Chad Kroeger, lead singer of Nickelback, is frustrated. Today, the record label wants that next hit single. They want those guitars crunchy. They want it three-and-a-half minutes. They want it snappy. And by god, they want it today.
But Chad Kroeger, lead singer of Nickelback, isn’t feeling it. Not today. However deep that reservoir of inspiration may have proven to be in the past, it’s coming up empty right now. And as Chad Kroeger, lead singer of Nickelback, steps into the recording booth, he knows something isn’t right.
He puts his headphones on, the big black ones with the frayed cord that his dog chewed up, and he looks over his shoulder into the producer’s booth at Javon, their producer, but the booth is filling up now with executives, vice presidents of marketing, radio people, and who knows who else. All these people that want Chad Kroeger, lead singer of Nickelback, to sell out. To just be their monkey and give them a hit single when they want it.
They don’t realize that Chad Kroeger, lead singer of Nickelback, is a motherfucking artist.
So it begins. Javon queues the board. He issues a countdown for Kroeger. Then Javon hits the button and the backing track begins playing.
Those crafted soundscapes fill Kroeger’s head. First with the drums. Then yeah, hell yeah, those guitars. Those Nickelback guitars. Just like we like ’em, he thinks. The sound of a garbage truck being thrown through a wall of garbage trucks.
And the lyrics. Shit, man. The lyrics. They’re awesome. Kroeger holds that sheet like it’s the Declaration of Rockdependence handed down by Thomas Rockferson himself. For good reason, too. It had been nearly two weeks since they were originally written and they had been the source of quite a bit of mental anguish for Chad Kroeger, lead singer of Nickelback, who is also the band’s chief songwriter.
“I’m, like, a perfectionist, man,” Kroeger had mentioned to his fans on his exclusive fans-only blog. “And when I write lyrics, man, they gotta be personal as shit. When you hear a Nickelback song, man, it cuts deep, ’cause it comes from the heart, yeah.”
In fact, so committed was Kroeger that he locked himself away in the back corner of his rock-mansion for three days straight in order to perfect the lyrics and chord choices. No food, no water, no contact, no sleep, no hygiene. Nothing but a man, a pen, and a guitar. For three days. Even his live-in stripper, Denise, wasn’t allowed to see him.
Extreme though the methods may be, it was part of the Nickelback creed: if it ain’t the best shit ever, man, well, fuck that shit, man. This creed was also emblazoned across Kroeger’s chest in comic sans font.
After three days, when he finally emerged, he knew he had a masterpiece. Something career defining, maybe. It was called “In the Back Corner (of my Rock Mansion)” and it rocked.
And up until this point, the recording had gone according to plan. But now was the moment of truth.
The vocal track. Laying that shit down.
In many ways, it is the most difficult part of recording a Nickelback song and Chad Kroeger, lead singer of Nickelback, knows this. He knows that fans will be willing to accept a Nickelback song with electric guitars and even the occasional oddball with acoustic guitars. He knows that fans will be willing to accept a fast song and willing to accept a slow song.
One thing that Nickelback fans will not stand for, Kroeger knows, is subpar vocals. They’re accustomed to that trademark Kroeger growl. That chewing on glass sound he’s spent a lifetime perfecting.
“I sing better than Jesus now,” Kroeger had once told a reporter in Indianapolis. “Just like Jack Lemon.”
To deliver anything less than the Nickelback standard would be nothing short of a betrayal. At the same time, the record label needs that song today. They need it now.
The producer’s booth is brimming with people staring. All those anonymous faces in the booth, faces unknown to Kroeger, share a common expression: where is our hit? Where is our goddamn hit, Chad Kroeger, lead singer of Nickelback?
The backing track chugs along inside his headphones but Kroeger knows something’s off. Something isn’t right. He can’t do this. Not today. Not like this. Not for them.
But he has to.
So Chad Kroeger, lead singer of Nickelback, grits his teeth to sing, despite his objections. But nothing comes out. He can hear whispers turning into arguments in the producer’s booth. He can hear the suggestions about replacing him with Rob Thomas, lead singer of some other band.
Then, all of a sudden, it clicks.
Kroeger drops his lyric sheet, the one he poured his soul into. He tears off his headphones, the ones his dog chewed on.
Chad Kroeger, lead singer of Nickelback, looks directly at the people in the producer’s booth, the people who want to take his integrity and sell it, and he snarls into the mic, as only Chad Kroeger can:
Never made it as a blind man
Everytime I look at you, I go blind
This is how you remind me
Everytime I look at you, I go blind
It’s flowing natural. Off the top of his head. Chad Kroeger, lead singer of Nickelback, is doing it. He’s rocking it.
Chad Kroeger, lead singer of Nickelback, is speaking truth to power and screw them if they can’t take it. The song pours out of every fiber of his being in a way that practiced, focused concentration could never bring. In a way that only being struck by inspiration like a bolt of lightning could.
And when he finishes, with his arms spread out dramatically, Chad Kroeger, lead singer of Nickelback, has no regrets about his actions.
But there is a moment of hesitation. His eyes remain closed and the world around him remains silent.
The anonymous faces inside the producer’s booth are slack-jawed and stupefied. Then, slowly, predictably, there is clapping. Cheering, even. It’s New Year’s Eve in there and because of Chad Kroeger, lead singer of Nickelback, it just struck midnight for everyone associated with the band.
In a few hours, Chad Kroeger, lead singer of Nickelback, will be carried out of the studio on the shoulders of label executives. As the day grows dark, the anonymous faces will become less anonymous as everyone celebrates into the night, drunk off their sure success. And as nights roll into weeks, the song they’ve layed down today will burn to the top of the charts. As weeks become months, the song will ward off all competition, establishing itself as the greatest selling record of all time by a wide margin.
As months become years, the song will become a staple of the national culture. It will be sung at sporting events to encourage the home team. It will be danced to at wedding receptions when bridesmaids hook up with groomsmen. And as generations pass, the song will be adopted as an unofficial second national anthem.
It won’t matter to them that the song was a haphazard mixture of an earlier Nickelback song and a Hootie & the Blowfish tune from the mid 90s. It won’t matter to them because they won’t know.
It won’t matter to anyone except Javon, the producer, who recognized what was happening as it was happening. And as he remains silent throughout the partying, then later the mixing process all the way through distribution, Javon will later come to regret his inaction in a way only comparable to reluctant citizens of Nazi Germany. On his deathbed as an old man, Javon will recount this day as his single greatest regret.
But right now, at this moment, Javon participates in the partying. He smiles and laughs.
He congratulates Chad Kroeger, lead singer of Nickelback. And it will haunt him for the rest of his life.