The popular hard rock band, Skillet, has been performing on Winter Jam, the annual Christian music mega-tour that will stop at U.S. Bank Arena this Saturday, since 2008. According to Skillet bassist/vocalist, John Cooper, both the audience and the musical lineup has diversified over time.
“When we first played (Winter Jam), it was safer,” he said. “At the time, we were the loudest, edgiest band on the bill. But now people are more used to bands that are outside of the usual Christian box, which is great because it brings in other types of people. But the fact that it’s a spiritual night, with a message of hope; that has stayed consistent.”
In 2016, Skillet released its 10th album, “Unleashed,” which produced the current radio hit, “Feel Invincible.” Cooper was once quoted as saying he was “proud of the record though he didn’t think it was the best Skillet record.”
“What I meant was that it was the best Skillet record we could make today,” Cooper elaborated. “Music has changed. Culture has changed. I prefer the musical dynamic of the 1970s and ’80s, where songs were more like roller coasters, where they slowly built up to something spectacular. You don’t hear that anymore because nobody has any attention spans. Now, one instant hook has to lead right to the next one. So ‘Unleashed’ is our broadest and poppiest album, but my favorite Skillet album is still (2006’s) ‘Comatose,” because it’s much more theatrical.”
Cooper often seems as much attuned to marketing as he is to music.
“I think what we did well in ‘Unleashed’ is assessing where hard rock music is today,” he said. “We can write songs that change with the times. We can do a hard rock record that (hard rock) fans will like, while also introducing hard rock to alternative rock fans, people who listen to Imagine Dragons, who never listened to a metal record. We were the seventh most streamed band in 2017, and the six bands above us were alternative bands.”
Despite the blending of genres and the dissolving of norms that have occurred in popular music over the last 20 years, not to mention the tumbling of rock from its perch as the dominant form of anti-establishment music, Cooper said it’s still difficult to be a hard rock band while retaining the Christian market.
“The key for us is to be authentic,” he said. “To not try to be more Christian at Christian shows and then more rock at secular shows. I always share my faith. And even though some on the rock side might not like it, I hope they appreciate that I’m not trying to fool anyone. We’re still the loudest, craziest band on Winter Jam. They took a chance with us, and it did really well for our career.”
WANT TO GO?
What: Winter Jam 2018, featuring Skillet, Kari Jobe, Building 429, John Crist, KB, NewSong, and others
When: Feb. 17, 6 p.m.
Where: U.S. Bank Arena, 100 Broadway St., Cincinnati
Cost and more info: 513-421-4111 or www.usbankarena.com.