Anvil – “Ignoring The Death Card”

It’s hard to describe in words the passion and love for music and overall being that is expressed in such a person as Steven Kudlow.  To his family he is a father, husband, brother and a son, but to those in the rock community, he is "Lips," the intense and passionate lead singer and guitarist of the heavy metal band, Anvil. 

Anvil has been cited widely as one of the most influential bands in thrash and heavy metal, but the band never made it as big as was expected… until now.  Plagued by poor management and bad record labels throughout their career, Anvil has had a long journey, but the best is only starting to unravel. 

In 2008, Sasha Gervasi, an ex-road crew member released an award winning documentary about the band and its revival called, Anvil!  The Story of Anvil.  With the huge success of the film over the past few years, Anvil has launched itself right up to the summit, even earning them a spot to open for AC/DC.  Dedication to the dream of becoming a rock star that was instilled at a young age has never withered in the mind of Lips.  This past Tuesday, on the first night of the tour, Glide got a chance to catch up with Lips before the show.      

How much of a shift and a thrust forward has it been since the release of This Is Thirteen and the documentary? 

It’s been incredible, man.  Everything has been busting out wide, it’s been awesome!  Absolutely amazing!  We’re having the time of our lives. 

Some of the opening lyrics to the first track on the record: “Bad luck, misfortune/ superstitious belief/ good luck, a rebirth/ and a sigh of relief.”  How much of those four lines is a testament to what Anvil has endured throughout its career? 

Pretty much all of it.  It’s quite amazing that all the stuff was written before any of this happened because the album originally was out in 2007.  The lyrics were written even earlier than that.  The actual idea behind Thirteen was the fact that it was our thirteenth studio album, and that’s where the idea originally came from.  What I wanted to do was look up the significance of the number thirteen, and as far as tarot card reading was concerned it was the death card.  But when you pull the death card it means the death of the past and the beginning of a new beginning.  And that’s pretty much what we’ve been going through.

In life, there’s really no such thing as coincidence, things just happen.  The last four or five years have been filled with hundreds of things like that.  I mean, I don’t even know where to begin.  The audience watching it probably doesn’t come to realize it, but I’ll point this one out as an example.  When I was standing at the end of the driveway and talking about the band Cactus, who could ever thought that six months later I’d be at this Sweden rock festival talking Carmine Appice, of Cactus.  I mean, that’s not like that was scripted.  You don’t script a documentary, you live it.  There are hundreds of small details, stuff that wasn’t necessarily filmed too.  They were filming me at my mother’s condo and there’s an oil painting on the wall of the cliffs of Dover.  It was done probably sometime in the 1800s and has been my favorite painting for the longest time, absolutely beautiful.  And I was explaining to the camera man how much I loved this painting and he asked me, why?  And I said, “Because I’ve always had the dream that I’d love to stand on the cliffs of Dover looking out at the English Channel.” 

As it turns out, we ended up recording in England and when we first got there, and didn’t realize, and even before we got there, we made the arrangements that we were going to record the album with Chris Tsangarides and we were supposed to do it in his studio that he called, “The Dump,” and it was located in London.  About two weeks before we got on the airplane, we got a call from Chris telling us that were to take a train from London to this small nearby down.  So we took the train from London once we got there and Chris came and got us from the train station and he took us to this little scout camp.  So we got in our cabin and Glenn went out to take photographs.  I was making myself a cup of tea and Glenn comes rushing in to show me a picture he had just taken on his camera, and I almost passed out.  It was the painting from before!  I was like, “where did you take this picture, man?”  He goes, “look out the back window man.”  It was the English Channel.  We were on the cliffs of Dover! 

You know, so it was really bizarre, things like that happening on a consistent basis.  There’s just no explanation, things just happen.  Like they’re filming us at this Sweden rock festival and they happen to be filming a group of guys in the front row.  Well, it turns out that those same guys were the ones who came and picked us up when we missed the train to take us to the next gig.  You could never imagine it happening, but it did.  So like I said before, you don’t script a documentary, you just film it as it happens. 

What have you guys been doing, either new or differently, in preparing for the new tour?

Nothing is really different on that level.  We’ve been a touring, hard working band for thirty years so it’s like let’s go!

With Ivan (Hurd, guitarist 1994-2006) leaving the band, how has it changed the chemistry of Anvil? 

Wow, what a removal of stress.  Ivan was not the easiest to deal with.  It was a case of redundancy, everything he did was only shadowing me.  It wasn’t really an additive factor and it clouded the mix to the point where you couldn’t hear our great bass player and drummer.  Being able to sing seemed a lot easier because I could hear a lot better on stage and there weren’t mistakes.  And there’s more room, not having someone getting in my way and cords getting tangled.  Ivan felt as though he was a redundant part of the band and didn’t have the same drive and wasn’t mentally where we were at.  He wasn’t in the same mode, you know what I mean?  And even when you watched the movie, he was extraordinarily aloof.  He was barely there and more interested in falling in love with the tour manager.  By the time we got to Japan I just said enough is enough.  What are we dragging this guy along with us for?  I just stopped calling him and begging him to come to rehearsal, which I had been doing for six or seven years. 

We had been writing and recording albums as a three-piece band.  He’d come in and play a couple guitar solos and never learned the songs.  In fact, when we played new songs he would turn his amplifier off and pretend he was playing.  People were actually listening to a three-piece band and not even realizing it.  In removing him, it was a complete relief at the end of the day rather than, oh my god what a loss.  It was like, wow look how much better we sound. 

Have you been seeing more support in the music community, not necessarily in just the metal scene?

Well, the demographics are extraordinary.  You can’t compare it to just putting out a record. Even a hit record could never get you the publicity and notoriety that a movie can attain.  And that’s precisely what happened.  People that would never listen to metal in a million years are now listening to Anvil.  It’s quite fascinating.  We went to the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and here’s elderly Jewish people coming up and buying CDs and saying, “huh, I’ve never bought a heavy metal CD in my life but you know what, I like you guys.” 

Could you describe what it was like opening for AC/DC last summer?

That was amazing.  You know how you live for the dream.  Well, that’s living the dream and it was amazing.  Angus saw the movie and asked us to come out and support them and it was incredible. And particularly the New Brunswick show in Canada where there were 72,000 people.  It was ironic because we never had the opportunity to play in front of that many people, but in Canada?  Really unexpected.

You and Robb have been together from the beginning.  How has your friendship grown over the years?

We’ve always been really good friends.  We’ve been friends since 1973.  And with all the success, we’ve been really celebrating, it’s been amazing!  I wouldn’t say we’re closer or farther apart.  We’ve been pretty consistent over the years.  The friendship revolves around having the same dreams and aspirations in our lives and having the same focus and direction.  We get along amazing.  If we do have arguments, it’s really only the approach to getting to the same goal that we are arguing about.  We always find ourselves arguing the same point.  But, you know, it’s all good.

With such a fan base in Japan, was it almost like a homecoming when you played those shows in Japan so many years later?

Well, actually what’s really peculiar, and this is what’s really bizarre.  I guess it must have been eighnt months before we were even anywhere near playing in Japan.  Sacha said to me, before editing, I’m gonna start the movie off with the show that you did in 1984 in Japan and we need to get you back to Japan.  I’m going, yeah right how are we going to get back to Japan?  How am I going to get a gig in Japan?  We, of course, finished recording and I had given the CD out to a number of people, and one of the guys who I gave it to was making a trip to Japan.  So he asked this huge promotion company if they would be interested in having Anvil perform and told him that they had just finished a new album.  And they thought, hey that’s a great idea. 

And what it really was about, the band hadn’t played in Japan in 25 years. So what they did was they decided to put us on first.  And the reason they put us on first was to make sure that everyone would be there, because there was a full day of bands during the festival.  And any band between us and the headliners, who were Slayer and Megadeath I believe, actually have to pay to get on the bill.  And all the record companies for the support bands had to know that there was going to be an audience at the show.  What a better way for the promoter to guarantee that than to have a legendary band open the show?  But this was completely unknown to us at the time. 

It wasn’t until we actually got to the venue that we realized we were on at 11:30am.  I’m thinking, oh my god there’s gonna be no one here.  All this, for what?  You know what I mean?   And when we came out and saw that the place was packed, we were absolutely astonished.  Just in total shock.  There were 20,000 people cheering us on.  And there was the scene and the closing of the movie right there.  Yeah, and it really created the idea of the full cycle.  And what’s amazing is that the full cycle is so well represented.  Everything from Japan to Japan again, but even everything in between, and all the weird coincidences and synchronicities.  Like having footage of ourselves actually recording the Metal On Metal album and filming Chris when were in our 20’s.  Who would ever think that the footage would be so valuable and important thirty years later?  It’s as if, and I can’t help but feel this, we wrote a screenplay over a thirty year period.  It’s incredible that here’s this director, who was a kid in 1982, who we met in England on our first European tour and that kid grew up to be a screenwriter for Steven Spielberg, and then decides to make a movie about us thirty years later. 

The cycle of that, the story within the story, you’re never gonna see this happen again.  I mean, what are the changes of that, billions to one.  The whole thing is a miracle and that’s the same as what it is when something really goes big, nothing less than that because it is so hard to cut through and make it in the entertainment business. Whether it’s an actor, writer, photographer, or musician, it’s a miracle when you do actually break through, and here we are.

How much of a role has your family played it terms of support over the years.

They’ve just been supportive and understanding.  My wife has to hold the fort while I go away and look after the house.  Looking after my son and making sure lunches are made and that the garbage is taken out.  That’s the real hero.  The ones who stood by us through thick and thin with absolutely no guarantees that anything was ever going to get better, but yet they persevered with us and believed in our dreams, giving us the support and hope we needed.  Like I say, I’m extraordinarily grateful.  And my sister Rhonda who lent us the money to cut the record was awesome.   We have a great understanding and love for one another.  And of course, I was able to pay her back.  She wasn’t going to blindly give Steven the money to make the record.  She realized that I’m making a movie and it’s the biggest and greatest opportunity that I’ve ever had in my life and came up with money. 

How’s writing and recording coming along for the next record?

All the writing is done.  The album will be called, Juggernaut of Justice.  We have twenty songs written and we’re just trying to find the time to record the album.  Right now Anvil is booked until September.  It’s really just a question of finding the time to get the job done.

So I guess you quit your job at the catering company?

Yeah, I had to.  Six months after the Sundance Film Festival we began playing and doing Q and A sessions all over the world supporting the movie.  During The Anvil Experience, the band would play immediately after the film was shown.  It’s really been amazing stuff.  It just became impossible to continue working.  And luckily my sister, for that first six months afterwards, gave me a job with her.  Because I couldn’t work at the catering place because I was taking off every other week to go to a film festival.  She gave me the leeway to be able to do that.  I was able to sustain things until it all took off.  And now we’re making a living being Anvil.  We’re certainly nowhere near being millionaires but we’re working at it one day at a time.  What can I say, it’s an amazing story. 

It’s just great to see because you’ve put so much passion and positive energy into Anvil throughout the years and it’s been such an inspiriting story.

Thanks so much.  I’ve always believed.  It’s been trying to convince everyone else that’s been difficult. 

How would you personally define success?

It’s very easy, at least from my perspective.  Success is doing what you love, and getting away with it.  It’s as simple as that.  It’s not money or fame.  It’s just doing what you love and getting away with it.  It doesn’t matter if you have to go to a day job.  Don’t turn your back on what you love and what you have a passion for, that’s the things that make life worth living.  When you turn your back on those things, you’re turning your back on yourself.  You owe it to yourself, that’s what we’re all here for, to find enjoyment and happiness.  That’s what it’s really all about. 

Nick Gunther is an engineering student at Penn State and is a passionate music lover and avid concert reviewer. [email protected]

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