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
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
It’s unusual for a
band these days to be half female half male. How does this shape the
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
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
Why the long hiatus
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
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
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
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
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
‘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!
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.
‘Comatose’ is out now on Atlantic/Lava.