And, in fact, Skillet counts Amy Lee and the band as an influence. But when a band’s been around as long as the members of Skillet have — 12 years — maybe Evanescence should own up to the fact that it’s the other way around.
Metro Spirit: Let’s get out of the way something I’m sure you’re tired of talking about. I hear that you dislike your own band name. What’s that about?
John Cooper: It’s beyond dislike. I hate it. I don’t know. It was just one of those kind of things that, in the ’90s, nobody knew what was happening with music. Band names were terrible. You know what I hate even more than Skillet — the name, I mean — is all those three-word band names like Seven Mary Three and Joshua Judges Ruth. That was an actual band name, which, while being clever, I hate.
MS: Why didn’t you change it? Did you hate it immediately?
JC: I didn’t even care. I was like, this isn’t going to last long, and all the other band names are dumb, too: Pearl Jam, Korn, Godsmack… I thought all those other names were dumb, too. I always confuse Third Eye Blind with Blink 182. There’s too many eyes and they’re blinking… and then years later, oops, now we’re stuck with it. We have a sound and people know what they can expect from us.
MS: How is it that the Grammys have a category that includes both rock and rap? Aren’t they just cruising for a dance fight?
JC: Yeah, it’s kind of weird.I guess it’s because it still such a small genre compared to everyone else. I was thinking that you can’t compare the two things. But sometimes you have a record that sticks out, like an Eminem thing, that crosses over. I don’t know how you vote against the two — well, actually, I do know. Vote Skillet.
MS: If only it were the People’s Choice Awards.
JC: Yeah, that would help.
MS: For readers who haven’t heard your music, and, being that you’re traditionally categorized as a Christian group, that maybe a lot, can you characterize Skillet’s music?
JC: I usually call us… how about symphonic melodic rock? Oh, ho! Beautiful words. [Chuckles gleefully to himself.] I usually tell people like Evanescence meets Nickelback meets Fleetwood Mac.
MS: Andy Karp, of Atlantic Records, recently put you in the same category as Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Yes and Bad Company. Which one of those bands does not belong?
JC: I read that. I thought that was kind of crazy. Which of those bands has the worst band name? That’s us. Oh, yeah, [Karp] really believes in the record. I mean, he was really, I want to say, before making the record, almost the only believer. So he’s kind of taken ownership of Skillet, for good or bad. If we put out a bad record, it’s all on him. If we put out a good record, it’s all on him.
MS: You have a setup different from many other bands, in that you have a woman on drums, a married couple in the band and you bring your kids on tour. How are you supposed to build a portfolio of rock star stories like that? Don’t you want to trash your hotel rooms and snort ants?
JC: We are the most — let me think of the word — literally, considerate rock band on planet Earth. And it freaks everyone out. We’re on tour with other bands, and they trash the dressing rooms, and I go in and clean up after them because I don’t want to put anyone else out. Having kids puts more stability on that, if you can imagine. Everyone knows that we’re not a party bus. After the show, we come back to the bus and go to sleep. My kids are going to be up at 6 a.m., so shut up.
You read these stories about all these people that sold 10 million records and they’re bankrupt. I could sell 100,000 records and be fine. I’m like: We don’t spend money on that, calm down. The grandmas love us.
MS: Talk to me about the state of Christian rock music these days: More Christian bands taking on secular subjects without alienating their fan base, greater integration into the mainstream marketplace of a genre that has traditionally been almost its own industry. What do you see happening now, and where do you think the industry might go in the future?
JC: I don’t know if I know any of those answers. But I ask myself those questions a lot. We definitely are witnessing Christian music becoming an actual credible industry, whereas people would say, “Oh you’re in the Christian industry, well, that’s not real.” Now you’re seeing a lot of crossover sales for bands. We’re not as big as Switchfoot, but we have crossed over and kept true to the Christian market in a way that other bands have not done. We haven’t stopped doing Christian events, Christian radio shows and magazines. And most of the bands that have crossed over have done that. Whether we ever break big in the mainstream or not, I don’t know. I’m just excited that Skillet can play a role in reshaping the music world’s idea of what a Christian really is. The fact that Atlantic Records has a rep who wants to front a Christian band is huge, but the industry still has a lot to learn.