The Skillet frontman comes clean on the latest album, the current tour and the direction of the band.
How are you doing?
I am good. I am just having a great time on this tour. I started to get a little sick but am feeling better today.
What has been the most extraordinary thing that has happened to you since the album "Awake" came out?
Oh, man, since the record came out, the most extraordinary thing has been experiencing the week when the record came out. It debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard charts. That was probably the most extraordinary thing in our career. It was a big shock.
You are now armed with two back-to-back gold records - what does that mean to you personally?
It means I need a platinum one now. (laughs) That is kind of a running joke between me and my manager. When we got our first gold record, I just couldn’t believe it and I wondered if we were ever going to get another one. When we got our second gold record, I said I wasn’t going to be happy until we got our first platinum, jokingly and it has become a running joke. Seriously, though, it really is a shock. It has been something we have worked towards, and I always thought that it would be cool to have a gold record. It was kind of like saying, I wanna be president someday, that is how far off it felt. Then all of a sudden things just kicked in and the record went really good, so it has been really satisfying. We have worked a long time for this, and it is really cool.
Has the response to “Awake” been better than you expected?
In some ways yes and in some ways no. I knew we were working up a lot of good momentum from the last record. I did hope that would carry on with the new record. I knew we had a couple of songs that I knew people were really going to get, “Hero” and “Monster,” I knew people were going to get those two songs. I wasn’t sure about what was going to happen on the radio front. It hit radio harder than I expected, in a good way. In some ways I knew that it could but I didn’t know that it would.
Skillet has been around since 1996 - what is it about these last two albums that has resonated with the listening audience?
You know what, I ask my management that every week. Things are going so good and I ask, "Why is this record selling so good? What is different now than what it was then?" I think it is several things. I think the biggest part is that it is a big question mark. The biggest piece of that puzzle is that you don’t really know why something starts to hit and why something doesn’t. It’s a mystery. Some of the things I can look at and say “yes” that has helped is the fact that we have been around for a long time and have really supported our fan base in a really big way. We have made our fans happy. We have had autograph sessions for decades straight, every show, having meet n’ greets with fans, keeping in touch with our fans on the internet, and just being real people. We appreciate our fans and do our best to give them face time. We have done a lot of those things to get to know our fans and I think they have held with us because of that. That army has just grown and grown until, all of a sudden, people have heard of Skillet but they don’t know why. This allowed us to sell a half of a million records without a radio hit and you don’t know why that has happened. A lot of word of mouth. Also, with the last couple of records, we just found our sound. It, maybe, took us longer than a lot of bands (laughs) to find who we are. I think our last record we had a sound. It was a montage of all of our Skillet records and it was recognizable. The lyrics were recognizable and the songs just resonated with people. So I think those are the reasons why.
You are currently touring with Papa Roach, how has the tour been so far?
It has been absolutely awesome. We are having a fantastic time. ... It has just been great. You know what though, it has been an honor, the bands have been awesome. Papa Roach is probably the best band we have ever played with. The band is just so good and so energetic. The whole lineup of the night is just really good. I just feel this is a special rock tour. The people coming out to the shows energized.
Is there a different tone to a tour involving a more secular group of tour-mates?
I think every tour has it’s own type of flavor. Whether we are touring with Christian bands or with other rock bands, every tour is a little different. This one, we are on now, is just really easy. Everybody on the tour gets along really well. Actually, most tours I have been on, we have been pretty lucky, and gotten along with everybody. This tour is laid back. Everyone is friendly. The Papa Roach guys are very non-egotistical. They have been a really big band for a long time and don’t have anything to prove. They have a bunch of hit songs and they come in and treat us good and hang out and have a good time. So there is a real comraderie on this tour. A lot of times, especially on a co-bill, you find yourself in constant competition with the other band and you are trying to outdo them and there is this underlying “I hope things go good for you but not as good as it went for me” type of competition. This tour is just not like that. It has a very friendly atmosphere.
Why should a fan of each band’s music go and see this particular event?
I just think that the lineup is awesome. Every band, truly, on this tour is really good. Trapt is on the bill, I mean, Trapt has a bunch of big hits, big radio songs, in the last eight or nine years. When they are up there playing you think to yourself, oh yeah, I remember that song. The whole night just feels like a big energetic rock show. I think it is one of the best rock shows out there right now. So I think that is why people should come, you aren’t just paying for one good band, you are paying to see all good acts from start to finish with a lot of energy and a lot of fun mixed in. Everyone we have talked to who has seen it keep telling us that they wish the tour would come back. We are also seeing multiple fans who are coming to the show again and again, driving many miles to see the shows because they had such a good time.
Do you feel it is still important for Skillet to be classified as a Christian band?
Well, yes I do. In some ways, this is a hard question because of the symantical ways that you can be classified as a Christian band. I think it is important that Skillet stay true to our Christian roots and we don’t try to hide the fact that we have been in the Christian music industry for a long time. We would certainly never hide the fact that we are Christians. I am very open about that. So I do think that it is important thing for Christian music that Skillet still stands for those things and we do so. The only thing that I try to tell people is that if when you say Christian band and what you are thinking is a band that only sings to Christian people in the audience, well that you can’t relate because you are not a Christian and you won’t like the music, that is not what it means to be a Christian band to me. In that sense, Skillet is just a rock band. So for that, I always try to make that distinctions whenever possible.
What is the coolest thing about being in the band Skillet?
The absolute best thing about being in Skillet, this is going to sound cheesy, but the absolute coolest thing is ... well like last night, we were in Baltimore singing the song called “The Last Night.” It is a song that is about a girl who wanted to commit suicide and she came to me and I helped her through this time. So during this song I mentioned that Jesus had helped me through my own hard times and that he is the reason that I am alive today. Then we played this song during the show these two girls that were standing next to each other, both were crying. That happened just last night but also in almost every show. I always get notes about how the song has changed the lives of these kids or helped literally save their lives because they heard the story about suicide and it helped them to decide to get help with their problems instead of killing themselves. Moments like that are the absolute best thing about being a musician, about being a songwriter. You write a song that means something to you but you have no idea what that song could mean to someone else and how it could help someone. So that is the best thing about my job.
How happy are you with the direction that Skillet is currently going?
You know what, I am thrilled. I really am. I am just having the time of my life. Being on great tours, with great bands and getting to play in front of all kinds of different people is a dream. Just last week after we were playing, some fans came to see us after the show. One of the guys was like, I am an atheist but I just love your lyrics. I love the way they make me feel and it helped me through some hard times in my life. I love that we are mixing it up. We are getting out into the mainstream music, we are not just playing for Christian people. I love the fact that other people from other religions or different walks of life come and can see we are singing songs about life that they can relate to. I am just excited about all of those things. I am also excited that people are enjoying the music. We are getting to play with some of our favorite bands, you know! Papa Roach, we played with Alice in Chains this year, Stone Temple Pilots, Rob Zombie. We have just played with bands I have respected for a long time.
I know that your songs are like your babies, but do you have a favorite?
They are, they are, they are your babies. Actually, though, we have this song called “Rebirthing,” I quite prefer that song.
So who is a better bassist, you or Scotty Rock?
(Laughs) I don’t actually know. Scotty is actually a better guitar player than he is a bass player, even. He is actually a good musician. I am not the best bass player in the world but I hold a pretty solid groove there. You won’t hear me making very many mistakes. I know my parts and I play them alright.
Are Tate Olsen and Jonathan Chu full-time members of Skillet?
They are full-time with Skillet. I don’t know if members is the right way to say it. They are not in photographs or owners of the band but they are full-time traveling musicians with us. They do a fantastic job. We love having them with us.
What has been the greatest thing about having Jen Ledger apart of the most recent Skillet family?
The greatest thing about having Jen is that she is a really sweet person. I am putting this in a list of priority here. If she wasn’t a good drummer that would be a bummer, we wouldn’t have her. I guess the thing is, the best thing about her is that she IS a great drummer and a sweet person. She is really easy to be with on the road. She is just a nice, fun, funny person. Secondly, she sings really good. We weren’t planning on that but she sings so good we had her sing on the record. She has been just a really good addition to the band all around.
What is harder, writing a hit song or getting your kids to listen to you?
Writing a song is definitely harder. I don’t know why my kids listen to me pretty good. I don’t know why that is but I am blessed. My kids are very, very behaved. Writing a song is hard work.
With all of these new comic book movies coming out, what are the chances of “Hero” being featured on one?
I don’t know, I sure wish it was. I fought and fought for it to get used on the “Iron Man 2” soundtrack. No luck there. I keep getting "Not in this movie, maybe the next one," and nothing has happened yet. So, keep our fingers crossed. If it could come out in the new "Spider-Man," that would be awesome.
How much longer will you be on the road before starting the next album?
Nonstop, I really don’t know. We aren’t going to stop but were are already working on plans for next year of touring. It looks like it is going to be a busy time.
What can fans, old and new, expect from Skillet in the future?
With Skillet you can expect passion. That is what we do everything. We sing about what matters to us. You can plan on us trying some new stuff. I don’t know what that new stuff is yet but we always try new things in our music to see how this goes. Those are things you could probably bet on.