Nickelback has a simple recipe for success: Give the people what they want.
For Mike Kroeger, playing Vancouver isn't as much of a homecoming event as it used to be. The 35-year-old Nickelback bassist sold his Abbotsford digs last year and now resides with his wife and kids in Hawaii. His new house overlooks a golf course and the ocean. "I'm living the dream," says Kroeger, calling from a tour stop in Grand Forks, North Dakota. "It's pretty surreal. I guess that's the best way I can describe it."
Of course, surreal is also an adjective that naysayers might contemptuously use to describe a world in which the Van City–based rock quartet's latest album, 2005's All the Right Reasons, has sold some eight million copies, adding up to a career total of more than 25 million discs moved. And you can add lumbering, formulaic, and hackneyed to the list of standard jabs at these nine-time Juno Award-winners. Whether you hang with fans of the Arcade Fire or ZZ Top, someone in your circle will accuse Nickelback of being a blight on the face of pop culture.
But, having shed its original post-grunge leanings, the band is really more of a 21st-century answer to Bachman-Turner Overdrive or Grand Funk Railroad–both being guitar-driven, 1970s meat-and-potatoes outfits whose populist sing-along appeal horrified critics. Considering that "Takin' Care of Business" and "Some Kind of Wonderful" are still in regular rotation, grinding Nickelback chart toppers like "How You Remind Me" (2002's most-played radio song) and "Photograph" (one of seven hit singles off All the Right Reasons) will probably follow suit decades from now.
Kroeger has fostered an outlook that helps him avoid losing sleep over hostile reviews. "I've read concert reviews where it's obvious that, as crazy as this sounds, the reviewer wasn't even at the show! The guy talks about songs that we didn't play and cites events that didn't happen. A lot of album reviewers develop an opinion even before they get the album, and then they write what they feel. It's all in the eye of the beholder. Unfortunately, a lot of the beholders that are critics are kind of jaded. They're not music fans, that's for sure."
The sheer ubiquity of Nickelback's music reflects its commercial success but has also fuelled the haters. Lingering in the Safeway produce section, you detect the MOR balladry of "Far Away". Running on the treadmill at your local gym, you're blasted with the straight-up hard rock of "Never Again". Someone who hears that familiar gravelly voice everywhere could be forgiven for snapping: "Why are you stalking me, Chad Kroeger?"
The lion-maned frontman (who is Mike's younger half-brother) has had several run-ins with the law over the last couple of years. In July 2006, Chad was charged with impaired driving after being pulled over in Surrey the month before. The case hasn't gone to trial yet. According to the Canadian Press, in April this year Chad was involved in a confrontation with police at a Vancouver strip club. In May, The Province and the Canadian Press reported that he punched a guy outside the Roxy Nightclub on Granville Street who'd been yelling "Nickelback sucks!"
On the whole, Mike Kroeger feels he's blessed to have a low-key personality and anonymous, Everyman looks. "Chad doesn't mind being high-visibility, and I hate it," he says. "Let's be honest here: the guy is a rock star, and rock stars generally capture attention, whether it's positive or negative. Me, I can kind of fly under the radar. If I screwed up and got a DUI or something dumb like that, I don't even know if people would notice. I don't think the cop would be on the phone with the newspaper going, 'Holy shit! I just pulled over Mike from Nickelback!' People hardly ever recognize me in public. If they do, I know they're hard-core Nickelback fans, and I'm glad to meet them."
Kroeger makes no apologies for the latest Nickelback controversy, which stemmed from Chad's dropping F-bombs during a Canada Day concert on Prince Edward Island. The good folks on Charlottetown's city council were also apparently concerned that Nickelback's throwing beer into the crowd might detract from their Anne of Green Gables image.
"Maybe the bill was advertised as Sharon, Lois & Bram coming to Charlottetown, but actually, it was Nickelback they were paying for," Kroeger quips. "It's a buyer-beware market out there. They wanted somebody to sell tickets, and that's what they got. If they want to tell us what to say, we should probably start looking for another nation to hang our hat in."
With the recent "If Everyone Cared" single, the band has shown more international awareness than its reputation might indicate. The Dori Oskowitz–directed video for the song pays tribute to Nelson Mandela's anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize–winning crusade of Betty Williams in Northern Ireland, among other humanitarian efforts. So far, proceeds from sales of the digital single and video have raised close to $700,000 for Amnesty International and International Children's Awareness Canada.
"We wanted to show that people can make a difference individually and change how others see things," Kroeger says. "That's hard, because you're saying something that could be translated as so altruistic that it's just phony. Dori and others helped us get the point across by highlighting the efforts of other individuals that have stood up."
The goal isn't to end up guest-editing Vanity Fair's next Africa-themed issue like Bono. Kroeger's view of Nickelback's long-term legacy is simpler: "I just want everyone to think that we were a good rock band that gave the people what they wanted."
Nickelback plays GM Place next Thursday (August 9).