Skillet are winding down the touring cycle for their 2013 album, Rise and they\’re doing so in powerful fashion- headlining Winter Jam this year- which is undoubtedly one of the biggest and most successful tours of the year.
They headlined the tour in 2012 before headlining The Roadshow Tour last year, making their triumphant return to the mega-tour this year and frontman John Cooper took some time to recently talk to The Front Row Report about returning to the tour, which has a very similar lineup to the 2012 bill they were part of last time- with For King & Country, Building 429 and Blanca (who was with Group 1 Crew last time) all returning as well.
“It’s fun, you know,” says Cooper. “For King & Country were on that [2012 Winter Jam] bill. The biggest difference with this one would be Francesca Battistelli and Jeremy [Camp]. I’ve never toured with either one, which is funny because I’ve known Jeremy for 12 years. So it’s very cool to be touring with some new folks and so many of our good friends that we made from the last tour, which is great.
With a lineup that- along with returning bands- features Family Force 5, Jeremy Camp, NewSong, Francesca Battistelli, About A Mile, Veridia, speaker Tony Nolan and Blanca\’s first major tour since releasing her solo debut, this Winter Jam lineup is one of the most eclectic.
This is my favorite lineup that we’ve ever done on Winter Jam because all 10 acts are really, really good, there’s no fluff from start to finish, explains Cooper. “I’ve gone out and watched the show several times and been like “man, this is just like, I mean, 3 hours of…a concert for the ADD generation” the poster child concert because there’s so much happening; great acts, great ministry and I’m glad to be back on.”
With a lineup that features some familiarity, there\’s no doubt going to be more nuances this time that makes it a completely different experience for fans who attend Winter Jam every year.
“Of course the format has not changed, but for me- with Skillet- we are doing some things…for people who have seen us we’re doing a lot of production, a lot of gags and pyrotechnics and all of that stuff, elaborates Cooper. “We’re doing some things on this tour that we’ve never done before which was kind of hard to figure out how to do that- what to do but we want to always keep it fresh so I think those elements of the show as well as…I don’t know if Skillet is to blame for this- either we get the credit or the blame, but I think that probably because of the fact that Skillet and some other bands really aim to make our concerts feel like massive secular shows.
“There’s no reason in doing a show that’s not on par with Nickelback or Metallica or whatever else is happening out there,” continues Cooper. “Because of that I think a lot of bands in Christian music are trying to do that.
“So this WinterJam experience is not just three hours of great bands, it’s like one gag to the next. It’s just the whole night explosions and confetti and fire. It’s a little bit too much- you feel like you just watched Die Hard or something.”
Over the last 5-10 years, Christian music- especially Christian rock- has seen a huge evolution and resurgence in popularity. It\’s not abnormal to see Skillet, Red, Disciple or Thousand Foot Krutch on the road on a mainstream or secular tour or to hear them on mainstream rock radio.
“There’s always been great Christian music and I think that the avenues of hearing that music are finally expanding,” elaborates Cooper. “I remember growing up and definitely trying to get my friends to listen to Christian music. Just give it a chance- I know if they listened to Guardian they’d love it. You remember the band Guardian? I love Guardian. Oh my gosh- fantastic stuff.”
So what led to such a rise in popularity and success of Christian music?
I think that the avenues of people hearing Christian music have really grown which is fantastic that the message is getting out,” says Cooper. “I think it’s giving a lot of credibility to the format so people don’t have that “awh- Christian music, ewww”
“They don’t have that thing. You can go “hey, have you heard Flyleaf? Have you heard P.O.D.? Have you heard Switchfoot?” these are all very successful mainstream acts, that are Christians. So it’s pretty exciting what’s happening with Christian music and I think it’s most exciting that people are hearing the message of Christ perhaps for the first time from that music.
Skillet have made a name for themselves over the past few albums of touring heavily in both Christian and secular rock markets but also not wavering from what they believe. In fact, if you read the lyrics to many tracks from Rise, their message and faith is growing significantly stronger.
Because many fans see Skillet on the Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival, Rock On The Range, Rocklahoma and other major festivals, the amount of nonbelievers and people who have never heard a Christian message are seen coming to Winter Jam than in previous years.
“I definitely have noticed in the crowd, after the shows, doing my tweets that lots of people are coming from outside the Christian music circles or the church circles,” says Cooper. “Sometimes those things are pretty obvious and I’m noticing it in the crowd and I think everybody’s excited about that. And I think most of the people on the tour attribute that to [the fact that] yes, we do about 50% of our touring in Christian and 50% on mainstream tours, trying to get the message out there, trying to get the music out there.
I think that this tour is credible enough that a lot of those kids are going “Hey, I don’t care if this is a Christian music tour or not, I want to go see the bands.” That’s just fantastic and I’m so excited about the message.”
“Every time you release an album it’s a different cycle and a whole different set of things. I think with Rise the biggest thing that’s been different is we’ve just done a ton of overseas touring, more than we ever have,” says Cooper. “We spent half of our touring year last year in Europe and Russia. I think we did 50 dates outside of America last year and that has never really happened before.
“Rise really opened up the door to do a lot of those festivals and a lot of our own touring. We opened for Nickelback the year before- we had 30 dates in Europe with Nickelback. Rise has been a really cool time.
“Awake was the album that we did the bulk of our headline touring in America and that was just bananas. It was so busy, I hardly remember it, but we did a lot,” continues Cooper. “But it was busy. So it’s always great to have a new record out and to see what doors are going to open and where you’re going to go.
There was four years between Awake and Rise, and a lot of fans grew restless between the two albums. This also made Rise one of the most anticipated albums of 2013 and help it to debut at no. 1 on many charts. However, just two years after Rise the band has begun writing for a new album.
“In fact, I’m writing and demoing today and I took a break to come do some interviews and after I talk with you I go back and finish singing one of my songs and turn it in,” says Cooper. “We’re about halfway done with the writing process now and we’re looking to record this summer and release as soon as possible, really.
While Rise was the band\’s first concept album, Cooper says not to expect the next album to go that direction.
“I don’t think that we will, but even with Rise I didn’t know that we were doing a concept record until we were actually recording,” he says. “It just kind of hit me. So never say never but that is not the plan at the moment.”
2016 will see a couple of milestones for Skillet. Comatose will hit 10 years old while the band itself will celebrate their 20 year anniversary. While those are two very big milestones, it could be a very normal year for the band outside of touring for the new album.
“You know, I haven’t really thought much about it,” explains Cooper. “I think one of the reasons is, I think most of our fans have no idea we’ve been around that long. I think if we had had big radio hits in ‘96 ‘97, then people would be like “Man! 20 years!” I think people are like “20 years? Their first record was Comatose!” because that was the record that really changed the game for us. So I’ve not thought much about it to tell you the truth.
With Skillet\’s level of popularity now, they\’ve often drawn comparisons to early Christian rock pioneers Petra- a band who Cooper grew up listening to. In January of this year, CCM United held an event in We Will Stand– an internet-streamed concert event that featured some of the most influential artists in Christian music history.
Petra- with their 1990\’s “dream team” lineup was featured and performed “I Am On The Rock” from their Beyond Belief album. Cooper, being a Petra fan, was able to- along with the rest of Skillet- film an introduction for Petra\’s performance.
So which lineup is Cooper\’s favorite? The John Schlitt or Greg X. Volz era?
“Ohhh that’s hard! Here’s the thing. Yes, it was awesome- Petra was like my band growing up, I love, love Petra,” says Cooper. “They have done so much for Christian music and for the gospel- it’s kind of something you can’t quite exaggerate. So that was very cool. In terms of that, I’ve got to say, Petra is one of the few examples I think in music, like rock music history anyway, that there has been a band that has successfully changed singers and were equally credible in each decade.
“Because Greg X. Voltz, Petra was amazing and that had a very classic rock Kansas, Styx, Yes, Foreigner…that era of classic rock and Greg Voltz was perfect for that but when you’re going in to the 80’s we all know who was ruling the 80’s.
“Those bands still did good but really who ruled the 80’s? Def Leppard and Bon Jovi- and John Schlitt is the guy to be singing that stuff.
“I don’t know how they managed to do that because that’s not something that normally happens but they certainly did,” continues Cooper. “But other than that probably some of the only examples you really have would be Van Halen.
“The thing that stuck out with Petra to me was- I’m not sure if John Schlitt would be the right guy for the 70’s Petra, and I’m not sure that Greg Voltz would have been the right guy for the 80’s Petra. They really kind of switched their genre a bit which is really hard to do, but they managed it.
So with a new album on the horizon, could we see a full-length Skillet headline tour where the band plays 18-20 songs this year? Maybe, if you ask Cooper.
“I don’t know what’s gonna happen. I really would love to,” elaborates Cooper. “We’ve really been trying to make everything work. I don’t want to speak out of school but my guess is there’s a possibility that if we do record a record that during the 2 or 3 months before the record releases I could see us doing 15-20 headlining dates, go out play 16 songs plus a couple of brand new ones and kind of test the waters, that kind of thing…
“That would be cool,” says Cooper.
Skillet singer John Cooper talks Winter Jam, new album, Petra, touring, evolution of Christian rock and more: