By Lori Smerilson Carson –
It was always so much fun to pack up the car with snacks and drinks and go to the local drive-in theater to see the latest and greatest new movie. Now, rock music fans can do the same, but with a fantastic opportunity to see live rock concerts from the comfort of their cars. Starting on April 22nd in Indiana, Skillet with be taking their amazing live shows to outdoor venues, arriving on April 24th in Middle Point, OH at the Van-Del Drive-In, then continuing on until they end the tour on May 23rd in Missouri. These extraordinary talented musicians began their journey around twenty-five years ago and have achieved two Grammy Award nominations, a Billboard Music Award and have sold over twelve million albums. Lead Vocalist/Bassist John Cooper, Guitarist/Keyboardist Korey Cooper, Lead Guitarist Seth Morrison and Drummer/Vocalist Jen Ledger aren’t showing any signs of slowing down.
Full tour dates: HERE
Catching up with John Cooper, he explained some details about their amazing new tour, as well as revealing how he writes his music, some memorable experiences and what fans can look forward to.
Ohio Music Experience: So, tell me about the Drive-In Theater Tour. How exciting. What can fans look forward to?
John Cooper: Well, it’s just gonna be good to get out again, right? I feel like a dog coming off the leash here man. I’m ready for some rock and roll and some fun and some good news. We did do a couple of drive-in shows last year at the end of summer and again, we were just glad to get out. We’ve only played, let’s see, three concerts in the last year. Those were all drive-in dates so, it’s very cool. I think people are just happy to get out and do something. Something that helps them forget all of their problems and forget how hard the year has been. Sing some songs that they like and rock out. So, we had a really great time doing it. I look forward to you know, just hearing some fans sing and getting toward the end of this pandemic would be a really beautiful thing (he chuckled).
Ohio Music Experience: Absolutely. It’s a wonderful thing that you’re able to do this. What are the COVID restrictions? Do people have to wear masks out of the car. Do they have to stay in their cars?
Cooper: That’s a good question. I actually don’t know and for instance, there’s a possibility that that changes from state to state, or else maybe since it’s instituted by the tour, but my assumption based on what we did last year would be that people can get out of their cars, but the cars are actually spaced out. So, they can get out of their cars and stay in the vicinity of their vehicles. They can’t rush the stage because then they would all be close to us and close to each other. So, I believe you can out of the vehicle. Stay in the vicinity of your vehicle. I remember last year people you know, sitting on top of their cars or standing up in front of their car. Bringing lawn chairs and hot dogs. Ooh that sounds good. Doesn’t it?
Ohio Music Experience: It does, yes! Your latest album is VICTORIOUS: THE AFTERMATH. Tell me about that. Was there a theme or what was the inspiration?
Cooper: VICTORIOUS came out of course pre-pandemic, and funny enough, the theme of the record. I mean obviously, I hope it’s uplifting. It’s called Victorious. The theme of the record is very uplifting, but on all the interviews and press that I did, I said what drove a lot of the songs was a recognition that life is not easy, and the reason I say that is because we have kind of lived in a culture, pre-pandemic of everything is awesome. I don’t know If you saw the LEGO. Was that Lego Batman? (He sang) “everything is awesome.” We kind of lived in that culture of you know, everything’s amazing. Nothing’s ever going to be bad. We can make the world perfect, and I felt really inspired when I was writing VICTORIOUS to write about the fact that yes, you can make it, but life is going to be hard. Life is going to throw things at you that you weren’t expecting. It’s not meant to be easy. That’s just not the human condition, but the overall album does have a very uplifting, you can be victorious and so, I guess what I’m saying is it was a little prescient for the times that we entered into because all of the sudden you know, a lot of people alive suffered in the last year in a way they never suffered before. My generation didn’t live through a major world war or these major kinds of crisis, and now all of the sudden we’re here and people don’t know what to do with a world that doesn’t go the way that they want. So, the thing that I always said was, don’t be a victim, but be a victor.
Ohio Music Experience: That’s great advice. What inspires your music when you write it?
Cooper: Many things. I’m deeply inspired by my faith in God. Most people know that I’m a Christian and I love to read the bible and when I say I love to read the bible; I mean, I love to study the bible. I would love to go to like bible school and be a theologian (he laughed), so I’m not saying I have the brain for it. I probably don’t have the brain to graduate, but I do enjoy it because it gives me, well for lots of reasons, but I think it gives me a great foundation obviously to live, but also in my songs. It gives me a great foundation of which to write. You know, what do I want to write about? I’m seeing the world through the lens of biblical Christianity. I think it’s really wonderful because it gives you an idea of why we are even here. What is the purpose in life and how can I encourage other people in their struggles? I mean, people that struggle with addictions and divorce and abuse at home and all these stories, and by the way, those stories from fans also very much inspire my songs. I’ve written a lot of songs based on stories from fans, but I like to write songs that I hope can give them a hand out of the darkness that they’re in, and so I very much draw on my faith and the bible and that, but as I said, I’ve written many songs based on conversations I’ve had with fans. I was like talking to a fan for instance a few years ago in Russia and somebody had given me a note. She spoke very, very broken English of course, but she spent the time to write in English a note for her story and her story was she had several siblings and her parents were always fighting and they lived in a little house. All in one room together and she didn’t have a purpose in living, but Skillet’s music gave her hope and kind of showed her that there was something worth living for. She struggled with suicidal thoughts and the like. At the end of the letter she said, “your music makes me want to live.” And it moved me so much that I wrote a song for her called “I Want To Live”. So, those things very much affect me. You know, stories and I struggled when I was growing up as well. My own personal tragedies in life. My mom passed away when I was fourteen and I began fighting with my dad, and so I sing about those things because I really want my music to help uplift people.
Ohio Music Experience: Is that what inspired you to become a musician?
Cooper: Actually, I wouldn’t say that’s what inspired me to become a musician. It was very natural for me. My mom was a piano teacher and a voice teacher, and so I began singing at age three and I began piano at age four. It was just very much a part of my life and my mom used to tell me when I was young. I just thought this is what all parents, you know, all parents tell their kids they’re special and (he laughed) you’re beautiful. You know I’ve got a daughter. “You’re a beautiful princess,” and she is to me. You know, all parents think their kids are the best, but my mom would always say, “John. I’m not just saying this because I’m your mom. You have a musical gift. You can’t stop playing music” and I just always thought that’s mom. She loves me. That’s what parents say. As I got older, I think it kind of became clear to me, like oh. I think I do have a musical gift. Not everyone naturally can do what I can do on music and maybe that means I was born to do it. So, that is probably why I got into music, but I definitely will say, to answer your question, that element that I want to help people with my songs rather than just you know, be a rock star. The fact that it’s always on the front of my mind. What can my music do to help someone else through a hard time. That probably is very much due to what music did for me. It helped me through my mom’s death and through fighting with my dad, and being angry and angsty and having a certain amount of rage in my life. The music was a part of helping me through that so, that part, I would affirm that.
Ohio Music Experience: The song “Monster” is a great song and I saw the video yesterday (most viewed Skillet video on YouTube). What would you say is the message with that song?
Cooper: “Monster” is that song about, let’s see. I try to write songs that have a very broad meaning to where everyone can take it in different ways, but I also have a personal meaning. The broad meaning would be that we all have a person inside of us that we don’t want to be, or else I’ve never met anybody that doesn’t feel that way (he laughed), and you know, for me it was that you have kids. When your kids are young. Being a parent is not easy and when your kids are little and not sleeping through the night, and you’re exhausted and work isn’t going the way you wanted it to, and somebody cuts you off in traffic and you just blow up in a way that you didn’t know you would ever blow up at somebody over something, fairly trite. To me, that’s the monster. I come home. I take it out on my kids and I yell at my kids when I didn’t want to, and they didn’t deserve it and I didn’t even mean it. I just was blowing off steam, and I don’t want to be that person. That’s what “Monster” is about. That is the very broad definition. On a personal level, what I wrote that song about would be yes, that story I just said is a real story. A real thing that happened when I go, this is not the man that I want to be and it’s not actually the man that I am, but I need to reach to God to help me be a new person. That has a biblical connotation to it that I think is quite deep, but I think that everybody no matter what religious background you come from. No matter who you are, can relate to that story.
Ohio Music Experience: How did the band come together? You formed in a church?
Cooper: Actually, yes. We did. I was in college and I was already playing in bands and writing music and what not, and I did go to a church where the pastor was quite supportive of, I guess the arts you would say. Not all pastors were supportive of the arts in churches at that time, but he was quite supportive of it. He was into the music. He was into the idea of using film or arts or music to express religious view points and I always felt very encouraged by that. It was actually my pastor who suggested that I meet another guitar player from a different band. He said, “hey I think that you guys would write good music together. Well, why don’t you think of starting a side project?” and then he suggested later as a joke he said, “it would be like taking a bunch of ingredients from different bands and throwing it together into a skillet to see what happened.” And then someone said, “it would be funny if it worked, you could call it Skillet.” And it was just kind of a joke, and I never imagined it would be serious. I never imagined anyone would like the music. We just kind of tried it and it worked, and so it’s always a running joke that I’m stuck with a band name that I never believed would be taken seriously nor was meant to be, and so it’s a running joke that I never liked the name of the band, but it was the ‘90’s. I mean 90’s was synonymous with weird band names (he laughed). You know, Pearl Jam, Korn, Soundgarden. Those are weird band names.
Ohio Music Experience: They work though, right?
Cooper: Yeah, well they work because you know, once a band becomes ubiquitous, then all of the sudden when you hear the word corn, you don’t think of eating corn. You think of the way the name is written with a K and the backwards r. It’s dark and its cool. So, I always joke and I say at least when you google skillet, at least the band comes up rather than a cooking show.
Ohio Music Experience: Your band is heavier metal. Who were your influences?
Cooper: You know, I have a funny story about that. I’ll try to make it short, but I think it’s funny. So, because I was raised in such a Christian, I mean, I wouldn’t just say Christian. I would say religious household. Rock music was viewed as like the biggest evil on planet earth was rock ‘n roll. It was like the number one thing that the devil was doing on the earth was rock music, and I wasn’t allowed to listen to anything with drums, and not even Christian music when I heard of Christian music. Christian music was viewed as even worse because it was taking Satin’s number one tool on the earth which was rock music and acting as if it was Christian. So, it was wolves in sheep’s clothing. So, I wasn’t allowed to listen to any pop, contemporary, rock, metal. So, when I first got influenced was metal because all of my friends listened to metal. Again, in the 80’s you couldn’t go to the mall. You couldn’t go get a haircut. You couldn’t do anything without hearing Bon Jovi or Mötley Crüe or Metallica, and when I heard Metallica it was game over. I was like, that is the awesomest thing I have ever heard. So, all of my early influences were metal and even hair metal. Maybe you call it glam metal. And Prince and Michael Jackson, and when I heard of Christian music, I was very excited. My parents didn’t like it, but I began listening to Christian music like Petra and Stryper and you know, those kinds of bands. So yeah, when I first decided I would start singing in a band, we were just singing rock and roll covers. Van Halen and the like, and when I decided to start writing my own music, I decided to go more into Christian thing like Petra and the aforementioned groups.
Ohio Music Experience: You’ve done phenomenally well. You guys won the Billboard Music Award for Double Platinum with your Awake album. What was that like to win?
Cooper: You know, it was honestly shocking because we were a band for so long before anybody knew who we were (he laughed). It was like literally ten years. Our first record came out in ’96 and then it was until our 2006 release which was a record called Comatose. All of the sudden people started really buying Skillet albums, and so after ten years, it was really funny. There was a certain amount of, I mean it was incredulous to me to the point that I didn’t believe that we were getting popular. So, I remember my manager calling me and saying, “Hey you know the song just got picked up by so and so radio.” Or people would come up and recognize me and I still would say “Ah, that was just a one on. That was a fluke. It’s not actually getting that big,” and so when Awake came out which is our 2009 release and as you said, it went Gold within a year and I thought, there’s no way this is actually getting big, and people were recognizing me and stopping me on the street and every time somebody would stop me, I would think a fresh ah, this is a one-time thing. Nobody actually knows who Skillet is because you worked for so long. You just didn’t expect it. So, by the time that Awake went Platinum and then it went Double Platinum, we were just stunned, and I think that we worked so hard that we almost didn’t believe that it was actually happening. So, it was very rewarding, but I do think that when you work hard for ten years, I guess what I’m saying is, it’s kind of a nice defense against any sort of pride. You know, any sort of, I did this on my own that could creep in because it wasn’t like that. You just have more of an appreciation for what you earned. Maybe that’s a good way to say it.
Ohio Music Experience: Is that how you guys got on Conan? How did that show appearance come about? What was that like?
Cooper: I don’t even know how that came about. That’s so funny that you said that because literally, last night me and my wife were watching 30 Rock. You know what 30 Rock is? It’s a comedy. I don’t know if you know that Conan O’Brien has like a recurring role that he shows up sometimes on 30 Rock? And I said to Korey, in bed last night I said, “Can you believe it, that we were on Conan O’Brien?” (He laughed) It’s something I hadn’t thought about in years, so it’s pretty weird you asked me that, but it was very surreal. I was like, how in the world did we get here? It was very surreal and nerve racking. One of the only truly nervous experiences of my career of like feeling sick to my stomach.
Ohio Music Experience: You also have books. Comic Books (EDEN: A Skillet Graphic Novel and EDEN II: The Aftermath). How did those come about?
Cooper: Yeah. We have two graphic novels. It came about mainly because A, I love comics and everybody that follows me on social media has always known that I’m always posting about comics or whatnot. I love Marvel to the degree that I have like a tattoo sleeve on my leg. I guess you would call it Marvel characters, and I just always loved comics. And I got approached by a company, said, “hey have you ever thought about doing a graphic novel?” And I said, “yes, but I don’t want to do it unless it’s going to be awesome because there’s nothing worse than a cheesy comic book.” So, they said, “hey well we know we can do something great. We’ll get you hooked up with some writers and some artists,” and I said, “well hey. I have some ideas,” and so I got to kind of co-write the book. I came up with the concept that I had already been thinking this would be a great novel if I ever was to get into writing science fiction, dystopian novels, you know? We just were able to do something that I was really, really proud of and I’m proud of it for several reasons. The artwork is great. I think that the story would actually be a great novel, but I’m also proud of it because when I was growing up, you could go to the comic shop and you could pick out books. There was just a certain sort of naivety about it and purity. It was just a part of culture in the 80’s. It was wonderful, but that is very much changed. You know, I have a son and I can’t send my son to the comic shop and say get anything you want to get because a lot of the naivety and purity is gone from it. I mean now, there are R rated comics. There’s soft pornography comics. There’s things you’d never want your son to see, and so I think that that’s a certain sort of Americana that is gone and that bums me out. So, I’m like hey, instead of just complaining about it, I want to put out a book that parents out there can buy for their kids and feel good about saying this has got a lot of action in it. There’s guns. There’s monsters. There’s all this stuff that great comics have without you know, the trash. That might make me sound old, but it’s capturing a childhood feeling that I really love. So, very proud of the books. They’re cool. The artwork is awesome. They’re a little bit science fiction. I would say it’s like The Walking Dead meets The Hunger Games. It’s a little dystopian. A little supernatural.
Ohio Music Experience: So, you were part of the writing and the graphics?
Cooper: I’m sorry, No. I am not a part of the graphics at all. The graphics are really good and I did not do them (he laughed). Yes, I co-wrote both of the books, and I think that when people read it, they would recognize that. It has a certain sort of identity that people have come to identify with Skillet. It’s dark, but its uplifting and I think people would probably recognize that.
Ohio Music Experience: Was there anything else you want fans to know? Any new videos or other shows?
Cooper: We are working on new music. I don’t have anything to announce yet, but we are working on new music, and we’re just thrilled that we’re able to get back on the road and maybe bring some sort of you know, feeling back to the fans that, hey maybe we’re getting to the end of this thing. There’s a certain amount of optimism that even just announcing the tour. Even just seeing the tour announced, I think gave people that rush of optimism of man, maybe one day we’ll go back to normal when I can hang out with all of my friends. I can go to concerts and rock out. So, I’m kind of looking forward to having that experience with the fans.
Ohio Music Experience fans, look for your turn to rock out with Skillet!