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Anvil still Metal on Metal

It’s already been nearly a decade since the documentary film, “Anvil: The Story of Anvil,” and the Canadian metal band is still powering on.

By Rush Evans

Lips on stage. Photo by Rush Evans

Lips on stage. Photo by Rush Evans

It’s already been nearly a decade since Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner of the Canadian metal band Anvil came into the lives of music fans far beyond the world of metal, thanks to a heartfelt documentary film, “Anvil: The Story of Anvil.” It was the story of life as a real working band, struggling to keep its musical spirit alive while facing the unforgiving obstacles inherent in the music business. Anvil’s fiery brand of music is only half the driving force of what makes its message so powerful. The other half is personal, as the film becomes as much about the beautiful friendship between the singer/guitarist and the drummer who promised each other as teens that they would keep playing until they’re old men. They kept their promise, as Lips and Robb are still traveling, writing, recording and performing together, more than 40 years on.

Lips is the more charismatic and extroverted of the two, and his optimistic energy renders the story of the band in the film as being one of hope and resilience. And you can’t get more rock ‘n’ roll than that.

The film, naturally enough, changed the story of the band. Crowds got bigger, CD sales grew, and day jobs went away in favor of full-blown rock star roadwork. And deservedly so. “Anvil is Anvil” is out now, the band’s 17th album since 1981. It’s a metal barrage that rocks as hard as its name implies, and Lips, for one, is loving his life and all that the Anvil experience has given him.

It was a personal pleasure to get to talk with Lips and tell him how much the film had meant to me, so much so that I insisted that my parents watch it. My 75-year-old mother wanted no part of watching a movie about a metal band, because, well, it was a movie about a metal band. I assured her it was so much more than that. The morning after she and my father watched the documentary, mom sent me a two-word email: “Anvil rocks.” And they still do.

Goldmine: Let’s start by talking about the current state of Anvil and the last record, “Anvil is Anvil.”

lips: It’s been doing real well, everybody likes it, including our original guitar player, who is just losing his sh*t over it, which I’m proud to say, because he’s never really liked what we did since he left. To me, it’s like mission accomplished!

GM: I feel like there’s a positive feeling in this record. Everything rocks real hard, as you’re a quintessential metal band, but there’s a sense of hope in everything, songs like “Die for a Lie,” “Gun Control,” “Forgive Don’t Forget.” They’re putting a spotlight on something dark, but there’s a hopeful outcome. Is that Anvil?

LIPS: And me! It’s actually more about me than it is about the band! (laughs)

GM: Because that’s who you are?

lips: Yeah! That’s my perspective of the world. I write from my core, and that’s what it is. Lyrics come from a place in your subconscious. A lot of times, you don’t realize the depth from which you wrote until after you finish. There are a number of places I’ve gone back in my career, looked at what I wrote, and go, “Geez, where the hell did I get that from?” That goes to say musically, too. You just write and let it write itself, really. That’s how writing is with Robbo. It’s an unusual thing. How many bands write (their songs) with drummers and guitar players?

GM: You’re done with day jobs and you’re 60 now... congratulations, but it appears that that fact means nothing as far as slowing down or thinking any differently about your work. Is that fair to say?

lips: I’ve retired into work! I went from back-breaking f**king horrible sh*t to doing this rock thing, and it’s like I’m on a constant vacation. Every f**king night on the road is a Friday or Saturday. I lose all perception of time, place, date. I don’t know the day of the month. You couldn’t dream of something this good to retire to! I don’t understand why these bands are doing their farewell tours. They should be so f**king grateful that they can continue. Choosing not to is beyond my understanding. We’re making up for a lot of time that we didn’t get to tour. I didn’t burn myself out on the road in my 20s and 30s because I had to make a living at home. Having said that, me making a living at home, I was able to maintain a still wonderful relationship with my wife. I have children that are all grown up. My youngest is in university. It’s not like the world is on my shoulders. A lot of the pressures that you get in younger years are gone. So now I go away and I don’t feel guilty that I’m not home. It’s quite comfortable. It’s not back-breaking. It’s a great place to end up being.

GM: I loved it when somebody asked Willie Nelson when he was going to retire, and he said, “All I do is play music and golf; which one do you want me to quit?”

lips: (big laughs) Well, he’s right! That’s why I say that if it’s natural what you do and it’s not a physical impossibility, then certainly you go for it as long as you can. Why wouldn’t you? You derive so much enjoyment from it, it’s not something to really retire from. It’s not like a job. I’ve never looked at music as a job. It’s what I do. What else would you do? Is breathing a job?

GM: That very passion that you bring to Anvil is the key to the movie for me, which made me a huge fan (and I’m not usually a metal guy). It’s been eight years since the movie. How has the movie changed your life?

lips: Obviously, it’s everything that we’re talking about. Look at what I’ve retired into. It’s all I’ve ever wanted. I’m not working anymore. I’ve retired into being a musician. In a certain sense to me, I’ve won the game. At this point, it’s not about money; it’s how many gigs do I have left in me? Can I live? Those are the questions.

GM: Did the movie change the lifestyle of the band, now that you’re at a different, shall we say, level in the music business? Are there still moments like that one in the movie of not getting paid?

lips: Not getting paid, that was a unique situation that got filmed. That’s very uncommon. That is why I lost my temper so much. At that moment, nobody had ever done that to me before. These gigs were so tight in budget that the money that they didn’t pay me was the fuel that I needed to get to the next show. The guys filming it, they were having a great time. It was glorious for them, “Look at this, what great footage!” Me, I’m f**king losing my mind.

GM: How did you feel when your one-time roadie Sacha Gervasi came to you with the idea for directing a documentary film about Anvil?

lips: I hadn’t heard from him in 25 years. The last time I’d seen him, he was like 17 years old. Then all of a sudden I’m getting an email from him in 2006. I sent him my phone number, he calls me, he tells me, “This weekend, I’m paying for a flight, you’re coming to visit me in L.A.” I get out at LAX, and I see this little sports car with the hood down. There’s Sacha; the kid grew up! It was a remarkable feeling. I get in the car and I find out that it was originally Sean Connery’s car that he bought second hand. We’re buzzing around in the thing, and he begins telling me that he’s working in Los Angeles, that he’d written the movie “The Terminal.” I went, “Holy sh*t, I just went to see the movie! No wonder you’re driving this f**king thing!” As we’re talking, it was like no time had elapsed.

As I go home after the weekend, he calls and tells me, “I’m coming up to Toronto, I’ve got to talk to you.” He goes, “Listen, I gotta tell you: I’m gonna make a movie about you.” I immediately went into tears. What flashed in my mind was 30 years of trying to make it in the music business, waiting for the break and I just got it. I was so emotionally blown away by it. He didn’t really get it, why I was freaking out about it. I knew that this was my break. “You’re just doing what you want to do, but for me, I finally got my break.” I knew what it was gonna turn into. This wasn’t some guy with a video camera. This was a guy who’s worked with Spielberg. Somebody who knows what they’re doing is gonna do this. Sacha is one of the most interesting people you could meet, really good guy. He’s a pretty fascinating human being. I feel very fortunate to have met him, particularly at such a young age. I mean this kid was already friends with Dustin Hoffman even before I knew him! I don’t even know how to explain this sh*t, man! Some people are just magic people.

GM: How do you feel about being able to be an inspiration to people as that guy in that rock ‘n’ roll movie?

lips: You’re not self aware. You don’t look at it in a self-aware state, you just live your day-to-day thing, man. Robb and I go places and do things and all of a sudden somebody comes up to us, we go, “Oh yeah, we’re famous.” You don’t go around thinking about that. Especially if it’s been no-one-knows-who-I-am your whole life!

GM: Speaking of Robb, are you and he still in the same beautiful friendship after working together all this time, all these years?

lips: Of course. I hate saying I take it for granted, but I do. When something works, you don’t question it, and you certainly don’t start putting a f**king clock on it. I see him and talk to him every day, and I have for over 40 years. He’s closer than a brother. He’s my other half.

GM: Since Goldmine is a record collector’s magazine, want to mention any albums that changed your life?

lips: “Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass)” by The Rolling Stones. It was the first year I was playing guitar, and that had the most guitar playing that I have ever heard. The Beatles, how do you represent that with one record? On a very personal level, I’ll say “Rubber Soul,” because I had the music book for that, and that was the foundation of where I learned all my guitar chords. That was very important. “Are You Experienced,” Hendrix. “Electric Ladyland.” My favorite Cream album was really “The Best of Cream.” That album was consistently great to me. Ten Years After... I love them, I love them, the blues based stuff. Montrose. Captain Beyond... f**king great. The first album is f**king off the hook. Johnny Winter’s “Live And.” I love Queen. Grand Funk Railroad. Led Zeppelin. James Gang. Black Sabbath. Deep Purple. There’s just certain albums that just f**king knock the shit out of you, you know? And narrowing Deep Purple to one album is painful, same thing with Black Sabbath. Those are my two favorite bands. If they put me on a desert island, I would be happy for the rest of my days if that’s all there was. 

Fortune smiles on Anvil … for a change