believe that is the Holy Spirit because we’re Christians. Most of our fans are outside of the Christian market at this point, so they don’t know what it is they like about it, to them they tell me the music just makes them feel spiritual.

We’ve been told by some, that they are atheists and don’t go along with the Jesus thing, but that our music has a sort of spiritual supernatural feel to it. So, I feel it is kind of an inherent quality of the power of the Holy Spirit in the power of the music.

I have met some famous people at this point, Prince is one of the most famous in the music world that I have said hi to, and I had found that I was not as star-struck in the same way as when I met Amy Grant. Or like Michael Sweet. When it is Christian music, it is not only just something that you grew up with, or that you loved, or was a soundtrack to your life; nut, when it is Christian music, is also speaks to the spiritual life that you were living. I may remember how God changed me when I heard that Stryper song, or that Resurrection Band song, or whatever it might be.

I think there is a difference when someone has touched you spiritually, rather than someone just being a megastar. So, I think that Skillet has a little bit of that quality to it that people really relate to, and I also think that people can feel that we’re genuine. They feel we’re real, we’re happy to be believers and telling others about Christ, and that is awesome. I think that attributes in part to why we’ve been around for so long.

With each release over the last decade or so, Skillet always has a few real scorchers tracks to feed the appetites of the heavier fans. Now so far, only one half of the new album has been shared with me at this point, and with what I’ve heard so far, here you do the same with tracks like “You Ain’t Ready” and “Save Me.” We know you’re a closet metalhead, and you peaked your head out for the FIGHT THE FURY album. How has that release been accepted, and what does the future hold for that project?

JC: I’m not sure what the future holds yet. I hope it goes somewhere. My plan is to release a full-length project after we’ve toured for this new Skillet album. The EP was us getting our feet wet, and see how open to it the fans were. It has been received fairly well, but here is the irony of it. There is a portion of the Skillet fan base who really loved Skillet twelve, thirteen years ago with Collide, probably our heaviest record.

I thought those fans would love Fight the Fury because they’re always complaining that our records are not heavy enough, not dark enough, not metal enough. So I figured they’d love Fight the Fury, but surprisingly they either must not like it or are just not buying it at least. So the FTF fanbase ends up being real metalheads, like Slipknot and Slayer fans, and stuff like that. For some reason, it just didn’t yet cross-over to the older Skillet fans.

For me, I wanted it to be its own brand and not considered just Skillet B-sides. When they see us live, they say “Oh, this is a way different band from Skillet,” and that’s a positive thing to me. So yes, I plan to do an album, so we’ll see how it goes.

{As to the songs mentioned} “Save Me” is one of my favorites and kind of takes me back to the older Skillet. It is more of a riffy song, and the lyrics are dark. It’s not poppy or fight-song oriented like a lot of the newer Skillet stuff has been. It takes things back to more of a gothic sound, riffy with hooks and guitar solos.

Our audience is obviously more metal-oriented, what are some of your favorite metal bands, past and present?

JC: There will never be another Metallica in my opinion, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve even changed which of their albums is my favorite. My current favorite is Ride the Lightning, where before it was the black album, which is probably the best metal album of all times. But I am getting into the older stuff now, maybe even more.

Other metal I like, and most of it is not Christian, so I wouldn’t suggest or let my kids listen to it necessarily. I’ve toured with Stone Sour many times, and have become a big Slipknot fan; we’ve only played with Slipknot twice. We’ve toured with Korn, and while they are more nu-metal, I’m a really big fan.

Of course, I grew up listening to Christian metal, which I love. My favorite band was Barren Cross…a huge, huge Barren Cross fan. Which makes sense because I am also a huge Iron Maiden fan, which BC sound similar to. And of course, bands like Saint, Messiah Prophet and so many others. I liked all of those bands quite a lot.

I wasn’t allowed to really listen to metal at home, so most of all of the Metallica and stuff that I knew was all from my friend’s house. I couldn’t even listen to Christian metal at home, but I ended up buying Christian metal on my own because I didn’t believe it was wrong. But I was into all of those bands, just too many of them to mention.

Does the band have a bucket-list of things it still desires to accomplish, and if so, share some?

JC: I just love playing music, and if I could keep doing what we’re doing now, for the rest of my life, I would. But if I were to think of what the next level would be, I would love to be taken seriously on rock radio, the secular market. We’ve had a couple of number one songs on rock radio, and a handful of top ten songs, so it is going really well. Yet we’re still always an outlier; there are still the gatekeepers in the mainstream world who still seem to only view hard rock through the lens of sex, drugs, and rock n roll.

I’m kind of friends with some of them, and it is like they like the songs, but we’re really not on their team, and they don’t want to support the band too much. I always preach my mantra to them, that music is supposed to be about art, not about sex and drugs, even though there was that era of sex, drugs, and rock n roll.

I’ve never thought of bands like Metallica and Slayer as sex and drugs; its just metal. I feel like these people should care more about the music and less about the partying and stuff. I don’t think the fans care as much about that side of things. So, I would like to see these music people be more open to things, more open to spiritual music in general. I think we’re kind of doing that, that we’re a bridge to that, but I really would like to see things go a little further.

Eden - Skillet graphic novel

The EDEN graphic novel - how did that come about. Were you approached to write it, or did you write it and then shop it around?

JC: I was approached to do it, and I do not recall now exactly why they approached us or even heard about Skillet. It most likely is due to us having a fairly young fan base, and that they and we are active on social media. I think we may have gotten noticed because of that. Also, about four years ago, we ranked very high in a Billboard Fan Army contest. I think because an unknown band like us made it all the way to the finals, it brought us attention. Someone from this publishing company looked us up and realizing my love for comics, and mention of Marvel tattoos, they approached us for this project.

I said that I had thought about doing it one day, so they said for me to come up with a story, and pitch it to them and we could talk. So we did, and I am so excited about this book, it is turning out better than I ever thought it would be. The story is really good; it is post-apocalyptic. We brought writers in, and I came up with the concept of what I would like to say through the book, and then we wrote it together then they took the reins from that point.

It’s an exciting story, its sci-fi, and as with most sci-fi it is filled with philosophy, theology, and that kid of stuff to get you thinking. It's about a group of people looking for a better life. And in the story, I start having these dreams of paradise and things like that. It’s kind of prophetic, kind of combination of Hunger Games, The Walking Dead and Blade Runner.

Skillet - Eden graphic novel

Sounds great, can’t wait. Any final remarks?

JC: The new album, Victorious, and the general theme of the album is to inspire people, that life is going to be hard, and there are a lot of battles to fight, natural and spiritual, and it isn’t necessarily going to be easy. You’re going to have to get a little bloody and a little beat up, but because of what God has done for us, we can be victorious through the fight, but you’re going to have to be in the fight. So, I hope people will be inspired and be able to relate to some of the songs, and not give up, but keep fighting for who they are and what they believe.

#Skillet

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