Platinum-earning drummer, breast cancer survivor, producer: Lori Peters-George has worn a lot of hats in her lifetime. Although her years as drummer for Skillet saw her on stages around the world during the band’s early ascent to fame, the ways she has spent her life in the years since that season came to a close might be even more significant.
Rock On Purpose contributor Matt Sassano spent some time talking with Lori and her husband Chris George, taking a deep dive into their story, their studio, and the redemption testimonies that drive them.
Matt: Can you describe your early life and what experiences shaped your love for music?
Lori: I got my first kit when I was really little. I grew up in the 80s, so when MTV came out, that was huge. I was glued to that 24/7. It’s kind of how I initially learned how to play drums, by watching other drummers. I really didn’t get into school band until around 9th grade. I had to no real formal drum lessons until I was 14 years old.
Matt: So, you began at 5 years old, but around 14 is when it really began to be serious?
Lori: Well, I was very serious about it, but my Dad worked 3rd shift [laughs].
Matt: Oh, I see. Waking them up all hours of the night just beating on those drums I bet [laughs].
Lori: Yeah, I had to beg my Mom for years. After my parents separated, I begged her, and in junior high she gave in and I finally saved up my own money and bought my first kit. I got into private lessons at school, and I played all through high school. After high school, I played a lot in church and in local bands. That’s what really kept me going until Skillet.
Matt: That’s awesome! Playing in church worship teams was a big part of my journey as well. Who are the drummers that influenced you most growing up?
Lori: Tommy Lee, Robert Sweet from Stryper, Tommy Aldridge from White Snake. Just all the big hair bands– you name it, and I was watching them
Matt: I know faith has always been a staple for you in your music, and throughout your life. A question: Who were some of your musical and spiritual mentors that helped you discover your purpose?
Lori: I grew up with Korey [Cooper]. I grew up with her family, and her dad is the pastor of our church. Korey’s family and other families in our church were huge influences on me. Obviously, I met John years later, and they are both very strong in their faith and were very influential. I look up to both of them tons. Korey has three sisters and a brother, and I’m very close to them. They are all very strong in their faith.
Matt: You grew up together, and ventured into the music thing together. I heard that you started a series of bands before Skillet?
Lori: Yeah, Korey and I were in youth group together, so we had two different local bands with other musicians in the church. At the time, I was going to Columbia College in Chicago for studio recording, so we had an opportunity to record some of those early projects. We have copies of stuff somewhere. The one band I know that’s on YouTube is called Alkeme.
Matt: Oh shoot! I’m putting this on my “list of bands to check out as soon as I have a minute.” That’s cool to know some of this history.
Switching gears, I know a huge part of what you do is being a very outspoken advocate for women with breast cancer. In 2018, you were diagnosed with breast cancer. Could you outline some of that journey for us?
Lori: I was diagnosed in 2018. It was caught very early on. I was very fortunate in that regard that I didn’t have to go through chemo or radiation. It was stage zero, but still unfortunately there’s no cure, so I still had to have surgery and had to have it removed. After that, I didn’t have to have anything else done, which I am thankful for. That’s why they tell you to get checked consistently, so you can catch it early. By being detected early, I didn’t have to go through all these other treatments that will just add wear and tear on your body.
Matt: As dark as that experience was, you really are fortunate to have caught it early and beat the odds as you have.
Lori: Yeah, I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. I had my own complications, but I can’t complain for the most part. I’m very grateful to be alive. Having to endure a mastectomy was very hard, and again, I am very fortunate.
Matt: Thank God for that. Often when you go through crazy things like breast cancer, it can really change our perspective on things. How has your diagnosis impacted your faith or life in general?
Lori: I don’t know if its different for non-Christians, but my focus has always been on reaching to God for strength, so it wasn’t too far of a stretch of imagination. And you know, as hard as it was, I never felt like I was going to die. I was never quite at the level that a lot of people get to in that journey.
My Mom had just passed away a year before from a different kind of cancer. I was already stretched to the limit just helping to care for her for a few years, and then seeing her succumb to all that. My cancer was definitely a struggle in a lot of ways, and I’m still dealing with some of the aftereffects, but my husband and family have been a great support, so you know I’m doing okay.
I am not in the public eye as much as I used to be, but through my experience with breast cancer and being involved with the Breast Cancer Can Stick It foundation, it’s put me out there again behind a great cause. I find it amazing; I mean, how many non-profit charities would connect breast cancer and drums?
Matt: I know right? It’s a perfect storm, and to see you overcoming the odds in so many ways is awesome. When you got involved with Breast Cancer Can Stick It, did the founder April Samuels reach out to you? How did that happen?
Lori: So, this is the interesting thing, and how God works. Camp Electric is like a Christian band camp, and it’s based in Nashville, Tennessee. The two guys that started Camp Electric are singers and were in a band called Brother’s Keeper, which is a boy band type project. They started way back when Skillet was newer. We were all label mates with them on Ardent Records out of Memphis, Tennessee.
Those guys reached out to me because they wanted me to come to Nashville and participate in Camp Electric as a drum instructor. A girl named Michelle was there at the time. I think she was only 17, and we stayed in touch through the years on Facebook on an off. Ten years later, I was scrolling through Facebook, and I saw some of her pictures. She was behind a pink and black drum set. I was like “oh that’s cool,” but never thought to stop and check it out further. One day I looked more closely at it and realized it was for breast cancer.
That was in 2018, so I started reading all about it and discovered that she was one of the main people involved in the Breast Cancer Can Stick It foundation. Meanwhile, I was at home recovering from breast cancer. I watched all their YouTube videos and was inspired to call her up. Michelle oversees the corporate sponsorships within the organization, and I just began talking with her about all things Breast Cancer Can Stick It. By the end of the conversation I said, “I really appreciate you telling me about this. By the way, I’m currently sitting on the couch recovering from breast cancer.”
She was shocked. I went into detail about my breast cancer story. Michelle told me to connect with April Samuels. After a 10 year gap of time, I was brought back around to this mission.
Matt: Wow! That’s an amazing story, and crazy how everything worked out the way it did. How has your diagnosis impacted your drumming?
Lori: I mean, I’m okay now. I’m assuming that this is pretty standard for anyone that has a mastectomy, but it jacks up your shoulder, so I couldn’t lift my arms over 90 degrees for a few months. Through physical therapy, I had to work up to even holding a full gallon of milk. Yes, you go through physical therapy and they help you get back to normal. I didn’t even want to move my arm at all at first.
Matt: You are tough, because now I see you in the Drummathon videos and you are consistently killing it! For people who may not know about the Breast Cancer Can Stick It Drummathons, can you explain the atmosphere and how that work. How is it working moving forward with the pandemic restrictions?
Lori: In 2019 I flew down to Dallas, so that was my first experience. The Drummathons are held in a park right smack dob in the middle of Dallas. It’s run much like a festival and has a festival feel to it. They have booths set up with merch and auctions. Everything is geared towards raising money toward the foundation.
The park has a permanent stage that is set there so it’s very slick and professional, with a great sound system. People donate their time. April is very active in the Fort Worth/Dallas music scene, so she’ll bring in cover bands and an array of awesome musicians and drummers. There is a photo shoot where people can donate to take picture with all the celebrities that are there that day. I think most recently there was 8 or 9 celebrities there.
Matt: I heard there have been well-known contributors to the organization and cause.
Lori: Yeah, a lot of people have donated personal items. April and her team go to NAMM every year and do a lot of networking there. Rikki Rocket (of Poison) donated a couple of drum sets to Breast Cancer Can Stick It. I think 2019 was their 5th year of doing the fundraiser. Last year with the pandemic, they weren’t sure how they were going to do it. They ended up going digital and killed it and still met their goal. I think their goal is always $50,000, and they exceeded that.
Matt: Excellent! That’s so powerful, and I look forward to continuing to follow you and everyone involved in the foundation.
Back tracking a little, let’s talk a bit about your years in Skillet.
Lori: Sure! As I said, I grew up with Korey. We played in local bands together. She met John through mutual friends. John is from Memphis, Tennessee, and we had a few churches there that we fellowshipped with, so Korey and John started dating and got married.
As you know, Skillet started with three guys: John, Ken, and Trey. Korey wasn’t even initially in the band, but as they evolved, she started playing with them. I was at work one day, and I had some down time, so when Skillet got signed, I was like, “Man! Lucky!” I was looking at the Skillet website, and they had posted something that stated, “Trey is leaving the band to pursue other things.” I felt like God just spoke to me in that moment, and I was just overcome with the possibility that the door was even just a little bit open.
I prayed for years, “God, I just want to play drums for a living,” and God definitely answered that prayer. The next thing I knew, Skillet was coming through town, so I asked Korey if I could audition. We set up and auditioned in our church building. John heard me and said, “you did better than I thought, so why don’t you fly down to Memphis? We’ll have the rest of the band listen, and our manager will be there.” The manager was actually John’s pastor. The next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Memphis where I auditioned and got it.
Matt: What a phenomenal story! You were in the band from about 2000 to 2008. Skillet was always evolving from album to album during those years. Do you remember what promoted Skillet’s musical progression?How did the common elements of their sound, as we know them today, begin to take shape?
Lori: It definitely was and still is John’s band. It was whatever he was being influenced by at the time. They started out grunge, and then moved more to electric, and then moved into an industrial sound. I feel like the Collide album is where things really started to go more in the direction that was my favorite. I felt that Alien Youth was a transition out of the electronic influence and back to rock.
Some of the changes were largely influenced by Korey as well. John is classically trained in piano, and it’s not like he doesn’t know how to play piano, but Korey uses it as her main instrument. I think some of the reason for the change in music was the change in technology. That is Korey’s gift. Korey took it upon herself to learn how to program and to do strings and drum loops and those types of things.
Matt: Korey always did seem like she had the technology aspect of the band down! Here’s a question for you that I’ve always wondered: there was a time when a female playing in a rock band on drums was a bit rarer than it is today. You have always been a pioneer in that aspect to me. What are some things you had to overcome as a female drummer?
Lori: I’m very flattered to hear you say that. I don’t naturally think of myself in that way, because if you look back on YouTube, you can find drumming in an era where there wasn’t YouTube and MTV and all those kind of shows. Even in the middle of my Skillet career, it’s not like everybody had an iPhone. There are other females out there, but for whatever reason I’m lucky enough that some people like you have said that.
Matt: Who were some of your inspirations as female players?
Lori: The biggest one for me was probably Sheila E. Karen Carpenter back in the 70s was also a phenomenal drummer.
Matt: I just heard the two new tracks from Emerald Escape. Tell me more about what inspired that project?
Chris: I grew up going to church and playing a little bit of music here and there. I never thought I would actually release any music. For whatever reason, God just started giving me all these songs.
To make a long story short, I had this idea I felt God gave me about 7 to 8 years ago to share my faith with people. I started writing songs, but at the time I knew I wasn’t at a great professional level to share it. So honestly, I’m fortunate that my wife is a professional and has been around a lot of professional people. I was fortunate enough to learn from her.
To be honest, I started really bad. I was just an awful musician. Usually, I would rely on a band. I’ve been on worship teams and other projects, but would never lead.
Matt: Really? That is shocking, because by the sound of Emerald Escape, it’s obvious you’ve come a long, long way! Can you tell me about the inspiration behind the songs “Saved the Day” and “Kill the Pain?”
Chris: Sure. Funny enough, both songs are based on Lori’s and my injuries. Mine was an injury, and hers was an illness with cancer.
I got injured at work back in 2017, and I was recovering when everything happened with her. I couldn’t walk or anything. My knee got all messed up. They went to do surgery and repair it but unfortunately, they messed it up and I came down with CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome). CRPS attacks your sympathetic nervous system. Since then, I’m constantly in pain, 24/7. I hadn’t really been able to walk, and I was on crutches for two years. It seemed like forever, and I didn’t feel like I was ever going to walk again.
When I was sitting in the recliner for so long, I hadn’t played music for months, if not for a year because of the pain. I started calling out to God. Eventually, it became a song. With the help of my wife and various musicians around me, we were able to create “Kill the Pain.”
Matt: I love that story! How has the recording and production process been going?
Chris: Great! “Kill the Pain” was my first baby, in a sense. I finished it and released it to the world so you could hear something that I wrote. On the flip side of that, I wrote “Saved the Day” for my wife.
Matt: It’s so cool to see how both your stories go together so well. You can hear the passion and heart in both tracks!
Lori: Yeah, God saved the day for him too. When you put the two titles together, it’s like God killed the pain and now, He’s saving the day.
Matt: Dude, you have got to come up with a follow up to these that continues that story!
Chris: Crazy enough, I already have it.
Lori: He’s constantly writing, so he never shuts off.
Matt: Are you working with other bands as well recording your own stuff?
Chris: Oh yeah, I did a Christmas song for a band called Mawcore.
Matt: A Christmas song? That an interesting twist.
Chris: They are a Christian Rock band, and I loved working with them. I mixed their Christmas song. We’ve also worked with the band DAV before, which was really cool. If you like Skillet’s stuff, you’d like his music.
Matt: So you are recording a variety of artists. Who were some of your influences growing up?
Chris: Growing up, my influences surprisingly weren’t many rock artists at all. I listened to a lot of rap and hip-hop early on. The only rock music I listened to growing up was Nirvana. I’m from Seattle, so they were big there.
I only started listening to Rock within the last ten years, which is Emerald Escape’s main inspiration. I would say my favorite rock bands are Three Days Grace, Breaking Benjamin, and bands like that. I love the melodies and hooks they produce. They’re simple, but get the message across. I would say my writing song is heavily influenced by those writers.
Matt: Moving forward, what’s next for you? What are some of the goals for the studio?
Chris: With the studio, the foundation of where we’re going is getting session work. With Lori, she is doing drums for people’s songs. She’s built a profile on Soundbetter.com that is really impressive.
Matt: What is Soundbetter?
Lori: It’s a platform for people to network. Musicians can hire people to do anything from producing, singing, to mixing. Every musician you could ever think of from drummers to trumpets. You name it, they are on there.
Chris: It very professional, and they don’t allow “lower dogs” in there. If you’re gonna write or produce something for someone, you have to do it in a professional manner.
Matt: That sounds like great site to check out. Thank you, guys, for dropping by and doing this interview with me. Any other things you would like to say before we conclude?
Lori: I want to plug one more thing while we’re here. We’re on Soundbetter.com for my drumming, but we’re also called Ocean Studios. This is where Chris has been hired to mix and master music for people. He’s available there too. If you go to Soundbetter under Ocean Studios, we’ll be there!