TBT Interview: Nickelback's Chad Kroeger
Long before Nickelback became known for sugary pop-rock anthems like "Photograph' they were a heavy rock group that fought to make a name for themselves in their native Canada. This week we look back at an interview with Chad from the year 2000 where he explained how they became a self-made band. Here is the interview:
I caught my first glimpse of Nickelback by accident when they were playing on a bill with another band that I was covering earlier this year and was immediately impressed by their aggressive and confident vibe. When I am reviewing a band I am always aware of their audience response as they change tempo or interact with them and what I saw on that night was what made me telephone their label and the Rock N World editor to let them know we had another "Best of the New Breed" band on our hands. This assessment was based on their musical ability and stage presence alone, but once I spoke with lead singer Chad Kroeger, I realized they had even more to bring to the table than their edgy, heavy rocking songs.
If there are any budding musicians listening out there in the Rock N World, get a paper and pencil, because you will want to take some notes here. Canadian musicians, your success could depend on Chad's tips! His business savvy and the band's superior chops are what landed them the record deal they wanted and the attention that they deserve.
So it all began in Vancouver, British Columbia. Chad (vocals, guitar), brother Mike (bass) and friends Ryan (drums) and Ryan (guitar, vox) developed their style of energetic, hard biting rock that is somewhat reminiscent of Led Zeppelin's mastery. Chad's "HEAR ME!" vocals make him the consummate front man. He has no problem getting your attention, whether he is testing the limits of his microphone or maniacally whispering his invitation to join them in the world of Nickelback. The guitars are heavy and distorted, the rhythms are clean head-bangers and their latest CD, "The State" is a tasty and diverse selection of songs you will automatically sing along to. This band is headed for big things and it has nothing to do with luck. Their course is charted and they have no intention of wavering. Get to know them here and be very impressive at parties when people ask you if you've ever heard of Nickelback and you give them the insider's word . . .
RNW: You've enjoyed a lot of commercial success in Canada, obviously. You were named "Best New Rock Group, Canadian Radio Music Awards" how long ago? About a year ago?
Chad: Yeah, about that.
RNW: That's pretty cool. Are you headed for a Juno (Canadian equivalent of a Grammy), do you think?
Chad: I have no idea. There's actually seven people I think that decide whether or not you get a Juno.
RNW: Only seven?
Chad: Its a small committee. A lot of people think that it goes to a poll and they might poll ten or a hundred people from every city.
RNW: That's kind of what I thought.
Chad: No, its seven people, I think, that decide whether or not you get a Juno.
RNW: Okay. And Sarah McLachlin has it all sewn up and . . .
Chad: I'm sure. Whether or not those seven people like Nickelback, I have no idea and it doesn't really, you know. Its not of great importance to me.
RNW: I actually caught like, a couple minutes of your set when you were with Three Doors Down.
RNW: At Cane's in San Diego. That little beach venue. I think I recall hearing you say something like "I've got 45 minutes to make you love this band, " or something like that?
Chad: No, I think I said something like "I have 45 minutes for me to drill the name of my band into your head."
Chad: Whether they like us or not, I can't do anything about that.
RNW: I think you did a good job of doing it on that night.
Chad: Cool, then I did my job.
RNW: There ya go. You pretty much rocked. Do you enjoy being a front man?
Chad: Yes! Yep, I like the ability, I like getting the chance to sway people, you know? A lot of people don't use that. They don't utilize it, they just play their songs and get off the stage and that's that.
RNW: Yeah, you have to have people buying into your music and what it's about. Not just hearing a song on the radio, don't you think? A live performance is really key to building a fan base.
Chad: It can be. I think, I know the Spice Girls sold a lot of records and I don't think anyone ever said that they were amazing live. So, its just one more thing on top. You can sell a lot of records without even touring if you can get radio stations across the country to play you enough, but if you've got both, if you've got good songs that stick in people's heads and they come to see you play and they see that you can pull it off live, then you've got two chunks of ammunition instead of just one.
RNW: You need everything in your arsenal these days, don't you?
RNW: Are you all from Vancouver, or did you just kind of congregate there?
Chad: No, we're actually from Alberta.
RNW: Oh really? My favorite hockey player is from Alberta.
Chad: Who's that.
RNW: He's a goalie actually, I'm a goalie girl. Chris Osgood of the Detroit Red Wings. Actually I think he's from Medicine Hat.
Chad: Is he? Our drummer looks exactly like Chris Osgood.
RNW: No way. You're lying.
Chad: No, I'm not. Its really funny because when we walk around in Detroit, everyone comes up to him right away and goes "Dude, you look just like Osgood." I mean, you can tell its not him, but he looks like him.
RNW: Okay, maybe you're not messing with me.
I read in your bio that you blew through six drummers before you settled on Ryan.
Chad: Not true.
RNW: The bio's not true?
Chad: No, the bio is false in a lot of ways.
RNW: Is it stretched a bit? Were there, maybe four?
Chad: I don't know who came up with that, no, there were three drummers.
RNW: Three? Three's a lot better than six!
Chad: My cousin was the first drummer. He found his replacement when he left the band.
RNW: He just wasn't into it?
Chad: He just wanted to do the family thing. He didn't want to pursue the whole rock and roll dream and then we knew the replacement was just a replacement. He wasn't going to be blowing anybody's mind. But he was a good drummer and he was really dedicated to us, a really great guy, but you can't win the super bowl if you don't stack your team, so we had to let him go and we found Ryan Vikedal. Its not like we found him . . .
RNW: The one who looks like Chris Osgood?
RNW: Outrageous. Yeah, six drummers, I thought, are these guys hard to get along with? What's the story there?
How much different do you think the music scene is in Canada than in the US? Do you think there's a big difference?
Chad: There is. There's a huge difference. The music scene in the US is far ahead here. We don't have Slipknot and Seven Dust and Coal Chamber and all these others, Papa Roach. They don't get played on the radio. We are one of the heavier bands in Canada.
Chad: Yeah, there's not too many heavier than us that get played on the radio. Um, and that's strange cause we come down here and we're one of the lighter bands down here.
RNW: Well, in a sea of thrash and death metal, yeah, I would say you are, but I do think that you have a really hard rock sound.
Chad: Just because you've seen a couple songs. You know, the record isn't as heavy as we are live.
RNW: Yeah, I would agree with that. Definitely, because I did think that you sounded, not a lot different, but different than you do on the CD. Its interesting that you say that some stuff doesn't get put on the radio in Canada. I understand that there are some laws in Canada that make sure that Canadian musicians have fair advantages on the radio. Can you tell me a little bit about that? I don't really know the details.
Chad: Its called Canadian Content. Thirty five percent of everything you hear on the radio or see on television has to be Canadian born, Canadian made. If it wasn't, we would pretty much have to call ourselves America, because we'd be so overrun. I mean, we're already overrun with the music and the television and the movies and Hollywood. If we didn't have that, we would have no culture of our own. So that's a good thing. A lot of music directors at radio stations disagree with it because they hate being told what to play. They hate being told that they have to play something, you know? But I definitely think its a good idea that somebody's trying to preserve the culture of the country. If it wasn't for that Can Con law, there would be hardly any music scene in Canada.
RNW: It would give a lot of bands who were really trying to break in a lot harder time doing it. Probably a lot of them would never get radio play.
Chad: Exactly. If it wasn't for that we wouldn't be here because we broke in Canada and we sold a ton of records. We sold 10,000 records on our own and then that's when the sharks start swimming around.
RNW: The good kind of sharks though . . . the ones with wallets and buses and all the other accouterments, so to speak.
Chad: There ya go.
RNW: You've been compared to Creed and Collective Soul . . .
Chad: Only in our bio.
RNW: No, I've heard some people say that too . . .
Chad: Well, you've seen us live, what do you think?
RNW: I don't think so. So apparently you don't either?
Chad: Nope. Well, we've been around longer than Creed, so anyone that says we sound like Creed, that's silly.
RNW: So, for the record, Creed sounds like you?
Chad: No, not at all (laughter from Debbie). Its hard to say that somebody sounds like someone else when they were there first, you know? We don't sound like Creed. We have the same sort of influence that almost all the bands that are on the radio sell. There's this huge backlash right now of a lot of bands stemming from Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Sound Garden, Nirvana, Alice in Chains. Those five. I mean, if you look at what's on the radio these days, its like, a lot of bands sound very similar, and we are one of those bands that sound a lot alike. And its not until you actually get the record or come see us live and go, okay, now they're a little bit different. In the same breath, we're not reinventing the wheel. We're just a rock and roll band.
RNW: Well, and everybody is pretty much driven by what they've heard growing up, what they've kind of latched on to. You know, "I kind of like that sound," and they get influenced by that when they are writing their own things.
RNW: Tell me a little bit about your song writing process, your band's dynamic for writing songs.
Chad: I come up with the riff, the main structure of the song. I come up with the melody, I write the lyrics and then I bring it to the guys and they throw their spice into the spaghetti sauce and what you hear is what you get.
RNW: So the music is first, or some piece of it?
Chad: Yeah, the music will come first, just from me jamming out a couple of riffs on a guitar. Then I'll hum some things and find the melody that I want and then I'll start spitting out a few sentences here and there and it all starts to come together and then I find the direction of the song. I don't usually write the song, the song kind of writes itself, I guess. Cause I'll just sort of be mumbling things and humming stuff and a couple of words will pop out here and there . . . and hey, that sounds kind of good . . . and I'll jot that down. Then I'll say something else and then I'll have a couple of sentences and then the song just starts to take a direction and then I look at that and I'll go, oh, I know what the song's about! I totally know what the song's about.
RNW: Then you can really fill in the pieces?
Chad: Yeah! Its like, the sculptor, you know? He just starts chipping away and its starts to form itself and then he looks at it and says "I know what this is!" And he just chips it all away and there it is. That's the way I sort of do it.
RNW: Well, I'm about ready to tear up your bio and throw it out but . . .
Chad: Its terrible.
RNW: You know, I hear more people say that, I'm telling you. Everybody I interview says "No, that's not true. No, where did you hear that?" And I'm like, dude, its on your bio. Your record company is sending it out to everybody.
Chad: You've got to take about 60% of what's in there and know that, okay, that's probably correct and the rest of it is, you know . . .
RNW: I'm curious about one of your songs, "Not Leaving Yet." What was the inspiration behind that song?
Chad: Um, when I heard from my mother that my grandma wasn't going to be with us too much longer, I was just like God, right away, I just felt really hollow. And I just went downstairs and probably in 15 minutes, that one just came right out. When you hear the lines, "Come lie next to me Jesus Christ . . ."
RNW: That was the particular line that I was interested in, yeah.
Chad: "Hands where a cross used to fit just right," that sort of refers to her on her death bed. And "In the hall the family's grieving, I'm the one who stays, I'm not leaving yet," that's sort of me staying by my grandmother's side and wanting to hold on to sort of like, the last of it.
RNW: I've been there, so definitely, when I hear that song again, it will have a lot more special meaning for me there.
How is "Curb" (their first indie release in Canada) different than "The State?" I haven't gotten to hear that yet.
Chad: "Curb" is raw Nickelback. Its raw.
RNW: That sounds interesting!
Chad: It is interesting. There 's a lot of good songs on there and . . .
RNW: Are you going to play some tonight?
RNW: How long of a set do you have tonight?
Chad: Half an hour. When we get the full meal deal, we grab a couple off there and play them, but when we're out with these guys, we just don't have the time.
RNW: That's a bummer, I'd like to hear some of that.
Chad: Its heavier. Its a little edgier and on this record, the producer we used was definitely worried about getting us on the radio so he toned it down a lot. You can hear it in songs like "Diggin This" where it kicks into the heavy riff (Chad imitates the guitar riff), where I would have been really screaming, it was more like . . .
RNW: Do you do the primal screaming stuff?
Chad: Oh yeah, not primal . . .
RNW: I'm talking like, Staind, Korn . . .
Chad: No, nothing like that. No, I'm talking notes, but aggressive notes.
RNW: Oh, okay, notes.
Chad: I don't do the other.
RNW: Are there plans for, maybe in your next project, taking some of the songs off of "Curb" and putting them in with something on a label?
Chad: I hadn't thought of doing that because that material is definitely old in Canada, so "Curb" is the result of a demo, so we took songs off a demo, put them on "Curb" and taking those songs and having them skip over "The State" and go onto the third record, I would much rather just release "Curb" to the States.
RNW: On Roadrunner (Records)?
Chad: Yeah, for the album where I can't come up with any more songs . . .
RNW: No hidden tracks like, you know, five minutes of silence and then throw something in there?
Chad: Our whole next record is done.
Chad: Yeah, it has been for a while. We just need to record it. We've got, you know, plenty of material and we play, even in our half hour set we play two new songs.
RNW: What are they?
Chad: The one song is called "Look What Your Money Bought"
RNW: I think you did that at Cane's.
RNW: And I liked it! I remember that name.
Chad: And the other one is called "Hang Nail." "Hang Nail" is second from last in the show), right before "Leader of Men."
RNW: ("Look What Your Money Bought") That's a single I think, don't you?
RNW: Yeah, I like that one.
Chad: The record company and the publishing company and our record company in Canada, which is not Roadrunner, are all waiting.
RNW: Well, when are you going to get a chance to go back to Vancouver and lay down tracks?
Chad: When they are done working this record.
RNW: Any more singles coming out from this one?
Chad: Oh yeah. "Breath" goes to radio on July 17th and then they'll probably go to "Old Enough" and we'll get to record, I don't know when we'll get to record but we need a new record soon. This one is already a year old and our record company in Canada just sort of keeps grinding out singles, just waiting for us to get a new record because they've seen what's going on in the US.
RNW: What about videos?
Chad: Just shot one for "Leader of Men." Its on M2
RNW: Okay, good. I saw that you guys did a lot of self promotion on the "Curb" CD.
Chad: We did a lot of self promotion on this CD.
RNW: Did you?
Chad: Yeah, that's where we did most of it.
RNW: Back home or here?
Chad: Back home.
RNW: What was that like?
Chad: It was great. It gave us all a chance to really get a good grasp on the business.
RNW: How did you go about it? How did you start?
Chad: We fired our manager. They were more or less glorified booking agents, but booking agents take 10% and managers take 20%, so why not take 20% and call yourself a manager?
RNW: You know, so few people figure that out. Its very cool that you have.
Chad: I can tell any band in five minutes how to break in Canada. Its not difficult at all, as long as the music is there. But there's so many bands where the music is there, they just don't understand how to do it. Radio is everything.
RNW: Don't understand how to do it as far as bookings go, or getting radio spots?
Chad: Gigs don't get you . . . radio gets you everything. You get played on the radio and instantly a club owner knows he can sell beer. Because beer and the music industry are extremely intertwined. If you can put asses in the seats and beers in their hands, you get to do that because you're on the radio. So you show up to a town that you've never played before, just like we've done all over the US, but we had all that radio implemented by our record company. We did it on our own in Canada. So, after touring across the country countless times, losing so much money and moral and the will to keep going, we figured okay, there's got to be a better way to do this. So . . .
RNW: Did you like, hit rock bottom and say okay I'm not going to do this any more . . .
Chad: No, we didn't hit rock bottom, we struck gold and we knew we were sitting on it, and we just had to figure out what to do with it. So, we did a mail out to radio stations in the first quarter, when any independent band that wants to do a release has to release because every other band is releasing in the third and fourth quarter to make it for the summer festivals or the Christmas rush. And if you avoid that as far as you can, and come out in the first quarter, when nobody is releasing anything, and music directors in Canada have to find their 35% content from somewhere . . .
Chad: And a Nickelback disc shows up on their desk and a phone call shows up a week later . . . The only thing you need to start charting in Canada is 40 spins. 40 spins, you're number 75 in Canada. There's only 40 radio stations, or something like that for rock to be played on. Down here we get spun 25-2600 times in a week and that keeps us in the top ten. Six, seven, eight, we fluctuate in there. 2600 spins. In medium rotation, which is 10-15 times a week, you're going to show up #75 in trade magazines that all the music directors get. Once you have that ammunition in your pocket, you phone the rest of them, and that's just like the Wall Street Journal to them. Nobody wants to be the last one playing your song if you're on the way up. It makes it look like you don't know what you're doing.
RNW: Like you don't know how to pick em?
Chad: Yeah, its like "How come everyone else in the country is starting to play this unknown song but we're not?" "Oh okay, well let me get on that then." It doesn't look good, so . . . Not only that, but getting a station to commit, finding out which stations watch other stations and once you get those ones, then you get the calls in to the other one and go "These guys just picked it up, they just stuck it into medium rotation." And then, "Okay, it'll go into the medium rotation next week." all right. And just learning how to play the game.
RNW: Sounds like you've got it wired.
Chad: We got the song to - I was doing all the radio tracking - and every time I would get an add in a city, my brother would get on the horn and he would call all the local music stores and he would start sticking copies of the record in the stores and we were making $12.75 a record, minus $2 it cost us to have it printed, so on a $10 dollar profit, after we sold 10,000 copies, we had a lot of money to sit on. But we had a lot of debt.
RNW: A war chest there? Actually, no, you're right. You would have a lot of debt.
Chad: Yeah, we had operating loan that continually fluctuated. We once moved a thousand records across the country in one week. And two weeks later they want another 1,000 copies to go out across the country. You've got to find out where to get another $2,000 when they don't clear their accounts for 60-90 days. You need another 1,000 records in the next two weeks to ship across the country, you know, that's when you are like, okay, somebody please sign us. Cause there's a gold mind here and that's what record companies start to think. If these four kids can sell this many records on their own, imagine what we can do as a machine.
RNW: Now you went with an indie label as apposed to one of the biggies here in the US. Why is that?
Chad: Because, the way that a major label works is, they will go and sign twenty acts and they throw them to radio and whatever sticks, sticks. And those are the ones that get the priority and the focus and the attention. And whatever doesn't stick, they'll be lucky if they get another shot because they've (the record label) got the money to go out and play the numbers. If you could buy 60,000 lottery tickets, and play different numbers, the chances that you're gonna win are probably pretty good. If you can afford to buy 60,000 lottery tickets.
RNW: How many bands have we seen die on the vine like that?
Chad: Sure. Because they won't give them a shot.
RNW: Excellent bands.
Chad: Yeah, and they get shelved and they start over, you know? They get a new band name, cause at that point they're damaged goods, and all they can do is start another band and try and get signed again. And try, but when you go with a large independent, see the thing that we had was we had those sales, and we had that money already. We had, we made $100,000 in six months. You're gonna offer us $75,000? Give me a break. Yeah, so, its like, we could just keep selling records on our own, we don't need you. You're the one that wants a piece of our pie.
RNW: Yeah! We don't need your recoupable expenses!
Chad: Exactly! Exactly. So then, all we had to do is find a large independent that was willing to cough up major label money to secure us, and exclude Canada. That was the next thing that we wanted, cause that was our backyard. And they we got to go with another company there, take two advances every time we release a record, um, then we found a winner with Roadrunner (Records).
RNW: I have been really impressed with Roadrunner and the way they take care of their bands.
RNW: And conversely, I have seen and worked with large labels and with bands that I thought were fantastic, and they just feel so helpless.
Chad: They are helpless.
RNW: You know, they are just like, if I felt like I got my decent shot and nothing happened, then I'd just go home, but I don't feel like I'm getting that.
Chad: See, we had this bus before we sold one record in the US. We have all the control because we know that we are the priority there. I know what Case wants to do with the label. I know the intentions of the label. I know everything. They hired a radio team to break our record. They brought Dave Lonco and everybody over there to start turning Roadrunner into a major. Eventually, that's what they want to do. And knowing that you are the one that's going to break it or people's jobs are on the line, like go break this band. I want a top ten hit with this band. You know, when your job's on the line, that makes me feel pretty good.
RNW: It should.
Chad: And knowing that I have that, that makes me feel even better that we didn't sign to RCA, or whoever else happened to be at the table. So, I mean, that's why we went with an independent instead of a major.
RNW: Makes a lot of sense and it seems like you really thought it out very well.
Chad: Not only that, but if this record bombs, Roadrunner is renown for building their artists, you know? We know we're going to get another record. We're guaranteed to get another record now with a top ten hit. And they've already heard the next record. They've heard songs like "Look What Your Money Bought" and they're damn anxious to get to those ones. So they know that we're going to have a future there, and we know the same thing.
RNW: For the record, I think so too. I'm looking forward to hearing you guys perform tonight and seeing you on the big stage! Have a great show.
Chad: Cool, thanks.
Nickelback TBT Interview