Interview: John Cooper of Skillet

FRR: It\’s good to talk to you again, man. How\’s everything going? It looks like you have an off day today?

John Cooper: Yeah, it\’s actually a packing day, we\’re leaving here in a few hours to fly to Denver.

FRR: Nice! Lots of good shows coming up man, lots of good shows.

Cooper: Yeah!

FRR: So you guys are going to Burlington, Iowa, June 15th, you\’re playing Steamboat Days. It\’s a big show: For one, Iowa is actually where you guys kicked off the Unleashed tour, so you guys are coming back, which is really cool. And it\’s my hometown, which is even more cool! 

Cooper: Yeah, that\’s even better!

FRR: It\’s gonna be a good show, man. It\’s been a busy album cycle for you guys, I mean you guys are playing everywhere, nonstop, all of the festivals. Just looking back, the last time you and I talked was in September, just a couple weeks after the record came out. Fast forward nine, ten months later, and looking back on this album cycle, how has this one compared to Rise and Awake and other albums?

Cooper: Yeah, it has been busy. The cool thing is it\’s been a lot of fun. I\’ve had, honestly, a great time. I\’ve loved the tours we\’ve been doing at the shows we\’ve been doing. We did a lot of headlining stuff. When Rise came out, we were doing a lot of co-bills and a lot of opening gigs. They were all really great, I loved it, but there\’s nothing like doing your own headlining tours.

FRR: Exactly.

Cooper: Seeing those fans, it\’s so cool. This reminds me a little bit more of the Awake cycle, which was very, very busy– even a little busier actually. But it was fun because everything was going well, the band was just gelling, and the shows were great, and the radio was playing the music. It feels a little bit like that, and I have to say I\’m having a really great time, even though it\’s been a little bit, yeah, a little chaotic and a little busy, but I\’m loving it.

FRR: Yeah, this is the first full album cycle that Jonathan Chu hasn\’t been on, he finished up Rise. How has that affected you guys when it comes to the live show?

Cooper: Yeah, you know the funny thing is, I mean, I\’m a big Chu fan. He\’s an amazing performer, he\’s a great player, you just sort of respect someone who performs as well as him. he\’s such a great asset, but it\’s sort of the kind of thing when you see the show without him, you kind of forget because there\’s so much going on in a Skillet show– there\’s so much energy, and so much to look at.

Each song has its\’ own kind of defined identity in terms of what the band is doing and the production, and so I\’m not really sure it\’s something that we needed to replace. We\’ve had some shows where we\’ve had some violinists join, but in some sense it was like, \”let\’s just kind of do what we do and create some different kinds of moments.\” And that\’s what we\’ve done– the show has a lot of different aspects to it which are pretty cool.

FRR: Yeah, definitely. And as far as shows and fun, I mean the festivals this year– I know you\’re a big fan of the 80\’s rock and stuff like that. How cool has it been to see your name on the same banner as Def Leppard and Metallica?

Cooper: Sure, oh yeah, absolutely. I was texting all my friends when Def Leppard was playing, Tweeting, texting, Facebooking, whatever. You never– at least I don\’t– never grow out of the bands that I love. Still, the bands that I listen to the most, you know when I go for a run, my lists are pretty much going to be filled with Metallica, and AC/DC and Def Leppard, and Crue, and you know, Skid Row and whatnot, Maiden. So yeah, you don\’t really outgrow that kind of stuff.

FRR: No, never. Rock festivals– they\’ve been fun, but they\’ve been kind of up and down because of the weather this year this year. Some on the list here: Rock on the Range and Rocklahoma. With Rocklahoma, were you guys able to avoid the weather or did that affect you guys on the day you played?

Cooper: On those, we were fine at all the festivals. Now the weather has been kind of crappy, but we\’ve been able to perform. On that one night when Rock on the Range had just shut down for five or six of the acts, we were playing a different show up in Illinois. We played the show, but it was outside and it was 42 degrees and raining and flowing rain on the stage. But you know what, man? The fans stayed, and they sang, and they had a good time. I was amazed that everyone stayed. It was literally so cold, but the fans made it fun. So we\’ve had a pretty nasty season for festivals, man.

FRR: We have. The frustrating thing for Rock on the Range for me was it was actually our honeymoon, was Rock on the Range.

Cooper: Oh God, oh that\’s nasty.

FRR: Thank you! I appreciate it. I didn\’t tell her it was Rock on the Range, but I told her the lineup, and just told her that you guys and I Prevail and all these other bands were on and she said we had to go. So it worked out pretty good, and then I told her it was Rock on the Range and it was our honeymoon but it worked out really well! She wants to go back, and who else can say Skillet and Metallica is your honeymoon? I mean, that\’s like the best thing ever.

Cooper: Absolutely!

FRR: Man, the set list for this tour cycle, this record, is so comprehensive. Obviously, there isn\’t a lot of room for the earlier stuff. I mean, you guys are playing stuff from Awake, Comatose, Rise, Unleashed, I mean, it\’s really cool. Are there any songs from Unleashed that you\’ve wanted to throw in the setlist for this time around that you haven\’t been able to? I mean for me, I’d love to be able to see the trifecta of “Awake and Alive,” “Not Gonna Die,” and “I Want to Live” thrown together at some point.

Cooper: Yeah! \”I Want to Live,\” is the one I wish we could play, and of course I\’m not saying that we couldn\’t, but you do kind of run out of time. I actually kind of think there\’s a possibility that \”I Want to Live\” is a radio single, and if it becomes a radio single, you begin to play it, which is wonderful. I think it\’s one of those things that kill us to write a line on, is we have songs like \”I Want to Live\” that feels like earlier Skillet songs like \”Rebirthing.\” It feels like that. I think a lot of our fans like that.

But at the same time, you want to do something that\’s new and doesn\’t necessarily feel reminiscent of older stuff, that you\’re in the next chapter. So we kind of do both, and in trying to do both, a lot of times what happens is the label or the producer or the management or whoever, everybody\’s on the same page. So I think \”I Want to Live\” is one of those songs that the label didn\’t really want on the record, and didn\’t really believe in, but I believed in, because I know there are people like yourself that say, \”yeah, but that\’s what I really like about Skillet because no one else really sounds like that.\” So why not do a little bit of that on the record? So hopefully, it\’ll become a single, and I\’ll be proved right, and I can brag about it on our next interview.

FRR: Of course! Well just like with \”The Resistance,\” you told me in Chicago that jam session at the end was just kind of, \”I\’m right, this is what I want to do,\” and it worked out so well.

Cooper: Yeah, absolutely!

[both laughing]

FRR: And talking about things that are reminiscent for me personally, I love stuff that\’s like \”Out of Hell,\” and whatnot because that sounds even more reminiscent of stuff from like, Invincible or Hey You, I Love Your Soul, really classic stuff, and it has the new spin on it too. It\’s so full-circle on this record. It works really well.

Cooper: That\’s cool! Thanks, that\’s really cool that you know enough of our older stuff to make those kind of connections, that\’s really cool.

FRR: Absolutely. I want to talk about the \”Back From the Dead\” video, that video is so cool, with the zombie theme, it\’s awesome. It reminds me of \”28 Days Later,\” a lot. But it\’s also kind of a continuation of the \”Monster\” video, a little bit. It talks about it at the beginning, and it\’s really cool linking them together. Is that something you wanted to do going into that video?

Cooper: Yeah, that was part of the treat that I did: what if we have and extension of that? Kind of a sequel. At the same time, yeah, you\’re kind of retreading a little bit of the past, but how do we make it new and exciting? And I loved the \”28 Days Later,\” I thought that was really good. I like \”The Walking Dead,\” although that\’s more pop culture, but I really felt that the precursor to \”The Walking Dead,\” was \”28 Days Later.\”

We were kind of going, \”how do we update this, and make it fun, but also kind of tongue-and-cheek, and a little touch of horror, but also it\’s just kind of fun?\” It\’s just kind of action and a little sci-fi, and maybe pulling in a little \”Mad Max\” element if you want to call it that. A little post-apocalyptic. It was fun to do something that didn\’t have to be serious. Because that\’s what \”Back From the Dead\” is to me, it\’s not an uber serious song, so that\’s why I thought it was cool.

FRR: Oh, definitely. And it translates so well live. That\’s one of those songs that the crowd, in the beginning, the crowd gets going, and you guys get going, and it just keeps on building. It\’s a fun live song, I\’m so glad you guys threw that in there, it\’s great.

Cooper: Cool!

FRR: Speaking of live, of all the times I\’ve seen you guys, whether you have all the pyro, full production, or just the smoke, or nothing, or whatever, it\’s always a fun show you can get into. How do you guys decide what shows– obviously with this tour cycle there hasn\’t been much pyro– but when there is, how do you guys decide which shows you use it, which shows you don\’t?

Cooper: It\’s always hard, because like, in the last few weeks, every single show is different. One show we play for 35 minutes in the middle of the day at Rock on the Range. So it\’s like, \”okay, I could do pyro if they let me, if it fits on stage, but you\’re not really going to see it anyway if it\’s not dusk or nighttime.\” So a lot of those things kind of end up becoming the opening gigs, and a lot of the times, you\’ll have the choice. In other words, maybe you\’re just allowed to do it. So then as we have headlining gigs like a fair or something like that and it\’s a one-off, and you get into, \”do we really want to ship stuff here  in order to use it for one show?\” so it always kind of depends.

To tell you the truth, it\’s quite a lot of work. You\’ve got to sit down with a calendar with the production manager and you go through every show and you say, \”alright, this show, we want X, Y, and Z. With this show, we can only do Z. For this tour…\” everything has to be done, you have to put a lot of thought into it. The good news about a Skillet show is that, as you mentioned, even, like, when go to Europe– we don\’t bring any to production, there\’s nothing in Europe, we hire lighting over there, that\’s it– it\’s really the energy and the excitement and kind of like the passion of the band really, I think, is what drives a Skillet show.

People always tweet me saying that at Skillet shows, they feel part of like a tree energy. They feel inspired, and it makes them feel better about their lives. Things like that, I think that\’s more to do with the passion of the band and the music. So the good news is that a Skillet show is kind of already that experience, and then when we add production on top of it, it kind of takes it a little bit over the top to the next level I guess.

FRR: Yeah, definitely. One thing you\’ve said at shows that I really liked was when you played in Indy earlier this year, you mentioned that whether you\’re Christian, Satanist, Atheist, it doesn\’t matter, at a Skillet show, you can come together and forget about all of that stuff and it doesn\’t matter because you\’re going to get something out of it. It\’s very true. 

Cooper: Oh, that\’s great. Absolutely.

FRR: Yeah, man. June 15th, you guys will be in Iowa, I\’m driving from Indianapolis to Burlington that day, watching the show, and coming back because I work at 9 am the next day in Indianapolis. It\’s going to be a good time.

Cooper: Oh!

[both laughing]

FRR: It\’s going to be great, I can\’t wait. My mom is coming, it\’ll be her first Skillet show. It\’s gonna be a fun time. So we will see you guys in Burlington, Iowa in about a week and a half!

Cooper: Awesome, I love it. Well, it was great chatting with you.

FRR: Definitely, thank you so much for taking time today, it\’s always fun, and we\’ll see you in Iowa!

-Reggie Edwards