Interview: John Cooper of Fight The Fury

Most anyone who knows me, will tell you that I have several bands that I have a devotion to. One of those is a band called Skillet. Yes, I am the Panhead Mom. Let’s just say that my kids grew up going to many Skillet shows!

 Fast forward several years later and the lead singer of Skillet, John Cooper, announces that he has a side project called Fight the Fury. I’m not disappointed at all when I hear it. Our fearless leader then asks if I want to conduct the interview?While I have started to venture into writing a bit more, my superpowers are for photography. Regardless, without a doubt, I said YES!

So on a cold December afternoon, my phone rang. With a bit of quivering in my voice, I answered the phone call from Wisconsin, where Fight the Fury was playing a few shows over the next couple days. As greetings and ‘thank you for talking with us today’ pleasantries were exchanged, I’m thinking in the back of my head  “Are my questions good? Is it going to be obvious that it’s my first interview?”, and so on. My notes are pulled out and ready, speaker phone on…Here we go. Lovely readers, I give you, one of the most bad ass bassists around, John Cooper, of Fight the Fury (and Skillet)!

Michele Hancock/I’m Music Magazine: Skillet has been going strong the past few years, with an intense touring schedule, several chart topping CDs, and then you grace us with this side project, Fight the Fury. I read that you sat on this for two years! How hard was that for you?

John Cooper/Fight The Fury: That’s the thing when you are doing music. You don’t know if it’ll ever get released. I’d say I started it about two years ago. It wasn’t that It was completely done, but I had most of it done for about a year. It is hard to sit on when you have it in you. It had come up before, like with “My Demons” specifically, which is the first track. Like maybe that could be a Skillet song? Some people were saying,you could record that on a Skillet record and I just didn’t feel good about it.It felt like I would have to, kind of soften the song and, change enough of it that I didn’t feel good that it was right to do to the song.  I just felt that this is a different identity and it needs its own outlet and that we’re just going to put it on the back-burner for when that time ever comes.  And,the label, they liked the song, and liked the idea of the project, but then trying to find time squeeze it in, cause Skillet does tour so much, and we were also working on new Skillet project, So truthfully, all within one year, we were working on a new Skillet album. We worked on the Ledger record, which was the project our drummer ,Jen Ledger, was working on. Then we were working on Fury…. It was kinda crazy, but it was fun. All these ideas coming around, they were all new ideas, it was fun.

That’s the other thing I was going to ask you. This was around the time that Unleashed was being done as well, if I have my timeline right. So, it seemed like it was a really crazy time. (For those who don’t know, Unleashed is the 9th studio album for Skillet, released in August of 2016.)

Unleashed came out, and I would say it was only a few months later that I began recording these songs. So it was right around that time. I already had the songs written and I started recording on that next tour. So it would have been about three months after the release of Unleashed.

Y’all’ go really hard – I’m still in awe, Soccer moms have nothing on these guys!-

(Laughs) Yeah. It’s funny, that’s kind of addicting. Touring and touring and recording used to be done differently. Used to be that you finished your touring cycle, then you went in the studio for a few months, you write songs, you turn stuff in. These days,the recording has to be done before you, quote, “record the record” if that makes sense. You know, I think the labels are expecting to hear songs kind of‘demo-ed” out, and I think the stakes are a lot higher in the world because of technology. You can record the demos on the road.  You can record them, then email them out, and get it the next day. As opposed to when demoing would take ages and the mixing, you’d have to set up the cassettes there, the discs up there. It’s a different world now.

That kind of leads into my next question. I know you’ve spoken in a couple other interviews that I’ve read about how Fight the Fury is influenced by your love of the music from the 80’s, like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Scorpions, to name a few.  I can hear the raw elements, the guitar solos, more like the anthems we heard in the 80’s. What has been the reaction from the more hardcore Skillet fan base? Also, have you heard any reaction from any of the guys in Metallica or Iron Maiden, any  of those guys that were your influences?

Sure, sure. To the latter question, I doubt Metallica or Iron Maiden know we exist.Now, we have shared the stage with Iron Maiden at some festivals. That was, what I would say, one of the biggest points in our career. Just this last summer we play with Iron Maiden again, at a festival. I can’t remember where, but whatever country in Europe it was, it was awesome. And we weren’t the direct support, but we were one of the last before Iron Maiden. It was one of my favorite things, but no, I don’t think they heard us. We’ve had some heavier stuff throughout our career here and there. Skillet is kind of an ongoing experiment in that we try new things, that we like to kind of evolve and, and not give you the same record twice. And I think that a lot of the Skillet fans can recognize some of those influences, or songs, or older skillet albums. I think people that really like the heavy stuff, I think they are quite excited about Fight the Fury.  But I think more than Skillet fans liking it,I think that we’re kinda garnering new fans, which is really what I wanted to do. For fans of some of the metal bands that we play with, that maybe Skillet is not quite heavy enough for, maybe those people would take a liking to the Fury..And that’s where I think that we’re going to grow.. But I think that certainly the reason we have a base at all for Fight the Fury at all really is because of the Skillet fans that have been paying attention to it and some of them go“Man, this is really heavy stuff I’ve wanted, always wanted Skillet to do”

 :This fan definitely likes it. We opened up questions to our readers and one of our readers  asked about your writing style. When you are writing the lyrics for the songs, do you tend to write them as the instrumental parts are being written or do you have kind of a rough draft and then create the music around the lyrics and the emotions that they kind of bring out?

This fan definitely likes it. We opened up questions to our readers and one of our readers  asked about your writing style. When you are writing the lyrics for the songs, do you tend to write them as the instrumental parts are being written or do you have kind of a rough draft and then create the music around the lyrics and the emotions that they kind of bring out?

Right,right. Usually I’ll start a song with some sort of vocal melody / lyric. I don’t mean lyrics to a whole song or like a whole poem. Just an idea of something that I want to sing about and, it’s usually a melody and a lyric,even if it’s only one line, that I feel really good about. And then after that I’ll begin creating the music and then, I would say the full lyrics. Meaning all the verse lyrics and you know, really getting it right, and all that will happen at the very end. But usually it starts with some kind of idea of what I want to say in the song and because of that one lyric, it kind of gives me a feeling of what the music should sound like.

 That sounds great. I’ve heard you talk a lot about the first single, “My Demons” And you said that was the first song that you wrote about. My personal favorite is “Still Burning”. I’m curious, is there a story that’s behind that one?

 Yeah, funny enough, I would say for the Skillet fans, “Still Burning” seems to be the favorite. 

(I can almost hear the grin that is sure to be hiding under that iconic beard.) Oh, really? (I chuckle as I think of how loyal the Panheads tend to be).

That’s kinda what I’ve noticed when I’m on social media checking in and out. I think that Skillet fans have been resonating with that one. And my wife Korey, says that she thinks that’s the one that sounds the most like Skillet. I don’t know. I can’t really tell, to tell you the truth, what sounds like Skillet or not, but she was like,  ‘Yeah,it kinda has that emotional thing to it.’ I think what I personally like about “Still Burning” is that it is a romantic, but there’s a dark side to it. I like to call it a Gothic ballad, you know. Romantic but it’s also kinda has a little bit of a spiritual feeling to it and I think that’s cool. It doesn’t necessarily mean religious, I don’t think. I just mean, sometimes there’s a fine line between something that feels spiritual and feels romantic I find certain songs of Nine Inch Nails to be that way, certain songs of Breaking Benjamin can be that way, bands like that. And they just have a romance, that’s evident.It’s romantic, but it’s spiritual, a longing, and I think that’s a really,really great, uh, I would say, recipe for making a great song.  I think “Still Burning” has that kind of a feel to it. So it is spiritual, it is kind of romantic, it is about that, you know, when you hear people say, they’re going through a breakup season or a relationship not working, ‘You know what, the fire’s not there anymore.’. You hear those kinds of things. I thought it would be a really cool idea to write a song that says the opposite. Not just that the fire’s there but it’s burning bright and that kind of was “Still Burning” was all about. That person or that thing that you can’t live without.

That’s great. When you were thinking about doing this side project, did you feel like it would  kind of stretch your creativeness?  Could it in the end could make you a better musician?

 Yeah, I would say so. You can kind of look at this from what’s important to view, when you’re starting something new. One could be that I’m going to stretch myself too thin and I’m going to kind of dry up my creativity. You know, I’ve already written all these songs and I might be totally out of material for Skillet and, for whatever. And, normally I’ve been the kind of person in my career that I haven’t done a lot of outside writing and things like that, because I’ve always been focused on my one thing and I can give all of my attention to it, and a few years ago that began changing. I started noticing that the more I am putting out, the more ideas I have and the more I’m willing to try something maybe that I would never try before. And so for Fight the Fury for instance, you know, there’s a lot of, um, a lot of screaming on the record, you know, some shouting and screaming, some different kinds of things that I’d done a little bit of in the past but I had to stretch myself and work on. At first I thought, Ah, that sounds stupid, I wonder if I could do it in a different way. And I think all of that creativity, it just became really fun going, what else can I try that never tried before? And so yes, I would say while I was writing Skillet, I was writing Fury and some of the Fury ideas were giving me new ideas to try for Skillet, things that I maybe I had done in the past, but were afraid to go a little to heavy for Skillet, and it was inspiring me to go ‘You know, screw it, I wanna try this’ It was quite fun.

Awesome! I have one other question that one of our readers submitted that I thought was a good one. And it goes back to what you were talking about spirituality. A reader asked  how do you stay grounded in your faith in a strong secular industry, especially with metal having a darker theme and fan base?

 Sure. I think faith kinda is the same in any situation,meaning, how would one stay grounded in their faith when they’re going to college. You know, when I went to college, like I was a Christian,  and the first day of my freshman year, I remember I only had what, five classes the first year, three of the professors went out of their way to say how stupid Christianity was. It was the first day of college. One of the classes, the introduction to studies, you know, usually when you go to college, you take intro studies on campus and tell you what to do and go and, and yada yada. And, I thought ‘Why are they going out of their way to say how dumb Christianity is’.  Biology Class was the same way. First day of biology, and I thought, well, okay, we’ll get into whatever. And he kind of covers, all the things we’re gonna cover. He has dimensions, evolution, how stupid Christians are, and some Christians don’t believe in evolution, and I’m thinking man, it’s like people’s missions.

       ‘And you could ask the same question.How do you keep your faith during that, how do you keep your faith when getting a new job and you don’t have time to maybe go to church like you used to. I guess I’m trying to say faith is something that has to be all consuming in your life. I don’t mean all consuming that you don’t love anything else. But what I mean I should say all grounding. Everything else in your life kind of comes out of that. And I would say there are things like, for instance, being a good father, no matter what your doing, you use foundations. I’m going to be a dad,whether I’m working out of the road, whether we’re together, where the work is more, whether I haven’t slept, I know that this is what I’m about. I’m a good dad.I find my faith to be that way. So I guess I would say A, I think that faith is something for me that is something I’m committed to my most of my life.

      And I would say part B of that would be that I don’t always have people around me that are of like mind. You know, I tour with a lot of secular bands, some have alcohol problems, drug problems in those bands. There’s always someone in those bands, who is actually like are covering addict and sometimes you know, let’s just say a guitar player in a band,he is recovering addict. All of the band is partying and he doesn’t have anybody to lead on. I’ve seen some of those bands bring out an AA sponsor,people that are just with them all the time, to lean on, to talk to. I think that that’s a good idea for some people. So for me, I have my wife on the road with Skillet. With Fury, I’ve got my buddy’s on the road, and so I think that’s an important thing and I would say part C, is just for me, the music industry,it’s always been about the music and for some people, whether they mean to or not, it’s not really just about the music. It’s about sex, drugs, rock and roll. And as far as a party lifestyle or being a rock god. That stuff never mattered to me. I just want to make music that I love.  When I was a kid growing up, when I was listening to Metallica, it never made me want to go party. I just liked the music. You know, uh, the music made me feel good and it got me through problems in my life, it made me feel understood in a way that nothing else did. So tome, that’s what the music does that sort of about.

That’s awesome. So one thing I wanted to do, I thought it might be a little bit of fun. I know you’re a kind of a Sci-Fi /horror film geek. I’m also a geek girl, so this could be a neat ‘Getting to know John Cooper.’   Avengers or Justice League?

Oh, Avengers, that’s not even, that’s like saying cake or broccoli. (I’m trying to imagine Iron Man and his reaction to this metaphor here, I think he would be pleased.)

 Alright. What about Star Wars or Star Trek?

Star Wars. Cake and Broccoli.

(Jedi Master Michele) Good man. Good man. Freddy Krueger or Jason?

 Oh, Jason

Awww, no Nightmare on Elm St? We can agree to disagree on that one. What about Batman or Superman?

 Oh yeah, Batman.

Batman is kind of cool. Oh, and then reign of Batman, the older or the newer?

 Oh gosh, I probably would go older just because it’s nostalgic,but when I say older, I mean more like 80’s/ 90’s not 60s. But I love Batman Begins, That’s superhero heaven for me

 I know you guys are doing a quick little tour, so I know you have a busy night, but I really appreciate you getting with me.

Thanks for being so gracious and doing the interview. I really appreciate it. It was great talking to to you.

It was great talking to you too! I look forward to seeing you New Years Eve at Winterfest at Liberty University!

By I’m Music Magazine Contributing Photographer/Writer Michele Hancock

Purchase/Stream Still Breathing HERE

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