Skillet Interview

John Cooper is the founder and cornerstone of the rock band Skillet. He’s been playing in a band since he was 15 and he’s been playing in this band for the last decade. It’s hard to find a person who has been on the road for so long and been playing for so long that has such a positive attitude. I think that stems from his Christian beliefs and upbringing. But don’t tell him he plays Christian music. Unlike a lot of other bands of faith, John Cooper and Skillet don’t shove their faith in your face. I got some time to chat with the up beat singer/bassist of Skillet and he told me about his faith, his love of music, where the odd name “Skillet” came from, and his 5 favorite songs of the decade.

Skillet…Look, I’m from the Midwest, and around this time of year is when mom and pop restaurants start hyping their big “skillet” breakfasts to the public, so that’s what I think of when I hear the name of your band. Where did it come from?

*laughs* Oh man, we call it “Skillet” because when we first got together we were a side project from all of the other bands we had in town. And we were like “Yeah we’ve got all these other bands and all of these other ingredients, it’s like we throw it in a big “Skillet” and were making up something new for breakfast.” So they were like “Let’s call the band ‘Skillet’” And I was like “Yeah whatever that’s cool.” It was not meant to be serious at all. Then a few months later the label heard us and liked our stuff and you know that’s how we started “Skillet.”

Let’s go back to the VEEEEEEEEEERY beginning…When you were in the womb, did you come out throwing up the devil horns saying “I WANNA ROCK!!”?

That’s right! How did you know!? No, my mom was a piano teacher and I was very into music when I was a kid. But the really funny thing is that I wasn’t allowed to listen to rock music growing up. But like 5th grade is when I started hearing rock music like Metallica and Motley Crue and all this great stuff at my friends houses. I had to go to my friends to get my fill. I’m from Memphis, Tennessee which is a very hard line bible belt territory. And they were just like “No, rock music is from the devil, and drum beats are from the devil”, I couldn’t even wear black, I couldn’t dance, or do anything (fun) at all. So it’s kind of a funny music history I have.

With your classical training in music, did you find it pretty easy to pick up the bass?

It really was NOT that difficult. There were some things that were unusual about it, you know? It was definitely harder than it looked. You know, getting to where you could play fast with your right hand was a little difficult to do at first. But it’s a much easier instrument to play than the piano. So I think because of that (it was easier). Like on the piano you have to play harmony parts and your left hand has to be as good as your right hand. But you know things just seemed natural. And it’s funny because I play a little bit of guitar, but I find it really difficult to play guitar AND sing at the same time. But playing bass for me and singing is easy and it’s usually the opposite for people.

A lot of Skillet’s music seems to be groove oriented where the bass and the drums provide that solid backbeat instead of them going off and doing these wild, almost virtuosic things. Is that, again, because of your classical training in music?

I think it’s because I’m a “song writer”, and the bass should always serve the song. What’s most important are the lyrics and the melody of the vocals. And I think, you know most of my favorite bands, you don’t listen to them and necessarily think “Wow this bass sounds great” or “this bass sounds AMAZING!” It’s more about the melody. Like then I listen to Motley Crue it’s like that. The bass “feels right”, the drums “feel right”, Tommy Lee is one of my favorite drummers by the way. But I think that’s where it comes from, getting a groove going because I don’t want to get in the way of what’s going on (in the rest of the song)

A lot get’s made of your faith when your band gets talked about. How much of a role, if any, does your faith play in your song writing?

Well it definitely plays a big part in the lyrics. It’s been, I guess you could say, a cornerstone of Skillet from the start. We don’t sound like “Christian music” in terms of the style of the actual music as much as it is in the lyrics, and wanting to sing positive music even if theirs a song…like a song like “Monster” off the record (Awake). It may be sort of a darker song, but it still has some hope in it. We’re not making people feel bad about themselves and their lives. Those are important things to me. I think there are a lot of people buying Skillet records out there that don’t even know we’re Christians and that we’re sometimes singing about spiritual things. But not just in the music, some of it’s in our lifestyles as well. Nobody in the band does drugs, nobody in the band abuses alcohol, I’m not pulling a “Tiger Woods” on my wife, and I think that’s one of the biggest things that people notice. It’s kind of a funny thing though because sometimes you don’t want to say you’re a Christian band because that can mean different things to different people. Or it makes people think “Oh this band is gonna be lame” or “Well they’re a Christian band so I guess I won’t like it because I’m not a Christian”. And that’s the reason I sometimes don’t like to say that. When people ask me what kind of music I play, I don’t say “I play Christian music” I say “I’m in a rock band.”

What made you become as open as you are now about your love for this “evil music”?

Well, my mom passed away when I was about 14 and I joined my first band shortly after that. It was obviously a hard thing in my life – probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through. But you know, I can’t live my whole life trying to please my mom. I can’t live my life for what she wants me to do, I have to be myself and do what I feel my life is about, what mymission is. And that’s when I started singing in my first band. I was 15 and, you know, READY TO ROCK! But you know my dad is still alive and he’s ok with it. I think a lot of things have changed over the years. Christian people are changing. They aren’t so uptight all the time. And I think they are realizing that the reason people have a negative view of Christianity is because Christians have been real dummies in the past. They’ve been mean people, they’ve been judgmental people, and just generally bad to be around at times. But now I think Christians are getting a little over themselves and are starting to be a little more loving and I think I experienced that with my own family.

A lot has been made by critics about the similarities of your new single “Monster” and the Three Days Grace song “Animal I Have Become”. What do you think of that?

People have asked me that question before; “Hey do you think this sounds like Three Days Grace?” I am a big Three Days Grace fan so it doesn’t bother me at all to think that I’ve written something that sounds like them. I don’t think it’s a rip off, but you know, I guess I probably wouldn’t. *laughs*I feel like I have heard other bands that have been a lot closer rip offs of other acts than “Monster” to “Animal I Have Become”. But I am a very big Three Days Grace fan and when you are influenced a lot by somebody, you may cut a little close to something they’ve written. So I have heard that before and at first I thought it was crap, but now I’m like yeah whatever, people like “Monster” and we’re number 4 on the rock chart right now so, whatever. *laughs*

For you latest record Awake, you got to work with Howard Benson who also produced the last two Three Days Grace albums. What was that like for you?

The very first day I met him, I came in and I was playing my songs and he’d say “Yeah I like it, yeah that’s good…”blah blah blah. And I played him this song that I felt was gonna be one of the best songs on the record. And I swear this is no bullcrap; this is the truth. He looks at me and he says “I gotta be honest; this song sounds like a way to NOT sell records.” *laughs* And he just sits there and goes “I’m sorry was that too harsh?” I go “No, let’s just move on.” But yeah, we got with Howard and we learned a lot from him. We got with him a lot on the pre production side. He’d say “Yeah that’s good” or “That kinda sucks” and I’d just ask him, “Well, what if I do this?” And I think he was just surprised at how eager I was to learn from him and change my songs to get him to say “Yes”. I’m a big Howard Benson fan, and we paid him a whole lot of money to produce our record, so I thought I might as well take advantage of it. I mean Howard has done some amazing records. He did the last two Three Days Grace records, he did the last Seether record, Flyleaf, Daughtry, Papa Roach, My Chemical Romance… I mean I was just such a fan that I thought if I can get someone in here to make my songs better, then I’m willing to go for it. But I knew that if I had a good attitude and I worked hard, he’d make me much better at what I do. And he did, you know, because we ended up making a much better record than we could have.

Give me your top 5 songs of the decade…

Of the decade….oh my gosh…Well, “Photograph” by Nickelback would probably be in there. “So Cold” by Breaking Benjamin, “All Around Me” by Flyleaf, “Cry” by Faith Hill, and for the last one….”I Hate Everything About You” by Three Days Grace.

Is there anything you want to say to your fans?

We love you guys man, thanks for supporting us!