Most spend their summers on vacation, at their local pool or on weekend trips. Skillet remained hard at work in album mode prepping for the release of their 10th studio project, Victorious, which released on Friday, August 2. Their first single, "Legendary," released on May 8 and the official music video was debuted by People.com last month. Other pre-released singles were "You Ain't Ready," "Save Me," and "Anchor." Collectively, Skillet celebrated over one billion digital streams in 2018 alone. The globally recognized band has sold over 12 million units worldwide. The band remains at the top of their game.
NRT Staff Reporter, Joshua Galla, recently had an opportunity to speak with Skillet's lead rocker John Cooper discussing the new record in length, some of John's personal passions as well as some of his favorite touring experiences.
Hey John! On behalf of everyone here at NRT, thanks for taking some time to speak with us about the new project! Before we dive directly into the discussion of 'Victorious,' I had some quick questions to get us started.
On June 29, you performed at the Creation Northeast Festival in Shirleysburg, PA. How did the performance go?
It was a great time! Creation was awesome! A lot of fans came out singing our songs. We got to play a new song from the new album called “Legendary.” People were really singing it and it was really cool. There was a dad with his 9-year old daughter on his shoulders upfront and I gave her the microphone because she was CRUSHING IT! “To the top, to the top, to the top…,” and I was like c’mon take it! So, that was a really fun memory from the show.
You’ve been at this rock-n-roll gig for 23 years now. How do you condition your voice to jam out to rock-n-roll day after day?
Sure! I think there are some practical things. I know there are people who are really smart that teach you how to breathe and all that kind of stuff. I’m not really educated with stuff like that. My mom was a voice teacher, so I did grow up singing.
For me, it’s been a lot of really boring practical things that may or may not help others. Things like drinking a ton of water. That might sound silly, but I used to not drink enough water and was just getting really sick and losing my voice a lot. I had to drop so much caffeine. Drop things that are going to dry you out. Sleep is another thing. I mean, if you’ve ever gone on some kind of a trip (like a camping trip) and you find that you lose your voice after a couple of days with your buddies, yeah, you’re probably not sleeping enough. Sleep is an amazing healer of the body.
The more you’re on stage, you just learn how not to oversing. What I mean by that is your adrenaline starts going and you grab that mic and sing way louder than you actually need to. So, sometimes I’ll soundcheck and everything sounds good, but then my sound engineer tells me that I was actually singing 4+ DB more than earlier today because I have so much adrenaline. So, you gotta kind of learn how to not really do that!
Awesome! Allow us to dive directly into Victorious. I’m sure a lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into its creation. Do you care to explain the concept behind this album?
Yeah! I’m so pumped about the record. You put everything you have into these albums. You write a lot of songs that actually do not end up making it on the album. So, you write 40 or 50 songs, then you choose the songs and it’s really cool in the end as you’re recording to look at the songs that have been chosen. It’s really cool to see if there is a theme running throughout. There was definitely a theme present with this record.
We were not really planning on calling the album Victorious, so we didn’t really have a name. So, it’s not like we’re calling the album ‘Victorious’ and all of the songs need to fit in. It was more like, we wrote all of the songs, then we were looking at it like, “man, so this is just like a cool theme!” One of the things really on my mind when I was writing the album is that in today’s culture people want to be victorious. They want to win and they want to succeed, but they don’t want to have to go through the fight. They don’t really wanna go through the struggle. They don’t want to get dirty. They just want everything to be great. I think social media has played a role in that. I think celebrities, the media, in general, has played a role in that too. I think we’re putting this image out in life, like, “you can win, every day in life you can win! There is nobody more amazing in life than you. Be you, you’re the best you that’s ever you. Be awesome, you’re awesome. You’re beautiful, you’re strong, you’re powerful.” Then, when people find out that they’re not actually that strong, they’re not actually all that powerful, they can’t have everything they want–they just completely kind of lose it! I think that is partially to blame from the major rise we have in depression among young people today. The major rise in suicides in young people today. You know, suicide rates are actually going higher at the same time as like self-help books and positivity are going higher. You have to ask yourself what’s happening? I think people are not being told the truth that life can be really hard and it is not awesome every day. There are some days that are the opposite of awesome, they’re terrible. They’re seasons in life that are horrible.
Maybe you were like me. I was 14 years old when my mom died after fighting cancer for three years. Those were not great years. After that, trying to learn how to heal was even harder. So, being victorious is not about not going through the fight, it’s about winning the fight. It’s about going through the bad days, getting yourself bloody and dirty and fighting through it in order to be victorious.
That’s amazing John! Bridging off of that, you’re on the cover with a shield representing a warrior. Does that relate to the "fights" you’re referring to?
Yeah, that’s exactly right! I wanted to appear kind of somber, but at the same time, we’re about to go into a battle here. With battle, there is soberness that comes with that. I thought that was a cool depiction of that story and what being victorious represents in life.
This is one of the first Skillet albums that Korey and yourself produced. How did that come about?
We produced seven out of the 12 songs ourselves. I’m trying to remember. We produced (years ago) our Alien Youth record, which is really old. We produced that ourselves. I produced one song on Collide. It was a song called “Fingernails.” I guess what I’m getting at, Korey and I have always had a hand in what we are doing. We always thought, maybe we should hire producers to come in and help us formulate. It’s always good to have another opinion in there so you don’t make a bad record. Sometimes, as a writer, you tend to believe everything you write is awesome, but most of the time it’s not! I mean, you like all of it because it’s like your babies. So, we’ve always had other producers involved. This time we thought that we were ready. We’ve been doing this long enough. If we did it, we thought it would be better, edgier and would have more teeth. It would be more exciting because those are the things we’re into. I think that’s why this record is so exciting to listen to. It’s just really in your face and a lot of fist-pumping anthem songs, but a lot of nice, emotional moments too.
Is there a stand out track that you've emotionally connected to?
The title track, “Victorious.” As I mentioned, we were not planning on calling the record that, but it is a really special song to me. There’s a personal story behind it. I always want to be delicate with this as I don’t want people to, you know, make money off of someone’s loss here. That’s not how I made this. I made it from the heart. I was really bummed out by the death of Chester Bennington. He was the singer for Linkin Park. I was a huge, huge Linkin Park fan! The last few years, there have been a lot of celebrity deaths. Suicide, accidental suicide, accidental overdose–things like that. I took the death of Chester really hard because I loved the band. I never met him. We were not friends. I always thought we would meet each other and we would get to be friends. I always thought we would tour together because Skillet shares a lot of fans with Linkin Park. I just took it really hard. I was reading about his life and what people who knew him said. Depression and the things that he was struggling with.
I wanna write a song to Chester or a song to people going through the things that Chester went through. I meet these fans all the time. With depression, anxiety, and there are certain things I can relate to. But, I cannot relate to the levels of that and not wanting to live. I can’t relate to that. But, I want to say something to those people like, “yes, I hear you, I see you, I know life is hard, but you can make it.” That is what the song “Victorious” is all about. It ended up becoming such a special song to me personally. It kind of encapsulated what this record was about and why we ended up calling the record that.
Quite remarkable, John. Chester was an amazing creative, to say the least. This is going to be your tenth studio album since 1996, which is remarkable in its own right. Will Victorious stand out any more than previous releases?
Producing most of this album has made it much more personal. Every record we release I’m like, “yeah! This is me and this is what I want to say.” I don’t know, the fact that we did most of it makes it feel very special to us, like, this is the way Skillet sounds. This is what we want to say. This was fun! We did try some new stuff. I think we have some brave songs on here. We did on the last record too. I always like to try a couple of things that are out of the box. We tried some things on this record that are still Skillet, but there's a new flavor or something fans weren’t expecting. There are a couple of songs on the record that I really like because they remind me of older Skillet. “Save Me” was a little more like Skillet circa 2006. You know, Comotose Skillet. Heavy guitars, dark, it’s kind of gothic on the lyrics and it just slams kind of hard. I think there is a certain amount of Skillet fans that were waiting for a song like that. When we released it two weeks ago, I was getting a flood of messages of, “this is the Skillet I fell in love with on the Comotose record or the Collide record." It’s always really satisfying to hear, “oh, this is my favorite Skillet song in 10 years!” It’s always really cool! People grow up in different eras of music. I think U2 fans are like that. You get 100 U2 fans together and ask them what U2 record is there favorite and there will be like five different records mentioned. I think Skillet is a little bit like that. Just not as big!
At the end of August, Skillet is releasing a graphic novel titled, Eden. Are there any ties between Eden and Victorious?
There aren’t really any ties between the theme of the record and the comic book. You know, when people hear a Skillet song and are like, “that’s so Skillet!,” they are typically talking about our lyrics. That is such a Skillet lyric because it has a theme of overcoming hard things. Every review that comes out about a Skillet record mentions Skillet being about inspiring anthems that make you want to fight for your life, kind of a thing. That is very much similar in the graphic novel. It’s not that the graphic novel is based on any particular songs, but it’s definitely a really inspiring and exciting story. It’s kind of like Hunger Games meets Walking Dead. It’s post-apocalyptic. It’s this group of people that are all trying to survive and find a better life. There is a very big spiritual undertone to the book. Again, it’s kind of like Skillet’s music. You may listen to Skillet and not know it’s a Christian song, but there is an undertone there. That is what the book is like.
The reason it is called Eden is that we’re all trying to leave a fallen world to try to get back to where we came from and to a better time. To a world that God intended for us. Which is obviously biblical language about God’s Kingdom coming on earth as in heaven. There’s that kind of undertone to it. But, an atheist could read the book and be like, “Wow, that was a really cool, spiritual book filled with science fiction and action!” I’m just really, really proud of the book. The story and the artwork are awesome. I really hope people love Eden.
I will say this. We are recording a song exclusively for the book. That information has not been announced or released yet. This is the very first time I’ve said it in an interview. So, we’re going to record the song next week (week of July 7). It will be exclusive for this book. It will be a song written for the book. The song will release the same day the book is released.
This fall, you’re touring with some pretty big names with Sevendust, Alter Bridge, and Pop Evil. I know how Skillet is always intertwining with the mainstream, especially on tour. Has there been a particular situation where you were able to share Jesus with another artist on tour?
You know, there are so many from over the years. So many conversations. A couple of the people that I have toured with have gotten saved and are publically known as followers of Christ. I’m not saying that was because of me. Like most, I was probably like one multiple conversations and we were planting seeds and eventually, God ended up leading these people to Himself. Usually, the conversations just start because of the way Skillet lives their lives (for Christ). You don’t really have to do much in that world. It’s not like you need to go around and talk about Jesus. I think there is just such a big difference from having the light of Christ in you like a Rockstar. Everything is different. The attitude and just obvious things that are different. Maybe it’s worldliness for sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. The whole thing.
Then, there is just the fact that I’m married and my wife is with me and that we treat each other well with respect and that we’re faithful to each other. The fact that we’re faithful towards each other while living in a bus for 22+ years is something that just blows people away. They want to know how that works. Then, we get an opportunity to talk about this is how it works for us and why. Our life, our marriage is not about us. It’s about Christ. He is the goal. Our marriage doesn’t even belong to us, it belongs to Christ. If we keep Christ first, that and our children and everything else just lines up. It’s based on a scripture that seeks first the Kingdom of God and everything else will be given to you. Those types of conversations have honestly happened dozens of times. Sometimes, God just does amazing things with those conversations. Maybe I just get to pray for someone and they’re like, “honestly John, I don’t really know what I believe in all of this stuff, but I really need prayer. I’ll take anything that I can get.” We lay hands on them. We pray for them. Sometimes they cry. Seeing a really famous Rockstar cry is a really interesting thing. All the sudden, they’re not just rockstars, they’re humans just like me and God is moving on them. It’s only something God can do. It’s really, just really an awesome thing.
I came across a recent tweet of yours (June 29) to Andy Mineo, since you two were performing at Creation the same day. You thought it would be really cool to have Mineo on a song. Has Skillet ever considered a hip-hop feature/collaboration on a record?
Yeah! I think I saw that and someone was like, "do a collab!" I replied, "that would be cool!" We really haven’t done much of that, to be honest. I don’t know why. The only major feature we’ve had was Lacey Sturm come sing with us. That’s the only kind of guest appearance we’ve ever had. That was really fun and I loved it. I planned on doing more of that on this record and for some reason ended up not doing it. I don’t even remember why and now I’m kind of annoyed about it!
Sort of an NRT tradition is we love to offer prayer to artists when we are able to speak with them personally. What can NRT be praying about for you and the band?
You know, some of the things you asked me are really what’s important to me. What’s important to me is that when we go out into the world and do our thing and we play our songs, just that God can use the music, the conversations backstage, what we say on stage, promoters, all of it–that God can use it. That’s what Skillet is most passionate about. Just that we would be strong to keep up with the schedule, and faithful in listening to what the Holy Spirit speaks. That’s what it’s about for me.
Joshua possesses an avid passion for music, especially hip-hop. He's a dad of two daughters which keep him young. He's written professionally since 2009.
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