MOMENTOUS MONDAYS: INFLUENTIAL ARTISTS OF ALL TIME – WEEK 23: SKILLET

‘…I think Christian music was still early on in it’s inception, people didn’t really know what it meant. I will say that Christian music has also changed and is very much changing very rapidly right now. There are some people that will kinda pre-judge the band; They go “Oh… it’s a Christian band, it probably sucks!”. There’s some of that. But, I think that Skillet has been around long enough that people get us. They know that Skillet is not, what I would call, ‘Preachy’. I think that we just sing a lot about spirituality. I’m very open about my faith. I talk about my faith in interviews and on stage. I’m not in any way quiet about it, but it’s more of a story telling. I’m telling my story, it’s my life. At every show, I meet people that say “Hey! I just want you to know that I’m an Atheist, I don’t get this Jesus stuff at all, but your music makes me feel better. It’s so positive and it got me out of a hard time” or what have you. I love those stories because I never wanted to be a person who only sings religion to people; That’s the opposite of what I want to do! I like that music should bring people together; I think that’s a really cool thing! So yeah, that prejudice still does kinda exist. Some of it rightly so, because there was a time when Christian music was very much ‘Preachy’ and very much only singing to Christian people. Whether that was the intent or not, that’s what was happening. That’s not what Skillet wants to do…’

‘…you have to remember this, Skillet came out in 1996 and there really wasn’t an internet! I mean, the internet was technically around in 1996, I had never heard of it. And it certainly wasn’t something that people found music on. It was a couple of years later that the internet really exploded. So, when we first started, we sold cassette tapes, mainly CD’s, but we had cassette tapes of our first records, first two records actually! I think that the internet has changed the entire landscape of music. There are goods and bads with that. One of the great things is that Skillet, well… not just Skillet, can be heard all they way around the world now. You don’t have to have a massive radio hit. It used to be that if you didn’t have a radio hit in Australia, then there’s no reason to go to Australia because nobody knows who you are! There have been some wonderful things that have happened. So, that’s probably the most life changing thing that has changed since the inception of Skillet…’

I don’t know if there was a particular time during my life, but at one point, I started to think that the musical genre of hard-rock wasn’t for me. Maybe it was because I had a preconceived idea of what hard rock sounded like, or the fact that during my formative and teenage years, I was heavily listening to artists like Carman (gospel/storytelling), Delirious? (Brit-rock/pop) and worship acts like Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, and Steven Curtis Chapman; that any interest in anything else other than what I was listening to, was a big no-no. Nevertheless, I thought I knew what the hard-rock music genre was, that is until I heard of the band Skillet around 10 or so years ago. And to be frank, I was still apprehensive about Skillet and their music way back then. Apart from a few songs here and there, I didn’t hear much more of the band- mainly because…well, I don’t know. Sometimes now, looking back to how I was 10 years ago, even 5 years ago; you wonder why you didn’t branch out into new and different, exciting and out-of-the-box music, sooner. But that’s just how it was. And for me, I found Skillet and heard their discography (and I mean, really heard it!) probably around a couple of years back. For me, I always like to be stretched musically and be confronted with new music styles, things that place me out of my comfort zone, in a good way. Artists like Train, Shania Twain, Owl City, Michael Buble and Sara Bareilles have all showed me what it is to create music that is just a little different from the norm. Add to that list is indeed Skillet, a hard-rock band full of positivity and hope, all the while never preaching to the masses but rather still affirming their own Christian faith in a non-threatening testimony-style way!

Skillet has always been, and will always be, for the people. It has been the fans that John Cooper, lead singer, and co, have been making music for. While the band has never shied away from being inclusive and creating a live set and songs that appeal to listeners who may not be accustomed to hearing Christian music, they have never once stopped sharing their faith and what it means to them. John Cooper, his wife Korey, guitarist Seth Morrison and drummer Jen Ledger, have created a band that I reckon is one of Christian music’s most relatable, but also, alongside Switchfoot, has successfully crossed over into mainstream, without compromising their message of hope, encouragement, and at times, confrontation that can be a catalyst to turn into carefully calculated action. Borne all the years ago in the mid 1990s, the band has come a long way from Memphis, Tennessee, and with countless albums later, they are still going strong now, even releasing a new album this week; compared to when their band life was borne in the 1990s. It is at this point in their own careers, that what they create from here on end, should hopefully silence critics and doubters about where their allegiences lie- in Christian music, or in mainstream. While many can say that you can either do one or the other, Skillet’s history shows us otherwise. John and Korey, Seth and Jen have crafted a career of non wavering, sticking by their beliefs, and creating album after album full of hits that can relate to a variety of people across the spectrum of race, religion, creed, colour, ideologies and even sexual expression and gender identity. Skillet’s music, like Switchfoot’s, is indeed universal- and there’s nothing necessarily bad about that!

Personally, I didn’t get really much into Skillet and their music, not until I was in my late teens/early 20s. As a result, I don’t really know much about their earlier music- actually that’s not exactly true. I do know some songs- ‘Best Kept Secret’ and ‘You are My Hope’ to name a couple, but on a holistic level, my memory of Skillet pre the Collide/Comatose era, isn’t as it should be- and maybe, that’s ok. I’ve always been intrigued by the hard rock genre of music, and have always been fascinated by how people can enjoy such a style of music, when I myself have been growing up on a whole new different genre plane- of Carman, Delirious?, Steve Grace, Planetshakers and Steven Curtis Chapman, to be exact. Which is not necessarily bad, it’s just that when a genre comes around that you wouldn’t expect, you are intrigued to say the least, as to how you will respond to such a genre that many, many people connect with. Sure, I know I won’t be fully comfortable with listening to full-on metal or even the screamo music genre, and that’s ok, but for me, Skillet’s music has been a unique breath of fresh air as I myself explore a side of myself that can appreciate the hard rock genre for what it is- music that brings out the fighter in us, and reminds us that it is the underdog that we champion in their journeys, every time. John Cooper, his wife Korey, drummer Jen Ledger and guitarist Seth Morrison have carved out a band that ministers (and I say the word and term very, very loosely, because people who deliver songs in the mainstream wouldn’t call themselves as being in a ministry, just delivering songs and meeting people where they are at!) to both listeners of Christian music and mainstream music- simultaneously. Sort of like how San Diego rock band Switchfoot have fans on both sides of the ‘Christian-mainstream’ coin, so too has Skillet have fans from both sides of the ‘divide’- and I call it a divide, because frankly and unfortunately, there is.

Mainstream music, be it bouncy pop, or opera, or even rap, rock, hip-hop, radio friendly music or something different and unique like bluegrass and country, all have the unique power to speak to people, just like how music with an overall Christian message speaks to people as well. Frankly, I reckon that in a few years, the label of Christian music should be done away with. Not because people are blurring the lines of what needs to be accepted in today’s culture and are straying away from their faith- far from it. But rather, sometimes the label of ‘Christian music’ sometimes stifles the band/artist, and doesn’t bring for the reach and power that the music created by them should have. Unfortunately, but it’s the truth, when someone comes across music that is labelled as ‘Christian’, they automatically think about megachurches, fake worship, judgement and someone being a stickler for rules, and thus, they won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. When in reality, the opposite is what the Christian music industry should convey. We should, in the music we hear and create, have honest discussions about love, life, faith and all our struggles. We should have real moments of worship, but also realise that when a song is written from the depths explaining that we don’t feel like worshipping at this moment, then that’s ok too. ‘Christian music’ shouldn’t really be a genre per se, it’s just music written and sung by people who are Christians. God speaks through Christian music and mainstream music just the same, and while I could be surmising and stretching it a bit, often the label ‘Christian music’ can imply that God only speaks through that ‘style’ or ‘kind’, and nothing else. Which is far from the truth, as evidenced by the music of Switchfoot and Skillet, to name a couple of big bands that have successfully placed their two feet within the two differing ‘opinions’ of music, and have spoken to both sides with grace, poise, fervent emotion and a heart to see people impacted by music and in effect God Himself, by whatever means necessary!

I know my few paragraphs before was a rant in and of itself, but nevertheless, it is indeed a necessary one. Skillet and their music (and to some extent Switchfoot before) has let me not be afraid of the big wide world of ‘mainstream’. Sure, there are music out there that is down-right disgusting, not honouring to God whatsoever, and just degrading to everyone else aside from the person singing it. We as Christians should in fact use our discernment about music that we know is good for our soul and what music isn’t. But to place a firm line down the middle and claim that everything this side of the line (or inside the box or whatever we design it to be) is deemed acceptable to listen to and everything outside of that is a big no-no, is bordering on controlling, and even at times, shall I say, limiting what we know God is really capable of. Because for me, Skillet as a band has broken down all of my own pre-conceptions to how Christian music v mainstream music should be shown to the public, and how the line between the two is only going to cause more division in the future. For me, as I’ve listened to the band’s discography, I am impressed at how they are as people- never swaying on their convictions of who Jesus is, and what He has done, but still delivering songs that people from all walks of life (and all different beliefs, or dare I say, lack of a belief) can relate to. As John himself discusses- ‘…I have more of an understanding about what our music does for people. I never imagined I’d meet somebody and they’d say, ‘Your music was the only good thing I had in my life in high school. I got bullied every day and the only thing that got me through was listening to your records.’… You meet people and they’ve got your lyrics tattooed on their bodies because it’s their marriage song or something. I never dreamt that Skillet would have this kind of impact on people’s lives. I don’t want to say that I appreciate the job more, but I have more of an understanding of what the music does for people. It’s very humbling…’

As I have listened and heard, over the past few years, and have read everything that people have said about the band, I’ve tended to notice one thing. That much of the fans have, by conclusion, said that their favourite album by the band, is Comatose. While for me I tend to more lean towards an album like Awake or even Rise that has impacted myself throughout my own journey from becoming a person who has, for lack of a better term, looked down upon people who do in fact love the hard rock genre, to being a person who appreciates and admires the genre itself right now; I can see where people are coming from who say that Comatose impacted them the most, or that from a technical standout, Comatose ticks all the right boxes. Because yes, frankly, from a ‘singles’ point of view, Comatose has the songs that speak to the people. ‘Rebirthing’, the opening track, speaks of new life and the need for people to want to be reborn in whatever circumstance they face themselves in- to be able to say that ‘yes, I did have this struggle- but I was made new and what I did face and what I did struggle with, I have no more’; while ‘The Last Night’, a song so poignant and heartfelt that it was straight included on a WOW Hits #1 compilation in 2011, speaks of the emotive and raw moments of a persona who is struggling with depression and suicide, and the singer John (maybe a close friend to the persona) declaring that ‘…this is the last night you’ll spend alone, I’ll hold you in my arms, won’t let you go…’ Whether this song is a straight out ‘God singing to us’ or a mate singing to a mate is immaterial- its impact for millions of people worldwide cannot be denied. ‘Looking for Angels’ speaks about us being on the lookout for the little things in every day and to appreciate the moments that many can consider to be ‘little miracles’, realising that there are things that happen in our lives that are not by chance, but rather, whether it is through connections with people, or as other people may call it, angels and the divine impacting a life in an unassuming and anonymous way, we live our lives, understanding that what we face and how we choose to respond will be a testament to grace and love as we share our own stories and lives to people who need encouragement. ‘The Older I Get’ is a personal song by lead singer John about his fractured relationship with his own father, and how there came a point where forgiveness and saying sorry, on both sides, is what is needed for healing and freedom to come into fruition and reality; while ‘Whispers in the Dark’ is a powerful heavy rock song sung from God’s POV (point of view), declaring that ‘…no, you’ll never be alone, when darkness comes I’ll light the night with stars, hear my whispers in the dark…’

After hearing the masterpiece which is indeed Comatose, to be blunt, it is hard to see any other album comparing to it. And maybe that’s ok. Maybe the unrealistic expectation that every album after the album that we are all impacted by, needs to be better than the last; shouldn’t be what we believe. Because frankly, when everything boils down to it, artists change. Their styles change. They may try something new. They may shift genres quite a bit, and sometimes for no apparent reason as to give something new to an audience and hope that they see the band as something more than just being pigeonholed into doing a certain genre of music, and that’s it. And for me, though from a sentimental point, I enjoy and relate to Awake and Rise much more than Comatose because it was during that time where I discovered Skillet; I do admit that from a subject matter and music style comparison, Comatose was their best. Nevertheless, songs still keep coming from a band that hasn’t stopped and has never given the indication that they will stop any time soon. All the albums subsequent to Comatose have their merits and will impact people in different ways. They’ll be people who love Awake and really not connect to Rise or Unleashed, and that’s ok. They’ll be people that give Victorious 5 stars and others that declare that Victorious was the worst album they’ve done…and both viewpoints are valid to the person that is doing the rating. Sure, if they’re just rating the album low because they wish the band goes back to what they were before, and not on any other technical aspect of the album, then that’s just nit-picking and wishing on something that may not occur, but by and large, albums have their impact for people, and what an album means to someone will mean something to someone else, and we as lovers and consumers of music, we as people who are impacted by music on a daily basis need to be cool with it.

For there is much gold to mine in I’m sure any Skillet album- ‘Monster’ delves into the darkness dormant inside of us that we are terrified to come to the surface, the person inside that doesn’t care what people think and just hates on everyone, themselves included, while ‘Hero’ alludes to the innate want from everyone for a hero in their lives that isn’t fallible by definition of human nature. A hero that I’m sure people are idolising in the form of superheroes from the DC Comics or the Marvel Cinematic movies; ‘Hero’ is the cry of the people right now, who want something more than this world offers us.  ‘Sick of It’, from their highly anticipated 2013 album Rise (their first album in 4 years, after their most radio-friendly ballad-y album Awake in 2009), speaks of a general disruption in the soul, and a stirring within us that we are sick and tired of the things that weigh us down, and sick and tired of the events that are unfolding in the current state of where things are in both the local economies of the places we live in, let alone the world itself. ‘Sick Of It’ is a declaration to stand up and take action, not just moan and groan.

‘American Noise’, and ‘Not Gonna Die’, the two other chart-topping songs from Rise, also speak of topics that even CCM sweeps under the rug. Speaking up and trying to be heard ahead of all the hustle, bustle, technology, and everything that can be bundled into the phrase ‘american noise’ that comes from the root ‘american dream’ (‘American Noise’), and declaring that we are not done fighting this fight we are in and that the defeatist attitude the world wants us to embrace, because of our circumstances, is not what we should give into (‘Not Gonna Die’) are themes I reckon the Christian music industry barely touch on, and that’s a shame. Skillet have always tried to make songs accessible to the average joe, and hopefully with both ‘American Noise’ and ‘Not Gonna Die’, we see people understand that standing up for things that society itself can deem incomprehensible, or even intolerable, is ok. We as Christians should understand that freedom is a privilege and a gift, and yes, we are free to use technology and pursue the ‘american dream’. Yes we can stand up for our lives, and yes, if all things fail, we do need to have an attitude of defeat when what we’re fighting up against is going to take more of our soul than we are willing to give, if we continue the fight. But let us not stop pressing on if what we believe is different from what we see is generally accepted in the worldwide media. Let us understand, as songs from Skillet through the years have illuminated throughout my life, that with Christ, anything that the world considers to be a mountain for us to trek, is nothing in God’s sight. God makes us feel invincible (‘Feel Invincible’) even when we’re not, He does bring us back from the dead (‘Back From the Dead’), and from the brink of just diving down the rabbit hole and turning into something we don’t like. And yes, we must understand that even God, the maker of the stars and everything else in the world, does want a relationship with us, the real us, not the us we try to pretend to be when people are around and we don’t want them to see the real selves because of fear of judgement, but the real us, no filters and no shame from God (‘Stars’). No condemnation. No judgement, that the world, and sometimes other Christians, can often give, sometimes without a second thought.

While Skillet first and foremost are well-known for their music as a band, individual band members have explored music and other extra activities outside of the umbrella of ‘Skillet’- and maybe, just maybe, lovers of their side projects can hear what Skillet the band have to say about issues…and vice versa. John Cooper’s side project Fight the Fury, which consisted of himself, Skillet guitarist Seth Morrison and a couple of other friends of John’s, debuted their first project Still Breathing EP late last year with their charting song ‘My Demons’, while drummer and vocalist of Skillet, Jen Ledger, also decided to travel solo for a time and debuted music under the moniker LEDGER. LEDGER EP unveiled to the public in April 2018, with fan-favourite songs like ‘Not Dead Yet’, ‘Bold’ and ‘Warrior’. Even in 2019, LEDGER also gave to us a song in ‘Completely’, not on any album, but still released as a single- and for me, has since become one of my favourite CCM orientated songs I’ve heard from a primarily rock-style artist in a long time. And so the release of the two EPs from the side projects of Fight the Fury and LEDGER, has only solidified the multi-skills of Skillet, and how band members can still experiment and travel solo for a time, even if they are part of (or have been a part of) the band, since forever. Coupled with the fact that John Copper himself has shown us a different side of himself lately, in the Cooper Stuff Podcasts, with him just talking and discussing topics and world events; Skillet has now risen up in terms of my appreciation calculator- kudos to John for diving into and presenting something new that is able to continue to bring the excitement when it comes to music in general. When it all boils down to it, both Fight the Fury and LEDGER were a little unexpected, but still welcomed with a newer genre that I can hopefully listen to and enjoy in the future.

Victorious dropped on Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon and other digital outlets last Friday, and you can read about my own thoughts on the album here. So I’ll won’t repeat myself. But what I will say is this. There’s so much polarising opinions on what people believe Skillet should be, in relation to what they have heard on Comatose– arguably, by sales alone, their best album of their career. Which seems to be a false expectation upon the band, to produce something that maybe they themselves don’t feel like they are called to anymore. Or maybe you can over-spiritualise it and say that you believe God is moving you in a different musical genre, but at the end of the day, music tastes change, and bands change their approach and style…and that’s ok. Skillet have taught me so much in how I myself should be humble and not quick to judge people who are of different beliefs than I am, because if an artist like Skillet, as firmly grounded in faith as they are, can impact and encourage people from a wide array of belief and unbelief, than I myself, who is firmly of the same faith that Skillet is, ought to approach life through a lens that Skillet does as well- from the very book the Bible.

Numerous times we’ve been taught not to judge anyone in their own walk (or lack of one) with Christ, and that we ought to fix the log in our own eye than worry about a speck of dust in theirs (paraphrased from Matthew 7:5, part of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount). And so as I’ve been fortunate enough to listen to a variety of music over the past few months, I have been faced with many times where I’ve been needing to reserve judgement on the artist, until I’ve heard much of their discography- artists like Josh Groban, Andrew Peterson, Sara Bareilles, Martina McBride and Michael Bublé, have all shattered and made me rethink my own expectations of the genres of pop-opera, folk/singer-songwriter, indie-pop/musical, country and jazz/swing music, respectively. Skillet is another artist where I’ve been able to exercise my own assumptions about what hard rock music should be; and understand that this style of music is as much valid and needed in a sea of different styles, than rap, pop, CCM and everything else in between! And for that humbleness that I have been able to submit to; and understand that God can speak through the unlikeliest of music if He dare so chooses, has made me forever grateful for undertaking such a bold and maybe at the time of inception, an impossible feat. Exploring these artists in my 100 influential list, has been an eye-opening experience, and has made me realise that music indeed is the universal language of the soul!

Does Skillet make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Has the band delivered music that can transcend walks of life and maybe even walks of religion as well? Has there been some songs that have spoken to you about yourself or maybe God Almighty in the process? Famous for songs like ‘Hero’, ‘Monster’, ‘The Last Night’ and ‘Sick of It’; is there are song that has connected with you that is a little lesser known to the public (‘Lions’, ‘Brave’, ‘Circus for a Psycho’, to name a few)? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

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