It’s 9:30 in the morning and I’m standing at the corner of 54th and Seventh in midtown Manhattan. People are tired, people are hangry, and no one is in the mood to have a camera shoved in their face.
An expertly coiffed head of blond hair is turning from side to side, analyzing street signs and making directional conclusions: “It’s fuckin’ this way, guys.” One of the handlers seems unsure, but I can see the confidence radiating from this gorgeous head of hair. “Follow Chad!” I announce and make my way toward him. “He doesn’t even live here,” someone quietly remarks. I don’t care. This guy looks like he knows where he’s going, and I’m hungry. It’s time for breakfast with Nickelback. So, how the hell’d we wind up like this?
When CREEM asked me to interview Nickelback, I couldn’t think of a more odd pairing than batshit me and these seemingly milquetoast Canadian rock stars. My investigative interest was immediately piqued: Who are these guys anyway, as human beings? All we knew was two decades of Nickelback radio domination and the subsequent ridicule and vitriol that followed them wherever they went. Sure, we’re all aware of the epic love story that was “Chavril” circa the 2010s—when frontman Chad Kroeger became engaged to (and eventually married) Canadian pop-punk princess Avril Lavigne after knowing her for only a month and six days. But beyond that I couldn’t think of a single factoid or anecdote about Nickelback that wasn’t centered on them being the most hated band in the world while simultaneously being one of the biggest, a uniquely Nickelbackian paradox (okay, okay, Coldplay).
Now I’m on my way to meet the Canadian stallions in question, and I have to admit, I’m afraid. Afraid I might be a bitch or have a panic attack. I get out of the car 12 blocks early so I can walk it off. I book it inside their hotel, take a piss, fix my eyeliner a bit, and head back to the lobby just as the band pulls up outside in a black Sprinter van. First one I see is the bassist, Mike Kroeger, bald-headed and smiling. He makes immediate eye contact and we start hamming it up while the other members of the Canadian royal family sort of breeze by with quick hellos. Game time!
“Which one’s the pig farmer?” I blurt out once the entire group is gathered and ready for takeoff. I know the answer is Daniel Adair (drummer), I just wanted to see how they would react. No one heard me but my new best friend Mike, who is laughing his ass off.
As we move toward our breakfast destination, Mike grabs hold of Ryan Peakes (lead guitarist) and says something like “Dude, she knows everything. Our nicknames, the pig farming...” and I’m like, “I’m literally right here, man.” Ryan laughs nervously. The pig farmer isn’t paying attention at all. And Chad—sweet, sweet Chad—is so hangry that he doesn’t seem to want anything to do with any of this.
Apparently, Nickelback flew in from the West Coast late last night, had a 4 a.m. lobby call for Good Morning America, and were shuttled over right after to meet up with us. I can barely handle being here at 9 a.m., and I’ve had eight hours of sleep, a smoothie, a 20-minute meditation, and coffee. But there are miles to go before we eat, and hundreds of semi-staged photos to be taken on the street, so I say a silent prayer for us all.
Now that we’ve settled into a cozy private room at Serafina, I get straight down to business and ask Chad if it’s true that the first time he smoked weed was at a Metallica concert. He doesn’t think so. I’m like, “It’s a story you told,” and he goes, “Do you think I don’t lie in interviews? I do it all the time.” We got a saucy one here! I don’t actually care, I just wanted an excuse to tell them how I once passed a joint to Lars Ulrich and said, “Hey, man, ride the lightning.”
I take his ornery answer as a cue to quit asking questions until everyone has ordered their food. To my great disappointment, Chad does not order the quesadilla (“Rockstar” verse 2, 1:52). I ask Chad why not and he says, “Because it wasn’t on the menu.” Goddamn it, his blood sugar levels must still be low.
We switch gears and I ask the others if they are into memes and if so what kind they like. They tell me that they have an entire group chat specifically for sending each other deep fakes and insane wrestling clips, and that Chad is not on it, by choice. Bruh. You’re missing out on all the jokes! He says he can’t stand having his phone go off constantly while he’s trying to sleep. Ever heard of silencing notifications? Someone get this guy an IV of liquid quesadilla STAT!
Our food arrives to everyone’s great relief and the vibe becomes noticeably more relaxed, particularly over in Chadland. I ask the guys if they’ve ever gotten into any serious bar fights and with whom, and my buddy Mike says, “Yeah,” but before he can elaborate, baby bruv Chad pipes up about how nobody remembers who they fight in a bar. This sassy motherfucker!
Do you think I don’t lie in interviews? I do it all the time.
Clearly, the Kroeger brothers seem very different personality-wise, and really don’t look that much alike, either. I remark on this, and their publicist chimes in, “They have the same nose,” to which Chad responds, “Well, NOW we do.” I figure this has something to do with the bar fights, but no: Chad admits to having had some work done 10 or 15 years earlier because he hated his nose so much. He describes his original as “gigantic, grotesque,” and Ryan kinda mumbles, “Ah, it wasn’t that bad, but whatever makes people happy.” When I comment that I had never noticed him having a bad nose, I look at Chad—feeling for him as someone who deals with major facial dysmorphia—and say, “Both noses are great.”
Now a little chink in Chad’s armor is made and he softens a little, and I feel a little less like I will be the first person to throw hands in Serafina today.
Meanwhile, Chad has really zeroed in on the fact that my esteemed CREEM colleague/executive editor Dan, who has just joined us for breakfast, doesn’t have enough hollandaise sauce on his eggs Benedict. So while Chad gently but repeatedly asks the waiter to hook Dan up with a small bowl of yellow gravy, I take the opportunity presented in the vibe shift to ask questions about the dynamics within the band. Is there someone in particular who is the “visionary”? Is it a dictatorship or a democracy? Mike points out that the band operates on trust, but Mike and Ryan actually run the band more than Chad does, except when it comes to decisions in the studio. “You gotta trust the guy when it comes to songwriting. He writes bulletproof hits,” Mike points out.
Bulletproof? That’s a stretch. But a plethora of massively successful radio rock songs, yes. Absolutely. And this is the moment I’ve been waiting for, because I have a bit all planned out. So I turn to Chad and go, “Yeah, what’s up with these bulletproof hits anyway? Can you write a song on the spot? Could you write one right now about breakfast, the way Prince did on Sesame Street?’’
With his bandmates cheering him on, Chad seems pretty confident. Then he asks me to hand him a guitar, knowing damn well I don’t have one with me. He seems pleased with himself for having “foiled my plans,” but if there’s one thing about me, it’s that I am committed to the bit. Chained to the bit. Thrown overboard with concrete socks at the bottom of the ocean with the bit. So I pull something up on YouTube called “soft radio rock guitar backing track” to try to knock something loose. I even set him up with a few lines of my own:
Me: [Singing] Havin’ my breakfast with Nickelback, I just wanna know what Chad thinks about that... Chad: [Silence]
Me: [Singing] And this punk doesn’t wanna sing a song for me, but I’m like, “Hey, Chad...”
Chad: [Singing beautifully] I want this...time back. Quite a dig, and off the cuff, no less. I laugh it off graciously and say something about taking my shot, forgive me oh master of the Terrible Music Universe sir Chad please sir, etc., but I’m thinking, “Man, fuck this guy.” Prince wasn’t too good to do it, why are you? Relax!
Breakfast was my idea, for the record. You can’t get to know someone without sharing a meal, and my mission here is to lift the goatee, so to speak, not regurgitate the predetermined talking points and album-cycle press materials. I know they put out an album called Get Rollin’ last year, and that it’s done pretty well because, well, they’re Nickelback. They have millions of fans. They don’t need a puff piece, and I don’t write those anyway. This isn’t Pitchfork, babe. But in order to get Nickelback’s team to agree to this whole thing, I had to act like I was a really massive fan in the meetings, which of course I am not. The closest I’ve ever come to genuine appreciation of Nickelback was while watching my Canadian former bandmates scream, “ARE WE HAVING FUN YET?!?!??!!” into bedazzled wireless microphones at 4 a.m. in a Tokyo karaoke bar on day 3 of tweaking on Adderall and vending machine coffee. But PR people are not stupid. It’s their business to know what people think about their clients, and it is common knowledge that “cool” music-industry people don’t like Nickelback.
Luckily for them I am neither cool nor a music-industry person. I hate the music industry. I have dropped out of it in every conceivable way beyond writing for this rag, and I only do that because these people at CREEM literally will not leave me alone. “Hether, please write this. Hether, please write that.” Plus they pay pretty well and I’m not great at holding down jobs in the regular world.
Beyond the aforementioned tangential qualifiers that may or may not be exaggerated, I am simply not interested in adding to the Nickelback hate pile. Not because I have never been interested, but because making fun of Nickelback is old news. Boring! All the memes have secondary memes, the SNL bits have been done. In fact, hating this band has gone on for so long that it’s now a bit “OK boomer,” if you will. There is a whole new generation of young people out there who weren’t alive on 9/11 and did not grow up with “This Is How You Remind Me” playing nonstop on every radio station in existence. In fact, many of them don’t even know what radio stations are. They’re wearing bedazzled low-rise jeans and bringing “She Keeps Me Up,” a flop late-era Nickelback single from 2015, back on TikTok without a hint of irony because what was mainstream and cringe 20 years ago is considered weird and edgy now. Same as it ever was. This is a cycle of nature all of us will inevitably witness if we live long enough. Awash in said cultural tides of change, these five words in my head scream: Are Nickelback actually cool now?
Nickelback think so. Or rather, they think it’s possible and have observed a noticeable shift in the climate, as have I. While chatting about this over our eggs and coffee, Ryan gives me his take on the whole thing, citing some specific factors he believes have contributed. Here are some direct quotes, which I have recorded and transcribed, so don’t even think about suing me, RYAN:
(1) “I think the pandemic had something to do with people going back to creature comforts, musically. People wanted to listen to what was familiar to them, catalog music. I know I did.”
(2) “This younger generation [having] 24/7 access to social media [like] TikTok, Spotify...they don’t give a shit about radio. They are discovering our music without any kind of preconception. That’s another thing, too. You can have the memes, that’s what kinda kept us alive and in the Zeitgeist for 20 years, but they don’t have any of that context. It’s an unironic enjoyment of the music. They’re not like, ‘Oh, I like this song. Am I not supposed to like this music?’ Y’know?”
(3) “You just, like...have to be the musical cockroach and stick around. You outlast all the other shit. I remember people used to shit on ABBA back in the day, now everyone unabashedly loves ABBA.”
“So are you saying Nickelback is the—” but before I can even finish the thought they are all cutting me off saying, “NOOO, NO. HOLD ON. WE’RE NOT SAYING THAT!” Can you imagine the meltdown precious music lovers would have if “Nickelback Compare Themselves to ABBA” were a headline? (Note to editor: Headline should be “Nickelback Compare Themselves to ABBA.”)
Now, when Ryan referred to the band as a “musical cockroach” I lost my fuckin’ mind. It is at this moment that the whole conversation really opens up, and I begin to realize that if Nickelback are a joke, not only are they in on it, but they are laughing all the way to the bank.
Not wanting to harp for too long on the fact that they’ve been brutally mocked and dismissed as talentless hacks that only dumb jocks and Trump voters listen to, I decide to switch gears.
“So...Nicolas Cage. Thoughts?”
They’re for him. I point out that he is having a similar moment in the narrative arc of his career, wherein he was largely ignored and ridiculed for many years due to overexposure and doing so many movies, many of which were allegedly “bad,” depending on who you ask, but is now experiencing a renaissance of sorts. Suddenly everyone is unironically a Nic Cage fan. And it’s all because he just kept doing his own thing, simply not giving a fuck. Daniel (or “Darren” to the guys, some insider shit there) suddenly connects the dots and goes, “Ohhhh...so Nicolas Cage is the ABBA of acting.” Exactly, Darren.
Now for some reason we are talking about Liam Gallagher. “For some reason,” as if I didn’t specifically and intentionally bring up Liam Gallagher’s Twitter presence as another example of a Gen-X male celeb who simply does not give a fuck. I get a unanimous “We love Liam” from around the table, no surprise there. “Mark my words: Oasis will be reuniting and playing shows within the next five years,” Chad says definitively.
Of course Nickelback are Oasis fans. Only boring nerds who take themselves too seriously dislike Oasis. These guys, thank fucking God, are not that. They grew up loving KISS and Metallica just like any other regular rock dude of a certain age.
I’m into some hardcore. Like Cro-Mags.
Obviously now that we’ve turned to bands we like, I chime in with, “Wait, have any of you ever listened to Minor Threat?” and I get a resounding, “No, not really.” I’m a little sad because I wanted so badly to have a “Nickelback Are Punk, Actually” headline here, but that dream seems to be fading. And then God shines a light down on me: BFF Mike Kroeger turns to me and says tentatively, “I’m into some hardcore. Like Cro-Mags.”
That’s right, there is a Nickelback-to-Cro-Mags through line. You heard it here first.
The story goes like this: Mike Kroeger (Nickelback bassist) met Harley Flanagan (Cro-Mags bassist/founder) while training in Brazilian jiu jitsu. The two were introduced by their mutual trainer, and Mike braced himself for what he was sure would be a verbal assault from Harley about how much Nickelback suck. Instead what he got was a slap on the gut and some unexpected words of encouragement.
“Fuck all those people, man. They’re just jealous,” he said. Then Harley handed over a copy of his book, saying that he wished he had some records or more stuff to give him. The two have been friends ever since, with Mike even making the occasional appearance in the pit at Cro-Mags shows. Let that sink in.
The plates have been cleared, the coffees have gone cold, and the publicist looks impatient—we’re nearing the end of our time. I take my last few minutes of having their undivided attention to talk to them about the song “Hysteria” by Def Leppard and how they should lean in a similar direction, noting that on one of their newer songs, “Tidal Wave,” I heard Chad’s voice in a new way and was impressed by his range and vibrato when he sings in a less affected, “grungy” style. Chad then busts out singing one of the verses at full volume, and goddamn it, it’s beautiful. I guess that was his way of saying, “The monkey will dance, but only when he wants to.”
Shit, man—by the end of this meal I’ve decided that I like these guys. They laughed with me and at me. They never took themselves too seriously, understanding that as long as they remain in the Zeitgeist they will have the last laugh. It’s refreshing as hell.
And Mike, I’ll see you in the pit.