Best known as the singing drummer in the platinum selling, Grammy nominated band Skillet, Jen Ledger’s debut solo release Ledger has been garnering much deserved praise. A rich blend of catchy vocals and tunes, this five-song EP is a great listen for those of us looking for something ‘heavier than Sunday morning’ that’s also fueled with a redemptive message. Jen is touring in support of this disc opening shows for Skillet and on her own, and in case you were wondering, she’s not leaving Skillet!
[WM] Jen, a big hello and thanks so much for joining us!
[Jen Ledger] Thank you for having me, I’m so happy to be here.
[WM] Noting that Skillet has reached the #1 spot on Billboard’s Top Christian Albums chart no less than three times, what was your reaction when you found out that Ledger debuted at #5 on Billboard’s Emerging Artist chart?
[Jen] I’m sure you can imagine, it was incredibly surreal. I’ve just been so honored to be a part of Skillet for so long and I feel humbled, almost like I can’t believe God would allow me the opportunity to be a part of something like that. Getting to do the solo project as Jen Ledger has been very much a dream in my heart. But I didn’t know if the timing would be right and I didn’t know when I’d get to do it. I want to honor everyone involved and didn’t want to seem ungrateful to the Coopers who have given me a massive opportunity. They actually ended up really taking me under their wing and supporting the project in a way that I never imagined. It was an incredibly exciting season.
So we did the EP and even though we’d been kind of working towards it for about five or six years, in the end it was rush, rush, rush to get it in on the deadline to have it ready for tour. It’s always funny the way things work out like that. When the EP came out it was very much, “Let’s just see how the fans like it, and if the Skillet fans are drawn to this, and let’s get out on tour and see how it goes.” And then I found out that in a matter of weeks it had gone to #5 on the Emerging Artists Billboard, I was kind of stunned. I just didn’t expect any of that and I can’t even describe how humbling and wonderful it was. But, also a shock to the system to see it finally out after all those years of praying into it and working towards it. Surreal is the only word I can say, sorry I keep repeating myself (laughs).
[WM] You co-wrote “Ruins” with fellow Skillet band member and Ledger co-producer Korey Cooper six years ago, and your vocal performance on that track is awesome. Noting that the video for “Ruins” has over 400,000 plays on YouTube, can you tell us about the journey from writing that song to releasing it on your debut album?
[Jen] I didn’t know it had that many views, that’s wonderful! I’m glad you asked me about “Ruins” because it’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. You know, it’s not the rocker on the EP so it doesn’t get much attention. It was written right when I told the Coopers that I felt what God was stirring in me to be writing music, and I kind of asked them if they would take me under their wing and teach me how. Korey and I immediately just started writing together. I think we wrote twelve songs that year and “Ruins” was one of them. It was something that God had been speaking to me about a lot, and someone had prayed over me a few years before, that God would ruin me for his Kingdom. I felt like it was a word that never left me, it’s often something that comes up in my prayer times.
I got born-again when I was sixteen years old and I came to America. I was a Christian growing up, but you know it was very much so the Sunday morning church. I knew about Jesus but I obviously didn’t understand the Gospel, and I didn’t understand the real and living God actually wanted to know me. So, it wasn’t until I was sixteen and I came to America that everything changed for me, and so I kind of just wanted to write about how much my life had changed. Now that I’ve experienced and known His truth I can’t ever go back to how my life was before. I kind of wanted to write a song that sounds like a break-up love song, but is actually saying I’ve been ruined by something so good, in the sense that now I’ve tasted this, I’m spoiled for anything less. It was meant to be kind of that sentiment. We wrote it so long ago now and it was kind of overlooked a little. It was always so dear to me, it just meant so much to me. The funny thing is the vocal treatment on that, as you’d mentioned, it’s not something I’d really experimented with, with my voice. We were in Europe on tour with Nickelback and we were demoing in the bus while the German driver was sleeping. So basically, I couldn’t sing the song full voice because it would wake him up, so we thought we would just do the demo falsetto. It ended up being weirdly nice and I was like, “Oh, I kind of like it like this, do you?” and Korey said, “I kind of love it too!” so it ended up being how we kept the song. There’s something kind of weirdly vulnerable about singing it that way that kind of gets the point across even better. It was a happy accident. People don’t know that it was actually so we wouldn’t wake up the driver!
When we were picking songs for the EP, I kind of threw some of these oldies back into the mix, some of these songs are still the dearests to my heart. Thankfully the whole team said they like “Ruins” and it feels really awesome to have it all these years later finally make an appearance. And to have people actually respond to it, it’s moving and it makes me feel really thankful. It’s like a magical feeling honestly when something that’s so dear to you ends up being dear to someone else too!
[WM] In the song story video for “Not Dead Yet” you share about your battle with anxiety. As Christians, sometimes it can feel like we’re supposed to live up to our ‘Facebook face’ and that can become a real trap. In fact, you talk about this in your bio. What are your thoughts on tearing down the temptation to hide behind a mask in social media instead of asking for help from those around us?
[Jen] I think we’re just living in a time that’s so polished and so tilted in how we represent ourselves to the world. It’s always the nicest version of how the reality was. What I’ve learned from talking about the reasons behind “Not Dead Yet” is how many people struggle with feeling anxious and feeling afraid, and having panic and anxiety attacks. I guess I just see the correlation between the culture we’re living in and how we’re actually struggling in our hearts. We’ve kind of lost our sense of reality and it makes us feel kind of broken and kind of behind.
For me, something I’ve struggled with my whole life is overcoming fear and self-doubt. When Skillet asked me to audition eleven years ago, I said no because the idea of playing in front of people just terrified me. I was a teenager, so I’d kind of become quite self-aware and self-conscious, and just the idea of feeling stretched like that, I just didn’t want to do it. I was praying about it, and I felt like God spoke to me through Isaiah 41, “Do not fear for I am with you. Do not dismay for I am your God. I will strengthen you and I will help you and I will uphold you.” I knew it was God speaking to me to try out for Skillet, so I did it. But going into it I thought, “I know I’m being obedient to the Lord…” but I was so sure it wouldn’t be me they’d use on the drums because I just didn’t think I was good enough. I was so sure it was just to teach me some sort of humility or character. I didn’t know what He was doing, but in the end, just stepping out in obedience, God made it so clear that this was the path that He had for me. It was just stretching that made me face the fact that I just feel afraid a lot.
So stepping out on stage with Skillet has been, “Thank you God that you are with me, and that’s the reason I’m not afraid. You make me strong.” It was a dependence on Him in my calling, that even though I had been stretching, that I actually was really thankful for. A few years ago, when I was working towards the “Ledger” project, I suddenly started having really intense panic attacks and severe anxiety, and it was incredibly defeating. It was almost disorienting, like, “Who am I?” I’d had to overcome fear a bit, but this was like a whole other level of feeling actual terror. It was horrible, and after wrestling my way through it and getting out of that season, I though that must have been the worst of it, and I’d finally gotten victory over it once and for all.
Then a year later, after not struggling with it at all, I felt that same panic come back on into my heart one time when I was out of stage with Skillet. I came off stage and I just felt so defeated. I’d been touring for nine or ten years, how is this still something that comes up into my heart? I remember crying to Korey, “What if this is just something that never goes away for me?” and she looked at me and she said, “Well then you fight, Jen. With your breath and your lungs until the day that you die, you fight and you do not let it rob you of your life.”
It was a defining moment for me because I think as Christians we can often feel like when we struggle we’ve failed. I felt that surely, if I were living in real faith this wouldn’t be an issue for me, so I must be a sucky Christian, or I must not have enough faith. It can make you feel so small and so defeated because you want to be someone who walks in victory and walks in the power of what God has for us. It was just that realization though that we’re still here, we’re not in heaven yet. There are going to be struggles and fights, and God makes it clear that we have to go into battle. It’s not like the enemy can’t tempt us, or throw things in front of us that we have to overcome. Jesus makes it clear that there will be trials. This might actually be something I have to battle another twenty-five times in my life, but the one thing I can’t let happen is let the fact that I struggle with it defeat me altogether. That would be the enemy’s perfect plan to just stop me from ever even trying.
That’s when I felt like having that conversation with Korey, and realizing its okay if I struggle. I just have to choose to reach for God, choose to fill my mind with truth, and choose to step out in faith that God will meet me even though I don’t feel strong or together. I know that He is strong and He is together. All of the things I am lacking, He has all of it, and I am going to step out to the space where He is with me. Sometimes it doesn’t actually change how you feel. It doesn’t change how I maybe still feel a little stage fright. That might not go away altogether, but if I can rest and choose to focus my mind on who my God is, and that He’s with me, then I can step out boldly because it’s not about me, and it’s all about Him.
That’s why I wanted to do a music video that represented how that season felt. Basically, I wanted to do a video that showed what it felt like when I was in that really intense season. It felt like fear was just knocking me down over and over again. It honestly just felt massive and impossible to beat. That’s why I wanted to get a UFC fighter who was just huge, to make the fight look unfair. It felt unfair, it felt like I’d never beat this. I also wanted to represent how it feels in your mind, so I put myself in an abandoned boarded-up house. Sometimes you do just feel trapped in your own darkness. So I show myself tearing down the boards and searching for light, because sometimes, you have to choose to fill yourself with light, hope and the truth of the Word. Sometimes you have to search for it and it’s painful. It takes digging in and actual movement on your part. You can’t just want this to happen… “I’m going to seek you and I’m going to find you!” I wanted to do a video that showed people rising to their feet even if they feel a bit broken, even if they feel like they’re not good enough. Choosing to step out boldly and fight for their life.
God uses broken people, he doesn’t just use the angels to fulfill his purposes on earth, He uses humans. The story of Gideon really inspires me. He was threshing wheat in a wine press, hiding and cowering, and an angel comes and says, “Hi there, mighty valiant warrior!” When God calls you to do something, when He asks it of you or tells you what you are, when He speaks, it actually is truth. It’s amazing who God can use, and Gideon ends up becoming a mighty valiant warrior. These are the things I wanted to talk about and represent. When God speaks over you and you step out into it, He meets you and it will be. Sometimes you have to step out not feeling strong, still feeling broken, and let Him deal with the rest for you.
[WM] That’s awesome! So, you’re a woman who rocks out, plays loud, and performs. Noting that Skillet found you through your local Church, how did you make the transition from worship team member to rock star, and what are your thoughts on how to train one’s ‘inner rock star’ without bringing a performance mentality to Sunday morning?
[Jen] I feel like I don’t have answers that people want to hear, but I’ll say them anyway because it’s something that I’m actually really passionate about. I know a lot of musicians that feel called to be on stage and be massively famous, and do it all in the name of Jesus. I think that as humans we have to be really careful about becoming obsessed with making our own names great. I think it is such a dangerous platform because as you know, Satan also wanted glory for himself. I just think it’s something you have to be incredibly careful with because our hearts are deceitful above all things.
It’s very easy to get tangled up with thinking you want to go and be a rock star to make Jesus’ name great. But really, is it that you just want to be a rock star and you’re not willing to serve Jesus where you are right now? Something I’ve learned in my life, and I feel like it’s such an unpopular answer, but if your life isn’t about Jesus now in the small, and if you don’t have good relationships and see God moving where you are now, if you’re not faithful with a little why would you be faithful with a lot? If you think that this is something God is calling you to, keep laying it at His feet, and keep surrendering it to Him. Because if it is Him, it will absolutely last through the fire and it will come back. It will happen if this is what He’s called you to.
Life for Jesus is not about being seen, it’s about Him being seen.
However, if this is something that is perhaps a distraction for you, or is perhaps mixing up what it means to live for Jesus, when you lay it at His feet He might not bring it back for you. It’s something we’ve got to be really careful as Christians with, because it’s those that lose their life that find it. Are you willing to live a life of self-denial, laying it at Jesus’ feet, no matter where you getting called, no matter if it’s just serving the local church, I don’t know, it could be anything. If you see obedience in the small steps, and you see God using you where you are currently, that’s what it means to be faithful with a little. If you have these dreams to be a rock star and be called to music, I say be faithful, practice, be diligent, but keep surrendering it to Him and just be used where you are currently. If you’re working at Chick-fil-A, do it with all your heart, let God use you there, speak to people, let your heart shine. If you’re working in an office or corporate America, just do it to the best of your abilities. If you can be faithful with those things then it is very likely that you will be faithful when He calls you into a more seen role. I think I just say all of that because life for Jesus is not about being seen, it’s about Him being seen.
I’ve known a lot of people that have ended up walking away from the Lord altogether because their dreams haven’t come true, and they’ve kind of mixed up their calling with the Gospel. Do you think your living for Jesus is all about your calling more so than it is just living for Jesus? Are you happy if some things never come true? Not to say not to live in faith, but it is something you have to be very careful with, especially with the world we’re living in where it’s kind of all about Instagram followers, or who’s the most famous.
We just have to guard our hearts ferociously. When you do, God can use you greatly. So for me, I didn’t want to be in the limelight, it terrified me, but I knew God was calling me to it. I’ve seen Him move, and I’ve seen Him put me on the drums which is the very thing that I thought was unfeasible. I thought, “I’m just not good at this!” and it’s been the very thing that God’s used hugely in my life to display His glory. I feel super honored, and I know He can do it, but I think you’ve got to be very careful. Serve Him where you are, recognize that it’s all about Him, and be willing if He says no. If He say’s no will you still serve Him wholeheartedly? That’s kind of a deciding factor on whether you should be stepping into this anyway.
[WM] Wow! OK, so in one of your interviews you mentioned learning how to sing and play the drums one hit and lyric at a time. What did you do to develop your voice, and in turn how did you learn to juggle singing and playing at the same time?
[Jen] I feel like I’m still trying to figure that one out, honestly. I still sometimes really struggle up there, and I hope that people will have grace with me because I’m playing drums and singing at the same time. Sometimes I’ve just been pushing it too hard on the drums and my breath is simply running out. I did have to practice it all, like you said. I feel like I was in my practice room trying to figure out which limb goes with which syllable. Sometimes it feels like it should be easy but I’m just not figuring it out. I find it hard, but five years ago it was a lot harder than it is now.
The more you get the song under your belt, you kind of go into autopilot and are fine when you’re up there. One thing that’s really helped me is, about six years ago Korey started giving me vocal lessons. I’ve got quite a strong British accent and when I sing it can make me sound really closed on certain words. I had to learn to mimic how John was singing so it didn’t sound weird when we did duets together. Korey worked with me a ton on strengthening my voice, how to open up properly, and stop singing like a Brit where it sounds weird and closed (laughs). Most people are surprised now that I’m British because I sound so American in the Skillet recordings. It took a lot of work, half of it is just trying to breathe at the right time, and half of it is failing. I just don’t sing sometimes because I’m out of breath. I’m always trying to walk that balance and I’m still trying to figure it out sometimes, honestly.
[WM] Let’s go drum geek for a minute, tell us about your kit, cymbals, and sticks!
[Jen] I’m playing a Pearl Reference Pure kit and Sabian cymbals. I’ve got my own signature Vic Firth stick, which is like a beautiful blend of a 5a/5b and a 3a. It’s just the most wonderful stick, it’s really nice!
[WM] I’d like to take a moment to talk about the Studio East YouTube video you did. First of all, your voice sounds amazing, you’re clearly no ‘Autotune wonder’. In the video you mentioned that you didn’t want your disc to be a “Skillet B” and that you have a unique set of influences that include Linkin Park and Evanescence, as well as stuff your Dad turned you on to like The Beatles and Queen. Ironically, those bands bookmark your British roots and American experience if you will. Can you tell us about some of your favorite artists and songs, as well as how they influenced you as a musician and songwriter?
[Jen] You’ve already mentioned many of the influences from my teenage years. Something that really hit me when I was sixteen, had just moved to America and was just starting to live for Jesus, was when I heard the self-titled Flyleaf album. I remember hearing it and thinking it was the coolest thing I had ever heard in my life. I wasn’t aware that they were a Christian band when I heard it, and when I found out that they were I was so moved and impressed by it. It’s like you can feel the presence of God when you listen to it. You don’t know that’s what it is, you just know that your heart is stirring. When I was writing for the Ledger project I’d often think, “How can I say this in a way that non-Christians will enjoy listening to it, relate to it, and feel this?” while at the same time basically just be singing about the Lord and about my journey with Him. So I wanted to kind of have that same feeling that Flyleaf creates where everybody is welcome, and everybody can join in and feel this hope.
Maybe some of you don’t know what this hope is that’s I’m singing about, but for those of you that do know, you’re right here with me. Not only did I take a page out of Lacey’s book for the writing, even though mine’s definitely not as heavy, I also really followed her in vocals, like when I would work with Korey and she was teaching me how to sing better. We’d often listen to Lacey and be like, “Well, how does Lacey pronounce this?” So often whenever I can’t quite reach a note or I want something to sound less British or just sound way cooler I’ll think, “How does Lacey do it?” I’m just such a fan, I think she’s amazing and the more I can sound like her the better (laughs)!
[WM] You really hit on one of my favorite things about what you and Skillet do – bring your walk with Jesus to heavy music. Can you tell us how you view the mantle that is on what you do?
[Jen] I think what people don’t understand and what I’d love to share is that you’re never going to find more sold out people for the Gospel. John and Korey Cooper have led this thing for twenty years and God has been moving through them in such spectacular ways. On top of it, off stage their lives are just all about Him. It’s one of the reasons why when I asked them if I could do my solo project and how they felt about it, they were behind me and embraced it so quickly. They just see the bigger purpose in life, they’re all about sharing His hope and His light and His truth. It’s wonderful. With Skillet, God has created a weapon specifically for those people that have tried to run as far from anything holy as they possibly could. We’re walking into festivals at times, where it’s literally sex, drugs and Rock n’ Roll. People singing about hate, violence or whatever they’re singing about, and here we come.
How on earth has God brought us here? Sometimes we’re playing with the biggest Metal bands in the world and we get up there and think, “God, this is amazing, I can’t believe you are this faithful to these people.” If anyone does struggle with wondering why we bother, remember that God is faithful way beyond what we are, and He is faithful to the people that are in the darkest of dark places. Shouldn’t we be thankful that He has created something to bring his light into the farthest corners of the earth?
That’s why I just feel so passionate about doing music in general, I see how God moves through it. We’ve had so many testimonies of people saying, “I was about to kill myself and then I heard your song last night…” or “I was addicted to heroin and then I heard your music at a show and I’ve been clean ever since…” God just touches people through music. I think it’s amazing how He can do it in all different forms because He’s just faithful to everyone. I think we can tend to put Him in boxes, when really, He can’t be caged. He’s so compassionate and so sweet to find everyone and to meet them where they’re at. I just feel honored to have been a part of it honestly, to serve in this way and see God move is amazing. I can’t believe He saved me, and the fact that He let’s me be a part of something like this is truly wonderful. So, if I can do anything in a similar vein as Skillet and walk the same path that they’ve set I would be completely honored, and I hope and pray that God uses me in that same way too!
[WM] Skillet has played the Creation Festival a number of times over the years, and Ledger and Skillet are both slated to play at Creation 2019. Creation is one of our partners here at [WM] and they have done so much to bless so many through these festivals. What does it mean to you to be able to play both a Skillet and Ledger set there?
[Jen] I remember being a teenager and playing Creation Fest with Skillet. It overwhelmed me to see just how many people were there. There was such a special energy unique to the festival, and I couldn’t believe God would allow me the privilege to be a part of it. To go back with Skillet and now also with my very own band Ledger is incredibly beautiful, not only because the festival is dear to my heart, but also because I get to go back and revisit such a landmark in my life. I get to come face to face with God’s faithfulness, see how much more He has unfolded, and be reminded of just how many barriers He has, and can, overcome. It’s yet another example to me that my God is a God of the impossible and nothing is too big for Him!