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Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger Is Not His Band’s ‘Puppetmaster’

Simone Joyner, Getty Images

In 2009, Billboard magazine named Nickelback in the top ten ‘artists of the decade.’ It’s true, Nickelback has had a dizzying amount of success since their self-released debut ‘Curb’ back in 1996. (Roadrunner rereleased ‘Curb’ in 2002). Since that release, the band has moved something like 30 million records off store shelves.

These days, the quartet is still touring behind the 2008 release ‘Dark Horse.’ The Canadian band will swing back through the United States this fall for 25 dates with support from Three Days Grace and Buckcherry.

Notoriously elusive with the press, I had the chance to talk with Nickelback singer and songwriter Chad Kroeger about his band, the seemingly never-ending ‘Dark Horse’ tour and plans for a new album.

You literally try to tour everywhere. Do you worry about overhead?

I’m very adamant about taking the ridiculous machine that we have of a show everywhere. I want everybody to be able to see this thing and it gets costly and it gets to the point where even if you sell-out every arena twice in Australia, you still come home and break even. But I don’t want those kids down there to look at YouTube clips of us live and see this massive thing that we tour around with in America and then go over there and give them a half-assed show with a half-assed production and half the lights, half the stage, half the video screens, half the pyro. I mean, its stupid but they really appreciate it when you get over to Germany and you bring the monstrosity we have sitting behind us every night. And it served us well and it’s when we put that much back into the show, people will really enjoy it and it makes them to want to come back to the show again.

How many semis do you run on tour?

About 14 trucks. It’s an 18 truck show pretty much, but they squeeze everything into 14 trucks. That and about the same in the tour buses. We’ve got about 80 crew members. We are a traveling city.

You love the business, don’t you?

I don’t know that I love – I think everybody thinks that. I think everyone sort of looks at me as this ‘puppet master’ and I’m sitting back in this evil chair, I’m swilling cow blood in a low voice, ‘Muhhhha, look at all my trucks!’ And its not that at all, it really isn’t. I mean, that’s my brother [Mike Kroeger, bass] and Ryan [Peake, guitar]. They really get into that aspect a lot more than I do. I’m the guy that’s constantly running around pulling his hair going, ‘What’s with this or that?’ I’m that guy. I get involved with the production side of stuff and what I want the stage to do and ideas that way. And when it comes to throwing the darts at the map as to where we’re going to pick, that whole thing…that’s more Mike and Ryan.

Really?

Yeah. There you go. We just pulled the curtain back. I’m not the one.

Do you want to be the puppet master?

No, not at all. That job sucks. Give it to someone else who enjoys pulling those strings because it’s not fun sitting [in] on all those conference calls and getting all the meetings and its just labor. That’s not why one picks up a guitar in the first place and starts [playing]. You don’t dream, ‘Oh my god, I can’t wait to sit in meetings with people in boardrooms and us across the world, sitting on speaker phone and blah, blah, blah!’ It’s just really not appealing to me.

Are you surprised that you’re able to keep selling out shows? Pollstar recently ran an article about how nearly every tour is tanking. But here you are. But you’re also not charging a million dollars for back row seats either.

No, when you sit in the back, it’s about $50.00 and if you’re going to sit up front or sit up really close, it’s about $80. And we bring $120 show.

You’re like the last of the arena bands. It’s sort of like you’re carrying a torch.

I don’t know about that. But it means you can still get there and people still want to put their devil horns up in the air and scream along to ‘Hells Bells’ and ‘You Shook Me All Night Long.’ And there’s a few bands out there that can do it. And this is our ticket to jam. We don’t know how long it’s going to last and we don’t know when someone’s going to write in the sky for when the time’s up. It’s great to be in that band that people want to come and see. That’s a great feeling. And our fans are good to us, they really are. They’re fantastic to us and they stand by us when everyone else is putting us down and saying how much we suck and this, that and the other thing. And our fans are like, ‘Really? Have you seen them play?’ And then that’s the thing that keeps people in the New York’s and the LA’s scratching their head going, ‘Who are these guys and what, like really, really Nickelback?’

I’ve interviewed a lot of bands. And literally, I’ll ask, ‘What’s the biggest show you’ve seen?’ And I’m not making this up. The bands often say ‘Nickelback.’

Really? Wow.

So if you put your money in and your time in, you’re going to get that return on your investment.

Yeah, I mean, that’s just a mindset that we sort of latched ourselves to when [the single] ‘How You Remind Me’ went through the roof. And [management was] like, ‘Guys, the van days are over. We have tour buses and we’re going to have trucks and you can do whatever you want.’ And we’re all like — I remember the day when our tour managers were like — ‘Guys, what do you want to do?’ And we just looked at each other and we all just went, ‘We want to blow everything off the face of the planet up at our show! We want to incorporate every cool thing that we’ve ever seen everyone else do at a concert and we want all of them in our show.!’ And [the managers are] like, ‘Really? Jesus Christ, have you guys have seen the bill? Do you know what this is this going to cost?’ And we’re like, ‘We don’t care.’ And we started doing it early and now…we just don’t downsize well.

Well, at some point you can’t, right?

Oh yeah, I mean … U2 does the same thing. They just keep trying to turn themselves into this … I don’t even know how to describe it. That’s a monstrosity as well. They do like 100 trucks. And when you go see U2, I mean, it’s a production. It’s not a couple of guys up on stage telling you to ‘Get your lighters in the air.’ It’s like, ‘Oh, my God, look over there!’ and ‘Oh look over there!’ That’s the thing that people want. They want to be entertained. I mean, everybody’s gone to Las Vegas and seen Cirque du Soleil and seen what their entertainment dollar goes to and they have high expectations now. And so that’s what we try and do.

This new leg of the ‘Dark Horse’ tour features Three Days Grace and Buckcherry as support. It’s pretty common for tours to have three or four bands on a bill these days … sort of like a mini-festival.

I get nervous sometimes when you get four bands on the bill. It’s the fatigue actually because we don’t want to be the headlining act that says, ‘Okay, guys, you can’t have free reign with the sound.’ Because by the time we’re halfway through our show, the eardrum — once it gets fatigued — your body actually gets very tired and you start looking at your watch and you don’t even understand why it’s happening. But the eardrum causes that to happen. And so you need to limit the amount of the time and how loud the opening acts can get because you want people to make it through the entire show. You don’t want them going, ‘Come on Stephanie, we’ve got the babysitter waiting. I know we haven’t seen the encore yet, but let’s get out of here.’ And you notice that on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday when it’s just too loud in the arena.

You recently released some songs for the video game ‘Rock Band.’ Are you going to do a series?

I’m not really sure. I don’t know. We’ll see if our fans are in for the whole this aspect of the band or maybe they’re not interested at all. Maybe they’re just interested in checking out the tunes and coming to watching the shows when we pull through town. Who knows?

Are you actively writing a new record right now? You’ve been touring behind ‘Dark Horse’ for awhile now.

I’m not and I am if that makes any sense. There’s not a concerted effort. There’s not 12 people in the studio sitting around tuning guitars and drums, and a massive ordeal waiting on every word like, ‘Now, what do we do now?’ That is not going on. When you have 80% of the idea and then you just take it into the room. What we do is we put a big screen up and then we type out the lyrics, like the skeleton of how the lyrics are going to go. And we sit and stare at that damn TV for endless periods of time: weeks until the goose bumps happen. Because when something’s good, it’s just good. And that’s what the fans are going to think too. Its got to be great, its just got to give me goose bumps in order for it to give someone else goose bumps. That’s how that works. And we will sit there and sit there and sit there for 14 hours a day. And I think the longest we ever worked on one song was six weeks.

What song was that?

That was on ‘All the Right Reasons.’ That was like giving birth and it was a song called ‘Savin’ Me.’ And we had the verse and we knew the verse was good and then the chorus just kept kicking us into mediocreville. And it just wasn’t coming around. So we rewrote and rewrote and rewrote and rewrote until one day I was just like … I don’t even know, out of pure frustration, I was just like, ‘God, we’re just smashing our faces into the same wall over and over again! This is like some episode of the f—ing ‘Twilight Zone!’ And I grabbed the guitar and it just came right out. And Joe [Moi, producer] was like, ‘Oh, dude, do that again!’ And I was like, ‘What?’ And he was like, ‘Just do what you just did there.’ And I sang this little melody and went round and round. And he’s like, ‘That’s us right there.’ And I was like, ‘Oh God, it doesn’t have to be this difficult.’

People are looking for a new album.

Well, I went down to Nashville recently and I love country songs because I’m a lyric nerd and too many bands these days just do…everything is so introspective. It’s all, ‘Oh, I feel this and I feel that.’ Unless somebody’s feeling exactly what you’re feeling, you’re making it really hard for somebody to identify with what you’re saying. So if you paint the picture: I walked into this room and it was dimly lit and this was over in the corner, and this was going on. … And you take somebody on a journey with you and they create their own little mini movie in their own mind. And it makes it so much easier to connect with the listener. And so country music does that and it does it very well. Now, even though it could be very novelty. Well, just look at ‘Rockstar.’ That’s a novelty song.

That’s my favorite Nickelback song.

That is one of the songs where you’re writing the lyrics and if it doesn’t make you laugh, it doesn’t make the cut. We had some lines that were like, ‘I want two stripper poles on my tour bus,’ and like, ‘I want to go pick-up groceries in a monster truck.’ There were pages and pages [of lyrics] and we had to go through everything and pick everything that just sort of went very well with the ‘rock star’ theme. That song was really fun to write. Some of it is tongue in cheek; some of it is very poignant. You know, ‘I got washed up singers writing all my songs, lip sync them every night so I don’t get them wrong.’ Lines like that, people might not get it … but people in the business definitely do. It’s funny because the thing that I find with a song like that is everybody does want to be a rock star. It doesn’t matter how many movies you’ve made or how far you can hit a baseball out of a park. Everybody would trade it in a heartbeat just to be in a rock band.

Why do you think that is?

I don’t know but it’s true. You ask anybody. Ask the most successful person in any realm if they would trade it to be a massive rock star. It’s true, that’s why the song hits home so well because everybody does want to be a goddamn rock star … including myself!

Do you think you’re a rock star?

My mom thinks I’m a rock star and that’s cool enough for me.

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