Talking Fans, The Road & The Influence of Memphis with Skillet Frontman, John Cooper

Photo by: Joseph Cultice

What 20 Years of Skillet Means to Me:

I feel really honored. Very few bands get to be around as long as we have been. Our career didn’t start by having a big debut record. So 20 years to me, means that we have struck a chord with an underground base that is going to march in the Skillet army for the rest of their lives. That’s what it feels like. It also means that we’ve treated our fans well. We give them what they want. They come to the concerts and if there aren’t a lot of people at that given show, we don’t phone it in. We put our hearts into it. That approach has kept our fans happy.

The Influence of Memphis:

What Memphis mostly did was help shape my personal identity — in a powerful way. I think that is the reason Skillet is who we are in our lyrics. I grew up in the Bible-belt, in a very traditional and very segregated town. A lot of times it was negative. Rock & Roll was evil, wearing black was evil. Growing up, it felt like everything was evil. Because of that I had to make big decisions on who I wanted to be, what I wanted to stand for and not compromise that. That has caused me to be a person of faith. I’m not embarrassed by my faith in God. I had to solidify who I was at times going against my family or church rules. They really believed that playing in a rock band was being used by the devil. Even though I sang songs about God they still thought I was being used by the devil to help bring the devil’s kingdom to earth. Having to stand up to that and say, “No, this is who I am and this is what I want to do,” really changed me and helped me not be ashamed of who I was. Sometimes it was just sticking it to the man. Because of that, I think Skillet’s music has been shaped. My relationship with Memphis is very different than the typical — Elvis and the blues. That’s not the case. I wasn’t allowed to listen to Elvis or the blues.

The Music That Influenced Me Most:

Christian music very much influenced me. My parents would not allow me to listen to rock music or Christian rock music for a very long time. I felt like I could convince them to let Christian music into the door. A lot of it was fantastic, they are still some of my favorite albums. Christian music touches you in a different way because it’s about spiritual things. There’s a soul connection that can really happen. Petra is one of the all-time greats. Stryper is one of the first Christian acts to cross over into the mainstream. I was big fan of theirs as well. I was more a fan of what they accomplished as opposed to the music. It was amazing to watch. On the other hand, I remember exactly where I was when I heard “I’ll Be There For You,” by Bon Jovi or “One” by Metallica. I was in my friend’s weight room in his house, lifting weights when I heard “One” for the first time. On the mainstream side, I loved Bon Jovi, Prince and Metallica. I also began to dive deep into 70’s arena rock. Yes and Fleetwood Mack played a major role in what Skillet sounds like.

Being in a Band with My Wife:

We’re really lucky. I imagine you can count on one hand — bands who have members that got married, and stayed married. I can’t think of a whole lot. It’s an incredibly unique thing that we’ve been married, touring for 20 years, still married, still making new music and gaining new fans. I get to share the stage with her and in a very real sense, my victories are her victories. A lot of times you say that in marriage because it means that you love each other. But it can be very literal. We both love to create music and we both feel it is a privilege. Given it’s something we do together, we feel very tightly knitted. Being on stage with your wife is awesome. It also adds a solidarity to the band. You’re touring and there are so many influences all the time — and I’m not talking about sex, drugs and Rock & Roll, but even just the fact there are voices out there telling you what you need to do to sell more records or telling you stop talking about Jesus in songs or telling you not to do interviews with certain people because it will make you look too Christian or even telling you how to dress. We’ve had people tell us that people don’t take us seriously as a rock band because we didn’t look rock enough. Somebody wrote a review of us once when we were opening for Shinedown that said, “Skillet was surprisingly good even though the singer looked like he belonged in the Backstreet Boys.” So, it’s nice to have a true partner to help remind you of who you are.

Our Writing Process:

We’ve done a little bit of everything. There are times where we’ve come together and decided to write from scratch that instant. Typically, one of us has some sort of music or melody though. I often have a chord pattern in my mind. For us, making the music is really fun. There’s not a ton of pressure. It feels creative and expansive like anything can happen. Skillet has a lot of different sounds in our arsenal. We have a little bit of metal, a little industrial, a little synth and we can go a lot of places. It always feels like the sky is the limit. The hard part is crafting the lyrics. I learned after all these years, that Skillet has a style of writing lyrics. I wasn’t aware of that at first. We have a page on Instagram that’s Skillet ink, it shows people that have Skillet lyric tattoos all over their bodies. It makes me realize how people are connecting with these lyrics and they really matter. When you are writing a lyric, it’s your chance to say to the world who you really are, what you believe, what could be better or worse about the world, good day, bad day, falling in love or not feeling in love. It’s such an identity. We take that very seriously. So we sweat about the lyrics and the music we don’t’ sweat about — we just have a lot of fun.

Photo by: Joseph Cultice

Life on the Road:

I like being on the road. That’s what it’s all about. Doing a tour like we are doing now is a lot of fun. It’s our own tour and we get to play for a long time. It’s easier when you do opening gigs because you only play 30–40 minutes, it’s easier on your body. You just cut out a lot of material that you love to play. When you are opening, people aren’t really there to see you. So when we play our own headlining gigs, we get to play all the old tunes or B-sides that the fans like. I always plan on being on the road. I hope I’m on the road for a long time.

Lessons Learned From Tour-Mates:

I like to give a lot of credit to bands we toured with like Shinedown, Nickelback and Corey Taylor of Slipknot and Stone Sour. Those bands really treated us very well and went out of their way to make sure we were comfortable on the tour. A lot of times, I knew we weren’t bringing anything to the table, especially when we toured Europe with Nickelback. They were mostly sold out before we were ever announced to be on the tour. Still, they treated us like we really mattered. It was an awesome experience. It really helped shape me now when we tour. We always tried to be like that anyway, but they took it next level. Seeing how Corey Taylor treats his fans was very moving. He always made sure to treat them very well.

I also watched a lot of band spend all the money they make, not watch their books and then have to end up selling their house. About 10 years ago, I made a point to treat this from a business owner perspective. Because of that, we have been able to do a good job keeping our business in order. We tour in a way that doesn’t break the bank, we watch what we spend.

My Message to the Fans:

I love the fans. It’s my favorite thing about what we do. That people love the music, lyrics and come see us is incredible. We get to shake hands and I see them singing the songs from the stage. When you reach a point in a band, and it took about 10 years for Skillet, where as a singer you can stop singing the chorus because you can hear the crowd singing — those are moments. I never thought we’d have that. I’ve seen Bono do it, but I never thought I would do it. When I think of our fans, I feel grateful. I want to treat them well. If I see them at the mall or church or Target, it’s a pleasure to say hi and take a photo. It’s important to treat the fans right. They have kept us in business for a long time. When I make records, I want to try and make something new to attract new people, but I always want to keep our current fans happy. With Unleashed, there are a couple of songs that sound very much like Skillet. In reality, those are the songs the label didn’t want on the record. I fight for them because I know that’s what many fans will want to hear and it will end up being their favorite. As a Metallica fan, I love the fact that a lot of the stuff they are coming out with now sounds like Ride the Lightning. When you get a new fan base you can undervalue the fans base you have now. I absolutely don’t want to do that. We owe a lot to our fans. My main goal is to always make a record our fans will love.

~John Cooper

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