By Rush Evans
Surely you’ve seen the movie, Anvil: The Story of Anvil by now. It’s a documentary on the ups and downs of the hardest work band in showbiz, Anvil, the quintessential metal band from Canada. Frontman Lips (Steven "Lips" Kudlow) has plenty to say about Anvil, past and present. “We were doing things that no one else had done. We were listening to things like Deep Purple and Uriah Heep and a lot of the early stuff, but instead of playing these kind of riffs with single bass drum, Robb played double bass drum.”
Lips imitates the driving sound of Robb Reiner’s drums: “‘Digadigadigadiga.’ We start experimenting, we write a few songs like that, and the next thing you know, it’s called speed metal. And then every band on the planet starts doing it. Some of them made it massive big by doing it. By doing this stuff called speed metal, and the faster you played, more people bought into it, the bigger these bands got. In the meantime, when we were trying to get ahead at that specific moment in time, after the Forged in Fire album, all speed metal songs two years before speed metal existed. So we’re taking these albums to the major labels, and they’re listening to it, going, “What the f**k is this?”
That was when Anvil got to open five shows for Aerosmith, thanks to Aerosmith’s manager David Krebs, who also wanted a shot at managing Anvil. And that’s when labels wanting Anvil’s first three albums. For free. And that’s how no record deal happened for four years. 1983-1987. “The four most important years of the genre’s history. That put us into obscurity. But we still had a foundational following in Europe, and we were able to get record deals. And we kept on going. For 13 albums.”
Don’t think for one minute that a reference to obscurity is Lips crying the blues for Anvil. He is the picture postcard of a rock and roller with no regrets. A motivational speaker with a guitar. He’s excited about the band’s latest album, Legal At Last, their eighteenth studio record. And looking back at the movie that changed his life over a decade now only gets more interesting with the passage of time.
GM: Tell me how Legal at Last feels.
Lips: Feels good, man. A really positive response, which is always pleasant. But then again, no one’s gonna tell you it sucks, not to your own face, you know what I mean? We’ll see how it ultimately turns out, how the touring goes, and how the response is onstage.
GM: I think it’s your best work. It might the record that is a little more accessible for the rock audience that isn’t metal friendly. It has almost a Stones feel for me, with the guitar riffs. My favorite tracks are “Glass House” and “I’m Alive.”
Lips: “I’m Alive.” A lot of people like that one, man. You’re not alone on that one, I’ll tell you that. “Legal At Last,” “Nabbed in Nebraska,” and “I’m Alive,” I think those are the three that’ll be the top songs of choice. "I’m Alive," everybody always mentions that one. It’s rock and roll, and you can’t fail with that kind of thing. The biggest thing this time was making sure of the lyrics. I have a sensitivity towards it, and if I hear negativity, I get sensitized. There was some stuff about the last album and the album before that about the lyrics. We have a song, “Badass Rock and Roll,” all the chopping on the lyrics. I don’t get it. You have a song about rock and roll, people writing, “That’s cheese.” I don’t get it.
GM: I just noticed there’s an animated video for “Nabbed in Nebraska.” Is it weird to see an animated version of you?
Lips: The first time, I was killing myself laughing, I couldn’t keep my composure, it’s hilarious! Especially when it shows me sweating and wiping the sweat off my brow. I cracked right up, man! It is hysterical.
GM: You told me four years ago that retiring from day jobs and being on the road full time with Anvil is like a constant vacation. Is that still true?
Lips: Yeah, you’ve definitely talked to me before! Yeah, it’s still my philosophy, absolutely! How couldn’t it be? Getting up at six o’clock in the morning to go life huge amounts of weight and walk them upstairs, and all the hell I went through in the dead of winter and what not, and not have to do that? I’m sorry, now you’re retired, okay? What can I say! Pulling into a gig, crawling out of the tour bus, go have a shower, do sound check, have dinner, play, get back on the tour bus, have a couple beers, go to sleep, and go do it again. That doesn’t sound like a hard job, right? And it isn’t! You got two hours of work the whole f**king day! Half hour sound checks, an hour and a half of playing in front of the audience, your job is finished for the day! You got roadies who set it all up and tear it all down, carry it all in and carry it all out. You don’t even have to lift anything! It’s what’s been going on for 13 years, since the movie!
GM: Thirteen years since the movie. Does the buzz from the film increase with the passage of time?
Lips: I think it actually has. It’s become somewhat legendary and cult classic in the sense that people watch it over and over again through the years.
GM: I call it the best movie ever made about rock and roll.
Lips: It took Spinal Tap and buried it. It’s the real thing. We’re not actors. And the band’s music isn’t a joke. So those are the things that give it the longevity. We’re living it, so I think it’s all good. There is an element of people that don’t take Anvil seriously. There’s a percentage of heartless people and extraordinarily envious and jealous people. What they’re jealous of is really interesting. People who have attempted to do things with their life and fail are really bitter. And those are the people who ask me questions, “Why didn’t you quit? You should have quit. When Motorhead asked you to join the band, you should have joined the band. Robb Reiner was way too good of a drummer, he should’ve quit a long time ago.” People that say those kind of things are people that generally have failure in their own lives. It says more about them than it does about what I’m doing. I’ve come to really realize that in my observation of things.
GM: In the movie, you are always looking forward. At the end of that troublesome tour, in which we saw you not getting paid, we saw you miss a train. When you were back at home, you said, “The tour went great, and I don’t regret a minute of it.”
Lips: That’s right, because you know what? It’s better than sitting on your couch wishing you did it. Because 99% of life is being there. If you’re not there, then you’re not experiencing life. You’re not getting anything. That’s losing. That’s what real losing is. Regret is the worst thing. On the new album, the song “Said and Done,” that’s what that song’s about. “Deathbed confessions, void of no regret. Fulfillment of desire, on that you place your bet.” That’s what that’s saying. That’s the last lines of that song.
GM: Well this is the crucial thing of the movie, and you’re proving it right now. It’s you. You’re the motivational speaker of the film. All you did was show up and be yourself.
Lips: That’s what the director said! He said, “There is no acting. Just be yourself, and it’s gonna fly. Don’t worry about it.”
GM: You’re the secret sauce of the movie. You’re outgoing and charismatic. Robb is also the secret sauce, in his quiet way.
Lips: By watching the movie, you don’t know what Robb is. I know who he is, but trust me, when you see me lose my temper on him, there’s lots of reasons that never got shown. You look at the type of person that I am, and you can see pretty much everything. I pretty much put it out there, and Robb keeps everything in. And keeping everything in, you don’t get an inkling of what that individual had done to get me that angry. To this day, when that section of the movie comes, I have to actually leave the room. I cannot watch it. All the stuff that led up to it comes back to me, which has never been expressed, and the world never knows about it, and I’m not gonna talk about it. It’s not as simple as a couple of things went wrong.
GM: Is that scene difficult to watch for another reason, that of simply seeing you and Robb at odds at all? Is that painful?
Lips: During the two years of filming, when that finally happened, Sasha the director was ecstatic. He was losing his shit. He was like, “My God, gold fell from heaven!” I said what are you talking about. He said, “I got a fight. I’ve waited two years to get a fight?” What? Then he explained it to me, and I see it, and I understand it. Showing a fight and people making up is gonna be a total description and depiction of what their relationship is made of. Without that scene, you would never get the depth that’s needed to understand the relationship. And it’s not fake, it’s real. It’s so powerful I have trouble watching it. But when it first happened, I said, “You’re not gonna put that in the movie, are ya?” He said, “I’ve waited two years, you’re damn right I am!” It is ingenious the way the thing is actually put together. To be really honest with you, it’s magical. It wasn’t planned. There are no parts that are being acted. It’s real footage of people living their lives.
GM: The story of Anvil (up until the movie) reminds me a bit of a band in Austin in the late '70s called Too Smooth. They packed halls all the time. And they had three major label record deals fall through. And that’s why they never got famous outside of Texas.
Lips: You don’t steer rock and roll, you just play rock and roll. That’s what you do. You either are or you aren’t, and you’ve gotta be at the right place at the right time having the right people involved. The example of Anvil: David Krebs was not the right guy. It was obvious to me. We were out there playing “666,” which was the origins of speed metal, and he watches our set, and he goes, “You gotta lose that song out of the set.” As soon as I heard him say that, “I go, no man, that’’s not a good sign. He’s not understanding the future of where things are going.” And boy was I ever right about that. Especially when they used “666” in the movie, It. You gotta know something’s up, right? (Iaughs) I gotta laugh at stuff, because I’m getting the last laugh!
GM: You are getting the last laugh!
Lips: I’m getting the last laugh! They played the movie in New York City, and we played this theater and did what we call The Anvil Experience, where we play a few songs after the movie ends. Anyway, David Krebs came to see the movie, and I walked out into the foyer of the theater, and I go up to him and I go, “Thank you so much for f**king us over.” And the look on his face! I go, “You know what? If you hadn’t f**ked us around and you really got us the record deals and everything that shoulda woulda coulda, I wouldn’t be standing here right now.” None of this would be coming true for me right now. And you know what? It’s more crucial and it’s more sweet that it’s happening now than ever before. There’s no hard feelings, I didn’t mean it in an ugly way. And let’s face it, it wasn’t really his fault. He was right: it is a great band. He was absolutely correct. It’s the business itself and who he was trying to do business with were assholes. Basically and fundamentally, that’s what it comes down to.
GM: The business can be brutal. I have a guitar-playing friend in Austin who’s been playing here since the '60s, and he just got told he could keep his residency if he paid the venue! It’s reverse comp! He won’t do that, but he will keep playing guitar, because he’s dedicated to his craft.
Lips: That’s how you should be. You don’t want to die with regrets, man. You don’t want to, man. No reason to. You gotta go work for the things that make you happy. Otherwise, what’s the point? You should have a job that makes you happy. You should be doing something that makes you happy. Then you’ll do the best job that is possible, and you’ll be the best you can be. That’s the key to life. That’s what we all should be doing. You’ve gotta find happiness, man. I ended up with more out of life than someone who “made it” very young.
GM: You guys got the key. You figured it out.
Lips: No, it’s just what befell me. That’s the way my card game went. People go, “How could you do it? You had so much bad luck.” Actually, I didn’t have bad luck. I had good luck. Really good luck. Because it turned out the way that it did. Better luck than you can ever f**king dream of, man!