ANVIL: Canada's Prime Ministers of Metal Return
By David DeRocco
In 2005, the album Metal on Metal was ranked number 441 in Rock Hard magazine’s book of The 500 Greatest Rock & Metal Albums of All Time. For its creator, ANVIL, the real-life Canadian hard-core metal equivalent to the fictional Spinal Tap, being named #441 was as good as being named #1, because it was simply a recognition of their existence. That was important to a band that often bordered on obscurity despite having released 17 albums over a 41 year career.
That all changed with the release of the 2008 rockumentary ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL, a critically-acclaimed look at the band’s never-say-die approach that featured Slash, Tom Araya, Lemmy, Lars Ulrich and other artists who claim Anvil as a musical influence. Suddenly, the hard-luck story of a band that just wouldn’t quit became an inspired testimonial on the virtues of tenaciously following your dreams. Through all the ups and downs, ANVIL has continued doing what they’ve always done; writing, recording and playing live – sometimes on sold-out headlining tours in the UK, Spain, Belgium and Germany, sometimes to half-empty clubs and their audience of loyal ANVIL Metal Pounders Union Worldwide fan club members.
With their 17th album Pounding The Pavement released in 2018, and a new album already written and slated for release in 2020, ANVIL continues to grow its legacy as Canada’s prime ministers of metal. With the band heading into the Seneca Queen Theatre February 23rd, lead singer Steve “LIPS” Kudlow took time to chat with GoBeWeekly about their reason for continuing, the death of rock and roll and the benefits of quitting smoking.
GoBe: You decided to form a band at age 14 – who were the musical influences that inspired you into this lifetime of metal mayhem.
LIPS: Probably Black Sabbath. I actually started four or five years earlier. I made the decision as a little kid that this is what I was going to do, and that’s what I did. I got my first electric guitar by the time I was 10, and the rest is history.
GoBe: Do you remember the first song you mastered on your guitar as a young player?
LIPS: I think it was probably “Satisfaction” and “Secret Agent Man.” That’s what was around in 1965-66 so what the hell.
GoBe: You and Rob (Reiner, drums) have maintained that vision since day one: what’s kept you both on the same page over the years.
LIPS: I think it’s just common ground. We’re part of each other’s growing up, you get used to each other like brothers. You don’t really question it, you just live it. We just seemed to hit it off and have been listening to the same music and it just worked.
GoBe: It’s been a year since you released Pounding The Pavement, your 17th album. You’re in pretty rarified air in terms of metal bands given the size of Anvil’s catalogue. How did recording your 17th album differ from your studio experience recording your Hard and Heavy debut all those years ago.
LIPS: Actually very little to be honest. Hard and Heavy was created over a longer period of time because we hadn’t recorded an album before that. You’re talking from age 14 to 21 before that first album came out. I spent about six months writing for the next album, I’m ready to go now for number 18. It’s only a year since the other one came out. It’s quicker these days I think, and there’s nothing really any different. You come up with some ideas and put the songs together. That’s it. It’s not rocket science, it’s rock and roll (laughing)
GoBe: So you weren’t utilizing any of the new technology to make things easier, no temptation to use Autotune on the voice?
LIPS: No, actually we’re still recording like the good old days for the most part. All the bed tracks are done as a band. The stuff isn’t spliced together or Autotuned or whatever the fuck they do these days. Certainly recording overdubs is a little easier because you don’t have to wait for tape to rewind.
GoBe: I watched the video for the single “Bitch In A Box” and it looks like you all were having fun. How did you enjoy testing your acting chops during the taping?
LIPS: Acting, yeah, that’s pretty funny (laughing). It was ‘okay, we’re rolling,’ then we said our lines. That was it.
GoBe: So you’re a one-take wonder, a method actor!
LIPS: Yeah, I’m playing the role of myself, so it wasn’t that hard.
GoBe: There are some nice harmonies on that song, rather Beatle-esque. Is ANVIL going soft it its old age.
LIPS: (Laughing) No, but the video came out great. There was a guy in Nebraska that offered to do the video. He came out to the gig and did it in a very short period of time. It was easy to do. It’s not like the old days where you had to use film. It was a lot more difficult in the old days.
GoBe: It’s good to hear you’ve got an 18th album coming out. The band’s still plugging away. The documentary certainly brought the band acclaim at a time when when you were bordering on obscurity. How did things change after ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL became such a hit.
LIPS: It’s never really changed. You just keep going, writing songs, recording and you go support them with tours. Ultimately what’s changed is now there’s this incredible demand because of the movie but also because of, I think to a certain degree, a resurgence for a lot of the old metal bands. Nostalgia really. Judas Priest’s biggest album of all time is the newest one. Someone explain to me how that works. That’s the way it is. There isn’t any replacements. For all the stuff that happened in the past, there are no replacements. The bands either have members who are passing away or they’re retiring and there’s no replacements. You’re not going to find new bands doing the same thing. It’s never going to happen. In the same way there was only one Glenn Miller, only one Artie Shaw, only one Buddy Rich, only one Lemmy. He’s gone. I think a lot of people are coming to realize that. Enjoy it while it’s here and go see it while it’s here. It’s the sunset really. I watch every day as another one of my old friends passes away. It can be sad, but it’s part of what is.
GoBe: There is constant talk about the death of rock and roll. Younger kids aren’t embracing the genre and paying homage to the masters. There are bands like Greta Van Fleet and their comparisons to Zeppelin, but there’s not a lot of bands connecting the dots to the metal masters. It’s hard to imagine metal reaching those heights again.
LIPS: It won’t. But on the other side of it, there’s no infrastructure to the business anymore either. There’s no labels, no A&R men discerning what’s good and what’s bad. So there’s tons and tons of music out there, but at the same time there’s no way to find out about it, so it’s up to the public to figure out what’s good and what’s bad. The downside to that is that it costs the same amount to acquire a shitty album as it does for a good one. It deters people from buying anything at all, so there’s no money in making music. When you look at it from that aspect, why would you join a band. There’s no future, so why bother going there.
GoBe: The implosion of the record label industry, as egregious as it was, has certainly affected things. Despite the opportunity the internet provides musicians to circumvent the label machinery, there was purpose to having label support, even if in the end they often screwed musicians.
LIPS: They were also acting as a filter. In the early days you had to be really really really outstanding to get a record deal. And there were people in offices that knew the fucking difference. In today’s world it’s so diversified as far as what’s out there you can’t find someone to sit in an A&R position to figure it out. The standards are so skewed, real garbage does well so now what do you do. Do you sign a bunch of bands that sound like garbage. That’s why it all fell apart and there’s no money. Take the money out and there’s nothing there to support the cause. I don’t know what the future is, even if there is one.
GoBe: So what keeps Anvil going. Is it better being Lips from Anvil than just Steve the retired musician.
LIPS: I don’t know. I don’t really think about retirement. It’s not something I think about. I’m more concerned about my health and how long it’s going to hold out. That’s really the limit. As far as musical stuff, there’s never really any end. You don’t stop thinking until you die, so therefor there’s no end.
GoBe: That’s really the joy of being a musician. The desire to create never has to disappear.
LIPS: No and your ability doesn’t disappear either. You just pull from different places in what you learned from and all the different combinations. Mix some Hendrix and some Zeppelin, some Deep Purple and some Sabbath. Maybe mix all four together, how’s that. There’s no end to the combinations in what you can come up. You’re limited only by your imagination. If you’re an imaginative person it never ends, that’s how it is for me. I never have a lack of ideas. It’s more about how lacking the world is in being accepting which is the biggest hurdle for any band or musician. The other thing is, once you reach 30 years old you don’t’ absorb music the way you did when you were a teenager. They say ‘how come all new bands suck.’ They don’t. What happened is you got old and less likely to listen to new music.
GoBe: You hit the nail on the end with that. Rock isn’t dead, people are just less open to it.
LIPS: I’m really good friends with Myles (Goodwin) from April Wine and we don’t get it. This guy is still capable of writing great songs. He goes ‘what the hell for. I’ll put all this time and effort in and then what, they’re going to ignore it because it’s from an old man.’ It’s really defeating to hear that kind of attitude. I refuse to give into it. I won’t and I’m not going to.
GoBe: That’s why people love Anvil, you don’t give up. You mentioned staying healthy. I don’t think fans want to imagine you guys sitting around sipping kale shakes, but what are you doing to stay alive.
LIPS. I quit smoking which was a big deal. It’s been just over a year, I quit ALL smoking which is pretty amazing. I was never a drinker so that’s never been a problem. Cigarettes were a huge detriment to my life. I’m going to be 63 going on 36 and I’m feeling a lot better than I ever have. I keep myself in shape. You have to want to get there. You don’t want to be an invalid in your 60s, spending your last years in bed.
GoBe: So what can fans expect from Anvil when they hit the stage at the Seneca Queen Theatre February 23rd. Can you still deliver a song like “March of the Crabs” with the same intensity.
LIPS: Probably more. It’s interesting. The stamina I have today is better today than it was when I was younger. I know how to pace myself better. Since quitting smoking it’s never been as easy for me to sing than it is now. I find it easier to sing now than I did in 20s. You stop smoking and all of a sudden your lungs are clear. I’m probably the most confident I’ve ever been in my voice. And with the addition of Chris Robertson, the band is sounding great. I’m feeling good about the way things are. Anyone coming to see Anvil now, you’re going to get a real treat.