During the National Religious Broadcaster’s conference in 2022, our chief curatorial officer, Jeff Kloha, captured interviews with some of the biggest names in Christian radio. Below is an excerpt of his interview with John Cooper, lead vocalist, bassist, and songwriter/producer for the rock band Skillet, one of the best-selling rock bands of the century.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and space. To listen to the whole interview, check it out on our podcast, Today at Museum of the Bible.
Jeff Kloha: Welcome to Today at Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. Although today, we are in Nashville, Tennessee, at the National Religious Broadcaster’s conference. Our guest is an amazing individual, John Cooper, the lead vocalist, bassist, and songwriter for the rock band Skillet. John, just tell us a bit about yourself.
John Cooper: So, my name is John Cooper. I’m the singer for the rock band Skillet. I’m married. My wife is also in the band. Some people don’t know that. My wife, Korey, and I just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary last week. So, I feel like I’m not a kid anymore. [Laughter]
I have two kids: 19 and 16. My daughter is the eldest, my son is younger. [But] as we were just discussing before the podcast, I am an interesting character because I play hard rock music. But it is Christian music. I love the Bible.
Jeff: For those of you who don’t know the band Skillet, amazing success. They just had an album, Dominion, that came out in January. If you look them up on Spotify, they have 6.4 million monthly listeners. It’s amazing. Their song “Monster” — big, big hit — 412 million streams on Spotify. So, how did you get into rock music?
John: Yeah. When I was introducing myself, I forgot to say the other unique thing about Skillet is that I’m very, very outspoken about my faith. Even for the Christian market, I’m very outspoken. But we play most of our shows in the secular rock world. We play with Metallica and Aerosmith and Ozzy Osborne, any metal band. And so for me, I think playing rock music was just a great way to express my faith. Because when you write songs — and I know for some people that’s interesting, and they don’t think of rock music as being Christian — but when you’re writing you have a chance to say what you believe. That’s your three-minutes, your three-minute sermon. You know, I had a bad day and this is what I’m going to write about it. I had a good day, this is what I’m going to write about. So everything I write, I try to write from that Christian worldview. I got into rock music because the music is fuel. It’s fuel for life.
Jeff: And you’ve been around for a while.
John: Yeah, this is our 26th year.
Jeff: Wow. But really took off in the early 2000s, and …
John: I would say 2006 and 7. Our first record came out in ’96. Took us about 10 years, 11 years maybe, before people really started knowing who we were. It was a long haul. ‘Cause we just didn’t fit in one place. We were too loud for Christian music. But for rock music, we were too Christian.
In 1996, when we started, rock music was very dark. I would even say nihilistic, like nothing really matters, you know, suicidal. And we were a band that was singing what they would call positive music. And around 2005 and 6 and 7, positive music began to become popular in the mainstream world.
So Skillet began to be known as the positive rock band. We were positive, but we were Jesus fanatics. And not new age, I like to make it clear.
Jeff: So what response do you get? Do people sort of find you through the music and then come to learn you’re Christian?
John: Sure. There are definitely still people who listen to Skillet that don’t know we’re a Christian band. Certainly, the songs aren’t overtly preachy. Now people may recognize them as spiritual sounding.
So we sound spiritual to people, but they don’t always know what that means unless they come to a concert, unless they hear me speak. Even if I talk about God, these days everybody talks about God, so I’ve always found music is a great diving board for people to get into Skillet. And these days, people always want to know more, so they go online.
Jeff: So what role does the Bible play in your songwriting? How do you get from Bible to music?
John: It’s not that I open the Bible and write a song based on a scripture. Now, that does happen. In fact, there’s a song on my new record called “Refuge” based on the wonderful scripture, “God is my refuge and my strength, he’s always present in my time of trouble.” That one was taken directly from the Bible. There’s another song called, “Whitehorse,” taken from the book of Revelation, when Christ comes riding on the white horse. So that does happen. But usually, it’s not. Usually, it’s something I’m going through I want to write about. But everything you write, just as everything you do as a Christian, you are doing through your worldview that should be based on the word of God.
Jeff: How often do you put albums out?
John: It is a long process. Typically, we do them every three years. This one we did in two. We released a record in 2019, like, August.
Jeff: Oh, no touring around there.
John: Yeah, COVID kinda made it like, either you’re going to wait an extra year to put a record out or you’re going to just release a new one. I was praying, I said, “Lord, I don’t really mind. Whatever you want. I’ll wait and put one out. Depends on what you want.” And as I was praying, I just kept feeling, like, that God had something he wanted me to say. And it was meant for now. We’ll write some songs, and we’ll see if that’s what the Lord wants or not. And the songs were coming quickly, and we all just had a sense this is a record for now. So the record’s called Dominion, based on this great scripture in the book of Daniel. It’s talking about, it’s prophesying about Jesus — his dominion will be an everlasting dominion and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. And I thought it was a really appropriate title because of COVID, pandemics, the insecurity of the entire world, governments right now. It’s like we’ve forgotten there is a God who does in fact own the world. He’s in charge. He has something to say about how the world should be run. And we are so small, and he is so great. So that’s kinda what Dominion was about to me.
In the song “Dominion,” for the first time ever I quote a scripture in the song, in the bridge.
Jeff: That’s interesting, too, because Daniel, the book of Revelation really are written to people who are in very dark times and questioning who’s in control. So it’s interesting you picked up on that theme and brought that into the present day.
So, for those who are familiar with Skillet, where can they go to find you?
John: The easiest thing is website: skillet.com. If you’re looking on iTunes or Spotify, just look up Skillet, tons of stuff will come up. Social media is usually skilletmusic. And if people are interested in my personal podcast — it’s not a band podcast — my personal one is called CooperStuff. I also have a book I’d like to mention, it released during the pandemic, called Awake and Alive to Truth. It’s basically Bible theology for people who don’t want to read Bible theology. So check it out. And you can find CooperStuff podcast everywhere you find podcasts.
Jeff: It’ll definitely get you going. Great stuff. Well, John, it was great to chat with you, and I look forward to seeing you at Museum of the Bible.
John: Absolutely. Thank you so much.