Q&A: Scott Bradlee On Revamping Nickelback, Taste Hierarchies, And Screaming Words


During the Nickelback brouhaha that took over parts of the Internet earlier this month, one of the common refrains against having the Canadian band perform at the halftime show of the Thanksgiving Day showdown between the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions involved the selection’s implicit slap in the face to Detroit. The city, after all, has been the birthplace of so much great music, particularly that which emanated from Motown—and to honor that legacy with a performance by Canadian arena-rockers seemed like a slap in the face. NYC-based pianist Scott Bradlee got Solomonic and decided to split the difference, reworking Nickelback’s signature hit into a soul barnburner and releasing the end result, “A Motown Tribute To Nickelback,” in time for Thursday’s halftime show. It’s not too surprising, since he’s also masterminded a gypsy-jazz rework of Weezer’s “Hash Pipe” and retrofitted Rebecca Black’s “Friday” into an old-time weekend lament—but the end product did raise the eyebrows of people who had assumed that Nickelback’s sanctioned crappiness meant that all their songs were completely without merit as well. We emailed with him about his inspiration for the cover, his thoughts on the song, and whether or not five words can actually scream, “Are we having fun yet?”

How did you first hear about the anti-Nickelback protest?

I’m not sure where I first heard it, but I remember being amazed at the anti-Nickelback fervor in Detroit, and the fact that it had grown into a legitimate enough concern to be deemed petition-worthy.

What made you decide to cover one of their songs?

The idea to literally connect Motown with Nickelback hit me the day before the game, and I knew I had to make it happen. We recorded it in my apartment in an hour, and then I stayed up the rest of the night mixing it and uploading it to YouTube.

Did you see it as a defense of them in any way?

One of my tenets as a musician is that there’s no absolute “taste hierarchy.” “Good taste” is culturally coded, so it’s not particularly instructive to point one’s finger at something and call it “bad art.” I find it much more interesting to examine something considered “bad” and see if I can’t transform it into something with artistic merit by changing a few conditions.

I feel like your version of “How You Remind Me” makes the case for it being a very well-crafted pop song. Where’d you first hear it? Did you ever loathe or love it? Were there any other Nickelback songs on the table as far as potential covers?

Before this past week, I had always yielded to the Pavlovian response of changing the radio station as soon as I heard the opening line of that song. After giving it a thorough listening, I will honestly say that it does have some real redeeming qualities. The lyrics unfold in a measured fashion, so that the meaning of the song isn’t readily apparent. It’s a breakup song with a hint of impotent rage as well as self-deprecation, which makes for a more complex scenario: the protagonist simply doesn’t know where to place the blame in the jumble of emotions. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few awkward bits. For example, the line that goes, “These five words in my head/ Scream, ‘Are we having fun yet?'” seems to imply that the five words are each screaming five more words, recursively. Perhaps it was intended to be interpreted that way, however.

A lot of people have asked me to ask you about the tambourine player, who seems very animated in the clip. Is he a secret Nickelback fan?

Tim Kubart, the tambourine player, has his own NYC-based kids’ rock band called Tim and the Space Cadets. You’ll have to peruse their tunes to determine to what extent Nickelback has influenced his writing.

Did you wind up seeing Nickelback’s halftime performance at all? Any thoughts?

I missed it, unfortunately; I was driving out of town. But, I’m sure they did a great job—like them or hate them, there’s got to be a reason for their popularity.

How do you think the band’s sound would be changed were you to become a full-time member?

That sounds like it would make a good Saturday Night Live skit.

Are you playing any shows this month? Expecting any requests for your “How You Remind Me” cover?

I have two performances at the Manderley Bar at The McKittrick Hotel on December 5 and December 12, where I’ll be performing ragtime mashups of current Billboard hits. Also, kind of in line with the Nickelback revamps, I’m doing the music for a genuinely creepy adaptation/transformation of Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical with Rock of Ages’ Mitch Jarvis on December 7. I also perform at Robert Restaurant in Columbus Circle regularly. There is also an excellent chance of additional “A Motown Tribute to…” videos in the future.