“Each time previously that I’ve been to Australia, I’ve done it as a regular imbiber of alcoholic beverages, so some of my memories of Oz are rather hazy, looking through a cloud of awesome South Australian wine,” laughs bassist Mike Kroeger. “The Penfolds people were very nice to us. We smuggled back literal pallets of wine from Penfolds.”
Canada’s most polarising musicians plan to greet 2019 with three east coast shows, supported by heavy metal supergroup Bad Wolves and bringing in tow their ninth studio album, Feed the Machine. Kroeger believes this tour will be more memorable than the last one.
“This is going to be different,” he says. “I’ll have a much clearer memory of events this time, because I’ve given up on the evil sauce.”
The lyrics of Feed The Machine’s title track describe a chaotic, predatory society ruled over not by an omniscient dictator, but by a charismatic fraud. The song underwent a long evolution from 2016, with all members of the band participating.
“It was in that whole period of time when everybody was jockeying for attention,” says Kroeger. “At the time we wrote ‘Feed the Machine’, all the nationalist zealots were coming out of the woodwork with their crazy haircuts. It seems like, the crazier the person’s haircut, the nuttier their political views are. I’ve noticed, globally, we have this thing: the US has it, the UK has it, Holland has it. Oz doesn’t have it.”
Kroeger says he hasn’t yet had the pleasure of acquainting himself with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party.
The gradual pace of work on ‘Feed the Machine’, which was shelved and then dusted off many times, made it easier for Kroeger to contribute. Mike Kroeger describes himself as more contemplative than Chad Kroeger, his brother and Nickelback’s ebullient frontman.
“A lot of these songs come together and get down real fast,” says Kroeger. “Chad’s a very agile songwriter that can work at that pace and at full creativity. I’m not like that. I need more time with ideas.”
It’s no secret that Nickelback are better at charming crowds than critics. The New York Times awarded one half-star of five to Nickelback’s All the Right Reasons, an album that later went platinum in Canada and diamond in the US, becoming one of the higher-selling records in history. Kroeger, unsurprisingly, takes a dim view of the professional critic.
“If I’m reading criticism by someone who’s also a creator, I’ll take that seriously, but criticism for the sake of criticism, to me, lacks credibility,” he says. “If you have six people standing around a guy digging a hole with a shovel, they’ll all have a different idea of how that person should do it. Is that credible?
“It seems kind of crazy that someone gets paid to criticise art. Art’s supposed to be an individual expression, not an analytical, gradable thing. Critics love records like The Velvet Underground. There’s all those ridiculous adages that they only pressed 100 copies, but it spawned 10,000 bands, or whatever. Those are critics’ darlings. Good for them, I guess.”
Fifty million records sold, 1.4 billion plays on Spotify and 1.5 billion on YouTube – Nickelback’s commercial achievements beg the question of how large numbers can get before they stop acting as milestones and become simply incomprehensible accolades.
“Counting things in millions is quite mind-boggling,” says Kroeger. “Billions – there’s just no way. That’s the point at which you’ve just got to do what you do and try not to focus too much on that. And two billion Spotify streams is, like, 150 dollars, so that’s kind of irrelevant anyway. Now, it’s almost to the point where you tell by the sentiment when you put a tour on sale. If it looks strong, it’s an indication that you did something right with your last record.”
What comes next for Canada’s prodigal sons after their Feed the Machine tour? Kroeger stopped planning that far ahead years ago.
“You never know what life’s going to bring you. The tour is selling well, which looks good, but as far as what happens after that, I couldn’t tell you. So many things could happen.”
Nickelback will tour Australia in February thanks to Live Nation.
Image via Richard Beland.