One of the toughest hurdles for any band to clear is a label that tries to limit it into one musical category or genre.
Though Skillet is an unabashedly Christian rock band, it would be foolhardy to get snagged on that label. Skillet's brand of hard rock fits in among the best of the golden era at the end of the last decade, and the band's longevity is hard to deny. While other groups have risen and fallen, Skillet continues to push its craft, not fearing to incorporate elements bands would shy away from like strings and electronic sounds.
In doing so, Skillet - vocalist/bassist John Cooper, guitarists Korey Cooper and Seth Morrison and drummer/vocalist Jen Ledger - has capitalized on bringing in younger fans with every album. Its latest, “Unleashed,” is no exception.
Before Skillet's show Feb. 11 at the Rapids Theatre, I spoke with Cooper on the band’s rise and career path, as well as what it takes to stay relevant and centered.
Question: Your new album, “Unleashed,” has a themes of rising up and empowerment. Were you picking up on the societal changes in the air when you were writing the record?
Answer: We tend to write about those themes quite a bit. I intended the album to be less about the problems of the world and more generically about people overcoming hardships. It works on a multitude of levels, though.
Q: You regularly incorporated a lot of strings and electronic elements in your music. Was there a certain cinematic or epic quality you wanted to capture?
A: Skillet has always had a lot of different musical influences in our career. We have a lot to choose from. I think when we hit that “Comotose” era, we hit a niche with strings that really started to sound like Skillet. There’s always been an epic, dramatic vibe in our music. We added a lot more on the electronic end on this record, and that was really fun.
Q: You seem very much like you want to stay on the cutting edge of where rock is going. Do you feel that that’s an important strategy in your longevity?
A: I would definitely say that’s in the mix. A lot of rock bands don’t tend to get new fans or younger fans. When we go out on tours, the bands we play with don’t tend to have any fans under 30 or 35 years old. Skillet has always found a way to grab new people. We gain fans from all over the spectrum. There’s elements of modern pop in our music, so it’s been good to experiment with that.
Q: Coming to prominence in the mid-2000s where there was such a saturated market of hard rock, was it hard finding a way to distinguish yourself and what do you believe ended up working?
A: “Comotose” really was a record that played to the Myspace crowd. We really didn’t try to fit into a mold. At the time, everyone was kind of sounding a bit like Three Days Grace, but we didn’t try to do that. We tried to write songs that sounded like us. However, when our song “Monster” came out, it sounded a lot more like what the radio was playing and that took us over the top.
Q: You’ve probably seen the rise and demise of a few hard rock bands in your time. What do you think it was that pushed rock into the background on radio?
A: I certainly think rock music will make a comeback, but it will have a bit of a different form. Bands like Three Days Grace, they were the new form of rock music. Then you had the crossover bands like Nickelback. That was a great time for rock music. But it’s all circular. Trends change and people grow up. We have to be willing to try new things.
Q. Has there ever been a time where you’ve had to defend yourself from labels and push back, or has it really never come into play?
A. Sure. There was a lot of kickback at first, and even now to a lesser degree. People didn’t want to accept us since we were labeled as a Christian rock band. But it was more like radio folks and label folks. We’re not preachy, but honestly, I always embraced it. I would put the fire out before it begins and say “yes, we are a Christian band.” If you don’t like it, then just don’t listen. But music is about expression, and this is ours.
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 11
Where: Rapids Theatre, 1711 Main St., Niagara Falls
Tickets: $27.50 - $32 (ticketfly.com)