Bassist Mike Kroeger is the rock-solid foundation of Nickelback. Whether he's setting up a supple groove on a song like "If Today Was Your Last Day" or putting the hammer down on an explosive hard rock track like the band's latest single, "Bottoms Up," his support for brother and frontman Chad Kroeger and lead guitarist Ryan Peake, not to mention his ability to sync up with drummer Daniel Adair, is crucial to the band's sound.
As the latest Nickelback CD, Here and Now, hits stores, we got Mike on the phone to talk about the group's songwriting methods, their anthemic new hit "When We Stand Together," what fans can expect from the upcoming tour, and more.
Your last record, Dark Horse, was produced by Mutt Lange, who is a somewhat notorious perfectionist. The new album, Here and Now, is self-produced; was that a reaction to working with him?
Oh, no, it wasn’t a reaction. Actually, we had been looking for Mutt for a long time before we got to take him in the studio and work with us. He’s a hard guy to find, as it turns out, so it was kinda tough to get him. But then we did the thing with him, and it was an awesome experience. We learned a lot from him. We also learned that a lot of the stuff we had kinda lifted from listening to his records—it was like book and assignment work, and then we finally got to apply the practical work. So doing a record with him was just sort of a reaffirmation of what we thought we knew about him. You know, for the most part. There’s obviously still some mysterious crap this guy pulls off that we still don’t know what it is. But that was a tremendous experience and a very steep learning curve, working with someone with that much game time under his belt, you know? The guy has just been around. So it was great. But then when it came time to do the new record, we didn’t have the conversation and say “Hey, let’s not use Mutt, let’s make sure we don’t do that again.” It was more like, let’s just do it the way we did it before. Because for the most part, with the exception of a couple of early records, we’ve done everything ourselves. We’ve done three records by ourselves [Silver Side Up, The Long Road and All the Right Reasons], and it just kinda felt like we should go back to basics again. So we did that, and it went pretty good, actually. We had what I would consider the most stress-free recording environment to date.
What’s your creative process generally? Do you guys walk into the studio with nothing, do people bring songs in, how does it work?
Chad’s always got something going, and so sometimes he comes in with a verse and chorus, or an intro idea, or a vocal idea. Sometimes he’s got everything. He also occasionally will get together with his songwriting pals in Nashville and they’ll sit down and knock out a couple of hits for Faith Hill or whatever, and he’ll squirrel one back occasionally, which is what the case is with “Lullaby.” He wrote that with those guys, and the writing was essentially done. There were some teeny, tiny little tweaks that we made to it, but for the most part it was completed and we just had to play it. Which was awesome, because “Lullaby” is one of my favorite songs on the record. So it comes in all different kinds of ways. Sometimes it’s just “Hey, I’ve got this riff,” and then you put drums on the riff and [Chad] sits down and does his voodoo thing and comes up with a vocal melody and some lyrics, and then we’re off to the races. And after that, more voodoo ensues, and we have a chorus and a chorus melody, we write a bridge, and off we go. But it all primarily starts with Chad.
There are 11 songs on the record; how many did you record that didn’t make it?
We are never gonna get caught with a vault full of songs. We go in with the express attitude of writing and recording as many songs as we need to fulfill our contractual obligation, and that’s where we stop. The very idea of bonus tracks or whatever you call ’em, B-sides, is kind of offensive to an artist, to think they’re getting asked to put throwaway songs on—you’re kind of condemning these songs as filler from the get-go, and we’re not really into that. We want to record everything with a like amount of emphasis, a like amount of effort, and if it doesn’t make the cut to be recorded by Nickelback, we don’t record it.
When you’re making a new record, do you ever revisit stuff that you were thinking about during the previous record and didn’t use?
All the time. All the time. Sometimes a riff that we try and try and try to make it happen, or a part we try and try and try to make happen, it just can’t be. Sometimes it’s two records later, sometimes it’s three records later, but it’ll inevitably always come up. They’re always recorded as rough demos, so they’re out there all the time, swimming around, and when we get ready to sit down and make a record, we’ll go through all of ’em, and some of ’em are very, very old. And sometimes they may work, and sometimes it’s just not their time to be put in. So we put ’em on the shelf and bring some better ideas in.
“When We Stand Together” isn’t the first song you guys have written with socially conscious lyrics, but it’s still not the kind of song people necessarily identify with Nickelback. So tell me a little about how that song came together.
Well, you know, it’s kind of a weird sort of situation. We were sitting down in a business meeting with our management and we were in a different room in Chad’s house, away from the studio, talking. And there was a situation somewhere near where we’re from, in Alberta, in Canada. Basically, two-thirds of a town burned down. And all these people lost their homes, there was no place to buy anything, they’re really remote, and basically they were in real trouble. It was the end of the town as anybody knew it. Everybody’s job literally went up in smoke. So the community and the surrounding area came together, then the province got on board, and then the nation got on board, and they started accepting donations from all over the place, just to get help. And we were talking at that point about doing something with them, and I think it kinda started some gears turning in Chad’s head about trying to help people out and do things for the good of a lot of people, and he just kinda decided that the meeting for him was over, so he jumped up and said, “I gotta get back to work in the studio, you guys can hash out the rest of the details,” ’cause it was just tedium, the sort of thing where we know what he’s going to say anyway. So he went back to the studio, and we came over there an hour later and basically the verse and chorus of “When We Stand Together” was written, and there was a demo done. It was really crazy. And it all came out of that sort of spirit of philanthropy, and trying to do what’s right to help people.
What’s interesting also is the sound of the song. You guys have sold millions of records and have a really devoted fan base, and I’m wondering if there’s a sense in the back of your heads that you have to give people what they want, that you can’t get too experimental or play around the way, say, Coldplay changes their sound from album to album.
Right. And yeah, I think there is some—I have an appreciation of that logic, in that you’ve gotten these people by doing what you do, so don’t go and change everything. Because when you do that, it’s risky. It’s a risky proposition, that you may alienate all your fans for a little while, until they listen to the record a few times and then they get it and come on board. That’s a risk we’re not really interested in taking on a broad level. We’ll reach outside of the box occasionally, and try some things that maybe we haven’t tried before. There’s a few of those on this record, for sure. But there’s also the standard things that we need to play, the straight-up rock songs about fairly light subject matter. We know that’s what people are looking for. Our people are looking for. And that’s what we wanna give ’em.
So how many Here and Now songs are going immediately into the live set, and are there older songs you’ve retired that fans still want to hear?
Jeez, we’ve retired a whole bunch of songs that the fans still want to hear, and that sucks, but we’re getting to the point now where we’ll be well into the curfew if we play ’em all. So we gotta cut ’em. We’re gonna put in “When We Stand Together” and “Bottoms Up” immediately; “This Means War” will be going in shortly as well, hopefully right off the bat, in my opinion, but we’ll see how that goes. What’s getting retired, jeez, I don’t know. We haven’t even talked about it—we know what we’re gonna play, but we don’t know what we’re gonna kick out yet. It’s gonna suck to have to do that.
Nickelback's Here and Now is in stores now. Click here to get it from Amazon, or to buy it on iTunes.