Skillet is celebrating more than 20 years as a band and they are kicking off the next leg of that celebration with the second leg of their Unleashed Tour in Febraury. As they prepare to leave “life” behind and bring their music to the masses, including songs from the 2016 release Unleashed, band co-founder, lead singer, and bassist John Cooper took some time out of his day to chat with us about all of this and much more…
Toddstar: Well first off John, let me thank you so much for taking time out for us. I’ve been fan a long time and never had the opportunity to cross paths with you yet, so I really appreciate you taking time out for us.
John: Oh absolutely.
Toddstar: Skillet always has so much going on. You guys are still out there representing Unleashed. How is that disc and everything around it still being received, even though it’s a few months old? Are you still getting a lot of really good interest?
John: It’s been really just incredible to see the reception of the record. When you make a record obviously even if you think it’s really great, you just don’t know how it’s going to be received obviously, but we had an awesome time recording the record. Writing the music was really fun and then recording the record was really fun. Then, we got the record mixed, it came back it sounded great. Sometimes you have issues in that process when it just isn’t turning out like you know it should. This one wasn’t like that, so it was such a great process. I had a feeling that the fans were going to love it. I don’t know if that positive experience or mojo, I don’t know if that came across on the record, but for whatever reason it was all really working. The fans seemed to love it. The radio has loved it. It’s just really firing on all pistons. It’s been a really rewarding five months.
Toddstar: That’s great. You mentioned it’s been a rewarding five months, but this thing is going to kick out even further. I think in about three weeks or so you guys are getting ready to kick of the 2017 version of the Unleashed tour. What can the fans expect on this half of the swing that maybe you guys are going to tweak or throw out there, that maybe the people on the front half of the tour didn’t get to experience or enjoy?
John: The biggest thing is that we only did like twenty-three dates on the first leg, because we had obligations overseas and things. I was so happy we were finally doing that tour. I’d been wanting to do a club tour in America for four or five years, it just never worked out. I kept saying every time somebody went to Europe or South America or Russia, we’d do a club tour and I’d call our manager and say, “I definitely want to do this in America.” So we finally did it. It was only twenty-three dates and it was the most fun I’d had in years. The crowds were just so, I mean you could feel the energy and so positive. The crowds were really cool, because it was ages five to sixty. It was really bizarre. We’d have all these really little kids and a lot of parents that brought their kids. We’d have some bikers, some metal heads there, tattoo folks there. Then you’ve got pastors there. It was the weirdest awesome group of people. Because we could all kind of forget where we came from and what we believe and come together and have a really fun night. Very inclusive, so I loved the tour. Like I said, we’ve got to do it again next year. Then, when it came time to choose the bands I have a lot of labels calling saying, “Hey we’ve got a band we really want you to bring.” But I just said to my manager, I said, “Don’t mess anything up. The last one was so good. Don’t change anything. Let’s do the exact same everything.” So the same bands are coming. We’re going to the west coast, which we haven’t done in like five years on a headline run. The thing that I’m most excited about the tour is the fact that we’re going to new cities that we haven’t headline toured in years and that we’re playing a really long set. We’re playing like an hour and half. We’re getting to play some older music, some b-sides. When you’re only playing thirty or forty minute opening sets, you pretty much just have to play the radio hits, because you’ve got to make as big of a splash as you can. Ninety minutes gives you a chance to play some of those, you know the crowd favorites which are not always the hits and try some things live, whether it’s interludes and introductions. Things that people have never heard before and hopefully surprise them with what you’re playing. To me that is the magic of going to a concert. Peter Gabriel and Sting did a co-bill this past summer and I went to go see the show. Every song was trying to figure out what song it was, because they had so much musicality and it’s theatrical. As a fan it was thrilling, so that’s what I try to do on my shows.
Toddstar: You mentioned being able to be musically diverse and different things you can do, that’s something I think you really did with Unleashed. Going back to that for a minute, you kind of spread it out. It wasn’t, “Oh that’s a Skillet song. Oh that’s a Skillet song. Oh that’s a Skillet song.” You mixed it up. Not that it didn’t sound like Skillet, but you put enough diversity in there to, not only to please your longtime fans, but bring some along and help cultivate a new following. Is that something that when you went in to record that and write that, that you guys had that mind or is that just how the process seemed to work out for you guys this time around?
John: You know I would say it’s more the former. You’re always going to have an idea going into the studio of what you want. Typically, it will also evolve while you’re in the studio. I would say it’s a little bit of both, but I knew that it’s very important that we had songs and aspects of the music that were very much unquestionably Skillet. You hear it and it’s identifiable and we don’t lose who we are, make the fans happy. I did think it was very important. It’s doesn’t take a genius to look around and realize that rock music is not really ubiquitous culture as it were ten years ago, twenty years ago, even eight years ago. I wanted to be able to make some songs that people that don’t really like rock music or listen to it, might hear it and go, “Oh I actually kind of like that. That’s kind of cool, because it reminds me of something that I listened to.” For me I drew on a lot of urban influences. A lot of that I leave in my wife’s hands. Korey does a lot of the tracking, so she’s great on guitar. She does all the programming, all the keyboards. That’s more her forte than mine. To answer your question, well first of all thank you. I’m glad that you like that about the record. Obviously you’re going to have some people that wish you did not try anything new. They just want it to be one thing, but I do think it’s really important to expand and I think it’s one of the things that makes Skillet feel like we’re not a band that’s been in the game twenty years. In some ways it feels like we’re a new band, because there’s people out there that just heard of us for the first time today and became a fan and to them it’s all brand new. It always makes Skillet feel like we’re constantly reinventing and getting another chance, which I’m thankful for.
Toddstar: You’ve really built up a great fan base. When you guys first kind of put this thing back together back in ’96, well actually when you did and you were in there recording your debut album which came out a year later, did you think that twenty years later you’d still be living your dream?
John: Oh no. Absolutely not. Everyone has delusions of grandeur. I thought, “Hey maybe we could be huge. Maybe we could sell a million records like Bush at the time and Stone Temple Pilots.” You kind of hope you can do that, but I never would have actually thought that would happen in reality. I certainly thought, even if it did go really good, I figured five, six, seven years at the most. I never would’ve thought twenty years. In fact, my wife and I used to always say, “You know we probably will have kids after we’re off the road, so we might do it when we’re a little bit older.” In our minds we kind of thought, if we’re lucky to do this for ten years, that would be amazing and then have kids. Things worked out really differently, so no I never would’ve imagined that. We’re so lucky and so blessed and honestly, not to pat ourselves on the back too much, but we are an extremely thankful band. We don’t think we were entitled to it. We don’t think we deserved it. Every day we’re pretty thankful and amazed at what’s happening in Skillet.
Toddstar: Well something you mentioned made me think, again you have been at this twenty plus years. You pound the streets and you guys work hard when you’re out on the road. You mentioned luck, but I have found that with bands the harder you work, the luckier you are.
John: That absolutely is true. It’s a lot of work. You have to be willing to swallow your pride sometimes. Sometimes you have to be willing to do things you maybe are really not that comfortable doing. Skillet’s always been very good at social media, always built a huge following that way. That’s really where our army came from. In reality, it wasn’t me doing that. It was always other people in the band that were quite good at social media. I love the fans, meeting fans one on one. I’m the guy that would talk to the fans too long and security is telling me “You’ve got to leave now.” I love meeting people, but I didn’t really understand social media, but I was glad that we were doing it. For instance, my guitar player would say, “Hey you need to tweet.” And I’d be like, “I don’t know how.” He would get on my Twitter and he would say, “What do you want to say to all your fans?” I’d tell him and he’d type it out and tweet it. Having to learn how to do it on my own was something I didn’t really want to do, but it was necessary. Once I learned how to do it, I realized this is an amazing thing. There’s fans out there that can tweet me. I can reply to them. An individual person in Russia or in Washington State and Mexico can get a tweet from me personally. That’s an incredible way to build a fan base and to fire up this community and this army of people. I started realizing that it was a little bit more personal than I thought it was. That’s just one example by the way. I’m not trying to do a big soapbox about social media, but I used to think it was completely anti-personal and I began to realize it’s not as anti-personal as I thought. People can really get to know you and you can get to know your fans very well.
Toddstar: Very well said. You mentioned personal and everything else and a minute a go you talked about how Korey does things for you. You do something that not a lot of artists, especially successful artists are able to do. You guys are able to live 24/7 together, you and your wife. You’re both in the band together. You travel, you write, you record, and you guys are together a lot. How is it possible that you guys don’t take this home with you when it’s such a part of who you are, not only as a band but as a couple and as individuals. How do you leave it at the door so to speak, when it’s time to do the dishes and take the trash out?
John: You know I should probably have my wife on the call for that, because she may not think that I’m doing as good of a job as I think I may be. Honestly, that is a lot of work. I would say one of the hardest things about our job. We’re together all of the time, which is amazing. We’re lucky. It’s beautiful. But it’s not like we have quality time. We just happen to be around each other and being with anyone twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week is really hard work. It is difficult. I think that we’ve gotten a little better about going, “Hey it’s not time to talk about music. Put it away.” There are times when I say, “Hey I need to have a business talk with you.” We take off our spouse hats and then we have a business partner talk and in those conversations you can say clear and harder things to each other. Some of it’s just communication, we agree on those things. Some of it frankly is just that I hope that I’m becoming a better man than I used to be and realizing that my marriage and my kids are a lot more important to me than my business. There are certain things that you just have to say no to. I tell people usually that Skillet is the most boring… If you want to see what the real rockstar life is like, don’t watch Skillet, because our days are completely… Every day we wake up. They’re scheduled out. Time with my wife is scheduled out. Interview time. Workout time. Lunch time. We don’t stay up til 5 a.m. playing video games and having fun. We got to bed, because the next day we have to be parents in the morning and business partners during the day. It’s hard work, but I think you’ve just got to realize it’s a job.
Toddstar: That’s a great insight to have, especially to make it work as long as you guys have. John I know you’re busy, so I’ve got another one or two for you, if you don’t mind before we cut you loose. Looking back you’ve been doing this twenty plus years as Skillet; it’s not like you jumped in and this is your first success, but looking back over your professional career, if there was something you could look at and revisit and redo, what would it be?
John: There’s a few of them to be a hundred percent honest. Luckily, I don’t look back… It’s not like this decision was bad, that decision was bad. It’s more to do with overall. I would go back to young John and I would explain to him that being in a band unfortunately is called the music business and the business part is really important. It’s unfortunate – you’re not just an artist, you’re a business owner. If you want to get your art to a lot of people, then it’s called an entertainment industry and you’re an entertainer, not just an artist. Those things would be very important. I would have learned to understand what it meant to be signed by a label, what publishing meant, and what kind of money I was giving away by signing certain things, because honestly I never cared about that stuff. I just really wanted to be in a band. I wanted to have my music out there. I didn’t care about the money. I wanted fans to come to the shows. At some point when you realize the reason that you can’t get into a bus is because you don’t have enough money and you have to drive a van around, all the sudden you go, “Oh well how do I get more money?” Then you realize that it’s a business. I would tell them, “You need to understand that’s what it’s about.” Also, I think learning really what it meant to… song writing is bigger than just your little personal art, but that there’s a lot of different people out there that do things in a lot of different ways. I think I would’ve told myself to be more experimental, not be afraid of change. I was one of those people that when I first heard that at some point, no one would ever by Cd’s again, because it would all be on computers, I didn’t believe it. Back in ’98. There’s no way that people are not going to buy Cd’s and tape cassettes anymore. I was very kind of resistant to a lot of those kinds of things. I would tell myself, “Don’t be scared, embrace it. It’s the future, so get used to it.”
Toddstar: Yeah. I think we’re all kind of shaking our heads when we realize that you’re not going to necessarily run to the record store and put that piece of plastic in our hands anymore. Now that everybody’s kind of had time, especially you, you’ve had a lot of time to wrap your hands around Unleashed, looking back now and obviously the two singles Feel Invincible and Stars were great for you guys and they’re well loved, but what’s the one song that when you hear it or play it or think about it, still just lights a fire in you from this disc?
John: I love the song “Out of Hell.” I don’t know if it’s going to be a fan favorite. I know that our fans like it and it has its own small group of people who say it’s undoubtedly their favorite song on the record, but that’s a small group to be honest. Something about that song just gets me going. I think it’s because it was different for us. It was very metal, but also musical at the same time. I like the lyrics. The lyrics feel very me. They’re desperate and maybe even a little bit gothic and emo. I’ve got a definitely a love for emo and gothic stuff. I just always really like it. It always feels very rock and roll to me. Probably that song. It’s really fun to play live. I don’t know if any of the fans like it as much as I enjoy it.
Toddstar: That’s top three for me on the disc, so you hit me with it. I really dug it.
John: Oh cool.
Toddstar: Well listen John, again I really appreciate you taking time out. I don’t see it on the schedule, but I’m hoping that somewhere along the line soon we get a Detroit date again. I know you guys were through, but I’d love to see the next leg swing through Detroit. Again, thank you so much for the time and we wish you well when you guys hit the road in about three weeks.
John: Well thank you very much. I appreciate it. It’s great to chat with you. Talk to you soon bud.
Toddstar: All right John. Bye.
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