“Rise is basically the story of your average American teenager growing up, coming of age, and being faced with the unbelievable problems of the world,” says John Cooper, lead vocalist/bassist for Skillet when first describing the band’s latest album release, Rise. The world is “dark and scary, there’s acts of God happening, there’s war, there are all these terrible things – all the school shootings and bombings, all these massive world problems, but [there are] also these inward problems of Hollywood telling [youth] who they’ve got to be.” As Cooper explains, teens proclaim to themselves, “ ‘Even moving all those huge problems aside, I look at my own life and I’m not even comfortable with the things I can change. My friends at school are bullying me, I’m fighting with my parents, my parents have split up, I’m here in a home getting yelled at all the time that I’m never gonna be good enough, and I’m starting to believe that I’m never gonna be good enough. I constantly fail myself, and I just want to have a reason to live. I want to matter, and I want to know that my life counts for something’.”
Cooper expresses a deep concern for the growing lack of belief in young people today, which becomes an inspirational element to the development of Skillet’s latest album Rise. The group hopes to encourage youth to rise above their frustrating life and seek God for healing and the strength to overcome their circumstances while making significant change in their world. “So the story is basically about rising up out of your downtrodden life, rising up from that place where you feel like a failure, rising up to be comfortable being yourself, to stand up for what you believe in,” Cooper claims. “And it’s a story about trying to find faith in a faithless world in a seemingly hopeless world and rise above,” Cooper continues. “It’s not about pleasing your friends, it’s not about doing what’s cool; it’s about being who you are and being comfortable with that. And lastly, in the grand scheme of it all is, if I can be somebody I am comfortable being, maybe I can even rise up and help change the world. Can one person make a difference? Can one person actually matter?”
The overall feel of the album could be classified as dark, but if listeners focus on the lyrics with intent, they’ll hear this story and realize the deep, heartfelt hopeful inspiration that the band portrays in each song. “It is encouraging to all of us that even though we are living in a dark world with bombings, school shootings, floods and hurricanes, there is hope and we want our lives to matter. I hope people listen to the album and relate to it,” says Cooper.
The progression of the album is crucial. The three opening songs resound with the theme of standing up and making a difference but the album develops into a firm proclamation of our need for our Savior.
Cooper explains the single “Sick of It” by saying, “what I really like about the song is that it is so aggressive and it sounds angry but it has a positive message to it and that is really cool. It is a call to change the things in your life that you want to change. I meet fans all the time that are struggling with addictions and abusive relationships and people have come up and told me that this song has helped them through their difficult times.”
“Madness in Me” helps listeners realize that they “can’t change the past/but can change today.” This song speaks about the dreams they develop of who they hope to be or what life would be like. But, with life’s circumstances, they feel defeated because nothing is turning out like they planned. Skillet recognizes this hardship and gives listeners the words and the voice to stand and pursue the life they desired, the life they intended, the life the Lord hopes for them to have.
But, Skillet isn’t just singing to their fans, who have been coined panheads, they’re joining in this movement of hope and change. “This record stands out because it is the first time that we’re singing songs that use the word ‘we’ rather than ‘me,’” explains Cooper. “It’s not just my feelings, these are our feelings. We can do this. Even the title track is not about me rising; it’s about us rising. So this record feels inclusive of all kinds of people, and that’s unique for us. It’s a rallying cry.”
As with any album, it’s more than just the songs and the story behind the lyrics, the art of the album also has great significance. Drummer and duet partner Jen Ledger created the album art and was inspired by the story of David and Goliath, “That’s why I came up with a little girl with a slingshot kind of like she’s standing up against the world around her and she’s choosing to fight. Even though she may look insignificant and week, she also symbolizes power.”
There’s great power in a song, it can inspire, motivate and move an entire generation. “Writing music’s fun, but for me performing is what it’s all about,” says Cooper. “Cause you know, when someone’s out there singing a song, they’re singing back to you, you know that you’ve written something that’s impactful to them,” Copper continues. “I think music should be bringing people together and bring them hope,” says Cooper. “That’s what music does for me.”