One of the more fascinating documentaries about success and the dedication of artists to their work is Sacha Gervasi’s “Anvil!! The Story of Anvil”, a Sundance hit from 2008 which get its Canadian theatrical release this weekend. (Read my review HERE) Anvil was one of the most promising heavy metal bands of the early 80’s, who, not for lack of dedication, never made it big. And now, 30 years later, in a surprisingly profound and emotional documentary we get see Anvil, now in their 50’s, still grinding it out looking to make it big.
I got a chance to talk to Steve “Lips” Kudlow, the driving force of the band who waxes with honesty and frankness.
DFD: I loved the film both as a fan of documentaries and heavy metal. How did the director Sacha Gervasi contact you about the doc? I heard he was a roadie with you back in the day and then he went off and became a successful Hollywood screenwriter? (NOTE: Gervasi went on to write screenplays for 'The Terminal' and 'The Big Tease')
Lips: Even before Sacha did actually contact me we were at a festival in Italy and we met up with a couple of guys in a band, Candlemass. And they reminded us about meeting me on Carnaby Street in England. And at that moment I started thinking about Sacha yet again because we were with Sacha in 1982 walking on Carnaby Street buying leather jackets. We had become quite good friends back then. And then he went off to do other things in his life, finish school, do all the things that everybody does. He’s a very unique individual, very outgoing, very generous type of person, really good guy. He went off to do his stuff and we didn’t hear from him for 20 years. When I got back from the festival, after talking about him there in Italy, interestingly he emails me. I’m like, ‘what’? I looked at the email and I’m going ‘I don’t believe it, it’s Sacha!’ So I wrote him back, ‘ I thought you either died, or became a lawyer.’ He laughed because in his life, yeah, he went to law school and he almost died of an overdose. He always makes fun of that. Then he invites me down to L.A. and I show him that I’ve continued on for a good 20 years that I’ve recorded all these CDs and kept alive in the music business and continued to believe in my eventual success, or living my success or my dream. I think that’s what he most admired.
DFD: Did he contact you to reconnect, or did he have an idea for a film?
Lips: No, it’s just ‘I wanna see my friend’. At the festival in Italy those other bands were commending us for the length of time we were doing it, and how much work we’ve done, how many records we’ve put out, talking to us in an admirable way. Then, Sacha started saying ‘yeah, look at the history, man. You guys are a legend and you don’t even realize it.’ And we were going, ‘huh?’ We were just doing what we were doing - doing it our entire lives. Making music, getting it out there to our fans didn’t feel like quite success after all these years in a certain sense. But the guy’s going, ‘I’m gonna make a movie about you’. And I’m going, ‘what? Okay.’ I flipped out, man. Started realizing, ‘wow, so the 30 years that I’ve just spent doing this is gonna get known on a really big massive level. I’m gonna be very famous. It’s gonna be my big big opportunity. My ship has finally come in.’
DFD: That’s amazing. So it’s been 30 years. Was there ever a time when you guys actually quit?
Lips: No. And there was never any reason to, you know. You learn to love it so much. You live to go out and play. It never comes to mind, you could never live without it. It’s sort of like, a mental addiction.
DFD: Arguably heavy metal has the most loyal fans in the music business. What do you think makes the fans so passionate about the music?
Lips: Because it’s a release. Because it’s escapism. Because it’s something to believe in. It s a philosophy. It’s a form of religion. But then music and religion... it’s hard to separate. Like a universal language. Music usually appears from the subconconscious. Musicians don’t even know where it comes from. If God was gonna communicate with mankind, it would be on that level.
DFD: What drew you guys to metal, when you started getting into music and learning to play?
Lips: At a very young age, my father brought a guitar home. I was immediately intrigued with it. I had already been listening to the Beatles for a couple of years. By the time I was ten, he brought the guitar home and the first thing I learned how to play was ‘Satisfaction’ by the Rolling Stones, 'Secret Agent Man' by Johnny Rivers, the Batman theme, things like that. Basically the birth of the electric guitar and the renaissance of that I was fortunate to have been born at that time during. Being born in the 50s, by the time I was four I had already been aware of Elvis Presley. So I have somewhat of an understanding of the pre-Beatle era. But to actually have been part of the era and bought records as they came out, as opposed to finding out about it 30 years later, I think, gives me a special ability than someone who hasn’t.
DFD: How did you discover metal, or your sound, your style?
Lips: Everything came from the same place. By 1967/68 Jimi Hendrix came out and we started learning about distortion of the guitar. These are the first inklings of what it was all about. So ever since that time, I was looking for those sounds. I was immediately gravitating to Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Grand Funk, Cactus, Foghat, Humble Pie. It's interesting how people find it so fascinating to watch a rock band or a metal band or whatever and think about what they go through to make the music and what it takes to get their music known, it’s a real phenomenon.
DFD: When you first saw the Documentary and saw all the praise you were getting from Slash, Lemmy, Lars Ulrich. How did that make you feel?
Lips: I felt very proud, of course. But understand that these people had made themselves known to us many years ago. They were fans many years ago and in fact, the full circle is very beautiful, because, in fact I’m fans of there’s. But that’s the way it generally works, as it did with me and like it did with my predecessors, and those before me and those who will ever come after me. I sat in a hotel room in Birmingham England in 1983 on a Motörhead tour with Lemmy. And I was flipping out because I couldn’t believe that I was 24 years old and I was sitting in a room with a 34 year old rock star that everybody in the whole world knows. I was freaking out, I couldn’t believe it. I was telling him how much I admired him, and he turned to me and said <Lips doing a great impression of Lemmy here>, “one day some other bloke will be saying the same thing to you” There was something very profound about that, because you know as it turns out, yes, that did happen a number of times.
DFD: Were you surprised how you looked or sounded, or acted on camera?
Lips: Those are moments in my life. How did I act? I acted as I always do, myself. So it doesn’t bother me. No. It’s all good man.
DFD: And sounds like your family really have supported you over your entire career. One of the most powerful moments in the film is when you get the money from your sister to record your album. How important was that to you?
Lipps: That was very very explosive. Actually fantastic. It’s wonderful to have a sister like that. It’s awesome. She really comes to bat for me. She always has you know. Everyone else in the family thinks we’re both nuts, but whatever. We’re the middle kids, you know what I mean?
DFD: Going back to what Lemmy said at the very beginning. He said, “you guys probably weren’t at the right place at the right time.”
Lipps: That is the truth. Randomness, fame and to attain it is random. It’s like going into Las Vegas and betting. Quite frankly you’d have a better chance of winning in Las Vegas than actually making it big, And the facts speak louder than words in the way that only about .001% of bands that exist ever make it anywhere. I mean that’s the real truth. There’s literally thousands of bands, never mind the millions of guys in those bands, that never get anywhere. So what this movie depicts speaks for the vast majority. This is what it takes man. If you’re gonna buy someone’s independent record, this is the kinda shit they gotta go through for you to have that record.
DFD: Now the documentary’s out, what are you guys up to? How has this become springboard for you?
Lipps: In every possible way. This is the biggest promotional campaign ever to exist for a rock and roll band. A movie that is so enthralling and emotionally charged, there’s so many different levels. It makes non-actors into actors. Some people don’t think that there’s such a thing as a real Anvil, and that I’m an actor. Everybody involved did it for the same reason that the band did, for the cause. Everybody took a chance, particularly the director, Sacha, and the photographer, Chris Soos. These guys really took the big risks. You know, it’s not sold to a big conglomerate, it’s not put out into theatres by Paramount Pictures or whatever. It’s an independent film that built it’s own momentum on it’s own story. It’s about a story that took 30 years to put to a screen. For that to happen, it’s really quite fascinating when you stop and think about the miracle of what was created here. The odds are with you the longer you progress and the longer you continue, the better chance the opportunities will hit you. If you quit, it will certainly never ever happen. The longer you stay with it, the greater the chance a screenwriter will come along and make a movie about you. Or the kid you met when he was 15 grows up to be a screenwriter. It doesn’t matter what your destiny is as long as you know where you wanna go. So my destiny was not to make it when I was 25, mine was to make it when I turned 53. Beautiful. That’s fine, I can live with it. I’m not bitter. I wouldn’t change a thing.