With a blend of heavy electric guitar, keyboards, and strong melodies, Skillet resembles a heavy metal band, but promotes a Christian message. The band, which has been compared to Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, "rocks pretty hard compared to the average Christian radio band," according to Terry Deboer in the Grand Rapids Press. The band includes John Cooper, guitar and vocals; his wife Korey Cooper on vocals and keyboards; Lori Peters on drums; and Ben Kasica on keyboards. The group has had eight songs in the number one slot on Christian radio and has been nominated for eleven Dove Awards.
The band's founder, John Cooper, grew up in a conservative Christian home, where his parents enforced rules about the music he was allowed to listen to. They favored wholesome singer Amy Grant, but Cooper was more interested in hearing the Christian rock band Stryper, who emulated the heavy metal sound, and he liked the bizarre costumes and makeup of the hardcore mainstream band Kiss. He had to sneak over to friends' houses to hear Stryper, because his parents would not allow him to play their music in their home. Even when Stryper won the highest award in Christian music, the Dove Award, his parents refused to let him watch the awards on television, saying the costumed band members were demons. In addition to Stryper, Cooper also liked White Cross, Skid Row, and other bands.
Since its beginnings in 1996, Skillet has played in a variety of styles, ranging from the modern rock of their self-titled debut album, to the electronic style of Hey You I Love Your Soul, to reverent prayer on Ardent Worship, and industrial grunge on Alien Youth. Throughout all their albums and concerts, the members have emphasized spreading a Christian message.
Cooper had an interesting experience when he attended a concert by the heavy-metal rocker Marilyn Manson. He was curious about Manson, because Skillet's music was often compared to Manson's. While sitting in the audience, he listened to Manson scream something offensive about Jesus, and he said out loud, "Man, you're just rippin' us off." Watching the audience cheer at Manson's often-negative songs, he considered how different his band really was from Manson's. He told a reporter for Christianity Today, "If we had played at that Manson show, we could've won people to the Lord." He wrote a song about that experience, "Rippin' Me Off," which appeared on the group's album Alien Youth.
Alien Youth was released in 2001 and featured a heavy live-band sound. Its title track topped Christian rock charts for six weeks in a row, and the album sold 10,000 copies during its first week. Cooper told Deboer, "It's selling well, and our fans are excited about it." The album's title refers to the spiritual impact on Earth brought about by Christians, specifically Christian youth. To continue this theme, the band members wrote a five-part Bible study curriculum for listeners and put it on the album's website. Along with urging fans to study the Bible, Cooper said he hoped to start a worship center in his hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The band's Alien Youth Tour began before the terrorist attacks on Washington, DC, and New York City on September 11, 2001, but the band adapted to the country's emotional response to the attacks. Rather than canceling or postponing their shows, they continued to tour, and found that fans were grateful for their music. Cooper told Deboer that people said, "Thanks for coming. We need something like this." He noted, "We saw that people were more receptive to spiritual things."
In 2002 Korey Cooper gave birth to a daughter, Alexandria. During her pregnancy, the band used the time to write more songs. Cooper told Christianity Today, "By the time we were ready for the newest sessions, I had a solid 25-30 songs written and a backlog of others that we had time to fine tune and start from scratch on occasion."
In November of 2003 the band moved to Lava Records, a mainstream label that includes acts such as Vanessa Williams, Kid Rock, and The Blue Man Group, and released their album Collide. This album, unlike their earlier ones, did not explicitly mention Jesus. In addition, it had a louder sound and was more dominated by guitar than their previous work, and it lacked some of the techno and industrial elements of earlier albums. Cooper told Christianity Today that in the 1980s he had been a huge fan of heavy metal music. He noted that he had been afraid that "those kinds of guitars and rhythms wouldn't be accepted, but now I'm not afraid to take people to that place even if they aren't necessarily expecting that on a Skillet album."
Cooper told Christina Cox in the Sarasota Herald Tribune that he was happy about the group's move to Lava Records. "With us, it had always been the goal to get a mainstream label and to do both Christian and mainstream music. He was aware that some fans might look down upon their move to the mainstream, as well as at Collide's lack of specific references to Jesus, thinking the band was diluting their Christian message. "I think a lot of Christians would rather you come to a city, make everybody mad, but [be] radical about the Gospel. That's not what we want to do." He said the band preferred to build a relationship with their audience. He added that imparting a Christian message was easier if you didn't alienate people by preaching too hard: "It's basically like going to school for the first day; it's more beneficial to be friends." Cooper told Patrick Dunn in the Albuquerque Journal that moving into the mainstream was "building for the future and taking a step of faith." However, he admitted that the move could be difficult, because "People have no idea who we are. You have to win respect with them. It's like starting completely over." Despite the band's move to a mainstream label, some mainstream radio stations were reluctant to play them because they were a Christian band.
The band's move to the mainstream was ultimately rewarded with a Grammy nomination in 2005 for Best Rock Gospel Album. In addition, in recent years even conservative Christians have become more accepting of Christian rock bands, including the heavier ones like Skillet. Cooper told Mark Brown of the Rocky Mountain News that repudiation of the band's music is "not that prevalent any more. We've only had one show in seven or eight years that had a picketer. It was a guy saying this music is from the devil." He said that even churches that had been strict about music had backed off, realizing that it's a fight they won't win, and that their youth will listen to the music whether it's approved or not. In a biography of the band on the Christianity Today website, Cooper said, "I've always made a conscious effort to write about what I felt God was telling me on every project, and since we've started, I think we've covered a lot of bases."
Skillet, Ardent, 1997.
Hey You I Love Your Soul, Ardent, 1998.
Invincible, Ardent, 2000.
Ardent Worship: Live, Ardent, 2000.
Alien Youth, Ardent, 2001.
Collide, Lava, 2003.
For the Record …
Members include John Cooper (born on April 7, 1975; married to Korey Cooper; children: Alexandria), vocals, guitar; Korey Cooper (born on July 21, 1972; married to John Cooper; children: Alexandria), vocals, keyboards; Ben Kasica (born on April 15, 1984), keyboards; Lori Peters (born on November 29, 1973), drums.
Group formed in 1996; released Skillet, 1997; Hey You I Love Your Soul, 1998; Invincible, 2000; Ardent Worship: Live, 2000; Alien Youth, 2001; Collide, 2003.
Albuquerque Journal, April 9, 2004, p. 20; September 3, 2004, p. 3.
Campus Life, January-February 2002, p. 29; September-October 2002, p. 33.
Grand Rapids Press, November 1, 2001, p. 22; November 5, 2001, p. B4.
New York Times, February 6, 2005, p. NA.
Rocky Mountain News, August 6, 2004, p. 17D.
Sarasota Herald Tribune, September 3, 2004, p. 8.
"Skillet," Christianity Today,http://www.christianitytoday.com/music/artists/skillet.html (March 23, 2004).
Skillet Official Website, http://www.skillet.org/ (March 15, 2005).
skil·let / ˈskilit/ • n. a frying pan. ∎ hist. a small metal cooking pot with a long handle, typically having legs.