Sat, 17 Apr 2010 13:07:50
"I have no idea where I am," laughs Skillet singer John Cooper.
"I'm pretty sure we're somewhere in Pennsylvania," he goes on. "Before I go on stage, I have to make sure [Laughs]."
With the whirlwind of touring that Skillet's in the midst of, it's understandable that the band's current location (Jonestown, Pennsylvania) isn't clear to Cooper. Skillet have been on a rollercoaster ride, in every sense of the word, since they released their most recent offering, Awake, in August 2009. The album debuted at #2 on the Billboard Top 200 and rightfully so.
It's the band's most personal and powerful offering to date featuring the kind of honesty that's so rare these days. Plus, it's got some monster hooks that are simply impossible not to sing along to. Skillet make arena-ready rock 'n' roll better than anyone right now because they manage to mix grunge sensitivity with classic rock bombast. Just crank "Hero" for proof.
Cooper chuckles, ""We have a sell-out tonight. Playing to that many people it doesn't even feel like work! It's fun. I can do this every night. I don't even need a day off!"
Skillet frontman John Cooper sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about the stories at the heart of Awake, some crucial sci-fi comparisons and so much more.
Do you feel like Awake really took everything to the next level for you?
Awake has connected. It really started happening with our last record. When Comatose came out, all of a sudden things changed. It took me about two years to get used to the idea that it was changing [Laughs]. When things started going well, I'd call my manager and be like, "Are things going to stay this way or did we just have good luck over the last three months on tour? Is it all going to revert and nobody's going to come to the next show?" [Laughs] It was really funny because we had that conversation over and over again! Now that Awake has come out, it's much more amplified. I don't really know why, but it's happened, and it's pretty awesome.
Do you feel like you're telling a lot of stories on Awake? The songs are very vibrant.
Well, I'm glad to hear that! I hope so. When you're writing the songs, you hope that's the case. There are definitely a lot of the stories on Awake. Most of the songs are memorable in certain ways—even the songs people don't talk about like "One Day Too Late." That's one of my favorites. People hardly ever ask me about the song. To me, it's such a good story, and it's got memorable lyrics. I can't tell you if it's simply memorable for me because I wrote it or if it actually is memorable [Laughs].
What's the story behind it?
Basically, I've been touring for such a long time, and I've got two kids who come on the road with me. My wife is in the band as well. They're with me, but I was working on this record so much. I wrote for a year and a half, and the album kept getting pushed back. I kept doing more writing, and I was stressed about trying to write the best songs that I could. I was so stressed out, and there was a six-month period where I really didn't spend any time with my family. I was around, but I wasn't really there. My headspace was the new music. It was really silly. Finally, I got to a point where I just remember saying, "I don't want my whole life to be about this next record. I don't want to get to the end of it and realize that I didn't really spend time with the people I love and want to be with." "One Day Too Late" is about not wasting your time. It's a very personal song to me. When I listen to the record, that song comes to life. I try to imagine that I didn't write it and when I listen to it, it's meaningful. I think a lot of the songs on the record are meaningful. You put your heart and soul into a record and you want to share stories. You put everything you have into it, and you hope people like it.
Does "Lucy" also take you to a real personal place?
Sometimes as an artist you write something that's a little off-center for you. I'll talk to friends of mine in bands and they'll say, "You know what? This song was for me. Maybe the label didn't love it and so-and-so didn't love it, but this was my song." I felt that way about "Lucy." It was a special song, and in the case, some people might think it's not Skillet enough to go on the record, but I wanted to do the song. I was really surprised that in the end everybody loved it! My label loved it and our producer Howard Benson liked it, which I was very surprised about. It's become so special. I haven't been telling the story about Lucy because I keep getting all of these emails in from people saying, "This is what the song means to me!" None of them are the same so I don't want to ruin the magic the song has by giving away the story. I will say, in short, it is a song about losing someone, regret and wishing you could go back and do it differently. I want to inspire people to make the most of the time they have.
Is it hard to stand out in rock today?
The music industry is all about songs these days. It's not about the record anymore. It's kind of a bummer to me because I grew up in time where it was about the record. It was about listening to something from start to finish and feeling like it told a story. I know that things have changed. I wanted Awake to be a hopeful record, but I also wanted it to talk about some honest, hard issues within that. The record starts with "Hero." It's about how this world is getting crazy—it's getting crappier and crappier and I'm losing my faith and I need a hero, I need something to believe in. There are dark songs like "Monster." Then it turns itself around on songs like "One Day too Late." I want to make the most of my time, I want to be a better person and I want to make this world a better place."
If this record were a movie what would it be?
[Laughs] I don't know! That is a really awesome question. Oh man, if you asked what movie do you want your record to be like, I'd say The Matrix. I don't know if Awake is like The Matrix at all [Laughs]. That's a good one! How perfect is that movie though? Our record probably has a little bit of a softer side than The Matrix does, so honestly, Blade Runner. It's moody. It's got action. It's got a pretty dark quality to it. I'm going to go with Blade Runner.
What are you listening to right now?
I can't get away from AC/DC. When I go for a run, it's time to listen to Metallica and AC/DC over and over. If I listen to Maroon 5 when I work out, I don't do very well [Laughs].
Are you a Skillet fan?