Anvil | 01.29.10

prev_anvil_sm.jpgThat’s my thing, man; I’m just like the people in the crowd.

The Pageant, St. Louis

It was and continues to be a heavy metal Cinderella story. Robb Reiner and Steve "Lips" Kudlow met when they were 14 and found that they shared the same dream of making it big as a metal band. As they watched bands they influenced shoot to the rock-star stratosphere (Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer), Anvil never really hit the big-time jackpot that they craved. Nevertheless, they soldiered on; touring when they could, recording records and working day jobs to support their art, as well as their exceptionally patient families. Years later, filmmaker Sacha Gervasi—a former roadie—got back in touch with his old buddies and found that they were still proudly hoisting the Anvil banner. He went on to create an award-winning, smash-hit documentary called Anvil! The Story of Anvil about the band’s struggles. It was Gervasi’s documentary that helped catapult Anvil to the very heights that they had always dreamed of.

Two years later, Anvil is still riding the wave of momentum the band has successfully parlayed into a record deal with VH1 Classic Records, and a hot headlining tour that hits The Pageant January 29, 2010. They’re touring behind their latest long-player, This Is Thirteen, and will be signing copies of that record, along with the DVD, at Vintage Vinyl in the University City Loop at 6 p.m. on Thursday. If you’ve ever considered yourself a metal head, or you just want to get clued in to what all the fuss is about, you owe it to yourself to come out to The Pageant this Friday night. Old-school metal is back with a vengeance, and who better to lead the charge than the demigods of Canadian metal? I had the honor of talking to the ever-excitable Lips—Anvil’s singer, guitarist and chief songwriter—and found him to be every bit as passionate and wicked-cool as you’d think he’d be.

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Great to talk to you, Lips! How’s the tour going?

It’s going absolutely amazing. It’s really just an emotional experience for us and the audience. People are witnessing us fulfilling a dream, and they’re a part of it.

I used to have a mix tape with you guys, Saxon and Judas Priest. I hadn’t heard much about Anvil again until the movie came out.

Well, from my perspective, I’ve been there all along. The job is the same, no matter where your position in the scene is. You’ve gotta write songs and you’ve gotta do the best you can, all the while, hoping the stars align in such a way that you can make it to the forefront of the scene with integrity. We’re playing for our life, man! And you have to have that passion because the audience knows the difference. We knew our audience would eventually find us, and I’m not going away. If they didn’t find us, we were gonna find them.

The movie’s really become a transformative experience for you guys as well as your fans.

The movie’s picked up about a couple dozen awards now. It’s one of those kinds of things where it’s underground, but it’s massive, you know? From our perspective, this band has been on an independent label since its inception. We never had a major-label contract so we’ve had nowhere to fall from. We were supposed to sign a major-label contract in 1983 but it didn’t happen. Because of that, we were able to completely and totally survive like we always have, on an independent level. What I find very, very beautiful about it is that it was done independently from the start.

Right, you had that freedom.

Then along comes a screenwriter, okay, who worked for Steven Spielberg. He used his own finances and everything, believed in what we were doing. So here we go again, having independent people taking a risk. When the movie debuted at Sundance, a lot of big labels came out and said "What is this? Is this for real? Does this band really exist?" They were really taken aback. By the way, Christopher Soos, our cinematographer, also used his own finances, because he was very passionate about it.

The film seems to have resonated with both metal fans and non-metal fans, alike.

It’s really struck so hard at the heart of the artistic community, whether it’s actors, comedians, even wrestlers. It struck such a deep blow that it became something all entertainers had to see. It was artists telling a story about artists.

As it turned out, Sacha Gervasi was a part of that story, right?

The story within the story, right. This 15-year-old kid who was a fan of the band; we took him on the road and became kinda like his big brothers. Then he goes to school and makes something out of himself. Twenty years later, he discovers his old friends are still doing exactly what they were doing 20 years ago. He went nuts! He was going to make a movie about Hervé Villechaize.

He’s like the fourth member of Anvil.

Yeah, Sacha is a really incredible character; somebody needs to make a movie about this guy. As it turned out, he was a journalist at one point and interviewed Hervé Villechaize—and Hervé held him at knife point!

Holy cow! Tattoo held a knife to him!

Hervé wouldn’t let him leave and said, "You’re going to sit here, and you’re not leaving until you listen to my life story." Sacha was 18 or 19 years old at the time. Sacha has a veneer about him that, for whatever reason, people feel comfortable telling him the most intimate things about themselves, knowing that it’s never going to go further. So anyway, what’s really incredible is that Hervé ended up killing himself a week later. Sacha was the last person to do an interview with him.

That’s crazy. So, what’s happening with the movie about Hervé? Is he still working on it?

Sacha’s in the middle of creating the movie. He’s written the whole entire screenplay about the last week of Hervé Villechaize’s life. All I can say is that I was able to watch some of the casting sessions for the movie where he’s talking to the actor who’s portraying Hervé, and I was freaking out, man. I’m not at liberty to say who he’s talked about casting, but from what I saw there, I was flipping out. Sacha’s a genius. He derives all of his ideas from real life, like with the Anvil story. Plus he had the access and insight to me and my psyche to tell the story. When you watch the movie, that’s what makes it so incredibly powerful. We totally trusted him, and his whole concept was, "I’m going to help the band. I want to make you guys household names. Everybody should know you, everybody should have known you, and I’m going to make sure it happens."

Your wife and sister are represented in the movie, and sway between bemusement and blind faith. They have to be proud

Oh, absolutely, they’re really in awe of it. But they’re also really concerned, because they don’t want it to affect our relationships. Part of the beauty of my life story is that I was able to continue more or less like a regular person all through it. So through 30 years I was able to acquire what most people want out of their life. You don’t always get what you want; you get what I need. And I got what I needed. I worked a day job for half the day, and the other half I spent at rehearsal so that I could write my songs. I worked at places that allowed me to take off work when I had to go on tour and make records. That’s what I needed, and I got what I needed. So it was quite a comfortable thing to be in, in a certain sense. I mean, if you can understand, I had a day job, but I also had a night job that took me around the world for free. And not only that, but I was playing to fans, and whether there would be 100 or 20 there, they’re there cheering us on. Of course, one of things I feared—and fear is at the heart of failure—is that things got to be too comfortable. And that’s not good. You should always be striving for more.

What did you do to overcome this?

Well, a change came over me around the period of the death of my father. And I just went on a tear, where instead of just writing exactly what I needed to record a record, I wrote way beyond that, like twice my capacity. I really wanted to make up for lost time. I thought, "Now’s the time to start running the 100 yards." I’ve been doing this, there’s no turning back; it’s going to be another 100 yards after this, and I’m going for it large.

Then once you start doing that, that’s when Sacha came into the picture again.

Right. It was right around that time when I was at the peak of getting my second wind that in walks Sacha. It was really a miraculous thing. You know, I’m running these last 100 yards, giving it all I possibly can, and in walks this miracle. You can’t help but think the stars aligned.

The fact that you never gave up really inspired a lot of people

And we’re just learning now about all of the little connections along the way that brought everyone together. One of those examples includes getting to know Dustin Hoffman and his family, just really bizarre stuff like that. When Sacha was around 14 years old, around the time he met us, for whatever reason, Dustin became friends with his mother. Later on, Dustin never found out what happened to Sacha, just like we never did. We lost touch. So all these years later, here we were in Los Angeles, having lunch with Dustin Hoffman.

How cool is that?

That is totally cool! And the feeling we all felt sitting there was that we had been there before. Some of the things that Dustin was saying were pretty amazing. He was talking about that things that are destined to happen, and there’s nothing you can do about it. He told this story where a woman got stung by a bee outside his beach house and she was going into shock. Apparently, Dustin’s wife suffers from the same allergy. The woman says. "I get to meet a movie star and I didn’t shave my legs," which I thought was funny. So this woman needed a ride home, and the place where she lived ended up being the place Dustin lived in when he was a kid. So in a way, it was kind of meant to be that Dustin was there to save her life. Just like Sacha being able to be in a position where he could help our band so many years later. It’s the way of the universe, and everything is connected.

I read a quote from Dustin Hoffman where he basically said that you guys made him like metal.

It’s a genre that is completely and utterly misunderstood. The genre has a lot of stereotypes attached. People are connected to this in a very special way, though, and the heavy metal aspect is almost like a backdrop.

Metal is also kind of an underdog genre. It’s interesting, but the movie didn’t even make the shortlist for best documentary in the Academy Awards voting. Of course, this plays into the whole underdog thing, because now we’re gonna try to get a best picture nomination out of it.

It would be incredible to see you guys at the Academy Awards.

I know, and everybody is telling me it’s a long shot, but you know what? Come on, man, my whole life has been a long shot. I’ve spent my life on this; what’s the difference, right? It won the IDA award, and it won not only best documentary but also best music documentary. Guys like Michael Moore voted for it! He probably voted for our movie instead of his own.

And now you have a new album out, This Is Thirteen, which VH1 Classic Records has put out.

Isn’t it amazing? What a celebration for us, and it’s really remarkable. I appreciate every second of it. I make it a real point now after every show to sign autographs for everyone there. And the club doesn’t mind ’cause they’re still selling alcohol. I love to do it, and it’s not fake, man.

A lot of musicians don’t bother doing that.

You should hear some of the excuses I get from some rock stars when I try to get backstage. "Oh, sorry, so-and-so can’t see anyone because he’s afraid of germs." Oh yeah, man, we’ve heard it all, and we’re fans, you know? Even though we’re in a band and we’re musicians and such, we love to meet our heroes. I met Jimmy Page recently at a Ross Halfin photo shoot. He said, "Hey, it’s the Anvil guys! Keep it goin’, man, you guys give us all hope!"

What a mind-blowing experience that must have been.

I even met Paul McCartney at the Critics Choice Awards. I see Paul a few tables away and I get this heat rush, so I grab my camera and I’m trying to get it ready to take a good picture of him. I couldn’t believe I was in the same room with him; I was freaking out. So they go to a commercial break and his bodyguards start taking him out. Robb somehow manages to get in front of the bodyguards and I was able to get in there and meet him. Paul says, "Hey, how’s it goin’? The Anvil guys! Where are you rockin’ tonight?" But to be recognized by Paul McCartney is just…it’s heart and soul. I mean, my whole career started with his stuff. For what I do, just to meet that person, it was probably one of the most meaningful things that has ever happened to me. Not to diminish any of my other heroes, but that was just really special.

Can we expect a new album from you guys? Anything in the works?

Yeah, we actually have the next album written. But the question now is, when do we get time to record it? We’re booked up until September.

Not a bad problem to have though, right?

It may not be great for my wife, but sure, I’m on the road a lot, and I miss them. I’m doing it for the family, though, and it’s all going to work out at the end of the day.

Anything special planned for your show at The Pageant here in St. Louis?

There’s something special every night. No night is ever the same. Every night is a different combination of people and personalities, and that affects the show. There’s all kind of interactions between me and the crowd, and it just becomes an individual moment in time. It’s not like I’m playing at them, you know what I mean? That’s my thing, man; I’m just like the people in the crowd. | Jim Ousley

 

 

Anvil appears at The Pageant with Conquest and Gold Tooth January 29. Tickets are $20 adv/$23 dos. Call 314-726-6161 for more information.

 

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