Dad, Husband, Metalhead, Christian, and Skillet’s frontman, John Cooper, has found that faith centers everything he does in life. Whether it is through his business or his art, “everything I do is an offshoot of my faith.” Including his love of comic books.
“I remember when I was getting signed by Lava Records, Jason Flom said, ‘what does it mean to be a Christian band?’ And I said, ‘well you’ll never hear stories about Skillet not showing up to a concert because someone was too wasted’,” Cooper said.
“People always say, ‘you guys are always on time for interviews and dependable.’ And I’m not saying anybody that’s religious is punctual. I don’t mean that to say that, but for me, it’s been very much about keeping your life in order.”
Cooper said art can speak religiously to him, even if it wasn’t intended that way. The vice versa is how Skillet has reached so many listeners, especially those outside of the Christian community.
Without having bible-verse lyrics, the band’s faith does come through in Skillet’s music. In fact, the Christianity in Skillet’s music is so broad, that some Christians are offended about the band’s lack of the “wholesome look.” The band’s faith thematically shines through Skillet’s lyrics. Principally, through the theme of hope.
“Even when we sing about dark things or struggles in life, there is always a bit of hope, and it can hopefully inspire people to see the brighter side of life, and see their worth as a person,” Cooper said.
Cooper noted that the term “Christian music” means different things to different people, and he feels he has spent a lot of time “over the last decade” trying to explain that Christian music doesn’t have to just be for Christian people. “You can still relate to a Skillet song if you’re not religious in some kind of way.” Even atheists have come up to Cooper to tell him they “get his music.”
Other than lyrical themes, Cooper said the main difference between Christian rock and rock is the band members’ lifestyle.
“You can listen to Skillet and never have any idea that it was Christian music. But if you were to see Skillet perform or see the way we interact with fans, there would be a noticeable difference,” Cooper explained. “There aren’t very many rock shows where there’s not a lot of cursing or sexuality and promiscuity. Those kinds of things are probably what people would notice even more than the lyrics.”
However, Cooper said Skillet doesn’t feel out of place touring with bands who do behave in the “typical” rock and roll light.
“I’ve been lucky to have a lot of friends that paint me with the same respect of, ‘hey we’re not a Christian band, but we don’t care what you guys believe, we’re going to bring you on tour anyways’,” Cooper said. “I don’t expect other people to live the way that I live, and I don’t judge people for what they do. But I always respected the people that took a bit of a risk on Skillet like that.”
For Cooper, it’s about the music. “That is why we go out with other bands even though they think something different than what we think. It doesn’t matter. They get to sing what they want to sing and we get to sing what we want to sing,” Cooper said. “Music should bring people together, really.”
Cooper recalls falling in love with Michael Jackson’s music at a young age. “My mom was a piano and a voice teacher, so I didn’t know that I wasn’t allowed to listen to rock music,” Cooper said. He, of course, heard The King of Pop at a friend’s house.
“I was singing “Beat It” when I came home and my mom gave me the holiest butt-whooping for singing the devil’s music,” Cooper laughed. When Cooper was in fifth grade he heard Metallica’s Master of Puppets album for the first time, and admits, “it was just all over.” The heaviness was exciting and freeing, and “something I’ve never heard before.”
At 15-years-old, Cooper started writing music and learning how to perform while playing in all of the coffee shops that would listen, with his first band, Seraph. While his parents wouldn’t have approved of his musical tastes, his faith was still very much a part of him. “I wasn’t going to strip clubs, but I still liked Mötley Crüe,” Cooper teased.
Originally, Skillet was a three-piece band. Fittingly, it all started in a small church in Cooper’s hometown in Memphis, Tennessee. The original members were in different bands, but Cooper’s pastor suggested the soon-to-be original Skillet members meet. “My pastor said, ‘hey, I think you would do good writing music with this other guitarist. Why don’t you start a side project?’ And somebody said, ‘Yeah call it Skillet. It’d be like cooking, taking ingredients out of different bands and throwing them together’,” Cooper said. “I never thought it would last, but that’s how it went for two, three years.”
As the years progressed and the others wanted to get off the road, Skillet had continued to evolve. Alongside John Cooper as lead vocals and bass, Skillet rocks Jen Ledger on the drums, Seth Morrison on lead guitar, and, now wife, Korey Cooper, on rhythm guitar. Skillet has released ten albums and has been awarded two Grammys.
“A part of what I think is really cool about Skillet is that we’re definitely very much a mesh of different kinds of music; rock and metal, even pop and electronic and industrial rock,” Cooper said. “After 20 years of it, we aren’t afraid to try new sounds and write in a different way.”
New sounds, meaning Cooper’s new metal side-project, Fight the Fury. Fight the Fury isn’t a Christian band, but includes Skillet guitarist, Seth Morrison. Signed with Atlantic Records, Fight the Fury also includes drummer, Jared Ward, and guitarist, John Panzer III. The band has recently released its debut EP and is touring Russia.
Cooper started Fight the Fury to stick to his metal influences. Fight the Fury explores the darker side Cooper’s music, and reverberates metal powerhouses like Iron Maiden, Metallica, and Korn.
Cooper feels liberated with this project, and is excited to break out of the boxes Skillet might have put him in. “Sometimes, it is helpful for people to have labels for something, so they know where to file it. However, Fight the Fury is just about the music and it’s really just about cutting loose.“
To fans asking Cooper if by starting this non-Christian band, he is straying from his faith, Cooper says: “I am still a Christian, and that is never going to change.”
Although not your first impression, Cooper said he is very conservative about “the way he plays his life.” He had waited until he was 30 to get his first tattoo, which is his “Forgiven” tattoo on his forearm. “I thought, if I could make one statement to the world that sums up how I feel about life, it would be that statement. It is about my faith and about just being happy, and that I’ve been forgiven, with a clean slate.”