Mike Kroeger is best known as bassist and founding member of the hard rock band Nickelback. Nickelback have reigned at the top of the music industry since the early 2000s, selling a total of over 50 millions albums. I can tell you first hand that the saying “don’t meet your heroes” is not true, I’ve been a fan of Mike and his band for years and that only increased after talking with him. He is truly a nice guy who loves to read and couldn’t have been a better fit for Book Brilliant. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much I did having it.
Matt Bechtel: I’ve heard that you’re a voracious reader, what was the last book you’ve read that was so powerful that you had to stop and set it down and just take a moment?
Mike Kroeger: Um, hmmm, there’s a number. Let me start by saying, I’ve read all the works of William Shakespeare with the exception of what I hear is the darkest one, Titus Andronicus. I still have to read it, it’s been 30 years, I should get this done. I’ve read Moby Dick, I’ve read War and Peace, pretty much all the classics I can get my hands on. But I think that the one that I spent the most time with because I’ve read it so many times is a small book, but it’s also one that has deep impact, is Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway. I try to read that every few years. It’s just such a perfect distillation of the struggle of being a man. Have you read old man and the sea before?
I own it. I haven’t read it yet. I’m currently chipping away at Green Hills of Africa. You’re probably like me where you’ve got like 20 books going at once.
Unfortunately, yeah that’s true.
Yeah. So for me, I just got really into Hemingway last year, I wanted to get that one done because I love the hunting and I fell in love with his style and the way he lived is fascinating.
Oh yeah, I want to read one of his biographies because he sounds like a very complex personality to say the least. In some places he’s more famous for fighting his way out at bars than he is for being an author. But, you know, Old Man and the Sea is really good because it’s so potent. It’s a very, very short book, but the allegory that’s in play there is spectacular.
From all angles it’s a book of what you could call nowadays “toxic masculinity”. The book is primarily about a man who sets goals for himself that he attributes to his masculinity, to his value as a man, and that is basically encapsulated in that marlin that he’s going on for. He and that fish have a life and death struggle, and to not spoil it too much in the end, it didn’t matter.
I’ve talked to a number of highly accomplished people, highly accomplished men in this life, and they’ll say they devoted their life single-mindedly to attaining the white whale like the Moby Dick, that one goal that they just single-mindedly and doggedly pursue. And then when they get it, they realize it first, wasn’t worth it, and secondly, didn’t even matter. There’s always more things at play in the periphery of our goals that we don’t know about that present themselves as we get close.
That’s beautiful. I watched the movie as a kid with my grandpa and I know enough about it to kind of know what happens, which is why I haven’t read it yet because I was more interested in the ones that I don’t know as much about. A few biographies on him that I think you would find kind of cool are Everybody Behaves Badly which is about his first book. Papa Hemingway by his friend A.E. Hotchner, and another one is Hemingway’s Cats, because he had a shitload of cats.
Oh really? He was a crazy cat person was he?
Yeah, you can still find them on his island in Key West, I believe. They’re the offspring of the cats that he owned. You mentioned Moby Dick which has a lot of religious connotations in that. I’m a born again Christian and I was reading in a 2002 Kerrang! magazine that you were Pentecostal. They said that you’re a devout Christian. Are you still Pentecostal and would you want to touch on books on the faith at all? Would you want to go into that realm?
Okay, so I have a complex answer for you. That’s a pretty simple question but I got a complex answer. I wasn’t ever really Pentecostal, the denomination of the church that I went to in Vancouver was Pentecostal in base, but it was kind of a non-denominational approach. It wasn’t super deep in that Pentecostal world. So no, I was not ever a bonafide card carrying Pentecostal.
I went through a period of first believing that everybody was a Christian because of the way I grew up in a very small town where there was nothing else but Christianity. I just figured that was just how it was. I felt almost like it was a default setting in humanity that you’re just a Christian, cause that’s all I ever knew. And then as I started to learn more and more, I started to search and honestly, I’m not sure what I am.
I have interest in Christianity, I have interest in frankly, all of them. My wife likes to remind me that there is definite universal truths in all of them, you know, regardless of some of the other ways in which they diverge. There’s a lot of things that all of these religions have in common. The problem for me, and the thing that I struggle with and consistently run into that I can’t get past, like there’s an immovable object that I keep running into, is people. Anytime you put a large group of people together, they’ll fuck everything up. And I don’t think that religion is exempt from that.
So I wouldn’t say that my search is over, but I will say when I looked where I thought it was, it wasn’t there.
You know, the first church that I grew up in was kind of the same. It was kind of a charismatic church I guess is what you would say, they were non-denominational in Omaha, Nebraska. There’s a book that I’ve been recommending to everybody from a pastor named Jack Deere called Even in our Darkness. He was in some of the biggest charismatic movements and it’s kind of about that and a behind the scenes look of that and just how screwed up life is, and how screwed up people are. He had some major tragedies in his family, but that’s a good one. Are you familiar with Benny Hinn?
He was one of the fake televangelists who would bring up people and have them pretend to pass out and stuff. People always edit his videos with stuff like, “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor”.
OHH that shit! Okay, yeah I love that one!
[Laughing] Yeah, his nephew Costi Hinn wrote a book and it’s a pretty crazy book talking about the behind the scenes of that movement. Do you have any books on spirituality, religion, or anything like that that meant a lot to you?
Yeah, well, when I was really deeply, deeply searching I read a lot of C.S. Lewis. I think I read everything he wrote actually. It was really good for me. It was many, many years ago, but Screwtape Letters is one that I remember the most clearly, that was good. I read a book by a guy named Paul E. Little, called Know What You Believe. Basically it was for the searching mind to kind of help you discern what you connect with, and go through the elements of faith to get an understanding of what it is to have faith. That was one that made a mark on me. That was a good book.
I wanted to ask you, have you ever read Count of Monte Cristo?
I wanted to ask because when you were on the STFU podcast you guys were talking about suicide and you said, “Hold on and wait”. And I was like, “Wait a second, I’ve heard that from somewhere” so I was thinking and realized that’s talked about in Count of Monte Cristo. I didn’t know if that was a subconscious thing or a conscious thing when you’d said that.
I think its subconscious. I have read the Count of Monte Cristo although I have been accused of being Don Quixote a few times. It turns out I have a lot of that sort of built into my wiring now. I don’t even know sometimes I’m quoting somebody, like the other day I told somebody that said, “You know, everything in moderation.” And I said, “Yeah, including moderation.” And the person goes, “Oh, Oscar Wilde.” And I was like wait, what? I’ve been saying that for a while. And that in fact is an Oscar Wilde quote.
That is good, that is compound knowledge at work. You’ve kind of been known as the one with the most keen business eye in the band. Was that self-taught, were you picking up books on business? How did you kind of develop that?
I mean, I played in cover bands and things like that and I was always making sure that I was the one who talked to the agents and the club owners. I handled the business and all that so when Nickelback began I already kind of had an understanding of how some of that stuff works, so I took on that kind of role. I became really interested in that kind of role of interfacing with the business elements of music and touring and all that. But no, I didn’t ever read books. I kind of learned that one on the job. In that industry there’s not a lot of stuff in print that you can really learn from, like many parts of our life it has to be lived to be known.
Yeah. Especially in the nineties there wasn’t anything for that except maybe Donald Passman’s book. Josh Todd said he doesn’t really like to read music memoirs because that’s his life, which I can understand. Are you the same way?
I am not the same way [Laughing]. I read a few memoirs and all the ones that I’ve read have been vastly entertaining. I think Hammer of the Gods is probably one of the best ones I’ve read. I’m just getting to the point now where I have to read Miles Davis’ book, I need to know more about that history and the things that that guy went through are just incredible. But just recently I read Harley Flanagan’s book, Hard-Core: Life of My Own.
I came upon that book in a very interesting way. I was at the blue basement at Renzo Gracie’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym in New York City. I had met Renzo a few times and I wanted to train. So I got there and I was on the mat and Renzo was showing me some pretty interesting techniques that I hadn’t seen before. One of which was so cool that I kissed his face because I was like “Dude I’m using that on everybody!” and he was like “You do it!” But anyway, shortly after that this short little guy with a tattoo on the back of his head came walking up to me who was a black belt.
He was in his uniform and he just said, “Who are you?” And I was like, “Uh, Michael, my name’s Michael” and Renzo came up and said, “Oh, he’s Nickelback. This guy’s in Nickelback.” And I could see that this guy that I was talking to is a pretty tough customer. Like Harley, you know, Harley is a serious guy. He’s intense as shit. He doesn’t even have to say anything you can just feel it coming off of him. And I was like, “Oh fuck, here we go”. Is this where the rubber meets the road? Is this the part where the guy goes, “I hate your fucking band, it sucks!” or what’s going to happen? I was ready for everything.
I don’t really go around telling people what I do, just because I don’t want to hear what people think. I don’t care good, bad, or otherwise. Whatever you know, just live your life. I don’t need that kind of fandom, I don’t care about it. But then he goes, “I love you fucking guys!” He kinda like play punched me in the guts and threw a hug on me.
I thought “Oh, okay. Alright this is gonna go good.” And he goes, “All those fuckers that hate on you guys, they’re just jealous, fuck them!” It was like “Okay, Harley, awesome! Nice to meet you!” So he goes “Shit. I gotta give you something.” and I said, “Harley you don’t have to give me anything.” like, Renzo had already gave me a Gi and I was just filled with so much gratitude, there was just so much friendship going around and then he ran into the locker room and came back with his book in his hand and a Sharpie. He goes “Here, this is all I got. I’m sorry, this is all I got to give you. I wish I could give you something better than this, but this is what I have” and he signed the book for me and gave it to me.
It was just like, holy shit, I never met somebody so giving and so generous to a stranger before. He doesn’t know me from anybody and he was just completely my friend. Instantly. And we’ve been friends since, I’ve seen him several times since then and Harley’s become a dear friend of mine. He’s in the process of filming a documentary and he’s going to interview me for it in about a week when he comes out here in Los Angeles. He’s going to be cornering some of his hardcore colleagues of which I am not clearly, but I’m a huge fan of his work.
But yeah, that is not normally how I get books you know, with the author handing them to me, that’s not usually how that works. So it was a pretty special case.
That’s awesome. That is a cool story. That reminds me, I wanted to ask your opinion on this, I grew up doing martial arts and I’m wanting to get back into it. I’ve got the chance to do Sambo, what Khabib does.
Oh yeah. Russian, the Russian Sambo.
Yeah. So in Omaha, they’ve got a lot of martial arts stuff in Omaha and there’s obviously Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but I’m trying to decide which one I should do, I kind of want to do Sambo. What do you think?
This is kinda my personality showing itself, but I’d do it all. Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a fantastic base to build everything else off of. I think a lot of people think Sambo is too and I don’t think they’re wrong. Sambo is so fucking cool man. It’s, it’s just brutal wrestling, right? Like it’s fucking ugly and it’s not fun to watch and its gross and painful, but it is so effective. And I don’t know. I do them all.
That’s the thing that’s been kind of my problem. What’s been one of my problems besides getting fucking injured all the time is I can’t decide on one thing. I’ll do Krav Maga and I’ll do sort of garden variety, dirty fighting tactical shit, and then I’ll do BJJ, Muay Thai, I don’t think there’s just one. I think you can kind of build a base for yourself out of one thing that speaks to you the most, but you gotta be able to grapple and you gotta be able to strike. Those are the two things you need to do.
I’m going to start getting into American boxing now. I’ve got this really good friend that I met years ago who has offered to train me, Victor Ortiz.
Yeah. Every time I tell somebody that they’re like “Victor Ortiz is going to train you? That’s crazy!” and it is crazy. And it’s at Freddie Roach’ gym for God’s sake. It’s like, come on you know, my life is good. My life is really good.
That’s awesome. That’s the American dream right? To have the connections and to be able to do the stuff you want to do. You know, growing up for me I got a black belt when I was in seventh grade so really it’s like a junior black belt.
Was it Taekwondo?
No, I don’t even know what to tell people because it was truly like mixed martial arts. My instructor James Rosenbach started it with Robert Bussey. They grew up doing martial arts and then Bussey went to Japan and did Ninjutsu, he’s got a couple of books actually and he was on MTV in the eighties. They were both on the cover of black belt magazine all the time. But Rosenbach has black belts in Hapkido, Ninjutsu, Tae Kwon Do, Karate, and other stuff. Jeremy Horn kind of came out of that camp, he fought Chuck Liddell who I love too. Have you ever read Liddell’s book or Tito Ortiz’s book by chance?
I have not, I’ve only read Renzo’s book, his jujitsu book, but I haven’t read any MMA books. I guess that’s something I can put on the list. And with Chuck being a good friend, I should read his book.
It’s good man, I loved it. You know another good book that’s about real wrestling, not just professional, is Bret the Hitman Hart’s book. He’s got an inch thick book and he talks about real wrestling and doing professional wrestling in Japan. Just from you and I talking I think that even if you don’t care about WWE or anything, I think you would really enjoy that book.
Well, Bret is a dear friend of Nickelback. He comes from Calgary. You see, I was born in Calgary and also Ryan Peake was born in Calgary. So we’re from the same world. We’ve run into Bret a few times and he is just the nicest guy and was so kind to us. He treated us like family from the beginning. I think he’s just that kind of guy.
I want to go back to music memoirs for a second because those are some of my favorite reads. I’ve heard you say that you’ve read Fargo Rock City which I hadn’t read or even heard of, but after looking it up I’m definitely going to check that out. I’ve also heard you say that you’ve read Get in the Van by Henry Rollins which is a classic, are there any other ones that you like?
Well, first of all, as it applies to Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman, you should read everything you can by Chuck Klosterman. I can tell you that right now, talking to you, this is what you want to read. He’s fucking fantastic. I love Chuck Klosterman so much. I read Mustaine’s book entitled Mustaine, which was a good one. I think one of the most entertaining ones is a little on the fringe in addition to other writers, is a book called Crazy from the Heat by David Lee Roth. That man is as entertaining as they come, there’s no question. Absolutely fucking hilarious. I think he should write more, I’ve read his little op-eds and stuff that he’s done over the years and that’s probably one of the more entertaining music memoirs that I’ve ever read. I think that’s probably the funniest thing I’ve ever read.
It’s kind of an older one too, because back in the day there was really only like Hammer of the Gods and then Aerosmith’s book came out, and I feel like after The Dirt everybody just started churning books because everybody had a story to tell. Is there ever a question that no one asked you that you wish they would ask?
Um, I don’t really have a question that I want to get asked. I think everybody who asks questions, I presume they do and they should have their consumer’s thoughts in mind when they ask these questions. So, wherever they’re coming from would affect the nature of the question and what their readers or viewers or whatever are interested in. I get a lot of questions that I’ve answered ad nauseam, but that doesn’t really bother me.
A lot of people tell me things like, “If I was in your position, and another person asked me what was on Joey’s head, I’d lose my shit on everybody.” And I’m like “No, no, no. It’s fine, it’s totally fine.” I don’t mind answering the same thing over and over again as long as it’s not a horseshit paparazzi-ish question about pop culture, fame, or some shit like that. As long as it comes from a genuine place, a real place. I don’t mind answering anything.
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