Nickelback’s drummer talks through his career
It’s been 12 years since the world first heard Canadian drummer Daniel Adair’s blistering drum intro on ‘Follow You Home’, the hard rocking opener to Nickelback’s fifth album All
The Right Reasons. The album, Daniel’s first recording after joining the band, has since achieved Diamond status (10 million copies) in the US and the band enjoys consistent success, releasing a new album, Feed The Machine, in June.
“But Daniel’s professional drumming career started much earlier than Nickelback. From his time as a music store worker in Vancouver, Daniel knew he wanted to play drums for a living. Alongside working hard on his chops, he began hustling local musicians to add studio and stage hours to his musical CV. Around that time he also started a long and fruitful relationship with local fusion guitar master Dave Martone, spreading his accomplished Weckl and Vinnie-inspired chops on six albums over the last 20 years. Daniel’s big break came in 2002 when he landed the gig with US rockers 3 Doors Down at the height of their fame. Touring and recording at that level was a steep learning curve, but it meant Daniel was battle-ready when the opportunity came to join Nickelback just as their popularity exploded.
It’s been a monumental journey, only made possible by hard work and taking his career into his own hands. Daniel reveals the lessons learned, plus why he’s embracing the headset mic and how building a home studio is insurance for the future.
Was there a moment when you knew you wanted to play drums?
“I think it was pretty early. I started banging around on my dad’s drums and really got the bug for some reason. When you’re a teenager you feel a little lost, you know what I mean? It was something I connected with. I remember one day I was drumming at home and my brother’s friend walked in and was like, ‘Holy s**t man, you sound like Tommy Lee or something!’. That was the first time that anyone had ever heard me play drums. It was an affirmation that I could play and I wasn’t just delusional.
“I had an interesting upbringing. It was kind of a dysfunctional family so music was really there for me. I would sit in bed listening to Rush’s, Exit...StageLeft and hearing the crowd cheering. I was blown away by this music and I wanted one day to make other people feel like that. It was a pretty big moment. I guess I was about 15 or 16.
“Fast forward a bunch of years and I was working at a music store. I’d never really played live before so that was going to be the true test if I could handle it. There was this local duo called Sibling Rivals. I was like, ‘You guys don’t have a drummer, can I come out and play for free?’ I just wanted to get some experience. We went out and jammed at this bar and I loved it. They started hiring me and it went from there.”
Looking back, is there anything you wish you’d done differently with your early drumming education?
“For sure. I definitely want to work on lots of stuff still. I was too caught up in technique, to the point where it was paralysis by over-analysis. I was just thinking way too much about how the stick works in the
“In hindsight [joining Nickelback] was a no-brainer, but at the time it was really hard. I had record guys calling saying, ‘Don’t do this, man, you’re jumping to a sinking ship.’ But it kind of all worked out, didn’t it?”
hand, the fulcrum and stuff. There were a lot of years where I started to get more and more tense and things weren’t working because I painted myself into this mental corner rather than just relying on the foundation I’d built. In that period I kinda got away from the whole Moeller technique I’d worked a lot on, that natural looseness and the whipping motion. I’m actually in the process of undoing that right now.”
As you’ve got a little older have you become aware of the limitations in your body ?
“It’s so funny you say that. For a couple of years now my playing has definitely receded. It’s not for a lack of practising. I have my mic to my left. I sit on my drum throne and turn my head upwards and left to sing. My chiropractor says if anyone worked in an office like that they’d tell them to quit their job! I sing backups to 85-90 percent of the songs, so the whole time I’m sitting with my head up and to the left, my back’s twisted and I’m smashing drums. Over 10 years of doing that, my hips have shifted a bit. The body is a system of pulleys, so if things aren’t in line they stop working. I started to notice my groin muscles would start to hurt, and my hip flexor, then all of sudden it was hard to do doubles with my foot. I felt like I was falling off balance. I didn’t know what was going on so I practised more, but that only made things worse because I was not aligned properly. When one little thing changes everything else starts to change. I’m unwrapping all of that now.
“That’s why I have the headset mic now. That’s one thing I never wanted to do, because it’s a headset mic! It’s got to be done to be able to keep playing, but, man! At least now I can sit up straight and look forward when I’m singing and not be trapped in this one twisted position. It’s hard to be a singing drummer. There was definitely a dark period there for the last album or two.”
How did you your professional career take off?
“By the time I got the 3 Doors Down gig I was definitely ready, playing-wise. I had another band, which is instrumental progressive stuff and I was playing in bars all over the place, in different types of bands and doing lots of studio stuff.
“I was definitely hustling. That’s the reason I learned to sing back-ups. How can I get a gig before the other guy? If a band leader came into my store to rent a PA I’d be like, ‘Hey, you got a drummer?’ A couple of singers would say, ‘Man, if you could sing a couple of songs lead and just give us a break…’ I picked 12 or 15 hits, terrible stuf like ‘Boot Scootin’ Boogie’ [by Brooks & Dunn], OMC’s ‘How Bizarre’. I’d learn how to sing them lead. I had to go through that challenge of playing the drums, the rhythm of the vocals and then remembering lyrics. I’d go to my little rehearsal spot in New Westminster BC and hammer it for hours a day. It was a lot of discipline, a lot of hustle, a lot of luck and, hopefully, a bit of natural talent. It seemed to work.”
You spent three years with 3 Doors Down. What’s the biggest lesson you learned from them?
“I guess there were two things: playing-wise it was really beneficial. I spent a lot of time on the Moeller technique, that really loose grip so you can hit with a lot of power and not hurt yourself. I still don’t have any pain, thankfully, after all these years.
“On the other side I learned that you gotta really work on trying to keep the peace and get along with people. It can be very frustrating and people can get strung out and you’re tired from the road. I’ve seen a lot of guys get fired from their gigs because they either dig their heels in about certain things, or they don’t think they’re getting enough recognition and you can see this resentment happening in the band. I’m not saying be a yes man, but just try to find creative ways to make these situations work. That might mean just to shut up and don’t say anything. A lot of great bands never last past two or three albums. You look at Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots. They have one or two good albums, go and tour the world with each other, they end up fighting and that’s it.”
3 Doors Down co-headlined with Nickelback. Did that lead to you taking the Nickelback gig?
“I kinda knew the [Nickelback] guys from
“I was too caught up in technique, to the point where it was paralysis by over-analysis. I was thinking way too much about how the stick works in the hand, the fulcrum and stuff”
Vancouver. Randomly, when Nickelback was recording TheLongRoad album, a friend of mine would watch Chad [Kroeger, Nickelback frontman]’s house when he was on the road. We’d actually jam at Chad’s house. I’d play on his Ayotte kit with the 28" bass drum. They were recording ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ for Hockey Night in Canada. The drummer was on vacation or something and so Chad would just have me at the studio.
“The kit had clear Diplomats on the toms and some weird hydraulic head on the snare. They didn’t know what they were doing because there was no drummer or drum tech there. I was assistant manager at the music store so I had keys and I said, ‘I’m going to take these off and go swap them for some real heads’. I ended up tuning it and recording the pre-production version of that song with Chad. It was pretty cool. We had that little bit of history. Chad and I have talked about it and he said since then he was always keeping his eye on me. That was nice to hear. He obviously liked what I did that day.”
Was it easy to leave 3 Doors Down?
“At the time it wasn’t. The Long Road wasn’t as successful as 3 Doors Down’s Silver Side Up. Nickelback were wrapping up their world tour, but 3 Doors Down had just had a Number One rock single and the album before that sold three or four million copies. Everyone in my corner wanted me to stay but, I don’t know, Chad wrote a song with Santana, he did the Theory Of A Dead man album, he wrote ‘Hero’ by himself for Spiderman. This guy does not stop.
“In hindsight it was a no-brainer, but at the time it was really hard. I had record guys calling saying, ‘Don’t do this man, you’re jumping to a sinking ship.’ But it kind of all worked out, didn’t it?”
You went straight into recording AllTheRight
Reason and things went interstellar for Nickelback. What are your memories from that period?
“I won the lottery, twice. I remember when I got the 3 Doors Down gig, I was sitting on that plane flying to Alabama and I can remember how it felt. I was just glowing. And then it happened again, which is pretty lucky! To get that type of gig that’s even another step up. The standout moment was that it was really nice to be in a band with fellow Canadians. We all grew up with the same CBC shows (like you guys have the BBC) and Canada-only bands.
“Chad is a very extreme guy, everything’s over the top. The show is over the top, the pyrotechnics, it was just awesome, such an exciting time. I guess I can only encapsulate it in the way I felt again, which was very fortunate and very excited. I was excited to get up there and prove myself with this band and their fans.”
‘Follow You Home’, the opening track on AllThe
RightReasons kicks off with a monster drum intro. Was that your way of announcing your arrival in the band?
“That was a good, ‘Hey, I’m here, the new guy’ moment! It’s funny how it worked out. We had that tune and Joey our engineer and Chad were like, ‘There should be some kind of drum fill or drum beat intro on this’. I think they went to grab a coffee. I kept drumming. I was working on some Virgil Donati double-kick stuff at the time soI just started playing that, but I didn’t think it would ever make it. Then Chad goes, ‘That’s awesome!’ Even Chad’s brother, Mike, was saying maybe it was a little too complicated, but everyone loved it. It’s perfect from my point of view!”
Reflecting on your development as a drummer, how do you think your playing has evolved through your career?
“I’m definitely more accurate. Early on with 3Doors and with Nickelback, you’re full of p**s and vinegar, you’re swinging your arms and smashing and bashing. I used to hit my knuckles on the rim a lot, like a caveman. I toned that back and found myself being a little more accurate and not serving up all this superfluous drumming. I’d listen to some board tapes over the years and go, ‘Wow, that’s busy!’ Even some nights Chad would go, ‘Dude, you got the gig, don’t worry about it.’ Then there’s just a calmness in general, being used to doing this. I’m a veteran, I guess you could say. Just to have the headspace of not being freaked out playing in front of 10,000 people.”
You’ve just released a new album FeedTheMachine. Tell me about the writing process for this one.
“This last one had some different stuff on it for us, which is nice. Ryan our guitarist, he was like, ‘Man we just keep writing the same stuff.’ He was feeling like the guitarist stuck in the same rhythm all the time. He asked me to record a bunch of loops, different kinds of drum beats. I went back to my studio and made four or five tempos, did some stuff in three, lots in four, half time, double time, 5/4, 7/4. He ended up picking this really cool 140bpm, 3/4 beat with busy toms and stuf. He wrote a riff for it and it’s on the album. It almost sounds like progressive metal! I got to stretch a bit on this album.”
You recorded your drum parts at your house...
“I bought a new house about three years ago. I have 10 acres out in the valley from Vancouver. I have chickens, it’s heavily wooded, and the guy who owned it before was an aluminium fabricator so he had this big shop with 18-foot ceilings. As soon as I saw that I was like, ‘I gotta buy this place’. My studio is 500 feet away from the house. It’s completely soundproofed, I did it up right. We did the whole album drum-wise at my house. The guys would email the tracks over. They’d be at Chad’s house writing, they’d send me the stems, then they’d keep working on another song, I would do a bunch of passes, send them back, then I would punch in some fills.It was great. I could go out there and track, then pick up my kids from school, come back, track. It’s such a great sounding room. I’ve got all the right pre-amps and mics.”
Setting up that studio is also a great investment for the future.
“I look at it that way too. When I put the money into the studio I was like, you know what, if s**t hits the fan I have a commercial studio I can rent out, I can teach out of it, I can play for other guys. I think it was a good move. It would only benefit me to embrace technology and wrap my head around it. Maybe I’ll learn how to mix and stuff. I don’t know if I want to go that far into it – when I do something I try to do it right, which means it takes a lot of time. Or I could just forget all that and go fly my plane!”
Daniel keeping it loose on stage with Chad Kroeger (Nickelback)