Chad Huculak: Twenty Years Later, Nickelback’s Bush Rock Is Still As Glamorously Albertan As It Is

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Twenty years ago, there was no escaping Nickelback fever in Alberta

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EDMONTON – Nickelback’s flagship album, “Silver Side Up,” turned 20 this month, but don’t look for haughty retrospectives or backward documentaries. The only incident he made in the news world was when the Associated Press was forced to apologize and delete a tweet it made identifying September 11 as the 20th anniversary of the album.

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All in all, it was a low-key response to an album that sold over 10 million copies worldwide and made the hard-rock band from Hanna, Alta., Superstars.

Twenty years ago, there was no escaping Nickelback fever in Alberta; the province’s economy was strong, and Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue was often filled with raised vans crisscrossing the popular nightclub district while blowing up “Silver Side Up” No.1 single, “How You Remind” Me ”.

Your opinion of the band is probably cemented in one or the other of the two camps: “Nickelback rocks” or “I would rather drive nails into my eardrums than listen to Nickelback. In Nickelback’s grand speech, there is very little middle ground, and while many have criticized their stereotypical grunge sound and image, no one can accuse the group of not deserving of their success.

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True to their Alberta roots, the boys (brothers Chad and Mike Kroeger, as well as mainstay Ryan Peake and a revolving door of other members) worked tirelessly during the group’s incubation phase, crisscrossing Alberta for themselves. produce in any beer-soaked bar that would welcome them.

After paying their dues, the group clearly had enough business savvy to know that spinning the Metallica covers on oilfield workers in off-road dive bars wouldn’t be their ticket to owning multiple sports cars. To reach a wider audience, they needed to network.

In the early 2000s, terrestrial radio was still a major force in bringing artists into the mainstream. While file sharing was in full swing in teenage bedrooms, by and large people still consumed their music through radio and television. Getting your product into one of these outlets meant reaching an audience far beyond your rural town and Nickelback was aiming for the FM dial.

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Matt Cundill was Assistant Program Director and DJ at 100.3 The Bear, Edmonton’s active rock radio station, at the time and remembers Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger bringing the band’s first songs to the station at the looking for comments.

Travis Gustafson of the installation station and Chad Kroeger of Nickelback pose for a photo next to Kroeger's 1999 Lamborghini Diablo.
Travis Gustafson of the installation station and Chad Kroeger of Nickelback pose for a photo next to Kroeger’s 1999 Lamborghini Diablo. Courtesy installation station photo

“Chad was really successful in forming a coalition of rock radio stations across Canada that started to champion (their songs),” says Cundill, who described British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba as the “heart of Nickelback ”.

Radio veterans recall that Kroeger had a friendly relationship with DJs and even asked his mother to call to ask for his sons’ songs to be played.

The Nickelback boys eventually realized that greater fortunes had to be earned outside of Alberta, in this case in Vancouver, where the band eventually moved and signed with Roadrunner Records. Now, with backing from a major label, the group has started to have their songs covered on radio stations, which has led to opening slots on tours for Seven Mary Three.

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“They hang out with other bands… but it’s all the other bands that are on the US charts and I think (Nickelback) looked at them and said ‘we can have what they have, we can do what they have. ‘they do,’ ”says Cundill. “They are there, they are taking notes. They are very intelligent.

Nickelback drummer Daniel Adair at the band's Mountainview Studios outside of Vancouver.
Nickelback drummer Daniel Adair at the band’s Mountainview Studios outside of Vancouver. Photo by Postmedia files

Smart… Nickelback? The people of Hanna certainly didn’t see much potential in Chad Kroeger, who has spent time in juvenile detention due to a spate of petty crime, but music industry insiders agree that once Kroeger has Set his sights on musical stardom, his laser focus was unwavering.

Former Edmonton Sun music critic Mike Ross remembers Kroeger’s conduct. “I interviewed Chad and he was very frank and honest and said bluntly, ‘I know what it takes to write a hit,’” Ross recalls.

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Try to conjure up an air of Nickeback in your mind right now. Chances are you’re tweeting: “Wurrr wurr rah ruh, ruh ruh, rawwwrr, burrr, rawwwrrr. The guitars are loud, but not so heavy that they couldn’t be played in a suburban mom’s minibus as she drops the kids off at school; the drums pound, drenched in the arena-echo and Chad Kroeger’s voice rumbles something obscene and lunkheaded, then the chorus hits and suddenly an earworm nibbles your auditory cortex for the rest of the day. This is the Nickelback formula and it has worked for Kroeger to the tune of 50 million albums sold worldwide.

That “Nickelback sound” resonated so well because it touched what Ross calls “bush party” audiences: “People having fun listening to meatballs in the woods with the fire on and a two-six of whiskey. Stupid fun.

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Nickelback performed at the Calgary Saddledome in 2004.
Nickelback performed at the Calgary Saddledome in 2004. Photo by Marianne Helm / Calgary Herald

The backlash was immense and ruthless. Apparently, for every die-hard fan, there was someone who looked down on Nickelback. It was the fashion of the day to denounce the group, but these critics also misunderstood what the group stood for. They never aspired to create concept records with puzzling lyrics adored by dorky music experts. Nickelback made music for mass consumption. It was McDonald’s rock cheeseburger: easy to consume, a quick hit to pleasure catchers, and makes you want more.

The band’s lack of self-awareness and sense of humor also fueled hatred for Nickelback, according to Ross, who found himself shut out of the band’s good graces after writing a concert review. Those charges were recently overturned, with the group releasing a sailors song collaboration and adopting the “Look at This Photograph” meme, but no one is asking them to film an episode of “Carpool Karaoke” either.

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Twenty years after being presented to the world via “Silver Side Up”, Nickelback now occupies a special place in the air. Unlike their contemporaries, they are not part of the nostalgia circuit in front of bald dudes in their forties, and their “white dread” sound has been shunned by the younger generation.

Listening to a Nickelback song is now reminiscent of many of a time when hope was still available and not bogged down by the nightmares of a pandemic and social media; when Alberta’s oil boom was still making easy money that could pay for a Nickelback CD in the stereo of every Ford F-150 and tickets to see the band at a sold-out concert in a barn hockey.

Cundill is extremely proud of the role radio played in building Nickelback. “I never apologize for that,” he said. “I don’t think the radio can do anything this extreme anymore. Some times, some places, damn it, it was good.

Nickelback’s music is a snapshot of the optimism of the early 2000s. Every time I look back it makes me laugh.

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