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Winter Jam headliner Skillet just wants to have fun

| Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, 9:42 a.m.

John Cooper, frontman in Skillet, usually likes to listen to his band's albums — something many musicians try to avoid for any number of reasons, such as not liking the sound of their voice, or hearing mistakes.

"I do like to listen to my projects after awhile to kind of try to experience it as a fan," Cooper says.

But the singer/bassist had a hard time getting himself to listen to Skillet's 2013 release "Rise." Over time, he thinks he came to understand the problem.

"I think it was two-fold" Cooper says. "Probably the majority of that was that ('Rise') was not fun to make and it probably brought up a lot of baggage."

"Rise" became difficult because he was urged to do co-writes with established outside songwriters, pushed to re-record certain songs and overall just felt considerable stress in making "Rise."

Against that backdrop, it makes sense that Cooper and the other members of Skillet — his wife, Korey (guitar/keyboards), Seth Morrison (guitar) and Jen Ledger (drums/vocals) — went into the group's latest album, "Unleashed," looking to have a markedly different experience.

They just wanted to have fun.

"But it was quite fun and it was quite liberating for me and Korey when we were writing together," Cooper says.

He ignored advice to dial down the hard rock element of the band's sound and suggestions about what songs didn't fit on the album, and made the album he wanted.

Cooper also had a fairly specific idea of the sound he wanted to create on "Unleashed." He felt Skillet, which formed in Memphis, Tenn., in 1996 and has enjoyed success in both the mainstream and Christian rock scenes, really found its musical voice on its seventh album, the 2006 release, "Comatose."

"It kind of solidified a very Skillet sound, which was very kind of arena rock, very theatrical," Cooper says. "I would say it's a little more classically musical than a lot of our counterparts in the rock world. So it kind of sounded pretty much like us.

"When we were making 'Unleashed,' I just thought it needs to sound like a really modern, in-your-face, big record," he said. "So I said I want to try, I want to have a rock element that incorporates that kind of sonic assault that (you feel) when you hear Skrillex, but with the loud guitars as well. So we kind of tried to achieve that while still keeping our identity."

"Unleashed" was re-released in November in a deluxe version, which features two unreleased bonus tracks and remixes of three songs.

Fans figure to get a sampling of the "Unleashed" material during the band's shows on the Winter Jam tour, along with hits (such as the blockbuster 2009 single "Monster," "Awake and Alive" and "Sick of It"), and perhaps few surprises.

"We just feel very energized," Cooper says. "The crowd is enjoying the new music and so it's just been really fun to put new songs into the set, along with some surprises, some musical transitions that are not any recorded project we've done."

Alan Sculley is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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