Skillet on Upcoming Tour, 'Feel Invincible' Success & New 'Classic Rock' Sound

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Skillet hits the road again next month with a little more sizzle than it did last summer, when its Unleashed album first came out. 

The quartet's ninth studio set debuted at No. 1 on the Christian Albums chart, No. 2 on the Rock Albums chart, and No. 3 on the Billboard 200. More importantly, it launched the group's first No. 1 Rock Airplay and Christian Songs single "Feel Invincible." Skillet feels like there's more heat as it starts its next U.S. tour -- a 29-date affair -- on Feb. 8 in upstate New York. 

"You never know what's going to be a hit -- and, of course, 'hit' is relative," frontman John Cooper tells Billboard. "We haven't sold a million records on this thing or had a big pop single, but it's going really good and I'm really pleased because this record was a lot of fun to make and it was a lot of fun to write, and it's really fun to play live. So all those good vibes -- what the French call that certain 'I don't know what,' as Austin Powers says -- really connected. I want the fans to be really happy and give them the record they've been waiting for."

Cooper and company -- including his wife, Korey Cooper, on guitar and keyboards -- were not surprisingly "elated" with the chart-topping performance of "Feel Invincible." They were particularly happy that radio embraced it with such enthusiasm after years of an ambivalent attitude toward the faith-based band. "We have a lot of supporters in the rock world who played it the first day it came out and loved it, and then there's a lot of people who see us as outsiders, like we don't belong because we're not really a straight-up metal band," Cooper explains. "I think it was a real struggle but I could see that the fans were loving it because the song was really selling, and I believe it was the fan excitement and the sales that really drove some [radio] people to get on board and play the song who maybe didn't want to at first. And that really lit a fire because then it really started selling. It was just a big win all the way around."

Skillet is now hoping for a similarly positive fate for "Back From the Dead," the latest single from Unleashed. "It's kind of new territory for Skillet," Cooper says. "It's reminiscent of classic rock, in my view anyway. It might even be slightly less unique than some of Skillet's other music, but it's new for us and that's why it feels fresh for our fans 'cause it's something they haven't really heard us do." Cooper references Motley Crue's "Kickstart My Heart" as an inspiration for the track, even using a similar drum beat during the song's first verse as "kind of an homage to them. It's just a fun song with no really deep message or meaning." 

The latest tour will take Skillet around the U.S. through March 24, and it has festival dates at Carolina Rebellion on May 7 and Burlington Steamboat Days in Iowa on June 15. The Unleashed cycle will continue throughout the year, but the success has also inspired Cooper and company to start eyeballing their next project. 

"Truthfully, I'm always thinking about the next record," he says. "I took about two months off from writing as Unleashed was coming out and cleared my head, and in November, all of a sudden I started having a bunch of ideas for songs and I was singing guitar riffs into my phone and recording ideas for lyrics. I think the excitement for Unleashed, the fact that it's done so well and our fans like it and the touring is going so well, all of that has put me in a really uber-positive vibe for writing. It's always good to write when you hit a home run last time -- or at least a base hit. 

"It's still a little early because we've got so much touring to do, but one of my goals, honestly, is to put out records quicker. I don't like writing so long. I have too much to say so, yes, I've begun thinking about the next album."