When Nickelback released their hard-rocking single “San Quentin” off their upcoming album Get Rollin’ in September, band members Chad Kroeger and Ryan Peake were surprised at the response it elicited.
“Everyone was like, ‘Nickelback’s gone heavy,'” Peake recalls with a laugh over a joint Zoom call with Kroeger. “We’re like, ‘Go back and listen to the old stuff!’ They’re going to be pleasantly surprised.”
The grit found on “San Quentin” can indeed be found on early Nickelback hits like “Leader of Men” and “Breathe.” But now, more than ever, people seem receptive to giving Nickelback — a band whose talent has often been overshadowed by its reputation — another listen.
“There’s been a lot of positivity lately,” says Kroeger, 48. “It feels like there’s been a bit of a softening on the band, if you will.”
Peake, 49, agrees that they’ve seen “some of the teeth coming out of the sentiment about the band.”
“It’s been an interesting journey,” he says. “People are starting to realize, ‘We’ve always said [these things about the band], but why? This doesn’t make sense.'”
“I love that there’s a younger generation of people that didn’t grow up in the birth of the internet and the iPhone, when everybody had an opinion about something,” he continues. “But as bumpy of a ride as it has been, it’s something that’s kept us in conversation.”
The two musicians’ working relationship began in the early 1990s, when they started playing in bars and clubs together in their hometown of Hanna, Alberta, as the cover band Village Idiot with Kroeger’s brother Mike Kroeger and cousin Brandon Kroeger (who stopped playing with them in 1997).
“When you’re used to playing in front of bar staff, when you’re used to having no one care that you’re up there making noise, you start to really appreciate it when people turn and start facing the stage,” Kroeger says. “I always feel bad for the people who go from their bedroom straight to a large stage.”
By 1999, the band had renamed itself Nickelback and had Ryan Vikedal playing on drums. After catching the attention of a metal record label, they released their album, The State, in 2000, which spawned two top 10 hits on Billboard’s U.S. Mainstream Rock chart. But it wasn’t until they released their follow-up album Silver Side Up — and its lead single “How You Remind Me” — in 2001 that their fame reached a new level.
“When the video for ‘How You Remind Me’ came out, it was absolutely everywhere,” Kroeger says. “I think everyone knew what I looked like. I had the long hair and the goatee, so I was pretty recognizable.”
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“How You Remind Me” went on to become the most played radio song of the 2000s, which the band soon would found out was a double-edged sword.
“That song was — I’ll never say it’s a curse, because it absolutely was not that, but I guess the curse is that when people like something so much, they’ll want to play it all the time,” Peake says. “That song got played so goddamn much that it became a thing you couldn’t get away from. If that was part of the pushback, I understand that, but when you put a song out there, it’s in somebody else’s hands to do what they do.”
Where exactly the tides of public perception began to turn against the band is hard to pinpoint, but many cite a Comedy Central promo for Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn that ran on loop between 2002-2004. In it, comedian Brian Posehn makes a joke about a study tying violent lyrics to violent behavior and says, “No one talks about the studies that show bad music makes people violent. Like, Nickelback makes me want to kill Nickelback.”
Then when they released the music video for their song “Photograph” off their diamond-certified album All the Right Reasons in 2005, a still of Kroeger holding up a photograph spawned hundreds of memes.
“There isn’t anything in the world that can prepare you for fame,” Kroeger says. “Fame is the weirdest thing.”
Through the years, Nickelback has been a bit of a conundrum — as it became mainstream culturally to dislike them, they simultaneously racked up awards and became the best-selling foreign music group in the U.S. of the 2000s, behind only The Beatles.
“We’re a band full of statistics,” Kroeger quips. “Even though we’ve never been the critic’s darlings and media’s gone at us pretty hard, it’s nice to still be able to look at each other and say, ‘Well, every time we show up to a city someplace, people still want to see us play, and we still get to make records.'”
In total, Nickelback has released nine studio albums (with Get Rollin‘ being their tenth). Their last album, Feed the Machine, was released five years ago, and before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they were set to go on the road.
“We were supposed to be going on tour, and then the giant pause button was hit for all of us,” Kroeger says. “Then we were in limbo, and we just didn’t really know what was going on. We thought, ‘This isn’t going to last long.’ Then it just kept lasting longer and longer and longer.”
When the world paused, Kroeger says he had to figure out: “Am I unemployed? Retired?”
“So much of my identity revolves around [the band], because I’m not a husband, and I’m not a father,” he says. “I’m just really the singer in this band, and it comprises so much of my identity. So, when I don’t have that, I turn into Derek Zoolander: ‘Who am I?'”
To cope, Kroeger — who was previously married to Avril Lavigne from 2013 to 2015 — says he “pretty much tried to be drunk through the entire pandemic.”
“I was going to sober up when it ended, and that’s not healthy,” he says. “Then I just found moments of creativity amongst that. It was just really bizarre. I was beholden to no one, and I had no responsibility. There wasn’t a person in my life that could say ‘no’ to me.”
When asked whether his girlfriend eventually became that person for him, Kroeger says bluntly, “I conned my band members into recording a demo and two indie records that were not very successful, so if I can con those guys into staying in this band until we found some success, I think I can talk my girlfriend into drinking on a Tuesday.”
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When pandemic restrictions started to ease up, Kroeger found a renewed focus with his bandmates in the recording studio.
“We got to the point where we were just looking at each other going, ‘We should probably start getting creative here,'” Peake says. “It was time to hop back in the studio, for sure.”
Along with “San Quentin,” the band has also released their single “Those Days” off their new album last month. With many of the tracks on the record, Kroeger and Peake say they turned to their significant others for their opinions.
“The gloves come right off with my girlfriend, because she knows what I want is brutal honesty,” Kroeger says. “I’ll be like, ‘What do you think of this?’ And she might say, ‘I don’t get it.’ Or she might say, ‘That’s insanely catchy. Wow, I want to hear that more.’ She knows I’m coming to her for constructive criticism.”
Peake says that his wife Treana is also a good sounding board.
“She’s got a great ear for music,” he says. “She doesn’t pull any punches. Everybody wants an honest opinion instead of, ‘Everything you do is great. It’s all awesome.’ It’s not really helpful. It’s nice. It’s just not helpful.”
When it comes to their fans, Peake says there’s the ever-present question, “Are they going to like it?”
“It’s not like, ‘Hey, I fixed their plumbing. Are they going to like it?'” he says. “It’s still fun to have that excitement and anticipation of how people are going to receive songs. So far, it’s been great.”
During their last two European tours, Kroeger says he’s noticed their crowds getting younger and younger.
“We’d all look at each other and be like, ‘Did you see the front 10 rows? They’re all teenagers, singing every word,'” he recalls. “Then it starts to set in. It’s like, ‘Oh yeah, when our careers started, they were being born, and their parents have obviously indoctrinated them.’ Watching that demographic shift has been very interesting for us. It’s no different than my niece thinking Soundgarden is the newest and coolest band that no one has ever heard of.”
Among Nickelback’s teenage fans is Peake’s daughter Acadia. Recently, he says, she came back from a party with her fellow 12th graders and said, “Oh my God, they played Nickelback all night.”
“I’m just like, “Really? Not Post Malone and all that stuff?’ And she said, ‘Oh yeah, but they also played you guys,'” he says. “I’m like, ‘How do they even know us?’ I’m pretty flabbergasted at that, in a sense, but in the same breath, I’m like, that is awesome that we’re still making a connection. So it’s come full circle.”
Peake’s 19-year-old son Dax, meanwhile, “took the beatings” that came with having a dad in Nickelback growing up.
“It was that low-hanging fruit that people could dig on, for no other reason than everybody uses a punchline,” he says. “It was frustrating, but my kids were pretty good about it. I don’t like using this line, but my son would be like, ‘Oh, yeah? How many albums has your dad sold?'”
To date, the band has sold an impressive 50 million albums — and they don’t plan on stopping any time soon. After the release of Get Rollin’, they plan to set out on tour next summer.
“It’s going to be a busy couple years here,” Peake says. “Sometimes you can get caught in Groundhog Day, but as soon as you go out there on stage and start playing for people, it’s different. When people sing along to our songs, it shows that it means something to them.”
In March, the band — comprised of Kroeger, his brother Mike, Peake and drummer Daniel Adair since 2005 — will also be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame as part of the 2023 Juno Awards in Alberta.
“No matter what, I feel undeserved of such an honor,” Kroeger says. “I just think that that should be bestowed upon people better than we are, more accomplished musicians than we are, people who’ve been around longer than we have. So, to find out that they want to induct us into the Hall of Fame, it’s a bit of a pinch-me moment, for sure.”
Peake agrees the honor is “hard to wrap your head around.”
“I wish we had the ego where we’re like, ‘It’s about time,'” he says. “We’re still facing forward.”
No matter what else the future holds, Kroeger and Peake are thankful for their journey so far.
“I think Ryan said this yesterday or something in an interview, where he was like, ‘I look around at all the bands that we were coming up with, and most of them are gone,'” Kroeger says. “I’ll bet every single one of those bands that are gone would wish that, if they had the choice, to be the whipping boy of the music industry but still have a career, they would take that hands down. I truly don’t have a problem with it.”