Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger was honored this week at the SOCAN Awards in Toronto as the most performed songwriter in the Canadian performing rights society’s 30-year history. With nearly 160,000 members and millions of songs receiving billions of performances, his work tops them all.
The video tribute to Kroeger began with last year’s amusing debate between movie super hero Deadpool and actor Fred Savage about whether Nickelback, as Savage claims, “sucks.” The superhero simply defends the band — which turns 25 next year — with the facts: “Fifty million albums worldwide; 11th best selling musical act of all time; Billboard‘s most successful rock group of the last decade; six Grammy nominations; 12 Juno Awards — those count; six Billboard Music Awards; two American Music Awards; one People’s Choice Award, Canadian and a partridge in a f—ing pear tree,” says Deadpool. The two end up holding hands, singing Nickelback’s 2001 breakthrough single, “This Is How You Remind Me.”
Receiving a standing ovation from the 700 songwriters and members of the music industry in attendance, Kroeger then took the stage for what turned out to be one of the night’s funniest, entertaining “free flow” speeches, as he called it, of the night. For 10 minutes, he interspersed thank yous to his band, family, labels, agent and publicist with admissions of being drunk for three days, the odd dick reference, a call for Windex for the clear lectern and a story about calling a music director early on in his career. “This isn’t televised, is it?” he joked.
But it all came down to emotions, which Kroeger admitted off the top. “First and foremost, I’m going to try not to cry. My mom is front and center. So if I start weeping, just throw those sunglasses up here. I’ll be a bawling baby up here.”
Billboard sat down with Kroeger afterwards to discuss the award, his approach to songwriting, clichés, his speech and staying true to himself.
If that speech were televised, it would be all everyone was talking about the next day. You were very funny. Surprised you said some of those things in front of your mother, however.
Imagine being my mother.
I know, you live in the rock ‘n’ roll world. Congratulations. It’s insane to think that you’re the most performed songwriter in SOCAN history.
You’re in room full of fellow songwriters.
[He interjects] Peers.
You are. Many hoping to one day write a song that achieves the level you have. What’s that like to come to an awards show attended by writers and publishers?
It’s just incredibly humbling. And I wasn’t kidding, I was trying not to cry the whole time I was up there. So I hide behind my comedy and I tried to make everybody laugh in the room, instead of having tears streaming down my face because I’m just so honored because this is the thing that I geek out on the most. For someone to be like, ‘Hey, we’re going to give you an accolade for this.’ I’m like, ‘Really?’ No one voted. These are statistics; here you go. If people voted, it would be a Grammy and I still wouldn’t have one.
When you think about this award covering the entire history of SOCAN — more than Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Bryan Adams, Michael Bublé. Put that in perspective.
That’s all I was thinking about the entire time when I was up there. I’m thinking about Adams, Drake, Bieber, Avril, Alanis, Shania, Celine — the biggest. And, by the way, as I go down that list, immediately I think how amazing are Canadian artists. We’ve got the best of the best. For [a population of] 37 million people we’re kicking ass. We’re doing great. It’s just fantastic.
At the top of the awards, Buffy Sainte-Marie, who got inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, known for her protest songs, said she has so much respect for the art of the three-minute song.
She used the word ‘immediate.’ They need to be immediate, brief, I’m like, ‘Yes.’ And she’s absolutely right. The accuracy of her speech was just, you don’t get closer to the bullseye.
You’ve never written overtly political or protest songs, even given what’s going on in this climate.
Not true. Not true.
[2017’s] Feed the Machine, the whole thing’s about Trump. [2014’s] “Edge of a Revolution.” I’ve stuck my toe in everybody’s bowl.
Devin Townsend — whose new album you’re on — recently said in an interview that what you do, write commercial music, “that’s a talent.” When you’re writing a song, are you aiming to write a hit or just writing to get out emotion, something inside of you?
Every song that I write, I just want that song to be the best version of that song that it can be. That’s it. A lot of times, we’re sitting there looking at what we’re offering so far on the record and we’ll be like, ‘Alright, so what are we missing here?’ We’ll go, ‘We really need a fast rocker or a slow rocker or a nice juicy love song.’ We’ll look at whatever we are missing and then we’ll just write that one.
That’s an A&R approach.
I think is a very smart approach. Eleven songs that sound exactly the same is a little stagnant, don’t you think? If you have a diverse catalog, you get a diverse fan base. Show me a Nickelback fan. Point at one because you don’t know if they’re 65, 25; you have no idea. Male, female, it doesn’t matter. You have no idea who they are. But all I care about is that, at some point in time, when we show up in their town, everybody gets together and sings along to stupid songs that I’ve written. And that’s the best feeling in the world.
It’s crazy to think next year Nickelback will have been around 25 years.
Stop saying that.
Isn’t that nuts? I saw you in 1996 or ’97 with Jar and Noise Therapy at The Starfish Room, packed with A&R, including Ron Burman [who ended up signing Nickelback to Roadrunner].
Well, I’m old now.
You’ve had a loyal team — still working with Ralph James as your booking agent, Charlotte Thompson as your publicist.
Did you hear what happened? [Onstage he told everyone how he had kept her waiting two hours in his hotel lobby that morning and missed media interviews because “I was fucking drooling on myself and unconscious.”]
Yes I heard what happened. Well, at least you brought her roses to apologize. In your speech, you mentioned the Brass Rail [strip club] and that you’ve been drunk for three days. Aren’t you supposed to have outgrown this rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle thing?
This is me. This was me when I was 27 and this will be me when I’m 67, if I make it that far. This is just me.
The Brass Rail will probably be a Starbucks.
I’ll probably be there later tonight, tipping people and drinking drinks. I’d like to go on record by saying I’m not sure why the Brass Rail doesn’t have Red Bull because it’s really hard to do Jager shots.
Changing the subject, are you still as heavily involved with 604 Records?
But you’re still business partners with Jonathan Simkin. You were instrumental in developing and signing Theory of A Deadman and Default [whose frontman Dallas Smith is now a country artist in Canada with seven No. 1s].
I thought it would just be smarter to step away from 604 Records when my genre was not doing well. I’d rather have someone else A&R the bands we’re interested in working with. Can you imagine me signing Coleman Hell? [He’s] so good and so talented, but I think I may have overlooked those things, where Jon is really good at that.
When you look at someone like Dallas, who started off in rock and now is equally, if not more successful, in country, and you’ve written for a range of other genres, would you ever do a solo album or something different?
That kid can sing anything, but at the end of the day people just want to hear him sing because he’s so good. He could sing the phone book easily. That’s why I made fun of him [during his speech]. I was like, “Thanks for singing my song better than I do.”
Would you ever do a solo album? Would you ever do an acoustic album? Is it “This is me, I’m going to go to the Brass Rail, I’m going to only do rock music,” or are there other things you’d like to do?
I’m not just that guy. I’ll go wherever the music takes me. But with everybody jumping ship, I think it would just be so cliché for the guy who’s supposed to be the King of Clichés to go to frigging Nashville and put out a country record.
Yes, you might be asking for it.
Yeah. That’s a bit of a cash grab, no? I mean, I write country songs constantly, all the time. Wrote one recently. Just amazing songs. Wrote one with Tyler [Lewis], a Canadian Idol [top 10] — 10 years ago; he was the year before Carly [Rae Jepsen] — called “Fixer Upper” and it’s just so good.
What’s the status of the next Nickelback album?
Now there isn’t this urgency. It’s not like you have this amount of time you have to make a record because we’re going to go tour. It’s not [snaps fingers a few times] rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat, with pressure from management, booking agents, record company. That’s not there anymore. It’s so nice and it really allows me a lot of time to, er — drink.
In the video tribute tonight to your career, it began with the Deadpool 2 parody of The Princess Bride with Fred Savage, where Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool defends you with statistics. Nickelback often pops up in the news for weird things. Recently, on the House floor a Republican and a Democrat went head to head about Nickelback merits. Last summer there was a petition to make you the frontman for a reformed Nirvana. Always something bizarre. What’s your most favorite?
Oh, the death scares are hilarious for me. Not For my dad. My dad heard one of these — frontman of Nickelback died in a jet skiing accident and they just report this without finding out. My dad pulled over on the side of the road bawling in Edmonton. My poor dad. Fuck. But I think they’re hilarious. Making me raise an eyebrow to anything these days [is hard] because nothing shocks or surprises me. I’ve literally [laughs] seen everything. So if I go [laughs], “Well, that’s new,” it’s got to be pretty like, “Oh, wow, I haven’t seen that before.”
So we’re not going to see you onstage as a spokesperson for the Unison Benevolent Fund (a financial and counseling aid service for members of the music industry) saying, “A year ago I drank for three days straight and went to the Brass Rail and missed media interviews and had to bring my publicist red roses to make it up to her, but now I’m sober”?
I’m still going to be me. The next time you see me I’m still going to be me. Just a fucking idiot.