John Cooper of Skillet: "Anytime you can write a song that can inspire somebody to change their life, I mean, come on-- that's a home run."
Few rock groups could boast such an unquestionably far-reaching impact as Skillet. After a relatively quiet opening decade to their career, the four piece sparked widespread interest with the release of 2006's gold-selling Comatose, setting the stage for their explosion onto the active rock radar with 2009's Awake. Hard on the heels of Awake's platinum certification (earning them a place alongside names such as Mumford & Sons and The Black Keys as one of only three rock groups to achieve that honor in 2012), Skillet launched their powerhouse follow-up album this summer.
Rise is an album that has already added its own milestone paragraph to Skillet's resume. Topping Billboard's Top Rock and Top Christian charts during street week and weighing in at number 4 on the Billboard Top 200, Rise has established itself as a worthy addition to Skillet's discography. Critical appreciation and fan enthusiasm have been fueled by the recent release of two music videos to accompany the album, aggressive active rock anthem "Sick of It" and the heartfelt "American Noise."
During the whirlwind weeks surrounding Rise's unveiling, Skillet took some time in the Walmart soundcheck studios to play an acoustic set and offer some insight into the creative and conceptual process behind the album.
"We wrote 72 songs for the record, which is double what I've ever written for anything else," frontman John Cooper confessed. "We tried everything."
Fortunately for fans, despite bravely forging new musical paths, Skillet also continued to hone the symphonic hard rock sound their dedicated followers know and love. "We tried to find that middle ground of 'this is what Skillet sounds like, we need to give that to the fans' and then 'this is stuff we want to experiment with,'" Cooper elaborated.
This proved true even in the stripped down arrangements the band selected for the soundcheck performance. "Sick of It" featured a throbbing raw-edged energy backed by keyboardist Korey Cooper's chilling programming, elements tied together by a surprisingly smooth melody.
"We combine those very aggressive sounds and aggressive performances with very melodic songs that are almost like pop song structures," John Cooper explained, highlighting a stylistic direction that is even more readily apparent on the album's haunting title track "Rise," which the band also performed on the soundcheck stage. The addition of drummer Jen Ledger's flawless soprano to the performance aided in constructing the song's chilling atmosphere.
Skillet's audience isn't just drawn in by their unique sonic concoctions. Rise is a concept record dealing with a generation's difficult transition into adulthood amidst a world seemingly overwhelmed by chaos. Many of the songs are Skillet's way of expressing and answering some of the questions that rise when watching a world in upheaval.
"Sick of It" responds to that darkness with "an outburst of positive anger," as Cooper describes it. "Sometimes there are things that are worth getting angry about," he explained to soundcheck. "We all have things in our lives that we can do something about."
The darkly beautiful "Rise" expounds on that theme with a universal call to action, acknowledging the horror of realities like school shootings while simultaneously empowering listeners to make a difference with its memorable chorus: "everybody one for all, sound off, this is the call: tonight we rise."
Though these themes stem from the band's rock solid personal faith, they express a drive to communicate hope to audiences from a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs. "It's about loving people who hate you," Cooper says of the album's overall take-away message. "It's about choosing to not believe the worst about situations, and saying 'you know what? I think I can get through this, and I think I can help someone else feel better.'"
This is a message that is already resonating with fans, and for John Cooper, that clinches their success more than any chart position ever has. "Anytime you can write a song that can inspire somebody to change their life, I mean, come on-- that's a home run."
Posted July 23, 2013 | Mary is a Christ-follower and writer who has been telling stories for as long as she can remember. She recently earned a B.A. in Digital Writing and wherever she finds herself, chances are she has a camera, guitar, and coffee cup always close at hand.
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