Skillet Interview: John Cooper on ‘Victorious,’ Chester Bennington and More

2019-08-15

Skillet vocalist John Cooper – Story and photo by Anne Erickson

John Cooper of Skillet chats with Anne Erickson about the band’s new album, “Victorious,” his appreciation for Chester Bennington and more

Skillet is back with a “Victorious” new album, appropriately named “Victorious,” which features positive, inspiring hard rock and a variety of sounds, from heartfelt ballads to raging rock anthems.

The band is on the road in support of “Victorious” the rest of the year, touring with Sevendust on one our and hitting the road with Alter Bridge on another. Lead vocalist John Cooper caught up with Anne Erickson of Audio Ink to talk about what he’s so stoked to release “Victorious” and why the loss of Chester Bennington hit him so hard. Read the full interview below.

Anne Erickson: Congratulations on the new album on the way, “Victorious.” Why was “Victorious” the best name for Skillet’s new record?

John Cooper: It’s funny, because I thought, there have to be a bunch of records called “Victorious” out there, and there aren’t! So, it feels like it should be an album title! (laughs) When you make a record, it’s 10 or 11 songs long — this one is 12 — but as an artist, you write 40 or 50, and I think we wrote 48 songs, so you never know what songs are going to be chosen. You’re writing and demoing and recording. You put everything into it, and all the songs are personal to you, but you don’t know which to choose, so your producer or label helps. When you listen to the record, you go, here’s my record. When I listened to all 12 songs together– this album feels very inspiring, and “Victorious” felt like the right title to me.

The album’s lead single, “Legendary,” is doing really well on rock radio. Tell me about the meaning behind the track.

“Legendary” is a song about making your life count. We’re only here on this earth for a short time. None of us — probably none of us, and certainly not me — are destined to be remembered forever. So, it’s about going, “I have a short life to live. I want my life to matter. I want to live the way I want to live for what I believe in and be proud of who I am.” To me, that’s how you live a legendary life.

What song are you most excited to perform live off “Victorious” on tour?

I’ll give you my favorite song off the record, and I’m also excited to play it live. The title track– I think that’s my favorite song on the record, and I have a feeling fans will love it. It’s personal to me, because over the past few years, it seems there have been a ton of celebrity deaths– Robin Williams, Prince. I think when it got to me the most when Chester Bennington died. I was a huge Linkin Park fan. I never knew him, but I was super sad about it. I wanted to write a song about what I would say to him or someone else struggling with depression. That’s what the song is written for. It’s written for those people who feel so alone that they don’t think they can make it. I want them to know that they’re not alone. They can be “Victorious.” Yes, life is hard and it’s going to suck, but you can make it. Reach out to your friends. That song is very personal to me, and I really hope Skillet fans like it.

You have another band that has a much heavier sound, Fight the Fury, with metal influences. Did any of that make it onto this Skillet album?

I think probably you’re right. It was an outlet for the heavier stuff and was really fun, and I enjoyed it a lot. But, I definitely think that it bled over a little bit, which I’m really happy about. There’s a song of the record called “Save Me,” and it’s heavier for Skillet. It’s like older Skillet stuff. It’s riff-ier, the guitars are heavier, it has the double-kick on the drumming and the lyrics are darker. I do think as as I was recording for Fight the Fury, I was thinking, yes, this is heavier than Skillet, but it wasn’t so far off from what I could imagine Skillet doing. So, the record has some definite moments of the heavier stuff we’ve done, along with stuff like “Legendary” and more arena rock.

Knowing that you have a special love for metal music, I was wondering, what are your thoughts on Ozzy’s farewell, No More Tours 2 trek and Slayer’s farewell run.

Yes! I’m a huge Ozzy Osbourne fan. I’ve always been, ever since I was a kid. I was never a huge Slayer fan, though we just played with Slayer two nights ago, and it was an amazing experience. They are such icons. It’s an honor to be on the stage with bands like that. I was a massive Metallica fan growing up and a massive Ozzy fan. There’s a lot more than that. Megadeth. We never played on the same stage as Metallica, but we did play at the same festival on the same day, which is kind of bragging rights, I think! (Laughs) But, last year the number one most awesome thing definitely that Skillet has ever done was that we opened up for Iron Maiden last year– we did three shows in Europe with them. It was unreal.

Nice! Bruce Dickinson is such a great vocalist.

Still! I was like, how is this guy singing like this? He doesn’t even look old. I’m a huge fan, and they’re as amazing as they ever were.

Skillet has some cool tours on the way. In mid-August, you kick off a tour with Sevendust, Pop Evil and Devour the Day. What made you guys want to do this tour with Sevendust? What makes this a great rock bill?

I’m really excited. I’ve been doing this for so long. Skillet has been around for 22 years, and a lot of people are just discovering Skillet, which is great, but we’re kind of veterans and I always like touring these days with people I like. I’m lucky to really enjoy all the people I’m touring with. Sevendust we’ve toured with before, and Sevendust is a band’s band. if you’re playing a festival and all the bands backstage are hanging out, having fun, all of sudden, is someone says, “Sevendust is on,” all the bands will run over the to the stage and watch. That’s a great act to go out with. Pop Evil we’ve toured with before, and they’re songs are massive hits, and they’re great people. We have a similar vibe in terms of getting along with other bands, not being competitive and sharing the wealth.

In September, you hit the road with Alter Bridge, which is another cool tour. What makes a Skillet, Alter Bridge tour a great double bill?

With Alter Bridge, there’s a cool story that we toured with Creed back in 2010 when they were doing a comeback run,  and we got to be friends with the band, and they treated us really well. Mark Tremonti, he might not even know this, but he’s the reason we began touring Europe. He said to me, if bands want to have a big career, they need to tour Europe. You guys would do good over there. And I took it really serious. They’re really nice people, and I’m lucky to tour with people I dig.

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