Nickelback Narrowly Avoided PR Disaster With Its Charlie Daniels Cover


Nickelback has rarely been granted the benefit of the doubt when it comes to questions of public relations. But the band caught a rare break this summer on what could have been one of the worst-timed mishaps of its career.

Bassist Mike Kroeger tells Q104.3 New York's QN'A that Nickelback's newly-released cover of the Charlie Daniels Band's 1979 classic "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" wasn't intended to be a posthumous tribute.

The song was going to come out earlier this summer, but the band scrambled to delay its release after Daniels passed away on July 6.

Kroeger has gotten plenty of laughs over the years from jokes at his own expense, he says, but if the "Devil Went Down to Georgia" cover arrived before Daniels' death, the fallout would not have been funny at all.

"We garner our fair share of s--t," he says. "There would be a lot of people, who would be going, 'Oh, what a coincidence.' Then there would be a larger, louder contingent...who would be going, 'You f---ers killed Charlie Daniels!' People are amazing, though."

The cover, which features guitar virtuoso Dave Martone, is at least a decade old, Kroeger says. The band completed the song this past winter, deciding that it was time to finally release it this year.

Daniels himself heard the track and approved it, but the Internet has a way of shooting first and asking questions later. For the most-criticized band in history, it's a close call that might as well be considered a win.

In the QN'A below, Kroeger gives more backstory on the latest Nickelback single; he addresses the band's legacy as an online punching bag, its connection to prog-metal mastermind Devin Townsend and the likelihood of a new album on the horizon.

Was this cover of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" with Dave Martone in the works before Charlie Daniels passed away last month?

This has been in the can for over 10 years.

I only just recorded my bass parts 6 - 8 months ago, but this was well in motion before he made the papers with dying. I didn't even know if he was in trouble or anything like that.

We actually sent the track to him personally to approve it, and he did approve it.

I don't know if we're necessarily his cup of tea, but we did a version of the track that he approved of.

It has the spirit of the original.

The core of it is there's a phenom player, right? In our band, Chad [Kroeger] is a pretty badass guitar player, but that isn't really what our thing is. We're not really shreddy guys. Hell, I don't even play if there's no bass drum — if there's no bass drum, you won't hear any bass [guitar], generally. So we don't work that way.

However, we know a guy. Our good buddy Dave Martone — that's his language. That's how he communicates is in shred. We brought him into the studio. We said, 'Dude, go nuts,' and we hit the space bar. And that was like 10 or 12 years ago.

Did you move the release date of the song after the news of Charlie Daniels' passing?

Right when we were going to release it was when he passed. We didn't want to look like ambulance chasers, like, 'Oh, the guy died, let's try to montage it with covers!'

We didn't want to look like scum, so we decided to put it away and wait until the dust settled on that thing.

Seems like you dodged a bullet. What if you put it out right before he passed?

If it was coincidental, it would have sucked. It would have been terrible.

We garner our fair share of s--t. There would be a lot of people, who would be going, 'Oh, what a coincidence.' Then there would be a larger, louder contingent of f---heads who would be going, 'You f---ers killed Charlie Daniels!' People are amazing, though.

Twitter and Facebook are like the worst places on Earth. I deleted Twitter last week. It felt so good. I only do Instagram now, personally.

I used to get involved on the Nickelback Twitter. I would never engage the single-digit follower/bot types, so I would only go after the blue checkmarks or people that had thousands of followers.

But every time I would burn someone to the ground, underneath in the comment section would be like, 'Good one, Chad!'

I kind of felt ripped off because I kind of put some thought and some effort into those counter-attacks. But the other thing was I started to feel pressure because they all think it's my brother. What if I f--k it up? What if I do the wrong thing and it's not 'Good one, Chad!' it's 'F--k you, Chad!' And he didn't even do it!

I'm inadvertently putting words in my brother's mouth. There'd be times when I'd even put, 'Hey, it's Mike here,' and they would think it was Chad. I just had to stop.

Have you ever run into that kind of meanness in person?

I can easily handle people in person. No one's ever come up to me and said they hate my band. Never. Not once.

I know it has happened to Chad. But that's in drunk situations, you know? Where there's drunk people. You give them the truth serum and they'll really let you know. I'm not around those people so I don't get that.

If somebody came up to me rationally and tried to explain why they hate my music, I would happily hear them out and talk to them. Tell me what you think and then allow me to respond and then we can shake hands — in a socially-distanced way (laughs) — and move on with our lives.

I think it's kind of evolutionarily a dead-end to talk only about things you hate in life. That's just embracing the negative to the fullest. You know what that'll get you: cancer or a heart attack.

I felt like there was a tipping point when a U.S. congressman used Nickelback as the butt of a joke. That's when I thought, 'Okay, now it's over and we can't make fun of Nickelback anymore.'

(Laughs) You know it's totally cool to not like something. That's fine. If it's us, that's fine too.

What you're describing about a congressman or something making fun of us — that was when I knew...

So this really happening, right? I didn't imagine it.

Yes. I, for a long time, enjoyed some of this s--t slinging. There is a section of it that's actually funny.

Some of those people, when they're throwing s--t at us, they are saying some really funny and witty things and I have a good laugh. Sometimes I'll f---ing belly laugh. I'm not going to tell you which ones, because I don't want to give anybody [a plug]... but there are some of them that I genuinely thought were hysterical and I sent it to my friends, 'Like, this is great! This is really funny!'

I have thick skin. I like really inappropriate, dark humor. I'm not going to be shocked by anything, but if something is funny, it's funny. And I will laugh about it if it's about me or anybody else.

When I saw people in politics using us, that was when I saw the death of us as a comedic tool. That's when I knew. When those f--k heads are using you as a comic prop, you know it's over. It's not funny anymore.

When some a--hole is attacking Rahm Emanuel by saying, 'Rahm Emanuel likes Nickelback,' it's like, 'Oh, this is not funny anymore. It's over. The dream is dead.'

We were an effective punchline for a while that even gave me joy, but now we're being used in such a hackneyed, lame way.

Devin Townsend blew some people's minds when he defended you guys and said he was friends with Chad. When did you first learn of Devin?

We shared some common space [in Vancouver in the mid-'90s]. He had his Strapping Young Lad project and a bunch of other things going on. Where I lived, in particular, on the east side was where most of his cohorts lived.

I lived in a rehearsal studio for quite a while and I would go see their shows and we had a lot of mutual friends, but I still have never met Devin before.

Something happened a few years ago. I think it might have been somebody was talking s--t about our band and Devin jumped up and said, 'I don't really think that's okay. They're good songwriters...' He didn't know us, but he stood up for us.

I think after that, my brother Chad reached out to him and just said, 'Hey, come by my house. Come by the studio, just to say hi. You were really kind to us. I just want to say thanks.'

And he did, he came over. Chad was in the studio doing something. I don't know if it was Nickelback or if it was something else. They just related as human beings and hit it off.

It just shows that people are all the same.

Devin Townsend is about as hardcore as it gets. As far as musicianship with integrity, with no equivocation and no compromise. For him to befriend the guy from Nickelback is quite a stretch for a lot of people's imagination. But it just means if you have an open mind, you give people a chance and you can be friends with people.

What do you think is next for Nickelback? Are you planning anything as far as a new tour or a new record?

Right now we're in a wait-and-see on just about every level. We're getting our documentary ready to go, that's one thing we're moving forward with.

We're releasing this single, this cover of 'Devil Went Down to Georgia.' Aside from that, I've just adopted an attitude of low pressure, especially with regards to Chad to write anything new.

A lot of our career, I think we're been loading him up with pressure and expectations to create. I don't want to do that anymore. I don't want to pressurize him to create anymore. I want him to do it when it comes, and that's it.

If he never wrote another song again, I'd be happy if he doesn't feel like he wants to write. If he does feel like he wants to write and get in there and do it, I'd be fully 100 percent behind him.

I really don't want to treat him like the golden goose and keep squeezing eggs out of him. I don't think it's fair. I think it's harmful to him, so we'll see.

He has some stuff cooking. I know he does. He sent me a couple of song parts that I really like. We'll see what comes out.

Now, I have to qualify this with something. My brother is someone who really performs under pressure. So although I don't want to put pressure on him, I know that that's what makes stuff happen for him. I just won't have it be from me.

What typically occurs to motivate him to write is a deadline. In order to really dig in and go for it, we'll probably have to get an agreement in place where somebody's giving us a lot of money and then saying, 'I need a record by this date.'

And then we'll fritter away three-quarters of the time and then we'll go in and just crush it out like a complete death march and just get it done. That's kind of our way.

So if Chad never writes anything new, what does that mean for you guys?

Maybe we just start touring the greatest hits in perpetuity. I don't know.

I guess I'm just open to that eventuality because it does happen to artists, to writers — some of the people write some of the biggest songs in history, one day it's just not there anymore.

And that's okay.

If it wasn't that way, Paul McCartney would have been writing No. 1 hits for 65 years. It doesn't work like that.

The trouble is [songwriters] feel an expectation to generate hits that eclipse their previous hits constantly. And I don't think that's fair and I think it's self-generated.

I don't think it's the suits coming in the room and going, 'Hey guys, we just need another 'How You Remind Me,' so just get back to work and just give us one.'

It isn't that. It's not. It's self-imposed. All great artists and creators, the pressure comes from within. It has to. If it was just a room full of suits telling you to get in there and write a hit, there would be an unlimited number of hits.

Photo: Richard Beland

Q104.3 · New York's Classic Rock

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