Nickelback celebrates 28 years of hard rock: 'We're better guitarists than bookkeepers'
The 2023 Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees remember pivotal performances and career-defining moments
Nickelback is one of the most well-known bands in the world. From starting out in Hanna, Alta., as a cover band called Village Idiot, to selling 10s of millions of records and performing on iconic stages across the globe, it's been a journey, to say the least.
Crystallized in the Canadian rock canon thanks to immediately recognizable tracks like "How you Remind Me," "Photograph," and "Someday," Nickelback is soon to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame on March 13 at the Juno Awards in Edmonton.
Throughout its 28-year career, the band has trusted its instincts: rather than chasing hit singles, the bandmates pursued what makes them feel good. "It's so helpful to trust your gut, to have faith in who you are and how you want to be presented," band member Ryan Peake told CBC Music in a Zoom interview.
And the hit records have come: with more than 50 million albums sold, Nickelback is no stranger to double platinum — or even four times platinum record sales. They've won 12 Juno Awards, seven Billboard Music Awards and been nominated for six Grammys. Half of the band's 10 studio albums have debuted at No. 1.
Nickelback might be a certified hitmaker now, but back in the mid-'90s, like any emerging musicians, the bandmates were hustlers. They released their first two albums, Curb and The State, independently, before they were signed to Road Runner and EMI Records in 1999.
"We started off doing everything ourselves," said band member Chad Kroeger in the same Zoom interview. "Calling the radio stations, distributing our records independently, travelling across this vast country of ours and playing anywhere they'd let us."
All of the logistical and managerial aspects of making music became a time suck that limited their creative output. "You're spending far less time thinking about, working on and recording music, and you're trying to make sure that you've got, you know, your CDs on the shelves in Saskatoon," said Peake. Once they signed their record deal, they were happy to leave all those responsibilities to managers, record companies and booking agents.
"We're better guitar players than bookkeepers, put it that way," Peake said with a laugh.
Since then, the band's been able to fully focus on the creative side, and they're still reveling in the time they have to dedicate to their songwriting. Months after wrapping production for their 2022 album Get Rollin', Kroeger had the opening lyrics to the second single, "Those Days," stuck in his head. Every day he would wake up and hear the nostalgic, country-inflected song. That's his litmus test for a great song: that it embeds itself so deep into his subconscious that it's almost haunting him. "It makes me so happy to know that musically we can still do that to ourselves."
Thinking back on the past 28 years, Kroeger and Peake took CBC Music through some meaningful highlights, from their favourite Juno moments to performances that have reminded them why they love what they do.
Surviving the kiss of death
Nickelback's first Juno win was for best new group in 2001. Kroeger and Peake were in Italy on a press tour on the fateful night in March, but Mike Kroeger, Chad's brother, and former drummer Ryan Vikedal were in Hamilton to receive the award. Kroeger remembers Peake banging on his hotel room door in the middle of the night to let him know they had won.
"Mike didn't speak much back then. But he had to go up and get the award and he said, 'I hear this is the kiss of death. Thank you very much,'" Peake said, laughing. "They say you get the new artist award and then you're never heard from again."
Nickelback's next three albums sold 28 million copies all together, and 2005's All the Right Reasons remains the band's most commercially successful album to date. By 2009, Billboard magazine declared them the group of the decade, so it's fair to say they evaded the curse.
Rocking in Newfoundland
One of the band's favourite Juno memories isn't a win or a particular performance, but instead a rowdy afterparty in St. John's in 2002.
"That city when the Junos came there was just the most friendly, amazing Juno experience we could have had," said Peake.
Kroeger sets the scene vividly: they were at an afterparty hosted by a record label in an old house, which was at least 150 years old, that had been converted into a bar. The place was jumping, jam-packed with people, and the floor looked ready to collapse. Kroeger remembers standing on a booth and pulling Default guitarist Jeremy Hora off the ground.
"The floor was moving and everyone was bouncing. I was pretty sure there was a 50/50 chance the floor was going right into the basement," Kroeger said. Luckily for the bar owner, the hardwood stayed in tact.
The group has come a long way since the late '90s, when Nickelback was booked to play a small pub outside of Montreal and the owner paid them not to play, for fear that their music would scare away his customers. But by 2002, Nickelback was off on its first arena tour following the release of Silverside Up and the success of early single "How You Remind Me." The bandmates have done countless tours since, and played Wembley Stadium in London, Budokan arena in Tokyo and other legendary venues that Peake says "you would just never ever think you'd get to play."
In 2019, Nickelback played Rock in Rio, the iconic music festival in Rio de Janeiro, to a crowd of 120,000 people. Queen, AC/DC, Britney Spears, Prince, Neil Young, Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen and more have also graced that coveted stage.
"When we would look at music magazines, as adolescents who played the guitar, we'd see photos of Iron Maiden in front of 100,000 people, and we'd say, 'I want to do that,'" said Peake. "And then we got to do it. It's pretty great and we try to never take it for granted."
A bit closer to home, Peake and Kroeger reminisced about their Juno performances, which they find to be some of their most fun because they're able to go wild with the pyrotechnics and play for "people that wouldn't normally go to a Nickelback show." They'll be making their sixth appearance on the Junos stage this year to mark their induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Expect lots of fire.
In 2009, Nickelback also played a small, memorable show in Tokyo at a now shuttered venue called Studio Coast, with a capacity of 2,000 — much smaller than the arenas they'd grown accustomed to by that time.
"We walked out and the reception was so overwhelming," said Peake. "We started with something heavy to really kick 'em in the face and their energy was crazier than we were."
The Studio Coast show was their reintroduction to Japan, as Nickelback hadn't been back to the country since the Silverside Up tour, seven years prior. So the band decided to start small, but hadn't played a venue that size in some time.
"It sounds kind of trivial but to be able to still feel that, I mean, so many bands play big venues and it gets to be like Groundhog Day, so to be able to be excited like that again and remember that exchange between the audience and yourself, that symbiosis is just goosebump-worthy," said Peake.