ANVIL - interview with Steve "Lips" Kudlow, April 2009
In 1981 Anvil unleashed the album "Hard 'n' Heavy" on an unsuspecting world. Followed by "Metal on Metal", Anvil quickly became a highly influential band in the sphere of hard, fast, and heavy metal music. Over the span of thirty plus years they've released 13 albums and have a new one waiting in the chamber. Recently, a critically acclaimed documentary chronicling the lives of founders Robb Reiner and Steve 'Lips' Kudlow made a big splash in the music and movie communities alike. Their's is a story not only of a Heavy Metal band that never quite made it to commercial success, but of the triumph of the human spirit and will. It's also about friendship. Two guys that made a vow to each other to make music together forever, to never give up their dream, no matter what obstacles come their way. Some folks might find it comical that two fifty year old guys would still be running around trying to be Rock stars while the rest of the world has seemingly moved on. But the film shows that the rest of us might have moved on to something worth intrinsically less than what these two fellows have. Mainly friendship, love and devotion to an ideal far higher than what some of us may have settled for in our lives. Oddly enough. the film has offered up another chance for Anvil to live their dream. They've got shows scheduled across the globe and legions of new fans, and old fans have become re-acquainted with these Canadian rockers. I for one am honored that Lips would take the time to answer a few questions for me. "Anvil: The Story of Anvil", directed by Sacha Gervasi has reminded me of exactly why I became a Metal fan when I was a kid. It's not just because the music is so fucking cool. It's about brotherhood, friendship, dreams, and never giving up. Take the time to view the movie trailer and keep an eye out for the film as it expands to wider release.
I first saw Anvil play at a small theater in upstate New York, can't recall the name, in the early 80's, with Overkill opening up. Overkill were from my hometown, so we followed them around locally.... and I remember you guys, even back then, as being really intense and... I don't know, happy. The way you guys seemed so connected to the music, the scene, sort of embraced me and made me feel a part of it too. Can you talk a bit about playing live and about the loyalty and dedication of Metal fans.
The Heavy Metal fans that we have known are the truest and most dedicated fans that probably exist. Fans like this have perpetuated my musical career for 36 years. In fact it was a fan that created the opportunity to make the movie "Anvil ! The Story of Anvil". We have always regarded our fans as our close friends and in some cases almost family. Over the years we have accumulated a number of brothers. Sacha Gervasi is one such brother that we met in 1982, when we played the Marquee in London England and we were there also playing the "Monsters of Rock" at Donnington Park. Sacha made his way back stage along with many familiar rockers who had come to drink our beer and hang out. We were more interested in this kid than Pete Way or Gary Barden or Michael Schenker. Sacha offered to show us around London, to take us to Carnaby Street to get bullet belts and leather jackets. On that excursion we signed autographs for a couple of Swedish guys who had made a special trip to see us in London. The European fans are usually the most devoted. Itís not a trend itís a life style. In June of 2005 I met the two Swedish rockers and low and behold they were members of the Swedish Metal band Candlemass. I was shocked to realize these boys I met in 1982 had become famous rock stars in Europe. It was heart warming to find this out! I began reminiscing the moment we had met on Carnaby Street and my thoughts immediately went to Sacha. Upon arriving home from the festival there was an email from Sacha waiting for me. I hadnít heard from him in almost 20 years. As far as playing live, there is nothing more fulfilling than that honor and privilege. Bands that donít appreciate the live element donít deserve to record music in my opinion. I believe that the entire reason for playing live is to play the songs youíve recorded for the people who have bought and supported the band. The underlining purpose to all of this, is to give the people the most you can on every possible levelÖitís the least we could do for the people who are our friends. You must be a friend to have a friend.
"This is Thirteen", in my opinion, is your best album in years. The film documents your troubles of trying to get the album distributed via a major label. Now that things have changed, do you hope to record again for a major label or are their plans to continue to work independently, doing what you want to do? Will you re-release the album (T.I.T.) through a label at all?
When I get asked about the business like this I tend to try to duck the question. In all honesty Iím not sure what our next moves are going to be. Weíve out lived most of the labels weíve ever signed too and many others are going bankrupt. The business has pretty much tanked, so getting any kind of advance money against cd sales that are almost non existent is fruitless. The main reason you get a label is to promote your cd, but we have a movie, so we donít really need a label. Weíve been selling our cd's at gigs and theatres, and on pay pal on the Internet. This is ending up to be much more lucrative, and at the end of the day we will make 10 times what we would have signed to a label. And I might add, the bigger the label, in all likelihood, the less of a cut you get.
Obviously, with the movie, Anvil has a second chance at making a financial living through music. Is there a push for a new album, touring, etc?
No push really, although we are completely prepared to record our new cd called "Juggernaut of Justice". We currently have 13 albums to begin to expose to the U.S. market. The only releases domestically in the U.S. were back in the early eighties with "Strength of Steel" and "Pound for Pound", released on Metal Blade, who still owe us money. Touring is already in progress, all over the world.
There were a few years in the mid 90's where critics, largely Heavy Metal critics, kind of panned your albums a bit, feeling you were sort of trying new things that didn't necessarily fit the 'definitive' Anvil of the early 80's. Do you feel there's any truth to that? Were you trying new things or attempting to fit into a post 80's not so Metal era?
It was a case of over emphasizing a specific part of our style rather than changing or adapting to fit in. During that period of time it was more than obvious that radio play or even video play was a non pertinent thing. We began being more progressive in our arrangements and using a tuned down E string to D. This was an innovation done on early Black Sabbath recordings. We also picked up the speed thing as well. Another predominant aspect we applied was using dissident chord patterns which made the songs sound very angry and in a certain sense evil. This had a profound effect on the old Anvil fans to hear this old school metal band sounding somewhat current and not sort of getting softer with age, but getting harder and faster. That was our intension. We were trying to exemplify the fact we weren't burned out and resting on our laurels. Interestingly, this was a quest for integrity, creating some songs that were a bit different so we wouldnít get bored re-doing the same old thing. I realized after about 3 cd's of these types of recordings I longed for regular tuning and regular chord patterns and arrangements that werenít as irregular. It was over a period of another 3 or 4 cd recordings until we completely returned to where we began. I slowly removed the additives until it was just us there!
When you hooked up with Sacha and he pitched the film to you, did you ever imagine it would turn out to be something not only so good, but so well received by mainstream audiences? I'm sure I've never seen Anvil on TV at all, except maybe an odd video here and there, and now you're everywhere. In some ways that must be surreal?
Sometimes Iím uneasy with answering this question. Itís because my expectations are insane!! I donít like to hype anyone about anything. If they tell me itís great thatís okay, but I never tell people Iím greatÖWhat I felt inside was that it was going to be the greatest movie ever made about musicians. I know myself very well, and I thought who's a better candidate to do a Rock 'n' Roll documentary than a loud mouth schnook named LIPS, who tells people anything they want to know even when they donít askÖ. If this goes big it wouldnít be an out and out surprise. it would only fulfill my level of hope.
Is there a sense of vindication? I'm sure there's been people around that have told you to give it up. Ever have that feeling of, 'in your face buddy?' In a way, do you feel like you just won the lottery?
Iím finding very quickly that wasting good energy on negative thinking is a very bad pass time. Looking for vindication is not really a motivating factor. I find that anger or bitterness obscures your final goal. Dwelling on the negative things that people say is like being infected with poison. If you donít mentally ingest it you never have to feel vindicated. At the end of the day you are doing this because you love to and you do it for the people who love what you do. You canít please all the people all the time. I donít feel as though Iíve won a lottery as much as feeling like Iíve won a very grueling poker game.
Your friendship with Robb seems to be a main reason why Anvil not only lasted so long, but persevered through tremendous difficulties. It makes me think of the tremendous job Def Leppard did years ago waiting for their mate to relearn to play drums with one arm rather than replace him. That's a special thing that not many people would have done. You and Robb seem the same way, without one another there is no such thing as Anvil.
To begin with, Anvil was started by Robb and I when were teenagers. This is a time in your life when all things seem possible. We knew instantly that together we had a driving force that couldn't be improved on. We have always had total and complete belief in each others abilities. This is an important fact. When there are doubts then stability disappears. It is without a doubt that if either of us leave, the exsistance of the band will end. If we were to join another band we would always be associated with Anvil and would carry our identity with us. At the end of the day, no matter what happens we will always be referred to as the musicians from the band Anvil. We are proud of our history and remain steadfast to our belief in our cause.
In your wildest dreams, what happens next for Anvil?
Endless shows all over the worldÖÖ
- Alan Gilkeson