Nickelback bassist Mike Kroeger understands that you might dislike his band. That’s O.K., some of his friends and family hate Nickelback, too. He’s used to being on the receiving end of barbs and insults, but if you’re funny, he can dig your disdain. As long as you can find a humorous jab to make, he’ll welcome you to the hatersphere.
The animated Kroeger (that’s pronounced crew-ger, FYI) is just fun to speak with in general. I recently chatted him up for a Bon Jovi biography that I have coming out this fall—the two bands toured Europe and America together back in 2005—and our intended 30-minute conversation veered off into a two-hour discussion of music, politics, guns, and yes, revulsion.
The hit-making Canadian group has been on hiatus while his brother, frontman Chad Kroeger, recovered from surgery that removed a cyst from his vocal chords. He’s got the all clear now to resume active duty, and the quartet will return to the concert scene this fall starting in Europe. For now, Kroeger enlightened us on the craziness of listener loathing as well as how political misconceptions extend beyond the campaign trail into the music world.
I remember we met way back in 2003 at your studio outside of Vancouver, and we both agreed Ralph Nader was the best presidential candidate in 2000, however you felt he would never get elected.
That’s simply why he won’t get elected and didn’t get elected. There has been a long, long history of good, well-meaning, well-educated, articulate candidates who would be good presidents that are never going to make it because that isn’t what the job needs. Look at this farce we’re going through now.
You Canadians must be laughing your asses off.
The trouble is I live in the United States now. I got a green card four and a half years ago, and I’ve been living in the state of Hawaii for 10 years. I’m going to get my passport, and within a year I am technically going to be one of you. I’m going to be like a Ted Cruz—not natural born, yet a citizen.
But not a jackass.
What an asshole. Sadly, he was born in the same town as me. That’s my claim to fame, or his. I don’t know whose. We were both born in Calgary, as was my guitar player Ryan [Peake] who you met. I don’t know what that says about Calgary. I probably shouldn’t have told you that.
Now you’ll become one of us.
And I’m going to get guns. I’m going to defend myself against targets, and those targets could be anything.
Are you going to turn into a paranoid American?
[Laughs] No, I think guns are really cool. I like ’em.
What do you think about the American obsession with guns? Is it different in Canada?
No. You know what the difference is in Canada? You actually have to take training. You have to learn how to operate them and become safe with them and go through a few steps. It’s not like buying a carton of milk in Canada. It’s a little harder to do. It takes awhile, and they vet you.
“I don’t have anything against haters. Here’s the one cardinal rule of being a hater: Just be funny. Because if you’re fucking funny, then the hatersphere is great.”
We have a lot of guns in Canada. I have numerous firearms on my property [there]. Not to say that there isn’t gunplay. We’ve had numerous incidents where I live in British Columbia. We’ve had 30-plus gun-related murders this year. But if you take out the gang-related shootings, it’s not very much.
I like the idea of being able to defend yourself, but my problem with the American obsession with guns is you have people who scarcely know how to load the fucking thing and they hold the power to kill. There’s not enough training.
You had a good time touring with Bon Jovi over 10 years ago, didn’t you?
As a group, it was really inspirational to go on the road with them because back then we were perennial support for everybody, and sometimes when you’re support you get treated like support and they never did that to us. I’ve got to think that had to come from the band, that all their people were told to treat us well and be good to us. We were allowed to eat in their catering and hang around backstage.
We’ve been in certain situations where it was like dealing with Neil Diamond—don’t make eye contact or you’re fired. But the Bon Jovi guys were nothing like that—they were wonderful, wonderful to us and treated us with a great deal of respect.
I remember a long, long time ago sitting there with one of my managers having dinner, and he said that all we have to do is what Bon Jovi did. He said, “It’s all right there. Your music is out there, you’ve done well with radio, you’ve got the songs. All you have to do is go out there and take it because Europe is ready for you to take it. Japan is ready for you to take it. All you have to do is get out there and play every gig you can get your hands on, and it will be open to you. The evidence is how Bon Jovi has opened [up] the entire world.”
It’s no secret—you just get out there and play a lot. It just so happened later on that we got offered to do a tour of Europe with Bon Jovi. It all came back to me. After we toured through Europe with them—and they were playing soccer stadiums and we’d never done anything like that before—it turned out that all they did is wrote great tunes that people loved and then they toured as though their life depended on it. They made it happen. That’s just grit, that’s work ethic.
I worry that with music today that everything looks and sounds so good that younger listeners are not going to be as enamored with older recordings because they don’t have the same sound. It might sound a little bit thinner even if the music is better.
I could tell you from my personal experience that there is hope. My son is 14 and a guitar player/singer/songwriter, and he doesn’t like current mainstream music. He doesn’t particularly like my band. He does like the songs, but he doesn’t like how produced it is. My son listens to Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, the Beatles, Little Richard. He says that these guys wrote a song, got in a room with one mic, whipped up their band, and this is what happened. He goes, “This is what music should be.”
We were in my truck, and he says, “Have you ever heard [Canadian vocal quartet] The Crew-Cuts?” What kind of Twilight Zone episode am I in here? He and his peer group are more impressed by authenticity than they are by gloss because everything has so much gloss on it now that it’s all the fucking same.
Anybody can use Pro Tools, anybody can use Auto-Tune now. Everything right now is minute variations of vanilla. It’s all the fucking same. But if people didn’t want that, they wouldn’t be seeking it out. It’s what they want.
“Regardless of who the artist is, you kind of get judged by the company you keep, and the company is your fans. There’s a lot of that you can’t really help.”
Nickelback has a very established sound. Has there ever been a moment where you guys have thought about doing something radically different? Even if you didn’t know how your audience would react?
All the time.
The new album has more of a pop approach, whereas the previous album was more metal in spots.
We often push out stylistically a little bit, and whenever we’re doing that it’s usually me who’s the buzzkill and goes, “Is this going to make everybody’s head explode? Is this what we should be doing? And can we ever get accepted as this?”
You don’t want to try to be something you’re not, and when you come from as many stylistic origins as us four, it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of one of those styles and turn into something that you’re just not. You’ve got to bring it back to the core, right?
I think it would be interesting if you guys did an acoustic-heavy album.
That’s something we’ve talked about.
I appreciated the fact that, when people petitioned the NFL to not have Nickelback play the halftime show at a Thanksgiving game in Detroit, you all did a Funny Or Die sketch about why people hate you. A lot of my metal friends can’t stand Nickelback.
It’s funny because it comes back around to Bon Jovi again.
I remember when they released Slippery When Wet, and in the beginning everybody was going nuts for these guys and couldn’t get enough Bon Jovi. The music didn’t change, the music was still good, and all of a sudden it was really cool to hate Bon Jovi. I don’t know what the fuck happened.
I recognize it with us and other artists like Miley Cyrus. It isn’t about the music. That’s the thing that comes to you when you’re in the middle of it. It’s not about the music, it’s just about people’s perception of your personality. It seems that the more people don’t know about you the more they can hate or love you.
I know people in this industry who are not nice, and they’re loved by the internet. And they’re horrible human beings. They do and say terrible, terrible things. And vice versa: there are people who are roundly condemned and viciously slashed down who are really nice people and really good people. It isn’t that they get told that their music sucks, it’s more like people just hate them.
I’ve read [some] stuff on the internet about us, and I laugh a little bit. I enjoy it in a sense. There was one thing that I once read in the hatersphere. This person was hating on us and being really mean about Nickelback, and one of our fans leapt to our defense and said all this stuff like they do really cool charity things, they’re nice to their fans, they work hard, they play a long show, they’re not phony. They went down the list of our redeeming qualities in that person’s opinion, and the hater goes, “Yeah, I’m sure they’re really nice guys, but they suck.” It was like, “Oh, O.K….”
I think something that Bon Jovi and Nickelback have in common is that you can’t pick your fans.
I find that there’s a certain contingent of Nickelback fans that are typical frat boys who just want to get laid and party. You guys have your hedonistic songs, but you have songs about other topics as well. It’s funny, I interviewed Rob Zombie a couple of years ago, and he found the most annoying fans at Neil Diamond and Fleetwood Mac concerts because they were ripe with middle-aged guys who didn’t get out much, got really drunk and acted obnoxiously.
[Laughs] I like him a lot because he is a pretty frank and off-the-cuff guy. He doesn’t mince words, and I love that. That is hysterically funny. You can’t pick your fans.
There was a band back in the day called Sloan and they have a song called “Coax Me,” and there’s this line that the guy says, “It’s not the band I hate, it’s their fans.” I think that is genius. Regardless of who the artist is, you kind of get judged by the company you keep, and the company is your fans. There’s a lot of that you can’t really help.
You want to appreciate them because they are the ones who are supporting you and making it possible for you to do what you want to do. But they might not necessarily be people I might want to meet. Just because somebody is a fan of yours doesn’t mean they’re your friend. There a lot of people that you, me, or Jon Bon Jovi don’t want to be friends with, but a lot of them could be our fans and that’s O.K.
“We’ve been called ‘Republican racist rock.’ We’re from Canada first of all…We got called ‘socialist’ just because we are from Canada. By Americans, bro.”
We’ve been called “Republican racist rock.” We’re from Canada first of all. Right wing in Canada doesn’t come close to being right wing in America. Until Bernie Sanders came along, we would be center-left in comparison to United States politics. Can you believe this country right now? There’s a guy who is running who is actually admitting that he’s a democratic socialist. My mind is blown every time I hear about it because [the term] “socialist,” until recently, was like a turd in a punch bowl.
We got called “socialist” just because we are from Canada. By Americans, bro. We were touring with Three Doors Down really early in our career, and I remember visiting those guys at their home in Mississippi and one of them referred to Canadians as “left-wing socialist bastards.” Whoa!
A guy like Ted Nugent lives in the world that he sings about. He is what he presents himself as, but not everybody else does. I think the Bon Jovi guys come off as very liberal, but I think they’re far more conservative than they appear.
Jon definitely stumps for Democratic causes and does a lot of charity work, but some of the other members might be more conservative.
I don’t want to say that they’re Republican; I want to say they’re more conservative.
I think it’s fascinating how Nickelback gets tagged with so many things.
I have a friend who works in the presidential detail, and he took a picture of a person that had a sign that says, “Trump Likes Nickelback,” and he sent it to me. He said, “What do you think about this?” I just think that’s utterly hilarious because I don’t have anything against haters. Here’s the one cardinal rule of being a hater: Just be funny. Because if you’re fucking funny, then the hatersphere is great, but if you’re just mean or not good at being funny, I think you should get voted off the island. You’re not a very good hater.
What’s the funniest insult you’ve ever heard about Nickelback?
Oh…I read something once that caused me to laugh so hard I almost choked. I think I did. Somebody wrote that Nickelback is music to get herpes by. I thought it was fucking great. I’ll wear the badge of honor on that one because whoever said that has a little comedic brilliance there. They could have a future.
You’ve obviously been tagged with many different things. How would you describe Nickelback?
We’re an everyman rock band who knows what our fans want to hear, and that’s who we play for.
“There’s a reality that you come to at some point in your life—people can criticize anything, people can say anything, and people can make a strong case [for anything]…That’s just skillful linguistics, man. Talk to Chomsky about that shit.”
A lot of people criticize that idea.
There’s a reality that you come to at some point in your life—people can criticize anything, people can say anything, and people can make a strong case [for anything]. Look at lawyers. They fight on both sides of every argument every time. It’s clear that you can cast aspersions upon anything and try to discredit anything you want. That’s just skillful linguistics, man. Talk to Chomsky about that shit.
There’s a lot of cool music out there that people don’t necessarily know about, particularly on the underground level. I imagine it’s surreal to be in a big band but admiring artists that have far less exposure.
One thing that I often tell people whether during an interview or talking with friends—most of the music I like to listen to is by people who will probably never make a living playing music.
What lesser-known bands do you like?
Then there are some progressive metal groups that I like. Meshuggah is one of my favorite artists, and those guys live a very humble life. They’re trying to make music to challenge themselves as artists. I like their precision and aggression. Thomas the drummer has become a friend. They’re very Swedish. Things are precise and work properly, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be complicated to be technically good. They are heavy and technical like a lot of progressive metal bands are, but they can groove too. It hits you at the rhythmic core of your being.
I think they should be fabulously wealthy beyond all imagination because they’re just so fucking good, but that isn’t how it goes unfortunately.
Observer contributor Bryan Reesman is a lifelong metalhead who also likes Nickelback and Bon Jovi, even if you don’t. His book on Bon Jovi arrives through Sterling Publishing in November.