If 10 Skillet fans were asked to describe the band’s music in five words or less, it would come as no surprise if the query garnered 10 different responses.
Hard rock? Sure. Synth-infused pop rock? At times. Arena rock? That, too.
And if bearded frontman, bassist and founder John Cooper had a say in the matter, he’d make sure another genre was represented in the final tally: metal.
An unabashed lover of many of the influential hard rock and heavy metal bands that emerged from the 1980s, Cooper has openly stated that his musical soul rests in a “heavy” place. That’s not to say he doesn’t appreciate his band’s diverse stylings, which he himself helps craft with his wife and Skillet guitarist Korey Cooper, but at the end of the day — and the band’s latest album, 2016’s “Unleashed,” — all things end with metal.
Cooper spoke with ListenIowa recently, discussing, among other things, an as-yet-unannounced side project that might finally allow him to unleash his inner metal self and watching his friends go to war on social media.
You’re on the Summer of Serenity tour with Korn, Stone Sour, Baby Metal and others. How’s it going? Is this bill a comfortable fit for Skillet?
We toured with Stone Sour a few years back, but we haven’t toured with Korn. We’ve just played some festivals and things like that with them. Korn is more of a “band’s band,” and Skillet is more hard rock. This package is on the metal side, and a little bit of a different crowd, but I think we cross a lot of demographics with the other bands. But that doesn’t mean I’m not nervous. (laughs)
Are you fans of Korn?
I’m a big fan and very excited to be out with them.
Brian Welch (Korn guitarist) is a devout Christian, and he unabashedly speaks of it. Is it too far out of the realm to think that he and Skillet share a common respect for each other that extends beyond the stage, more so than the other members of Korn?
We are friends and have known each other a long time because of that, but since we’ve never toured together, we haven’t gotten to hang out that much. We should be close because of what we believe, and there’s that feeling of camaraderie. I kind of suspect that relationship will grow even after the tour, I hope. I texted him after we got the tour and said, “I don’t know if you had anything to do with us getting this, but thanks if you did.” (laughs)
At this point, do you guys consider yourselves a Christian band or a band with Christians in it? Or are they one in the same? There are bands that seem to shy away from being labeled a Christian band and want to make sure their fans know that there’s a difference between the two.
Yeah, some people really feel passionate that they are not the same. I always tell people that, yes, we are a Christian band, and, to some people, that means that we’re not embarrassed of our faith. I don’t think it’s actually fair to say that. I think that there are some bands with Christians in it, and they are also not embarrassed. I don’t think it’s completely fair, but I think some of the Christian audience can take it that way. So, due to that, I always say that we’re a Christian band. I want to make it clear that we’re not embarrassed of it. I’m proud of my faith. And I’m not embarrassed that we came from the Christian market and still play in the Christian market.
You just want to spread the Word, so to speak. The more ears that hear it, the better.
A lot of times bands cross over into the mainstream and then no longer do Christian events and Christian radio interviews. I still do all of them. And love them. I always like to give the caveat, though, that our music wasn’t only meant for Christian people. You can come to a Skillet show and have a great time but be an atheist. In fact, I meet people at every show who tell me, “I’m an atheist, and I don’t understand that ‘Jesus thing,’ but your music make me feel good.” (laughs) Or “I love your music even though I’m not into the ‘Jesus stuff.’ ” (laughs) I met someone last week at a restaurant who asked, “Are you guys with Skillet?” And I said, “Yes,” and he goes, “Man, your music rocks so hard that when I found out you were a Christian band, I wasn’t even mad.” (laughs)
What is your reaction when things like that happen?
To tell you the truth, I find it flattering. I take it as a compliment. I always wanted to be taken at face value for the music. Either you feel it or you don’t. If you don’t, no problem. If you do, great. There are a lot of bands that people thought were Christian bands but weren’t because their lyrics were so spiritual. And I think that’s cool.
Baby Metal is on the tour as well. Call me strange, but I don’t get it.
(laughs) I saw some of it four years ago on YouTube. It’s a really weird amalgam of teen pop and metal, which is really bizarre. When I saw it, I thought, you know, I could understand why this might be popular in some parts of the world. Metal is so not mainstream in the culture here. It’s something that used to happen. Pop culture today has no idea how big metal is and its niche. The rest of the world does. It is very unusual.
Do you still bring your kids out on the road with you?
Yeah, we do.
So how do you handle raising kids during these summer package tours as far as what they are exposed to? I would think it would be difficult to keep them “protected” from everything that goes on.
It’s always case by case. I don’t have a problem with my kids listening to secular music, as long as I approve it. A lot of it I won’t approve, but some of it I do. Some Christian bands only listen to Christian music, others approve some songs and not others. I kind of like to know what they’re listening to and why. The band that cusses profusely, I won’t take my kids out to see them. It’s the same thing with movies. When they’re younger, there are certain things you won’t let them watch, but as they get older, you begin to break them in a little bit. (laughs) There are some bands that we tour with that I’ve told the kids that it was important to be friends with these bands because we live together, we play Four Square together, eat together. But just because I want you to be friends with them, that doesn’t mean I want you to go watch their show.
You’ve stayed out of the social media frays where Chad Kroeger (Nickelback vocalist) says Stone Sour wants to sound like them, and then Corey Taylor (Stone Sour vocalist) fires back times ten, and then it’s off to the races.
Do you guys make a conscious effort to talk about staying out of those things, or is that just the way you’d operate anyway, regardless?
You know, it’s just never come up. I would assume that I would not go down that road. Everybody that we’ve toured with, we’ve become friends with. We toured with Stone Sour a few years ago, and Corey is a great friend of ours. His wife is a great friend of ours. She’s come out on tour with us before as a personal assistant, actually. We’ve also toured with Nickelback, and they treated us so good. We never had any issues. So I’m seeing two great, friendly people battle it out on social media, which is kinda funny.
The “Unleashed” tour is nearly a year old now. Will there come a point when you think, “Man, when is this going to end?”
Not really at this point. I’m having too much fun and doing things like touring Canada. We’ve done maybe 10 shows in 20 years there. We’ve never toured Canada before, which is bizarre. It’s like, right above us. (laughs) Then we’re going to start writing a new record, and go to Europe next year. I don’t see it ending anytime soon, which would be fine with me.
You guys definitely do it the old school way. Two-year tours are like nothing for Skillet.
Early on, we had no radio support, so in order to build that fan base, that’s what we had to do. It’s hard work, but the fans that you make will stick with you. It’s been hard work, but it’s been very rewarding. I feel like I’m 21. I think we’ll be touring this album for another year. A two-year touring cycle is about right. About a year from now, we might be in the studio with a new project. That would be my guess. It might be just doing demos or something like that, though.
A lot of artists in the hard rock community have side projects. Some do it out of sheer necessity to pay the bills. What is your take on you — or anyone in the group — working outside of the Skillet borders?
Truthfully, I’ve wanted to do something like that for four or five years now. It’s as much for fun as for anything. There’s a lot more in me that I want to get out, but I’ve always thought that I wanted to put everything I have into Skillet. Not just because it pays the bills, but this has been what my life has been about for a long time. For a few years now, though, I’ve liked the idea of doing something that is just one format. Just metal, where I won’t have to deal with trying to make something for a mass group of people.
Interesting. You told me last time we spoke that you have a love of metal.
Yeah, I kind of like the idea of doing something that’s really hard, heavy and fun that you could rip at the gym. (laughs)