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Exclusive interview with John Cooper of Skillet

Teens for Life is pleased to present this exclusive interview with John Cooper, front man for the band Skillet that is taking the nation by storm with its 2010 Awake tour.

Since Skillet last hit the studio for 2006’s breakthrough project Comatose, certified GOLD by the RIAA, the group’s toured with the likes of mainstream megastars Breaking Benjamin, Three Days Grace, Seether and Flyleaf, and headlined a slew of major Christian festivals, all followed by solo tours that ranked within Pollstar’s Concert Pulse Top 50 Tours for 2008. Along the way, the two-time Grammy®-nominated alternative outfit also scored six consecutive number one Christian radio singles, a 2008 GMA Dove Award for “Rock Song of the Year,” and a 2009 nomination for Artist of the Year. Along with a trio of singles on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock charts, being a pair of BMI Songwriting Awards, and being chosen as Reader’s Poll favorites on several top ccm websites, they released their first ever concert CD/DVD combo pack “Comatose Comes Alive.” Thus, calling the last three years a whirlwind would certainly be an understatement.

As a former perennial favorite at the Pro-Life Music Festival in Warsaw, Indiana, Skillet has been up front about its commitment to life and faith and has earned the strong following of a fan base worldwide.

Here’s what John Cooper had to say:

Your new album is really getting a lot of attention nationwide. Did you find it difficult or intimidating to write the new album in the wake of the success you had with Comatose?

COOPER: I found the writing process for “Awake” incredibly intimidating! Our last record had garnered so many new fans that the pressure was definitely on! Plus, you have so many new voices telling you what kind of song to write; what to sing about; how to sing it, etc. Sometimes it’s hard to find your true voice when so many people are speaking at once. I prayed over and over before deciding on the songs to choose. Finally, it came down to being true to myself and trusting God’s leading in the lyrics and messages he had given me.

Is there a central theme or core message that you wanted to bring across in Awake?

COOPER:. The main theme of this record is based on the fact that every single day we wake up there is a war going on. Not in Iraq, or Afghanistan, but a war for your soul. The world is trying to take you down; tell you that you are nothing; tell you how you should dress; what to say; what to believe; what you have to accomplish to be “cool.” I say that in spite of this war, NOW is the time to stand up for what we believe. We are not ashamed, we are not afraid. We are AWAKE AND ALIVE! God has given us a message of love and it’s time for us to speak it and live it. Other themes on the record include personal struggle. How do I speak and live this message of hope when I can struggle with so many problems? How can I make a difference when sometimes I don’t FEEL hopeful? These are real issues that I think most people deal with.

What prompted you to write the song Monster?

COOPER: “Monster” is a song about something the Bible refers to as “the sinful nature,” or “the old self.” This basically means that now that I have been saved and forgiven, and am a new creation in Christ, why do I sometimes still feel like a monster inside? Sometimes I don’t feel like doing what is right and good. Sometimes it’s easier to get angry with people who treat me wrong instead of loving them with Jesus’ love. I think we can all relate to that. This song is saying that there is a secret side to me that struggles, but I know it’s not the real me. The song says, “Why won’t somebody come and save me from this, make it end!”

Skillet has always been up front about its faith. With the band’s exploding popularity, are you facing pressure to tone down the faith message in your music?

COOPER:. There is definitely pressure to tone down the message. I don’t care about record sales as much as I care about standing up for Jesus. However, a big consideration is that when you sing to a new audience, you may need to change the way you present the message in order for them to relate to it. That is why Skillet does not sing “worship” songs on our records. I LOVE worship songs, but when you are reaching out to a non-Christian world, those listeners have no earthly idea what you are talking about to say “shout to the Lord all the earth…” So Skillet has tried to find ways of giving hope and the peace of Christ through writing songs that ALL people can relate to, not just Christians.

A lot of new fans have never seen Skillet live. What can they expect when they come to a Skillet show?

COOPER: Skillet has been known for putting on a loud, energetic show. This may seem obvious for a rock band. However, we have told for over 10 years that fans never expected us to be so crazy live! I love performing. I love listening to a crowd sing back the lyrics to our songs. Therefore, we put everything we have into the performance as well as the production of the show. We have been known to lose money on a tour because we spent too much on stage effects! I tell my manager, “Hey, you gotta keep people coming back baby!”

What do you want people to take away from a Skillet show?

COOPER: I want people to get their faces rocked off! I don’t want to be the cheesy, watered down “Christian” version of rock and roll…sort of like “The diet coke of rock and roll!” I want Christian listeners to feel good about coming to the show and bringing their friends because the Skillet show is just as good or better than our secular counterparts. Lastly, I want people to leave with hope. Knowing that in a world that is getting darker and more violent; and a world that tells you that you don’t matter unless you are rich and popular, that YOU matter to God. He simply loves you just as you are.

A lot of teens just feel beat down by life. What would you say to a teen who is feeling like their life really doesn’t matter?

COOPER: Most people who think they they are insignificant and believe that they will never matter to anyone have bought the lies of this world. They are losing the war that I mentioned earlier…the war for your soul. They have bought the lie that says that life is about being cool and “fitting in.” It’s about getting “stuff” and buying things that make you feel significant. It’s about having a hot bikini bod and so on. We as Christians need to understand that life is about NONE of those things. Life is about knowing God. Pure and simple. It’s about the fact that the God of the universe knows your name, and cares about you enough to die for you. Everyone on this earth has felt lonely at times. All of us know pain and hurt, and we all feel insignificant at times. But the answer is not in material things, nor is it found in having friends and having a thousand people follow you on twitter. Those things do not make you significant, and they do not give you peace and rest. It can only be found in Jesus. You have to lose your life so you can find it in Him.

What words of advice can you give to those teens out there who have a passion to get involved in the music industry?

COOPER: My strongest advice for people wanting to get involved in music is to know your calling. Many Christians say that they want to do music for God. However, they really just want to play music. Most of the Christians that I have met that say they want to do Christian music in the mainstream world and play with secular bands never really make a difference for God. These bands usually end up acting more like the world themselves rather than changing it. I am not judging anyone’s calling on this, because I myself feel called to play music in the mainstream market! Secondly, some bands have done an incredible job of being a light in the dark world of rock and roll. It can be done! But you must know your calling and be accountable to people for your actions. On the other hand, many Christians want to play music in the Christian market. However, they never really decide what kind of music. I am mainly referring to the huge difference between pop and worship music. I have seen a lot of worship bands that have no idea how to lead people in worship, they are merely performing. If you feel called to play worship music then you simply need to learn to worship God, and subsequently learn how to lead other people in worshipping God! All of these callings are good and right. I have found that unless you seek God and know your calling, you may not be as useful to God as you could be.

What’s up next for Skillet?

COOPER: Skillet will be touring endlessly this year! We have an amazing tour scheduled with TobyMac. We also have an upcoming tour with RED. We will be playing Christian festivals and mainstream radio shows all summer long. Keep checking our website (http://skillet.com) and our MySpace (http://myspace.com/skilletmusic), because with as much touring as Skillet does, we will definitely be coming to a city near you!

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