Speed-metal pioneers Anvil are on the road supporting a new album and living out the sequel to 2008's improbably gripping, critically hailed documentary, Anvil! The Story of Anvil.
The movie was directed by Sacha Gervasi, who joined the band's fan club in the '80s and later became a successful screenwriter, with credits including Steven Spielberg's The Terminal. Gervasi began following the Canadian heshers 25 years after they recorded seminal metal albums such as 1982's headbanger manifesto, Metal on Metal.
In the documentary, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich recalls, "When Anvil showed up on the scene, it was like, 'Fuck, this is a statement. These guys are going to literally turn the world upside down.'" But Anvil didn't. As the movie starts, frontman Steve "Lips" Kudlow, once an infamous madman on stage and off, is a driver for a catering service. Drummer Robb Reiner works a construction job.
Still, the core duo never quit performing or writing new music — and they maintained a small (but devoted) fan base. The movie profiles Anvil's enigmatic principles and their families, including Lips' successful, straight-laced brothers and sister, who lends the group $13,000 to record its new, thirteenth album, This Is Thirteen. The documentary plays like a mashup of This Is Spinal Tap, Some Kind of Monster and American Movie, following the star-crossed band through a poorly attended European tour, a dejected return home, a fractured trip to England to record the album and a journey to Japan, which culminates in an unforgettable ending.
The movie made a splash. For the first time, the group has real management, whose clients include metal gods Slayer. Early in the victory tour, Lips took a call from the RFT to explain what happened between scenes and after the credits.
RFT: Is the movie an accurate presentation of that period?
Steve "Lips" Kudlow: I would say it's pretty damn accurate. Sometimes the shot was taken the day before [it appears in the movie]. It's not in perfect sequence, but how could you expect it to be?
The last sequence in Japan — does it still get you?
At this point, no. You know how it ends. That was extraordinarily magical. It did wonders for making a dramatic movie.
If that were the end of the Anvil story, would it justify the previous episodes?
That's pretty much how I live my life. It's been pretty good. Some people would maybe beg to differ, but from my perspective, I've had a great go of it. I made enough of an impression in my twenties [to] sustain my career for 30 years. An analogy I have for it: No, we're not Home Depot. But we're the corner hardware store; we have our clientele.
Will there be a sequel? Are you filming this tour?
No. There's been talk of a sequel, but it doesn't look like it's going to happen.
The movie jumps from your early high point to the current day but doesn't really explain why you didn't get bigger in the '80s or what happened after. How do you explain it?
In 1982 and '83, we were signed to an independent Canadian label. We made a big, huge impact in Britain at the time. The word got over to America, to the point where Ted Nugent and Aerosmith's manager, David Krebs, got involved with the band.
He approached the label we were with and said, "I want to get the first three albums out in America." And the label flatly refused. Labels wanted the first three albums to be included [in any new record deal]. They weren't interested without them. He pulled us out of the only record deal we had and didn't replace it. So between the years of 1983 and '87, Anvil virtually didn't exist. There is the heart of why it didn't work.
The movie discusses Anvil's legendary tales of debauchery. Were those true stories, or were they exaggerated?
It's pretty much true. A book's coming out. It talks about a lot of the stuff. The only other band we've ever toured with that was competitive was Motörhead. We did a tour in '83 with them all through the UK. Lemmy [Kilmister, Motörhead singer] and I ended up in our hotel room drinking a bottle of vodka. He pulls out this little leather pouch, and it's full of this white powder. He pulls out a blade and puts some on and says, "Snort some of this."
Three seconds later, I'm straight as an arrow, like I hadn't drank a thing. We start talking and talking, and the next thing I know, there's a knock at the door. It's the road manager telling us it's time to go to the gig. We're going, "What do you mean? We've got a day off." They go, "You've been here almost 48 hours."
Have you paid your sister back?
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Just by doing all the film festivals and showing up for Q&A's all over the world with CDs, we were able to pay her back.
Both Robb and your parents are European Jews who immigrated to Canada. Does that ethnic background weigh heavily in your self-identity? Does it give you and Robb a certain connection?
Not to me. I certainly don't think it played a part in anything I've done. I've never really thought about it. It's only since the movie that questions like that have been raised. People like to put things on things. If you want to, it's OK. We certainly didn't go to synagogue or Hebrew school together or anything like that. I don't know how much bearing that had on anything.
I certainly didn't get the respect from my folks, who would have rather seen me do anything else. It was very rebellious of me to go that direction, and I was driven by the rebellion of it.
What's the importance of just keeping at it, continuing to practice and not stopping?
When you make a decision — and I did it at a very young age, probably ten years old — it becomes part of your being, your identity. So there's really nowhere to run. You don't join somebody else's band, because you'll always be The Guy From Anvil. And I believe the relationship I have with my dear friend Robb is probably more valuable than the band itself. Building memories and a history is what life is all about. That's all we've got when it comes down to it. It's not a question of deserving. It's a question of earning. You've got to go earn it. I feel as though we have, and it's a great place to be.
If this tour is the last time that the eyes of the world are on you, would that be good enough for you? Would you say you made it?
It's not a question of being "good enough." What is "good enough" when you always want more? It's human nature to want more. No matter how many songs I write, I'll still write more. Nothing will be any different. I'm going to do this till I die.