Ledger Debut With Empowering ‘Not Dead Yet’ Anthem – Exclusive Song Premiere + Interview
For the past decade, Jen Ledger has kept the beat going as the drummer for Skillet, while also becoming more of a vocal presence in the band over time. Now she is steping out from behind the kit to front her own EP. The self-titled Ledger EP is due April 13 via Atlantic Records imprint Hear It Loud, which was launched by Skillet's own John and Korey Cooper and manager Zachary Kelm, thus keeping it all in the family.
Having recently made the announcement of her EP, Jen Ledger is teaming up with Loudwire to bring you the exclusive premiere of the uplifting new rock track "Not Dead Yet," which you can check out in the player above. Opening with keys and a steady build, the track eventually erupts with Ledger's powerful vocals in the chorus that provides a perfect fit for the equally impactful lyrics.
We also spoke with Jen about the upcoming EP, what it's like to have the Skillet family behind her, her thoughts on the upcoming tour where she'll also open for Skillet and what this solo EP might lead to down the road.
Take me to the start of this project. You’ve probably been thinking about this for a little while. What made it time to scratch that itch?
It was probably about six years ago that I first started talking to John and Korey about the idea that I’d like to start writing my own music. But right then it was just very much a bit of a dream because I didn’t know anything about writing songs and I’d only been pretty much a drummer. But it was Korey that took me aside and she started writing with me. It was probably about six years ago that we wrote our first batch of songs, a good ten or eleven that year, and it was awesome. It was really an exciting time cause I’d never really dived into that stuff, but there’s only one of those songs that made it onto this EP.
I’m still super proud of it. You know how when you start writing it’s a bunch of beginner songs and you know they’re not going to make it, but it’s pretty exciting when one of ‘em actually does. It’s a song called “Ruins” and I’m super pumped and proud and it’s one of the few from six years ago that actually made it this far.
You mentioned Korey helping you along. You started with Skillet at a fairly young age. Can you talk about what it meant to you to join a band that is also essentially a family situation?
Honestly, we have such a unique situation and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I auditioned for Skillet when I was 17 years old and my first ever show with them was just when I’d turned 18. I’d only ever gone from playing in church with 200 people and my first ever show was on a tour called Winter Jam and at the time it was one of the biggest arena tours in the world. My first ever show for Skillet was like this sold out arena of 15,000 people so you can imagine how intimidating that was walking into a situation like that. But the thing that’s so wonderful is, you know how a lot of good bands dissolve. Well, I think that having good relationships on the road is the key to a successful band because no matter how talented you are, at the end of the day if you don’t like living in your 8 by 20 feet with someone, it’s just gonna wreck you. So what’s awesome about this is that they not only took me under their wing as a drummer and they’ve really helped me stretch there. Honestly, I’ve become the drummer I am today because they worked with me and they’ve written stuff and helped me with my strengths. They’ve pulled things out of me that I didn’t know I was capable of playing. And on top of it, they’ve taken me under their wing and it is very much like a family. I learned, ‘How do I pay my bills?’ (laughs). I’ve learned everything from the Coopers not only from playing drums but also from a life standpoint. They are also some of the most generous and powerful people offstage too. You’re never going to meet anyone kinder or with more integrity and I’ve learned a lot from watching how they do business also. So I think in some ways it’s kind of the most amazing apprenticeship that I could have had (laughs). But it is a family setting. I wake up in the morning and their kids are doing school and I’ve known them since they were 2 and 5 and now they’re 12 and 15 and it feels like they’re my little brother and sister. And it’s something I really cherish about being in a band. I don’t think I could’ve done it for ten years if I didn’t love the environment so much. It’s just a really uplifting and encouraging environment to be in and playing music is almost a bonus on the side.
The song “Not Dead Yet” is what we’re premiering. I was wondering if there’s a story behind the meaning of that song for you.
“Not Dead Yet” is incredibly dear to me because something that I’ve been dealing with for the last few years, and I’ve never experienced it before in my life, but I’ve had I guess you could call them attacks of anxiety or panic. I had never really experienced anything like that but a couple of years ago it started happening really intensely and it was a hard time in my life where, the truth is, I just wanted to give up.
But it was about a year later and I fought through it and I really felt I’d overcome. It was like, ‘Oh I think that was a seizure and that’s dead and gone and I’m doing okay now,’ but when we went back on tour, I was onstage and I started panicking onstage and it was like a fear that made me want to give up. But it was like, "I’ve been doing this for nine years. Why am I panicking onstage and if I’m still panicking now, why would I ever want to continue with it?" It was just such a defeating moment, but I got offstage and I was sitting in a room with Korey and I just unloaded.
I told her that I was just really struggling and I wasn’t sure why these feelings had come back and I was just panicking so much onstage that it made me want to give up and I just hate that feeling so much. And I said, "What is this feeling and what if this is something that I always have to fight?" And Korey just looked and me and said, “Then you never give up, Jen. You fight until the very last breath of your life. You don’t let it mess with your destiny.” It was one of the most powerful conversations I’ve ever had and it was just so freeing. Yes, maybe I will have to fight and maybe these things won’t go away, but you’ve got to resolve in your heart that you will never let them defeat you and you will fight until your very last breath.
I think I just needed to hear that. Maybe I will overcome fear and maybe I will overcome anxiety. Even in five years from now, and maybe it will always come back up, but I have to resolve in my heart that I will never let it take me out or rob me of the opportunity or rob me of living my life.
So that’s the story of “Not Dead Yet.” I went home the next day and was sitting in my room and the lyrics and the chorus came to me. I wrote a lot of the lyrics that night and I took the song to Seth Moseley and we finished the song together.
What does it mean to you to know that you have put this uplifting piece of music out there for fans to hear and attach their own meaning to?
Truthfully, the only reason I’d ever want to do music is if it brings people hope. One of the most powerful things that have hit me in the last ten years is watching Skillet tour the world and we’ve met people everywhere from Russia to Japan to Australia and they’ve told us that they’ve heard a song and it literally stopped them from wanting to kill themselves. And it’s something that has inspired me to really want to write my own music. It’s not to say, “Check out how cool I am.” It’s because I’ve learned exactly how powerful music is. And in a world where celebrities can be reality TV stars with dysfunctional broken people in the world with terrible relationships and emptiness in their hearts, and you’ve also got other people who are guiding our future generations and that’s exactly why I want to write music right there. I want to write music that actually matters and to be able to make a difference through song. Especially with the stuff that I’ve been through, the idea that I could encourage someone to just not give up. I don’t think there’s anything more important about music. The idea that “Not Dead Yet” could inspire anyone to overcome whatever it is they’re facing, it’s an honor to me. It’s what makes me most excited to play music.
While the EP definitely does rock, there are other elements to your sound. What inspires you in terms of music that you like and how much might we hear some of those influences on this EP?
I feel like I’m such a weird blend of so many things and I think people will pick up on it. Obviously, I’ve been touring in a mainstream rock band for ten years, so I’ve got a ton of influence there from just the people we’ve played with. I grew up listening to Papa Roach, and I used to love Jimmy Eat World and the more slightly emotional rock type of stuff. But when I was 16-years-old, I remember hearing the album Flyleaf and thinking, “Oh my god, I want to be her [Lacey Sturm]” (laughs).
But my dad bought me up on listening to the Beatles and Alanis Morissette, so I have a bit of a pop influence too and I think people will pick up on … there are obviously a lot of Skillet elements in the new music, but it’s also got a nice blend of modern rock with some pop influence in the melodies. I love pop music too and I’m not ashamed of it. I’ve noticed that when I write I tend to have slightly poppier melodies. But I also love that it has that edgy aggressive side of rock music that makes you feel like you can overcome the world. It’s really a unique blend and I’m hoping people love it cause I’m super thrilled about it.
You’re going to get a chance to open for your own band, Skillet. Not only are you playing with Skillet, but you’re also opening. Can you talk about what it was like to put together your band for this upcoming tour and what you’re expecting?
Honestly, you can’t even overstate how surreal this feels. (laughs) Honestly, every night leading up to the tour, I wake up during the night thinking, “Is this really happening?” This has just been a dream that we’ve talked about – “Maybe next year we could do this.” It’s been something we’ve talked about for six years now and there was a season where we thought it was going to launch a couple of years ago and the timing wasn’t right, so in many ways it’s felt like a big secret for so long that we’ve been working on it. So even the fact that the tour got announced and I’ve got all these people congratulating me and telling me that they can’t wait to hear it, it’s like, “Oh wow, you know about it?” I’ve not been speaking about it purposefully for quite a long time, so I am like, “This is so surreal, I’m freaking out.”
But what’s awesome is the whole reason I came to America, which is 12 years ago now, was to do a school of worship in Kenosha, Wis., and my base is in Kenosha and I have a great community there and there’s a lot of musicians there actually, so when it came to picking my band, I could do the Nashville route and pick some people who are totally pro but I know so many people back home who would be just so ideal for this band. So I thought more about who do I want to share these moments with.
I ended up picking a guy called Chris Marvin. I used to play in a band with him called The Spark only for a little while 12 years ago, but he’s such a good man and a great player and if he’s willing, I’d love to have him out. And then an awesome drummer from my church called Jalon Richard. But the funny thing is we haven’t had a chance to practice yet. And then I’ve got of course my secret weapon who is Korey Cooper. She’s gonna swing around and play guitar for me. I’m like, “My band is so strong. I just need to practice on how to be a frontperson.” What do I do with my arms now that I’m not behind the drums? I could be the weak link, but I’m really excited about the team I’ve got. I am actually excited about Winter Jam, the tour, being over so I can get back and start rehearsals with them. We only have about seven days before we leave for tour, but I am not worried about it. These players are ridiculous. I’m the one who’s going to need a little practice (laughs).
Where would you like to see things go with this moving forward?
Truthfully I haven’t had the chance to wrap my head around that. I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, but right now I do not want to leave Skillet and I feel great to be a part of that. If this does take off, what I’d love is if this just gives more opportunities for Ledger and Skillet to play together.
I’m really hoping that the Skillet fanbase really likes this music and embraces it, cause they’re just the most incredible people and the most passionate fans that you’re ever going to meet. If I can just continue to be part of this team and this group that is already existing but also be another expression with a slightly different take on music, I just don’t think I could ask for much more than that. It’d be thrilling. And the fact that it has kind of worked out the way it has – I’ve signed a deal here now through John and Korey’s label here at Atlantic and it really feels more like a team than it does my breakout. If we can continue just embracing the team aspect and doing this as a unit, we’ll just do this together and I’d just love it if we can continue in the direction it’s going. But right now, I’ve just got to learn the songs and play with my band (laughs).
Be sure to catch Ledger on tour with Skillet at these stops.
Ledger, Ledger EP Artwork + Track Listing
1. "Not Dead Yet"
2. "Warrior" [Featuring John Cooper]