American rock band Skillet formed in 1996, but it was the release of their album Awake that got them into the headlines. In 2012 the album was one of only three rock albums to be certified platinum. The band is set to continue its success with the release of their newest album Rise.
Rise is Skillet’s first concept album, bringing the listeners into the gripping tale of a teenager struggling to cope with the challenges of adulthood and the chaos of contemporary society. It’s an emotional, relatable story and you’ve really got to listen to it for yourself to understand how a rock album can become a powerful coming of age narrative. Though many of the tracks move away from the traditional Skillet feel, there’s no doubt that the band’s diehard followers – ‘Panheads’, as they’re known – will find a place in their hearts for this new album.
Skillet’s John Cooper, lead vocalist and bassist, spoke to Music Feeds about the creation of Rise, his thoughts on touring the record and reflecting on the band’s incredible success.
Music Feeds: Your new album Rise has just been released. How would you describe this album? Does it differ a lot from your previous releases?
John Cooper: I would describe this record as hopefully awesome. I hope people like it. I’m very scared that it’s coming out, I’m a little giddy. The difference from the last record is that it’s a little bit more raw, it’s a little bit, maybe, more aggressive. We did try some new things in terms of bringing hints of indie music and some alternative influences into the sound than we had previously had on records.
But in general I’d say the record is theatrical, it’s dramatic… There’s a lot of ebbing and flowing on this record which is something I quite like about Skillet. I think our fans will gravitate towards the orchestra and the duets between the male and female vocals and the keyboards on the record are awesome. Really great keyboarding that Korey did… Very dynamic.
MF: What was your frame of mind going into making Rise?
JC: To be honest it was chaotic. We toured so much, our last record came out four years ago and we toured constantly. In 2010 Billboard named us the number 7 hardest working band in the world. We just played so much so I was writing on the road, doing demos on the road, I was flying out to other places to play music for the label. We wrote 72 songs for the record. By the time we picked the 15 songs and got into recording I was just so ready to get the album done.
It’s funny: some of the songs on the album I wrote so long ago… They feel old to me, I feel like I’ve been raising a child. I will say that I was very excited about the songs. They felt fresh and they felt like songs that I believe in. I feel like I’m singing things that I believe in. I find the record to be extremely uplifting and powerful… I had a good feeling about the record but to be frank I was just ready to get it done.
MF: Rise is a very powerful album in terms of instrumentation as well as emotion. What would you say is the message or story that is tells?
JC: I do think it is a very emotional record. It’s a concept record; in fact, it’s the first concept record we’ve ever done. The story is basically this: it’s your average teenager coming into adulthood and they’re being faced with the huge problems of the world and, of course, in America, we’re seeing this world violence and bombing and, like, school shootings and young people killing other young people and bullying. We’re seeing these things so drastically now that young people are being raised in a very violent world.
So in the story it’s your average teenager coming into adulthood and being faced with all those problems but also being faced with all of these inwards problems… He’s being bullied at school and bullied at home and fighting with his parents and bullied by Hollywood who are telling him who he’s got to be and how he’s got to act. All he wants to do is find faith and hope in this very hopeless world. It’s kind of a spiritual coming-of-age type story.
MF: Do you have a favourite song from the new record?
JC: One of my favourites on the record is called Not Going To Die. I don’t know why I like it so much but it very much sounds like Skillet. It’s a little more what people expect us to sound like. There’s other material on the record that’s more experimental and maybe a bit braver. It’s very dramatic and it’s got a bit of an orchestra in it, which I love. I love the Skillet hard rock with an orchestra thing happening. The singing is very kind of emotional; it’s an emotional song and it’s got a really great guitar solo in it. I’m kind of a sucker for guitar solos, like Avenged Sevenfold kind of thing.
MF: Are you excited to start touring with ‘Rise’?
JC: We only just started playing the music and it’s so fun playing the new songs. The crowd’s really singing it and it kind of feels like it’s on the edge of something really big happening… The title track live is very much a crowd song and that’s pretty cool.
MF: Do you have a favourite venue or country to perform in?
JC: I don’t think I have a favourite venue and we’re only just now really starting to do other countries. We came to Australia about two years ago, two and half, and we had the most awesome time. In fact, we did a Skillet podcast that you can see on the web… I can’t believe that so many people in Australia knew our music and I very much love your country.
We’re just now beginning to go to Europe. We just got back from Europe and we’re going again to our first actual European tour. We’ll be supporting for Nickelback in October for about six or seven weeks. I don’t know if I have a favourite country yet. I’m just going around and enjoying seeing people come to see Skillet play anywhere.
MF: What have been some of the most important moments for Skillet?
JC: What really helped Skillet a lot was when Atlantic signed us. That was really a big thing because we’d been on an independent label before that and basically we just toured all the time… When Atlantic Records picked us up, all of a sudden we had a shot on radio and to go on other tours and it just made it so much easier to get out there.
But probably equally as important to that was when our last record came out. Our last record was called Awake, and when it came out it came out with such a bang. I remember literally being so surprised that it did so well in the first week. I honestly thought that it was a mistake, thinking someone turned in their numbers wrong or something. It was the number 2 record in the world that week and it sold literally twice what I thought it would, and because of that MTV wanted to get to know us… It became a very big thing. That excitement really helped Skillet a lot.
MF: Awake sold more than a million copies and was one of only three rock albums to be certified platinum in 2012. Do you think this album will be as successful?
JC: I don’t want to jinx anything but I will say yes. I’m more than surprised about the success of the last record, I’m shocked. I never saw that coming. Because of that I’ve just kind of learned that in the music business anything can happen. I wouldn’t be shocked if this record was better than the last one but I wouldn’t be shocked it if did worse. It’s one of those kinds of businesses that doesn’t always make a lot of sense.
One of the things that is actually making me really nervous is that the reviews of this record are the best reviews we’ve ever had, and that’s making me nervous because we’ve had a lot of bad reviews in the past and those records have done well… I just hope that fans love it… I really hope they love it and take ownership of it and that we make them happy.
Skillet’s ‘Rise’ is out now
Watch: Skillet – American Noise