CHAD KROEGER: I don't think so, but my mom may tell a different story.
PLAYBOY: Was he ever violent with you and your brother?
CHAD KROEGER: He never raised a hand to either of us, and I don't think he could. It was tough for him growing up, because he was the boy named Sue—he really was. His name is Wendall, and everybody called him Windy. Guys would come to the bar from other towns and go, "So you're Windy?" Then he got on a rodeo circuit, doing bareback, saddle-bronc riding or roping. They would go to rodeos, then go to a bar and pick up women and fight. That's the stereotype of the rodeo circuit, and it's probably what attracted my father to it.
PLAYBOY: Americans have an image of Canadians as being polite, maybe a little more educated than we are. We don't really think of Canada as having----
CHAD KROEGER: Rednecks? You're talking to one. That's why I bought 20 acres, because I want to build an ATV track in the back. At one point I called a buddy who sold used cars, and I said, "I want a whole bunch of shit cars brought up to my house. We want to smash out the windows, put on some helmets and have a demolition derby." It's amazing how much damage those little cars can take and still run. Wouldn't you like to try that?
PLAYBOY: It sounds like fun.
CHAD KROEGER: Yeah. So there may just be a little redneck in all of us.
PLAYBOY: On your mom's side you come from a prominent Canadian family.
CHAD KROEGER: My grandfather was the minister of transportation for Alberta. I guess that would be the equivalent of a senator. My grandfather essentially was my father. I learned a lot from him, and I saw the respect he was given. So it was very strange. Anytime I was with my grandfather we could be traveling in a private government jet, then the next minute I'd be living in a trailer. Two completely different worlds. I tasted what it was like not to grow up poor, and I liked it. Then he died when I was 13, and I got to know what it was like to be really broke. I had to wear a ski suit to bed because we didn't have any heat in the winter. That wasn't a lot of fun.
PLAYBOY: Was there food in the house?
CHAD KROEGER: At one point when I was 14 my mom got addicted to a prescription medication of some kind, so she went through this dry-out program. When I got released from juvie and went home, it was just my brother, Mike, there. He wound up getting some type of food stamps from the government. We went into a store, and they didn't want to take them at first. Mike said, "If you don't cash this, we're not going to be able to eat." The woman in the store lived in our town, and she was probably going to tell everybody that story. That experience was just awful for me. I would have starved before I'd go through that. [exhales] There's some shit right there that I've never told anybody.
PLAYBOY: Without your brother, would you have starved?
CHAD KROEGER: I probably would have kicked in the front door to the store at one in the morning and grabbed a bunch of food.
PLAYBOY: Your dad was gone, your mom was in rehab, your grandfather was dead. There wasn't much supervision. You probably got away with whatever you wanted.
CHAD KROEGER: I didn't go to school. I mean, after the eighth or ninth grade, I don't remember going to school five days out of the week, ever.
PLAYBOY: What did you do instead?
CHAD KROEGER: Whatever the fuck I felt like. [laughs] I was a bad kid.
PLAYBOY: And you never graduated from high school.
CHAD KROEGER: I was a few credits short of a diploma, and I just had no desire to go back to school, because I had a band waiting for me. We'd already learned 40 or 50 covers and had a booking agent. I was on the road a week after I got out of school.
PLAYBOY: How did you get the money to make a record?
CHAD KROEGER: Once I got out of school my dad bought me a car for $1,000. I couldn't get insurance, so I stole a license plate and stuck it on the back of the car, covered in mud so you couldn't tell what the letters were. I had just gotten out of jail, with a court date coming, and I was going to get charged for another breaking and entering and attempted theft—that's a bit of a recurring theme.
PLAYBOY: It's hard for us to keep track of all your arrests.
CHAD KROEGER: I had a game plan. I convinced my stepfather to lend me $4,000 to make a demo—that became Hesher—and I promised him we would pay him back $5,000 in six months, after we had pressed 1,000 copies and sold them for $10 each. I took $1,000 and bought magic mushrooms, and I was going to sell them in Hanna to pay for all the unforeseen costs.
PLAYBOY: Where did you get the confidence that you would be able to pay back the $5,000?
CHAD KROEGER: Oh, I'm a con artist. [laughs] I came up with this whole business plan that sounded incredible, and I conned him. He was like, "Not only am I going to help you out, I'm going to make $1,000 on my investment in six months!" Who wouldn't be interested in that? It took a couple of years, but I think we probably gave him $10,000.
PLAYBOY: Where did the name Nickelback come from?
CHAD KROEGER: My brother was working in a coffee shop where everything was $2.95, $3.95 or $4.95. He was constantly saying, "Here's your nickel back." He suggested it as a name, and I loved the fact that it didn't mean anything. It didn't denote what kind of music we played. It wasn't Facegrinder.
PLAYBOY: Let's go back to the mushrooms. What else did you sell?
CHAD KROEGER: I sold a little weed here, some mushrooms there. I had to subsidize the income somehow. I knew a lot of people who had weed, and a lot of people working on the oil rigs needed weed. I could get it. That seemed like a no-brainer.
PLAYBOY: So is the song "One Last Run" from The State autobiographical?
CHAD KROEGER: Absolutely it's autobiographical. I can't believe some of the shit I'm telling you. So this one time, I buy a case of beer and borrow this girl's truck, and she and I drive 45 minutes to the nearest city. I buy some weed, and we're driving back. We've got beer bottles all over the floorboards, and we're laughing, with the tunes cranked. Next thing I know, we're heading into a ditch. I see this metal pole coming at us, and I steer just to the left of it. Beer bottles are flying all around. I bring us back onto the road and bring the truck to a stop. Grass from the side of the road is collected a foot high around the entire truck, so the truck looks as if it's wearing a hula skirt. We get all the grass pulled off, and who pulls up? A cop. I've got an ounce of weed down the front of my pants. As he rolls down the window, I say, "We're just waiting for two friends. They had to stop for gas." He rolls up his window and drives away. That was "One Last Run."
PLAYBOY: Your master plan worked, and the whole band moved to Vancouver. Was that a shock after living in Hanna?
CHAD KROEGER: I left an entirely different world behind me when I came to Vancouver. I had really long hair and a big goatee—I looked like trouble, and it was difficult for me to get a job. God, the things I did. I sold seafood door-to-door. Can you imagine? I remember sitting on the floor of my apartment because I had no furniture. I didn't even have utensils. I had enough money to buy noodles, and I remember eating them with my fingers and feeling sorry for myself.
PLAYBOY: Just noodles and butter?
CHAD KROEGER: Who could afford butter? [laughs] I guess the stealing didn't stop, because I remember going to a restaurant after that and grabbing some utensils. I'm kind of like a cockroach. I'll pretty much do anything to survive. Then I got this idea: I had my mom lie and say she lived on a $2.5 million property, and we secured a lease on a five-bedroom house. I rented it out to college kids and got to live for free, just by being a slumlord.
PLAYBOY: What did you do after you quit selling seafood?
CHAD KROEGER: Telemarketing. God, I was good at that—sucking money out of poor old ladies. In fact, I got promoted. They finally said, "You have to be here all the time." I was forced to make a decision between the job and my band. I was like, Well, this is a no-brainer.
PLAYBOY: You probably could have had a great career as a salesman.
CHAD KROEGER: Oh, I'm sure. But----
PLAYBOY: Or maybe you have had a great career as a salesman.
CHAD KROEGER: I was deciding whether or not I should say that. [laughs] Look, my band was everything even when it was nothing. And I will never put another human being in front of my band. Ever. Do you have any idea how hard it is to tell a woman you love that if it ever came down to her or the band, she'd be packing her suitcase? I mean, you never want to explain it quite like that.
PLAYBOY: So you were a slumlord and a petty thief in Vancouver. That must have left plenty of time for the band.
CHAD KROEGER: The telemarketing was all the training I needed to get on the phone with program directors at different radio stations across Canada. If I could get them to play my song, my brother could get our CDs into every store outside their city. We sold 10,000 copies of The State in a short period of time. Then we got signed for $200,000 U.S., which was $300,000 Canadian at the time.
PLAYBOY: How small was your hometown, Hanna?
CHAD KROEGER: About 160 people went to my school. You knew everyone's name.
PLAYBOY: What was the biggest thing to happen in Hanna while you were growing up?
CHAD KROEGER: One night when I was about eight I heard screaming in front of my house. Two older guys lived right across the street; they would have been somewhere between 17 and 21. One of the guys was sleeping with someone else's girlfriend, and the boyfriend found them there together. I remember being terrified by the amount of noise—it sounded like someone was having a leg cut off. The girl was screaming, a truck engine was revving. I found out later that the boyfriend tied her up by the railroad tracks and drove over her several times, back and forth over her body. When the police went to arrest him, they found a newborn baby in a suitcase at the house. I think he pleaded insanity and got off. Not too long after, he shot himself with a rifle on a back road. So I had to go down and testify. That was a pretty big thing for me.
PLAYBOY: All the stuff you've experienced—poverty, death, violence, drugs—seems to come out in your songs. They're pretty dark and angry.
CHAD KROEGER: They used to be. "Rockstar" and "Photograph" don't feel dark and angry.