Every victory merits a theme song. Skillet write the soundtrack to triumph on their tenth full-length, Victorious [Atlantic Records]. One of the best-selling rock bands of the 21st century, the two-time GRAMMY® Award-nominated multiplatinum Wisconsin quartet—John Cooper [lead vocals/bass], Korey Cooper [guitar/keys], Jen Ledger [drums/vocals], and Seth Morrison [lead guitar]—ignite seismic stadium-size anthems highlighted by chantable choruses, thunderous rhythms, symphonic electronics, and intricate musicality. Each lyric, riff, and beat motivate as the group sharpen their signature style with precision, passion, and power.
In many ways, the title encapsulates a shared mindset for the musicians.
“Victorious perfectly describes how the record makes me feel,” affirms John. “You wake up, face your own demons every day, and never give in. There’s an introspective side to it. We might’ve commented on the world explicitly on previous albums. This one is about looking inward. Perhaps, it’s because I’ve gotten a little older, and I’ve accepted struggle as part of the journey. When I listen to these songs, I want to fight for my life, I want to fight for who I am, and I want to fight for what I believe in.”
This undying spirit humbly asserted and affirmed Skillet as one of this generation’s most successful rock acts. However, as all classic underdog stories do, it happened quietly under the radar. By 2019, they not only garnered a pair of GRAMMY® Award nods and sold over 12 million albums worldwide, but they also took home a Billboard Music Award for the double-platinum Awake. Its breakout single “Monster” remains “one of the most-streamed rock songs of all-time” with 285 million global audio streams. 2016’s Unleashed bowed at #3 on the Billboard Top 200. Going #1 on Rock Radio, the lead single “Feel Invincible” cracked 150 million global audio streams and went platinum. Meanwhile, the gold-certified Unleashed became their fourth consecutive album to receive either a gold, platinum, or double-platinum plaque. To date, nine original tunes earned RIAA recognition in tandem with high-profile syncs by everyone from WWE and Marvel to ESPN and NFL. Between selling out arenas on four continents, the group performed on CONAN and graced the pages of USA Today and New York Times, to name a few. In 2018 alone, the band clocked 1 billion streams.
In the wake of this runaway success, they capitalized on a flurry of creative inspiration. Galvanized by this chapter, they reupped their last offering with a popular special edition, Unleashed Beyond, in 2017 and flexed their production prowess outside of Skillet. Korey produced Jen’s well-received debut as Ledger in 2018. Meanwhile, John wrote, recorded, and produced the debut Still Breathing EP for his metal outfit Fight The Fury.
Coupled with the production strides made in the last full-length studio offering, Korey and John took the reins for the bulk of production on Victorious—a career first.
“Unleashed recharged us, and we returned to what we love about writing,” continues John. “It was tight and electronic hard rock. We wanted to keep the sound modern and pull in influences from hip-hop drums and keyboards, while staying riff-y. Victorious started there. Our confidence was sparked by the last record and all of the other projects. We were feeling prolific. We thought, ‘We can produce our own Skillet album.’ It lit a fire. Korey and I have produced in the past, but nothing quite like this. It’s a brand new season.”
This season kicks off with the lead single “Legendary.” Otherworldly keyboards and wiry, blues-inspired guitar give way to kicking percussion before the song explodes with a hummable hook punctuated by hypnotic harmonies.
“The lyrics are a call to make your life matter,” he goes on. “You’re realizing you have a chance for your life to count every day. In a sense, we’re all destined to be forgotten, so live the way you want and don’t turn your back on who you are. I drew the sentiment from my own career. We’ve always put our heads down and pushed forward when confronted with adversity.”
Fittingly described as “a full-on rock song,” the hard-hitting “Save Me” channels “old-school Skillet” with its searing solo, thick punch, and introspective take on “looking into the mirror, opening up, showing that side you’re not proud of, and hoping to be rescued from the inner turmoil.” Co-produced by Unleashed collaborators Kevin and Kane Churko [Five Finger Death Punch, Ozzy Osbourne], “You Ain’t Ready” stands primed to detonate on stages worldwide with its encouragement to “get back up when you get knocked down.”
A very special composition, “Reach” kicks into high gear on deft riffing before detailing a heartbreaking, yet inspiring true story about Korey’s high school friend who passed away after a stage four cancer diagnosis. The record remains dedicated to her memory.
“It’s a heartbreaking situation,” he says. “She and Korey would talk about spiritual subjects like God and the afterlife. Korey mentioned, ‘The Bible says if you ask God to make himself real to you, he will.’ She texted Korey and said nothing happened a week later. When she was taking a shower, it suddenly occurred to her the prayer went unanswered. So, she said, ‘Hey God, I’m going to call you on this. You’re supposed to make yourself real to me, if I asked. I asked’. She heard a voice in her heart at that point. It told her to raise up her hands. She did and felt a great peace come over her. This is the idea for ‘Reach’. It’s specifically about feeling let down and betrayed, but reaching out for hope. We’re glad she heard it before she left us.”
During the title track “Victorious,” a groundswell of strings resounds alongside jagged distortion before John’s voice takes center stage on an emotionally charged verse augmented by Jen’s melodic bridge.
“I was reading about depression, and I gained an insight into it, which really bummed me out,” he admits. “This song is what you can say to anyone who’s depressed. I didn’t know Chester Bennington, but I’m a huge Linkin Park fan. When he died, I couldn’t believe it. So, I wanted to write what I would say to him, if I got the chance. That’s ‘Victorious.’ Hopefully, it can help others get through the struggles with their own demons. As a whole, the record is very honest.”
In many ways, the four-piece’s unity can be traced back to the marriage at heart. Korey and Jen also reshape the face of rock music, giving it an empowering female presence.
“The band feels very stable, because of Korey,” John smiles. “A lot of fans come from unstable backgrounds, and she makes everyone feel special and cared for. She’s also a musical genius. We wouldn’t be Skillet without her. She’s the binding force for us.”
In the end, Victorious lives up to its name for Skillet as their most triumphant body of work yet.
“When you hear it, I hope you feel better about your life,” John leaves off. “I want you to know you’re not alone and you can be victorious through those hard times.” — Rick Florino, May 2019
Lancaster, Pennsylvania is one of a hundred similar American towns; in fact, there are places just like it all over the world: post-industrial but still largely working class, and generally offering bleak prospects for the kids who grow up there. Suburban boredom, broken families, substance abuse, limited opportunity – this is an environment in which authentic, compelling creativity can thrive, if it’s accompanied by a burning desire, unstoppable drive, and complete lack of any backup plan. There have always been powerful voices that rise above the din of mediocrity and monotony. The voice of From Ashes to New founder and frontman Matt Brandyberry is one of those that is forcing itself to be heard.
Matt’s lifelong interest in music progressed along a wide-ranging path: he was ardent hip-hop fan who wrote rhymes while in junior high, then learned piano and guitar. He pursued music with a passion, ignoring warnings from naysayers around him who shook their fingers in disapproval, asserting that he was doomed to fail and would never amount to anything.
His early musical efforts were straight-up rap, and he couldn’t get anything happening with it. “People would say, ‘You aren’t a rapper. You are white. Just quit. Just get a real job.’ And I eventually thought I would be that regular 9 to 5 guy.”
To make matters worse, Matt was making bad choices. “Most of what I have done has been a failure,” he admits with an unsettling candor. “Things I fell into. Things I believed. I was pretty damn good at baseball, but I made bad choices. I ruined it. I fell into a bad crowd, getting in trouble, and partying too much. I was doing things I shouldn’t have been doing instead of following what could have been a career choice.”
Matt found a steady job as a cable TV installer, and had to relegate writing and performing to his off hours and weekends. Rap gave way to joining local rock bands, but his creative contributions ended up being frustratingly limited.
He was making good money doing the 9 to 5, but he didn’t have an outlet for the powerful music he was starting to hear in his head, and the voices of people who discouraged him grew louder and almost caused Matt to lose his focus.
This roadblock seemed insurmountable. Matt realized that he himself possessed the power to overcome the negativity and spitefulness he felt around him. Confidence was something that was totally under his control. An internal voice told him to press forward with his own creativity.
By pushing past the negativity with From Ashes to New, a rock band with a point of view, Matt found his voice, performing powerful songs that speak of redemption, liberation, and personal salvation.
Matt used money from a workers compensation settlement to begin the FATN journey. At the time, it seemed like yet another questionable choice. Investing his life savings into what amounted to an underground studio-only project, Matt did so in order to generate the quality recordings which eventually got the band some attention.
Negativity threatened to derail From Ashes To New’s dreams once again when several band members jumped ship after the band signed to Better Noise Records. But this became another opportunity, as the band evolved a tighter unit, most recently adding guitarist Lance Dowdle, formerly of hard rock band Emphatic, who adds his own passion and energy. “The current lineup reflects the true spirit of the band,” Matt says, “and we can’t wait to play for fans all over the world”
“Through It All,” the band’s breakthrough first single, has launched their sound onto the radio and created multiple touring opportunities. Matt recounts, “There’s always someone involved in our lives that in the end seems to change us. A friend, a family member, a significant other, sometimes we’re left to wonder if it was for better or for worse. Often times we don’t know what we have until it is gone.”
“Lost And Alone is a song about feeling lost and hopeless in today’s society. No matter how many times it feels like we have something to hold onto, that something always seems to find a way to escape us. It paints the picture of the bitter reality that we have to take matters into our own hands and not rely on the world to save us,” Matt explains.
Ultimately, From Ashes to New’s message is true to life, raw, and genuine. Their music is a testament to positive inspiration for the people of the world that they, too, can take risks and not settle into an expected life of mediocrity.
“We are only regular if we make ourselves regular. We are what we tell ourselves we are,” Matt says. “Some of our fans tell us they feel things are hopeless and I tell them, ‘You have to believe in yourself before anyone else can.'”
U.S.-based English vocalist/drummer Jennifer Carole Ledger secured a life-changing role as the drummer of Christian hard rock outfit Skillet when she was still a teenager. After a decade with the band, she took her first steps as a solo artist with her debut EP, Ledger. Born in Coventry, England in 1989, Ledger moved to Wisconsin at 16. In addition to her high school studies, she also drummed with the band at her local church, which is where she was discovered by Skillet’s husband-and-wife duo John and Korey Cooper. With the then-recent departure of their drummer Lori Peters, the Coopers encouraged Ledger to audition for the spot, which she got in 2008. From the church stage to arenas, Ledger’s first outing with Skillet was on their Comatose Tour. Over the following decade, Ledger and the band released and toured behind Awake (2009), Rise (2013), and Unleashed (2016). In addition to her work behind the drum kit, Ledger also contributed vocals to each album with increased frequency. Under the guidance of the Coopers, she began to form ideas for a solo project as early as 2012. That music wouldn’t be fully realized until 2018 with the release of her first effort, Ledger (Atlantic/Hear It Loud). Produced with Korey Cooper, the defiant set of pop-influenced rock anthems was elevated by Ledger’s vocals, a stirring blend similar to Lacey Sturm, Cassadee Pope, and Hayley Williams. The set debuted just outside Billboard’s Top 50, rising as high as number two on the Christian chart and number seven on the overall Rock ranking. To promote the EP, Ledger pulled double duty on the road, opening for (and later playing with) Skillet on their joy.UNLEASHED 2018 tour.