Chad Kroeger, frontman for the multi-platinum-selling band Nickelback, remembers pressing his ear up to the stereo speaker. His mother worked at a tavern and so she would sleep in late most mornings to prepare for the long night ahead. As a kid, this meant free time for Kroeger, who familiarized himself with her record player and vinyl collection. At around five years old, he’d turn the volume up to one or one-and-a-half so that she couldn’t hear it but he could if he pushed the side of his head up to the speakers. Then he would play all kinds of music, he says. From Dolly Parton and the Beatles to the Smurfs and Led Zeppelin. Fast-forward some decades later and the music his band writes and releases shares the same eclectic nature. The band’s new LP, Get Rollin’, which is out Friday (November 18) begins with rough-and-tumble metal. But as the songs commence, the listener hears country aspects, alt-rock, and more. A feast of sounds and songs.
“I was just playing all kinds of stuff,” Kroeger tells American Songwriter. “Everything, everything!”
For Nickelback guitarist Ryan Peake, his foray into loving music and songwriting came from his father, who was in a country band as far back as the ’50s. Young Peake would travel around, and spend time on the side of the stage, listening to Merle Haggard covers. His family’s house burned down even before that, and he remembers his dad buying 8-track players with some of the insurance money. That’s how essential it was. Later, Peake took piano lessons around eight years old, learning classical predominantly but for a treat, his teacher would let him play pop songs. A stint in a brass band was a precursor to his first guitar at 14 years old. He loved fast-paced metal music the most. A cover band began at 15 with Kroeger’s brother, and that later led to Kroeger himself later joining, bringing in the original songs he wrote to sing.
“Chad,” says Peake, “was sitting at home, like, I’ve got things I need to get out.”
For Kroeger, the process of becoming a frontman meant risk. He says he felt a bit like a used car salesman up there at first, trying to get people to think he was something that he wasn’t quite yet. But he just found his way, slowly, by getting reps, and writing songs—enough songs that he built a foundation that fans appreciated and wanted to hear again. So, he did just that, sharing his work, which he continues to do. Over the years, he says he’s becoming a worse guitar player, due to some lack of practice, but a better songwriter. He’s better in the studio with each passing year, more confident, and capable of recognizing what a song he writes needs to feel complete.
“In terms of song structure,” Kroeger says. “Phrasing. Making sure the verses contribute thematically to the general theme of the chorus. It’s exercising, like anything else. You just get better at it—hopefully. And I feel like I have.”
To talk about the Canadian-born Nickelback is to talk about many things. From their success as a band (see: “How You Remind Me”), financially and commercially. To their massive fans. To the criticism they get from those who don’t believe they stay in their lane or always offer authentic art. But there is no denying, they’re a huge group. Compelling, to be sure. And to be that big, that well-known requires achieving two things at once: personal fulfillment and massive appeal. For Kroeger, it rolled forward in phases, the first being very personal, specific to his life, from his childhood to his qualms with the world to various relationships over the years. From his eyes to his fans’ ears. And it felt for him like therapy. Now, though, he says he finds more fulfillment in the ubiquitous, the universal. “Less about me,” he says, “and more about what we all go through as human beings.” Peake thinks that’s accurate for the band. He knows it can be alienating to be too nail on the head when it comes to perspectives and personal beliefs. So, there is a way of writing around it to both get it off your chest and allow it to be received by others.
“You want something people can connect with,” Peake says. “Timeless. That’s the idea. I like songs that you can listen back to and says, ‘Oh my God. They knew.’”
In terms of the new Nickelback record, Kroeger says the cornucopia feeling was both planned and unplanned. When writing for a new album, he follows his nose, as long as the band members agree the seed of the song is viable. Then when they’re about 70 percent finished with the album, the members confer and see what could be best to fill in the remaining numbers. What’s going to keep the attention of the listener is part of that equation. But so is the belief that the band’s audience appreciates the diversity of style. Sure, they’re bound to hear some criticism of their choices, but that’s a given. The mission is to make a range of songs that appeal to their collective ears. No matter who complains.
“We’re so lucky that we’re able to do things that are so diverse and versatile, and our fans are usually accepting of them,” says Kroeger. “I would be so bored and stifled creatively if I was forced to record records that were all similar sounding.”
The new LP begins with the pounding “San Quentin.” Halfway through the album, the more spacious “Tidal Wave” commences. The acoustic-driven ballad “Steel Still Rusts” comes a bit later. The album concludes with the epic rocker, “Just One More.” While the album arrives this month in November, it portends a big tour later in 2023, the members say. There may be some special surprises for fans in the works, too. But in the meantime, it’s about Get Rollin’, the band’s 10th album and one of its strongest. That many albums in, that much behind them, one thing’s clear: Peake and Kroeger continue the work out of their own sense of appreciation. The necessary connection they have with song.
“I love how it affects my mood,” Peake says. “I love how it makes me feel.”
“I love how it evokes an involuntary emotional response,” Kroeger says. “That’s what music does—to everyone.”
Photo courtesy R&C PMK