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INTERVIEW: Skillet’s Jen Ledger talks struggle, inspiration, and influence

This is the sound of the warrior.

Jen Ledger discusses her personal journey, fighting back against anxiety, influence, debut EP, and more

Jen Ledger is a remarkable woman. At the tender age of 18 her drum skills were already so up to snuff that she was recruited by Christian metal extraordinaires Skillet after having already been in the US for two years on a drum scholarship.

Now, after having toured around the world and recorded with Skillet for the past decade, Ledger decided now was the right time to put out her debut solo EP LEDGER, which was put out last Friday (4/13). A review of it can be found here. The EP can be found below.

Ledger recently sat down with Salute Magazine to talk about the new EP and all of the aspects of her personal journey, struggles, inspirations, and more that went into it.

SALUTE: So you’ve been in Skillet since you were 18, so about 10 years. How do you feel the experience over the past decade has changed you as a musician and a person?

LEDGER: Wow, that’s quite the deep question isn’t it? I kind of feel like it’s changed me on more levels than you could ever imagine. I met the Coopers [Korey and John] when I was as you said only 18. I had just turned 18 for my first ever tour with them and I had moved from England so not only was I kind of new to the country but I was new to being an adult. I had never paid a bill, and everything about it was brand new to me.

One of the things that’s really awesome is the Coopers are some of the most inspiring and generous [people] and they have so much character and integrity that to spend 10 years under their wing helped me not only musically, but they have trained me up not only as a drummer [and] have pulled things out of me that I didn’t know I was capable of.

Then on the other hand I’ve seen how they handle their business and their family and how they write their music. Their main goal is to use it as such a powerful tool. I’ve traveled the world with them seeing people’s lives be changed. People struggling with addiction finally choose to break free and music has helped them do that.

So I feel like they have not only have I learned how to be an adult or how to be a better drummer, but also the power of music. It’s really the main reason why I ever wanted to do a side project. I saw how it affects people I saw how it gives them the courage and the strength to just not give up and to break through on things that maybe they would have given up on had this right song not touched them at the right time.

And so basically it’s like a 10 year dream apprenticeship if you want to become a musician and write your own music in the end. They [the Coopers] also helped me with my song writing. When I told them I wanted to start doing that I got to sit in with some really powerful, influential song writers and learn from the best.

That’s kind of the long answer to it. I feel like it changed me on every single level. There’s too many levels to talk about [chuckles].

SALUTE: [also chuckles] No, I understand. Being tossed into that at such a young age and then having those kinds of powerful and influential people helping you out and helping you grow I can imagine would change you in a myriad of ways. I can’t even begin to imagine.

LEDGER: Yeah, when you kind of live within 10 feet of space with people, you know 10 years of living with people in that much space you’re going to have a huge impact on each other. Had I not been with such great people, I can see why bands fall apart.

It’s just kind of like if you don’t get along in that much space then it’s just never going to work. It’s going to rob you of your own. You start to lose who you even are in this kind of a mix. So you instead of the toxic kind of relational band setting that you could have in a tour, it’s kind of the opposite. I feel like they’ve pulled me up.

And they’ve pulled things out of me that I didn’t even know I was capable of. As a musician and a drummer they have just made me so much sharper than I ever would have been without them. And then also just as a person in business and music. I feel set. Like my sights are set to do this well and to do this right and try to do this with as much integrity and as much impact as they have done it with with Skillet.

SALUTE: Well it’s definitely refreshing to see that there are still people out there especially in the music industry who do have some level of integrity and moral fiber, especially considering how cutthroat everything can get.

LEDGER: Oh my word. It’s kind of a nightmare. And you know like music and reality TV and basically the hugest influences that media has in our generation and our young people, a lot of the people who have the loudest voices and the strongest opinions, the people that have really wrecked lives, they’re not whole people.

They’re dysfunctional in their relationships, dysfunctional in their own lives, and you know I’ve met so many bands or people that like they’ve lost their wives or their children won’t speak to them.

And it really is a double edged sword. Like, music and media can impact people in a good way and it can impact people in a bad way. A lot of the reason I would ever want to be in music is just to be a force of good within that.

Like, we’ve got so many voices bombarding our young people with “You have to be THIS beautiful!” or “You have to be THIS rich.”, or “You have to be THIS successful to matter.” and then you’ll have finally made it.

It’s kind of just creating this, like you’re chasing something that you could never grasp. You live your life always feeling like you’re a step behind and it’s just not the truth.

I mean, my friends that have no success and kind of an ok job have some of the best family relationships in the whole world. That’s a treasure that you’ll never regret when you come to the end of your life.

And yeah, so sorry. [chuckles] That was sort of a long answer there. I just get so excited to be someone in music who is someone that is going to be on a platform to actually use it for good. And if your kids like look at my life or if your sister like follows my life I’m not going to be doing drugs or things that hurt people or lead them in a direction that steers them from their own life.

So yeah. Music is powerful and that’s why I feel so excited to follow in the footsteps of the Coopers and Skillet because they have been such a source of hope and light for 10 years. And to travel from Japan to Russia to Australia to see the impact that it has all over, it’s truly surreal.

It’s just such an honor, you know? Glad I got to be a part of it for so long.

SALUTE: Yeah, I can imagine. So speaking of the Coopers I know that they have been helping you to produce your upcoming record. I was wondering, you’ve been working on that since 2012, correct?

LEDGER: Yes! Yes! Good job. How did you know the details?

SALUTE: [laughs] I did my homework.

LEDGER: Yeah you did! I can tell A+ for you. [laughs]

SALUTE: [chuckles] So how did you decide this was the right time to release your EP?

LEDGER: Yeah, honestly that was the hardest thing about working on this side project. It’s like “Is this the right sound?”, “Is this the right time?”. You know, it’s been kind of a waiting game. But it’s something I’m really proud of now. It’s really sharp because we took the time to make sure these songs are right and because we took the time to really perfect the sound.

The Coopers, one thing they really dug out of me is making sure we choose the songs and produce the songs in a way that truly represents me. You know we didn’t want to come out with like “Skillet Part B” or mini copy of something people already heard, but something that’s really true to me.

Something that they really helped me perfect is like I’m a little bit softer than Skillet but I still have this edge. I’ve been touring with a rock band for 10 years now and though I’m a rock girl I also have pop influences and a bit of a softer side to me. And they were really able to help me bring that out. I’m really just so thrilled with the way it all ended up turning out. They crafted the songs with me and made them much better than had I done it on my own.

I keep saying to people it feels like I’ve stepped into a dream team. Like the fact those two guys are helping me produce, and sharpen, and write feels like this couldn’t have lined up better for me. Not only is it like a learning process, it’s really exciting to see it all come together. And for it to feel part of me and more like me than ever than had I released it three years ago or something.

I was just so new to writing and new to all of it. My songs were kind of all over the place. It might be too heavy, it might be too rock, it might be too pop. I was just kind of finding my bearings. And so I feel super excited about the time of it being now. It feels completely right.

And not only as the musical side of it but who I am as a person I feel more sure of it than ever, like who I want to be as a person, what I have to say, and who I want to be in front of people and the influence I want to have on the people of this generation.

I’m actually kind of glad that it’s taken a few extra years for me to get here because knowing who you are and knowing what you stand for, you know those are really vital years in your life. And so, even though it’s been kind of a waiting game of “So when should I do this?” I actually feel super excited and I’m just sure that the time is now.

I know it sounds kind of cheesy, but it’s kind of like a dream coming true and a bit of a destiny moment with everything lining up, feeling right, you know?

SALUTE: Yeah, I understand. Some times it takes a while for you to really get to know yourself well enough to know “This is what I have to say to the world through my music.” and to be able to turn around and put that into something that can then go out to the masses and maybe change someone’s life.

LEDGER: Yeah! Such an honor, isn’t it? It’s like amazing that you get to do something like that. And then as well like who you are at 22 is very different from who you are at 28. And I’m actually really thankful that I didn’t try to do this at 22 because I didn’t really know who I was, you know?

It was like the beginning. Figuring it all out, you know?

SALUTE: [chuckles] I didn’t know much about myself at 22 either, so I don’t blame you.

LEDGER: [laughs] Yeah. [sings] Twenty-twooo…

SALUTE: [laughs] Ok, so I know right now you have a single out “Not Dead Yet” and that seems to be a really powerful speaker pounding, cranked to 11 kind of song that has this real rock n’ roll gust and it seems to be this kind of anthem that seems both personal and sort of your own way of reaching out to people who might be among the more downtrodden. I was kind of wanting to know what inspired you to write it?

LEDGER: Absolutely. This song is like super dear to my heart. I feel like “Not Dead Yet” might be the anthem, you know when you feel like you’ve found the anthem for your life. When I wrote it I was super excited about it because the reason I wrote “Not Dead Yet” was because basically something I have struggled with and battled with a lot of my life is internal fear and anxiety.

And a few years ago I went through an especially dark time. For the most part I had been an emotionally even person but when I was traveling through Europe a few years ago I was waking up in the night with almost like panic attacks and fear attacks and it was a really, really hard season.

It was a really dark time. I had never experienced anything that intense. I would kind of feel like “Gosh, who am I?”, you know? It was such a struggle and a fight for me that when I made it through I felt like “Thank God, I made it through. Maybe this is something I’m done with now in my life.”, you know?

A year or so later it started to come back and it made me feel so defeated. I remember walking offstage and Korey, the guitar player for Skillet, you know she’s like my best friend in the whole world, I found her in the back and I was like “Kor, I had those terrible feelings come back to me today on stage and I can’t believe that after nine years of doing this these feelings are still creeping up.”

They just rob you of joy. Make you feel like “Ugh, I can’t do this. I just want to give up.”.

So I said to her, “What if these feelings in me never go away? What if I feel the feelings that always come back for me? What if they come back again?”.

She turns to me and she says, “Then you fight, Jen. Then you fight while there is breath in your lungs until the day that you die and you fight those feelings and don’t let them rob you of your life.”.

And it was one of those conversations where you know you’re going to hold onto it for the rest of your days. It was such an impactful moment and I think I just needed to have that resolve in my heart that it’s actually ok if these things come back. The only thing that not ok is me giving up and letting the feelings take me.

And so I wrote “Not Dead Yet” almost as a fight back song. Like “Yeah, maybe I do struggle with this, and some times I do get really afraid. Maybe some times anxiety comes in the mirror and like I don’t know who I am.”. And you know, maybe these things come back, but I’m never going to let them stop me and I’m never going to let them take my own life from me.

It screams at you that you want to give up and it screams at you that you just shouldn’t even try, and that is not what I will let this do. And so “Not Dead Yet”, I hope like, you know we’re living in a generation where young people are the most anxious people that we’ve ever had in history and I’m sure it’s to do with the stuff we’re filling our minds with, whether it’s social media and the people that we look to and not feeling good enough. Feeling like we’re always a step behind and like “That life is for them. I could never do that.”.

And so I wrote this song in hopes that not only is it an anthem song for me to never give up, never let fear from stepping out into things, but I also wrote it for other people who might be struggling with similar thoughts or similar fears or whether it’s addictions or whatever keeps knocking on back and coming around. Even if it does come back the rest of their life, they should never give up the fight. Fight through it no matter what.

SALUTE: That’s all you can really do, no matter what kinds of struggles you’re dealing with, whether it’s anxiety, depression, other kinds of mental illness. I mean, it’s only just now that this stuff is finally getting the recognition and attention it needs.

LEDGER: Absolutely. And you know it’s the sort of thing that just robs people. Some people find it hard to step outside of their own homes and it’s just, it’s not ok. It’s not ok that it’s stealing their lives and their relationships from them like that. And I really hope that this song can encourage people.

Some times you just have to step out while you’re afraid. Some times the fear doesn’t go away, but just taking the steps in the right direction is all it takes to break those things over you.

And so, that’s what it’s about. Go down swinging, even if it hurts. Even if it embarrasses you. Even if these things do go wrong and they do come back just never give up the fight.

SALUTE: Well at the very least, no matter what anyone says, no matter what happens, at least you can say you did something. You tried, and you fought back.

LEDGER: Yeah! At least you can live with no regrets of not going through it when you had the opportunity. You know, like I hate to look back on my life and see things that I missed because I was too afraid. You know, that’s what fear does and that’s what anxiety does.

You look back on a lot of missed opportunities. You’ll feel safer in the moment. You self-preserved and you didn’t put yourself out there. But putting yourself out there is something you won’t regret at the end of it all.

SALUTE: Of course. So on that note, I was curious to know if there were any specific tracks on your record that are either your favorite or mean the most to you?

LEDGER: “Not Dead Yet” is definitely one of the songs that is closest to my heart because it’s the most recent thing that I’ve been through. And you’ll notice in a lot of my songs like the song “Warrior” and the song “Bold” that they have very similar themes of choosing to step out and overcoming a fear.

Another song that is really dear to my heart is a song called “Ruins”. Mainly because it was one of the first songs I ever wrote with Korey. It was about six years ago that we wrote that one and she really challenged me to get super deep and really vulnerable in my lyrics, which was really grueling for me because some times I didn’t want to be vulnerable. I didn’t want to go there. And she really encouraged me to dig deeper and dig deeper.

And so that song I’m just super proud of because it speaks of being ruined by love in the bad and the good sense. Like, we’ve all been hurt by people. It makes you really reluctant to open yourself up again. You just want to be guarded.

There’s also a love that can just ruin you for the rest of your life. It was so good that you will never be able to go back to how life was before it. And that song means so much to me because I’ve experienced the bad side of love, I’ve experienced love that you know, I’ll never be the same again and that comes through my face, through this journey I’ve been on the last 12 years of my life. And now that I’ve found what I’m waiting for, I’ll never be the same again.

And I love that it’s called “Ruins”. It’s a cool name. [chuckles] And you know, I love how it just sounds like a sad song but there’s actually a ton of hope in it too. Makes you really excited when your lyrics actually do good and you’re like “They actually turned out good on this one!”. [laughs]

SALUTE: Well yeah. Some times some of the best songs are the ones where you have to read between the lines rather than just on surface level.

LEDGER: Yeah! Absolutely. I agree with you on that. It’s like “Ooh, it’s not as simple as you thought and there’s a double meaning here.”.

SALUTE: Well what fun is it if it’s not at least a little bit of a challenge?

LEDGER: Yeah, it’s really hard to do as well. Part of the reason I’m proud of this song is I feel that those lyrics are some of the best I’ve written.

SALUTE: I can imagine so. And so, on a similar note, what do you feel if any is your overall message of the record you’re about to put out?

LEDGER: It’s definitely an EP that I think will empower people. It’s a reminder that humans, we’re not perfect. We have flaws and we have broken parts of us and maybe there’s things you could point out if you feel lesser, if you seem not as good as everyone else.

The truth is, all of us have it. This EP really is a call to not let these things hold you back, to step out into things that maybe make you afraid, but to step out into your destiny whether it looks terrifying or not.

I really hope that it can empower people to just not give up, whether it’s the things we already discussed or the things that knock you down, things that hold you back.

It’s just an empowering EP of hope that will make people feel like “You know what? This isn’t holding me back any more. I’m going to go for it and I’m not going to let these stupid things steal my life away from me.

Keep up with music at Salute.

Listen: Jen Ledger LEDGER


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