Thank God for CanCon, or Canadian content, the requirement that Canadian radio stations play at least 35 percent Canadian artists.
Without that stipulation, a promising new rock band like Nickelback may have never gotten its foot in the U.S. door.
“There’s just as many bands per square inch here as in the U.S.,” lead singer-guitarist Chad Kroeger said during a tour break from his home in Vancouver. “The only thing is if you don’t suck, ‘Hey, we’ve got a couple of songs here that could get played on the radio,’ it’s a lot easier to get airplay here than in the U.S., because we have CanCon. Every hour has to be 35 percent Canadian. If it wasn’t for that stipulation, we might as well call ourselves America, because we would be completely overrun. We already watch 65 percent TV from the U.S. and the movies are all from America, typically.
“CanCon’s what’s building the Canadian scene, hence the Tragically Hip, Econoline Crush, all these bands that probably would’ve been swept under the cracks if it weren’t for that stipulation. It gives us a shot.”
Kroeger and his brother, Mike (bass), formed Nickelback in 1996 with their cousin, Brandon, on drums and Ryan Peake on guitar. A seven-song demo, titled “Hesher” (short for the phrase “Hey, sure”), was their ticket out of rural Alberta and into the big city, Vancouver. After the band went through two other drummers, they settled on Peake’s longtime friend, Ryan Vikedal.
“It wasn’t as hard for us when we started,” Kroeger said. “We had the radio station in Vancouver pick us up even before we were living there. Then we had like two or three weeks of radio play before we moved there. My brother was living here, and he put the demo in the hands of a couple managers and they took it to the radio station. We moved here, started playing. We didn’t have to work our way up from the ranks because we were already getting played on the radio.”
Their full-length debut album, “Curb,” sold briskly across Canada and several nationwide tours solidified their following. Then they went for broke with their second album, “The State,” produced by the band with Dale Penner (Holly McNarland, Matthew Good Band) and mixed by GGGarth Richardson (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine).
“We fired our manager when we started working this record,” Kroeger said, “so my brother was handling all the distribution across the country and I was handling all the radio tracking. We got the song to No. 19 in Canada, sold 10,000 copies on our own and then the sharks started circling. That’s what got us the American deal.”
Enter Roadrunner Records. The New York-based indie saw that Nickelback could give Creed and Bush a run for their money.
So far, it has been worth every plug nickel. The first single, “Leader of Men,” is in the Top 10 and climbing on Billboard’s mainstream rock tracks chart, not far from 3 Doors Down’s across-the-board No. 1 smash “Kryptonite.” Nickelback just finished a U.S. tour with 3 Doors Down and now is on the North American road with Creed and Sevendust.
The whole situation has been overwhelming, Kroeger said, but they’re loving every minute of it.
“I’m on the other side of the fence, so all that magic is gone for me,” he said. “When the record label tells me we got added in Boston, then we go play Boston three weeks later and everybody knows the song, for me it’s not magical. It’s very scientific. Okay, obviously, these are all radio listeners and they’ve now been nicely brainwashed.
“Seriously, we’ve been playing together a long time, even before we were Nickelback. That’s one thing we’ve gotten very good at. Even if people don’t know who we are, don’t know the song or don’t know anything about us, we’ve got to be able to go in there and just jam the name of the band down their throats and after we go offstage them go ‘Wow, never heard of those guys, but I’d definitely like to check out that CD.’ Then we’ve done our job.”
Mission accomplished, and then some, Kroeger says.
“Now, I definitely don’t work, like I used to at Starbucks,” he said. “I have a brand-new Dodge Stealth in front of my house, and I have a publishing check worth a quarter of a million dollars rolling in this week, so all the hard work has paid off. I’m going to buy a big TV. I’m going to buy my girlfriend a car, I’m going to buy a house. I’m going to buy a Jetski, put a bunch of it away, maybe snag a cabin or a hut on the beach somewhere in Mexico.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “It was probably Motley Crue’s ‘Theater of Pain,’ when I was in the seventh grade. My parents didn’t mind me listening to Motley Crue, but they didn’t dig the Beastie Boys and Quiet Riot.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “Metallica and The Cult. My mom took me to that when I was 13. She took me, my brother and a couple of other friends. She got a seat some place else because she wanted to see the show. She was diggin’ it big time. She’s a pretty young mom. She had my brother when she was like 19 and had me when she was 21, so she’s a pretty cool mom.”
THE LAST CD I BOUGHT: “The new Rage (Against the Machine) and Stone Temple Pilots. We played with the Pilots in Boston; I got to watch them do ‘Sour Girl’ acoustically at WAAF. It was amazing, I got it on videotape. I hope they’re back for good; Scott Weiland looks great. He looks far better than the guitar player, who looked terrible.”