Since 2001 his band, Nickelback, has sold more than 15.5 million records, a total exceeded by only nine contemporary acts. Of those, three are rappers (Eminem, Nelly, 50 Cent), three are country singers (Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, Shania Twain), and two are classy balladeers (Norah Jones, Josh Groban). That leaves just one actual band, Linkin Park, which plays a hybrid of rock and rap. For straight rock-and-roll popularity, Nickelback is the king of this century's first decade.
No one was played more often on U.S. radio last year: Nickelback registered almost a million spins. That gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "heavy rotation." Every 30 seconds another radio station played a Nickelback song.
You might expect this Canadian quartet to have a profile that matches its popularity, like top-selling rock bands from the Beatles to Nirvana. But Kroeger rarely gives interviews. One of the most in-depth articles about him appeared in Acreage Life, a Canadian magazine for rural landowners.
Kroeger (it rhymes with "cougar") was born Chad Robert Turton on November 15, 1974. His father, Windy Turton, left the family when Chad was two, and Chad was raised by his mother, Debbie Kroeger, in Hanna, Alberta with his half-brother, Mike Kroeger; Chad later swapped his surname for his mother's maiden name.
A remote blue-collar oil-and-coal town of fewer than 3,000 people in east-central Alberta, Hanna was known mainly (if not only) as the birthplace of hockey Hall of Famer Lanny McDonald. When Kroeger wasn't running from the police, he would pass hours in his bedroom, learning Metallica and Led Zeppelin songs on guitar.
That proficiency led to a cover band called the Village Idiots, and when he began to fear he'd die in Hanna, Kroeger moved to Vancouver. The band rechristened itself, made a cheap demo called Hesher, then the full-length Curb, and hit the road like Napoleon's army. Finally, a second album, The State, sold enough copies independently to earn a contract from Roadrunner, a heavy-metal label.
Silver Side Up came next, in 2001, featuring the group's breakout hit, "How You Remind Me," a vindictive breakup song that mixes contempt with self-contempt; it spent four weeks as the number one song in the U.S. Kroeger has called it "our 'Hotel California,' our 'Stairway to Heaven.'" Enemies circled around the band: Nickelback was dismissed as derivative, an amalgam of grunge bands from Creed to Alice in Chains. Even cheery American Idol judge Randy Jackson insulted Kroeger: "I swear thatguy is like 45 years old and ugly as sin."
Kroeger's burly songs, often written from the perspective of an aggrieved or outraged outcast, address ugly topics: domestic abuse ("Never Again," which ends in murder), absent fathers ("Too Bad"), jealousy ("Just For," which fantasizes about murder) and prison ("Where Do I Hide"). Two years later The Long Road launched with the song "Someday," which sounded a lot like "How You Remind Me." One Internet wag even created a site that played both songs simultaneously, showing how closely they overlap.
The Winnipeg Sun has tagged Kroeger a "talentless misogynist," and The New York Times concluded, "For hard-rock ridiculousness, Nickelback is tough to beat." Even more definitively, The Boston Phoenix crowned Nickelback "the worst band since the dawn of music."
But All the Right Reasons, released in late 2005, has proven its most popular album yet, thanks to "Photograph," an ambivalent reminiscence of life in Hanna (where Nickelback filmed the video), and "Rockstar," a good-humored fantasy of the high life. Then, over an 11-month period, Kroeger was arrested for drunk driving, getting into a fight outside a Vancouver strip club and punching a stranger who heckled him outside a Vancouver nightclub.
Kroeger and his fiancée, Marianne Goriuk, live on a 20-acre compound an hour southeast of Vancouver, a few miles from the Washington state border, with views of the mountains and horse stables on their land. Once Kroeger returned home after two years of touring and promoting the album, we sent Contributing Editor Rob Tannenbaum to interview him.
"Near their house Kroeger has a two-story barn he converted into a recording studio," Tannenbaum reports, "where he works on songs with Joey Moi, the friend he commemorated in the 'Photograph' lyric 'What the hell is on Joey's head?' It's a high-tech clubhouse: flatscreen TVs, an array of guitars, video games, a Nickelback poker table on the ground floor. He enjoys arguing and teasing, and when Goriuk joined us he turned into a swaggering flirt.
"For a guy who avoids and dislikes the press, he was generous and welcoming. 'Do you want to get into a nice bottle of red wine?' he asked soon after we started to talk, and he decanted an Australian Penfolds Grange shiraz 1999, which sells for about $600 a bottle. I told him I preferred Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but eight hours later, after we'd finished our third bottle, it tasted pretty good. A few days after our interview I got a beautiful bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the mail, along with a note: 'Thanks for the great interview. Best, Chad.' At various times he referred to himself as a redneck, a badass and an idiot. But he's also a gentleman."
CHAD KROEGER: Even though we're both Canadian, Joey Moi and I refer to ourselves as the taste of Middle America. If I like something, all the red states are probably going to like it too, because I have the same tastes as those people. We probably watch the same television shows.
PLAYBOY: Do you have middle-American tastes in everything—TV, cars, beer, movies, books?
CHAD KROEGER: You could probably scratch books off that list. [laughs] I like car chases, explosions, big boobs—the same things Middle America likes.
PLAYBOY: What changes would you make to save the record business?
CHAD KROEGER: Well, illegal downloading is the biggest thing. That's why the music business is in the toilet. But downloading is a backlash against all the bands whose CDs have one good song and 11 shitty ones. The gatekeepers were like, "What's the Internet?" And now that they're knee-deep in it and can see their initials on the next noose, it's a little too late.
PLAYBOY: How ironic that Nickelback is losing sales to downloading. You're a man who knows quite a bit about stealing.
CHAD KROEGER: True. [smiles] It could be karma.
PLAYBOY: What's the best thing you ever stole?
CHAD KROEGER: Jeez. Someone's virginity, I'm sure. [laughs] One of the best things I stole I didn't get charged for, so I don't want to bring it up.
PLAYBOY: We're sure the statute of limitations has passed. What was it?
CHAD KROEGER: I stole a small truck, and I was facing jail time. My lawyer pleaded it down to joyriding.
PLAYBOY: What were you going to do with the stolen truck?
CHAD KROEGER: No, this line of questioning can't continue, Your Honor. [laughs]
PLAYBOY: Did you steal things often?
CHAD KROEGER: I broke into my junior high school about 11 times and found the combination to this huge walk-in safe. God, it was like my personal ATM. I was probably 13. I bought a guitar with the money I stole, video games, all kinds of stuff.
PLAYBOY: How did you find the combination to the safe?
CHAD KROEGER: It was in the vice principal's desk. I broke into the school with a couple of buddies and used a small kit of tools to get the doors open. It's a trick I could easily teach you—I can actually pick small locks. Right on a sticky pad in the vice principal's top drawer was a combination. It was so elaborate I figured it had to be for the wall safe, which was probably about eight feet tall. You had to brace your foot against the wall to open it up. Once we got in there was money all over the place. We'd take $500 or $600 at a time, and nobody noticed. Over a span of six or eight months I took thousands out of that thing.
PLAYBOY: What happened when they noticed money was missing?
CHAD KROEGER: Six of us each had to pay $167 in restitution. I was the only one of the six in court that day who got sent to juvenile hall. And I didn't like the experience. Incarceration's no fun.
PLAYBOY: It sounds as though you were a bad kid.
CHAD KROEGER: I don't know how many times I got kicked out of school. I just thought it was fun to be bad. To a certain degree I still think it's fun to be bad. You should just never do anything that's going to hurt someone else.
I did a lot of stupid stuff. I remember being drunk and driving someone's van without a license, then smashing it up. Then, while awaiting sentencing, I got picked up for shoplifting in Calgary. I was trying to go to a Metallica concert. I had to be released into my mom's custody, and she still took me to the concert.
PLAYBOY: What did your mom think about your bad behavior?
CHAD KROEGER: My mom knew I was a chip off the old block.
PLAYBOY: What kind of guy is your dad? He left home when you were two.
CHAD KROEGER: My dad is a fighter. He got a lot of assault charges. That's what he was good at: fighting. My mom probably liked that he was a badass. I think she enjoyed tormenting my grandfather by dating the toughest guy in town. There's a Nickelback song called "Should've Listened," with the line "A little trick I picked up from my father / In one ear and out the other." I can definitely thank him for that one. [laughs]
PLAYBOY: Was your dad a violent guy?
CHAD KROEGER: Yeah, a lot of violence. I would hear stories from his friends about my dad beating up three bikers at a time. At his peak he was probably about six-foot-three and 260 pounds.