By Andy Argyrakis
To put in perspective the magnitude of Nickelback’s popularity with the mainstream masses, the Canadian rockers are behind only The Beatles among the best-selling import acts in America throughout the entire 21st century. The group’s more than 50 million album sales include the elusive diamond status (10-times platinum) for the album All The Right Reasons, alongside 23 chart-topping hits and a dozen consecutive sold-out world tours.
With such staggering statistics, it’s perhaps no surprise that the group was named Billboard’s “Top Rock Group of the Decade” for all of the 2000s with the standalone smash “How You Remind Me” being named the same publication’s “Top Rock Song of the Decade.” Add in nine Grammy nominations, a trio of American Music Awards, a World Music Award, a People’s Choice Award, and a dozen Juno Awards, alongside an induction into Canada’s Walk of Fame, and that never-ending momentum carried into Nickelback’s latest release, Feed the Machine, which debuted at number five on the Billboard 200 and has thus far prompted 90 full-capacity concerts all around the globe.
The latest leg of performances lands at Ravinia on Tuesday, August 13, and Wednesday, August 14 (with Buckcherry warming up), marking Nickelback’s immensely awaited venue debut, which according to a phone conversation with bassist Mike Kroeger, was already on the radar of the band that also includes his brother Chad Kroeger (lead vocals, guitar), Ryan Peake (guitar), and Daniel Adair (drums). Read on for his take on everyone’s cyclone of success up through today, including what to expect from the double-decker, hit-stacked dates and the everyday ways he unplugs from all the excitement.
Tell us a bit about your relationship with the Chicago area over the years.
Chicago’s been a regular stop for us. We’ve got a lot of fine people that turn out to see us when we come play in Chicago. We love coming to your city. We’ve always had a good time—some of which I can remember and some of which I can’t, but it’s all been fun. The ones that are kind of hazy started off as really fun. Then one thing leads to another and you’re going with the flow [laughs].
What have you heard about Ravinia in advance of your debut?
I’ve heard a lot about the place from some friends who live in the neighborhood and some friends that have played it. Everybody that I’ve talked to kind of said the same thing. “You mean you haven’t played there yet? Well, make sure you book two nights because you’re gonna love it.” That’s essentially what’s happened. We’ve got two nights and the experience comes so highly regarded in the community. It’s very widely regarded as one of the best gigs in the country.
Given that you have two shows back to back, will there be any surprises or exclusives for each night or are you sticking with the same approach?
That’s a pretty good idea you just had there! I think we should be doing something different each night. How far we are going to be able to push that, I’m not sure, but I’m certain we’re not going to play the exact same show two nights in a row. We’ll mix it up because, the fact is, when we’re in a town more than one day, the people come out for both, and we want to make sure we give them a little bit of something fresh in each one.
Can you give us a sneak preview of what concertgoers can expect in general from Nickelback in 2019?
Nickelback shows are really simple. We’re going to play all of your favorite songs, and you might not remember that some of them were ours until we start playing them. Everybody knows we did “How You Remind Me,” but there are all these other songs. As we’re playing them, you look out in the audience and see this realization of people who go “oh man, I didn’t know it was them too.”
What classics do you find resonate the most with fans and why?
There’s a certain group of songs we don’t think we could get out alive if we didn’t play them. We have to play things like “How You Remind Me,” “Photograph,” and “Far Away” for sure. We’re almost to the nostalgia part of our career now, where it’s people coming out to see us play the soundtrack of their lives kind of thing. It’s interesting when it’s no longer going up there to promote and showcase your new material, but you’re seeing people getting very emotional about songs of their past. I go to concerts like that all the time. Just being in that moment, seeing and hearing your favorite artist play those songs you grew up with when you were maybe going through some hard times or maybe some great times, can transport you back in time in a really cool way.
So how has the response been thus far when you’ve played newer material from Feed the Machine?
The response has been really good. It was a really straightforward rock record, a heavy rock record. That’s what we were aiming to do, and it looks like the fans recognize that intent. It’s not one stream of consciousness. It’s a song-to-song kind of album, and they’re all over the map, from the standard kind of touching, intimate, ballad-ish songs to the heavier, metal songs and everything in between with various topics.
Where do you feel you fit in today’s modern rock landscape?
It’s hard to even know what that is right now. I think we’re seeing a pretty big shift in music. It’s starting to be the beginning of rock making a recovery of sorts. It’s been a really tough place to be for the last several years. Rock hasn’t really been on the forefront of everybody’s minds. But I think the days when it’s cool to be a dude playing a guitar are coming back. And I guess we’ll see where we fit into that new revival. I don’t know where we fit in today. Most likely elder statesmen on some level, just simply chronologically speaking, but we’ll have to see where it all kind of shakes out in the coming years.
You recorded and toured really hard throughout all of the 2000s. Can you describe what it felt like to be on the ride?
That decade, from 2000 to 2010, was pretty much the most extraordinary experience that a musician or a songwriter or a performer could ask for. To use that old adage, it was like being in the eye of the hurricane where everything is sort of calm and chill where you are, but outside of you, it’s just a maelstrom, like the thing’s going crazy. You’re flying everywhere and doing everything and meeting everybody. There’s a lot to be said about not being able to remember stuff. I’d hear about it from these older artists that were doing these epic doses of drugs and drinking like crazy that they didn’t remember stuff, but I don’t think you can blame it all on that. When it’s really going off, you can’t possibly file all that. There’s so much activity and so much excitement and fun that you just can’t remember everything. Have you ever ridden the bullet train in Japan before? It’s kind of like that. It’s like, you look forward and you can see what’s coming, but if you look like right outside, it’s just a blur. That’s basically what the 2000s were for us. We could see maybe six months ahead, but in the moment, it was just completely utter chaos.
But you kept going and never broke up, so you must have been having the time of your lives!
It wasn’t without turbulence, and we had our moments, but no, we didn’t break up, and there was none of that ridiculous and juvenile public fighting, talking shit about each other in the press or whatever that you see from people in bands when they have these spats. We didn’t have any of that stuff. I don’t know if it’s because we’re Canadian or what, but we didn’t have any kind of that drama publicly. You’re always going to have your disagreements with partners no matter what you’re doing, whether you’re running a coal mine or a lumber yard or a rock band. [But] you work them out and you get through it or you pack it in and move on. We kept it together.
Nickelback continues to stay very active, but it seems like the band has a better work/life balance these days. What led you to get a bit more of a breather between albums and tours?
Well, your assertion is correct in one way, that we have an actual work/life balance, whereas before, we just didn’t. It was just work. It was really constant and consistent. I think as you get a little older, you start to just go, “Shit, we don’t have to do everything today, do we? Can we just enjoy it and keep it going for sure, but maybe not kill ourselves for a while? Let’s try that.” It’s not like it’s a hard job like digging a mine by hand, but it does wear you out; it’s a slow grind, and it’s relentless. It’s not like running your average marathon, where after a number of hours, you’re in a puddle on the ground just destroyed. This is two months of consistent work with no breaks, without a day off. You don’t die in the first week. You just sort of slowly grind down to a fine dust, and then after a while, you’re sleeping all day. It wears on your mind more than anything else. So now that we’ve changed up that pacing a little bit, it’s been cool to see our families and dogs and be at home.
What does your life outside the band look like?
On a normal day, until recently, I’d be driving my kids to school. But now my son just finished college and my daughter is out of high school, so she’s out for the summer. Now that they’re not in school, it’s easy. I just try to get in the gym at every possible chance where I’m learning some fight sports. It’s just really nice to be able to have a meal with the family. The things that the “average” person can do, I appreciate a lot because there are a lot of times I don’t get to do that. I’m doing a FaceTime call from like Singapore to dinner instead of being there, so it is nice to be around.
Anything else on your mind before making your way to Ravinia?
The real overarching sentiment of our group is “let’s just see what’s next. Let’s see what kind of fun we can have and where we can do it.” Now that we’re coming to Ravinia for the first time ever, obviously after this much time doing what we’re doing, there are still things that we haven’t done yet, so let’s find ’em!
Andy Argyrakis is a Chicago-based writer/photographer whose credits include the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Daily Herald, Illinois Entertainer, Concert Livewire, Chicago Now, Redeye, Metromix, Paste, DownBeat, Pollstar, and Celebrity Access, among many others. He is also the founder of ChicagoConcertReviews.com and the house photographer for the Chicago Theatre.