The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
When Skillet comes to the Ichthus Festival this summer, they will be missing a very familiar face: guitarist Ben Kasica. In an announcement Monday, the band said Kasica, who has been with the group for 10 years, will be leaving to pursue other interests.
“Joining the band shortly after turning 16 and basically growing up on the road, I had no idea how long the ride would last but have enjoyed it immensely and been thankful to God for everything I’ve been a part of,” Kasica said in a message sent to the band’s email list and posted on its myspace page. “We’ve traveled to loads of places, met many many wonderful people, drunk way too much coffee, made tons of memories and hopefully touched lives with eternity. I feel completely blessed and honored to have been a part of Skillet’s history …
“After getting off the road, I will be focusing on building my other companies, producing and developing artists at Skies Fall Studios and designing for LifeLoveMusic Clothing. I also look forward very much to being home and catching up on churchlife, family and friends.”
In the same statement, Skillet frontman John Cooper said, “From the years we spent driving through the night in a van; to playing concerts all the way around the world, I’ve seen Ben transform from the kid who was nervous to play a guitar solo, to the rocker who now plays a solo … with his teeth! I always knew the time would come for Ben to leave and pursue other dreams, and now it is here. We are a family and we are going to miss him.”
Kasica’s departure leaves a significant lineup hole for Skillet to fill, at least on tour, as the only other guitarist, Korey Cooper, splits her stage time between guitar and keyboards. The statement did not address how Kasica’s spot will be filled.
If you’re a football fan, you probably spent last fall hearing Skillet‘s hit Hero played as part of promotions for NBC’s Sunday Night Football. And wrestling fans were treated to Monster in several WWE programs.
The financial rewards for that exposure weren’t great, but frontman John Cooper said Skillet did see other benefits.
“Mainstream radio has always stayed away from Skillet,” Cooper said backstage at Ichthus Friday. “We’re pretty straight with our message and somehow we didn’t seem legit to them.
“But when the NFL and the WWE work with you, it somehow legitimizes you. People say, ‘Oh, Skillet must be tough.’”
Skillet looked pretty tough on the Main Stage Friday night. The pyrotechnics that, for a while, have been parts of the band’s show now permeate the entire concert, with explosions going off in virtually every number, save for the power ballads.
A few years ago, Cooper was happy just to have some pyro. Now, the challenge is to keep growing the production.
“That’s my favorite competition, with myself,” he says.
This year’s finale included cellist Tate Olsen and violinist Jonathan Chu being raised above the crowd on hydraulic lifts.
At this point, the most surprising thing Skillet might be able to do is show up and do an unplugged set.
This year, we get the sequel, which is appropriate because Skillet is the summer blockbuster of Christian rock bands.
First, you have the songs.
You could fill the soundtrack of a Jerry Bruckheimer flick with songs like The Last Night, about a desperate evening; Hero, a song, of course, about Jesus Christ, but that you could hear playing as Bruce Willis or some other grizzled warrior crawls from the rubble; and The Older I Get, the buddy song.
Skillet writes a lot of meat-and-potatoes power-chord rock with clear, memorable themes in the music and lyrics.
But we aren’t calling these guys simplistic. Imaginative production gives many of Skillet’s best-known hits engaging tweaks like the squawking keyboard trill of Best Kept Secret or the dramatic violin of Comatose.
The quartet delivers interesting music with broad, compelling themes, which you can attribute to it being a solid Christian rock band at a time when a lot of acts blur lines between sacred and secular.
“We’ve always been pretty clear about what we’re about and what we’re passionate about,” frontman John Cooper told the Herald-Leader at the 2008 Ichthus Festival. “I’ve always wanted to be a voice to my generation, giving people hope.”
Review: Skillet’s Awake
On the surface, Skillet is just a four-piece rock ‘n’ roll band with a raspy-voiced lead singer.
But the Memphis quartet has done what a lot of raspy rock quartets would love to do: rise to the top of Christian rock and deliver yet another killer, accomplished album.
That’s because Skillet’s a raspy four-piece rock act that’s grown as musicians and songwriters. A very teen-targeted act, a lot of the group’s original core audience is now in college or careers – this is part of why The Older I Get, a hit off Skillet’s 2006 album Comatose, is such a big sing along at shows.
Awake yet again gives original and new Skillet fans a lot to listen too as frontman John Cooper recognizes that songwriting is an abstract art. The band that once sang Jesus was, “the best kept secret of my generation,” and recorded an album called Alien Youth (in 2001) now writes with less specificity but the music is as interesting and compelling as ever.
It’s Not Me, It’s You returns to the theme of a teen trapped in an abusive family – well, that’s how you might read it in the context of past hits such as the anti-suicide anthem The Last Night. But lyrically, It’s Not Me is far less specific, but no less riveting: “Let’s get the story straight, You were a poison, You flooded through my veins.”
The physical album closer – digital versions come with some extras – Lucy is more oblique and compelling, a graveside conversation to a . . . a girlfriend? Wife? Child? The key is promise of a heavenly reunion, but like many other tracks here, it can move around the listener’s demographics and lifestyles.
Skillet is maturing, but certainly not running too far from its bread and butter, hard rock anthems like Hero and Monster, the first two singles, which were being previewed for fans on tour this summer.
Not that there aren’t new dimensions to the music. Skillet’s guitars usually grind and drone, but Ben Kasica takes a few sterling solos here, and on her first album, drummer Jen Ledger shows off some vocal chops.
Awake confirms Skillet isn’t just some old rock quartet. It’s a great rock quartet.
Note: Derek Webb’s Stockholm Syndrome, which we reviewed a few weeks ago, is out in stores today.
OK, I promise I will never get cynical and assume a band is just going to bring back the same show it did last year at Ichthus.
Skillet played opening night at Ichthus 2008, and since then, on record, all they’ve released is Comatose Live, which was pretty much a recording of the show we saw in Wilmore.
Not that it was a bad thing. In fact, that set was a complete scorcher and one of the reasons I did keep spinning the live disc a lot last summer.
But Skillet did change it it up, rearranging the set list and staging, even giving us a flavor of its upcoming album, set for release in August.
Having Skillet as a headliner also gave the band a chance to set up its full show for Ichthus, complete with lifts for guitarists Korey Cooper and Ben Kasica and pyrotechnics liberally scattered throughout the set. If there is a bigger spectacle in Christian rock, right now, I’d be amazed to see it.
Skillet, of course, has also amased a strong catalog to support the structure, and that gives it room to move things around and deliver shows that keep getting better and better.
And really, between Skillet and Family Force 5, Ichthus has had one of the best one-two headlining combos in recent memory at Ichthus. Delirious will bring a different flavor tonight, but with Ichthus being on a roll, you definitely have to look forward to tonight.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich