Skillet on the Rise
By Clay Morgan
Skillet is one of only three rock bands whose albums went platinum in 2012, a level of international success they reached without shying away from telling fans around the globe about the love of Jesus Christ.
It's been four years since the release of Awake. Now the rocking quartet returns with Rise, an album that tells a story and is already connecting with thousands of people struggling to find their identity and make sense out of a world filled with senseless tragedies.
Skillet frontman John Cooper recently sat down with CBN Music contributor Clay Morgan at Creation Fest in central Pennsylvania to talk about the challenges of following up success and facing expectations of every kind.
Clay Morgan: So you’ve got some new sound, and your new album, Rise, tells a story. That's new for you, correct?
John Cooper: It is our first concept record and that basically means that songs 1-12 tell a full story. The songs are made up of stories within a larger story. If you just listen to track five, you're not completely lost. Sometimes a concept record is very literal, so you turn on track five and you're like, 'What are they talking about?' This isn't like that.
The concept is your average American teenager coming into adulthood and being faced with how horrible and tragic the world can be, how dark it can be from school shootings, bombings, hurricanes and floods… all these gigantic world problems and feeling alone and frightened, but at the same time, dealing with their own inner struggles of who they want to be. They're coming of age, being bullied at high school, in broken homes, being thrown from house to house, and it's their search for significance and faith in a faithless world.
The record takes them on a journey to eventually finding salvation through Christ. We have a song on the record called “Salvation” that is the climactic point of the record, when they reach out and get saved and all of a sudden their life has meaning.
CM: How does identity connect to the lostness that we all feel, especially in those teenage years?
JC: You know, I think that it's always been the case, but it's more than ever because of the immense information that is out there virally. When I went to high school, I'd maybe get picked on here and there. But now you get picked on at school and at home and on Facebook and Twitter. It's constant. And you gotta be doing all the cool stuff and all the right stuff or everybody feels they gotta go on and blast you for it. So identity is a very important topic now, I think, more than ever.
There is a lot on this record about that, about being who God has called you to be. Before this salvation experience, he's feeling alone and betrayed by people who loved him. So yeah, that is a very big theme on the record.
CM: You meet with a lot of kids after shows and people who are struggling. Do you sense that a lot of times a big part of the struggle is just comparing themselves to others? They can't just be themselves anymore?
JC: Absolutely. They can't just be themselves. And that's why one of Skillet's most important themes in our concerts, in our records, in all my interviews is not being ashamed of the Gospel. Because we know as believers that to think you have an identity in the way that you dress or in the kind of music you listen to is not actually real. That's going to change. And your tattoos? Who cares? Everybody's got tattoos now. I understand what it's like to have identity in these things, but they will not actually feed your soul.
That's why it's so important whether it's me and a 70-year-old grandma that doesn't even like rock music. We have the same identity in Christ. And that's why I preach so much to young people to not be ashamed of Jesus because that is going to feed your soul and the rest of it doesn't matter.
CM: You have to be nervous when you write a follow up to a platinum album.
JC: Right [laughs]…
CM: So, now Rise is out there. How was it leading up and waiting for the response?
JC: Man, you know honestly, yes, incredibly nervous. The thing with Skillet is that you don't have to just match up to the last record. You have to match up to eight records, even if they weren't popular [laughs] because you have these fans who are with you that really want something from you.
You got fans who are saying, 'I hope this record is more Christian than the last one' or 'I hope this record isn't near as Christian as the last one', or 'I hope this record is heavier than the last one.' 'I hope they try something new.' 'I hope they don't try anything new.'
You know, it's kind of people constantly hammering you. So I just make a decision to make a record I believe in and that I believe God is giving me. That is a hard decision to make, and it's not something you make and move on. You make that decision every day. And my band can tell you every day you hear some really rude things.
I saw a review of our record in the Christian market that was so bad, I just couldn't believe it. It just felt, what's the word, not just negative, it felt spiteful. Sometimes that stuff happens because, well, I don't really know. Maybe people want you to be something you're not. I don't really know what the expectation is. So I don't read reviews typically. I don't want to know what they're saying. You just make something that you believe in. And if God's leading you to do it, then you just do it. If it goes really great, that's awesome. If it doesn't, we believe this is the record God led us to make.
CM: It's almost like you guys are modeling that you have to know your identity and not worry about what other people are doing.
JC: I'm telling you! It's easier said than done, isn't it?
Clay Morgan is the author of Undead: Revived, Resuscitated, and Reborn—a combination of pop culture, spirituality, and humor. You can reach him through his website: ClayWrites.com.
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