John Cooper, frontman for Christian rocking Skillet, usually likes to listen to his band’s albums — something many musicians try to avoid for any number of reasons, such as not liking the sound of their voice, or hearing mistakes or missed opportunities to strengthen the songs.
“I do like to listen to my projects after a while to kind of try to experience it as a fan,” Cooper said in a recent phone interview.
But the singer/bassist had a hard time getting himself to listen to Skillet’s previous album, the 2013 release “Rise.” Over time, he thinks he came to understand the problem.
“I wondered why that is because I like the songs. What’s the deal here,” Cooper questioned. “And I think it was twofold, probably the majority of that was that it (“Rise”) was not fun to make and it probably brought up a lot of baggage.”
“Rise” became difficult basically because of outside interference Cooper said he encountered during the project. He was urged to do co-writes with established outside songwriters, pushed to rerecord certain songs and overall just felt considerable stress in making “Rise.”
Against that backdrop, it makes sense that Cooper and the other members of Skillet — his wife, Korey (guitar/keyboards), Seth Morrison (guitar) and Jen Ledger (drums/vocals) — went into the group’s latest album, “Unleashed,” looking to have a markedly different experience.
Skillet’s musicians just wanted to have fun.
“Writing the record, I’m not saying we didn’t have any hard times, because we did,” Cooper said. “Writing is always hard because you’re struggling and you’re fighting. It’s a little bit like climbing a mountain. It might be exhilarating, but it’s a lot of work. But it was quite fun and it was quite liberating for me and Korey when we were writing together.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
“Recording the record was a lot of fun because we weren’t overthinking any of that as well,” he said, noting he ignored advice to dial down the hard rock element of the band’s sound and suggestions about what songs didn’t fit on the album — and made the album he wanted. “So it was nice to, and it was also part of why I called (the album) ‘Unleashed.’ It was kind of like I felt very liberated.”
Cooper also had a fairly specific idea of the sound he wanted to create on “Unleashed.” He felt Skillet, which formed in Memphis, Tenn., in 1996 and has enjoyed success in both the mainstream and Christian rock scenes, really found its musical voice on its seventh album, the 2006 release, “Comatose.”
“It kind of solidified a very Skillet sound, which was very kind of arena rock, very theatrical,” Cooper said. “I would say it’s a little more classically musical than a lot of our counterparts in the rock world. So it sounded pretty much like us. Then we started taking it a little further on the ‘Awake’ project, a little bit more rock ’n’ roll. It’s been evolving each time.
“When we were making ‘Unleashed,’ I just thought it (needed) to sound like a really modern, in-your-face, big record,” he said. “The most modern-sounding records at the time really in a bizarre way have been pop albums, and even Skrillex and the dubstep movement. It’s very in your face, very aggressive, and a lot of that is coming from synthesized sounds. So I said I want to try, I want to have a rock element that incorporates that kind of sonic assault that (you feel) when you hear Skrillex, but with the loud guitars, as well. So we tried to achieve that while still keeping our identity.”
Fans figure to get a sampling of the “Unleashed” material during its shows this spring, along with hits — such as the blockbuster 2009 single “Monster,” “Awake and Alive” and “Sick of It” — and perhaps few surprises.
“We just feel very energized,” Cooper said. “The crowd is enjoying the new music and so it’s just been really fun to put new songs into the set, along with some surprises, some musical transitions that are not any recorded project we’ve done.”
WHAT: Skillet and For King & Country: Joy Unleashed
WHERE: U.S. Cellular Center, 370 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday (4/29)
TICKETS: $15 to $45, venue box office, 1-(800) 745-3000 or Uscellularcenter.com/events/