When Winter Jam hits New Orleans on Jan. 31, Skillet drummer Jen Ledger will be there rocking with her new project named Ledger.
And it will be a full-circle moment for her. Her first tour with Skillet was Winter Jam about 11 years ago.
“So, I went from playing for 200 people at church on a Sunday to playing for 16,000 people in an arena,” Ledger recalled.
She describes Winter Jam as one of the biggest Christian tours in the world.
“You can basically expect to have your mind blown. You are going to see 10 bands from all across the genres,” she said. “The great thing about Winter Jam is the size of the venues allows us to bring production in and surprise show elements you can’t do in other venues. ... And it’s definitely going to shock and surprise you.”
And Ledger knows a thing about production. Skillet is known for wowing audiences with its shows. She describes her time with Skillet as a decade-long apprenticeship with husband-and-wife bandmates John and Korey Cooper.
“I don’t want to give away any secrets just yet, but I am hoping to follow in their footsteps and do some fun memorable moments (at Winter Jam).”
Ledger is from Coventry, England, and moved to the U.S. at age 16 to attend the School of Worship in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Her brothers had attended and their lives were dramatically changed when they returned to England.
Ledger's life changed, too. So much so that she didn’t return to England.
“A year later, I got asked to audition for Skillet. I was 17. Honestly, it terrified me, the idea of trying for this massive, world-world-touring rock band.” She said she was nervous playing in front of 200 people in church.
That nervousness led her to initially turn down the audition, but through prayer, she felt God was leading her to the band.
“I tried out for Skillet, getting over my own fears, and it ended up being exactly what God had for me," Ledger said. "I wanted to be a hairdresser. That was my goal. Instead, God had a very different plan for me.”
Touring with the band let her see how music affects people around the world. She saw people who didn’t speak English moved by their songs, heard stories of people changing their minds on suicide because a song at the right moment gave them hope. Music “is such a powerful tool,” Ledger said.
Through those revelations, she found the platform God had provided.
“I was meeting a lot of girls that started learning the drums because of me (or) changing their hair," she said.
Ledger began writing her own music to reach more of those girls and others. She reached out to the Coopers, who have helped her learn the craft. That has led to formation of the band Ledger.
“It’s cool cause you can hear the Skillet influence — I’ve been touring with them for 11 years — but at the same time, you can hear me throughout,” she said. “It feels like a really wonderful representation of the journey I’ve been on for the last 11 years, and now all of sudden, everyone gets to come on the journey with me.”
She described her new project as rock meets pop — softer influences coming through the heavier sounds for which Skillet is known.
Asked about those influences, Ledger mentions the Beatles and pop music. She is also a fan of Lacey Sturm, formerly of Flyleaf.
“It’s not only her singing. Her singing is phenomenal," Ledger said. "Also, Skillet follows that same template, writing in a way that non-Christians can relate and seeing God use that and take it places overtly Christian music wouldn’t be able to go. Christians will know exactly what I’m speaking about and the non-Christians will be uplifted. That feels like a massive win to me."
Ledger isn’t the only member of Skillet working on a side project. John Cooper recently released a metal project called Fight the Fury.
Ledger has an EP out but is working on a full album, and “we are preparing the Skillet 2019 album release right now, I am freaking thrilled. … I feel like it’s our best music we’ve ever done. The (fan group) Panheads are going to be so pumped when they hear it,“ she said. “It’s going to look like a lot of new music from the Skillet-verse.”
She said the band hasn’t figured out what touring will look like, but she thinks there will be a lot of shows where Ledger or Fight the Fury will be playing with Skillet.
“We’re just excited to see where God is taking us. … We’ll just keep writing music and see where it goes," she said. "It’s incredibly exciting.”
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31. Jam Nation entry 4:30 p.m.; pre-Jam party 6 p.m.
WHERE: Lakefront Arena, New Orleans
TICKETS: $15 cash or check at door
ARTISTS: Newsboys United, Danny Gokey, Mandisa, Rend Collective, Ledger, Newsong, Hollyn, Adam Agee, Zane Black, Ty Brasel, Manic Drive, Dan Bremnes