"While I was growing up my mom died when I was fourteen. I got into this terrible home life situation with my dad and (for a period) of four years it was either me yelling at him or him yelling at me," says Cooper. He allows that a lot of the tension was due to working through the natural cycle of grief. He continues, "My dad got remarried two months after my mother died and my step mother's husband had died about two months before my mom so both of them were dealing with very recent deaths of their spouses. They had three kids and we had three kids. It was a bad situation. I hated living there and I hated life."
There were a few things that provided hope for the young John Cooper. One was his faith in Christ. "I was a Christian and I knew that God loved me." The second element of hope in his life was looking forward to spending weekend sleepovers with a close friend. "We did everything together and we would laugh all night long. It was the one thing I lived for. "Stay up late and we'd talk all night/In a dark room lit by the TV light/Through all the hard times in my life/Those nights kept me alive," Cooper sings on the track "Those Nights" of the new album Comatose. "It made all the junk worth fighting for. That is why I decided to write this song ("Those Nights") because there are so many people who are going to identify with that. You certainly don't have to be a Christian to identify," he says.
Some people when they talk about songwriting will tell you about a formula for success. Others are philosophical about a letter they want to deliver to the world. Then there are those who are more commercial and speculate about whether a certain hook will catch the ear of the public. Most of those people I just alluded to are sincere and are just taking different roads to get to the same goal. The longer I spoke to Cooper however what emerged consistently is this is a man who talks about matters of the heart. Sure Skillet plays fabulous rock tunes and Cooper is a phenomenal writer but what the songs "Those Nights," "Rebirthing," (the first single released) and "Looking For Angels," do is allow you for a brief moment to step into his life. They are life experiences and they are his life experiences.
"The whole Comatose idea came out of the notion that we have been sleeping. We have not been reaching people for Jesus but we have been trying to create a bunch of people that look and act just like us. So much of the time we are not really concerned about caring for people who are hurting," he says.
"Looking For Angels" uses Cooper's life as a canvass and several events that collided as the brush strokes. The colors to this painting began to emerge three months after the 2004 release of Collide. Since that time the lead vocalist and primary songwriter for Skillet has been on a life transforming journey.
"The original intent of Comatose (the album) was us waking up. It is kind of like the Matrix, maybe we are just sleeping through this life and it is time that we wake up and do some good on earth. We wake up and ask God, "What is it that you want us to do here," he says.
The second thing that altered how Cooper looked at his Christian experience was when the band decided to perform and record crossover general market music. "We went on a tour with Saliva which was the first mainstream club scene we ever did. I would say that tour was a real landmark. I had never been to a bar in my whole life, never lived in that kind of environment or world. All of a sudden I was placed in a situation where I was singing to people night after night who came to the concerts. Some of their lives looked empty and it was a very sad experience for me," Cooper says.
"All of a sudden I realized that as Christians we are not doing what we should be doing to reach hurting people and give the hopeless hope. We do what we do day after day in our churches and wait to see who comes to us so we can put them into some kind of program," he says.
Another real eye opener for Cooper was his discovery of the perception of Christianity held by a lot of non Christians. "They would say, 'I don't understand how you can say you are a Christian and yet you are playing rock music. (Others) would say, 'Now you are going to tell me that I am going to go to hell because I am drinking a beer," he says.
"I realized that Christianity in America looks so different than Jesus. It began a whole life changing time for me," he says concluding the thought.
He relates a movie experience that caused him to laugh and then to ponder more seriously if a spoof about Christianity was really that far fetched. The movie was Saved and starred Mandy Moore. To add an exclamation mark to his comments he draws from the movie Forrest Gump. "Do you remember the part in the movie Forest Gump when Lieutenant Dan asks Forest if he found Jesus and Forest says, 'I didn't know I was supposed to be looking for Him?' People don't know what we are talking about in Christianity much of the time," he says.
Through Skillet's involvement with Acquire The Fire events Cooper was introduced to the Ron Luce book Battle Cry For A Generation. "I went into reading the book thinking I see young people 150 times each year and I know where they are at. I just felt that I was supposed to read it," says Cooper. What surprised him was the high incidence of teen suicides and cutting.
Cooper says, "Comatose was a spiritual awakening for me. It was a time for me to wakeup and say we need to talk about things that people are going through. We need to be there for people who may look like they are not worth loving because that is what Jesus did."
"I feel the song "Looking For Angels" is the most important and relevant song that I have ever written. It encompasses what my message is right now," says Cooper. With all the terrible things that are going on in the world you can make a difference if you want to. You can be there for someone and you can be Jesus for someone who needs to experience that. You can be hope to someone who doesn't have any hope," he says.
Cooper says it was out of this personal perspective that the words of "Looking For Angels" took flight. He repeats the lyric;
"I became a savior to some kids I'll never meet Sent a check in the mail to buy them something to eat What will you do to make a difference, to make a change? What will you do to help someone along the way? Just a touch, a smile as you turn the other cheek Pray for your enemies, humble yourself, love's staring back at me In the midst of the most painful faces Angels show up in the strangest of places"
"It's a little bit preachy but all I'm trying to say is you can make a difference in this world for chump change, giving a little bit of your time or a little bit of your money. (In doing so) you become a savior to someone."
Cooper, wife Korey Cooper (string arrangements and Keyboards), Ben Kasica (guitar) and Lori Peters on drums have created more of a melodic pop sound with Comatose than was present on Collide. Cooper credits producer and co-writer Brian Howes with providing much of the direction for the CD.
John Cooper has come a long way from what he describes as the "very tight, stiff church" that he grew up in. It wasn't until a friend invited him to a church where for the first time he witnessed a pipe organ being replaced by acoustic guitars, a band and Congo drums that Skillet's lead vocalist realized there could be more freedom in worshipping God. "The people were jumping up and down. It was like being at a concert. It was at that moment that I decided there was so much about this that made sense to me in my heart. I was thinking, 'I don't know why everybody is doing this but I want it too.' It was at that moment that my life changed," he says.
He adds, "There is intimacy when you give everything you have to worshiping God. I do want to say that I don't think it has anything to do with the style of music."
"Comatose as a concept is meant to challenge people to invest in the relationships around them," Cooper says. That challenge is being issued to you October 3rd when Comatose hits the shelves of your local music stores.
For more information please visit www.skillet.com.
Writer: Joe Montague