KEARNEY — John Cooper of the Christian hard rock band Skillet knows exactly why he plays music.
“It was the only thing I was ever good at,” he laughed. “Ever since I was young, music just spoke to me in a way that nothing else did. I like film as well. Film speaks to me, and books, too, now that I’m older, but nothing speaks to me like music.”
The bass player considers music to be inherently spiritual.
“It’s life changing and it’s literally one of the best things this world has to offer,” Cooper said from Kansas City where he stopped for a show while on tour. “I find it a privilege to make music. And if I go deeper into that, privilege as a human being to create music. There are no other animals that we know of that get to create ‘song’ in the way we do. It’s a privilege for humans, philosophically, as well.”
Cooper will bring his award-winning band to central Nebraska for a concert at 7 p.m. April 15 at the Buffalo County Fairgrounds. Skillet will perform with For King & Country. Tickets to the show are $20-$65.
Cooper, 42, grew up in a musical family in Tennessee.
“My mom would say something similar to what I just said about the reason she loves music,” Cooper said. “But the other side was that she was very prejudiced against certain kinds of music. Rock would be pretty much like the tool of the devil, you know, in her mind. There was nothing more evil than rock music.”
His mother, a piano and voice teacher, made sure that music surrounded Cooper from an early age.
“I was always around church music and classical music,” he said. “My mom started teaching me when I was 5. I played quite seriously until 8th grade. I also played the trombone in the orchestra and that sort of thing.”
Cooper studied music at college, winning a scholarship on trombone.
Despite all of his training, nothing spoke to Cooper like rock music.
“The energy of rock music, the passion of it, the loudness of it — it all expressed how I felt as a human being, as a young man,” he said. “It just spoke to me.”
Cooper formed Skillet with Ken Steorts in 1996. The name came from the idea of putting all the influences and musical styles of the band members into a big skillet to come up with something unique. The name of Skillet stuck.
As for the dark side of rock music, Cooper never saw that as a teenager.
“Where I grew up, I was always told about the mantra of ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,’” he said. “But it was never about sex and drugs for me. I never really made that connection. In fact, I always thought it was really overstated.”
As he became an adult and had his own children, Cooper noticed the connection.
“Then I could look at it and say, ‘Oh, OK, it really was about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,’ especially in the ’60s,” he said. “With the Free Love Movement and the hippie movement, I could see where they were coming from. But I never once listened to Metallica and thought this was about sex.”
Cooper understood the anti-establishment side of rock music.
“It was about thinking for yourself, against the system, it was a way to express how you feel and who cares about the consequences? To me, that sounds a little bit like Jesus to me. I’m a Christian and I read the Bible. Jesus was very anti-establishment. I don’t mean he was rebellious, really, he was clear about who he was and he wasn’t about to bow down to what he didn’t want to be.”
The musician took those lessons from the Bible to shape his own life.
“That’s the reason that Skillet is known as a hard rock band but also as a Christian band,” Cooper said. “I’m never embarrassed about that because I don’t care if people don’t like it. I’m not trying to please a label or a radio station. I’m just trying to make my music.”