Skil­let catches fire in main­stream rock

>‘ Core’ Chris­tian artists hope to be ‘bridge’ be­tween two mu­sic mar­kets

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Music - By Bob Mehr


When John Cooper, front­man for Chris­tian rock band Skil­let, heard that the group’s eighth and lat­est al­bum, Awake , had de­buted at No. 2 on the Bill­board Al­bum chart a few weeks ago, he had one re­ac­tion.

“I was very dis­ap­pointed,” says Cooper, barely able to con­tain his laugh­ter, “I was re­ally ex­pect­ing to be No. 1.”

Cooper is, of course, be­ing funny about his dis­ap­point­ment, but Skil­let’s suc­cess is no joke. The long­time Mem­phis-rooted group — fea­tur­ing bassist/vo­cal­ist Cooper, his wife and multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist Korey Cooper, gui­tarist Ben Ka­sica and drum­mer Jen Ledger — has made a very un­likely jump into the main­stream rock world, sell­ing nearly 70,000 copies of its al­bum in the first week alone. The band plays Min­gle­wood Hall on Thurs­day.

Th­ese days you’ll find Skil­let’s songs on the ra­dio, be­ing used as sound­tracks for NFL and WWE broad­casts, and even shows on MTV.

“There is a snow­ball ef­fect, where it seems like you’re see­ing and hear­ing the band ev­ery­where,” says Cooper. “And it’s that per­cep­tion is re­al­ity thing; all of a sud­den Skil­let seems like it’s get­ting re­ally big. We cer­tainly do hope peo­ple will hear the songs and be cu­ri­ous enough about the mu­sic to go and buy the record.”

The kind of suc­cess Skil­let is en­joy­ing now — firmly es­tab­lished as Chris­tian mu­sic stars and as a fast-ris­ing main­stream act — is far from where the group be­gan.

In the mid-’90s, Skil­let was viewed as an up­start amid a con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian ra­dio cli­mate.

“Ten years ago, as a rock band in Chris­tian mu­sic you had a hard time get­ting played on the ra­dio, a hard time get­ting peo­ple to come to shows. We sim­ply couldn’t get any at­ten­tion,” says Cooper.

“One of the rea­sons things have changed for us over­all is that now we’re a core artist at the Chris­tian for­mat.”

Cooper says the shift to­ward rock by Chris­tian ra­dio pro­gram­mers has been slow but de­fin­i­tive.

“Within Chris­tian mu­sic there’s been a gen­er­a­tional change,” he says. “Most of the peo­ple who have in­flu­ence at the sta­tions now, they grew up lis­ten­ing to rock mu­sic, so the re­sis­tance is gone.”

Al­though the group is fol­low­ing other suc­cess­ful faith-ori­ented bands like P.O.D. and Switch­foot to pop suc­cess, Skil­let has taken the harder path, mak­ing the slough from the less glam­orous Chris­tian mar­ket into the main­stream world.

“We’re prob­a­bly one of the most suc­cess­ful Chris­tian artists who are cross­ing over,” notes Cooper. “And so I think — and I hope — Skil­let is go­ing to be an­other bridge be­tween Chris­tian and main­stream mu­sic. We hope that our suc­cess will give a lit­tle cred­i­bil­ity to the Chris­tian mar­ket.”

De­spite the in­roads they’ve made on the charts and in ra­dio — the al­bum’s first sin­gle, “Mon­ster,” is get­ting some rel­a­tively strong air­play — Cooper says there is still some re­sis­tance to the group within cer­tain cor­ners of the mu­sic in­dus­try.

“There are some ra­dio sta­tion pro­gram direc­tors that refuse to play our song — not based on the mu­sic but on our his­tory, and be­cause we’ve been in the Chris­tian mar­ket for 10 years,” says Cooper. “They don’t want any­thing to do with Skil­let. Those are the times where it’s frus­trat­ing, where we just want to be judged as mu­si­cians. It’s like, judge me like you judge every­one else — on the songs.”

For Cooper, find­ing the right bal­ance be­tween a pas­sion for his be­liefs and for his ca­reer is a con­tin­ual chal­lenge.

“I love rock mu­sic, love play­ing in a band, play­ing shows. At the same time, I do feel this kind of hon­est draw to singing about my faith. And I think walk­ing the line be­tween those things can be tough,” he says.

“I’m not a preacher, I’m a lead singer. But I look at some­one like (U2 front­man) Bono as hav­ing done both those things suc­cess­fully. He’s very much a preacher for so­cial is­sues and the things he be­lieve in,” says Cooper. “I just saw U2 play a few weeks ago, and I thought this guy’s preach­ing way more than I do. But there are peo­ple like that, who’ve done a good job com­bin­ing those things, and I’m try­ing to fol­low in their foot­steps.”

Skil­let’s up­com­ing show at Min­gle­wood Hall is part of what’s ex­pected to be a long year of tour­ing be­hind Awake , re­leased on At­lantic/Ar­dent/INO. Be­yond the band’s head­lin­ing shows this year, Cooper adds that Skil­let may do some open­ing slots for a main­stream band in 2010.

“The big­gest goal is to keep serv­ing our fan base. That’s what we want to do most,” says Cooper. “And, be­yond that, the next goal is, let’s con­tinue with the main­stream suc­cess we’ve built. Mainly, though, we’re hav­ing fun and en­joy­ing what we’re do­ing, and be­cause of that I hope we can con­tinue to do it for a long time.”

David Mol­nar

Skil­let is (from left) Jen Ledger, John Cooper, Korey Cooper and Ben Ka­sica.

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