They’re a band almost more famous for their lack of success than their level of it. Canadian heavy metal band Anvil were even the subject of a docu-film, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008, and their story has been compared to that of fictional band, Spinal Tap.
Lead vocalist Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow doesn’t shy away from the band’s success or shortcomings, noting that their virtual obscurity has helped them become more of a “band’s band” than a fan’s one. Some of their biggest fans, however, are fairly notable – Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax have all listed Anvil amongst their biggest influences.
The band’s onstage antics, their determination to continue despite their setbacks, and their acceptance of their fate makes Anvil an endearing act – one that has outlasted many, many others.
We caught up with Lips ahead of the band’s big Australian tour next month to discuss decision-making, dildos and decent meat pies.
Music Feeds: So I know you grew up in the ‘60s, what kind of music were you listening to back then? I mean there wasn’t really a whole lot of metal around at that time?
Lips: No, but for its time in a certain sense you would’ve called it metal, but you didn’t. It was band music; you know what I’m saying? Up until probably ’64 it was all about the single-name star – Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, Chuck Berry – the list goes on. It was all single names, right? It wasn’t until The Beatles happened, and then all of a sudden it became a group effort. And not only was it a group effort, the songs themselves were written by the band itself, rather than, say, a hit factory or some other facsimile to that. Certainly, Elvis Presley didn’t write any of his songs — that’s a well-known fact — but was a huge success. The Beatles came along, they wrote their own songs, and it was a bunch of guys, it wasn’t just one guy.
From that point on, that spawned dozens of bands – sound-alikes, look-alikes, you name it – just like it would in this day and age. And it has, over and over again. Bands like The Animals, The Kinks, The Who. The earlier renditions of using electrified guitars and being a group. Particularly the four or five-piece was really in style. It wasn’t until the late ‘60s that brought the discovery of distorted guitar. In the sense where it became more than just a twang, it became more like a big huge monstrous sound. It was basically a sound discovered by The Beatles but really elaborated on by the time Jimi Hendrix came around in ’66 or ’67.
MF: I mean all the bands you’ve been mentioning, they’re really all legends in their own right.
Lips: Yeah, I mean certainly The Who and The Kinks were on the verge of using these distorted sounds, but it wasn’t until it became a patented sort of tone, but once it did, it took a huge hold of the music industry as a whole. To this point today almost every band uses a distorted guitar sound – it’s as natural today as a trumpet sound was in the ‘40s.
MF: You’ve said before that you knew you wanted to play music for a living from about the age of 10, but I heard that your mum wasn’t exactly supportive of that?
Lips: No of course not, what mother would? [laughs] Come on, let’s face it – would you want your son to be involved in something that’s pretty much guaranteed to never make money?
MF: Well probably not, not to mention the lifestyle that comes with it.
Lips: [laughs] These were the things that were particularly bad, from the old way of thinking. You’re supposed to go to school and get an education, become a professional — whether that’s a doctor or lawyer or dentist or whatever. Go to university, get a big huge education and become a professional at something, make money and be happy and flourish for the rest of your life. Well, that wasn’t for me [laughs]. Not that it’s a bad idea, it just didn’t fit what I am or who I am as a human being, and where I was going to go. People want to talk about ‘defying the odds,’ what about defying your parents? It started out that way. Ultimately I never got support so I never look for it. I go after my life in the sense that I write songs and try to make something of it. That’s what I’ve done, I’ve adjusted my situation so I could do that.
MF: Well I mean you guys (Anvil) had all the hallmarks of a hugely successful band. Why do you think you didn’t achieve that same level of success that perhaps some of your peers did?
Lips: It’s a succession of bad luck. Just the same as it could be a succession of good luck that brings you stardom and everything that you want. It’s really, really, really simple and stupid things that when it happens you don’t even realise it because you don’t have the subjectiveness to see it. You’re too close to the trees to see what is really going on.
You know, it could come down to two guys that you have a choice of doing business with, and you just choose the wrong one. Simple as that. Then that’s it, you can’t go back. There’s no way to change that. Then something gets attached to that decision, and so on, so it becomes a succession of bad luck. You have to be at the right place at the right time with the right people.
I mean realistically, Anvil has sold millions of copies of the first two albums that were bootlegged by a company in France, and those records were available at a quarter of the price of the regular stuff in stores all over the world, in picture disc. When picture discs came out they were usually more expensive than the regular printing. In this particular case, it was the other way around because it was bootlegged. So someone would buy an Anvil Metal On Metal album in Toronto from the record store and it would cost them a minimum of $10. You go to the flea market, and there it is as a picture disc for $5.
MF: Yeah, I get it. I mean, what are you going to buy as an average consumer?
Lips: That’s right. Then what am I signing all over the world? Picture discs!
MF: Well speaking of good or bad decisions, you famously turned down Lemmy when he invited you to join Motorhead – do you have any regrets about that?
Lips: No, no regrets about that because it would have changed everything – it would have changed everything for Motorhead and it would have changed everything for Anvil. Wishing for that or regretting it? No. I regret that I never got the opportunity to at least try it, but beyond that no, you can’t really regret it. It means that the Forged And Fired album, our third album, would never have existed. It would’ve become Another Perfect Day and I don’t like the idea that both of those albums wouldn’t exist, if you understand what I mean.
MF: Yeah for sure. So is it true that Anvil was originally called Lips? Where did that nickname even come from?
Lips: It was a nickname that was given to me by Robb [Reiner, Anvil drummer]’s father. Just as simple as that. I talk a lot. I did then and I still do.
MF: Hey, I’m not complaining! So you’ve been cited by some of the biggest bands in the world as a musical inspiration. How do you feel about that?
Lips: You know what? Everybody’s an inspiration to everybody else. It comes down to a conversation with Lemmy in 1983 in a hotel room in Birmingham, England. I’m sitting across the table from him drinking vodka and we’re talking away, and I look at him and go, “You are a legend. Do you realise the impact you’ve had on the music industry and on heavy metal and everything that it’s about?” And he just looks me straight in the eye and goes, [imitates Lemmy’s voice] “In 10 years, there’s going to be some other bloke sitting across the table from you, saying exactly the same thing.”
That’s what his answer was to it. So what do you say to that? We all love each other’s music. We’re all inspiration to others. There’s nothing really new or innovative. For musicians it has nothing to do with money, ultimately, it has to do with what you brought to the table that’s inspiring me. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about how much money you made from that song. Because many times – and you know it as well, everyone knows this – in some of the biggest-selling songs, there’s no integrity, there’s nothing great about the musicianship or anything, so is it an influence to musicians that are trying to learn how to play? Probably not.
So what I’m saying is musicians find inspiration in music that’s much more obscure. It’s just the way it works (laughs) and I’m just one of those obscure bands that other bands listen to, to get inspired by. That’s fine, I’ve got mine – I can talk about the ‘70s and talk about certain bands like Captain Beyond. Captain Beyond was a phenomenal band that, yeah the musicians knew about it, but did the actual public know about it? No. But were they an influence on me? Absolutely. Much more so than any of the commercial music that might have been on the radio. There are very very distinctly a number of roads you can take in a musical field. You can go for the commercial aspect, and what comes with that generally is [that] you’re not going to get the accolades from fellow musicians. You’ll get a lot of jealousy, a lot of envy – that’s what happens with that – and integrity-wise, only if there’s something really unique and individual that they can grasp onto, steal it and use it better.
I mean, no one’s really done it to Metallica yet, they tried to do it to Led Zeppelin but they didn’t really manage to do that either. So there’s a certain uniqueness to these ultra bands that make it so big that you really can’t duplicate it.
MF: Well what do you think about metal music these days?
Lips: Well that’s a very wide, diverse word now. And, what is that? I mean, what was it in my era? At the onset of the conversation when we were talking about there being no metal bands, there’s always someone cutting the edge, somewhere, someway, somehow. That’s ultimately the way I see it. I think it’s a lot more difficult in today’s day and age because, quite honestly, I think just about everything has been done. So it’s not as easy to find something unique. It really makes it really hard to be unique.
MF: Speaking of unique, you were rocking out with your cock out, shall we say, before that was even really a thing. What gave you the idea to, you know, get on stage in a leather codpiece or play the guitar with a dildo, or some of the crazier things you’ve done on stage?
Lips: Well you know, it’s just really from where it comes from – it’s the rock world, you’ve got to find something that creates an image, somewhat of a novelty. And when I say somewhat of a novelty I mean you better do it well, it better have some depth and it has to be extraordinarily unique. Do something that nobody else has done.
MF: Definitely. I mean, what kind of reaction were you getting in those days?
Lips: Ultimately the clothes were a matter of the time. And, let’s face it, the bondage thing wasn’t completely original because of course, we saw the studs and leathers and all that shit coming in from England at the same time I was doing it. So it wasn’t completely unique. But certainly, the use of a vibrator on a guitar was considered extraordinarily unique [laughs] and still is. And I don’t need to wear a bondage suit to do that [laughs]. And I don’t, so it’s as simple as that [laughs].
Even talking about that… now, in bringing something like that to an audience, you can’t just expect it to work because of what it is – you better do something that is making it work. It’s got to be musical, from my perspective it had to be musical. So there are four different variations in which the thing is used to create different sounds and actual guitar playing. I am physically playing the guitar using the thing, it’s not just for show. It’s not just that I pulled the thing out and I’m making a bunch of noise, I’m actually playing with the thing, making musical parts and actually soloing with it. It’s something that you have to rehearse with (laughs) it’s awkward. It works as a bottleneck, but it isn’t. You have to be aware of what you’re doing, you have to learn the angles and things to make it work musically. From years of experience, I can do that (laughs).
MF: Well what is your stage persona like compared to your off-stage persona?
Lips: I think that my regular existence is connected to it. I have a sense of humour, man, it’s just the way I am. I’ll say what I want to say when I want to say it. I don’t know that there’s a lot of difference… maybe a certain level of confidence, because I don’t have my guitar on when I’m just talking [laughs] but ultimately you’re still the same human being. One is just an extension or an alter ego of itself, really.
MF: Like a magnification?
Lips: Yeah, like a magnification. It’s partially an act, in the sense that you are on stage, so everything is exemplified. Your body movements and everything is exemplified to a certain level. You know that if you talk about this subject, or do that particular thing, you’re going to get a certain reaction. So some of it is rehearsed. But a great deal of it is spontaneous.
MF: Well I know that you’re coming back to Australia very soon…
Lips: The people that are bringing us came to our management company asking about the band Destruction. I don’t know whether they were available or not, but our guy said, “I don’t know if you’re interested or not, but Anvil is available to come down there,” and the guy went, “Oh wait a minute, yeah, we are interested in having Anvil come down here, of course, let’s do that.”
MF: Fantastic. So are you keen to be heading back?
Lips: Yeah it’s a great thing. The other aspect is we’re fresh out of the recording studio. We had to rehearse our set to go and play two shows in Germany, even before we left the country after recording. We came home, four days later we were on our way to South America, so we just did two weeks down there. Now I’m home and in a few days we’re leaving for China. Then we leave from Beijing to go to Brisbane. And this is all still connected to the last album, this is all still connected to Anvil Is Anvil not Pounding The Pavement which we just finished, because Pounding The Pavement doesn’t come out until February.
MF: So are you playing any tracks off the new one?
Lips: No, we’re not. Because ultimately you can’t because the record hasn’t been released, we don’t want anyone to hear anything from it until that point. There’s no point, you’re going to play songs off the new album and you can’t even buy it yet. It doesn’t really make much sense. And you can’t go listen to it because it’s not out. So it just doesn’t work like that. But really it’s quite exciting, of course, coming to Australia is a huge thing for us. This will be probably our third time.
This will be the third time actually playing; we have been one time before that involved with the movie when Robb and I came to Australia for a promo visit. In truth for Rob and I, it’ll be our fourth time in Australia, which is great.
MF: Do you have any fond memories, or any funny memories, from your past visits?
Lips: I’m not sure if we were in Melbourne or Sydney but we were in a hotel that faced onto these big huge chimneys that were blowing fire out. I’m looking out the window of this hotel and it’s just unbelievable, they’ve got these big huge fire stacks, and you could actually feel the warmth of the propane as it just blows these huge massive flames out (laughs).
One of those buildings, again I’m not sure if it was Sydney or Melbourne, where you walk out and you’re standing on a piece of glass 100 stories up looking straight down. We did quite a bit of walking around… the bats! At night? They were just incredible. I mean, my first encounter with it I couldn’t believe my eyes. The size of the things… I… it was just absolutely shocking. And the possums. Like, we were walking around in the park at night and all this stuff is happening – there are bats hanging from the tree and they’ve got these massive red eyes, it’s like, “Urghhh, look at that!” [laughs] Some of the stuff is just incredible… meat pies! Oh, the meat pies. Okay, I can’t wait to get that again. I don’t remember which city it was but we went to a very special place that all kinds of celebrities pictures are plastered everywhere because all the celebrities go there to get their meat pies.
MF: Oh, is that Harry’s Café de Wheels in Sydney?
Lips: Yep, that’s it.
MF: So what about the fans down here? What are they like?
Lips: Oh they’re great. We have a number of friends down there, it’s quite remarkable, that we’ve been staying in touch with for the last ten years. Really nice people. I don’t differentiate people in Australia for being much different to Canadians. Or the British, for that matter. There’s an underlying camaraderie that all the British colonies have in common. There’s a certain aspect that’s so similar, I can’t even begin to explain it. I think one aspect is that we all speak English (laughs), which is tremendous!
I mean, you might not think about it, but for me, to leave Canada there’s only America, Britain and Australia that speak English as their main language. I mean, for me when I’m on stage performing, I don’t have to simplify what I’m saying. There are things that the audience picks up on that when I’m in Germany, say, they’re never going to pick up on.
Our sense of humour and the way that we use words for comedy, like puns and things like that. It’s quite remarkable. There are certain aspects that go missing when you’re in a different dialect. So it’s a great thing to come to another country that speaks your language and just gets you. It’s kind of a funny thing to remark upon, but what I’m saying is really valid. I mean, I was just in South America, and you feel the distance because of the different language. I can’t speak Portuguese when I’m in Brazil, so I’ve got to speak English, and the people that speak it fluently understand more than the ones that don’t. I think that’s a wonderful thing… plus all of our money looks the same because it’s all got the Queen on it.
Anvil 2017 Australian Tour Dates
Tickets on sale now.
Wednesday, 8th November
Tickets: Metropolis Touring
Friday, 10th November
Bald Faced Stag, Sydney
Tickets: Metropolis Touring
Saturday, 11th November
Prince Bandroom, Melbourne
Tickets: Metropolis Touring
Sunday, 12th November
Fowlers Live, Adelaide
Tickets: Metropolis Touring
Tuesday, 14th November
Tickets: Metropolis Touring