Interview by Adrian Hextall
Skillet have returned with one of the strongest and most energised albums of their career. ‘Dominion’ is out now and sees the band on blistering form. Our review of their latest opus can be found here:
We caught up with front man John Cooper for a chat about the music, the pandemic and the fear people have of reconnecting in everyday activities after some 2 years of things being so difficult.
MGM: You’re a few days into a new album release. With everything still going on in the world, that’s got to be exciting? You must be just starting to get fan feedback as opposed to just critics’ feedback. For an artist I assume it’s the thing that you’re going to be most interested in.
JC: Man, I feel like celebrating. It’s a great feeling getting that thing out there. Yeah, that’s right. You know, it’s funny, because you just never know what anybody’s going to say and and I’m laughing because my wife and my friends are like, hey, what are the reviews? I’m like, “I have no idea. I don’t want to know”, I don’t read them. I can’t handle it because you just never know how someone else is going to take it. But sometimes I’ll see them and they’ll say something like, “this record is a lot Bluer Than the last one”. And then the next person goes, “It’s not blue enough. It’s too green.” You know, it’s always like that. “This record is heavier.” And then the next are like, “how come there’s no heavy music on this one?”. So I just think that as long as some fans like it. I am good to go.
MGM: I’ve seen so many bands that have got a good pedigree and a good history, releasing new albums and as the reviewers change in publications, you get what you would class as an established band like Skillet receiving some new edgy review. They comes along with the “I’m going to take this one down just to make my mark on the industry.” Fans that have stuck with you through thick and thin over the years, they’re the ones whose opinions really matter.
JC: I always felt that way. Take a band like Nickelback. A great band. Friends of mine. They took us on tour, actually, we came in play at The O2 in London. I love Nickelback. And so, you know, there were those bands, the critics love to hate. I would see the review and they go off on a rant about the band. I’ve listened to the record and I think the record is awesome. What are these people talking about?
You’ve just got to make music for you. I try to make music I believe in. I try to be as authentic as I can. I don’t want to make something that I don’t like, even if it were to sell. I don’t want it that bad. I want to make something I believe in. And what I’ve just learned is, when I believe in something, there’s at least a portion of the fans that feel it as well.
Even if I don’t particularly like a style of music someone else makes, when they believe in it, you can tell and I believe in it as well. Whether you’re talking about something like Nine Inch Nails, maybe I wouldn’t typically agree with the ideology or a religious viewpoint, but Trent Reznor, when he sings something, you feel it. I’d like I believe that he believes in what he’s doing and then it gets into you and becomes the art that you love.
MGM: You’ve got to feel the passion in the music as well as just the content, haven’t you?
JC: Yeah. There you go. I should have said that. [laughs] That was a one-sentence version of my 10 seconds of trying to construct the right response.
As we continue to cover aspects of the new release and Skillet’s plans for the future it’s agreed that I’ll translate John’s comments into short sentences for use in the future.
JC: That sounds good. Thank you very much. I appreciate it. [laughs]
MGM: Looking at passion and the fact that the music and the passion has to engage me first, because without that, then I can’t delve deeper into the song and the lyrical content. With your music, you need to delve deeper into the song because of the the content, the meaning behind it to understand what you’re actually talking about you where you wanting to go with the lyrics.
It has to always avoid the “It’s another Skillet album” approach and what you’ve done with the opening track on the album, you’re going to make people stop and say. “Oh, this is different”. It’s just close enough to still be Skillet, but it’s different enough to engage and draw you in. [Check out the song, Surviving The Game, below]
Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But I do think it’s important to try to try to expand a little bit and and maybe do something that someone didn’t expect. And so, I think as you said on the opening track of the album, ‘Surviving the Game’, there’s actually a lot on that song. It’s still Skillet, you know, because it’s melodic and and it’s optimistic. It’s positive, its empowering, and those are all things that you recognize from Skillet and in my voice. But, the opening guitar riff, for that song, that’s a barn burner. That’s what we call it in America. That’s a banger. That’s a very different sounding guitar riff than what you may expect typically here on a Skillet record. And then we brought in some other elements.
I almost think some of the beats are sort of hip-hop influence, you know, a little bit of an urban sound employed. You can hear a little bit of that trance beat, and it gives a little bit of swagger. That’s the inspiration from my wife Korey who plays guitars coming from some of the other bands she produces. She likes that kind of music. I bring the metallic aside and she brings the swag side and industrial and electronic and then you try something new and and see if it works.
I think it made for an exciting album, but it’s but it’s also aggressive. It needed to be aggressive.
MGM: It is heavier and more aggressive. I think after everything we’ve gone through as a planet over the last couple of years you almost have to launch out of the blocks with a little bit of aggression in any new music coming out. It’s as if you’re venting the frustrations of humanity with a release.
JC: Once again, you nailed it. We’re venting their frustrations. “I’m John from Skillet and I’m here to vent the frustrations of humanity!” [laughs].
Now what I really love about this record personally and I hope that the listeners like is that it is a very positive aggression. It’s it’s angry sounding album but it’s actually very positive because the message of the record is basically that there are things in your life that you cannot control. You can’t control a pandemic…..
“Hello news!!!” ….. you can’t control a pandemic. You can’t control what’s going to happen with lots of things with the economy, and all the various things happening in the world. All these precautions that exist. But there are things you can control, and that’s in your heart, in your brain. What level of fear, what level of depression, what level of….. I don’t know, substance abuse or addiction. What are you going to allow into your life?
It’s like opening a coping mechanism for the things that you can’t control and I want to encourage people. Yes. It’s scary. Yes. It sucks. It’s the worst we’ve never experienced in our lifetimes, but do not give up, you can make it. You just got to make it through it and do what you need. And I hope that this record will help, that it provides a small piece of giving somebody that energy to get up in the morning and not give up.
MGM: We’ve come to a point now where the effect on people’s mental health is almost outweighing the controls that the governments around the world are trying to put in place to control the physical effects of the pandemic. We need something to be able to latch onto that lifts as away from everything. Interestingly, for me on the album, it’s not the more energized and aggressive tracks but something like ‘Forever or the End’. I don’t need the anger taking away from me, more I just need to lose myself in a track and that one, being slower and dripping with emotion is just what I need.
JC: You know what, going back to the very first thing that we said, there’s literally only one review that I accidentally saw. My wife was laughing at the content and I asked what was funny. She’s telling me I don’t want to know so of course, now she has to tell me. It was a review that somebody was actually quite negative about the fact that we did do so much up and down on the album. And they specifically said, when ‘Forever or the End’, the song you just mentioned, comes on, they’re saying that it shouldn’t have had that on the record because it’s schizophrenic. I personally, I love it. When a record is up and down and it ebbs and flows. That’s Pink Floyd. That’s Fleetwood Mac. That’s all the great music of that era. I love that approach and I thought that ‘Forever or the End’ was quite intimate and honest. I think it’s a really honest love song about the way that a guy and a girl in relationship and how they can think so differently to each other.
MGM: Part of the sound on this album, and indeed the writing credits go to Father & Son duo, Kevin and Kane Churko. Between them they seem to have done the ‘Mutt Lange’ role for the band with this album?
JC: I think that that makes this record really special and really different because you’re trying some different flavours and again, in rock music, you know, when you’re an artist, you go through these ups and downs. I remember 10, 12 years ago, if you had ever said, “hey John for this part, we’re going to have the producer, play the bass”, because he had an idea, I would have said “no way in the world”.
Now, I’ve reached a point where everybody knows I can play bass. I can play the parts. I’m a good bass player. I had no insecurities about the fact that I can play that and if someone has an idea, they want to try and I’m not in the studio. You then try it. I don’t really care who plays that, you know, it’s part of making great art and getting someone else’s influence.
And as you said, what producer is better than Mutt Lange? Nobody. You try a new flavour and if it’s good, it’s good. Don’t mess with it. So that’s how I approached it. We were never in the same studio as Kane or Kevin me, and Korey recorded at our studio and we would send the files to Kevin and Kane and then they would make changes or add to it, and they’d send it back and it made the record better.
So better is better. Fresh input, Fresh ideas. Fresh momentum.
If you want to hear the new album from Skillet, then Dominion is out now on Atlantic Records. If you want an escape from the world, want to hear something to lift you up, want something that will recharge those batteries… this is it!