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Atlantic/Lava recording artist Skillet has been in the music business for ten years.
With their latest album ‘Comatose’ they have evolved from their industrial roots into a true modern mainstream rock band. Aided by the imitable producer Brian Howes, so successful in shaping Hinder, and buoyed by their obsessive following, lovingly known as Pan-heads, Skillet have perhaps produced a defining album within the commercial modern rock genre. Alternative Addiction caught up with main song-writer and lead vocalist John Cooper to find out about the remarkable evolution of the band.

How does the Skillet of now differ from the one from ten years ago from a music aspect?

First of all, when our first album (and cassette!) recording was made, we did not have a keyboard player.  We did not use any loops or synthesized sounds whatsoever.  We were simply interested in stripped down rock, and through the years we made a dramatic change to using all kinds of elements and influences in our music.  Another big change is the use of Korey's vocal.  She was added to the band on our third album.

How would you describe your style of music?

I have always thought of our music as aggressive rock disguised with pop formatted songs.  Our song arrangements are very pop structured, and if we chose to change instrumentation, these same songs would have a melodic and even classical feel.

How did John’s wife come to join the band and does it cause any particular problems?

Korey and I got married after our first record came out.  We wanted to add keyboards to our sound on our second record, but we had decidedly not asked Korey to be in the band.  However, we needed a player live, and I convinced the guys that since we could not pay anyone else, and since she was already on the road that she should play.  She was not in photos, but she slowly became a staple to our fans.  The only issues that occurred from this were that the other members (who are not a part of the band anymore) were not exactly sure of the direction this would take us. The truth is that none of us knew where this would take us.  As far as road life goes now, we work great together.  It has been awesome to have our family on the road too.  We don't fight about artistic things, nor do we fight for control.  We are pretty lucky to have found one another. 

It’s unusual for a band these days to be half female half male. How does this shape the Skillet sound?

What's even more unique is that even though we have two women in the band, it does not soften our sound.  Our drummer, Lori, does not play like a girl that’s for sure!  It has helped having Korey on vocals, and it adds a vulnerability that many people connect with.  I think it makes us more dynamic.

It is also unusual for keyboards to be at the forefront of rock music. Why are they such a big part of your sound?

Keyboards are so versatile and dynamic by nature.  Also, not everyone is doing it these days.  Rock music became all about stripped down; big guitars set to eleven that I wanted to make sure we sounded a little different.

Was there a conscious effort to make ‘Comatose’ more mainstream than its predecessor ‘Collide’?

Yes that would be the case.  I am learning that great bands have got to have great songs.  We set out to make this project have the best songs that we had written.  Collide was more about aggression and riffs, which I love!  But we felt it was time to move on to something that would be hopefully better.  Keep the riffs, but focus on songs.  And most importantly for me, write lyrics that people can relate to.  I feel that I really learned that on this project.

Why the long hiatus between albums?

There are multiple reasons for that.  First, Korey and I had our second baby and took some time off for that!  Second, there were some internal issues at the label, and we were a little unsure of what that could mean for us.  Third, we did not have the right producer, or the right songs to do the record some justice. 

How much pressure was there from the record company to redefine the sound?

I did not feel that was an issue.  I think that the label was open to what we wanted to try.  I think that the belief in the band was more about relationships and finding the right songs, and finally the right producer.  After those things fall in line, you can redefine and reshape the songs all you want to.

How did you get involved with producer Brian Howes?

My A&R guy Andy Karp called me and told me about him.  He was kind of an up and coming young guy with some buzz.  I think that was what we were looking for.  Most importantly, he was a songwriter, and Andy felt that was an important thing for me.  Because I am the writer for all of our music, I can use some objectivity in my songs.

How did he help shape the sound of ‘Comatose’?

Brian brought a radio friendly pop mentality to the music.  Brian is very gifted at knowing what people are going to like.  We did not always agree, but I think we both saw the end goal and worked off of each other.

How has the record been received in the U.S. with regard to airplay and Billboard chart success?

The record debuted higher than any of us would have thought, especially since there was not a big radio presence at the time.  The excitement for this album has been incredibly encouraging.

Are there any “special” pressures on Christian rock bands trying to break a secular market?

There are absolutely!  The issue is that you can be too Christian for some people, meanwhile being not "Christian enough" for others.  Christians will make it their mission to expose you as a fake and non-Christians will make it their mission to tell radio not to play you, or put you in their mag, or not tour with you specifically because you are a Christian!  Unfortunately that very thing is happening to us right now! 

Is it difficult to keep a reign on lyrical content when you are a Christian band (some bands fail to cross over into the secular market due to the Christian lyrical content)?

It is something to be aware of, that's for sure.  Our first single to Christian radio is called "Rebirthing."  The concern for this single from producer Brian Howes, as well as others, was that to be a mainstream single, "Rebirthing is just way too Christian sounding.”  I was told by a few individuals that the song would not have a chance because of that.  Meanwhile, the single came out at Christian radio and did very well, but some major stations would not play it because the lyric "rebirth" sounded to new age!  I cannot even describe the frustration I feel about how ridiculous this is.  So yes, it is something that we have to consider, and make sure that we are thinking through the way that we want to say what we believe.  Not simply to please people, but to make sure that we do have a message that we can stand behind and say emphatically, "Yes, I believe this!"

What is ‘The Last Night’ about?

This song is about suicide, but digging deeper it is also about "cutting."  "Cutting" has become the biggest issue that teens are facing today.  Sorry to say that it has become a fad.  This song is about a girl whose parents say that she is nothing, and everything that happens bad is her fault.  She feels that she has nothing left to live for, and she is reaching out for someone to listen and be there for her.  The song leaves a little to be interpreted of who is answering her.  Yes, it could be God she is reaching out to, but just as viable it could be a friend.  The song ends with the line "I won't let you say goodbye, and I'll be your reason why."  Everyone is looking for a reason.  Some feel that they have found one, and others are still looking.  That is why so many people relate to this song. 

‘Comatose’ has an eclectic feel with big ballads rubbing shoulders with the more aggressive material, was this conscious? Why the light and shade when you could have gone for a more traditional approach?

I get bored with albums that end and start exactly the same.  You know those albums when you are telling your friends, "You got to hear the riff on this song.  Wait is it this one or the next?"  This is normally because the whole record sounds the same.  I am just not a fan.  I have been criticized in the past for the opposite, meaning that my albums were too eclectic.  Oh well, don't buy the album!

‘Looking For Angels’ is an unusual spoken verse song that works because of this feature rather than in spite of it, how did the idea come about and what is the meaning of the song?

I wanted to write a song about the nature and direction of this world.  The fact that we are entering into the darkest era that our generation has ever seen.  The fact that more people are losing hope, faith, and believing in hate.  This is not an easy song to write because it can be cheesy!  Trying to sing those words and make them impacting is very hard, and at one point, I was like, "Man, it'd be awesome if I could just say these words."  Well, I never would have dreamed that we would do it in a million years.  The thing that I like about the song is that it's not just pointing out negativity in our world, but it is asking the question, "What will you do to make a change?"  I think that we forget that as little as we are, we can make a difference.

Skillet’s album ‘Comatose’ is out now on Atlantic/Lava.

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