Frying up some soul food

Memphis band Skillet may be far from its starting place, but it’s never too far from its faith.

by John Sand

A line of unusual suspects was wrapped around the block. Everyone from thin teenagers in black metal tees to middle-aged mothers in loud, floral-print dresses shivered in front of Club 3 Degrees in north Minneapolis, waiting for Skillet, an unusual kind of Christian rock band out of Memphis.

The patrons of the club didn’t seem inherently “Christian,” and neither did the establishment. In fact, nothing about the situation looked like the shiny Switchfoots resounding Hosannas and cartoon doves holding olive branches that have been long since pressed into stereotypes of the Christian genre.

The band, which has been creating and performing music for a little more than 12 years, blossomed from the collaboration of members of different local bands. Over the years, the face and sound of the band has shifted as musicians have retired or joined. As lead singer John Cooper said, the band continually decides to “throw it all in a skillet and make something new.”

Inside the club, no one was smoking, but the familiar grungy haze had already settled in front of the bar and the seating at the perimeter. Thousand Foot Krutch, the Canadian and also Christian rock band set to open the show, was finishing up their sound check and a few bony girls took pictures of themselves, using the stage as a backdrop.

Around the back of the stage and up three flights of narrow concrete steps was Skillet’s reception room. After waiting in the closed room for a minute or two, Cooper pushes through the door. His hair is pushed straight up. He has a diamond stud nose-ring and a worn black zip-up.

“This isn’t a video interview, is it?” Cooper laughs.

Today is the first show of Skillet’s headlining tour featuring the 2006 album “Comatose” that scored them a Grammy nomination for Best Rock or Rap Gospel Album in 2007, and a sellout at the venue on North First Avenue.

Christian rock is a music genre laden with positive and negative connotations. Though Skillet is very devoted to their music, “We value Christianity over rock-and-roll.” Cooper says the band hesitates from boasting their Christianity, which would possibly alienate them from non-Christian fans or make them sound like what Cooper says is a “less cool version of cool music Ö a cheesy form of something great.” Instead, he says Skillet is “a rock band with a message.”

Skillet is far from cheesy. Their music mixes progressive rock riffs and powerful drums that fuse flawlessly in several tracks with rushing string instrumentals. Each track carries meaning, but few are obviously religious.

The album’s first track “Rebirthing,” which topped ChristianRock.Net’s Weekly Top 30 for 16 straight weeks, showcases all of Skillet’s strengths. The track opens with swelling string riffs that carry the song until it bursts into the powerful chorus. “Rebirthing now. I wanna live my life, wanna give you everything right now.”

Continuing to emphasize their mission to deliver important messages, the album’s title track “Comatose” is an anthem seeking to wake listeners from their deep sleep. Cooper says the band hopes to inspire others to “do something to make the world a better place.” On the track, he shouts, “I’m asleep and all I dream of is waking to you.”

Cooper says that students can wake from their deep sleep by, at the very least, recognizing the need for change in the world at large. He jokes, “Recognizing the need for change, like G.I. Joe says ‘is half the battle.’ ” He goes on, “I think giving your time to other people can make a big difference.”