John Cooper , July 5, 2004

 

Written & Photos by: Jason Perlman

 

Jason: So how’s the tour going?
John: Well you know what, it’s our first day actually.

 

Jason: On this tour, or ...
John: For us it is, yeah. You know, I don’t know, I get confused on these tour things; when the actual Saliva tour started. My impression was it was starting today, but I think that Earshot and Saliva have been doing a bunch of dates. We’ve only done one date and it was a radio show.

 

Jason: Oh, okay.
John: And it was really great and I loved it. It’s cool to me, because I am a fan of both of the bands, you know, so I bought Saliva’s last record like the day it came out, so that’s pretty strange for me. Because to go on tour with someone you’re a fan of is pretty unusual, I think, but it’s cool.

 

Jason: Yeah. And you got the nice hookup out here, you got the barbecue going, you got the tent going. You’re making yourself right at home on this tour aren’t you?
John: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s just today. Ben, he’s our young guitar player. We call him the young guitar player because he’s like ten years younger then me. And he’s like, that’s it we’re getting the grill, we’re having a family day. They bought tents and everything; it’s really pretty funny to me. But I guess when you’re on the road, it becomes your home, you know, you do everything you can do to make it seem normal. And in fact my wife is in the band and she plays guitar and keyboards and we have a daughter on the road, her name’s Alex and she’s about 21 months, so actually it is very family anyway, so why not get a grill you know? It makes sense doesn’t it?

 

Jason: Well yeah, this is bigger than my place ...
John: Oh yeah, haha. Yeah this is definitely more than my house, that’s for sure.

 

Jason: Because you’re going to be out on the road for a while and really playing together every night as a band, making this like your full time job for what could be another year, year and a half or so, how do you see that effecting where the band is going to be in a year and a half down the road?
John: Yeah. You know what, I don’t know how much history you know of Skillet--most people you’ll be doing this for probably won’t know us--we’ve actually been doing this full time since ’97. It’s been about seven years and we’re pretty much on the road all the time anyways, so it’s not really that much different. The only real difference is that we’ve been kind of independent for a long time and this has been our first on a major label we’ve been on, a major tour. It’s a different kind of road--it’s almost like starting all over with a new fan base, trying to gain this audience, so that’s what’s really different. You go from people coming to see you play, to. Probably not. (laughs) Probably not coming to see you play. And the idea is that those people are like ‘oh, I don’t know who you are, we don’t care’. I mean, typically when you go to see a band-if you go to see a big band-you’re not there for the opener, and you want to be impressed. I mean, I know I do when I go to see a band. I want somebody to rock or whatever. So that’s kind of the mission, just hope we go on and have as many people leave going ‘oh, I really liked it, that was surprising’. That’s the idea for the tour.

 

Jason: You touched a bit on signing to a major label, signing to Lava records, which seems to be a label on the rise. They’ve really signed a lot of acts in recent years, they’re really becoming kind of ‘Kid Rock's’ label’, to another major label for us. How cool is to be involved in that process?
John: Yeah. Well you know it’s great, I don’t really know much about the industry but what you just said, I keep hearing that from everyone. I’d heard that, but I didn’t know it. What I see is that with the little we’ve been around--is that they’re really kind of respected; everybody is kind of like ‘yeah!’. And all the labels are doing it, and Lava’s one of the ones that is doing it good. I think the thing that I notice is that they seem to really appreciate their bands, as opposed to maybe a label that just kind of signs a load of bands and says, ‘well, we’ll see what happens’. They seem to be like ‘well, we’re going to spend money on it, we’re going to be behind it’. That’s what really attracted me to Lava--they really put a lot into the band; they believe in them. You can tell when you meet them, they talk about the band like they are their band and not just like ‘yeah, they’re cool’, and that’s what I really liked about Lava. They believed in us even when no one else was really believing it; they were for it. That really attracted me to them a lot.

 

Jason: You mentioned doing this for about seven years now, and finally getting on a major label and a major tour, did you ever have your doubts whether you were going to take that next step?
John: Right! Yeah, you do, you kind of wonder. You know, there are so many hurdles to get through, especially when you’re signed to an independent label, you don’t have the freedom where even if someone likes you to sign to a bigger label, because you’re already signed. Whether you see an independent label as a benefit or the opposite of that a non-independent, haha, people have different views on that. But either way, you are a signed band. A lot of what we have had struggles with is that we are signed for seven records. Even when that opportunity comes up, it just cant be worked out. And actually, this deal with Lava, it’s pretty miraculous that it did work out and it was beneficial to all parties and everybody is happy. But it’s pretty rare for that to happen, so there were times when you just said, ‘Man, this isn’t going to work.’ But the you do kind of get a little insecurity, and you’re like, 'Oh, I guess it sucks.’ But the good thing, the thing we have to keep remembering is, we are doing what we love and even doing what we’ve been doing for seven years now is a lot better than what I could be doing.


Jason: Flipping burgers at McDonald’s
John: Like flipping burgers, yeah, haha. But for money it’s not as fun, right? Some of the things I could be doing; this is a lot better. Even on a low level, you know? Playing is wonderful and meeting people is great and even with what we do, there’s a real message behind what Skillet does that is maybe rare in the rock music world, too. And it’s basically like, kind of anti-drugs and promiscuous sex, that most rock bands aren’t against, and we kind of believe that message is, even on a low level, worth getting out there.


Jason: Yeah, actually I was going to talk about that later, but since you brought it up I’ll do it now. Having that message and being that kind of band, obviously you’ve never thought of changing it, but have you ever gotten to a point where you’re like, is this all there is? Did you ever, I don’t want to say doubt the message, but think man, does nobody want to hear this?
John: The thing is, the thing I’ve been convinced about for a long time, is that I don’t think it’s the public, or the music buying public, who is down on anything that you want to speak out against or for. I think that’s like what you call the ‘Gate Keepers’, the music industry, that has this perception that that’s not going to go. On our last record we had a song called ‘You Are My Hope’, and it was dedicated to September 11th and it was really about going through all these hard times. And in the song it says ‘Jesus’ in it, right, and all these industry label people are like ‘oh, no way, no way it’s going to go’. I don’t think that the regular music buyer cares; if they like the song, they’re kind of like ... You know, it’s kind of like the Doobie Brothers, ‘Jesus Is Just Alright’, I love that song, and nobody cared because it was so cool. It was kind of cool. In fact, and I might be wrong about this, I might be going out on a limb, but I think that people want to be inspired by what other people believe, and I have an opinion that that’s why Creed did so well. What they believe really shined through and I think people were looking for that kind of positive, spiritual message, and it wasn’t as dark, it wasn’t ‘I want to kill myself, my life sucks’ music, it was the opposite. ‘Can you take me higher’, you know, it’s such a great spiritual message and I think people love that. But until you can make a music industry rep believe that, you’re kind of in a hard place. That’s where we’ve been and that’s the only thing that’s really kind of frustrating to me for a few years.


Jason: You had the band April Sixth that was signed to Elektra not that long ago, who has the same type of vibe that you have. And now you’re signed to Lava. Do you think that the industry may be opening up a little bit to that vibe?
John: Oh definitely, yeah!

 

Jason: Do you think Creed was the one that ...
John: Yeah, I think Creed kind of had a lot to do with that. They just sold so many records, and I think Creed opened the door for POD. And I think POD is probably the biggest reason that those doors are opening more and more. Because everybody eventually knew what POD was about, but they were just a cool rock band. A kicking butt, in your face rock band. And once people found out, they were like ‘so, they’re cool’. In fact I read this thing, I think it was in Rolling Stone, it was about Ozzfest and when POD first came out. It was about when Oz gives the thumbs up or thumbs down to all these bands, and it was like they had a backdrop of Jesus at their show, but Jesus was basically black on it. So it basically said even though POD had a backdrop of Jesus, he was black and it would piss Christians off, so Ozzie would be for it, haha. Which, I think that is really funny. But I think again, it’s what they believe and they’re passionate about it. People want to be inspired. So I think POD. I think we can kind of thank them for any success we could have in this market. Even other bands; there’s a band called Pillar, they had a tiny bit of success in the mainstream market. 1000 Foot Krutch has kind of had some radio success. There’s a lot more and I can’t think of who they are. The whole Evanescence thing.

 

Jason: But at the same time, it’s almost like Evanescence had to ... at least marketing wise ... kind of had to take two steps back to take their two steps forwards.
John: Right.

 

Jason: Would you be willing to, as a band, say we need step back a bit in hopes of taking two steps forward?
John: Well.

 

Jason: Because there’s no doubt when you hear ‘Bring Me To Life’, you know what that song is about if you really want to listen to it. I know they didn’t market it as ...
John: Yeah. It seems really evident to me. I mean, they took more than a couple steps back, they denied. Of course, they had their whole... I don’t know what. I don’t really understand what any of that was about.

 

Jason: I’m assuming it was just the marketing of them.
John: You’re right, it could have been. I could never see myself doing that. Because that’s so what my life is not about. But I thought, with that song coming out--an amazing song and an amazing video ... everything about it was great, there was no need for them to, in my opinion, market against what it was about or for what it was about. Just let it be what it is, and just be great. They never did say this song is about this, like going into a big biblical explanation. Because the song speaks for it’s self. But I could never imagine speaking against something and saying, ‘No, it’s not really.’ Because that would really be just tragic to me. It would be such a compromise of what my life is about. But you definitely need to be just smart, and our single is called ‘Savior’, its out right now, and that is a song that is about my faith. But I don’t care if someone thinks it’s about my life. The video we had for it was about a home relationship with an abusive father and his kids, and the kids look to their mom like their kind of savior, if you will. I’d love to effect young kids in a situation like that who are like, yeah, my mom is like that to me, or my friend, or Joe, whoever. Just feel positive; feel meaningful.

 

Jason: What’s weird is I see a lot of what Lenny Kravitz writes is about God, and he seems to get really frustrated with the fact that nobody wants to admit that that’s what he’s writing about. It seems like when he’s talking he has a certain frustration because nobody wants to say that that’s what he’s talking about. And I think even when Lifehouse wrote ‘Hanging By A Moment.’ When I was talking to Jason he said he wrote that song about God but nobody really wanted to say that that’s what it was about. People think of relationships when they hear that song. At some point I think that’s got to be a bit of what Lenny shows, frustration, of... You know. You’re just writing a song. That’s really what it is: Just a song.
John: Yeah. Interesting that you say that; I didn’t know that. There are so many different aspects of that. From some people’s point of view. Either way you feel like you’re boxing something in. You end up feeling like that, and maybe that’s why something like the Lifehouse song. You know what? I just think it’s good to let people be what it’s about to them. Because that’s a song that I hear and I would take it in the way he wrote it, I would take it to be about a relationship that you would have with God, and that’s meaningful to me. But I could take that as a love song, and that would be meaningful as well. As artists we want it to move someone the way we wrote it. But Seal does it, he’s always been against writing his lyrics in his album covers because he wants people to hear what they hear, and that’s a whole different thing, but that’s the artist’s side of it. The artist’s side is wanting people to be moved, for them just to feel. So there are a lot of different aspects of it. I think, from my perspective and probably from a label’s perspective, coming up with a band who has maybe written a song about their relationship with God but sounds like it could be a relationship song, they probably want to keep that on the DL, keep that hidden a bit. Because they think if they do market it, or let people know like ‘Oh this is Lifehouse, Lifehouse is a Christian band, we don’t want to play them on the radio, we don’t want to buy their record because they’re going to be preaching at us the whole time. We don’t want to go to their website because we feel like we’re going to have to change our lives to fit their music’. And that’s why POD is always like, ‘We’re not a Christian band,’ because they don’t want to feel that they are alienating people from their music that aren’t Christians. Everybody’s got philosophies on it and it is a difficult road to be in the middle of, and I don’t really feel like I’ve got a really great answer for it all except that I know I want to write what is really meaningful to me and hopefully will touch other people. And someday maybe I’ll be like Lenny Kravitz and I’ll be able to be more ... People respect him so much, he can be outspoken about anything, because he’s Lenny Kravitz. I’m obviously not in that position at the moment. Maybe one day.

 

Jason: How cool is it to be on tour with a band like Saliva who really allows you to get out of whatever box you’re in and just go out on stage evry night. You mention a lot of people may not have heard of you, so you can really come in on a blank slate, with no preconceived notions, no press release, no DJ saying this band is this and here they are...
John: Yeah, it’s so good. It’s just great, I love it. I love the fact that there aren’t expectations and I think that a lot of shows we do, we do kind of have those expectations. I love the fact that our fans come, but I think pretty much everyone here won’t know who we are. Typically, our fan base is so young, they can’t even come to these shows, you know what I mean? I would say our fan base is thirteen to eighteen, or something. But it’s so cool because you sit there and you just think, ‘man, I’m just going to unleash the beast on these people, just going to give them as much rock as I can’, and hopefully you just punch them so hard that they pay attention. And that’s just the whole goal for us, just getting our name out. That’s what we do. We don’t hardly talk, we’re just ‘hey, we’re Skillet, here’s our next song’, we play for like twenty to thirty minutes and the most. It’s really cool, we love it. It’s a really great time for us. But it is like starting over, so it’s a step of faith, I guess you could say.

 

Jason: Already with six records out, you obviously have a ton of material and you have twenty to twenty five minutes. Do you like to stick with what’s on the Lava release? Or do you fall back?
John: No, this may or may not be true, but I think it is. All bands think their new record is by far better than everything they’ve done. And every band thinks every song on their record is a hit. Have you seen Spinal Tap? ‘Every track on this record is a hit! It’s not true, but we all think it is. But in laughing about it, we do think this is by far the best record and it has a lot of great songs. The truth is if there are people here who know us it will be from the new record, because it’s the only song really getting played on radios. That’s the only record they probably have. I think that the new sound has really changed from the last record, we kind of always change our sound, so people don’t know those songs, it’s like going from a hard rock sound to a really industrial keyboards rock sound that people won’t really be used to. We’re really trying to mainly stick to new music and promote that record. So if anybody hears a song and says ‘Hey is it on the new record?’, then we can say ‘yeah, it is, go buy it please’. Haha.

Jason: And just to try and end this whole thing, you were on the other label for so long, now you’re on Lava. And you mentioned kind of almost being trapped with that. Would you have done things the same way over again? I mean obviously in the end you’re kind of where you wanted to be... Were the bumps in the road worth getting where you’re at?
John: It’s interesting, you know, I think. I’m sure that that’s the case. I totally believe in destiny and I believe that things happen for a reason the way they are supposed to. But let me say this, I would in my mind now do things a little differently, haha, because you know, you get frustrated about things and you feel like ‘I don’t like the way this has gone, we could have been signed eight years’, or whatever. But the truth is I have loved what I’ve done and I love the fans that we do have; they’re a real loyal fan base and they’re real great. And I love the experience that we have. I didn’t mention this earlier because it kind of sounds, depending on how you make me sound, it can sound like I’m arrogant or something like that. But the good thing is a lot of the bands that are even maybe bigger than us in the mainstream market and on the radio, that we would play with... We’ve been playing, we’ve been together as a band maybe twice or three times as long as they have, and we’ve probably done three times the shows. What I’m getting at, it’s almost that you’re starting as an opening band but you’re maybe a bit better than a lot of typical opening bands, like people who have only been doing it for a year or a year and a half. We’ve done probably thirteen-hundred shows in seven years and you get to a place where you know how to rock. So that being said, that has been really beneficial. We can play an acoustic set, we can play for an hour and a half, we can do a show and all those things you kind of learn in your first two years on the road. When you see band play that you hear on the radio, then you see them play three years later, and they’re like so much better.

 

Jason: Linkin Park was like that. I saw them when they first played and they were so bad, and the next time I saw them they were incredible.
John: It’s a two-years-on-the-road tour, you know. I don’t want to down any bands, especially somebody like Linkin Park with ten million records sold, and a huge fan base, but that’s the only negative side to being a band for a year or two years and you’re huge. Because you’ve not built it up, you know what I mean? It’s a good problem to have though, I would deal with it, right? Haha. The good thing is that we’re kind of experienced ... that’s all I’m trying to say.