By Peter Lindblad
The curse has lifted for heavy metal’s unluckiest band, Anvil.
And all it took for platonic life partners Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner to finally, after decades of dashed hopes and constant disappointment, become the rock stars they’d always dreamed of being was an inspirational little documentary movie called “Anvil! The Story Of Anvil” that’s taken the world of pop culture by storm.
Sold woefully short to the public originally as a real-life “Spinal Tap,” the Anvil movie, released in 2008 and directed by former Anvil roadie Sacha Gervasi, is much more than that. Uplifting, poignant and, at times, very funny, it’s more like “Rocky,” and Lips, absorbing all the crushing blows Anvil’s misadventures have doled out and never going down, makes one hell of a rock ’n’ roll Rocky Balboa.
“All we do as people and humans is we go through our lives and whoever we meet, we look to find the differences between us all,” says the sincere and passionate Kudlow. “But the real truth is, there’s way more things that we have in common. This movie really captures that aspect of human existence, really, that it’s not what makes us all different, it’s what makes us all the same. I think that’s what struck the common chord in most people is that fact.”
At any point in “Anvil! The Story Of Anvil,” the boys could have said, “Enough is enough” and packed it in. Nobody would have blamed them if they did. The European tour they had such high hopes for was a disaster. They ran into club owners who refused to pay them after Anvil gigs. Shows received little promotion and, predictably, attendance was sparse. Trains were missed. Lips and Robb fought and both talked often about ending Anvil once and for all, but they couldn’t pull the plug on something that meant so much to them.
But there was a ray of light for Anvil, a new record that was being helmed by producer Chris Tsangarides, whose résumé boasts work with Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy. It was Tsangarides who presided over Anvil’s watershed moment, 1982’s fast and furious Metal On Metal, an early blueprint for thrash acts like Anthrax to later follow. And having Tsangarides back on board was crucial to Lips’ plans for an Anvil revival, carried forward by their latest effort, This Is Thirteen.
Part of the movie centers on Anvil’s long-delayed reunion with Tsangarides.
“It was amazing,” says Lips of their renewed partnership, ‘because, of course, all the years and all the albums that I’d done, trying to be just like the way he would do it. And because of financial circumstances, we were never really able to reconnect. Once we got to the point where we were a couple years ago, with the movie being made, we were lucky enough to actually find him.”
Perhaps it was divine intervention that brought them back together.
“Very strangely, I had on the search engine of my computer — I must have been looking for him every year — every few months, you could see a log-in where it said Chris Tsangarides, and I was not able to find him,” explains Lips. “And when we started to do the filming, Sasha said, ‘Why don’t you try to get in touch with CT?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, right. I’ve been trying for years.’ And then finally, I found him. I did a search and there he was. And that was it. That’s how that came to pass. It was amazing, man … I mean, it’s on the film. You see us walk into that room where he was, and we hadn’t seen him in like 20 years or something, man — just shocking.”
It was a bit of good news for Lips and Robb, childhood friends and sons of Jewish families who’d been playing together in their hometown of Toronto, for years before forming Anvil in 1978. Heavily influenced by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, among others), Anvil brought more speed — not to mention the technical prowess of Reiner’s drumming, honed by his jazz training — to the party than their peers.
And with Anvil, a party is what you get. Nowhere near as serious as the young speed-metal warriors that Anvil helped spawn, Reiner and Kudlow have always focused on having a good time with metal over the course of 12 albums. Their racy lyrics and sexually suggestive stage shows have, at times, gotten them in hot water.
Still, it’s all good, not-so-clean fun, and This Is Thirteen is classic Anvil.
“You know, it’s not very common that I venture back to things I’ve done in the past,” says Kudlow, talking about the new LP’s punishingly heavy title track. “But this is one instance, because people have been asking for years, ‘Why don’t you write another song like ‘Forged In Fire’?’ So I finally do, and everybody goes, ‘Hey, you wrote another song like “Forged In Fire.’ (Laughs) So I go, ‘What does that mean?’ Does that mean you don’t like it?’ ‘Oh, no … it’s … great (laughs).”
That’s the classic rock Catch-22.
“I gotta feel for the guys in AC/DC,” says Kudlow. “You know, everybody anticipates their new album, and then when it comes out, they go, ‘But it sounds like AC/DC.’ Well, what did you expect it to sound like (laughs)?”
The title track to This Is Thirteen may be a nod to early Anvil, but overall, Kudlow likes how the record keeps people guessing, especially with his favorite track, the ultra-intense “Feed The Greed.”
“I still really love the diversity that we’re able to have,” he says, emphasizing Anvil’s ability to work in different keys and give each song a unique feel.
As for dealing with his newfound fame and the hype surrounding the movie, Kudlow says his life hasn’t changed much.
“Probably the biggest change is that I’m not going to the delivery job [he had in the film], but I’m still treated with as much respect and disrespect as usual, so it feels pretty much the same.”
And he doesn’t mind that it took a movie, rather than a hit single or a smash album, to achieve that success.
“Anytime something like this happens, it’s a miracle,” says Kudlow, “ … ’cause you never know what you got when you put something out. You don’t. You don’t know whether people are going to like it or not. You hope they do, but I mean it’s a miraculous turnaround and this is one of those moments in life. How am I dealing with it? I think the way I’ve always dealt with everything: Let’s see what happens.”
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