April 23, 2018 Interview – Jen Ledger of Skillet
No one ever said that the gift of life was an easy experience to navigate through. In fact, for most, it is a challenge on various levels, no matter how minor or major the details are of our own personal journeys. Taking bold risks in her own life, Jen Ledger left her home in England at 16 years old to move to the USA, only to be thrust into the spotlight behind the drum kit of the platinum-selling Hard Rock band Skillet by the age of 18.
Now, 10 years after beginning her adventure, Ledger embarks on writing a new chapter in her life, releasing her debut solo EP on April 13th. A product of her desire to grow not only as a songwriter, but as a person, Ledger takes on various emotions within the her songs including fear, anxiety, and finding hope in the darkest of moments. Recently we caught up with the inspiring musician to discuss her time in Skillet, her great deal of love and admiration for the band, spreading her wings as a songwriter, healing through music, plus more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in music all your life, and at only 18 years of age you became the full-time drummer for Skillet. Now in the band a decade, what has your experience been like?
Jen Ledger – My experience with Skillet has been so many different things, I kind of don’t even know where to begin. As you said, I was 17 when I auditioned for Skillet, and my first ever tour was one called Winter Jam, one of the biggest Christian arena tours in the world. I went from playing a church, in front of 200 people, to all of sudden playing sold out arenas right after my 18th birthday; so you can imagine how intimidating stepping into that role was. Something I have really learned from spending the last 10 years with Skillet is, I think I had no idea how powerful music really is.
Something the Coopers are incredibly passionate about is singing about things that bring hope, help people break free, and help people fight on. Now touring from Australia to Japan, to Russia, to all over the U.S., I have met so many people, even if they don’t speak English, the music has touched them. They have said, “I was actually going to kill myself that night and then I heard your song on the radio,” or, “I have struggled with meth addiction and it was your song that allowed me to break free from that.”
I think the last 10 years, the most eye-opening thing I could have possibly learned is the power of music. It has the power to lift people up. It has the power to help people break through, but also has the power to tear down and to bring people low as well. I think seeing the importance you play as a musician, knowing you can basically use it for good or bad, is what made me so excited to step out in my own music.
I have also seen the Coopers stay incredibly true to who they are. There have been times they have been told, “If you could be less Christian or don’t talk about the fact that your married, you could be one of the biggest bands, have a lot more success and things.” They have always said, “No, we are going to be true to who we are, we are not going to be ashamed of our faith to have more success and fame.” Something I have been incredibly impressed with is seeing their integrity; the essences of Rock-n-Roll is this is who I am and I don’t care what you think. It’s kind of cool to see them apply that, even when it comes to their faith and who they are as people. I actually think the world has really embraced them for that, and instead of it hurting them it is actually something people are drawn to – people know who they are, they are authentic people; there is no facade here. I feel like my eyes have been opened to a lot of things with Skillet. If you have something to say and you are true to yourself, it’s a really powerful thing.
On top of that, being 17 and stepping into a full-time touring role, they also told me how to pay my bills and drive a car too. (Laughs) There is a practical side to it, as well, which is kind of funny. They helped me become an adult in many ways, as well as training me musically.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it really has been an amazing experience. As you said, music uplifts us and that is what it is all about; music is something we can all relate to. Since you have been in Skillet, you have really become an intricate part of Skillet from your energetic drumming to your distinctive vocals. There have been drummers throughout Rock history who also sang lead. That in mind, is it a challenge to take on both tasks?
Jen Ledger – Absolutely. I know for some people, they step into those things easily. For me, truthfully, playing drums alone on stage was stressing enough. I was incredibly stressed just learning to be comfortable in my own skin and enjoy playing when there is that many people watching you, that alone was stressing to me. Something I really had to learn was to stop comparing myself to the other drummers around and do what I do, and have a great time. I notice if I am having a great time that the audience really seemed to be moved and more captivated by my heart, my enthusiasm as well my love for the music, than they do my technical ability. Something I really found freedom in is to just enjoy what I am doing. That’s the most fun to watch – I will give all I have on-stage and throw my entire feeling into whatever I am playing. It’s really wonderful to see people respond to that.
I will never forget: I filled in for the song “Hero” on the demos because Korey was unavailable; I was never supposed to be doing vocals for Skillet. I ended up filling in and they said, “Your voice really suits this song.” I went in and tracked the vocals with Howard Benson back in 2008 one night. John Cooper turned to me and said, “You know, you are going to have to learn how to do all this at the same time to play it live.” I said, “Oh yeah!” (Laughs) For me, it took time sitting down in a room figuring out what syllable goes with what rim, then doing it live. I feel like I get thrown into things and I figure it out how I go; that has kind of been the story of my life. Moving to America at 16 and not realizing I actually left home forever, then getting into a touring Rock band, then also trying to figure out all at the same time, sort of like I got thrown into the deep end. Thankfully, it went well and after 10 years of doing now, even when I get a new song, I will still spend the time at home figuring out what works with what rims; it takes work for me. I am envious because there are people who find it really easy. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it has been a challenge, but it has all paid off. Which leads us to present day and you have recently released your debut solo EP. It is really a wonderful collection of songs. What inspired this new project?
Jen Ledger – It started around 6 years ago. I felt a stirring in my heart that I really wanted to learn to write my own stuff. It was pretty intimidating, the Coopers, they are just some of the most incredible writers in the world. Not only their success, they have sold millions of singles, but to tell them as a 20-something-year-old girl, “I would really like to learn writing from you guys.” It was just intimidating to even share that with them but seeing the power of music and how it affects so many people, I don’t know why I wouldn’t want to learn how to do it, it’s thrilling to me.
Not only that but just seeing how much influence the media has on young people – there are a lot of reality stars in really dysfunctional relationships, people that are addicted to all sorts of substances. People who are very wrecked are some of the loudest and most influential voices to our young people. They are not listening to politicians, they are not listening to whoever, but they are listening to the media. Being with Skillet, I have met a lot of young girls that have told me they have started to learn to play drums because they saw Skillet play. I just find the whole thing incredibly humbling, but I also find it to be a huge honor that I take seriously. I thought if I can be this influential behind the drums, perhaps if I could be an influence if I have more to say, if I step out from behind the drums, if people hear my perspective and the thoughts in my heart.
Obviously I feel completely honored to have been with Skillet all these years, and I hope to do it for many more years. I feel the reason this was exciting is because I was able to express a little more of who I am. I also hope that my perspective will maybe bring a little more influence for young girls, teenagers who are possibly going through a hard time or whatever it might be. Perhaps it’s just a different way to pull people up and help shed hope in a different way with a slightly different voice. Those are the reasons I feel really excited to step out on my own: it’s just to express something new with a slightly different perspective, and I hope it can touch even more people’s hearts.
CrypticRock.com – Very interesting. These songs come across very personal. When writing, what was some of your lyrical inspiration?
Jen Ledger – One of the things you will really notice in the lyrics are overcoming fears, and stepping out even when you feel incredibly stretched. That is something that I faced a ton in my life – I was terrified to move to America but I thought-felt like it was right, so I did. Then, trying out for Skillet, I actually initially said no because I had become so incredibly insecure and anxious, playing drums in front of 200 people on Sunday made me feel nauseous and sick. (Laughs)
I initially wanted to say no, but I really felt I was supposed to do this. I stepped out of my comfort zone, basically fighting myself and getting over myself to step into things I was supposed to do. Even this project, the last few years have had a lot of ups and downs for me. A few years ago, I went through an especially dark patch; I started to struggle with really intense panic attacks, waking up in the middle of the night with feelings of dread and terror. After battling through that, I thought that was a very strange season but shortly after going through something that intense, I am over it now; but instead those feelings started to come back again. They are just so discouraging and they make you feel so incredibly defeated; they make you feel, “Why even try? I just want to give up.” If I struggle this much and I am this broken, surely I can’t do the things in my heart, the dreams I want to pursue.
I remember coming off stage one night, talking to Korey, I kind of cried to her and said I couldn’t believe I was panicking again after all these years of fighting these feelings and overcoming them, I can’t believe they came back. What if these feelings of fear and panic, what if they are something I always have to fight and they never go away? She looked at me and said, “Then you fight, Jen, you fight while there is breath in your lungs and you until the day that you die, you fight. You never let fear rob you of your own life.” That is what the song “Not Dead Yet” is about; it is about even though you might feel like you are not good enough – and you might feel like these things make me realize how broken I am – it doesn’t mean that you let these feelings of fear rob you of your own life.
You will notice that kind of theme running through all of the songs a little bit; it’s been very personal for me. Even the EP itself is a demonstration of me stepping out and facing all the things that scare me all at the same time, but I feel like it is right, important and powerful.
CrypticRock.com – You have turned something negative, anxiety and fear, into something positive. We all go through these feelings, some more intense than others, but people can certainly relate to that. That is inspiring within itself!
Jen Ledger – In a weird way, I am grateful I went through it because I didn’t realize this is the generation of the most anxiety there has ever been in young people that there has ever been in history. There is a side of me that says someone needs to be talking about it and it’s a little embarrassing, but I am also learning there are hundreds of people who have been through the same thing. People who feel that same feeling of being trapped within yourself and your own crippling mind, your mind will lock you up within yourself. The idea that this song can help people overcome that, be a little bit of a theme song to choose to get and break free, I feel like, you know what, even if it’s a little embarrassing talking about things that maybe I wanted to keep secret, now I am glad to talk about it. I am grateful for the experience if I am able to help people get through it too.
CrypticRock.com – It is therapeutic for yourself as well as others, that is a good thing. With the EP out, in between Skillet’s busy touring, can we expect some solo shows?
Jen Ledger – Absolutely. We are talking about some of those things right now. Just to be clear, I am not planning on leaving Skillet, but the beauty of the way we set everything up it is very much a fluid team going on. Korey Cooper produced the EP, and she is playing with me too. Right now, I am opening up the night with Ledger and closing the night with Skillet. Obviously, it is really cool that Skillet helped releasing this side project, but are also fully supportive of it. They are enabling me to explore it more. What I hope to see, which I have have a feeling will be a reality very soon, is Korey Cooper and I collaborating more – her producing hopefully a full-length LP, hopefully within the next year or year and a half.
Skillet is one of the busiest bands in the whole world. Hopefully if it works out, one of the ways we can explore it, seeing I am playing with Skillet, we can always bring Ledger along too then. Maybe we can fit it in between when we have some time off, and I can go out and do a few shows here and there. The cool thing is the Coopers are doing so much writing and producing on their own, so I have a feeling it will all naturally work itself out quite well; all of us are stepping into new chapters almost at the same time. I don’t know how I ended up getting into this band – having these people train me, give me an apprenticeship into music and music business – but it really is ridiculously a dream come true.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly has been a wonderful ride. It will be exciting to see what happens with Ledger in the future.
Jen Ledger – It really is, isn’t it? I feel very humbled how the whole thing turned out. I am really glad I didn’t say no to that Skillet audition 10 years ago. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – You never how things will work out! As we have spoken about, you left for America at 16, you auditioned for Skillet at 17, and have been in the band a decade. You have spent most of your young adult life in a touring Rock band. Would you say it has shaped you as an adult?
Jen Ledger – 100% yes. I actually think it has made me a much better person than I would have been. My dream growing up in Coventry, England, I thought I would be a hairdresser. I think I would have actually really enjoyed it, I still sometimes think wouldn’t it be easy to be a hairdresser? I love that side of things! To be in front of people wasn’t my natural inclination, I am not the person dying to get out on-stage. As I said, the idea that I can bring hope and I can be an influence, that does make me excited. I am willing to stretch myself and bring myself out of my comfort zone if I feel it can make a difference and help people.
I feel there are so many things about being stretched; for me, I don’t feel like my life is just for me. As you know I am a Christian and my faith is so incredibly important to me. The idea that I can give my own life to something that can actually affect others, that makes me so humble and excited! I have seen the Coopers do that, I have seen Skillet make a difference with their art; I have seen them bring hope to all places around the globe. Those are the things which have truly been ignited in me. Had I not spent the last 10 years seeing the power of music, I don’t know if I would be who I am today. It sparked something in me that makes me want to run in the same way. Not only that, but learning how to do that with integrity. When the Coopers have had pressure placed on them to become something else or be quiet about who they are, they haven’t been. I feel like that has brought more power to their music and platform. It has given me clarity on who I want to be, how I want to do things, and how I am not going to be ashamed of my faith, the things I have been through, and some of the things I find hard or challenging. I have a feeling that this realness and me being completely open in front of people is probably going to help others in a more powerful way than if I did everything perfectly.
So yes, 10 years of being in a touring Rock band has definitely shaped me. It has given me a feeling of purpose and what I want to do with my life too.
CrypticRock.com – Fantastic! You have clearly used the platform for good music, and no matter how down we are feeling it is the best release. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror films. What are some of your favorite Horror films?
Jen Ledger – I am a fan. I watched The Ring (2002) 10 years ago and I honestly couldn’t sleep for 2 weeks after, that is something I have definitely erased from my memory. (Laughs) I just watched the new Blade Runner 2049 from last year, I was completely impressed with that. One of my favorites is John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). I love animatronics, in another life I would have loved to go into special effects and makeup. It is so fascinating to me.
CrypticRock.com – Great selection! The effects really hold up with The Thing even though the film is over 35 years old now.
Jen Ledger – Absolutely! I am not as big of a fan of CGI as I am animatronics. I loved it! I saw it probably 8 years ago when John Cooper showed it to me. Man, as soon as it started, I was completely enticed by it; it is still one of my favorites.
CrypticRock.com – It is a great film. Nothing beats practical effects when it comes to film.
Jen Ledger – I 100% agree with you. It feels like you are there, it feels way more scary.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly, and some newer films are so CGI heavy, it seems like you are watching a video game.
Jed Ledger – I totally agree! It just loses the intensity and it’s a reminder it is not real because it is CGI. I am just a huge fan of animatronics, and it is crazy that 30 years later I think The Thing looks better than new CGI.