It’s time to Get Rollin’.

For its 10th album, Nickelback – Chad Kroeger, Ryan Peake, Mike Kroeger, and Daniel Adair – enjoyed something they hadn’t had previously, over a 25-year career that’s generated nine studio projects and 50 million in album sales: the luxury of time.

“We didn’t have a deadline,” Chad Kroeger told us, during a Toronto stop he and guitarist Ryan Peake made to help induct Bryan Adams into the Canadian Songwriters Hall Of Fame, in a gala at Massey Hall, on Sept 24, 2022.

“We didn’t have anybody yelling at us, saying, ‘Guys, if you don’t get this out by the fourth quarter, then we’re not going to do this, this, and this, and then the tour’s not going to happen.’ For 20 years, that’s all we heard,” says Kroeger. “Everything has been plotted and pre-determined. And it’s so nice to be working at your leisure. Don’t rush anything, and be creative when you feel the creativity coming.”
Get Rollin’, the Alberta-born, West Coast-based band’s first effort since 2017’s Feed The Machine, finds Nickelback – known for such barn-burning rock monsters as “Photograph” and “How You Remind Me” among its many, many hits – delving into both the familiar and the unfamiliar.

There are the expected rock ‘n’ roll shredders like “San Quentin” and “Skinny Little Missy,” fortified with molten guitar solos; but then there’s the ‘70s country-rock  feel of “High Times,” and the dream-like, pseudo-psychedelic ballad “Tidal Wave” – both of which stretch Nickelback in new directions.

One of Kroeger’s proudest moments on Get Rollin’  is the nostalgia-fueled, bro-country-ish “Those Days.” “The age I’m at now, and the further we get from our youth, the more important nostalgia is for me,” he says. “You don’t really look back at things when you’re in your twenties and say, ‘Well, when I was 17…’ It’s when you’re in your forties that you say, ‘Oh, when I was 16… I remember this, and this, and this.’ It turns into your glory days, right? A lot of the shitty stuff  that happens to all of us starts to melt away a little bit, and hopefully, you start to  carve out the good memories.”

Nickelback, live, History, Toronto, 2022

Nickelback live at History in Toronto, Nov. 15, 2022. Photo: Tristan Nugent

He chokes up a little. “‘Those Days,’ for me, takes me back to the reason we started the band,” he says. “Even the shitty stuff that does wind up forming you, that you don’t want to tell anybody about, wouldn’t make you who you are today, without that.  If you go back and erase it, you’d be a completely different human.

“For me, I fucking love where we are. What a job! Some of it’s tough, and some of it’s really, really hard, but we got here. And I think I’ve done enough singing about the mile of shit you have to crawl through sometimes in life. Now, it’s nicer to sing about some other things, the good stuff. Hopefully, it resonates with people the same way it resonates with me.”

When it comes to creating those past and future classics, Kroeger uses his home studio to provide the initial seed of the song, adding that the other band members possess veto power, and have a say as to what works. “These guys come in and they contribute to everything,” he says. “I’ll bring the skeleton to them and ask, ‘Is this worth chasing? Are you guys interested in this at all? Do you think this is the right direction for us?’

“Sometimes they say no, but that’s okay; let’s try something else, and go someplace else. And Ryan is always complimentary: ‘Hey, it’s a good song, I just don’t think it’s for us.’ Because we’re trying to make an ‘us’ record and not a ‘me’ record, that one will go in the vault and sit there, until maybe I’m ready to do something solo with someone else.”

Kroeger feels that anything can launch a song skeleton, be it a riff or a lyric.

“It can be so many different things,” he says. “I say this all the time: When it comes to professionally writing a song, you should start with the chorus, and know thematically what you’re contributing to in terms of verses, because that’s where the details are going to come in, to be descriptive of your general theme.”

He pauses a second for dramatic effect, before chuckling, “We rarely fucking do that. But as Nickelback, we always get there.”

Ryan Peake says there’s a single litmus test on whether a song makes it past the audition stage. “My thing is – and I put myself under the same microscope when I’m coming up with shit – do I want to hear it again?” he says. “That’s the bottom line for me. I think that’s the bottom line for a lot of people.”

At the end of the day, Milk & Bone didn’t re-invent themselves on their third album, Chrysalism; their songs are once again bathed in their signature, latent melancholy. Formally, however, the evolution is spectacular, so much so that the album’s opening song, “Bigger Love,” is just a hair short of making us – as well as the duo themselves – want to dance: “What’s cool about it is that in a live context, it forces us to be vulnerable in a different way, which is to say, by dancing,” explains Laurence Lafond-Beaulne, one-half of the duo. “There’s something very intimate in the movement of a body, it’s just as personal as the way you sing, which is something we’re much more accustomed to. We’re increasingly exploring that form of liberty, and it’s beneficial for us.”

Milk and Bone, Object of Fun

Click on the image to play the Milk and Bone video “Object of Fun”

“We did think about the live shows while we were creating the album,” Lafond-Beaulne continues. “We know what songs our audiences enjoy the most, and what songs make us the happiest when we play them. One way or another, it probably had an influence on the album’s direction,” which refers to its robust rhythms, the breakbeats that have replaced the more uniform house beats so ever-present in modern pop. “We’re working on our live show right now, and there’ll be more movement and risk-taking, a form of abandon that stems from freeing the body. We want to explore that more.”

Co-produced by their Californian colleague Micah Jasper, Chrysalism was written and recorded during the pandemic. At the outset of it all, Camille Poliquin and Laurence Lafond-Beaulne   clearly needed to shake their tailfeathers. At least a little, says Lafond-Beaulne: “We write from our sadness and our pain. I don’t think we could write happy, positive songs while preserving the sound of the first Milk & Bone album [Little Mourning, 2015]. The production is more on the ball, but our writing still stems from the same place,” she says about the reflections – both existential and relational – that permeate the duo’s lyrics.

As the musicians confirm, the form changes, but the creative process remains the same. Says Camille Poliquin, “Like everyone else, the pandemic gave us a break, and we had more time to write each on our own, but this album was made exactly like its two predecessors. We plan for writing retreats together,  and that’s when we look at what the other has written, and where our common ground is. We don’t have specific jobs within that process; we write the lyrics and the melodies as a duo. We complement each other. Our workflow is well-oiled after two albums, and we have a wonderful collaboration.”

Milk and Bone, A Little Better Every Time

Click on the image to play the Milk and Bone video “A Little Better Every Time”

Lafond-Beaulne adds, “One thing is clear: even if the idea for a song belongs to the personal history of one of us, we always work on it together. That’s why, after collaborating for the past decade, we understand each other. Sometimes we’ll talk openly [about a song’s topic], but often, when one of us starts working on a song, the other one immediately knows what she wants to say. Camille is able to write from my perspective and vice versa. Ultimately, we all experience human trials and wounds differently, but we can also identify with those situations.”

Thus, the pandemic – as well as the musicians’ passage into their thirties – fed the stories on Chrysalism, a title that refers to the safety we feel when we shelter from a storm, a virus, or more metaphorically, from one of these threats that our society always weighs on “the other”… “One thing we did [during the creation of the album] is to have a different perspective on our identity as women, with the hindsight of what we lived during the last decade,” says Poliquin. “I had a lot to say on that topic!”

They take a stand on their very nature, in songs such as “Object of Fun”: “We talk about the male gaze,” says Poliquin. “What I mean is, how we often realize, later, and too late, that we allowed ourselves to be belittled and accommodating. But it’s also a broader reflection on what’s expected of women in our society, and how we deal with that.”

“A lot more is expected of women than of men, and the male gaze is also a bit about that,” says Lafond-Beaulne Laurence, before explaining the meaning of the lyrics of “Green Dot.” “It’s about that painful moment at the end of a relationship where it becomes difficult to let go,” obsessed by a contact that’s on the verge of being broken, and by that little green dot indicating, on our cellphones, that the other is online, “this unhealthy tendency we have to feed hope by communicating. I had to learn that these last few years, and it’s not easy.”

On-Screen Music

For the past few years, Lafond-Beaulne and Poliquin, both together as Milk & Bone and individually, have been composing for film and television. As a duo, they’ve penned original music for Mafia Inc and King Dave, by Daniel Grou, aka Podz. As a solo musician, Poliquin (as KROY) has composed music for the series Féminin/Féminin by Chloé Robichaud and Florence Gagnon, as well as for the documentary Ainsi soient-elles (2019) by Maxime Faure. “We’ve composed together a lot,” she says, “but lately we’ve been working independently on various projects,” that they’re not yet at liberty to discxuss.

“Screen music kept us busy during the pandemic,” Camille continues. “I think that, on the one hand, associating with an [established] band or artist already gives you an idea of the kind of music that will accompany the images. Then, it’s perhaps also a way, from the point of view of the producers [of the film or the TV series], not to ‘micromanage’ the project too much. Generally, the director will be very present in the musical direction of his project; to hire a musician or musicians who already have an identity is to accept that one subscribes to something unique, a signature sound. I embrace this freedom by saying to myself that if someone reaches out and wants to put my name on a project, I have a veto on certain matters. We’re good with voices and synths, for example. If you come to us with musical ideas that require a live band, it’s not our cup of tea.”

Speaking about their collaboration with Podz, Lafond-Beaulne says, “As a director, he’s looking for a specific sensibility. Podz saw us at Osheaga, and felt something in our music that made him want to give us free reign [for creating music for his films]. He’s always trusted what we offer him, and gives us a very large playground in which to work. We appreciate this desire for active collaboration between us.”

Chxrry22’s debut EP The Other Side opens with a sweet, but scathing missive to a toxic ex. On the eponymous track, the Scarborough native dusts the remnants of a painful relationship off her shoulders as she enjoys the spoils of newfound fame – relishing her post-heartbreak glow up. “You never know where you’ll be in five years,” she muses through honeyed vocals. “You should’ve been nice. ‘Cause I’m on the other side.”

The song is an example of the deeply personal approach Chxrry (pronounced “Cherry”) applies to her songwriting. Like her lyrics say on “The Other Side,” her life has taken a dramatic turn in the past five years, and surely there’s a regretful ex or two who would eat crow if they could see her now.

Chxrry, of Ethiopian origin, was born Lydia Habtemariam. Her parents both sang in a choir, and encouraged their children to develop their own musical gifts. As a child, Chxrry sang at birthday parties and weddings, making a name for herself at family gatherings. “[Singing] was an easy way for me to make friends, and for people to like me, so I always wanted to do it,” she says. But it wasn’t until 2017 that she considered taking her talents further.

At the suggestion of a friend, she began posting social media videos of herself singing, and they quickly went viral. Soon after, she went from fledgling internet singer to the first woman signed to XO Records, the label co-founded by The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) – who, like Chxrry, is also from Scarborough, and also of Ethiopian heritage. It was an unexpected outcome, but one for which she proved to be ready.

As a label, XO is an extension of Weeknd’s laissez-faire leadership. Chxrry had full creative freedom as she crafted The Other Side, and was encouraged to lean into her sound, and make the project her own. To work on the EP, she relocated to Atlanta and teamed up with Grammy-nominated producer Sensei Bueno (Kid Cudi, Snoh Aalegra) and equally decorated songwriter Daijah Ross (Baby Rose, Eli Derby).

“Writing this EP was like talking to your friend and explaining something that happened”

Instagram posts from both Bueno and Ross depict cozy, lighthearted scenes: Chxrry in sweats, singing before a computer screen in Bueno’s compact bedroom; the trio cackling as they do trust fall exercises in between recording sessions. They’re working on something major, but the sessions look more like a carefree slumber party between friends. Chxrry says that kind of comfort was important to her writing process.

“Bueno’s like my therapist at this point. And Daijah is my friend from Atlanta who I met through Bueno. They’re, like, best friends, and when I came, I was part of the trio,” says Chxrry. “Writing this EP was super-natural and organic, nothing was forced. It was like talking to your friend and explaining something that happened – then you just start writing about it.”

Chxrry’s goals on The Other Side were to develop her confidence as an artist, and establish her own voice — a mission she accomplished in spades. Her sound is trance-like and ethereal, but the lyrics are sharp and no-nonsense: on “The Falls,” she holds herself accountable for cheating but doesn’t apologize; on “Call Me,” she shatters the hopes of a friend with benefits looking to deepen the commitment (“the look in your eyes sayin’ stay back/call somebody else if you want that”). “Wasteland,” on which Chxrry and Sensei team up with Sonic Major and Childish Major, is a cutting, no-holds-barred report on a barren dating scene. Her withering verses aren’t for everyone — and Chxrry doesn’t mind at all.

“I’ve always had this attitude [that] I’m just gonna say and do what I want,” she says. “It will have its consequences for sure, like sometimes people perceive me the wrong way. [But] I don’t have the energy to constantly be censoring myself. It’s easier to be real and honest about who I am. I don’t really care to keep up an image. Doing all the people pleasing doesn’t really last.”

With her debut complete and out in the world, Chxrry already has her sights set on releasing another effort – at the top of 2023, if she has her way. No matter when it drops, Chxrry promises one thing: it’ll be an experience. “It’s hard to describe [my sound] because I have so much music in the vault that’s very different from what’s out right now,” she says. “But it’s not just about the sound, it’s about the whole brand, all of me. From my personality to my music, to my style, to my content, it’s really just an experience. Honestly.”