July 24, 2017 Interview – Korey Cooper of Skillet
In the crazy world we live in, filled with political agendas, hatred, and negativity, it is nice to have something positive to turn to. Providing that outlet of light to millions of listeners worldwide, the Hard Rock band known as Skillet have been doing just that. A band with a rich history dating back two decades, Skillet has touched the hearts of many with a brand of Hard Rock that is both energizing, positive, and hopeful.
Breaking big into Rock stardom with their 2009 album Awake, Skillet has been putting together some of the best Rock concert experiences out there since, following up with Rise in 2013, and more recently Unleashed in 2016. Veterans on the scene, Skillet continue to tour through 2017 and hope to begin the writing process of some new songs sooner than later. Recently we caught up with long-time Keyboardist/Guitarist Korey Cooper to talk her journey with Skillet, being a working mom on the road, leaving it all on stage each night, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Skillet’s history goes back two decades now. In that time, you guys have really built a very successful band, obtaining platinum status, touring all over the world, and building a family-like fanbase. Since joining the band full-time back in 1999, what has the journey been like for you?
Korey Cooper – It’s been a crazy, crazy journey. John and I got married right after the first Skillet album came out. We kind of had decided that we didn’t really want to do the separate thing were I was at home and he was on the road. So I went on the road actually ’97 in the van selling merch so that we could be together. Then ’98 they added keyboard and they didn’t have money to pay anybody and I was already there. That’s my main, started on piano and they needed a keyboard player; so they were like okay she’s here and she’s free. So that’s how I got into the band (laughs).
Since then it’s been a journey from van, to bus, to kids on the road, to two busses, to I might have to play guitar now, so let’s just figure it out. Okay, I was pregnant with my first daughter and I’m learning the guitar (laughs). It’s been a crazy, crazy journey.
CrypticRock.com – That is unbelievable. The band has grown as your family has grown, obviously. That said, what is it like being a working mom on the road and working with your husband, is the travel difficult?
Korey Cooper – It’s pretty crazy, but it’s also awesome to be able to do what we love together. We both love music and we both love the idea of making a difference in people’s lives – helping them to find some hope, some peace, and just a little bit of a break from the stress of life. We both love the idea of family and doing this with our kids. Then we feel like we’re together because they are with us backstage with the bands and everything else, my kids are a joy for people.
We never really thought we’d be doing it for this long and we never really thought we’d have kids on the road. So I think you kind of navigate through each stage for your life. Each season has it’s own trials and hardships, but you have to navigate through it and figure it out. I think we do a pretty good job of the growing pains and then figuring it out, what makes it work. Just really remembering why we do this anyway; why you’re making the sacrifices you’re making. When you can keep the proper perspective that’s helpful to not get lost in the day-to-day stress.
CrypticRock.com – That is a good outlook to have. You had mentioned making a positive change in people’s lives. Skillet has a very strong fanbase, one that really connects with the music, the lyrics particularly, as well as the energy. Your latest album, Unleashed, really continues to connect with listeners. In our 2017 interview with John, he stated he was very proud of the record and very modestly said it is perhaps not the best Skillet record, but it is a lot of fun. What are your thoughts on Unleashed?
Korey Cooper – The process of making this record was a lot more enjoyable than Rise. I think that helps just the positive feel of the record for us. I think those things come across in the music to the fans as well. I think that the reason why we do this ultimately is we love Rock music, but ultimately, we want to make a positive impact in the world while we are here, while we’re doing this.
Music has such a power in of itself and if you can steer that with the things you have to say, and the love you have for people, your fans pick up on that. It’s created a community where people feel known, people feel heard, and people feel safe. I think our fans, they’re kind of in for the long haul because they know that you love them and you’re making music for them. It is a community feel, it’s not just about the band and the music anymore, it’s about each other and they connect with each other. Hopefully making the world a little bit better of a place.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, that is what is great about music; you can do that and connect with people in that way. The songs of Unleashed are all pretty diverse and they are very energetic, much like most of the band’s music. Furthermore, you have some really cool singles as well as music videos off the album. Particularly “Stars,” you did two separate music video versions. What was it like putting out two different versions of the track?
Korey Cooper – For what I do in the band, these are the fun things, not that I even was super involved with both versions, but I was there. The idea that this song is bare bones and can stand with you just playing it on the piano. The possibilities are limitless with where this song can go – we could do a Heavy Metal version, we can do an EDM version, we can do an organic version. So I always find that kind of thing really super exciting because the possibilities are endless with it. So the idea that we could do a couple versions of the song was quite exciting to me. The album version we kind of wrote it, still it has to be quite strategic in what we do because we’re in so many different formats.
For you to be a really heavy band, but to also be in the Christian market is a really difficult line to walk. So if you want to get radio play over there, it’s almost like the opposite of active Rock style production. But you have to do it where it stands on an album, where it can’t be like this is weird with this song. So that’s kind of always the strategy behind Skillet, is we have to hit a lot of formats, we have to be able to have it all live on one album, and make the fans happy too. You want to give fans what they’re expecting from you, but you also want to push the envelope so you’re not dated, you want to be relevant musically.
I think it’s cool to be able to do several different versions of a song. We’ve always done sort of strings organic piano stuff anyway, but the album version was very synth, which some of our fans don’t love. It was cool to make this song come alive in different ways.
CrypticRock.com – Both versions stand alone on their own and it offers something different for everyone. You had mentioned about playing in multiple different formats. It is also interesting what you say about Christian Rock. It seems like, depending on who you speak to, some more close-minded people look at a Christian Rock label as a stigmata – they look at it as something negative for some odd reason. Labels are irrelevant, but how do you look at yourselves, as a Christian Rock band per say, or a Hard Rock band with Christian beliefs?
Korey Cooper – I look at ourselves as a band whose members are all Christian people, so the things that we write are going to be coming from that paradigm. We don’t want to just exclusively sing to Christian people. We want our music to resonate with all sorts of people, so we have fans that are atheists, we have fans that are Muslim, we have fans that are Jewish. We don’t want our music to be polarizing and we don’t want our lyrics polarizing, but there is a positive message in the way we view life that I think comes across in our music.
CrypticRock.com – Could not agree more. What matters most, no matter what someone’s belief, there is a positive message to withhold in Skillet’s music. The band has conveyed that very well through your music, it is something people can universally connect with no matter what.
Korey Cooper – Yeah, I totally agree.
CrypticRock.com – You have been very heavily on the road over the years, perhaps one of the hardest working Hard Rock bands out there. That said, you have been on the road most of 2017, and will be through the fall. Giving it your all every night, how do you keep that energy level high?
Korey Cooper – Well the older I get, the more difficult that is (laughs). I think we’re all very passionate about what we do, so regardless of how tired I feel or how exhausted I may be, people don’t know that, and they don’t need to know that. What they need to know is they paid for the show and I’m going give them all that I’ve got up there. Leave it on the stages is our motto. You have to give them high energy, you connect with the crowd and you just make a decision to go for it sometimes. Because sometimes you’re really feeling it, you’ve got the adrenaline, other times you’re just like, I am so tired I don’t know how I’m going to do this. But then, I imagine it’s like anybody who plays sports on a team; sometimes you’re feeling it, sometimes you’re not, but you give it your all because that’s what the people deserve.
CrypticRock.com – Yourself in particular, you really seem to be very into your performance, you lay it all down. All over the stage, you are jumping everywhere and it adds a fantastic emotion to the performance. How do you feel when you are performing and feeding off that natural high?
Korey Cooper – I love playing shows. It’s my favorite part of touring life. As you know, the days go by slow sometimes, you’ve got kids on the road so the days start early, it can be quite tedious. Just in general, it’s not a real comfortable way to live, even as comfortable as you can make it, it’s just uncomfortable overall. I really look forward to hitting the stage and connecting with the fans. I mean pretty much anytime we’re out there, you can see that any song you’ve written at all is resonating with someone. That’s why you do this and I kind of feed off of that.
Also, the idea that I’m a girl up there in a Rock band. I’m aware that maybe it’s becoming more common, but it’s a little bit unique for Jen and I to be in a heavy Rock band. I’m like, you know what, I feel like I have a lot to prove every night as well. I’m going to give a little bit extra because hey ya know; female, rock band, there is going to be a perception that you’re gonna be lame, don’t know how to play your instrument, not going to be able to rock. I want to be able to show women as well that, hey we can hang with the guys, just be great at what you do and give your all!
CrypticRock.com – There definitely has been in the past decade or so, it is becoming more common to see a lot of women in Rock bands, and that is great! That is the way it should be, there should not be any preconceived notion that a woman cannot rock just as hard as a man. Some of them rock harder, you rock harder than most the men on stage, so congratulations to you. Back to the music, Skillet has seen major success, and 2009’s Awake was a really big album for the band. Obviously you said that 2013’s Rise was a little bit of a challenge, this in mind, do you feel like, with Unleashed, the band is taking the steps forward to where they want to be with the next record.
Korey Cooper – Obviously Awake went platinum, and it’s about to go double platinum, so it’s just hard to follow something that none of us necessarily knew that was going to happen and it just kind of did. Every album you go into, you do your best and you don’t necessarily know how it’s going to resonate. And then Rise, you know Rise is gold, so it’s not like it was a fail, but I think, for us, we felt like we didn’t necessarily connect as much as we wanted to.
Going into Unleashed, it was like okay, if we went wrong on that album, where did we go, and let’s strategize about the end and work on it. I think Unleashed is represented where we were at the time, it felt like us, felt more authentically us then perhaps Rise did, and it didn’t feel as stressful of a process. I think that comes across on the album as well. For us, every single time we go into a recording, that whole process recording, it is quite stressful, the stakes are always high when you’ve sold what we’ve sold – people don’t necessarily know why, and we don’t necessarily know why. It’s hard to sort of evaluate that and reproduce it.
Going into our next records, you want it to be authentic always, you need to have your finger on the pulse of what is happening in music too – you don’t want to give yourself all the way over to trends, we’ve never done that, but you want to have elements of what’s trendy in it. Obviously you want a really strong sound and you want to be speaking about things that are relevant within your songs and things that you are passionate about speaking. I think, with Unleashed, we felt like we nailed that, and going into the next record cycle, the recording cycle, whenever that might be, which you know we’ll start writing for that soon, we just have evaluate all those things and go for it!
CrypticRock.com – Fantastic. Well Skillet always put out a very quality product, so it will be exciting to see the next cycle. Now, Unleashed has three singles released off it, all which seen video releases. The latest, “Back From the Dead,” which was released back in January. Will there be any other singles, or will that be the last released single?
Korey Cooper – No there is going to be another single. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say what it is, but yes, we will be releasing another Rock single and another Christian single actually too. As far as videos, I’m unsure if we’re going to be doing any more videos for them. But yes, there will be two more singles coming out; one for active Rock and one for the Christian format.
CrypticRock.com – That is something to look forward to as well. When John spoke to us in 2016, he mentioned he is a big Horror and Sci-Fi fan. If you are as well, what are some of your favorites in the genres?
Korey Cooper – Let’s see, my favorite I think is The Ring (2002). I love, love, love that movie (laughs). I’m a big Sci-Fi fan as well, my favorite TV series ever is X-Files. I’m actually the one that introduced X-Files to John. Movie-wise, Alien (1979) is my fav. I’m probably more of Sci-Fi fan than a Horror fan, but we watch a lot of Horror movies and I really do enjoy all of them (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – Very cool. John seems to be really into it, he had provided an image of his movie memorabilia collection.
Korey Cooper – Oh man, yeah, he’s got some really cool toys at home, and now my son is starting collecting. We actually went on a cruise with the kids and we were in Cozumel, Mexico and one of the stores that they had there had Alien vs Predator made with what I think was animal bones. I don’t really know how they made it, but it looked awesome. So that’s my son’s first, he loves the Alien as well and he has started collecting those things as well. It’s a family thing I guess (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – Like father like son, family thing, like you said! Did you happen to see Alien: Covenant, which just came out recently?
Korey Cooper – You know John saw it, I haven’t seen it yet, but I really do want to. But you know mom life is a little busy for me, he went with my brother-in-law. I think he enjoyed it, but it’s hard top the original, you know.
CrypticRock.com – Very true. Speaking of, you said you guys watch a lot of Horror movies. Skillet has done some pretty cinematic production music videos. For example, “Back From the Dead” has a zombie theme. It seems like you guys have a cinematic flair, have you ever thought of perhaps doing something with movies?
Korey Cooper – I think John has. He was very involved in all the videos we shot this time, probably more than other times. The “Back From the Dead” video in particular, he was very involved from the beginning. Our former Guitarist, Ben Kasica, is the guy who executive produced it. John actually reached out to Ben, and said, “Hey I want you to write me a treatment for this.” And then, even from the beginning, they talked about the treatment and John was like, “I kind of want The Walking Dead elements in there.”
He was pretty involved in the writing and the direction of that video. I think he would be, not so much me. I don’t necessarily love being in the forefront of things, being in the face, I prefer more being in the background, and more the strategy behind the scenes.