Canadian rock superstars Nickelback are currently taking a breather from recording and just enjoying some select shows at various festivals and venues around the world.
Bassist Mike Kroeger gave 519 a call to chat about the possibilities of some new music, what life is like as Canada’s most loved as most-hated rockers, and what he remembers from 20 years ago when the band was still an indie Canadian band looking for a big record deal.
About 20 years ago, you would have been touring and pushing The State and working on a Roadrunner Records deal. It’s astonishing how far you guys have come from then to now.
Twenty years is a long time, and it turns out you can fit a lot of life into 20 years, and I’d say we’ve done that. In that time, this band started from nothing and it’s become definitely something more than nothing. I didn’t have any kids then. Now I have two kids, as do Ryan in my band, and Daniel in my band. We each have two children, and a lot has happened in 20 years, no doubt. From eating out of gas stations and driving a van across Canada, to where we’re at now. It’s a very, very different world for sure.
How is the indie Nickelback different from the festival and stadium headliner it’s become now?
Aside from the obvious being younger, those guys were a lot younger, but these guys know a lot more, and that experience has taught us all how it all works, and also how to be grown ups and how to be adults. We learned that over the period of time, and all the life experience we’ve had in these 20 years, it’s really been kind of cool to develop as human beings and musician artists at the same time.
Now I heard lately you’ve been talking about a heavier album from Nickelback – that in some ways would bring you back full circle. Is that something that might actually happen?
I don’t know. I mean, that was kind of a funny thing that, I forget who the hell I was having that interview with, but it was misquoted. Context is obviously malleable, and this is one of those cases where context got slightly manipulated to make a story where there really wasn’t much. Because what I said in the interview is that “I would like to make a heavy metal album”, not Nickelback. And I said that I’m a huge fan of Slayer and would love to do a Slayer cover thing, but I never said Nickelback would want to, because I know my brother doesn’t like that kind of music. Not like Slayer heavy music. He likes heavy music and he writes heavy rock tunes, but I like it a little heavier and a little harder than him, and Ryan’s not a massive fan of really super hard metal , hardcore or anything like that, either. Daniel is to a degree, as long as the drumming is impressive, he likes it.
That was a little bit of context manipulation where if they just quoted it as it was, it wouldn’t really be a story, but because if you can dab the headline that says Nickelback wants to make a heavy metal album, that’s going to obviously generate a little bit of eyebrow raising and a few people are going to look up and pay it some notice. But that isn’t actually what I said.
Well, having said that, who knows? I’m not willing to count on anything, but based on the music I’m hearing coming from Chad so far, the new stuff, it doesn’t have a real hardcore angle to it at all. Put it that way.
Do you see yourself doing a heavier album on your own?
I don’t know. It’s a novel concept and it’s maybe a cool idea, but my life is very full. I don’t ever find myself going, “What am I going to do now?” I’m never really idle for very long. I’m always doing something, up to something, and barely have enough time to do all the things that I already do, let alone start another band and make a record or something. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a pie in the sky thing.
I’ve always liked that Nickelback kicked ass on rock radio with Feed The Machine and then a gorgeous song like Photograph tears up commercial radio. Is it hard having so much variety in the band’s sound?
I don’t know, because we as a group, we’re all rather diverse in our musical tastes and our musical style preferences. So it’s nice to be able to do different things. Like try something that you haven’t tried before, or get yourself out of your comfort zone just a little bit. I think it’s really great, and for me, getting out of my comfort zone is playing these pop songs, and for Chad, maybe getting out of his comfort zone a little … Actually not really. He’s kind of a heavy metal head at heart, so for him to play heavy metal, it’s just as good as playing love songs, but not for me. We challenge ourselves with these kind of stylistic changes, and it’s really cool to try new things, and try things and find out if you can even do them. You might do it and it might not work, it might not be good, but it’s worth a try.
I have to ask was Feed the Machine, was that a statement about the music industry?
No. I think the title and sort of the thrust of the title was something that each one of us kind of had our own sort of take on what that is. And, I liked the analogy that the machine is essentially the overall establishment, and the way we feed the machine is we give our freedoms to it, and I really don’t believe that people get their freedom taken away. I believe that people give it up, and I think that’s what Feed the Machine is, is giving your freedom up to a system that says it needs it.
One of the old, old founders of the United States said that a populace that trades its freedom for security deserves neither. I think it was Ben Franklin or maybe Thomas Jefferson said that, but it’s a very interesting quote because I feel like that’s kind of where we are now. We’re so damn scared that we’ll give up all of our freedoms if we could just feel safe. That’s why we’re taking our shoes off and you can’t take a bottle of water into an airport, is because somehow that makes us safer.
It’s dwindling a little bit now, but at its peak, you guys were an internet craze. At one point you were either loved or hated. Those hateful words must have hurt, especially at first?
Well first we were loved, and then we were loved and hated. And like you say, now I think people are just getting bored hating.
At the time, did you ever avoid the Internet and Googling yourself?
I don’t really Google myself now, but I do follow it. I pay attention to the social media and things, because that’s a great place to go for humor. The socials, they can be a really hilarious place. Not to be kind of lame, but I try to focus on the hilarity. And if it’s something hilarious about us, I’ll laugh along with everybody else. If it’s mean and nasty and negative, then that’s boring. Anybody can do that.
You do have great supporters like Deadpool. It’s nice to have friends like that.
Having a superhero that’s got your back is pretty cool, yeah. Not to mention that he’s a Canadian superhero, that’s pretty great.
Did you know that comment was coming, or was it a surprise?
Initially, Ryan Reynolds reached out to us to ask us if we wouldn’t mind participating, and letting him use our song for a thing that he was thinking about writing. He hadn’t written it yet, but he wasn’t going to write it if we said no. And we’re like, “Oh yeah, sure man. Do it.” Whatever, we trusted him because he just seems like the nicest guy in the world. So we’re just like, “Okay. Sure. Go ahead.” And we authorized definitely the free use of How You Remind Me, and then he ran with it, and I thought it was hilarious.
I thought Fred Savage’s part was hilarious. I thought the Deadpool’s parts were hilarious. I thought the whole thing was comedy gold, and in a way that it’s almost like a microcosm of the macrocosm. You’ve got the internet hater and you’ve got the internet defender on screen saying essentially what all the haters say is what Fred Savage was saying, and essentially what all the lovers and supporters say is what Deadpool was saying. It was like a very interesting sort of cross section of the issue, so to speak.
The song How You Remind Me, it’s considered one of the best songs of the decade by Billboard, and I know sometimes iconic songs like that can sometimes become a burden, or the band hates to play it. How does that song resonate with you?
That whole thing about bands who have the song that breaks them and makes them become a household name and make them a big deal is the one that they just hate playing and don’t want to play, it seems kind of stupid to me to do that or feel that way. It seems kind of ridiculous, because it’s your art, first of all. So, I guess every artist maybe has some art their ashamed of, but it also seems like some artists, they put it out there and everybody wants it to be a success, and then when it’s a success they don’t like it anymore. I don’t understand it. It’s kind of confusing to me.
How You Remind Me is a song that we’ve played, hundreds of thousands of times, and that’s okay. The people want us to do it, so we want to give our fans what they want, and they want us to play How You Remind Me every night, so we do. It’s a cornerstone in the show. It’s a thing we couldn’t not do. We decided a long, long, long time ago that we could never take that song out of the set because it’s the calling card that introduced the world to us and introduced us to the world. Why we would all of a sudden start to hate it and not want to play it anymore seems kind of stupid.
You guys are one of Canada’s biggest music exports, but it sounds like you don’t live in Canada anymore. Is that right?
I don’t. All the other guys still live in Canada. I have a home in Canada, I go there often, but I live in Los Angeles.
I had a chance to actually go to Chad’s studio when he lived in Abbotsford. That is an amazing place.
Yeah, it’s a big kid’s playground, pretty much. Everything’s there. It’s really fun.
Did you ever spend much time recording there?
Yeah. In the past albums we’ve done, it’s been done in that studio. He sold that house for a while and then bought it back, and now the studio is set up again, and he’s starting to write tunes in there right now.
Hell, he could be in there as we’re speaking.
I wanted to ask about the song Rock Star. Was that an indication of your lifestyle at that point?
Some of those things have happened since. At the time we wrote that, there wasn’t really any of that. We were still pretty early on in things, I mean, there was still some excess for sure, but not necessarily to the degree of the song. That was why we wrote it the way we wrote it. Every lyric in that song was intended to be a tip of the hat to the absurd. Everything was to be tongue in cheek and ridiculous and preposterous. And actually some of those things did happen, which is kind of funny, but some of them that didn’t really even consist or they turned out to happen.
That’s kind of cool.
Yeah. Kind of cool, because we were trying to write a hyperbole, and it turned out that that even as excessive as we could think at that time wasn’t beyond what was possible.
Is there a song that you guys have that best describes your life at this point?
At this point? Not yet. No, I don’t think we have one of those at this point. I think every song is, or every album has for us, a snapshot song in it. Sort of a little bit of a time capsule, I think there’s one in every album. But right now, I think as far back as Feed the Machine’s coming up on two years old, so things have changed even since we recorded that, which we started recording close to three years ago. So it’s maybe time to make another time capsule.
That goes into my next question. Is there new music coming out, – it’s been two years?
I’ve been really hesitant to kind of crack the whip or be the guy saying, “Get in there and write another album,” because Chad’s been such a horse and such a soldier for so long that once we did Feed the Machine and then went on tour, I didn’t want to ever put any pressure on him. I just wanted him to just come around to it when he comes around to it.
There was a point when he was suffering a little bit of burn out near the end of Feed the Machine, which typical. We all have a little bit, near the end of recording every album. I feel like if you don’t leave some of your mental health on the table, you’re not trying hard enough and it seems like making albums is like that. You go a little crazy when you’re deeply involved in it, you’re not totally functional, and that’s been how it’s been for us.
Certain ones took more of a toll than others, but it’s all self imposed, and it’s all really with the goal of making the best album possible. And, we’ll see what’s next. I want Chad to just come around to it as he comes around to it in his own time, and then we’ll just see what there is.
If he wants to make another album, or if the material is strong and he feels good about it and we all feel good about it, we’ll do it. And if it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t come together, then we won’t. We don’t have to do anything, which in our career, that hasn’t always been the case. We’ve typically been beholden to someone until recently, and now we’re not beholden to anybody. We set our own schedule.
We can record, not record, release, not release, go on tour or not go on tour. We don’t have to do a damn thing if we don’t want to, which is really kind of cool.