A recent phone interview with John Cooper -- the lead singer of Skillet, a band whose heavy, aggressive album "Collide" will save you money on ear-wax remover if you're using headphones -- was interrupted for a moment by his energetic 2-year-old daughter.
"That was her first somersault," Cooper said with a laugh. "At least I think that's what it was."
"Collide," Skillet's Grammy-nominated sixth album, includes tracks such as "Forsaken," "Open Wounds," "Fingernails" and "Imperfection." But Cooper is better described as "articulate," "content" and, well, "hoarse" after a morning's worth of phone interviews from his Kenosha, Wis., home.
Skillet includes Ben Kasica (right) on guitar, Korey Cooper on keyboards, principal songwriter John Cooper on lead vocals and bass and Lori Peters on drums.
But, as Skillet gears up for its 7 p.m. Saturday concert at Forestview Middle School in Baxter, Cooper is happy to respond to the comment that he's no doubt heard a million times before: "You guys are pretty good for a Christian band."
"We get that a lot in terms of mainstream publicity: 'You guys are a Christian band, but you kick butt,'" the 30-year-old bass player said. "I think people are surprised (our music) is as aggressive as it is. In people's minds, Christianity and rock music don't go together."
Of course, that has changed in the last five years with the rise of bands like P.O.D. and Chevelle and even a decade ago with Creed. While that band was once sued for stinking, Skillet isn't likely to be hauled into court.
Their Christian fan base has remained faithful through six wildly different-sounding albums (ranging from grunge to electronica to industrial techno to "in-your-face rock," Cooper said) and several lineup changes (Cooper is joined by wife Korey, 32, on keyboards; Ben Kasica, 21, on guitar; and Lori Peters, 31, on drums. A backup musician will fill in for the pregnant Korey at the Baxter show).
Cooper estimates 80 percent of Skillet fans -- who call themselves Panheads -- are Christians.
"The other 20 percent don't care we're a Christian band or they don't know," he said. "Maybe they're flipping through radio stations and didn't know it was a Christian channel. It's like with P.O.D., people say 'Well, crap, I already bought record and I already like it.'"
If you go
Who: Skillet with opening acts Everyday Sunday and Kids in the Way
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Forestview Middle School cafetorium
Tickets: $13 (advance), $18 (at door), available at Bethany Bookstore in Brainerd or www.bayministries.org
Web site: www.skillet.com
Lead singer/bass player for Skillet
Favorite band: Yes
Favorite song: "Purple Rain" by Prince
Favorite TV show: "Law & Order"
Favorite movie: "Braveheart"
What do you do in your spare time? "I collect toys -- 'Star Wars,' 'Batman,' 'Spider-man' -- movie memorabilia, collectables. I have a life-size Spider-man in my house." Cooper also had his own clothing line, called Invincible Wear, for a couple years, and he still designs clothes for fun.
Are you looking forward to the new "Star Wars" movie? "I actually am. The last two movies were so bad they almost made me start disliking the old 'Star Wars.' I hate the effects, the screenplay, the dialogue. But it looks like this one is going to be Jar Jar-less and more serious. The effects look a lot better."
Fun fact: Skillet has never played a cover song.
Cooper was raised in Memphis, Tenn., by a mother (since deceased) who thought "any music with a drum beat was from the Devil, rock was from hell, dancing was from hell, even Christian rock was the Devil's plot to twist them around to worshipping Satan," he said.
His father's views weren't as extreme.
"The biggest issue with my dad was he thought (rock music) was stupid," Cooper said.
He has since won his dad over, much like secular audiences are starting to warm up to music labeled "Christian."
"There's definitely a stigma, but for the most part people either don't hear what (Christian bands) are singing about or don't care," Cooper said. "A lot of people don't care what they're singing about anyway in rock music."
He said at least 10 kids have told him "Imperfection" (introductory lyric: "You're worth so much/It'll never be enough") helped them cope with suicidal thoughts. Still, Skillet is more into thumping beats than Bible-thumping.
"I don't try to be too preachy," Cooper said. "I hope a line or two might affect someone in a positive way."
Pop culture successes such as Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ" and TV's "Joan of Arcadia" and "Revelations" haven't just revealed the mainstream to be more open to faith-based projects. They have also allowed Christians to see themselves in a new light, Cooper argues. Even if he's not crazy about what that light illuminates.
"Typically, Christians have not done a good job of accepting other people's opinions," he said. "In general, we're a very judgmental people, and I think it's good to open these doors."
He enjoyed 2004's over-the-top Christian-school satire "Saved!" but was also a bit depressed by the film.
"Some of it made you think," Cooper said. "Like when they were in that youth meeting and the minister did the backflip ... Or 'Give it up for the J-man.' I could totally see that happening. I was depressed and laughing at the same time."
If Skillet ends up packing Forestview's cafetorium with their usual mix of Christian and secular Panheads, it might be Cooper who does a backflip on stage. Or at least a somersault.
JOHN HANSEN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5863.
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