KENOSHA, Wis. — Skillet has long been much more than a pan to Christian music fans, but a new set of mainstream music lovers are starting to get to know the rock band that has been around since the mid-1990s.
Skillet released its eighth album, “Rise,” this June — coming off its best-selling album, “Awake,” which went platinum after three years. But singer John Cooper hardly feels famous.
“I like to tell people that Skillet is the biggest selling band that you’ve never heard of,” said Cooper at his home in Kenosha, Wis.
“People think I’m famous all the time, but they don’t know who Skillet is,” he said. “They always think I’m somebody else. They always think I’m Johnny Knoxville or Ryan Seacrest or somebody like that.”
Off stage, Cooper and his wife, Korey, who also plays guitar and keyboards, live far from the spotlight in Kenosha, a southern Wisconsin city of about 100,000 people where Korey grew up. She has family nearby and her father started a church in the area in the 1970s. Drummer Jen Ledger, an England native, also lives in Kenosha and attends the same church.
John Cooper helped start the band in Memphis 1996, but they’ve had lineup changes over the years. Currently, it’s the Coopers, Ledger and lead guitarist Seth Morrison, who lives in Memphis. He joined in 2011, and “Rise” was his first album with the band.
They’ve continually won over Christian rock fans, even being nominated in 2005 and 2007 for Grammy Awards in the best rock gospel album category. The song that helped cross them over to the rock charts was “Whispers in the Dark,” from the 2006 album “Comatose.” They’ve since had several songs on Billboard’s rock chart.
When the Coopers sat down to write “Rise,” they reflected on the success of “Awake” — but didn’t find many answers.
“No one really knows why our last album went platinum,” Korey Cooper said. “… So there’s even added pressure of how do you follow up something nobody can really put a handle on why it was successful.”
It could be of the energy they’ve put into relentlessly touring, concentrating on both mainstream and Christian crowds. They are in South America starting Thursday and will join Nickelback in Europe Oct. 26.
“Rise” made its debut at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 chart and No. 1 on the Top Rock Albums and Alternative Albums charts. And this comes after the group’s last album in 2009, “Awake,” reached No. 2.
Despite their success, they’ve not had that one giant crossover hit, said Anthony Delia, senior vice president of marketing for their label, Atlantic.
“We’ve not been critical darlings,” he said. “It’s hard a lot of times when you don’t have that early in your career. It becomes very hard to come by as you continue to develop because I think some publications write you off because they had written you off.”
Their songs are not overtly religious and are open to interpretation — the intention of John Cooper, who writes most of the lyrics.
In “American Noise,” for instance: “Times will be bad, times will be good, Things I wish I hadn’t done and somehow wish I could, Cutting through the American noise, You’ve got a voice and a song to sing.”
“We write them through our world view, through my faith in Jesus, but I write it in a way that can interpreted into lots of different things,” he said. “And I think Skillet’s music brings people together. I don’t think it alienates people of certain beliefs.”
Even in the Christian crowd, they can’t seem to win everyone over.
“There is a certain sect of Christian people who believe that Christian music should be extremely overt,” Cooper said.
Cooper said he once had a promoter tell him they would be far more popular if they stopped talking about Jesus. He disagrees.
“I think (fans) just appreciate that we stand for something,” he said, “that we are real about it and not embarrassed about it.”