Winter Jam 2018: A Conversation with Skillet’s John Cooper

Music fans, the time has come. The largest Christian music tour in the U.S. is now within shouting distance.

This year’s version of the annual Winter Jam Tour Spectacular will roll into Des Moines this Friday, Jan. 26, and pack Wells Fargo Arena with its usual crowd-pleasing mix of pop, rock, rap and worship, led by headliner and platinum-selling rockers Skillet and 3-time Dove Award winner Kari Jobe. Building 429, comedian John Crist, rapper KB, tour founders NewSong, and Jordan Feliz an Nick Hall round out the lineup.

For front man John Cooper, the voice of Skillet, one of hard rock’s biggest and most consistently popular and biggest selling acts of the past decade, taking part in Winter Jam every few years is a comfort zone he thoroughly enjoys performing in.

“We see fans that are anywhere from 5 to 70 years old, and I love that about Winter Jam,” Cooper said in a recent phone interview. “It feels like home.”

Cooper and wife Korey Cooper (guitar, keyboard), drummer Jen Ledger and guitarist Seth Morrison last visited Des Moines as part of Winter Jam in 2015. While Skillet is a consistent draw in mid-size venues across the U.S., the band hasn’t reached arena headliner status just yet. That’s why, Cooper said, headlining a tour of this size is always a special treat.

“What I love about it — selfishly — is that so many people come to this show. (laughs) Is that OK to say? (laughs) As an artist, playing in front of 10,000 people …. there’s just nothing like it,” he said.

The family atmosphere makes it unique in its own right, Cooper said.

“I have kids of my own, and I just don’t send them off to concerts these days,” he said. “The concerts are so provocative in so many negative ways to me. There’s violent imagery and sexual lewdness that, I don’t know, I just don’t let my kids go and do anything.”

Cooper checked in with ListenIowa recently to discuss Winter Jam, his slowly-but-surely-developing heavy metal project, and his hopes of releasing a new Skillet album in 2018.

Being the headliner, are you OK with the amount of time you get onstage?
We’re playing for 45 minutes, and I think when you play for under 40 minutes, it feels like, “Man, I’m just getting started here.” But we really pack it in. We’re doing nine songs in 45 minutes, which is quite a lot. It feels like  a good middle ground. I don’t feel like I’m dying to play more, but I could. The production is massive on this show, and it’s the biggest one we’ve ever done. I’m really enjoying it. It’s good because we’re playing in front of some new people as well.

Of the audience, what percent do you think are there just to enjoy the music, as opposed to those who are there to take in the experience of hearing the Word and the music?
I have to be honest, I don’t know the answer. What I can tell you is this: Some people say that because it’s Winter Jam, people will come no matter who plays. I don’t think that’s entirely true. But there are also people who think that Winter Jam is all Skillet fans, or all Kari Jobe fans, and that’s not true either. It’s somewhere in the middle between fans who like both of us, and people who just want to be a part of a Christian event. But there’s also people coming who I see on Twitter who will Tweet me something like, “I saw you guys at Winter Jam last night, and it was a blank, blank effing good show!” You’ll see that in Twitter — and I’m glad they are there, no judgment — but this probably isn’t your typical 13-year-old church youth group kid. (laughs) It really is a mix. It’s its own identifier. It’s not the same mix who come to a Skillet show, and not the same group who go to a church service; it’s its own group. It’s eclectic.

You released the deluxe version of “Unleashed” a few months ago with some new tracks and remixes of previously-released material. What was the train of thought in doing things that way?
The fans are always asking for more, which is good. It’s really cool to have something new halfway through the record cycle to kind of throw some red meat to the crowd. I’m the same way with my favorite bands. Like, Metallica released a new record last year, but I have to wait how many more years for a new Metallica song?

Seven.
(laughs) So until then, I’m having to look at YouTube videos or something on Facebook to see if they are doing acoustic performances. So the idea was to give something to the fans, and give them a lot. I don’t want to repackage the album with one new song and 10 things they don’t want and make them buy the record. Let’s give them brand new material. So we gave them five brand new songs, and they’re songs that could be played on the radio. They’re not B-sides. And we gave them some other things that they might like. The remixes on the album are awesome. Sometimes remixes, I have to be honest, are boring and I never want to listen to them again. But there are times when you hear a remix and like it as much as the original. I think we did that on this album. I was proud to sell it to the fans again. And I was upfront with the fans in telling them, “I’m tired of buying ‘Star Wars’ over and over and over again with the new editions. They change one thing and I have to pay another $30.” I think what we gave them is loaded with good stuff.

Six months ago, you mentioned that you were possibly going to have some sort of side project that’s more in the heavy metal vein. Any word on that?
Yeah, that’s still in the works, and I’m talking to the label about it, and they’re interested in doing that project. I’ve got about seven songs recorded, but there’s no timeline as to when that will happen because we’re also recording a new Skillet project now. There’s a give and take. We may have to wait another year for that project, but the good news is that we should be getting new Skillet material out, which should make the fans really happy. It’s going to be a really busy year for Skillet again. We’ve got the new tour that we just announced, we’re going to be doing Europe again, and then a new Skillet record, which hasn’t been announced, but that’s the plan.

So there’s a new album, with all new material, coming in 2018?
Yeah, that’s what I’m hoping! I like to get music out every couple of years, which is something we have not done in a long time. We always wait three years, even four between “Awake” and “Rise,” which was way too long. It was three years between “Rise” and “Unleashed,” so I’m hoping to get this one released this year, which would be two years in between. That would make me a lot happier. (laughs)

WINTER JAM TOUR SPECTACULAR 2018
Jan. 26           Des Moines, IA Wells Fargo Arena
Jan. 27           St. Louis, MO Scottrade Center
Jan. 28           Tulsa, OK BOK Center
Feb. 1             Mobile, AL Mitchell Center
Feb. 2             Nashville, TN Bridgestone Arena
Feb. 3             Atlanta, GA Philips Arena
Feb. 8             Ft. Wayne, IN Allen County War Memorial Coliseum
Feb. 9             Cleveland, OH Wolstein Center
Feb. 10           Indianapolis, IN Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Feb. 11           Detroit, MI Little Caesars Arena
Feb. 15           Evansville, IN The Ford Center
Feb. 16           Pittsburgh, PA PPG Paints Arena
Feb. 17           Cincinnati, OH U.S. Bank Arena
Feb. 18           Birmingham, AL Legacy Arena at the BJCC
Feb. 22           Tupelo, MS BancorpSouth Arena
Feb. 23           Knoxville, TN Thompson-Boling Arena
Feb. 24           Greensboro, NC Greensboro Coliseum
Feb. 25           Chattanooga, TN McKenzie Arena
March 2         New Orleans, LA Lakefront Arena
March 3         Memphis, TN FedExForum
March 4         Houston, TX Toyota Center
March 9         Wichita, KS INTRUST Bank Arena
March 10       Bossier City, LA CenturyLink Center
March 11       N. Little Rock, AR Verizon Arena
March 15       Council Bluffs, IA Mid-America Center
March 16       Kansas City, MO Sprint Center
March 17       Oklahoma City, OK Chesapeake Energy Arena
March 18       Ft. Worth, TX Ft. Worth Convention Center
March 22       Augusta, GA James Brown Arena
March 23       Columbia, SC Colonial Life Arena
March 24       Raleigh, NC PNC Arena
March 25       Greenville, SC Bon Secours Wellness Arena
March 29       Peoria, IL Peoria Civic Center
March 30       Chicago, IL Allstate Arena
March 31       Lexington, KY Rupp Arena

DETAILS

Where: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines
When: Friday, Jan. 26
Starts: 7 p.m.
Doors open: 6 p.m.
Cost: $15 at the door
For ticket information, visit:
www.iowaeventscenter.com
www.2018.jamtour.com.

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