TCB Exclusive: Skillet's John Cooper Talks Headlining Winter Jam & Plans For New Music

Skillet has cemented their place as one of the 21st century’s most successful rock bands. Selling more than 12 million units worldwide, the Wisconsin quartet have received two GRAMMY Award nominations and won a Billboard Music Award for the double-platinum certified Awake. Their double-platinum single “Monster” currently has over 118 million plays (and counting) on Spotify, earning the distinction of becoming “the best-selling digital single in the history of Christian Music” and continuous mainstay on Billboard's Year End Chart. 2013’s Rise bowed at #4 on the Billboard Top 200 upon release and received resounding and eclectic acclaim from the likes of USA Today, New York Times, Revolver, Loudwire and more. Their latest album, Unleashed, debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 and topped Billboard's Top Christian albums chart. The first single “Feel Invincible” went to #1 on the Rock Radio chart, and earned RIAA Gold Certification. The track “Stars” was featured in the soundtrack for the motion picture The Shack, released last March. Stemming from Unleashed, Skillet was nominated for 3 additional Billboard Music Awards and their songs have been used by the WWE, Marvel, ESPN, NHL, MLB and the NFL to name a few. While steadily headlining their own tours in addition to performing with some of the biggest rock acts in the country, their live show has become a global force to be reckoned with, selling out shows in London, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Warsaw and more. You can currently see Skillet headlining Winter Jam’s 46-city Eastern U.S. tour. We caught up with lead vocalist John Cooper at the Pittsburgh stop where we had the pleasure of talking with him about Skillet's success, plans for new music and the band's role as a headlining act.

Skillet continued to reach new heights in 2017 with “Feel Invincible” going Gold, Awake being certified double Platinum and the band claiming the #1 spot on two Billboard Year End charts. From an objective business perspective this had to be an incredibly successful year, but how do you define success for Skillet and do you think 2017 was indeed a landmark year?
It was! How do I define success for Skillet? Well, Skillet has already lasted much longer than I ever imagined. Well, when you’re young, you think you’ll probably be the biggest artist in the world, but after you make the first record you find out that’s really not what it’s about. And you sell 10,000 records and realize you probably won’t sell 10 million. [Laughs.] But once you get onto the road, you figure you’ll do it five or six years if you’re lucky. So Skillet has already gone so far past that. I never dreamed we would have double platinum records, or ever a platinum record for that matter. So it was a really cool year, and it was also cool because the record was sort of a comeback record. Not in the true sense because we didn’t go away, but there was a lot of momentum behind the Unleashed album. So it felt a little like a starting over period. So it was a pretty big year for us!

Here we are in Pittsburgh, about to wrap up the second month of the Winter Jam 2018 Tour. You are once again headlining one of the biggest first-quarter tours in the world. As the lead act, is there any added pressure you feel when you take the stage?
This is our third time headlining Winter Jam, so it feels like family. We’ve toured with over half of them before, a lot of them on Winter Jam. But the surprising part of it is that there are people still coming these days that don’t know Skillet. So it’s a little strange that after twenty years of the band we continue to have a change to make new fans each night. So it’s a great chance to play for new people!

Do you have a favorite song to perform live on Winter Jam?
“Monster” is always good because generally the crowd knows that one. So that’s pretty fun. But we actually open with “Feel Invincible” from the newest album, and that’s really cool because that’s another known song and there is a lot of production behind that song.

We heard from NewSong that you come down from the rafters during “Feel Invincible.” Since you are afraid of heights, what were the first few times like?
It’s putting your trust in a lot of other things, and I don’t like that feeling. What if it breaks? What if it’s not harnessed correctly? Accidents happen, so things like that I don’t love. And we probably could have had another five days of rehearsal or so to make sure everything was good. But it’s cool and fun to see the reactions.

When fans leave Winter Jam, what is one thing that you hope they take away from your set or the night overall?
Well there are lots of things. But typically from a Skillet show, I just want people to have lots of fun and to leave feeling better than when they came in. Obviously, there’s a spiritual aspect to it as well; you hope that people are touched by God in some kind of way. Like they know now that God loves them when they didn’t know that before, or maybe they know God better in a personal way. So my job is to give the best show that I can that night. So that people are proud to come to these events and of Christian music. So we want people to leave thinking that was an A-level show, not just good for a Christian show.

Last weekend you shared a cryptic photo on Instagram with the caption: “If you guys only knew what we’re working on in here.” Can you give us any hints about what is coming in 2018?
We are working on a lot of things right now. Lots of things and big announcements that we can’t say yet. But we are also working on a new Skillet project, that I hope to release this year. That would be cool because it’s been over ten years since we’ve released a record within a two-year cycle. So I’m excited about releasing new material and I think the Skillet fans will be excited for what we’re pushing forward! There’s just such an excitement with making new music.

After this tour wraps up in March, you are set to join for KING & COUNTRY for "joy.UNLEASHED | The Tour". What can fans expect from that night?
Our bands are so different but there is a similar kind of fan. There is some crossover between the two acts. But there is a similar kind of fan with the heart of dedication. And we were hearing a lot of the same feedback that fans like both of our shows because of the energy of both of the acts. So we have been starting to work out what that is going to look like. But I do think it will have some stuff in it that we have never done before. And I’m hoping to have some stuff that you otherwise may never see on the stage with these two bands. I can’t say that it’s accomplished yet, but we are beginning to work on it.

Comparing this year to past Winter Jam Tour experiences, what has the atmosphere and relationship been like backstage with the other artists?
I think this has been similar. When I think of Winter Jam, I think of camaraderie between the acts and family. I usually tell people that after forty dates over three full months that you are going to be like family – family that doesn’t get along or family that does. [Laughs.] So I always try to do my part to make people feel good. And people are sad to see it end. But we have great relationships, so I don’t know that’s different from previous years, but that it’s consistently good. And I’ve met new friends, like KB and Jordan Feliz, this year that I’ve never toured with before. But I also have the feeling that a lot of the times the vibe of the tour is set by the headliner – to make it a place where people feel a part of things. I’ve been on tour where headliners have made us feel really great, even when I knew we weren’t really drawing people to the tour. And I’ve also been on tours that were the opposite. So I think that’s important and something that Skillet tries to do to make everyone feel that we’re all in this together. If Winter Jam wins, we all win.

Check back all week for sit-downs with Newsong, Kari Jobe, Cody Carnes, Jordan Feliz and Dan Bremnes. Also, be sure to read our feature 'God Continues To Work Miracles Through Winter Jam' featuring Pastor Bobby Joyner.