Despite his band's prominence in the Christian rock world, John Cooper of Skillet didn't grow up listening to rock music - Christian or otherwise.
"I got into music as a kid; My mom was a piano teacher and music teacher," he said in a recent phone interview with the Mirror. "I sang my first solo in church when I was 5. But I wasn't allowed to listen to rock music when I was a kid - I wasn't allowed to listen to anything with drums. It was a long fight, and I finally got my parents to let me listen to Christian rock."
He may have started listening late, but he has more than made up for lost time. In 1996, Cooper co-founded Skillet, a hard rock/heavy metal group that has grown into a platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated success. The band - which features Cooper as bassist and lead singer, his wife, Korey Cooper, on guitar and keyboards, Jen Ledger on drums and Seth Morrison on lead guitar - will co-headline a show with Grammy-winning Christian rockers Third Day at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena in Johnstown.
Skillet consists of (from left) Seth Morrison on lead guitar, John Cooper as lead singer and on bass, Jen Ledger on drums and Korey Cooper on guitar and keyboards.
Four-time Grammy Award winners Third Day will perform with Skillet on Thursday at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena in Johnstown.
Opening acts for the show will be Mandisa, Peter Furler, Brandon Heath and We As Human.
Skillet's current tour with Third Day has been very enjoyable, Cooper said.
"We've been with Third Day now for about six weeks," the 38-year-old rocker said. "I've known the band for 16 years probably, but we've never toured together since this year. ... In the first few weeks of 2014, we've played together more times than in the previous 16 years.
If you go
Who: Third Day and Skillet, with Mandisa, Peter Furler, Brandon Heath and We As Human
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Cambria County War Memorial Arena, Johnstown
Tickets: $31.85 and $42.85. Tickets available at the War Memorial, at Ticketmaster locations or by calling 800-745-3000
"It's good to be touring together finally."
Despite their long relationship, Third Day and Skillet don't actually have much in common, musically. While Skillet walks a thin line between hard alternative rock and heavy metal, Third Day is a more traditional Christian rock band, with softer sounds and more Christian lyricisim.
"There are some similarities," Cooper said. "But we're different enough; it's not like a knee-jerk 'Whoa!' difference [for the audience]. I think it's a pretty good pairing."
Skillet's hard rock/metal sound isn't one often found in Christian acts. But it's a style of music that has become increasingly accepted, thanks to successful bands like Jars of Clay and P.O.D., Cooper said. Still, some in the Christian music community get nervous about harder music.
"I think it's a line you've gotta walk," Cooper said. "For me, I love music and I love writing songs about things I believe in. Every songwriter, no matter what they believe in... you write something that is the way that you feel.
"I think the trick is singing what I believe in without preaching to people. That's not what Skillet is about. We don't write to Christian people, we write to all people."
But Cooper believes that his band does feature its faith more prominently than other rising Christian rock/metal bands, such as Underoath.
"I think the thing that makes Skillet a little bit unique is that I think Skillet has been the most vocal about their faith [among that genre]," he said. "I don't know that there have been a lot of bands that have quite owned it in quite the way we have."
Getting past the stigma of harder rock in the Christian music world is just one obstacle, he said. The bigger hurdle is getting respect from the mainstream music world - a barrier Skillet passed when their 2009 album, "Awake," went platinum. It's a plateau not often reached in today's digital music-dominated world.
"I would definitely say that in the music industry, they look at Christian music as being illegitimate," Cooper said. "They have no cred and it's not viable. We've had a tough battle to fight those misconceptions ... we've finally gotten over that hump, and people respect Skillet for what they are."
Respect for the band is apparent in the reaction the Cambria County War Memorial Arena has had to the upcoming show.
"Third Day and Skillet both played here [in the past] and they both sold out," said Tom Grenell, general manager of the arena. "Just having those two bands together is massive in this genre. They're both headliners in their own right, both superstars in their own right. To play together ... it's pretty big."
Those shows - Third Day in March 2011 and Skillet in March 2010 - were part of a big push into Christian music for the Johnstown venue.
"We've had tremendous success with the Christian market," Grenell said. "We're looking to add some additional seats. ... There's plenty of great seats going to be on sale. My desire is to sell the thing out."
Skillet has released albums pretty regularly during its 18 years, unveiling its eighth record, "Rise" last June. But Cooper says fans shouldn't fear a show of all new material, played at the expense of familiar songs.
"My favorite thing about the show is when people sing back to you," he said. "We play a pretty good mix of our records and it's all about pleasing the fans. I know I've gone to shows where the band won't play their hits. And you kind of go, 'Come on, man, you're not going to play your hits?' As a music fan, I don't like that."
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.