DETROIT — Before Nickelback became the best-selling band of the past 10 years, remembers Mike Kroeger, they were four guys in a cold van slogging across Canada with a small set of songs and big dreams of a break.
Since then, there have been plenty of surreal, down-the-rabbit-hole moments, as the bassist calls them: Like learning that “How You Remind Me” had hit No. 1 in summer 2001. Or hearing a few months later that it was the most-played radio track. Of the entire year. In the entire world.
But Kroeger insists that the press-shy guys of Nickelback are still the same hard working but easygoing players who kicked off this roaring hard-rock journey nearly two decades ago in a rural farm and mining region of Alberta.
It helps that Nickelback is something of a family affair, with a core that includes Kroeger’s half-brother Chad Kroeger on vocals and longtime buddy Ryan Peake on guitar. Drummer Daniel Adair (ex-3 Doors Down) joined in 2005.
“We try hard not to be different,” says Mike Kroeger. “I know the reality doesn’t always count — in our business, perceptions (of rock stardom) can be reality. But the fact is, we really are just the same guys who used to drive ourselves around in the dead of winter. We still say and do the same things.”
Not all the same things, of course. There’s that matter of stratospheric sales, for starters: 21.5 million in the U.S. alone for the band’s seven albums, including last fall’s “Here and Now.”
Nickelback’s first tour since 2010, Kroeger says, is far and away the band’s grandest live show yet, with a set that reinserts some older material while making room for the aggressive energy of new songs such as “This Means War.”
“Calling it ‘over the top’ would be putting it mildly,” he says of the production. “It’s not at the Lady Gaga level of tour expenditures. But it’s pretty good.”
Let’s be honest: The very interview you’re reading is an anomaly. In a classic case of once-bitten-twice-shy, Nickelback has become famously standoffish with the press in recent years, routing around traditional media to engage directly with fans.
That includes a growing embrace of social media, particularly Twitter, where the group has even taken to good-natured sparring with critics — including high-profile ones like the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, who recently cited Nickelback’s massive success as evidence that “rock ‘n’ roll is dying.”
Such friction reflects a basic split that goes way back, probably to about the time “rock ‘n’ roll” morphed into “rock” in the 1960s. It’s as much a cultural tension as anything else — which clique sits where in music’s high-school lunchroom.
“There’s a lot of interpersonal politics that go with being a fan of an artist,” says Kroeger. “I remember. I know how it goes.”
You can put Nickelback’s work — with its sex, partying and fast-food hooks — firmly on the rock ‘n’ roll side of the ledger. That doesn’t always sit well with those purists who take a romantic view of rock as art, dismissing Nickelback’s music as calculated hit formula — just as they scorned Creed, Bon Jovi and other megasuccesses before them.
Kroeger resists the notion that Nickelback is carrying any torches.
“I think it’s just what we do,” he says. “As much as it would probably make good copy to say we’re the standard- bearer for party rock ‘n’ roll — like some martyr figure — it’s more that we just know what we do well. And it turns out there’s some people looking for that. God bless ‘em all.”
He concedes that Nickelback is cautious not “to be that band that suddenly left-turns on its dedicated group of fans.” Kroeger regards such moves as self-indulgent, and says his foursome works hard to balance audience expectations with the group’s own creative restlessness.
“I’m not mentioning names, but I’ve been around bands with massive fan bases, and there can be death threats,” he says. “People are so passionate, they become furious with something that’s so far away from what drew them in the first place. It’s a kind of betrayal.”
For now Kroeger’s eyes are fixed on the year ahead, which will take Nickelback around the globe and back.
©2012 the Detroit Free Press
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