After 13 years, over 27 million albums sold worldwide, and once spending an astounding 112 consecutive weeks in the Billboard Top 30, it might seem ironic that the current album by the band Nickelback is titled Dark Horse. But according to founding bassist and Trace Elliot® artist Michael Kroeger, the band doesn’t take their success for granted. “Any artist that is even surviving right now is a dark horse because things change pretty fast,” says Kroeger. “You’re a superstar one day and wake up the next day and you’re anonymous.”
Kroeger says this is especially true given the huge transformation that has occurred within the music industry in recent years. “To be successful in any way is beating the odds right now,” explains Kroeger.
Trace Elliot sat down with Mike Kroeger backstage in Nashville to discuss Nickelback’s success, their amazing live shows, what it was like co-producing with the legendary Mutt Lange, and what he loves about his Trace Elliot rig.
Trace Elliot: Nickelback has released six successful albums in 13 years. How have you changed as a band over the years?
Mike Kroeger: I guess we’ve slowed down a little bit. You know, earlier on we did our records a lot closer together. If we kept at that pace we’d probably have a lot more! [laughing] But we’ve done a lot more touring as a result of things going blessedly well at the album level—getting some radio and doing a lot of touring, which is a good sign!
TE: 2005's All The Right Reasons sold 11 million copies worldwide. What was the pressure like to follow that up?
MK: All of our pressure is self-imposed, you know? You have the pressure to kind of do better than you did on the record before, regardless of what the charts say. You’re trying to just go and do your best work every album, and if it happens to chart well, that’s kind of the X factor. You can do what you can do. You can write songs that you think are hit songs, but it’s up to the people. And we got pretty lucky on that one.
TE: And even luckier with Dark Horse.
MK: It’s gone well. Yeah, Dark Horse has gone well.
TE: Eight singles – two years from release and the album still has life. Did you know what you had when you were in the studio recording with Mutt Lange?
MK: Going into the studio with Mutt was amazing. The guy had made records that we loved and that were some of our favorite records. So you know you’re in good hands, I guess you could say. We were happy to be able to work with the guy. We call what the producer does ‘steering the ship.’ We co-produced with him, but he’s a been-there- done-that-guy. He has literally been there and done that on everything, you know?
TE: How was it to work with him?
MK: Awesome. He’s a bass player. I learned a great deal about how to play bass from Mutt. He was in a band, like in the ‘60s. He was a bass player and singer. So the guy’s been playing bass for a long time, and he’s played on such a wide variety of things. And he also produced and directed the play of bass players on such a wide variety of music that he brings all these ideas to the table. The first time he would tell me to try something or he would show me something on the bass I’d just be like, “Oh man, that’s like – I don’t know – that’s like a lot for me, you know.” I’m really simple, a minimalist kind of person, especially as it applies to playing the bass. He pushed me out of that comfort zone of sticking to what the drums are doing and moved me to going to more melodic things and getting a little more in touch with the vocal. More in touch with what the vocals are doing to contribute to that melodic structure.
TE: Nickelback is known for having one the biggest stage spectacles on the road. How hard is it to raise that bar for every new tour?
MK: It’s about just trying to do something different every time—coming in with a different kind of show and trying to do things that use technology that people haven’t seen yet or that nobody’s used yet. We bring different elements to the shows. I heard yesterday that our new PA amp racks officially have surpassed 1 million watts of sound. That’s pretty cool! I mean, if you’re pumping out a million of anything that’s pretty awesome. A million watts!
TE: That’s crazy.
MK: Yes. A lot of that’s bottom end too, by the way! [laughing]
TE: Anything new on this leg of the tour that you want to tell people about? Or is that a secret?
MK: No, I want ‘em to come and see it! It’s a re-configured version of what we’ve been doing out there. Instead of rolling the same stage show for two years, we try to take it and sort of reconfigure it and change it around through video elements or pyro elements or lighting elements. And the set list, of course, is going to change as well. We try to keep it fresh because a lot of the same people are coming every time, you know, especially when you go back to towns again. Those same folks are going to be there, so it’s nice to give ‘em a little something different.
TE: On this tour, you are using a huge Trace Elliot rig. Can you give us a rundown on the setup?
MK: Well, we usually have the Trace Elliot 1015s with two 10s and a 15 in it, and then the 1818s on the bottom. We have two AH1000-12 heads running—one of them running to the 1818s and one to the 1015s. We have it EQ’d just a little bit differently for the two types of cabinets, then we mix them together, and there you have it.
TE: What are you looking for from your Trace Elliot Amps in creating your huge live sound in this tour?
MK: Once we get a rig where we want it, we kinda leave it there for the most part. But, you know, we go from a really edgy-type pick sound to a really warm, smooth, woofy finger sound. We don’t change any settings except add a little of a secret weapon that we’re not gonna talk about here. But we add the secret weapon when we’re playing with the pick. We leave everything where it is and it goes off. The Trace Elliot sound is great.
TE: How many different basses do you have on the road?
MK: Ten. I’ve just been informed. This just in… ten. Ha, Ha! [laughs]
TE: What’s next for Nickelback? More touring? New album? Time off?
MK: You know, I would love to tell you that what’s coming up next is some time off. I’m getting tired of saying it because at the end of every tour we say, “Oh, we’re gonna take lots of time off and then go make a record.” But we don’t do that. You say you’re going to take time off and then, three weeks go by and everybody’s trigger finger gets itchy and you gotta get to work. I suspect that’s what’s going to happen this time. It might be a little longer, maybe into next year before we start to work. Oh, please … maybe halfway through the surf season, before we get back to work!