It’s no secret what a big SKILLET fan I am. I’ve been raving about them almost non-stop since they dropped new album Unleashed on our heads last summer and also gave me my #1 Song of 2016 with “Feel Invincible.” Seeing them live for the first time last month was one of my top concert experiences ever, so actually getting to speak with a member of the band would be the frosting on the cake.
Well, that sumptuous slice of Devil’s Food Cake showed up on a Friday not too long ago when I found out I’d be interviewing none other than lead singer, songwriter, and bassist John Cooper. This was yet another of my “Hiding in a supply closet because I’m on the clock” interviews, but it was worth it. John was very engaging, just like he is onstage. Have a look:
Amps: John, I’m 43 years old and I’ve been going to concerts since 1987. And the SKILLET show here in Philly was one of my Top Five concerts all-time, it was that amazing! You know how to get a crowd up and energized, and I left shell shocked.
John: Wow! I love that! Booyah!
Amps: I know you also just celebrated your 20th wedding anniversary with your wife and bandmate Korey (Cooper, guitar/keys), so congratulations, my friend.
John: Thank you. 20 years married, and 20 years on the road!
Amps: How old are the little ones now?
John: They are 14 and 11, so not-so-little anymore, I guess.
Amps: I have a 14-year old son who has autism. He is non-verbal, but he’s all hugs and high-fives. Unleashed is on his iPod, and I can ALWAYS tell when a SKILLET song comes on because he goes NUTS, whether it’s on the couch or we’re in the car.
John: Oh, that’s so cool, I love it!
Amps: You shot a video for “Back From the Dead.” Are we gonna see that anytime soon? (EDITOR’S NOTE: It JUST came out on the 15th!! Watch it HERE!)
John: I am shaking the tree hard to find out when they’re gonna release the stupid video. It’s done, so it’s gotta be soon. It is awesome!
I had quite a lot to do with this video, it’s really fun, it’s next-level, a little tongue-in-cheek, but kind of horror movie-like. A lot of creepy stuff. I can’t wait for it to come out.
Amps: Will you ever do tracks from older records like your Invincible album live again, or no?
John: Truthfully, a few years ago, on our last American headlining tour I decided I was gonna play a song from our older records. And honestly, some nights, not a single person knew ’em out of 2,000 people. Some nights maybe three or four knew ’em. It’s not in any way that I don’t like those songs or don’t want to play them, but we have so many records out now, and so many songs we have to play, like “Monster” and “Hero” that we just don’t have room to play a song that no one knows.
Amps: Every year I do a Top Five Songs list and for 2016 “Feel Invincible” was #1 with a bullet, by the way.
John: Oh, that’s wicked, I love it!
Amps: Honestly, the first time I heard it I felt like I could lift cars. It’s the ultimate pump-up song!
John: I’m so glad. You know I kind of felt that way too, honestly. I’m not my biggest fan by any means but you write songs and sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t is what I’m trying to say. When we wrote it I was thinking, “This is pretty good!”
We recorded the demo and I played it for Korey and the rest of the band and they were like, “Oh my gosh!” and I felt the same way. Maybe I’m wrong, but it feels like a fight song, something you play before you go out into the boxing ring.
Amps: I see a lot of the sports world has taken to it, like the NFL and E-League. Did you know it would have the legs it did when you wrote it?
John: (Pauses) I…I felt pretty certain that it was good. But, sometimes you think a song is good and it just isn’t. I have to give a big thank you to radio for playing it, and the NFL, and people really believing in it. It has that mass appeal and that’s really what you need for a song to go global.
Amps: Yeah but it’s such an uplifting tune. When you listen to the lyrics I feel like you could go from crippled to running a marathon!
John: (Laughs) what’s funny about you saying that is people have asked me, “Where was your head at when you made this record?” and my goal was that I wanted to make a great workout album. And there are multiple reasons for that. One of them is that SKILLET has never had a great workout album. And not to say we haven’t had good records, but never something like that, that’s a bit more fist-pump in the air stuff. My favorite albums are the ones i fire up when I work out. Twice a week I’m still listening to METALLICA Ride the Lightning or AC’DC’S Back In Black, and that’s kind of what I set out to do.
Amps: I actually got into SKILLET in 2009 through my friend M-ROD who died last year. He raved about you guys and as soon as I heard “Hero” I was all in. But I really feel like Unleashed is your best work yet. “Stars” is beautiful and live it moved me to tears.
John: Wow, that’s really awesome. I appreciate it so much, and I’m sorry to hear about your friend.
Amps: The thing that really made “Feel Invincible” for me is the way you and Jen (Ledger, drums) play off each other vocally.
John: Yeah, I think it’s a nice change of pace, you know? Having her come in and spruce things up. I like to throw things out there that people don’t expect. When we first started doing some duet-type stuff on Comatose, Korey was doing some singing and the fans really loved it. Some radio people were like, “Oh I don’t know about the girl singing. It makes it a little less rock.” And I really felt that it created a cool push and pull, some drama within the songs, you know? Like in your review, I remember reading it and thinking, “Wow, this guy REALLY likes Jen!” You mentioned “Out of Hell” and her vocals. She literally has two lines in the song, but it’s so effective that people really like it.
Amps: And that’s not to take away from what you are doing, but I really think Jen’s delivery on these songs really adds to the flavor. You’re a triple threat though, because I didn’t know Korey had that kind of a strong voice till I saw you live. Which leads me to ask what you do to take care of your voice when you’re on the road.
John: For me it’s the normal stuff like drink a whole lot of water, get a good night’s sleep. When I first started I thought those things were just, I don’t know, I’d say to veteran bands, “Yeah, yeah I hear ya. I take my vitamins.” But then one day I was like, “What can I do to really help my voice?” and everyone I talked to, including doctors said, “The best thing you can do is drink a lot of water and get eight hours of sleep.” It’s tough when you get sick on the road because you have a job to do. It’s like twisting your ankle when you run for a living (laughs).
Amps: When “The Resistance” ends, what do you hope the listener takes away after their first listen?
John: I think the biggest thing I wanted to do was make a record that felt like an escape from all the heartache and fighting going on right now. Everybody’s mad about everything, and everyone’s gotta voice their opinion on everything. Everything is so polarized, whether it’s politics, religion, just anything. I want them to listen to the record and feel good. That might sound silly to some people, but I hope they can just turn all that stuff off and have fun with this album. Have a workout to it, and just enjoy it.
That might sound trite to some people, but SKILLET has not really had a record like that. You know one where we just sing about fun stuff and have meaningful songs that aren’t too emotionally heavy.
Amps: What do you want to say to all the Panheads out there in the world?
John: I just want to say a huge “THANK YOU” to all the Panheads in the world for supporting us. A lot of our fans have been hardcore fans for a decade now. through member changes and sound changes, people have really loved the band, and it really means a lot to me. This stuff never gets old. I could play “Monster” for the next 20 years and love it! It’s about the fans and seeing them happy out there and sing the songs back to us, and realize how meaningful that is. So, from the bottom of my heart, I love them, and we wanna treat them right.
Amps: John, I can’t thank you enough for talking with me. SKILLET and my friend M-ROD will forever be entwined in my heart, and every time I listen to your music I know he’s there with me.
John: Well thank you, Damian. That really means a lot. I appreciate it, and it was great chatting with you.
John Cooper from SKILLET. Engaging frontman, insanely talented bass player and singer, and above all else, a class act. I really loved talking to him, and SKILLET will forever have a fan in me. Because they truly care about the fans and how their music affects people. And I think that’s all that needs to be said.
LIVE IMAGES: MIKE SIEVILA PHOTOGRAPHY