King of Pain


This is how Nickelback's Chad Kroeger made the most successful album of 2002...

Chad Kroeger stares down at his boots and thinks long and hard about what he should say. The 27-year-old Nickelback singer and guitarist sits in the lounge area of the tour bus he shares with drummer Ryan Vikedal. The bus is parked at the rear of the Los Angeles Palladium, where Nickelback are about to play another sold-out show in support of their third record, "Silver Side Up," the biggest-selling album of 2002 in the UK and one that's four times platinum here in America.

It is on "Too Bad," a forthcoming single from this album, that Chad Kroeger addresses the father he never knew as a child. Chad was 18 when he realized that he and his older brother Mike, Nickelback's bassist, have different fathers.

"When I did find out, I was drunk and it got ugly," he sighs. "I kicked my mother's bedroom door in at four o'clock in the morning. I was crying and screaming "How could you fucking do that to me? You don't tell me he's my half-brother for 18 years, and I find out through a rumour from somebody else in the family? How fucking dare you?"

"Fuck," he says, shaking his head, "It was nasty."

He pauses in silence for a couple of seconds, the hum of the bus' air conditioning the only sound.

"There's a lot of shit that I needed to get off my chest," he says, "and when I was writing "Too Bad" it felt so good to be so honest. Probably what gives Silver Side Up so much depth is that I've opened up that big Kroeger diary."

Nine years on, Chad has a solid relationship with his natural father, who has listened to "Too Bad"- to it's themes of confusion and hurt, sadness and resolve- and likes the song.

"I definitely didn't take my dad's feelings into consideration when I wrote that song," he says, "I was just laying it all on the line. But I told him, 'This is just my point of view, that's all. I'm not saying you're a bad person, I'm just saying you weren't there.'"

Today, Kroeger is happier than he has ever been. Following the success of Nickelback's transatlantic hit single "How You Remind Me," Kroeger states that he need never work again. He is also "very much in love" with a girl named Marianne, whom he met at a Nickelback gig six months ago. But his life story, as openly documented in Nickelback's songs, is one of childhood trauma, petty crime, drugs, family heartbreak and failed relationships. As the song says, "I've been wrong, I've been down, been to the bottom of every bottle."

Chad Robert Kroeger was born on November 15, 1974 in Hanna, Alberta, a small farming community (population 3000) in western Canada. His mother was a rock fan whose love of Led Zeppelin, Queen, and Pink Floyd had a profound influence on her two sons. Their stepfather, a welder, was a church-going disciplinarian. ("He'd beat the hell outta me," the singer recalls.)

Inevitably, the young Chad Kroeger rebelled against authority. He was frequently involved in fights and vandalism. He broke into his school eleven times to steal money. At the age of 14, he was sent to a correctional facility for young offenders.

"I don't know if I was an angry kid," he shrugs, "I just had this little demon inside me, saying- "Pick up that rock and throw it through that window." I was a little bastard. Then somebody ratted me and away I went. It was jail for kids except I was 14 and I was in with a bunch of 17 year olds. I was a fresh little teenager and they were just getting ready to be men."

Once his brief term was completely, Kroeger vowed never to return.

"Fuck that!" he shouts, "There's got to be a better way to get through life. It was really nice to grow out of the juvenile bullshit and start developing good relationships with a steady circle of friends."

Some of these friends liked to smoke pot and drop acid, but as they lay around babbling about how wasted they were feeling, Chad's drug experiences were truly revelatory.

"I found that I had a great resistance to it, and remained very coherent. Suddenly the world started to become really clear. I understood how the big machine works. When I watched 'Fight Club' and Brad Pitt went into the spiel about everybody trying to sell you shit you don't need, I had that same revelation 10 years before when I was stoned on mushrooms."

Once out of high school, the 18-year-old Kroeger formed his first professional band. They learned 50 songs- Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Lenny Kravitz- and gigged in bars, with Mike Kroeger acting as a booking agent. To this day, Mike keeps a keen eye on Nickelback's business.

"I'm more involved with the business than other musicians, and they're the ones who are normally being taken advantage of," he notes, "You only get one career, so you've got to know what's going on."

For four years, the Kroeger brothers played in separate cover bands before joining in a new outfit with guitarist Ryan Peake. Born in Calgary on March 1, 1973, Peake befriended the Kroegers after his family relocated to Hanna from nearby Brooks. The new band was booked by their agent as Point of View, but onstage they preferred the name Village Idiot.

"It's got a bit more character," Mike Kroeger says, smiling, "and at that time we were catering to the beer-swilling, pool-playing masses. They don't want to hear anything remotely creative at all."

That changed in 1996 when Chad Kroeger grew tired of rehashing Lenny Kravitz hits and spent a day at his mother's house writing seven original songs. A friend of Mike Kroeger's booked time at a Vancouver recording studio, and with $1500 borrowed from their stepfather, the Kroegers, with Peake and their cousing Brandon on drums, cut their debut EP, Hesher. At the time, the band was named Brick, ("We couldn't think of anything better" Mike Kroeger admits) but before they returned to Vancouver to record a full album, the independently released Curb, Mike suggested the name Nickelback. The name came to him while he was working the cash register at a Starbucks in Vancouver. He lost count of the amount of times he handed five cents change to a customer and smiled, "There's a nickel back." Unsurprisingly, Mike Kroeger never considered Starbucks a career option.

"Eventually," he says, "I told the manager to fuck off, which is why to this day I can't work at Starbuck's ever again. Believe, I tried to get rehired in a dark moment."

Ten days before Nickelback began recording their second album, "The State" Brandon quit to start a family. Ryan Peake knew the man to call. Ryan Vikedal was a drummer Peake knew from Brooks, where both grew up.

"What else do you do in a small town but buy a drum kit and some Led Zeppelin albums?" Vikedal says today, only half-jokingly.

Vikedal left Brooks for Edmonton where he went to a music college by day and earned $100 a night playing jazz. When he auditioned for Nickelback, he was halfway through a song when Chad Kroeger called a halt to the proceedings. "You're in." Re-christened "Nik" by his new bandmates- to avoid confusion with Ryan Peake and because he has a vague resemblance to actor Nick Nolte- Vikedal learned a dozen songs in the week prior to cutting "The State," which was again released independently to little fan fare in 1999. But when the band's agent and lawyer sent the record to Ron Burman, vice president of A&R at RoadRunner Records, Nickelback got the break they needed.

"They had some amazing songs on "The State,"" Burman says, "Also, they had a great work ethic. They really wanted the success and showed they could work hard to make their own career happen. This is rare these days, as so many bands wait for the record label to do all of the work."

On "The State" Chad Kroeger's lyrics were willfully obtuse. "I was there when there was nobody home" he sang on "Cowboy Hat" without ever going into details.

"It was easy for me to hide behind metaphors when I was talking about some really dark and deep-seated stuff," he says. "It was like wearing a mask."

Only when Kroeger found the courage to write candidly of his life on Silver Side Up did a Nickelback song connect with millions of people. That song was "How You Remind Me" which reached the top of the US chart on December 22, 2001.

"When Chad sent me the demo, I was like, "Oh my fuckin god, what a huge smash!"" remembers Ron Burman. "I actually got chills when I first heard it. It's just such a catchy and memorable tune. RoadRunner had never previously had commercial crossover song like this before, so we didn't quite grasp the worldwide scope of it. It really sunk in when I looked at the Billboard International Chart and saw us in the Top 10 in eight different countries."

"I was really pissed off at my girlfriend when I was writing it," Kroeger explains. "I needed to write the "I hate you" song and really let her know how I felt. When I played it to her she said "I really like that song." and I'm like "ARGGH! That's denial!" There's so much honesty in the song, like someone's holding up a mirror in front of you. I've actually studied the song, and it's extremely well-written: it's got three hooks and they're all tied into the topic of relationships, which everyone can identify with. It's our hit. It's our "Stairway to Heaven", our "Hotel California". It is" he concludes, "a song that Nickelback's never going to be able to duplicate."

The astonishing popularity of "How You Remind Me" affords Nickelback a degree of luxury on tour. The band are currently rolling across North America in two tour buses: one for Chad and Nik, the other for the happily married Mike Kroeger and Ryan Peake. The latter, dubbed 'the boring bus' by Peake, is stocked with children's toys and emergency supplies of Pampers for when Mike's wife, Angela, and one-year-old son Dawson join him on the road. There's a picture of Dawson in the back lounge of the bus, holding a baseball bat in the manner of an aspiring guitarist.

Mike is a devout Christian who attends a Pentecostal church near Hanna. When speaking of his son, the bassist's faith takes on a potentially homicidal air.

"When Dawson was born, I was moved to a point beyond tears. Something just changed very drastically inside me. Your life is suddenly secondary. I would die and kill for that guy."

Ryan Peake has been married for 18 months to Treana, who works for a children's charity. Their relationship began eight years ago, long before Nickelback got famous. Peake is keen to stress this point.

"She likes me for who I am," he says, "I'm fucking paranoid about that shit."

The 'fun bus,' home to Chad Kroeger and Ryan Vikedal, is littered with toys of a different kind: a motorised scooter and a miniature motorcycle, 15 inches high with a top speed of 60mph. Ryan Peake takes a spin on the mini-motorbike in the backstage car park before the LA show, wobbling in a manner that would give the band's manager sleepless nights. The mini-bike cost Chad Kroeger $2200.

"For a tiny little motorbike? It's retarded!" Kroeger laughs. "But why not buy things that make me happy? The road is my life- we have to try to capitalise on what Nickelback is doing right now, and to do that we need to stay on the road. That's why we have a brand new tour bus. The whole side of bus extends out to make a bigger lounge, because we need to make our surroundings as comfortable as possible."

Both Kroeger and Vikedal were single when Nickelback embarked on their current tour. As the tour progressed, so the 'action' increased on their bus, as Kroeger explains.

"If I just wanted a one-night stand, it doesn't hurt to be in my position, because being in a rock band is probably the easiest way to get laid. And the more successful you are, the easier it gets. I had my fun last year, but after a time you realize you're just wasting time. It got to a point where I was sick of one-night stands and wanted to be in love with someone."

Now Kroeger is enjoying a meaningful, long-term relationship, while Vikedal has fallen for a girl he met when Nickelback played Tokyo in May. He plans to see her again when the band come off the road in August. Both he and Kroeger are happier now. There were times, Kroeger admits, when the fun bus wasn't much fun at all; when he wished he were on the boring bus with a wife of his own.

"I wanted to find somebody that I can spend the rest of my life with. I don't want to be 40 and wake up next to somebody in bed and think, "Oh, I met her in a club last night." I'm not ready for children yet, but I want to get started on the relationship. Finding the right person? Fuck, it's hard as hell."

Oddly, when Kroeger did meet the right person six months ago, it was a girl who used to cut his grandmother's hair.

"For someone in my position, six months is a very long term," he says. "I saw her and just- POW! And none of my rock star bullshit was working, which made it even cooler. She's the fucking coolest thing in my life."

Kroeger is beaming, but for a man who wrote the most popular song of 2002 about a fucked up relationship, being in love might not be such a smart career move.

Kroeger agrees.

"I need to have my fucking heart ripped out of my chest and thrown on the ground and stomped on," he cackles. "There's no motivation like that.

"Fuck," he adds soberly, "When Marianne breaks my heart, I will put "How You Remind Me" to shame."

When Nickelback takes to the stage at the Los Angeles Palladium, it is apparent that the new, loved-up Chad Kroeger still has plenty of bitter experience to draw on. Nickelback perform a new song titled "Figured You Out" in which Kroeger sings the lines: I love the good times that you wreck/I love your lack of self respect/While you're passed out on the deck/I love my hands around your neck...

After the show he reveals the inspiration for the song.

"Sometimes you get into a little fling and you think you know the person, and the next thing you know, you're dating a cokehead who's interwoven into some underground drug world with Hell's Angels and movie stars and models and you're like, "What the fuck am I doing?""

As a teenage Metallica fan, Chad Kroeger wanted to be Kirk Hammett so bad it hurt. Onstage in Los Angeles, he resembles James Hetfield. The comparison delights Kroeger.

"I take that as the hugest compliment that anybody has ever paid me in my entire life. I couldn't kick the grin off my face right now. The way I stand- it's full-on James Hetfield! You get your rock stance on- who are you gonna mimic?"

"There's something about singers," says Mike Kroeger. "A certain personality type. I'm not that person. I see the way it is being Chad, and I'd quit if I was him, but he needs to be recognised and appreciated to feel whole. He's driven to impact people on a personal level."

"Chad has really laid himself on the table and that's hard" adds Peake, "You're putting yourself up for judgement. I do respect the guy for that."

For his part, Chad Kroeger is accepting of the highs and lows of life as a high-profile rock star. He is touched by the response of women to "Never Again," his tirade against domestic abuse. And he is vigorous in defending the allegations in a previous Kerrang! article that he acted like a "cunt" in ordering security staff to eject a member of the crowd who was abusing him.

"I'm a pretty nice guy," Kroeger shrugs, "but that kid was giving me one hell of a hard time while I was trying to entertain thousands of people. Yes, I did stop the show and ask to have him removed. This guy is in the front row telling me I suck- that makes it impossible for me to do my job. When they pulled him out of the crowd I said "Everybody wave goodbye" and the whole place cheered. I know for a fact that I have six million fans- and that's just the ones I can count, who bought the album. I wonder how many fans he's got."

As for the future, RoadRunner's Ron Burman predicts Chad Kroeger will lead Nickelback to even greater success.

"Chad and the guys are very talented songwriters and very prolific," he says, "They're constantly writing and working on new material, more than I've ever seen any artist do. We are all very excited about the next album, and from what we have already gotten a glimpse of, it will have some great songs and hits on it."

Kroeger himself remains philosophical as ever.

"When it comes time to record that next album, I'm definitely gonna feel that crunch. "How You Remind Me" can be played on any radio station anywhere. It's such a huge song. I've set the bar pretty high."