“Nickelback has embraced their haters”: Meet the filmmakers documenting Canada’s most polarizing band

“Nickelback has embraced their haters”: Meet the filmmakers documenting Canada’s most polarizing band

Hate to Love: Nickelback, premiering at TIFF this week, goes behind the scenes to tell the real story of the country’s revered and reviled rockers

Hate to Love: Nickelback director Leigh Brooks. Photos courtesy of Gimme Sugar Productions

Nickelback formed in the ’90s as four high school buds who wanted to make music together. They paid their dues touring tiny venues for even tinier paycheques and then exploded onto the world stage in 2001 with their iconic earworm “How You Remind Me.” Massive hits like “Photograph,” “Someday” and “Rockstar” followed. Then, sometime in the mid-aughts, the band became as well-known for their haters as for their fan base.

“It was something they didn’t want to talk about at first,” says Leigh Brooks, the British documentarian who flew to Vancouver to film a quick album promo for the group in 2017 and, six years later, ended up with something very different. In Hate to Love: Nickelback, Brooks and producer Ben Jones go behind the scenes to tell the real story of Canada’s most reviled rockers. As it turns out (spoiler alert!), you may not actually hate them as much as you think. Catch the film at TIFF—or see the band’s free performance this Friday to kick off the festival—to decide for yourself.

Related: Thirteen must-see movies at the Toronto International Film Festival this year

How did two British filmmakers wind up making a doc about Canada’s most polarizing rock band?

Ben: I had a relationship with the band that went back to my days as a radio presenter in the late ’90s. I was the first one to play them on the radio in the UK, and then when the hate started, in 2006 or 2007, I could have jumped on that bandwagon, but I didn’t. I have always enjoyed Nickelback and their music in the same way I enjoy Bon Jovi or ZZ Top—when you want to hear some good old fashioned rock and roll. 

What about you, Leigh? Lover or hater?

Leigh: I was into harder music growing up, so it was more that I didn’t really know their stuff. I remember, when “How You Remind Me” came out in 2001, thinking that it was a great song to sing along to. I did know about the hate that came later, but I never got on board. And then, flash forward to 2017, Ben hired me to shoot an electronic press kit for Feed the Machine, which was their ninth album. I flew out to Vancouver, and we did a series of interviews that ended up being a lot more extensive than we had planned. At some point, we realized what we had was more than just a quick promo video. 

Ben: That was six years ago, and the doc really did grow into something totally different from what we started working on and even what we had a couple of years ago. 

When did you decide to focus on Nickelback’s haters? And did the band have any objections?

Leigh: When we first started working with them, the guys brushed that whole part of their story off and didn’t really want to delve into it. It took years to establish trust to the point where they would talk about it. 

Ben: I think that, as they saw more and more footage, they realized we were attempting a level of filmmaking that they hadn’t participated in before. And then, as time passed, they reached the point where they started embracing their own narrative, leaning in to the haters and the role they have played. For a group to achieve longevity, people need to have an opinion, and it doesn’t always matter if it’s good or bad. A lot of their more recent success has come from having a sense of humour on social media, particularly TikTok, where they show a lot of honesty and self awareness. 

Leigh: This idea of being “hated” on the internet has become almost a right of passage for people in the public eye, and Nickelback was among the first to experience that level of backlash. I wanted to get a peek behind the curtain: What does that feel like? What are the lessons they take away from that experience? 

Hate to Love: Nickelback producer Ben Jones

What are the lessons?

Leigh: I think you learn not to be intoxicated by the love and not to be consumed by the hate. It’s about finding balance and understanding that it’s all part of the journey.

Ben: There are plenty of late-’90s post rock bands that we don’t remember anymore. To achieve backlash, you have to first achieve a certain level of success. I remember when Maroon 5 played the Superbowl and they were “the most hated band in the world.”

Leigh: And then Chad Kroeger was like, “Hold my coat…”

Any theories on why people find this band so objectionable?

Leigh: We did some interviews where we would ask people that question, and a lot of their answers were third person—people talking about how other people hate Nickelback—so it’s all a bit nebulous. 

Ben: People say all their songs sound the same, but that’s true of a lot of bands. Look at AC/DC! 

Leigh: Or that they’re all about making money and not the art, which is an opinion people have about all bands at some point, except maybe Radiohead. 

Ben: The other thing to remember is that they hit their peak—the All the Right Reasons era—just as we all got iPhones. It wasn’t just hearing them on the radio or TV. Nickelback became ubiquitous at the same time as we could all be anonymous. 

The mid-aughts were a pretty salty time for the internet overall.

Ben: Right. Even though, when you compare it to today, you realize it was not so bad. As Ryan says at one point in the doc, those were the good old days. 

There is plenty of rock in your movie, but not a lot of sex or drugs. Is that because the guys in Nickelback aren’t into that stuff?

Leigh: If they were doing shitloads of drugs, that would have been in there, but that’s not the scene. Chad does a lot of drinking, as you see in the film, and that was something I enjoyed doing with him. The other guys are all very low-key, married to their childhood sweethearts. It’s a pretty rare thing. 

As frontman, Chad has always gotten the most hate. I think maybe the hair has something to do with it. What was he like?

Leigh: I think he has become very guarded with what he’s been put through over the years. There is a scene where he talks about how he can’t just go out and be anonymous like the other guys can—with his looks and, yes, the hair. I can tell you that I have never met a more generous, welcoming host. Especially not a rock star. If you ever have a chance to go for a beer with Chad, you must. 

Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger in the documentary Hate to Love: Nickelback

Your six years of filming included a global pandemic. How did Covid influence the movie you ended up with?

Ben: Well, like I said, the story we ended up telling was quite different from how we started out, partly because of what these guys—as a band and as individuals—went through in that time. There were health issues, existential crises. I think that, if you are middle-aged, you will relate to a lot of what happens. Even before the pandemic, there was this lull and they weren’t sure about how to move forward or whether they were going to record a new album, and then the world changed, and the back end of the film became a celebration of going out on the road again for the band and for the fans. It’s a celebration of live music. 

Are the haters still active?

Ben: What we’ve seen that’s so interesting is the role of nostalgia. For my age, it’s ’80s nights, but for people who grew up in the late ’90s or early aughts, Nickelback is their nostalgia music. So maybe they hated it back then, but suddenly it’s all right, and then you have this whole new generation that has discovered them on social media, and they hear, Oh, they were really hated twenty years ago, and it’s like, Who cares? 

Leigh: My wife came to the show at the O2 Arena, in London. She was like, “Do I have to come? I don’t know any of their songs.” And then of course it turned out that she did know all of their songs and had an amazing time. 

Okay, fair, but you must have someone in your life who really does hate Nickelback.

Leigh: I nearly lost a friend over a couple of beers one night. We were sort of joking, but it got pretty animated, and I showed him some footage from the film, and he changed his opinion about 20 minutes in. It will be interesting to see if that happens to other people. 

Full disclosure: I thought I hated Nickelback, but I watched the movie and they are actually pretty great.

Ben: I have tears in my eyes hearing you say that. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.