TORONTO—Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger just turned 40, and oh, how wife Avril Lavigne likes to remind him.
The spotlight-prone lovebirds actually both celebrated major birthdays just months apart—the “Complicated” singer recently skated past 30—but Kroeger says they responded very differently to their respective milestones.
“My wife just turned 30 and she seemed to think it was a big one. I just turned 40 and didn’t care at all,” Kroeger told The Canadian Press on Friday with a chuckle, seated at a Toronto hotel next to guitarist Ryan Peake.
“I really just didn’t care. I think that if you’re happy where you are in life, it doesn’t matter how old you’re turning. I think if you’re unhappy in life, each birthday you have—especially the landmark ones—tends to be a reminder of how much time is slipping away and you haven’t accomplished or found that person or whatever it is in your life.
“It’s not so bad, when you’re happy. I got a great gig; I get to play music for a living. And I’m married, so turning 40’s no big deal.”
In a twisted way, it perhaps helped that one particular person close to him has been prematurely aging him for a while.
“The wife’s been calling me 40—the entire time I was 39 she was like, ‘Yeah, but you’re 40,”‘ he said with a laugh. “I was so numb to it. Literally, halfway through being 39 I was telling people: ‘Well I’m 40, so what difference does it make?”‘
Kroeger’s indifference to age is perhaps understandable given the stubborn longevity of his monstrously successful band.
Nickelback—originally formed in Hanna, Alta., as a mid-90s cover outfit—is eight albums and nearly 20 years old with the recent release of “No Fixed Address.”
Over that period of time, the hard-rockers dual-wield the distinctions of being one of the most commercially bulletproof acts in the world—more than 50 million albums sold, five multi-platinum albums, six Grammy nominations and 12 Juno wins—and also one of the most gleefully maligned.
The slights are too many to list, but generally Nickelback has been treated as one of the mainstream’s most agreed-upon scourges; the subject of spiteful petitions, protests and even politics (Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel once had to publicly clarify he wasn’t a fan). Critics, of course, have heaped enough acid on the band to fuel a 1960s happening.
Nickelback has been dismissed as sexist, lowbrow and panderingly bland. Those adjectives could describe any number of turn-of-the-century mainstream rock outfits, but those bands didn’t achieve Nickelback’s ubiquity. After all, their breakout hit—2001’s chart-topping “How You Remind Me”—was radio’s most-played song in the ‘00s.
Lately, however, there have been subtle signs of a thaw.
Last year, influential sports and culture website Grantland decried Nickelback’s tenure as the world’s most hated band over—and unfair, given that “there are similar but much stupider groups (we) should be mocking”—while the New Yorker recently mused with traces of sympathy on whether the band was thriving on the hate. Spin, meanwhile, provided a list headlined “Five Nickelback Songs That Don’t Suck.”
“They’re kind of back-handed articles,” Peake pointed out. “I don’t know how to take it. ‘Thank you?’
“But it’s not cool to like the band. I get that.”
There has been some actual praise swimming in the mix—AllMusic, for instance, called “No Fixed Address” the best Nickelback record to date.
But Kroeger and co., at times, seem more comfortable being loathed.
“Somebody sent me something recently (headlined) ‘Eight Reasons It’s Time To Stop Hating on Nickelback,”‘ said Kroeger with a laugh. “But I don’t think that all the haters and the critics know how many favours that they’ve done for us. Because otherwise we would just be this just whatever band. And now we’re this controversial band. Everyone’s like ‘I hate them’ or ‘I love them’—whatever it is, people are talking about us.
“Everybody knows that if you make a video and you put the word ‘Nickelback’ in it it’s going to get a minimum of a million views. Every single time.
“So it must be interesting in some way, you know. Love ‘em or hate ‘em. Without that, we would just be Green Day.”
He pauses a beat, then laughs heartily, with mischievous flair. Whether it’s in the realm of his music or his much-scrutinized personal life, Kroeger is cheerfully defiant to such an extent it almost seems like he’s actually trying to incite more criticism—he’s extending an invitation to derision.
Trolling aside, however, the members of Nickelback every once and a while acknowledge that the attacks have extracted a certain toll.
“Trust me, it’s not the way I pictured my career going. Let’s put it that way,” Peake said.
“Nope,” Kroeger agreed quietly.
“But it is what it is and you grow a thick skin,” Peake added.
Although “No Fixed Address” is unlikely to change the minds—or catch the ears—of their most ardent non-fans (there’s a song titled “She Keeps Me Up,” after all), it’s a surprisingly diverse set that, like 2011’s “Be Here Now,” is probably more varied than it needs to be.
“Million Miles an Hour” is the type of serpentine pile-driver that would sound right at home scoring pro wrestling highlights, but it’s also lifted by pounding synths and slick electronics. The aforementioned “She Keeps Me Up” funk-struts to a disco-fried beat, while keyboard-driven power ballad “What Are You Waiting For?” barely includes guitars at all, and the vaguely Latin-influenced “Got Me Running Around” features a guest spot from pop-rapper Flo Rida.
Even Kroeger’s harshest critics would concede that he knows exactly how to craft a radio-ready rock hit—in fact, that’s an explicit cause for much of the criticism. And given that Nickelback, with its sturdy worldwide fanbase, could thrive simply by preaching to the choir, why indulge such musical flights of fancy?
“If we’re just going to re-record the same rock song or the same mid-tempo ballad over and over and over again, that’s really unfulfilling and that becomes a 9-to-5,” Kroeger replied. “I don’t want that. That’s not why we started chasing the dream in the first place.
“There really is this two sides of us that a lot of people just don’t get.”
One of the more famous barbs associated with Nickelback flew from the bow of Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, who once claimed in a Rolling Stone interview that “rock and roll is dying because people became OK with Nickelback being the biggest band in the world.”
Well, when it comes to arena-filling rock acts, Nickelback really is one of the final few standing. Kroeger notes that “in Europe there are entire countries that don’t have rock stations.” Fans in those countries—and Nickelback has fans in seemingly every country—“just think we’re a pop band.”
In some ways, of course, they are. Kroeger is comfortable slipping between genres as a songwriter, and has penned tunes for Santana, Daughtry and Tim McGraw. Most recently, of course, he contributed to his wife’s self-titled 2013 debut.
“I was brought in to co-write one song and wound up marrying her,” he remembered. “Little did anyone know my true intentions.”
“Are you allowed to co-write songs with anyone else?” Peake wondered with a smile.
“No!” Kroeger replied emphatically. “Nope. No, I’m not.”
So, did Lavigne contribute at all to Nickelback’s newest?
“She was just a great sounding board,” he responded. “Ryan does the same thing with his wife. I think my wife’s tougher, a tougher critic than his.”
He shifts into an anecdote here, about a tour to Australia.
“I was writing this song called ‘See You on the Other Side,’ and I was just playing it on my acoustic guitar … and Avril’s like, that song has to go on your record. … That was one where she opened the door and was like: ‘THAT is really good.”‘
He shakes his head.
“I just remembered it now. Why wasn’t I listening?! Why the (hell) didn’t we record it?”
Well, maybe he’ll find a way to include it on the next one.
And oh, he promises, there will be a next one. With glee, he even muses on the idea of putting out more than one record at once, just to bait the “haters.”
Kroeger’s confident because he’s found that Nickelback fans are a renewable resource. On the band’s most recent tour, he continually had the experience of looking out into a crowd of adolescents less than half his age.
“At first I kind of thought, well, I’m (with) Avril, and she’s got like 16 million followers on Twitter, maybe there’s some sort of connection,” he recalled. “But it really wasn’t that. We sort of came to the conclusion that it’s just been longevity that’s helped us accrue fans that are young now.
“We’ve lasted through a generation of music already,” he said.
He curses, and it’s easy to picture Nickelback’s detractors doing the same.
“Holy (hell) we’re old.”