Nickelback gets its disco on
Nickelback goes way out on a limb
The haters will have a field day when they hear Nickelback’s next single, She Keeps Me Up. The sultry track basically unites two of the most divisive phenomena in recent pop music history: disco and Nickelback.
Mike Kroeger, the 42-year-old bassist in the Alberta-bred band, is old enough to have memories of the disco-sucks era of the late-1970s and early1980s.
He’s fully aware of the revulsion directed toward the meat-and-potatoes rock band he and his brother, singer-guitarist Chad, formed in the mid-1990s. The backlash started after they became one of the biggest acts on the planet.
Mixing the two together sounds like the punch line to a bad joke.
So, what were they thinking?
“When we’re talking about a disco song, played by Nickelback, well it could be a bit of a tough pill to get down,” acknowledges Kroeger on the phone from his home in Maui, where he says every day is a perfect summer day and the closest hockey rink is a 30-minute flight away on a nearby island.
Kroeger and his wife moved to Hawaii a decade ago with their two children, now 11 and 13.
“I think we have to be careful how we do that. It’s so easy when you have a bunch of creative people to take an idea and you can get a little too far afield. You go one bridge too far, and all of a sudden, you’re not who people know you as. You’ve gone too far and you have to reel it back in,” he says. “This is a little bit of a departure, or a new look for us.”
Evidently there was a concerted effort by the band to explore different directions on their latest album, No Fixed Address. And yes, a few of those directions were inspired by electronic-dance music that is so dominant in the pop landscape.
“We didn’t want to just do the same old, same old,” says Kroeger. “We do want to give fans the rock they’re looking for, and we don’t want to completely go on such a tangent that we alienate our people but we did want to push into new styles and techniques and sounds. It’s not like we just like one kind of music and can only speak one language.”
He describes himself as the metalhead of the band, although he’s also a big reggae fan, while keyboardist-guitarist Ryan Peake is the country guy, drummer Daniel Adair is into progressive rock and fusion, and Chad still favours good old classic rock. Chad’s wife of a year and a half, Canadian songstress Avril Lavigne, may also be exerting some of her pop influence.
When we spoke, the band was prepping for their return to the road after almost two years away from touring. The journey starts on Valentine’s Day in Allentown, Pa., and includes a stop in Ottawa on Feb. 17 before covering the rest of North America, then moving on to Australia, Europe and Russia by the end of the year.
Kroeger is keen for the on-stage action to happen, getting in shape with cross-fit workouts and sharpening his chops on a repertoire of 60 songs. He won’t divulge details of the production, but says they’re planning to rotate songs so it’s not the same setlist every night.
“We’ve been on the road and touring for our whole lives and here we go again. But having said that, it’s a different show every night, a different crowd every night and there are different things that happen while we’re on stage every night. It would be nice to think it’s such a well-oiled machine that it’s completely the same night after night but it just isn’t. You gotta be ready for everything.”
As for the haters, he’s learned to take them in stride, and even appreciate their sense of humour.
After all, for the longest time no one cared about Nickelback. “You kind of learn how to define apathy,” Kroeger says. “You go out there and work hard and nobody really cares. Occasionally you get a little glimmer of something and people react to it and then it starts to grow and you continue to work hard. We have our blue-collar Canadian work ethic and we’ve always had it, and you just work. You have this perception of ‘when and if you get famous,’ everybody’s gonna like you.”
Reality check. Some people like you, some still don’t care and others absolutely cannot stand you. For Nickelback, the vitriol started after the 2001 smash, How You Remind Me, a hooky ballad that turned into one of the most-played songs of the 2000s. Whether it was due to song’s repetition or the predictable songwriting or maybe the grating sound of Chad Kroeger’s’s voice, Nickelback became the band discerning music fans love to hate. (Not that it was reflected in album sales; by 2012, Nickelback had sold more than 50 million units.)
However, as noted in a New Yorker magazine article last fall, such enthusiastic, widespread hatred may be what’s kept them in the spotlight, even when they were off the road.
“We could very well have faded away a long time ago, but that whole world of outrage is a thing, an entity. It’s kept us, I don’t know if I’d use the word ‘relevant’ but on the forefront for something that doesn’t really apply to our efforts of making music and going on tour.”
“But I’ve never seen it in person,” he adds. “That’s the funny thing: no one one’s ever approached me with concerns about my musical direction.”