When Nickelback had the power to make grown men stick their dicks in whirling plastic blades

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, DEC. 6, 2001

By Steve Newton

If you want to know how well Nickelback lead vocalist, guitarist, and lyricist Chad Kroeger’s musical career is going, you only need look as far as the 27-year-old rocker’s Langley home. He just put in a hot tub. And had the pool enlarged. He’s going to be building a guesthouse on the property as well—with a recording studio, of course. You may be wondering: did the guy win the lottery? In a way, he did, but his winning ticket didn’t sport six numbers, just four words: “How You Remind Me”. That tune is the number one Top 40 song in North America, and because of that, Nickelback’s current disc, Silver Side Up, is selling upward of 150,000 copies a week in the U.S. alone. Since its release on September 11—not a particularly great day for record-buying—the CD has sold more than two million copies Stateside.

That’s one hefty pile of plastic.

While Nickelback’s enormous popularity may have come as a surprise to many, it didn’t to Kroeger. When he was interviewed by the Georgia Straight last January, he told Mike Usinger, “I can’t wait to make something that’s a thundering monstrosity.” He was referring to Silver Side Up, which was recorded just across town at Burnaby’s Greenhouse Studios. The group brought in hotshot Seattle producer Rick Parashar (Pearl Jam, Temple of the Dog) and local mixer-to-the-stars Randy Staub (Metallica, Bryan Adams, Bon Jovi) to give the music that radio-ready sheen, and North American programmers took the bait in a big way.

Much monstrous thunder ensued.

Of course, since the release of Silver Side Up, the members of Nickelback—which also includes guitarist-vocalist Ryan Peake, bassist and Chad’s brother Mike Kroeger, and drummer Ryan Vikedal—haven’t just been hanging out at their frontman’s renovated pad, frolicking in the tub with groupies and listening to themselves on CFOX. As they have ever since the release of their previous CD, The State—which has sold a respectable 500,000 units in the U.S.—they’ve been touring like maniacs. They spent 14 months in America after The State was released, and they expect to stay out there just as long on the Silver tour. As gruelling as the band’s schedule is these days, when Chad Kroeger rings in from backstage at a sold-out, 5,000-seat arena in Mount Pleasant, Michigan—where the band is headlining, with Vancouver buddies Default warming up—he doesn’t sound road-weary at all. Matter of fact, he sounds positively relaxed.

“It’s hard to get burnt-out,” he relates, “because everything is being made extremely comfortable for us on the road. We’ve got separate buses, we’ve got trucks hauling everything, so we get to leave at different times when we want to. Everything’s pretty cozy on the road.”

And when the Nickelbackers get tired of all that coziness, there’s always some kind of rowdy mischief to get up to. According to one of the Internet articles included in a 30-page press kit issued by the group’s domestic distributor, EMI Music Canada, the current tour saw the band pay one of its crew roughly $300 to stop an electric fan with his “johnson”. And when Kroeger and his mates aren’t inciting their roadies to perform risky stunts, they get them involved in other ways. “Tonight is mustache night for the crew,” he explains, “so everyone’s putting on their fake mustaches. A coupla nights ago was big-wig night, so all the crew put on their wigs. We just have these theme nights to try and break up the monotony of it all.”

So where did this band with the power to make grown men stick their dicks in whirling plastic blades get its start, anyway? Although the Vancouver press is quick to label Nickelback a hometown band, clippings from the Edmonton Journal have them hailing from the small town of Hanna, Alberta. “Nickelback got its break in Vancouver,” Kroeger says, “so I just like to say, ‘Nickelback is from Vancouver. Chad, Ryan, Ryan, and Mike are from Alberta.’ ” Before moving to Van in ’96, Kroeger handled lead guitar in a Hanna-based cover band that specialized in semi-obscure tunes by the Doughboys, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Green Day. The group would quickly learn new tunes, then incorporate them into its set. “Everybody thought we wrote [Green Day’s] ‘Longview’ until it went huge,” Kroeger recalls with a chuckle. “Then we’d stop playing it and go on and pick the next obscure thing that nobody had heard of.”

When he wasn’t nicking guitar licks from the likes of Billie Joe Armstrong, Kroeger developed his own arsenal of heavy sounds, and by the time Nickelback surfaced in Lotusland, he was anxious to get his original tunes heard. The group had to borrow a fair whack of cash to get The State made, but, looking back, it was worth the risk.

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” quips Kroeger, whose all-time favourite rock artists are CCR’s John Fogerty and Metallica’s James Hetfield. “Also, no pain, no gain. We were four kids with nothing, you know, borrowing more than $30,000 from friends, family, banks—anybody who would give us a dollar or two—and making that record.” Kroeger released The State independently, calling on his considerable business savvy to make the most of the investment. Over the years, he had paid close attention to how the music industry works and learned “a ton of stuff” about radio promotion from former CFOX music director Rob Robson. He managed to get enough program directors to play The State’s single, “Leader of Men”, that a buzz started to build, but even then he couldn’t find a Canadian label that showed an interest in signing the band. Nowadays, Kroeger sees that rejection as a huge blessing, because eventually Nickelback got scooped up by U.S.–based Roadrunner Records, which had strong-enough distribution to help boost the band into the big leagues.

Not content just to be the frontman of one of today’s fastest-rising rock acts, Kroeger—along with Nickelback’s Vancouver lawyer, Jonathan Simkin—recently started a production company, which has already signed local rockers Theory of a Dead Man and is looking at other acts from Toronto and the States. In the meantime, Kroeger is confident that his own band’s domination of the North American rock charts will continue.

“We’ll see what the next single does,” he says, referring to “Too Bad”, a propulsive slice of raging riff-rock that is a fitting follow-up to the current monster hit. “You know, the first single jumped into the ring and started swinging, and it’s shown us all what it can do. And it’s still swinging—we’re getting a lot of feedback from radio stations that we don’t even need to switch singles yet in America, because people aren’t tired of hearin’ the song yet.”

Not everyone in the world is so enamoured of the Nickelback sound, though; some believe the band is just cashing in on the grungy, post–Pearl Jam style that’s all the rage these days. In a cover story in the November issue of Chart magazine, the notoriously outspoken Matthew Good is quoted as saying that “if you line up Creed, 3 Doors Down, Staind, Nickelback, and Default, you’ve got the same band.” But Kroeger believes Good’s recently published rant is more sour grapes than anything else. “That’s what happens when you try and release in America and it stiffs,” he counters. “You start lashing out at other people that do have success there. I just think that if you’re gonna go around collecting bad karma as a hobby, sooner or later it’s gonna catch up to you.”

Good’s commentary notwithstanding, this scribbler must admit that there are also those on the Straight’s own music-writing staff who are leery of the interchangeable neogrunge bands that Nickelback—rightly or wrongly—gets lumped in with. When the first promo copy of Silver Side Up slid across the music editor’s desk in September, three potential reviewers simultaneously eyed it with suspicion. I was one of them, I’ll confess, but when I got the disc home and cranked it up, tunes like “Never Again”, ‘Too Bad”, and “Money Bought” won me over to the band’s intense brand of melodic guitar rock.

“We’re modern rock,” Kroeger stresses, “and that’s what heavy rock ’n’ roll sounds like these days. But everybody’s got their own spin on it. Like you said yourself, you do like 3 Doors Down, but you don’t like Creed. I mean, you’ve got my vote right there. I’m not a big Creed fan, but I do like 3 Doors Down.”

Whatever you think of Nickelback, you’ve got to give them credit for working their Prairie-bred buns off to earn membership in the platinum-plus club. Whatever success they have, they’ve won through intense touring, business smarts, and a knack for catchy guitar rock. Two weeks ago, the band put tickets on sale for its winter Canadian tour and immediately sold out such venues as the 12,000-seat Skyreach Centre in Edmonton. Reportedly, the lineup for tickets in Victoria was so long that police were called in to keep an eye on things. According to Kroeger, even the Motor City Madman has tried wangling his way into a Nickelback gig. “Last night we played the State Theater in Detroit,” he says, “and Ted Nugent tried to get backstage. But the two guys at the door didn’t believe that he was Ted Nugent, and asked him to leave. I was devastated.”

Here’s a tip for any unwitting security guys who might be working the backstage gate at Nickelback’s Plaza of Nations show on New Year’s Eve: if a Jesus-lookin’ dude with long, curly brown hair, mustache, and beard comes up and tells you he’s the singer in the band, let him in. You don’t mess with success.

Or Jesus, for that matter.

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