By now every self-respecting rock fan knows about Anvil! The Story of Anvil, the moving documentary that chronicles that struggles of the long-running Canadian metal act who were part of the vital thrash metal movement of the early Eighties but got overlooked over the course of time. By bringing their intimate story to the big screen, director (and former band roadie) Sacha Gervasi (interviewed here) helped turn them into stars. Now their film is out on DVD, their latest album This is Thirteen has been reissued through VH1 Classic Records and they will tour America in January. The whole thing seems surreal, especially for fans who grew up buying the group’s albums on vinyl, and it is equally strange for this journalist to interview them in a corner office in the high rise where VH1 is located. It’s the last place a long-term follower would expect to chat them up, yet it is amazing to think that they have attracted such widespread attention decades later.
During their ADD interview, frontman Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner were cordial and engaged, even though Lips looked like he was exhausted from touring and promotional obligations. They spoke about their struggle, the timelessness of their style of metal and the possibilities for a TV or movie follow-up to the film that made them a household name.
Now that you have had this huge explosion of interest…
Robb: We’re getting discovered.
Is there a plan to move forward? I know you have a European tour with Saxon coming up.
Robb: We’ve got an American tour here in January, 29 dates, all throughout the country. Our CD is out, and hopefully we might see some revenue from that. It’s all good, man. I can summarize the whole concept here: It’s all happening, we’re all celebrating and there is just going to be more metal and more Anvil. We’re just going to keep rockin’.
It’s amazing you guys have stuck it out so long, and that’s also due to your long-term friendship. Most people would have given up.
Robb: I always knew that we would be discovered one day. I’ve always believed that. How could you not? In our case the music is what got the movie made, and if it’s the movie that’s now putting us where the band belongs, let it be. It’s good.
I’m curious as to what inspired the song “American Refugee” from This Is Thirteen.
Lips: George Bush.
Robb: Could you imagine if there was such a thing? That was our thought.
Lips: It’s an oxymoron. What is that? It doesn’t exist. A refugee that’s American?
Robb: How many Americans go to Canada?
Lips: “We’re seeking asylum!”
That was the joke amongst many Americans when George Bush was on the verge of being elected a second time, that they would flee to Canada.
Lips: Yeah, exactly. And that’s what actually inspired the song. We went out on tour with a band that’s actually in the movie. They’re from Texas, and they brought a T-shirt that had an American flag on it. They didn’t sell one the whole tour.
Robb: There was total hatred towards that.
Robb: No, in Europe.
It’s funny because I’ve been to Europe many times since 9/11, but I’ve never gotten an anti-American vibe there. I’ve gotten the sense that many people are not happy with the American government as opposed to its citizens.
Lips: But when you’ve got a flag on a T-shirt, forget it. It represents the government to people. It’s not the individual.
But then you have this other song, “Bombs Away,” which expresses a very strong sentiment that they wouldn’t like either.
Lips: [Bassist] Glenn [Five] wrote the lyrics for that, but they’re written in a way that it’s almost disgusting.
I thought they were strong when I read them.
Lips: It’s the mentality of why there is retaliation.
Robb: Remember that “shock and awe” campaign?
Lips: “Bombs Away” is about retaliation. Look at how ugly it looks when you read it.
I feel that there are many metal bands and fans that are more conservative than some might think. Many people assume we’re all a bunch of long-haired, liberal hippies, but a lot of the fans are the exact opposite. They’ll read lyrics like that and go, “Hell yeah!”
Lips: I really don’t think that’s what was implied. It really demonstrates the mentality was in-your-face, “back atcha”. When you read it like that, you go, “I don’t know, man. ‘Come to our shore, now we’re comin’ to yours.'” [He grimaces.]
Robb: I just thought it was about the shock and awe thing, “Bombs Away”. Blow your whole city off the map, you know? The government mentality.
Have you ever felt that there were Anvil songs that were misinterpreted or that people didn’t get?
Robb: Many years ago some church guy wrote us about “666”. He wanted to save us. But the song is not really about the Devil. It’s just saying that the Devil is in everything and in all of us.
I always thought it was funny that bands like Iron Maiden would perform songs like “Number Of The Beast” that clearly were not promoting Satanism, but they were accused of it just the same back in the day. I recently found a videotape with a hilarious 20/20 news report from 25 years ago about Satanism in rock music, and I was just shaking my head as they were showing all of these album covers by bands like Grim Reaper. And it was embarrassing back then.
Lips: I really still don’t know why there is an underlying thing about that in metal music. What’s up with that? The Antichrist. Satanism. What’s up with that? Why is that immediately equated with heavy metal? And why do we listen to the music and if we’re into that, why do we want the singing to sound like growling and call it demonic? Why is a demonic voice a deep voice? There are a few questions I still have about it. I did this way before it even began. The song “666” was only a description about how evil is in all of us and is always there.
Robb: And we just used “666” as the hook to it.
Lips: It had more to do with the actual arrangement of the song [and how the measures broke down in the verses]. It goes six, six, six than four. So in describing musically how we play the song, it’s 6-6-6.
Robb: It was done innocently and was not contrived.
Robb has often received great compliments about his drumming. Do you think we’re seeing a turnaround with younger bands that really want to start playing their instruments again?
Lips: It’s not quite that simple. When I walk into guitar stores and I ask for 08-38 strings, which are very, very thin strings specifically used by lead guitar players, they go, “We haven’t got any.” I go, “What?” “We’ll have to order them for you.” No one’s playing lead guitar. There was a backlash after the ’80s when guys like Malmsteen, Steve Vai and all the shredder guitar players killed it. Everybody went, “We’ve heard 10 billion notes per second. Who gives a damn.” And then, “We’ve heard the highest singer in the world.” So then came a backlash with all these guys singing with octave dividers so they sound like Satan. There are all of these extremes that came out of it. To me, it’s quite distressing because I thought that the middle stuff seems to [have been] cut. And we are part of the middle. Not being sappy and commercial and writing ballads, and not being death metal, just being this middle ground, which almost got forgotten about. People seem to only notice the extremes of the genre, and here we sailed down the middle path. Actually the middle path is the timeless path. It’s the same path that Black Sabbath is on.
Your documentary has exposed many things that have transpired in your life. We’ve gotten a very intimate portrait of you, which is why many non-metal fans have reacted so well to the film and to your music.
Robb: We’re turning people on to the metal.
Lips: This is really fascinating. A number of weeks ago I met Chris Martin at the hotel where we were staying, and I didn’t know who he was or anything about his music, but he knew all about me and Anvil and about the movie. He was really, really cool and a very nice guy. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realized who it was, and I got on an overseas flight that showed a BBC special on Coldplay. I watched it three times and enjoyed the hell out of it. Why? Because of the person. It’s somebody I know now, and I like that person. It’s absolutely impossible to draw judgment on the music. All I could do was find good with it.
Robb: The same thing is happening to Anvil. They like the guys, and it opens up their ears and hearts to the music.
I know Sacha Gervasi is still filming you in various places, including at the massive show you played in Edmonton opening for AC/DC. Are you planning to do anything with this new footage? Do you think the original movie will be enough?
Robb: We’re carrying on. There’s going to be more metal from Anvil, you know. We’re going to keep rockin’. There’s talk of making a sequel because everyone wants one.
Do you think it will be too much?
Robb: It won’t be an epilogue sequel. We’re living the epilogue now.
Lips: I think it might be [too much]. I couldn’t say that for sure, but I think it might be going too far. As far as making a whole other film, I’d be much more prone to thinking about some kind of series for TV, whether half-hour shows or something, showing the progress as it happens, rather than doing an entire movie.
Robb: I don’t agree with his view.
Lips: I just don’t see what would be interesting about Lips getting a new TV set as a result of this. I don’t know, man.
Robb: That’s not what they would show anyways.
Lips: What are they going to show?
Robb: You go to your management office, and they see you finally got paid. Everybody wants to see that. That’s a good thing to show. I see what it could be and what would make sense to the viewing public. If they’re already into the story — look, these guys never quit and have actually had some success that is filtering into their lives and to their families, too. You could go very deep with this, man.
You guys have been together for 32 years as Anvil. If you could offer some advice to younger musicians, what would it be?
Robb: The first thing I would tell them is it’s mandatory that you watch the Anvil movie. You want to be a rocker? Cool. Watch that movie. Do it for the right reasons. I think that right there speaks volumes.
Lips: My life is an example. [laughs] I have nothing more to offer.