By Ashley Mott, Arts and Entertainment Editor
The sound of drums pounding and the silky voice of Jen Ledger have pulsed through the Wolstein Center arena many times in her long standing career as the drummer and a vocalist for Christian hard rock band Skillet. Known for her incredible ability to sing and drum her heart out at the same time, Ledger has been rocking out with legends John and Korey Cooper for the past 11 years.
After cultivating her music abilities and learning from mentors, who she deems incredible, she has announced her solo career as “Ledger” and is coming back to the place where it all started so very long ago.
At the young age of just 16 years old, Ledger came across the ocean to the United States for a 10 month long discipleship course, never realizing that the end of that course would jump start her career in the music business. Fast forward to year two in the program, she was given the opportunity to audition for Skillet. Ledger wasn’t sure it was for her but according to her, after many hours spent in prayer, she decided to give it a shot.
The audition went splendidly, despite her nerves and the fact that she almost sabotaged her own audition.
“I almost tried to sabotage myself following the audition. I was like, ‘Oh, man! I’ve really misled them,’ and I was just like ‘I really need you guys to know that I don’t really love the drums. I find them really hard, and I find it really hard to perform on them. If I don’t get in this band, I will be totally happy to never play them again. However, if I do, I will give them my all,” Ledger said, with a slight chuckle at her past.
It was her honesty that made the band pick her to join them on tour as Skillet at age 17. In only a few months, she turned 18 and was gearing up for her first ever show in Winter Jam 2008.
Winter Jam has come to the Wolstein Center many times during its 24 years being done, and it’s coming back again March 31 with the new launch of Ledger as a solo artist. Ledger explained that Winter Jam is a huge tour, and it’s the one that gave her her start as the drummer for Skillet.
“Right now, I am on a tour called Winter Jam. It’s one of the biggest Christian tours in the world. It’s in arenas all over the U.S., and the incredible thing about it is that when I first joined Skillet, it was [at] Winter Jam 2008. I went from playing for 200 [people in] church on Sunday and being nervous, to playing for 16,000 people in an arena with fire and rock and roll,” Ledger said. “Winter Jam is a really special tour to me, and to be doing it 11 years later with my own solo project at the same time, it’s just kind of… [it] feels really surreal. I feel like it’s been a big full circle, and I love seeing how much I’ve grown and changed. What God’s added to me in the last 11 years.”
Now, years later, she is coming back to that same tour, ready to rock out Cleveland State University’s Wolstein Center with a message of hope and perseverance. Eleven years in the states gave her an opportunity of a lifetime, one that she never saw coming so many years ago.
“I had no idea that when I left the U.K., that I would not be coming back again,” Ledger said.
While she has been extremely successful in her career, that didn’t mean that she was without her own struggles. At the age of 18, playing with a band that was an successful as Skillet and had such a following, there were many times where she doubted herself, as many teeenagers do.
Everyone faces a time in their life where they are unsure of the path they are taking, and Ledger was no stranger to this feeling, insecurities and self-consciousness.
“I love [performing] now, [but] I think the biggest thing holding me back [during that time], was just the self-consciousness. You know, being a teenager, you’re kind of prone to comparing yourself and kind of prone to thinking ‘You suck!’ and that you’re not good enough. You know, you look to the people to the left and to the right, and you always feel like there is a better pick. You know? And I think the root of all would be fear,” Ledger explained. “I was scared of people comparing me [to other artists].”
The now 29-year-old, may have been gifted with a multitude of talents, but that never stopped her from feeling human and experiencing the same emotions her fans were feeling too.
The fear of being judged for playing simple drums instead of huge, flashy tricks, but instead wanting to play how she knew and simply give it her all, was one that stuck with her for so long. It wasn’t until people started connecting with her playing style that she realized, her biggest fear was actually the thing that made her great.
People connected with her through her style of music and drumming and it became a huge drive for her.
“People connect with your heart and your brain, they connect with your music,” Ledger said.
Since then, she has made it a point to make music that people can connect with. However, writing and singing music wasn’t always something that had been a part of her path with Skillet. Her vocals actually came onto the “Hero” soundtrack because Korey wasn’t available to demo the song, and a female vocalist was needed to fill in.
Realizing that her vocals fit the tone of the song perfectly, she ended up singing it on the actual album recording. However, the next realization that hit her would change up the game for her entire future.
“I remember, after tracking the vocals on the album, John Cooper looked at me and he said, ‘You know you’re going to have to learn how to do all of that at the same time now,” Ledger said, referencing the fact that she had recorded the vocals and drum track separately and now had to be able to perform it live at the same time.
Acknowledging the new challenge at hand, she never backed down from it but rather took it in stride and put in the extra time and effort to make it happen.
“It was practicing alone in my basement, figuring out which syllable goes with which limb. And every time a new Skillet song comes out, truthfully, I still have to go back to the basics and make sure the right word is lining up with the right beat still. Hopefully, by the time I’m playing it live, I’ve got it down,” Ledger said.
Now, with all that in her past, Ledger has taken on a new challenge in her career and chosen to pursue her own music separate from her career with Skillet. However, that does not mean she is alone in her journey. Ledger expresses that the Cooper couple has been instrumental in helping her reach her goals.
Most bands, when someone decides to go solo, suffer a grave loss and must find a new replacement in the band. However, this is not the case for Ledger and Skillet. She believes that she can continue both careers at once and knows that the Coopers support her in this decision, as John Cooper also has a second band, called Fight the Fury, that he works with outside of Skillet.
“[Ledger] has caused unity, and we’ve all really pulled together, and [the Coopers] have kind of helped launch me out and allowed me to do this. What’s beautiful about it is [that] I haven’t left Skillet, I’m doing both at the same time now,” Ledger explained. “As soon as Winter Jam is over, I am going on tour with Skillet on the Breaking Benjamin tour and then also going to Russia. I’m just enjoying doing two at once and seeing where it leads us. It’s my heart and soul, and I love seeing how God uses music to bring hope and love all over the world.”
For Ledger, her music and her career is greatly given credit to her mentors and bandmates. She spoke very highly of them during her conversation with The Cauldron, expressing that without them, she wouldn’t be where she is now.
“I don’t want to leave [Skillet], and the fact that they’ve allowed me to do both just speaks to how awesome John and Korey’s hearts are, and they are just super supportive as people,” Ledger said. “They are really quick to get on board with things, if they think it’s another hope in the world. I’ve got to brag on them.”
One thing that has definitely been on fans’ minds since the reveal of Ledger, is how far does the Skillet influence go as far as the new sound that is being introduced. The singer/drummer phenomenon has assured fans that her sound will be new and completely her own. She acknowledges that, because of her time with Skillet, it will be in the same realm and have a similar feel, but will be customized to her own tastes and sound.
For her, the greatest thing is knowing that people are behind her and her choices. According to her, she has an amazing producer, and her time with Skillet has really changed the previously very sexist atmosphere surrounding female band members in the hard rock/heavy metal genres of music.
“With Skillet, what’s funny is when we used to do heavy metal shows, we’d walk on stage and you could just feel the crowd go ‘hmmm I don’t know about you. I see two girls, and I see a very pretty man.’ It never seems to go well at first. What’s cool is when we can see all the crowd turn. I think they expect the girls to be bad at their instruments. I’d say eight years ago, we could really sense that when we walked out on stage. However, Skillet has paved the way and pioneered something and with the other bands on tours and the people we’ve kind of gotten a respect from them. There isn’t that same feeling of ‘oh no, here comes girls onstage’ but I think it’s turned the tide for us now,” Ledger explained. “With Ledger coming out, what we really didn’t want to do was a ‘Skillet part B’ we wanted it to sound different than Skillet and really represent me as an artist. And for me, I was with Skillet for 11 years of my life, so it definitely is going to have an influence, but also my dad had me listen to Queen and the Beatles all of my young adult life. You know, we wanted to show the slightly ‘poppier’ side of me, and I think it’s come up with a really cool blend.”
Ledger attributes the cohesiveness of her sound to her producer and bandmate Korey Cooper, raving about the great job she has done on the songs and how well she knows what kind of vibe Ledger is going for. She believes the fact that they have worked together since she was a teenager allows her producer to have an inside look into what she really wants from her solo songs.
“I think she absolutely killed it, and she is producing the new Skillet album right now. I can honestly say it is some of the best music I have ever heard. She is a genius,” Ledger exclaimed.
According to Ledger, her experience with music has been incredible from the start and even more so now that she can be a part of something so life changing, not just for herself but for others too. She noted that she never knew the power of music until she played with Skillet, and she was so shocked by the results of their songs that she knew she wanted to continue to make that kind of a difference with her own music.
From the first moment joining Skillet, Ledger believed it was a call from God and that he was working on her heart telling her to trust him and take courage from him because he was going to lead her on an incredible journey. And according to her, that journey is real. She spoke on the barriers and boundaries that were broken down because of music, remembering people who were in hard times and were rescued through songs.
“[At first] I was ignorant to just how powerful music actually is. [But] no matter what country we were in, we were meeting people saying that our songs reached them at a critical point in their life. They were going to kill themselves, but they decided not to because they heard this song and it filled them with hope. Or people telling me that God rescued me through this song, I was addicted to drugs and it broke me free,” Ledger said. “This is what planted that seed in my heart. I wanted to write songs too. It was really humbling. I couldn’t believe God would let me have that kind of influence into young people’s lives, and it kind of gave me that challenge to be more vocal about what I believe and who I am.”
She has taken this challenge to heart and made it her mission to use her music to talk about real issues that are going on and sing of hope. Her 11 years with Skillet opened her eyes to a whole new world, and with renewed vigor, she is looking into continuing on in their footsteps.
It hasn’t been easy stepping out on her own into a new career path. Ledger compared the feeling of going on tour without “her people,” as she lovingly referred to the Coopers, like going from middle school to high school without your friends. You have to wonder what the first day is going to be like. However, the Coopers didn’t send her out alone right away and made sure they were at her first show to support her through it all like true friends.
She has learned so much since she started on this tour alone and explained that she had always respected John Cooper for the amazing frontman that he was, but that it has grown even more since she started her own path as a frontwoman.
“I’m learning so much about being a frontperson, it’s absolutely upped my respect for John Cooper because I’ve always thought he was an amazing frontman. However, now that I am doing it on a 360 stage and just dying and out of breath, think ‘man I need to do more cardio’. This man makes it look easy, but it is just not easy. I feel like my respect for both of them has just gone up like a million percent, and I already had super high respect,” Ledger said.
With her journey only just beginning, the love and affection Ledger has for her bandmates has only continued to grow.
“John and Korey were not only teaching me how to be a professional musician, but they were also teaching me how to drive and how to pay my bills. They were also kind of discipling me and teaching me to follow Jesus and to be radical and not compromise. I think because of their influence, I stayed true to me, and I became even braver and more emboldened than I ever would have been had I not spent my life training under them,” Ledger said. “I feel really grateful for the journey I’ve been on, and it’s by the grace of God that I’ve been here. Every time I play with Skillet, I am reminded of the fact that God intervened in my life, and the fact that I’m even drumming all over the world feels like a miracle.”
For Ledger, this incredible exciting whirlwind is just getting started and she has really high hopes for the future. She has made it clear that she believes together Ledger, Skillet and Fight the Fury can function well together and continue to grow with each other.
“I could see it being that Ledger goes on and off tour with Skillet or Fight the Fury goes on and off tour with Skillet depending on the lineup. And I really love doing both, so I just hope and pray that we can see where this leads and that they support each other. You know, I don’t ever want the Ledger thing to pull away from the Skillet thing, [I want it to] bring people to it, and, you know, vice versa. The new Skillet album comes out this summer, and I’m hoping the Ledger one will follow it and that they can function as a team,” Ledger said revealing a little bit of what is to come post-Winter Jam 2019. “I think that it has the potential to reach more avenues of people.”
Ledger left the conversation with the promise of a hopeful tomorrow, great music and the hope that her music will change lives. Signing off with a heartfelt goodbye, Ledger promised a great show will be coming to Cleveland State’s Wolstein Center on March 31.