Thursday, May 27, 2010

Interview: John Cooper of hard rocker Skillet

In the song, "Hero," Skillet vocalist and bass player John Cooper sings about losing faith in the world.

"Every time I turn on the TV, it's like, 'Really? Another sex scandal?'" he said. "This is absurd, from wars to violence going on all the time to the earthquake in Haiti. It's a scary time to be alive, and it's an easy time to lose your faith."

Skillet makes no secret of its faith. It's rare when a Christian rock band can cross over to the mainstream, but Skillet has done just that: charted on rock radio without denying the roots that got it there in the first place.

The Grammy-nominated band brings its "Awake & Alive Tour" on Friday, May 21, to the MSU Auditorium in East Lansing. Joining Skillet are fellow faith-based hard rockers RED and The Letter Black.

Cooper was kind enough to chat with us about the band's No. 2-selling album, his faith and how Skillet's song landed on WWE.

NOISE: Is it true music was forbidden in your house growing up?

Cooper: Not all music, but anything with drums. Drums and guitar were the devil's instruments. My mom was a piano teacher and voice teacher, so she loved music, just a certain kind. Classical, hymns and opera were okay. When I first heard Christian music, I felt vindicated, like, "It's not the drums that's evil."

NOISE: You're one of the few Christian rock bands that didn't abandon the genre after getting mainstream success.

Cooper: Thanks. I think I'm so adamant about not wanting to get rid of my Christian stance because it helped me so much in my early life. I'm not embarrassed about it, and I'm not silent about it in interviews. If people ask, "Are you a Christian band?" my response is, "Yeah. I love it."

NOISE: Your 2009 album, "Awake," debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart. Why do you think so many fans relate to this album?

Cooper: I think it's because Skillet has a lot more fans than just Christian music fans. We are a Christian band, but we work very hard at writing songs about issues that, in my mind, everyone can relate to: atheists, agnostics, Jews, Muslims. I see that in bands like U2 and Switchfoot. Those bands have done a good job of having positive and hopeful messages, without alienating certain people.

NOISE: What's it like being in a band with your wife Korey (keyboard, guitar)?

Cooper: It's awesome. She's my go-to person to lean on when it comes to making the set flow and making songs sound better. She'll do keyboard programming and songs will come to life. Personally, it's nice on the road, because it makes the whole band feel more stable. We have our kids on the road, and it feels like a big family traveling and loving each other and having fun.

NOISE: Your song, "Monster," was No. 4 on the active rock chart last year and featured on WWE wrestling. How cool was that?

Cooper: It was awesome. "Monster" is a song a lot of stations said they would never play because it came from a Christian band. But the song kept doing better and better, and eventually, most of those people ended up playing the record.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Interview: Sevendust 'reestablishing' itself on new album

More than a decade and a half into their career, with dozens of rock radio hits and top 20 Billboard albums under their belts, the members of Sevendust finally feel like they've reached a place where they can make the kind of music that's truly, well, Sevendust.

And that appears to be the driving force behind their eighth studio album, "Cold Day Memory:" complete, hard-won artistic expression and freedom.

"The goal with this album was to reestablish ourselves as a band," said Clint Lowery, lead guitarist of the Atlanta, Ga.-based band. "The original lineup is back together, so we made this album using what we believe has always been our best assets: heavy, really heavy melodic music and sincere stuff. And that's what we do, naturally."

Though Lowery rejoined Sevendust two years ago, the new album, out last month, is the first Sevendust album he's written on since 2004's, "Seasons." Any Sevendust fan will tell you something was missing when Lowery stepped away, and Lowery couldn't be happier to be back writing fresh songs with his musical soulmates. The album features singer Lajon Witherspoon's soulful, R&B-influenced vocals amid dark, melodic guitars and brutal rhythms.

This time around, Lowery was heavily involved with recording.

"I wanted to have a part in all the songs," he said. "Since I haven't done a Sevendust record in three albums, I wanted to make up for lost time."
He says a good rock song has both edge and heart.

"If it's a heavier song, it needs to have a sincerity," he said. "You need to be talking about something that's real.

"It also needs a really good beat and a great guitar riff. It needs an edge to it; something that makes people want to cut loose."

Producer Johnny K (Disturbed, 3 Doors Down, Staind) worked with the band on the release. He helped perfect the album's hard-driving rock single, "Unraveling," No. 9 on the active rock charts at press time.

"It's a father and son theme," Lowery said of the song, which is Sevendust's most successful single to date. "It's about any relationship where you needed someone to be there and they let you down."

Sevendust is touring the U.S. right now, and the band's on the road a lot. But that's okay with Lowery. The guys take life on the road in stride.

"If you party a lot and drink, it's going to get hard, but if you can take care of yourself, it can be a lot of fun," he said. "It depends on how you handle yourself.

"People say it's hard, but it's only hard when you make it hard. It depends on where you're at as a person. For us, we enjoy playing, meeting our fans and seeing everybody. So, for us, it's good times."

By Anne Erickson, Gannett NOISE

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: Video interview with Drowning Pool

Hard rock band Drowning Pool is No. 4 on the Active Rock chart with their single, "Feel Like I Do." Here's my video interview with the guys. Rock!!