Once deemed ‘the unluckiest band in the world’, Canada’s Anvil saw their fortunes change thanks to their infamous award winning 2008 documentary ‘Anvil! The Story Of Anvil’. The Sacha Gervasi-directed flick’s depiction of the against all odds determination of the band’s founders; guitarist and vocalist Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner saw the group gain a newfound notoriety, resulting in a resurgence that has persisted to this day. Back in the U.K. supporting the release of new LP ‘Anvil Is Anvil’, we caught up with Lips ahead of the band’s Cardiff show. Forged in fire; Chris Phillips.
Hi Lipps, Croeso y Gymru, or welcome to Wales as they say in these here parts.
Ha! I am glad to be here.
Before 2008 you were known around the globe to a few select metal heads; how did the film change things for you?
Well, it changed everything; all my dreams had pretty much come true, in the sense that I am working almost eight months a year with the band, and I don’t have to go to a regular job anymore. It’s all good man.
Looking through Anvil’s history, and that singular metal object, the album titles, and the alliteration are all very striking.
It just became our trademark, our tradition, you know? It’s easy to look at it after and say; “ah that’s just silly”, and; “that’s easy” - it is not easy; there are thousands of alliterations, but what is the correct one? I mean, what am I going to call my album; ‘Cheese And Crackers’, and make an Anvil out of cheese, and have a bunch of crackers floating around it?
Well, you have done Noah’s Ark.
That was for [2013’s] ‘Hope In Hell’, and the concept of that was Noah’s Ark, or more specifically, Noah’s Ark in Hell.
On ‘Metal On Metal’, which you released in 1982, you basically invented thrash metal; do you think you got enough recognition for doing that?
Well, it was enough recognition that we recorded twelve albums before the movie. It is not like we failed, and to a greater degree, the idea of never selling out is what kept us from breaking into the big leagues, because for me, the real truth is that that’s not what I want, that is not who I am. I wanted to be king of the underground. Who wanted to be above ground? I didn’t want to be like Bon Jovi or Whitesnake; that is not metal - Anvil is metal; the name is metal. It should not be pop music; the closest we ever came was ‘Metal On Metal’, and that was not much of a chart hit.
The band has been a three piece for a while now; Are the vocal dynamics on stage any different?
Yeah, well actually it took a long time to reproduce what we had originally, which for a live situation was particularly important to have back up vocals. The bass players we had before did backups, but they were not harmonies, and weren’t not really conducive with my voice.
With no second guitar player, is there more onus on your playing?
The thing is, the second guitar was basically a shadow of what I was playing, and covered for the background rhythms while I was doing my solos. But having said that, the bass player we have now [Chris Robertson], he plays a much bigger, wider and fuller played bass. Had we had a second guitar it would have drowned it out. We didn’t want that; we wanted a three-piece player, and because he sings, all the elements are now there. There is no point bringing in a rhythm guitar, especially on the faster songs where I played all the parts anyway. What is the point in bringing and paying a fourth member to do what I am doing anyway, especially in the studio? It was just stupid.
Talking of singing, I was interested in what you called ‘Cookie Monster’ singing; what is the point of writing lyrics if nobody can understand them anyway?
Well, it is interesting; with the Cookie Monster singing, not only can you not tell what the singer is singing, you can’t identify it. You can’t tell one of those bands from the other, and to cloud the issue even further, the logos are indecipherable! You don’t even know the name of the band that did the song that you can’t recognise, with the vocals you can’t understand - what are you listening to?! You might as well listen to white noise.
When did you realise it would be a good idea to use a vibrator to play the guitar?
Initially as a kid I experimented a lot with my toy. *laughing* No, but seriously when you are ten or eleven, your guitar is a toy, and you try different things. I had a battery driven toy car, and I turned it on whilst holding my guitar, and I could hear the motor humming when I brought it closer to the pick-up, and I went; “whoa!”. When Robb and I were putting the band together, it was going to be called ‘Lips’ after my stage name, and it has sexual connotations, so we decided to have songs about sexual encounters, and if you look at the titles on the first album, it’s all about that.
So you had that vision early on?
‘Bondage School Love’ and ‘Bedroom Game’ were written in 1976, long before [original members] Dave Allison and Ian Dickson were in the band; me and Robb wrote songs for about a year before even seeking out others to play them with. In that time I got the idea that a vibrator has an electric motor in it, and since that ‘Bondage’ has a middle section like Ted Nugent’s Stormtroopin’ that I would go off and do a solo in, I thought; “let’s use the vibrator!”. That’s how it all began; I mean, no one else had thought of it, and I have been doing it since the late seventies.
Do you still use the same one?
Oh no, the first original vibrators were not vari-speed. So all you got was; ‘naaaaaa’. It wasn’t until later that I started developing with the different speeds and frequencies, and then using as a bottleneck. In the last few years I have been using it to do Hammer ons, like Eddie Van Halen. So it is a plectrum, hammer on, bottleneck, and now with vari-speed it becomes a whole new instrument, and not just for the show!
Next year will be your Fortieth Anniversary; did you think when you and Robb started all that time ago that you would be still going strong today?
It was a lifetime endeavour right from the get go, to tell you the truth. We did not want to be like all the other bands; make a couple of albums, become commercial, and then break up - we never wanted to be part of that world at all. Stay true to your roots! Like it or not, we going to keep going.
The new album ‘Anvil Is Anvil’ is full of fun as always, but expresses political sentiment as well. How did you balance it?
It is typical of Anvil. Anvil is a lot of different elements; it can’t just be put in a category and; ‘they only do this kind of stuff’. People hear ‘Daggers And Rum’, and say; “what, are you becoming a pirate band?” You didn’t ask me if I was going to be a horror metal band because we did ‘Mothra’; we only did it once, and I will only do ‘Daggers and Rum’ once. It is a song on the album.
You asked your fans come in and sing on the chorus.
When we started the project, we had a pledge campaign and we could invite people from all over Europe to come to the studio and do backing vocals. It was a great experience for the fans, but even more for me; where am I going to get group vocals like that and what could be better than actual Anvil fans doing it?!
Finally, with a new album out, what goes into an Anvil set list these days?
All the hits; I mean we can’t do a show without ‘Metal On Metal’ or ‘Mothra’ with the vibrator thing, or ‘March Of The Crabs’. Half the set is relatively newer Anvil, but the other half is from the original first three albums; predominantly stuff from ‘Metal On Metal’, a couple from ‘Forged In Fire’, and one from the first album.
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'Anvil is Anvil' is out now.