Skillet’s John Cooper on Faith and Finding an ‘Anchor’
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Two-time Grammy Award winner Skillet, one of the best selling rock bands of the 21st Century, has ignited seismic-stadium audiences with anthems and thunderous rhythms for more than two decades. Their music and signature style can be summed up in three P’s: precision, passion, and power.
The band comprised of John Cooper, his wife Korey Cooper, Seth Morrison, and Jen Ledger have recently released a couple of new projects … their tenth studio album, Victorious and their first graphic novel called Eden.
John Cooper has also been in the news in recent days for his fierce pushback on some of the complaints made by a few high profile Christian leaders who have decided to leave their faith.
I recently spoke with the thought-provoking Skillet front man about the disparities he sees in today’s Christian music scene, the band’s decision to release a graphic novel, and the album he calls “the soundtrack to triumph”.
Your tenth album called Victorious has just released. It has been called “the soundtrack to triumph”. Why do you think that?
Well, I love that when I read it. I said, ‘Man, that's like the coolest thing anybody's ever said about us. The truth is that everybody who has reviewed the record, this is true for the Christian reviews and the mainstream reviews, even the metal reviews, in places that I expected we would not be quite heavy enough have said this record makes them feel like they can face anything. And I really love that because I do write those kinds of songs. I've always tended to write songs for people who feel alone and marginalized. Those people that feel like no one understands them. I was that person. And so I write a lot of songs to those people. I'm a very optimistic person in general and I've come through a lot of hardship in my life because of my relationship with God. He's made me strong when I was weak. So, I love that statement about “the soundtrack to triumph”. That sounds wonderful.
You and your wife Korey took the reins and produced the bulk of Victorious – a first for you both. As husband and wife, A) How did that experience go, and B) Would you do it again?
Sure. The reason that it wasn't different is that we've always done a lot of self-producing. We just haven't really gotten the credit for it. For the last five records we've been doing a lot of the producing. We've already had those kind of … I wasn't going to say marital arguments, but co-producer arguments, but it's all tied into the same thing. We already kind of learned how to have those fights and not take it personally. We’ve learned to have some give and take and wrestling like you would with a business partner. We already had learned how to do that. And I think we already learned how to produce records.
This time we just said, ‘Hey, you know what? We've been hiring producers a little bit as a crutch because we weren’t sure if we were really ready. And this time we just thought, ‘You know what, we're ready.’ We were probably ready to fly a couple of records ago. Let's just go for it. And honestly, yes, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I loved it. I think that it made a big difference. So far, the fan feedback on this record is off the charts. Our fans are so happy and I'm hearing tons of people saying it is one of their favorite records that we’ve ever done. I think it's just really been an exciting time. So yes, we would do it again.
You have a new single out called “Anchor”. Could you share the story of that song and how it came together?
I want to give you two stories. The first one is the one that people will relate to. I meet tons of fans where their life is falling apart who tell me, ‘Your music helped me. Your music saved me.’ I’m in a place in life where most all of my friends have kids. Some of them have young kids and they're scared. Raising kids today is kind of scary. Going to school, metal detectors, school shootings and kids growing up on social media can be frightening.
I'm also at an age when unfortunately I have a lot of peers that have had marital problems. I have friends of mine that have been divorced now, people now that only get to see their kids once a month. It's just tragic stories. “Anchor” is a song that is meant to say you are not alone. And even though this may be a stormy sea you are in, there's one person who will never change. And that is Jesus. His Word never changes. And if you anchor yourself to Him, you will make it through the storm. That's kind of the story that I want to share that is personal to me. I've had some friends whose lives have just become wrecked from bad decision-making and just horrible circumstances that I can't believe.
And it's just seeing some of these kids who I've known since they were babies and now they don't have their dad. Maybe their dad had an affair and left the kids. I'm just sitting here thinking, how could they have done this to their families? And now I'm telling these kids, “I know it's hard. I don't know why this stuff happened, but if you anchor yourself to Christ, you will make it because He never changes.” That's the story that I would tell about the song that most people would relate to.
I would like to say a second side of the story that might just be my soapbox, but I really believe it. And it's also part of what was on my mind when I wrote this. At this moment in time in Christendom, the church is very confused about who she is right now. A lot of people's answers for where the church should go I am not completely comfortable with. And some of them I'm very much not comfortable with. I think in our search for relevancy, a lot of Christians are starting to say that the Bible might not actually be black and white and red, if you will. That there's a lot of give and take. The things we're comfortable with, we need to change our minds about. And it's very upsetting to me. It's no wonder to me that people in the Church are not believing that the Word of God is the same yesterday, today and forever. It's not really a wonder to me that their lives are falling apart because they don't have that cornerstone of the words of Christ. And if you don't believe that the words of Christ are absolutely real and true, than I don't know why you believe in Christ because he was just a crazy person if that's the case. In talking to some of my friends I'm like if you don't believe that Jesus meant this, then why do you even believe in Jesus at all? I mean, He was nice and He loves people but I don't know, you really want to base your life on someone that walks around saying that before Abraham was, I've been alive forever and ever and ever? The fact that you want to follow that sometimes and not other times seems very strange to me. I would love to see the Church at large anchor herself to the Words of the Bible.
Changing gears, what I find fascinating about Skillet is that you have been able to tour with a lot of secular bands over the years where your brand of message wouldn’t exactly fit in because your music is unabashedly faith-based. Yet, you have and continue to thrive in that arena. How have you been able to do this successfully?
Yeah, it is interesting. I think Skillet is definitely an enigma in a lot of ways. And in fact, transitioning from what we just talked about, just two weeks ago, Korey and I were playing in a Christian festival and there was a couple of worship bands there that I was talking to. I'm not going to say any names and I'm not trying to be rude to anybody because I love people. I love everybody. But I said to my wife, “Can you believe that Skillet, the way that we look and the music that we play, we go play with the hardest, most anti-God metal bands in the world. And now, you and I are the traditional ones in Christian music?”
We're playing with worship bands and I'm the one saying, “Hey, the Bible doesn’t say that.” And they're going, ‘Oh, well you’ve got to be a little bit more liberal about your interpretation.” Wait a minute. It’s the worship bands that don't believe in the Bible, but we do? I say we've officially become the grandparents of this scenario. The traditional grandparents and we're an enigma, that's for sure. I love it because Skillet has just been so authentic. And I think it's because we're real. There might be some people that don't get it. When we go play with a metal band, they might go, ‘They are that Christian band. What's that all about? I don't get that.’ But they always get won over by us because we're unapologetically us and we're very inclusive.
Sometimes people don't quite get what we do. Usually that's not the case. But if there is a complaint it's ‘Hey, I can listen to a Skillet record and not even know this is a Christian band. It's just not obvious enough.’ I totally know where they're coming from in that. I think that's even fair because we're kind of doing what we're trying to do. And to me a great way to evangelize to the world is not necessarily always talking about Jesus, but it's acting like Jesus.
If you're a plumber, you should have the aroma of Christ on you as you do a good job and you treat people fairly. You do your job to the best of your ability to glorify God and treat people fairly.
I can’t let you go without talking about your graphic novel called Eden. What can you tell me about that?
I'm very excited about the book. The genre of the book would probably be considered science fiction, or fantasy. It's a little bit futuristic, but it's such a good book. I'm really excited. The idea is that it's in the future but the world is dying. There are certain people that begin to have this kind of prophetic dream of a door to a new earth. The book becomes kind of a race to find the door. There are different factions of humans warring with each other and then arguing about how to find the door, arguing about who gets to go in. There's quite a lot of action in the book. It's very philosophical, but it's also got lots of theological undertones to it. And obviously even in the name Eden, it's this idea that as human beings, we all have this sense of wanting to get back to where we started from, wanting to go back to the beginning, believing that we were meant for something more than the world we're living in now.
I think that the twist from the Bible of going back to Eden, going back to God's intention of a world without sin, where we are friends with God and we have fellowship with God, there’s something really beautiful about that. This is a great graphic novel. It's absolutely PG. The reason I say that is because graphic novels have kind of been taken over by themes that I wouldn't want my kids reading when they were 10 years old. This is a book that has a lot of action and it's got a lot of cool stuff but it's not over the line for young people. I think that it's a good thing and it's meaningful but also exciting.
Watch a lyric music video for Skillet's new single, "Anchor":
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