NICKELBACK: REASSESSING THEIR HARD ROCK PARTY


Nickelback, left to right: Daniel Adair, Chad Kroeger, Mike Kroeger, Ryan Peake Photo by Michael Muller

By Paul Freeman [June 2015 Interview]

Nickelbackís lyrics have given ample attention to partying - sex, drugs, booze and rock íní roll. But when reached by phone for this interview, the bandís bassist, Mike Kroeger, was immersed in another kind of celebration - his daughterís 12th birthday party, with his sonís Beatles cover band doing the entertaining.

Twenty years ago, when the Canadian band got started in Vancouver, they took their name from a phrase Kroeger repeated endlessly as a Starbuckís barista - ďHereís your nickel back.Ē But in the music business, the rockers have been anything but a nickel-and-dime operation. Their worldwide sales have exceeded 50 million units. Theyíve made an indelible impression with songs like ďHow You Remind Me.Ē Theyíve received nine Grammy nominations, a Peopleís Choice Award and a dozen Juno Awards.

Quite a list of achievements for Kroeger, who grew up in the small Alberta town of Hanna. He, brother Chad (lead singer/guitarist), their cousin, drummer Brandon Kroeger (who later left and was replaced by Daniel Adair) and keyboardist/gujitarist Ryan Peake formed a cover band, The Village Idiots.

But they had a smart way of coming up with original hard rock material filled with melodic hooks and catchy lyrics.

Nickelbackís latest album, ďNo Fixed Address,Ē still rocks hard, as on ďSatellite," but offers diversity musically, including a number, ďGot Me Runniní Round,Ē that features rapper Flo Rida. And thereís a funk-fest called ďShe Keeps Me UpĒ driven by Kroegerís bass lines.

In the song ďEdge of a RevolutionĒ Kroeger, who doesnít usually get very involved in the lyric-writing, injects powerful messages.

We reached Mike Kroeger at his home in Hawaii, as the band was on a break from its ďNo Fixed AddressĒ tour. Unfortunately, Nickelback was forced to cancel its remaining North American dates, due to Chad Kroegerís vocal cord surgery. Hopefully theyíll come roaring back soon.

POP CULTURE CLASSICS:
So howís it going, Mike?

MIKE KROEGER:
Pretty good. The shell shock is wearing off. We had a surprise birthday party for my daughterís 12th birthday last night. Itís good that Iím talking to you, because Iím getting out of cleaning up [laughs]. The parents are finally showing up to pick up these girls. We had a houseful of them. And theyíre finally starting to filter out. But the house is no less loud and chaotic, because thereís a Beatles cover band rehearsing beneath me. My son has a group of guys that he plays with. Theyíre between 11 and 14. Three guys. My son is the fourteen-year-old. And theyíre learning all the Beatles. Theyíre just obsessed with it.

PCC:
So I guess the whole lifestyle has changed rather dramatically from the early days of the band.

KROEGER:
Yes. To go from what is essentially abject poverty and homelessness [laughs] and choosing to buy picks and strings versus food, to here, has been quite a ride, quite a transition.

PCC:
But in addition to that, the bandís lyrical celebration of all the partying, that has all changed, apparently?

KROEGER:
Well, itís just a different kind of party. I mean, last night, we were having a blast. I had a few cocktails last night, too, no different from any other party. The only differences were, number one, I didnít play. My sonís band was the entertainment last night. We just threw open the garage doors and they kicked it until legally we had to stop - being the good, responsible parents we are. I was cooking and hosting. And yeah, itís a different kind of party, but itís still fun. And to have a house band that plays pretty good Beatles covers is pretty awesome, too.

PCC:
Youíre personally no longer based in Vancouver?

KROEGER:
No, I live in Hawaii now.

PCC:
Heaven, eh?

KROEGER:
Yeah. Alice Cooper said itís the closest thing you can get to heaven.

PCC:
ďNo Fixed AddressĒ was recorded in many locations, including Hawaii?

KROEGER:
It was. Thereís two different locations where we recorded here. We were in the process of selling this really, really big house, probably the nicest house Iíll ever own. And my family moved out of the house and moved to another part of the island, closer to my kidsí school, which was the whole purpose of selling the house. And after we moved out, Nickelback moved in and we basically just moved into the house as a band and recorded there. But the best part was that we were just putting the finishing touches on, when the house was basically being handed over, so essentially, we were loading gear out the back door, when the new owners were walking in the front door [laughs].

PCC:
You recorded in Europe and B.C. as well?

KROEGER:
Yeah. And in Los Angeles, as well. We recorded in a lot of places.

PCC:
The multiple recording locations, did that have an effect on the end results?

KROEGER:
Well, yeah, for us, I think personally and mentally, emotionally, it was good to keep changing up the scenery, just to keep it fresh. And I think that came through in the material, too, because we didnít do like the studio grind, where sometimes you run into a block and youíve got a studio locked up for months, so you just sit there until you figure it out. It just sucks. Sometimes itís just not coming. And the inspiration isnít coming. And the creativity is stalled. But youíre still paying. And youíre still stuck in the studio. A lot of bands would just go, ďScrew it, I donít care if Iím going to go into the studio and not get anything done.Ē We have a more no-nonsense attitude, where itís like, ďHoly crap, as long as weíre paying for this and weíve got this thing booked, we might as well be here.Ē So we just continue to hammer our heads against the wall until it comes out.

But in this case, it was better, because we would record for like three weeks and it would seem to me that, whenever those kinds of blocks started to appear, any kind of stalling, or any kind of slowdown in creativity, it was time to move to the next place. And we would have like a three or four-week break between locations, for logistics to get everything moved around. And also to take a little time to recharge. So what happened was, we kind of recorded like six, eight, 10 different sessions. And it kept it fresh and exciting and kind of new all the time, too.

PCC:
And thereís a lot of diversity on the album.

KROEGER:
There is. We wanted to try some stylistically different material. So we gave it a shot. Obviously itís a risk to step outside the box that you create for yourself. But it was good to do. I was, personally, a little resistant to some of it at times. But after, youíre sort of accepting it and just going, ďHey, if it isnít any good, we wonít put it on the record. Letís just go with it and try it and give it a chance.Ē And we did that. And it became things that I liked. Somehow, I didnít want to like the fact that we were going to have a rapper. I didnít want to like that idea. But then when I heard the material, it was great. At that point, itís just an ego thing, right? Youíre being resistant just because your certainties are being shaken up a little bit. I think thatís a good thing. I usually like to be taken out of my comfort zone. In that case, I had a more apprehensive reaction than even I expected.

PCC:
The politics in ďEdge of a ďRevolution,Ē did that song just came at a time when you had a lot you wanted to say?

KROEGER:
Well, see, I donít typically have a big role in writing lyrics. I have contributed and helped out and been in those writing sessions. But this was the first time where I actually got to say something, because a lot of the things that are in that song about things like mass surveillance and injustice, or just the nature of living in a police state, those are things that I always wanted to say, but I never really had a forum for it.

And some may argue that Nickelback isnít really the forum for that anyway. And I understand that. I donít have any illusions about us getting accepted as the next Rage Against The Machine. Donít be ridiculous. But just because you play in a mainstream rock band doesnít mean you donít know whatís happening.

PCC:
You mentioned taking a risk. Is that a lot easier now that the band has had such tremendous commercial success? You feel you donít have to prove that aspect anymore?

KROEGER:
Yeah, I suppose maybe we would have been a little more tentative earlier on. And maybe a little more wary of testing out new things. There is that possibility. But we do come from a lot of different stylistic places. Each guy in the band has a different sort of background of music. And we can bring that all together. I personally went through a period of time where I listened to James Brown like five years straight. Thatís all I listened to. So when it came time to record a funk-flavored song, like ďShe Keeps Me Up,Ē I was comfortable in that, because, not only had I listened to all of that, I learned what those guys were doing. I learned the music. I was a student of the music. So to play something and make it feel like that wasnít too tall of an order. I didnít have to go to school to learn how to do that, because it was a part of my education in getting this far.

PCC:
As far as backgrounds, what was like, growing up in Hanna, Alberta?

KROEGER:
I donít want to paint it as being too Rockwellian, because itís not, simply [laughs]. I donít think anyplace is really Rockwellian. It was a small town of less than three thousand people, out in the country, a very, very long distance from anything like a city. The nearest city was Calgary, which is about 150 miles away. Saskatoon, in the other direction, is about 150 miles. And essentially nothing else out there, as far as cities go. Thereís plenty of little towns and each town has its own kind of thing going on. Everybody essentially knows everybody. Everybody tries to get along and be friends. But as you know, thatís simply not possible in any case, whether itís 10 people or 3,000.

Nevertheless it is sort of like one big family or some kind of team-like environment. And you can always tell when the people who arenít from around there are in town, because everybodyís head comes up, because they see cars they donít recognize or people they donít recognize. So it was very small. But we developed a lot of friendships. And there was a lot of free time, which led some kids to get bored and get in trouble. Thatís just what happens, when kids get bored - they get in trouble. And music was a place for me to hide out from that boredom. I could just sink myself into the music and learn about it and learn how to play it and love it and listen to it.

PCC:
And who were some of your main influences, when you began playing?

KROEGER:
I think that, in the beginning, I listened to a lot of Bowie and I listened to a lot of Pink Floyd and I listened to a lot of Jimi Hendrix and The Doors and that sort of stuff. And then from there, came Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Stones, the things you just need to know, you need to learn. And My Mom was a big music fan also. So there was always music in the house, whether it was a piano lesson or just something getting played, a record, believe it or not. My Mom had a record collection. To think about that now is kind ofÖ I guess vinyl is having a resurgence. But in the last few years, it was preposterous to think that people actually had record collections. But my Mom did.

And I listened to Led Zeppelin for the first time on vinyl. And Iíll never forget hearing ďIn Through The Out DoorĒ or ďGood Times, Bad TimesĒ as some of my first experiences with Led Zeppelin on vinyl. I just remember now, putting a record on the turntable, and, because I didnít want anybody else to hear it, I would just plug in some headphones and just completely blow my brains out, whether it was Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin or what have you. That was something that I recall really, really dearly, is just being alone with music. It wasnít necessarily a group thing. It was something I liked to explore myself.

PCC:
Playing as a cover band, was that valuable, in terms of getting your chops down?

KROEGER:
For sure, just learning how to play with other people, learning how to play in front of an audience, just learning how to be a professional. Itís kind of like any other kind of training, like probably military training or whatever, you go out there and you train for when everything goes wrong. And when youíre playing in a cover band and youíre at the beginning of your career and your equipment is probably not top-notch and itís not well maintained, because youíre not maintaining it.

And you donít have a support staff to make sure everything works. And you get out there and, essentially, everything does go wrong. Like the shit just breaks. And itís valuable to go through that. It is a valuable journey to take on, basically just going out there and seeing what can go wrong. It turns out everything can go wrong [laughs].

Iíve seen and been a part of seeing everything fail in some way on stage. Something breaking. People losing their voices in the middle of a song. A lighting rig falls over. P.A. blows up. The power gets blown, the entire bar goes black and the showís over. Whatever - Iíve been there and done that. Thereís nothing like playing in front of a bar full of drunk people and then the strap on your bass guitar breaks and your instrument falls on the floor. Itís a unique position to be in. It only surprises you once [laughs], because the horror is that deep that you remember it forever and you kind of have this ingrained response after that to learn how to control that situation, by like sitting down, when the strapís going [laughs]. All those lessons are there.

PCC:
How long did it take you and your brother to figure out that this wasnít just fun in the garage, that music was going to be your path in life?

KROEGER:
Realizing that itís your path in life, itís like a lot of things, itís a decision, itís a choice, because, at any time in the process, you could just go - this isnít for me, Iím going to stop. And that path could have been realized, but you decided to go in another direction. We never really said this is all we ever want to do. But we just kept doing it. It wasnít like there was a goal or a destination or some type of plan. It was just, ďLetís keep going and see what happens.Ē And to be honest with you, weíre still there. We still are just keeping going and seeing what happens. Things just keep happening. [Laughs] Itís great!

PCC:
And how much was there a conscious balance of what satisfied the band musically, with what you thought would appeal to the audience?

KROEGER:
Well. thatís something where we kind of learned early on. When we were fans of artists - and sometimes it was a local artist and sometimes it was a big artist - when youíre a fan, sometimes you can be let down, when the artist that youíre a fan of takes a direction thatís so self-indulgent that it just completely throws you off. That artist may have gotten a lot of satisfaction from going in that direction thatís completely out of left field. A band like U2, for instance, theyíve decided to reinvent themselves on every album. Or Madonna who just does a completely different iteration. For people who become a fan, because of an album, when you come out with something completely different and in a polar opposite kind of way, in some cases, people can be alienated.

We realized that early on, that this isnít really about us. If we really wanted to play self-indulgent music for ourselves, we wouldnít have recorded it. We wouldnít have tried to get it on the radio. We wouldnít have gone on tour. Because, if itís not about the people, then whatís the point of even putting it out there? Thatís our opinion. We realize that our duty is to our fans, is to rock fans and to give them what they come to expect from us and to not get too self-indulgent. Just donít get so into that self-indulgence that you forget what it is youíre doing, which is trying to keep your people happy, keep the fans happy with what youíre creating.

And larger, itís being true to yourself as an artist. What gets you where you want to be or gets you fans is the true expression of the artist. And I think, when you start to overthink it too much, thatís when it can go sideways. And we catch ourselves overthinking all the time [laughs]. And you have to always take the 20,000-foot view every once in a while and just zoom out for a second and go, ďOh, wait! Weíve gone too far afield here We have to rein in, rein back.Ē Otherwise, our people are going to be confused and probably not very happy.

PCC:
The fact that critics havenít always been fair to the band, do you find that to be irrelevant, because youíre making music for the fans, not for the critics?

KROEGER:
That is the truth. I think making music for critics is probably about as logical as making music for yourself and putting it out in the mainstream. If somebody did want to be a criticsí darling - which Iíve never heard anybody say as an aspiration [laughs] - if somebody were to want to do that, the sad truth is that itís not going to work. People develop opinions. And their opinions are going to be based on what they need to write. A lot of, like you say, the unfairness maybe, fair or unfair, I guess thatís debatable, critics or music journalists or whatever, the people that weíve kind of crossed paths with over the years, sometimes positive, sometimes negative, everybodyís just trying to earn a living. Itís not like everybodyís Hemingway, just out there killing fish and having bar fights and living for the art, man. Itís just not like that. People are trying to pay their bills. Itís a job. Itís an occupation. Itís your profession. And I donít get too confused with the feelings associated with that sort of stuff, because, frankly, a lot of the people who get asked to write about us or do an interview with one of us in the band or review one of our records, would just simply rather not. I havenít had people say it to me personally, but I have read it or seen it in video reviews of our stuff, where somebody will just say straight up, ďMy editor made me do this. I donít want to do thisÖ So here we go.Ē [Laughs] So prepare for an objective view. But everybody is just trying to make their way. Like I said, I donít get screwed up about feelings, just because everybodyís just trying to do their job and to feed their families and their bills and get through. And not everybodyís going to be the Siskel and Ebert of music journalism, you know? Maybe you get to be a taste-maker, maybe you donít. Maybe youíre a house painter in six months. Itís all part of the journey. Not everybody is this for life. Everything is temporary.

PCC:
Basically the haters hating, thatís something you can shrug off or laugh off?

KROEGER:
Well, Iím sure youíve noticed, haters can find a way to hate anything. I donít feel all that special [laughs]. To get hated on by the haters, itís not that exclusive a clubÖ at all. It just means maybe people know who you are or what you do, because otherwise, somebody would be hating on you and everybody else would be like, ďWhoís that?Ē But if they know who you are, it makes it a lot easier.

PCC:
The band name coming from your days at Starbuckís, at that point in your life, were you even dreaming of the kind of success and longevity the band has actually achieved?

KROEGER:
Well, you know, again, I come back to this, and Iím sorry if I keep banging this drum, but I never really made any presumptions about getting played on the radio or getting to go on tour or getting played on the radio twiceÖ You know what I mean? None of that was a part of my thought process. I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to play music in some fashion. And whether that was being a studio musician or being a journeyman touring musician with someone else or maybe Iím in a band that goes on to have some degree of achievement, then so be it. But Iíve never really read too much into it.

We just have this, I guess itís the Albertan work ethic. You just keep your head down and work hard and you get where you get. Your journey takes you where you end up. And a lot of that is not really within your control. Yeah, you make calls, you make decisions and you can have a lot of course changes, but for the most part, thereís a lot in being an artist thatís really out of your control. Itís in the hands of the people, of the public, of the music consumer, whether youíre going to fly or not. Because people can make people play things on the radio, but they canít make people like them. And if people donít like something, they wonít listen to it. So we just always knew that it wasnít for us to control or aim for. It was going to be what it was.

PCC:
Beyond the work ethic, it seems like the band has never succumbed to the whole rock star attitude, taking themselves overly seriously? Is that also due to the small town roots? Why do you think thatís been the case?

KROEGER:
I think having brothers in the band helps quite a bit, because neither me or Chad gets too far out of hand before the other one corrects [laughs], for lack of a better term. And I think thatís good. The other thing that we have, Iíve been married since right when this band started. I got married shortly after we began. My guitar player married the girl that he had been dating since high school. So we had, us two, anyway, my brother has had a different experience, but the two of us were surrounded by people that were there before the thing went off.

Because when you do sort of have some measure of achievement, a lot of people come around. Itís good to be able to recognize whoís for real and whoís not. I think that that helps a lot, too, because a lot of that kind of getting lost in the ego or whatever can be something that a lot of sycophants and hangers-on can really exacerbate. And when no one ever says no to you, sooner or later, you turn into a f-ckiní Tyrannosaurus Rex - ďNo one says no to me!Ē Iíve met those people. I know those people. I never want to deal with those people. Iíve met and talked with those kind of people and tried to befriend them and Iíve had to just let them walk, because theyíre gone. Theyíre lost. And Iím not going to be able to bring them back.

We never have come off the ground that far that we couldnít get put right back. One good example - and itís kind of something that could be a stereotype or whatever - but I remember very fondly doing a 30-month world tour, screaming fans everywhere, complete mayhem, at the sort of high-water mark of our career, and then getting home, getting off the tour bus and my wife met me with my son who was in diapers still at the time and she said, ďHey, here you go, his diaper needs to be changed.Ē And itís like, ďWait a minute! Iím aÖ. Ohhhhhhh, yeah. Iím just a guy.Ē [Laughs]. It was really good for me. Itís good to have people around to call you on your shit. I think itís really important.

PCC:
At this point, what are the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of life as a musician?

KROEGER:
I can tell you the most challenging thing is just having to be away from my family. And that has been the most challenging thing for a long time. Itís been, frankly, the only challenging thing, because I realize what a charmed kind of existence this is. And to hear people complain, when they do this job, I just feel like those people would probably complain about anything. There are people out there who will never be happy. So I donít complain about those things, because Iím generally a pretty happy person.

I also realize that, man, things can be worse. Like really worse than this. Go take a walk through the Yemen or Somalia. Good God. And Iím going to complain? Iím sure people in this business tell you about how tiring it is and so hard. And itís just not. Itís not. Because Iíve done real work. And Iíve been in shitty conditions. This is not that. And I donít think my experience as a musician or an artist is any different than anybody elseís.

I meet a lot of artists, a lot of young people, especially, who are kind of negative about what theyíre doing. And theyíre just kind of in a negative place, while theyíre sometimes riding the crest of their career. And I have to tell these guys, ďListen, your career can be over in two weeks. This could be the good old daysÖ in like a month. So maybe you should pull your head out of your ass and enjoy this while itís going on, instead of being a dickhead. And then, later on, you can have memories of you being happy, not memories of you being a miserable f-ck who is basically living the life of a king and youíre going to look back on it and go, ĎDid I f-ck it all up?íĒ And thatís what depression is made of.

Anyway circling back - sorry to go on and on, itís just that I think this is such a great thing to do - when you talk about challenges, yeah sure, making records is hard, touring has it challenges. And you leave a little bit of your mind every time you make something creatively. I get that. All things considered - itís not working in a coal mine. So I donít feel like any of these challenges are even remotely insurmountable.

The benefit is, rock íní roll has taken us around the world. Itís shown us places and people and things that weíd never have seen if we didnít play in a band and tour around the world. Even just touring locally, regionally, nationally in Canada, we saw things that we never would have seen without doing what we do, let alone going to places like Russia or Japan, places that are completely different from what you know. So I would say one of the biggest benefits is you get to see the world.

And seeing the world, allows you to find out that people are just people, whether theyíre Russian people or from Saudi Arabia or Australia or Canada or America or Denmark or whatever. Theyíre just people. Mark Twain said that travel is the best cure for xenophobia. When you go places, itís harder to vilify people. When youíre visiting Moscow, you go, ďOh, yeah, guess what? People just go to work there. They drive their kids to school. They have dinner. They have the same problems we have. They do all the same things we do. Not everybodyís goose-stepping with the fur hat. People are just people.Ē And thatís been really good for me, to sort of demystify the differences between us, which are truly not very many. And another benefit is that itís allowed me to share with my family this crazy ride. Theyíve been on tour with me in a lot of places. Iím pretty sure my daughter was conceived on a tour bus. My son has lived on a tour bus almost his whole life.

PCC:
Are there still goals to reach? What does drive you now?

KROEGER:
I think right now, I wouldnít say that thereís a lot, that thereís a drive to us right now. Weíre at the point in our careers now where weíre just assessing what to doÖ or not do next. When youíre at the high-water mark or crest of your career, everything is really kind of obvious, what to do. You get opportunities that, youíve just got to do them. You get these world tour opportunities, youíve just got to do them. All these other things - you just do whatís placed in front of you. But after you receded back from that high-water mark, thatís when you have to sort of reassess your position. What do you want? What do you want to do? Where do you want to be? And how do you want to get there?

And right now, for me personally, I can say, and I think itís kind of true for all the band, weíre kind of just assessing where weíre at. Itís kind of a unique place to be, because like I was saying, weíve always just have kept our heads down and worked hard and just gone where we were led. Right now it feels like itís time to put the hands on the wheel and make a more pronounced choice of where to go and what to do. Right now, weíre just contemplating that.

For the latest band news, visit www.nickelback.com.