Last month, during a demonstration by striking public teachers in Chicago, a disgruntled high school math teacher held up a sign that was meant to hit the city’s mayor where it hurt. “Rahm Emanuel Likes Nickelback,” the sign declared. It might’ve seemed like an innocuous accusation—Nickelback is a Canadian rock band with huge commercial success, and is widely considered to be awful—but a photo of the sign went viral online, and caused so much controversy that a spokesperson for Emanuel was compelled to publicly deny the mayor’s fandom, clearing up any confusion with an email to the media that simply said, “No.”
The vitriol aimed at Nickelback is remarkable. It’s not uncommon for popular bands to get punished for their popularity; everyone from the Beatles to Nirvana have been criticized for selling too many records and having too many fans. But Nickelback has inspired an especially caustic and creative backlash. In 2010, a Facebook page called “Can This Pickle Get More Fans Than Nickelback?” managed to do just that before getting shut down. And last Thanksgiving, when the band was asked to perform during the halftime show at a Detroit Lions game, a petition to stop them received more than 50,000 signatures. Hating Nickelback has become synonymous with hating Nazis and Jerry Sandusky.
And yet somehow the band continues to be wildly popular. Their seventh studio album, Here And Now, debuted last November at #2 on the Billboard charts. And this from a group that’s sold 21 million copies of their last six albums, in an era when the recording industry was purportedly dead or dying. Their numerous hit songs—”Rockstar,” “Photograph,” and “How You Remind Me,” to name just a few—are part of the collective consciousness now. There’ve been convincing arguments that Nickelback’s songs all sound the same, but that hasn’t stopped them from becoming ubiquitous wedding and movie soundtrack anthems.
Nickelback’s lead singer and songwriter Chad Kroeger (rhymes with “cougar”), 37, is the most public source of scorn for his band’s supposed sins. American Idol judge Randy Jackson once scoffed that Kroeger “is like 45 years old and ugly as sin.” Even the Winnipeg Sun, a hometown paper—Kroeger was born and raised in Hanna, Alberta, with a population of about 3000—pegged him as a “talentless misogynist,” which is among the nicer things a journalist has written about the singer. While his upbringing may not explain why he’s so universally loathed, it does offer some insights into his music. Kroeger was abandoned by his father when he was just two, and raised in semi-poverty by his mother, Debbie, as he amassed a juvenile criminal record that would eventually provide fodder for his lyrics. He briefly sang for a grunge cover band called the Village Idiots before fleeing to Vancouver to form Nickelback— a name inspired by Kroeger’s brother, who worked at a Starbucks Coffee and would regularly give a “nickel back” to customers spending $1.95 on coffee. Even as Nickelback became the biggest band in the universe, Kroeger has never wavered in his claim that he’s just a redneck who got lucky, a poor boy from Canada who sings songs that just happen to resonate with millions of people, while simultaneously making millions of people very, very angry.
I called Kroeger while he was in the midst of a world tour with Nickelback. He was relaxed and quick to laugh, and despite being the favorite whipping boy of modern rock, surprisingly thick-skinned. I can’t claim to be a Nickelback fan, but after talking with Kroeger for almost an hour, I feel a weird fondness for the guy so much of the world loves to hate.
Eric Spitznagel: You’re playing Manchester tonight?
Chad Kroeger: Yeah, Manchester.
Does it feel like home? You’re from Canada, so you’re practically a part of Britain.
[Laughs.] I guess so, sure.
You share the same monarch. That’s close enough, right?
Well, we may be a commonwealth but it’s entirely different. Canada’s more…. I don’t know.
More like the U.S.?
I guess if you split the difference between the U.K. and the U.S., you would get Canada. But that’s just due to proximity. Just because of distance, we get a lot more cultural spillover from America.
Where else have you been on the big Nickelback world tour?
We did Belgium and France and Germany. And then we’re heading to Russia and Abu Dhabi and Australia. We’re also going to a bunch of places we’ve never played before. This tour was our first time to Helsinki, so that was kinda cool. And we’re going to Moscow, Minsk and Lithuania.
Which country has the most devoted Nickelback fans?
You would think it would be Canada, but I actually think it’s Australia. We’ve been lucky enough to do multiple nights in different cities in Australia, and it’s fantastic to feel the love from down under. [Bursts into laughter.] Oh man, that’s a great fucking sentence.
I’m not sure of the nice way to ask this.
Just say it.
Back when you were single, going on a world tour would present plenty of…. opportunities to… exploit your rock star libidinal needs. If you know what I mean.
But now that you’re engaged, are you ever tempted to engage in… carnal activities that a bachelor rock star would have less reservations about participating in?
Wow. That was quite a sentence.
Well, let’s see. [Pause.] After this many years of being a lead singer in a touring rock band, I’ve had my fair share of fun. But those days are long behind me. [Laughs.]
Are you laughing ironically?
No, no. I truly am a-okay with that.
Do you have a favorite wild story from your past, something you did or witnessed during a Nickelback tour that still makes you think, “I can’t believe that happened?”
Yeah, sure. None that I’m willing to tell you about.
Oh come on. Just one?
We’ve always been very close to our crew, so we’ve had a lot of fun getting them to do silly, stupid things that could possibly cause them to hurt or injure themselves in some way. We were in Germany years ago—this was one of my favorite stories—and we were just bored. There was a heat wave going on in Germany. In a back room in the venue where we were playing, there was an old fan with a metal blade. I don’t remember the last time I saw a fan with a metal blade. And we paid the drum tech…. Oh god, I forget the exact amount. I think we got the pot up to about 600 deutschmarks. At this time Germany hadn’t converted to the Euro yet.
600 deutschmarks to do what?
Stick his johnson in the fan.
Please tell me he said no.
He took the money.
Oh sweet Moses.
I can still hear the “bleh-bleh-blehhhhhhh” of the blade slowly sputtering to a stop, and this blood-curdling scream. It was fantastic. Somebody has video footage of this somewhere that needs to be resurrected and shown at the guy’s next birthday party.
In the Nickelback song “Rockstar,” you brag about the good life that comes with being a famous rock singer. How much of the lyrics are true for you?
True for me personally?
Yeah. Do you have a bathroom you can play baseball in?
Do you have a credit card that’s got no limit, or a big black jet with a bedroom in it?
As soon as I get a star on Hollywood Boulevard, then I’m there.
Do you at least have a king size tub big enough for ten plus you? I thought that came standard with most record contracts.
Nope. I don’t think anybody gets rich off record contracts anymore. But the thing about that song, it wasn’t written as wishful thinking. It wasn’t about my life or what I wanted my life to look like. It was about how the average person conceptualizes being a rock star, which is kinda absurd. When you step back and look at everything on that list, everything the guy in the song is hoping for, it’s kind of hollow. The only part that’s insightful is when I start taking jabs at the industry and saying things like “Getting washed up singers to write all my songs.” Cause that’s true. Hollywood’s full of them.
So you were being ironic?
That’s it exactly.
You don’t get a lot of credit for irony.
In my songs?
Yeah. Love them or hate them, nobody hears a Nickelback song and thinks, “That’s some wicked irony.” It always seems like you’re wearing your heart on your sleeve.
I think the fans get it. They understand when we’re joking. For the average listener, who just has music on in the background, they’re probably not going to pay too much attention. Any irony falls on deaf ears.
What else in the Nickelback canon is meant to be tongue-in-cheek?
Well, “How You Remind Me” is absolutely backhanded. If you just listen to the second verse, when I say “I’ve been down to the bottom of every bottle/ These five words in my head scream, ‘Are we having fun yet?’” Yet. Are we having fun yet. Yeeet! I don’t think anybody ever gets that. That’s ironic right there, don’t you think?
I guess so.
“This is how you remind me of what I really am?” [Laughs.] I mean, come on.
How about autobiographical songs? Do you write about personal experiences?
Sometimes. [Laughs.] Some songs turn out to be untold fortunes.
In what way?
Sometimes I write about things that never happened to me that wind up happening to me. When you put things out in the universe, sometimes they wind up coming true.
Can you give me an example?
I’ve got a song called “Should’ve Listened.” It’s about coming home and everything’s gone. It’s pretty much empty. All of your stuff’s waiting for you on the front lawn.
“Where the hell’s my credit cards/Why’s my wallet in the yard.”
That was true. It wasn’t true when I wrote it, but it ended up being true. It happened to me when I got home from a tour in 2009.
Have you written a song about yourself where you look back at it now and think, “Aw man, what was wrong with me? I need therapy.”
Yep, yep, absolutely. You have to be careful about what you put out there. This wasn’t about me specifically, but I remember writing a song about a girl who gave birth at her prom. She gave birth in the bathroom. It was in New Jersey, I think, sometime around the late 90s. Nobody knew she was pregnant. They just thought she had gained weight throughout her year. She gave birth to the baby and then put it in the garbage. And then she went right back out to finish prom. I wrote a song about it called “Throw Yourself Away.”
And you regret writing it?
No, but I was doing an interview once, and the woman who was interviewing me started ripping me apart, saying “How can you judge somebody unless you’ve walked in their shoes?” And my retort was, “She could’ve easily given it to an adoption agency or dropped it off on the doorstep of a hospital or something. She doesn’t have to throw it in the trash. There are easier and more humane ways.” But that’s a life, I guess.
What about songs that are specifically about you and your life?
Songs that I regret?
Maybe not regret, but you’ve looked back at the lyrics later and thought, “Wow, I’m more screwed up than I realize?”
[Pause.] I don’t know.
Well take a song like “Figured You Out.” There’s a part in there about choking a lover. “While you’re passed out on the deck/I love my hands around your neck.”
That’s not autobiographic. I’ve never had my hands wrapped around someone’s neck while they’re passed out.
So it’s fiction?
Entirely fiction. And it’s one of those songs that even the fans don’t always understand. I’ve had people say to me, “Oh that’s so sexy.” And I’m like, “Really? That’s fucked up. It’s not sexy at all.” It’s about not knowing who you’re with, entering a relationship with somebody and then realizing they’re addicted to substances and they’re into things that you’re not into. And you realize you don’t like anything about them. You don’t like their friends, you don’t like anything. Towards the end of the song, I start saying “And I hate the places that we go/ And I hate the people that you know/ I hate the powder on your nose.”
You’ve never been in a relationship like that?
Well yeah, sure, I think everybody has. Not specifically that, but in a way, yeah. It’s a very descriptive and exaggerated tale of a situation I’ve found myself in.
When you’re writing a song, do you have to be in a certain mood?
[Laughs.] How very Almost Famous of you.
You busted me. But they’re good questions, though. “Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song?”
It’s more difficult to write a song about having your heart ripped out of your chest while you’re in love. Because it lacks honesty. And the honesty comes through in the music, it really does. In the same way, if you’re a telemarketer and you’re sitting there smiling while you’re talking on the phone, the person on the other end of the phone can hear that you’re smiling. You wouldn’t think it’s possible, but it is. In the same way, if you deliver a vocal take and you’re perfectly in time, perfectly in tune, everything’s there, but it’s lacking emotion, then it won’t work. When it lacks conviction, the listener’s going to notice that. You can’t fake conviction.
How about a song about sex, like “Animal?” Do you have to be horny when you’re writing lyrics about being horny?
Well…. they’re hard to write at noon, let’s put it that way. [Laughs.] It’s also hard to work on a song about trying to unite the world and making the planet a better place at one o’clock in the morning. Those songs are much easier to do at two in the afternoon when the sun is shining. That’s why so many artists like coming into the studio at six o’clock. You can’t really get rolling until the sun starts going down. You need to get that party vibe going on.
Should a song about fucking inspire fucking?
Oh man. [Laughs.] I honestly don’t think about it.
You don’t wonder if your sex songs make people want to have sex? Isn’t that the point of writing a sex song?
I honestly don’t know. I just know that they’re fun to write and sometimes you just want to spit out something sort of naughty. You want it to come out of you.
In a manner of speaking.
Right, right. [Laughs.] Those sorts of songs have their time and place. While you’re driving your kids to school or picking them up, maybe that’s a song you skip past. And if you’re 17, 18, 19, that’s probably not the song you want to listen to while you’re getting ready for school in the morning. I always find it hard to listen to metal first thing in the morning. You don’t put on Slayer’s Reign in Blood when you jump in the tub. You put on Bob Marley.
What kind of music do you listen to while you make love? Obviously you don’t want to be serenaded by your own voice.
What’s on your “Gettin’ It On” soundtrack when you jump into bed with Avril Lavigne?
If a naughty Nickelback song came on, my fiancee would probably ask who it was. [Laughs.] She’d be like, “Who’s this? This is good. I like it.”
She hasn’t heard the naughty Nickelback songs yet?
I don’t think so. I hope not. I’m terrified that some day she’s going to listen to some of the things I’ve written, and I’m going to have some explaining to do. There’s going to be a whole question-and-answer period following that one. I’ll be like, “Babe, what did I tell you about the back catalog?”
You’ve written a few songs that have become wedding staples.
I have, yeah.
You’re getting married soon. What happens if you’re about to take the first dance with Avril and the DJ plays “Far Away” or “Never Gonna Be Alone?” Do you dance, or fire the DJ?
Um. That would be a little strange. But since we have full control over what the DJ is going to be playing, I don’t think there’s any fear of us running into that. But I know “Far Away” has been a part of many, many, many weddings. I get that all the time.
You and Avril are both in the music biz. Do you give more thought to what’s played at the wedding than, say, the flower arrangements?
Are you married?
Well, then as you very well know, we get such an incredibly small chunk in terms of what we can actually participate in.
I only had a say in the music at my wedding.
That’s what you got control over? I get control over nothing. I just show up. But I’m glad, because she has… traversed these territories before. These are unchartered waters for me. So it’s nice to have her to guide me through this.
You don’t even have veto powers?
I don’t need them. She’s got great ideas. I would have gone a little too traditional, I think, and she’s giving it a real rock n’ roll edge.
Rock n’ roll how? Will the wedding cake be shaped like a guitar?
No, her ideas are a little cooler than that. The groomsmen won’t be wearing piano neckties. Let’s just say she’s taking the bull by the horns and steering the ship towards what is going to be the most unique wedding that the planet has probably ever seen.
I don’t know if you’ve Googled yourself recently.
I try not to.
Your celebrity couple mashup name is “Chavril.” Do you approve?
Oh, we predicted that long ago. We pegged it before we decided we were going to spill the beans. We went through a list. “What’s it going to be?” Our other guess was AdChav, which sounds like some sort of jet fuel. Chavril was the better choice, and sure enough, that’s what the media went with.
Could that name end up on your wedding invitations?
Probably not. But it’s funny, when one of us is trying to get the others attention from across the room, we’ll say “Hey Chavril!” It’s funny how fast your head turns around, followed by a lot of laughter.
Are you surprised that you’re getting married?
[Pause.] There was a time in my life that I thought I would never get married. But this definitely took me by storm. Honestly, it was more my idea than hers to get married. I’m just lucky she said yes.
Four years ago, you talked to Playboy magazine about your promiscuity, and you described yourself as a “walking penis.” Are you no longer a walking penis?
I don’t think my libido has changed. I just think that my rolodex has been confiscated. And I’m okay with that.
You also said at the time that you expected to be dead by the time you reached 40.
You’re 37 now. You’re getting closer to 40. You still okay with dying in four years?
Remember what I said about not putting things out in the universe?
You’ve changed your mind?
I’d like to revise that. What I meant to say was, “I’d be dead inside.” [Laughs.]
Why did you say that in the first place? Did you really think at the time that you were destined to die young?
I got it from a buddy of mine in junior high school. He told me, “I had this dream that you were onstage playing your guitar in front of thousands of people,” and I was like, “Go on.” And he goes, “And you were like 40, and then you died. You died of a heart attack or something.” It seemed cool at the time, so I kept repeating it, and it just became one of my stories.
But you’d rather stick around a little longer?
I would like very much to be proven wrong.
You’ve described yourself as a redneck.
Yes, but let’s please not confuse redneck with hillbilly. Rednecks like loud fast cars and explosions in rock concerts and blowing things up in your back yard.
I have a pretty good idea of what your wedding is going to be like now.
There you go. You’re getting warmer. [Laughs.] If you look in my shed, you’ll see a lot of toys in there. I’ve got wide screen TVs and dune buggies and go karts that can hit speeds up to 80 miles an hour. Toys like you wouldn’t believe. If I strap a helmet on somebody and send them off into the back twenty acres in one of my go karts, everybody turns into a redneck.
You had a difficult upbringing.
I definitely did.
Is there anything from your past that makes you nostalgic? Or are you just happy to have it behind you?
I wouldn’t say that I miss not knowing where the next meal is going to come from. But I definitely miss my friends, and I miss growing up in a small town like Hanna. As I got older and got some perspective, I realized what a wonderful place it must’ve been to raise kids. It’s a small community where everybody knows each other. When a bike got stolen, the whole town knew within 48 hours who took it and where it was and that they could easily just come into my back yard and get it back. [Laughs.]
If you and Avril decide to have kids, do you want to raise them in a small town?
I really don’t know. That’s too hard to answer. My crystal ball has been in the shop for quite some time now. Given my career and Avril’s, it’s tough to predict what type of setting any child of ours will be raised in. But I know they’ll be cared for. I know that there’ll be no shortage of attention and love, that’s for damn sure.
Have you learned from your dad’s mistakes?
I hope so.
You wrote a song called “Too Bad” about an absentee father. “You left without saying goodbye/ Although I’m sure you tried/ You call the house from time to time to make sure we’re alive.” Was that about your relationship with your dad?
Um. [Long pause.] It was. It absolutely was. That’s a hard one for my dad to listen to when he comes to shows. And he has to listen to his son sing it while an arena full of people sing along. That’s got to be a little torturous. But, you know, there was a lot of soul-searching going on while I was writing that song, and that whole album (2001′s Silver Side Up). I was just like, “You know what? I’m going to take the gloves off.” Because everything I’d written up to that point was so shrouded in metaphors that you couldn’t actually understand what I was talking about.
Songs that were meant to be autobiographical?
Yeah. For somebody’s who’s supposed to be telling a story, I wasn’t doing a very good job. So I switched gears, and made things incredibly black and white. It was like turning on a lightbulb.
Have you ever sat down and talked to your dad about what happened, why he abandoned you and your family?
Every Christmas! [Laughs.] I put on my bartender’s cap and we go to town just like we do every Christmas.
Seriously, does he know the emotional damage he caused? Or was it enough to write a song and know he’d hear it at concerts?
I love my dad and we have a great relationship, but he’d be the first to admit he wasn’t the best father and he wasn’t always around. When he left he knew that my mother’s father, my grandfather, would definitely be stepping in, and that’s what he wanted anyway. My father felt like he was definitely getting pushed out. [Long pause.] It’s just one of those things.
According to you, he had a temper.
He still does.
Does he get defensive when people aren’t kind to your band? Is he ever like “Screw those Nickelback-hating motherfuckers?”
Sure. All the time. My dad has a criminal record longer than my leg. With assault charges. He grew up in a small town, and my dad was a big guy with big hands, and he learned to use them and he was good at using them. My dad is 60 now, and he’s still one of the toughest sons of bitches I’ve ever seen. My dad would have to be on his deathbed before I’d even try to arm-wrestle him.
How old were you when you picked up your first guitar?
I was 13.
Was it given to you? Did you pay for it, or steal it?
My mom bought me the guitar, but um…. [Long pause.] I stole the money for the amp.
So a little of both.
[Laughs.] Yeah, yeah. In the song “Photograph,” I talk about breaking into my junior high school, and I say I must’ve done it a half dozen times. A half dozen times sounded better than the eleven times that I actually did it. I was taking some artistic license by changing the number. I got charged with eleven counts of B&E.
B&E? As in “breaking and entering?”
You’ve been arrested enough times to feel comfortable using the abbreviation “B&E” in conversation?
I guess so, yeah. The weird thing is, the police accounting was way off. They thought after eleven times I’d only stolen $168. If you average that out, it’s only $16 a crack. They must’ve thought I was being really sneaky.
Did you teach yourself how to play guitar?
I wouldn’t say I taught myself. I learned from anybody I could find who would teach me anything. This was back before the Internet. That’s what you had to do if you wanted to know anything. If you wanted to learn guitar, you had to find anyone you knew who had ever taken a guitar lesson and beg them to teach you some chords or a lick here or there or a song they’d figured out or someone had taught to them.
And you were in a small town, so your options were already limited.
That’s right. Everything was more difficult. If you busted a string, it was horrendous. It was devastating. It meant you had to wait two weeks before you could change a string, because you’d have to get to a city somehow to get to a guitar shop, and the nearest city was two and a half hours away.
Who were your inspirations? What bands were you listening to?
Definitely Metallica. But also Anthrax, Megadeth, Guns N’ Roses. Anything in that genre.
Was it the lyrics or the music? What did you identify with?
All of it, man. I was bombarded with popular music as a child. There was always music in our house growing up. My mom would play the entire Beatles collection, Elton John, the Rolling Stones, ABBA. My mom owned the White Zombie Astro Creep: 2000 record before I did. We had a Metallica poster in our living room. She let (brother) Mike and I put it up, which was really cool.
Were you a passive listener, or did you study pop music, try to dissect it and deconstruct it and understand why some songs were popular and some songs weren’t?
I didn’t start thinking about music that way until right around the time that “How You Remind Me” became so successful. That’s when I was like, “What is it about this song? Is it the subject matter? Is it the conviction? Is it that there are three different parts of the song that stick in your head?”
Did you figure out the formula?
Yes and no. All of those things are contributing factors. Music works on a lot of different levels. There’s a lot of melody in a great metal song. If you listen to Metallica songs, anything on “Master of Puppets” or “…And Justice for All,” the songs move through these beautiful parts, and then they progress back into very aggressive territory, and the riffs are constantly changing and developing, and it stays very interesting.
Is there a template for a Nickelback song?
There’s no template.
Maybe template isn’t the right word. You’ve had a lot of success writing songs with huge mainstream appeal. That can’t be a happy accident.
Well, we work hard at it.
Yes, but…. I don’t want to say it’s calculated, but you must put some thought into finding a song structure that will appeal to a wide audience.
If we did that, the songs wouldn’t range from “How You Remind Me” to “Burn It To The Ground” to “Photograph” to “This Means War” to “Lullaby” to “Rockstar.” You’ve got novelty, you’ve got metal, you’ve got nostalgia, you’ve got heartache, you’ve got a song like “Faraway,” which is about love, and then a song like “When We Stand Together,” which is about social awareness and trying to unite all of humanity. There’s a lot of different subject matter there, and there’s a lot of characteristics to these types of songs. They sit on a musical spectrum that’s as far to the left as it is to the right, from aggression to melody. They’re really all over the map.
In your defense, some of the Nickelback criticism is pretty similar to dismissals of jazz music. “It all sounds the same.” If you don’t like something, you don’t hear the subtleties. Do you think Nickelback detractors just aren’t listening closely enough?
I think one of the problems we’ve had to deal with is the record company. Once they get the record, they know that some of the easiest stuff to market is the more melodic stuff and the more mid-tempo things. So when that’s all they hear, you’re going to get a lot of people thinking you sound the same. But we love it when people who haven’t seen a Nickelback show get brought to a Nickelback show. They see the big stage, the big screen, the pyro, and us screaming for three-quarters of a set, playing heavy music. We actually are a hard rock band.
When you’re in the studio, working on a new album, do you ever write a song and think, “No, that’s not Nickelback-esque enough?”
Yeah. Absolutely. And those songs never make it onto a Nickelback record.
Okay, now I’m confused. You said there’s no formula for a Nickelback song. But if there’s no Nickelback formula, can’t any song be a Nickelback song? Why does it have to sound a certain way?
Because we’re a democracy. If some of the other guys hear this stuff, and it’s just so weird and it’s in two different time signatures, I can’t force that on them. It may fulfill a part of me, but I also have to write for the group. Which, admittedly, can be wrong. I don’t think anybody in the world would say “Hero” doesn’t sound like a a Nickelback song. But the guys didn’t see it. They were just like, “No.” Especially Ryan (Peake, lead guitarist). He was like, “I don’t think it’s a Nickelback song. I really don’t.”
Wow. Does he listen to your albums?
It never went on a Nickelback album for that reason. I gave it to the Spiderman soundtrack.
What else have you written that the band rejected?
A lot of stuff.
Because it was too musically experimental? Was the subject matter too dark? What’s your secret “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Paranoid Android” that the world’s never heard?
[Long pause.] This one song that I’ve got, I don’t even know what the title would be, it sounds like something John Lennon would be doing in his very psychedelic stage. It starts with these congo or bongo drums carrying this strange rhythmic pattern. And then a tambourine doing off-time hits with it. I think it’s in 4/5. I think the guitar part is in 4/5 and the vocal part is in an entirely different time signature that changes as the song goes along. But it’s…. [Laughs.] it’s pretty bizarre. But it’s pretty catchy. Who knows, maybe we’ll stick it on the next Nickelback album
Do you keep track of how your albums sell?
The new one, Here and Now, do you have any idea how many copies have sold?
I think we’re up to three million worldwide.
So you have more than a vague interest.
When you’re starting out, you’re way more interested in those things. Where’s it at and what every song is doing in terms of chart position. But at this stage in my career it’s like, “Do we get to go on another world tour?” That’s literally all I care about. You start looking at it like that. “Do we get to play at all the same places? Good.”
Is there any artist that you’d trade places with?
I don’t think so.
What about somebody like John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats? He’s beloved by music critics, but you’ve probably sold more records during this conversation than he did during his entire career.
I don’t think I’d switch places with him.
So you wouldn’t trade critical acclaim for mainstream riches?
No. Well, I don’t know. [Long pause.] The only thing I really wonder about is what it would’ve been like if I had cut my hair ten years ago.
Really? That’s your big philosophical dilemma?
I wonder if we would still have this, because I wanted my hair long when it wasn’t cool to have long hair.
When was that?
Ten years ago. Now I cut my hair short and everybody’s growing beards and wearing plaid and skinny jeans and growing their hair long. I’m always at the opposite end of the spectrum, the opposite of hipster culture, and I enjoy that.
You’re an anti-hipster?
I try to be. How do hipsters hang out with each other when all they do is just rip on everything? And do you have to have been ripped on your entire life to become a hipster, just so you know how it feels and can launch those verbal missiles at everyone else?
Did you read Chuck Klosterman’s recent essay about Nickelback and Creed?
He did a pretty good job explaining why disliking your band is such an empty gesture. He wrote, and I’m quoting him here, “There’s no risk in hating Nickelback, and hating something always feels better than feeling nothing at all.”
In other words, people like to hate you and your band because it gives them a sense of identity and a sense of purpose.
Right, sure. I agree with that. The best story I’ve heard having to do with my band and the perception of it, this guy came up to Daniel (Adair), our drummer. Daniel was just finishing up on the treadmill at a hotel gym. We had a show later that night, and the guy said to him, “Can I ask you a question? You’re the drummer for Nickelback, right?” And Daniel says, “Yeah.” And the guy goes, “I just want to preface this by saying I’m a fan of your band and I have all of your CDs and I will be coming to your show tonight. Can you tell me why ten of my closest friends say they hate your band. I know for a fact that eight of them have tickets for your show tonight, and six of them have bought your last three CDs. But they all claim to hate your band.”
His friends are clearly hypocrites and idiots.
I guess so. But are they like that for every band they claim to hate? Or are we the biggest guilty pleasure in the world?
You’re like the McDonald’s of music.
Yeah. Most people deride McDonald’s as junk food and empty calories and swear they never eat it.
And then at three in the morning they’re like, “This is the best McChicken I’ve ever fucking tasted.” [Laughs.] Yeah, man, I’ll take that title. The McDonald’s of rock. I like it.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on MensHealth.com.)