Photo Credit: Chrissy Yoder
It’s been a transformative ride for Skillet Drummer, Jen Ledger, who is having the time of her life touring the world and vividly observing the universal impact of music. Living out her mission as a musician has not only enhanced her own life; it has enhanced the lives of audiences worldwide. Jen has recently stepped out from behind the drums to release her self-titled solo EP, ‘Ledger’, which awakens, influences and encourages an unguarded and all-encompassing space within listeners. I caught up with Jen to discuss how her faith has been at the core of her artistry, the roots of her solo journey, her immense gratitude for her bandmates in Skillet, tattoos and more.
Congrats on the release of your self-titled EP. Let’s switch it up: tell us about what you learned about yourself through bringing your first solo project to life.
It has actually been quite a long journey. I started beginning to work on the EP about six years ago. I asked my bandmates, John and Korey, if they would train me in writing because I was so brand new to it, but I really felt like I was supposed to begin writing my music. At that time, I was seeing the impact and influence that music was having on people all around the world. Therefore, I knew that I was going to use my platform and opportunity that I have not only as a drummer, but overall. I knew that I wanted to be more vocal about what I live for and who I am to hopefully extend forward as a source of light and hope to our younger generation.
We have so many loud voices shaping our younger generation these days through reality TV or whatever it may be. I just wanted to be another voice that was displaying something different, something whole. I wanted to display something that could be full of hope. My solo project has been a long journey and my bandmates have really helped me throughout, especially Korey. I remember that she began writing with me immediately and we wrote around twelve songs throughout that first year and only one of them made it this far! The song that made it is called “Ruins” which is still one of my favorite songs; I am so happy that it made it onto the EP.
I have learned that the songs that are most impactful and powerful come when you are at your most vulnerable state which can be really hard. There are times in which you really don’t want to talk about what is going on within your world. There are times where you may not want to express or share what you have been through because you are worried about what people will think. However, I have chosen to take the road of talking about these things that I have been through which can help other people who have been through similar experiences. I hope that what I share can connect with others and empower others through whatever they are going through.
Exactly. I can only imagine how moving of an experience that must be and therapeutic that must feel for you. Your artistry is therapeutic for your audience as well. Through the arts, we are able to create alternative perceptions on our observations, experiences, thoughts, etc. We are able to create a new way of feeling our feelings through the arts. It is a beautiful privilege to realize within our lifetime.
Yes, absolutely. It is beautiful. I know that at times, I did forget just how powerful the arts and music itself simply is. Through touring with Skillet for a decade, we have met so many people that have told us how our music has stopped people in their tracks when they were contemplating suicide. We have met a lot of people that were addicted to drugs that have come clean through listening to our music. That is so powerful to me. I know that music is a powerful thing, but when you are face to face with someone who told you that music has literally saved their life, it moves you. It moves you to be more real. It moves you to be more vulnerable. It moves you to want to empower others.
That gave me chills. You know, I have had the pleasure of seeing Skillet live. I have interviewed John and Korey as well. There is such a palpable synergy amongst you all. You can feel that very synergy as a fan in the audience. You all emit that synergy on stage and selflessly share your passion with the world. I feel that within our modern-time, it is so important to choose that raw essence and to embody that very essence. Fans can feel that.
I love that. It is so encouraging to hear that you would even sense that in our shows. John and Korey are my biggest role models. They have been my biggest influences for ten years now. I just genuinely look up to them and respect them so much. They are the most generous people off stage as well. John and Korey care about people. They want to make a difference. I mean, their whole lives are basically wrapped around our vision which is to change the world through music. We want to help people through our music. I slightly feel like I have been on a decade long apprenticeship with some of the most powerful musicians and hearts.
Photo Credit: Gina Mohahan
How humbling. I don’t mean to toot your horn, yet when we dial down to the reality of it, you are a part of that creative process and team with Korey, John and Seth.
Yes. I kind-of owe who I am to them. They are all so radical and passionate. I joined Skillet right when I turned 18-years-old. I was learning how to be an adult. I remember that they were literally teaching me how to pay bills. I hadn’t learned how to drive a car yet at that time. I was learning how to be an adult, yet I also was learning how to be someone who pioneers and lives their life on fire. I was learning how to be someone who chooses to light their fire and put their passion to work. I was learning how to be someone who chooses to make a difference. I have seen what John and Korey’s hearts have done all over the globe. Therefore, I am privileged to have been trained by people like that. Could it get any better?
I am so honored that Skillet has chosen to train, support me and actually help me create my own project. They have been completely behind me and have supported me since day one. As I see it all take shape, I am amazed. It is humbling. It is surreal. They accepted me and took a huge risk on me as an 18-year-old drummer, and now we are making something together as one. Korey even produced the EP! This is her debut producing project and I cannot believe that I had the honor of being her first project.
It’s all coming full circle. There is one key component that I have recognized that you all share and brings your bond even closer; that is your relationship with your higher power. Do you feel as though that has enhanced your journey as a musician?
Absolutely. My faith is my life. Everything that I have done with music is because of my work with God. I remember that I actually said no to trying out for Skillet in the beginning. I didn’t want to do it because I was too afraid. I hated performing. I used to play at church on Sunday and remember feeling sick because I was so nervous while playing. So, I prayed about trying out for Skillet and I really felt like I was supposed to go for it. Even throughout the audition, it all felt very miraculous. The night before the audition, I was so incredibly nervous that I couldn’t even play for my two friends. As I was preparing for the audition, I had thirty minutes prior to the band arriving. My heart was racing and my hands were shaking. I remember that I just went into another room and prayed. I felt like God reminded me that he was with me. I felt like God was reminding me that he was going to make me strong. I auditioned for the band and it went seamlessly. But afterwards, that feeling of nervousness came back again in the interview that followed the audition. I tried to sabotage myself and was so nervous. Furthermore, I came to realize that this was something that God handed me. I knew that I had to give my all to it and sure enough, they gave me the job. They had no idea that I was so young at that time! They said that if they would have known my age, they would have never let me audition. It just felt very much so that this was my calling; this is what I was meant to do. I have been able to travel the world and be a drummer.
That is divinely channeled. It is so moving to travel the world and observe so many different walks of life and their unique way of being. You see how many differences that there are throughout our world. You also see how they collectively come together as one because ultimately, we are all mortal human beings. It creates acceptance.
Absolutely. Music crosses boundaries. Music and art cross language barriers. As a person who initially never wanted to perform, to be able to be here and speak with you ten years later and see the impact is incredible. God has used me in music and has used me to spread our music all over the world. God has used me to bring his hope and light forward and to help others get through whatever season they are going through. I am here to remind them that God loves them and to be a part of that is a gift. I am a girl from England who had a dream to be a hairdresser. My faith is in everything that I do and every season that I experience. I can’t take a step without seeing and knowing that God’s grace has changed my life. Even with this solo EP, I feel so excited that I am able to continue to be more vocal with music. I hope that I can write stuff that will empower others to break through any chains that they are feeling weighed down by. I hope that my music can be a source of light. I hope that my music can impact others in the same way that I have seen Skillet impact the world.
Photo Credit: Gina Mohahan
Your music already has, Jen. I love that you mentioned seasons of life. You have now entered a new season of life through stepping out from the drums and opening up as Ledger for your own band, Skillet, while on tour; that is so unique.
Yes! It is so unique and I am having such an incredible time. We just had our first tour with King & Country and Skillet. I initially thought that it would be different, but it’d be alright because I have been doing this for ten years. Man, that first show as Ledger! I got up there and my knees were locking. I was shaking. The crowd was staring back at me and it hit me; these are my songs. These are my most vulnerable moments that I am about to sing for these people. All of a sudden, I did not know what to do with my arms and legs. I was suddenly incredibly aware of my limbs! I am always behind the drums and there I was, front and center. I am so used to sitting at the drums and watching John who is one of the most entertaining frontman’s in the whole world. John has all of the banter between the songs that keeps the crowd going, and all of sudden, John wasn’t there. It was my responsibility now. It has been a six-year journey working toward this. I have seen God change my life entirely from this Country girl from England who wanted to be a hairdresser. There I was, standing in front of an arena of people about to sing my own music. I had to get over that initial fear. I had to remind myself that I am so blessed to be there.
Photo Credit: Gina Mohahan
You are there for a reason. Isn’t Korey playing in your band?
Yes! Oh my goodness. Looking to my right and seeing my best friend, Korey, playing with me is beautiful. Korey has trained me and mentored me and not only that….
Korey is a rockstar, but she is a human rockstar. It hasn’t gotten to her head. Korey is an embodied, human rockstar.
I love that! It is so reassuring to look to my right and see Korey playing in my band as Ledger. She has been there through it all along this journey with me for ten years now. Korey is the one that I turned to when I thought that I couldn’t do this and that I shouldn’t even try to create a solo project. Korey reassured that I can and will. Korey believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. It could make me cry. It is surreal. It is a surreal and destined thing and feeling to stand there with your best friend like that.
That is so powerful. Let’s talk tattoos. Tell us about some of your favorite personal pieces. I saw that you have a piece on your forearm, correct?
Yes! On my left wrist, I have a scripture from Isaiah 41:10. As I mentioned to you earlier, when I was going to try out for Skillet, I had those thirty minutes before I had my audition and used that time to pray. I got this tattoo because I felt like God gave me this scripture that says says not to fear because he has called me from the end of the earth to make me strong and hold me by his right hand along the way. After I became a member of Skillet, I wanted to get that very scripture tattooed on my wrist so that if I ever felt any panic prior to going on stage, I could look at this tattoo as a reminder that God has placed me here and that God is always with me. My journey has been a miracle and that is because of God.
On my right arm, I have some wings and I also have the word ‘Emmanuel’ written by my wrist which means that God is with us. It is another reminder that God is with me all of the time.
Beautiful. One thing that I personally admire about tattoos is that once again, you are able to express yourself in a variety of ways through the art which awakens a broader perspective. You and I could talk forever, yet last but certainly not least, any closing messages for your fans?!
I have been pretty vulnerable so far so let’s just go for it. The song, “Not Dead Yet”, is basically a theme song from my heart. A couple of years ago, I went through a season of panic attacks and anxiety. I have never been through anything like that before. It was intense. It made me question who I was. After wrestling through a season that was that intense, I knew that it was a challenging moment and experience that I encountered in my life. “Not Dead Yet” is the song that reminds me that I have faith in myself again. I recall last year in 2017 when I was on stage again with Skillet, I encountered those feelings of panic again. I felt that anxiety creeping back into my heart. I came on stage and was really defeated. I turned to Korey and told her that I couldn’t believe that I am starting to feel those feelings again. I had thought that I had beat that experience and those feelings. I looked at Korey at that time and said to her, “What if this is something that never goes away for me?”…..
Korey looked at me and said, “Then you fight Jen. You fight while there is breath in your lungs. You fight until the day that you die and you do not let fear rob you of your own life.”
I knew right then and there that I was not dead yet. I wrote “Not Dead Yet” because of that conversation. It is okay if you have struggled. It is okay if things feel too big and scary for you. The one thing that you can’t let happen is you can’t let fear take you out and stop you from trying. “Not Dead Yet” is knowing that it is okay if I am weak. It is okay if I am feeling things that make me feel broken. Personally, I know that there is nothing too weak or too scary for me which would stop God from being with me and using me to display his glory on Earth. I just hope that “Not Dead Yet” can empower others when they are feeling that life is too hard or something is just stopping them and making them feel like they want to give up before they even try. I wrote “Not Dead Yet” to empower others to keep fighting for their life. Life is worth the struggle.
Our true strength is revealed through our sensitivity. It is when we choose to shed our walls and come forward as our most vulnerable and raw selves that we reveal pieces of ourselves and make room for the world around us.
Yes. You are stronger once you have gone through the storms. You are able to help others that are currently going through it. If your lower points can help other people and help other people get through their experience, it is all totally worth it.