The Story Of Anvil – Crazy Enough To Be A Movie!

Heavy metal rock band Anvil are on an all-time high as they assaulted Toronto’s Rockpile East nightclub on Saturday October 19th in preparation for further European touring activities in early 2014.With a brand new record, “Hope In Hell” produced by Bob Marlette to hawk, and fresh off a gig opening for Metallica in Singapore, lead vocalist/guitarist Steve (Lips) Kudlow agrees that his band’s fortunes have improved dramatically over the past few years.

Yet having endured barren years where they couldn’t draw flies to their concert appearances, Anvil aren’t about to get overly ecstatic about their current position. “Some days you get good business – some days not so good,” Lips waxes stoically. “But even through the bad times, we’ve kept the doors open. I’ll always continue to write music and I’ll never let that fall by the wayside. I look at Twisted Sister and they haven’t written a new song in years. That drive for me to write music is never ending, as soon as we finish one album, we are on to the next.”

Lips cites Motorhead lead vocalist Lemmy Kilmister ( a band Lips almost joined in 1981) as a source of inspiration. “That guy is sitting there with a heart condition, a liver condition, severe diabetes and yet he’s got a new album out,” notes Lips. “There’s his management with their fingers crossed that he’s going to live another day and there he is planning the band’s next tour – now that is commitment!”

Having known his drummer sidekick Robb Reiner since they were both 14 years old and have been linked with several sundry bassists and guitarists since launching the band in 1979, Lips recognized Anvil was in dire straits in the mid-eighties after a potential career breaking management deal with established U.S manager David Krebs went pear shaped.

Anvil had already recorded three albums for Canadian indie label Attic (1981’s “Hard N Heavy”, 1982’s “Metal On Metal” and 1983’s “Forged In Fire”) and had opened for many name bands including Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Scorpions, Bon Jovi and Whitesnake when Aerosmith’s then current manager offered them a deal they thought they couldn’t refuse .

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“All David Krebs did though was put us on the back burner, he stuck us in the drawer and that was the end of it,” fumed Lips. “He didn’t replace the deal we had with Attic, he just left us to fend for ourselves. We had to manage ourselves, find our own gigs. It’s a miracle we survived that period.”

Untangling themselves from the Krebs’ mess meant the band lost four years of productivity and by the time they hooked up with U.S metal indie label; Metal Blade to release “Strength Of Steel” in 1987, Anvil began to feel they had lost their audience.

“You have to keep that fire going, it doesn’t just automatically stay there,” explained” Lips. “If you don’t keep doing it , you’re forgotten. You’ve got to be seen live or you’ve got to keep putting product out to survive.”

Biting their collective lips (figuratively) , Anvil battled against the odds, recording another Metal Blade album in 1988 {“Pound For Pound”) and when that deal went sour found themselves back in Canada recording “Wait The Weight”) for indie label, Maximum, owned by former Helix manager, Bill Seip.

It would be four more years before they recorded another album and it was West Germany-based metal indie Massacre Records that released the band’s next five records. “It was our German support which kept us alive. If it had not been for that German label we would have been sunk long ago.”

Then out of the blue came an invite from a former fan/roadie of Anvil’s who invited Lips to fly out to Los Angeles. Sacha Gervasi was just a 15-year-old kid the band met in London who started hanging out with them and snuck off with Anvil on the road, much to the annoyance of his parents.

“So I fly out to L.A and I am met at the airport by Sacha who is driving a Jaguar that was previously owned by Sean Connery,” noted Lips. “That 15-year old kid is now a 37-year old Hollywood hot shot writer who had just done the screenplay for a Stephen Spielberg movie “The Terminal”. So we get talking and he’s blown away by my life. He thought it was insane that Anvil had recorded 12 albums at that point but we were still struggling.”

“A few weeks later, I get a message that Sacha is flying into Toronto and has something important to tell me,” continued Lips. “ He said he wanted to make a movie about the band. Not just a documentary that would go straight to DVD but a real Hollywood movie!”

Just before Anvil started planning the movie shoot with Gervasi, they did a one-off concert performance in Italy where they met “this crazy lady” Tiziana Arrigoni. She promised she could arrange a major European tour that would dovetail perfectly into Gervasi’ crew shooting the documentary.

“I had feeling that this was the worst thing that could happen to us, that it would be our worst nightmare,” foreshadowed Lips. “We were putting all our faith in this woman, but she did come up with enough deposits to fund our airfares and we thought ‘How bad could it get’. I was fully prepared for the worst case scenario, we’ve got a camera crew who are making a movie, the more drama the better.”

Those of you who have viewed the resulting 2008 documentary “Anvil – The Story Of Anvil” will know that the resulting tour was a real horror show full of terrible gigs, pathetic attendances, missed trains, stiffed payments with the band members asking themselves whether the whole process was futile as they stumbled from one gig to the next.

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“Everything that happened was authentic, nothing was staged,” explained Lips. “But not all the gigs were a disaster. We did play a number of sell-outs but it would have been counter productive to the movie if we’d shown them as well.”.

When Gervasi premiered his movie at Robert Redford’s Sundance Festival at Park City Utah in 2009, Anvil-The Story of Anvil received widespread critical acclaim with the likes of Rollling Stone magazine and noted documentary maker Michael Moore lauding the film as THE best documentary of the year. As the film circulated through the movie festival circuit and was later screened publicly, Anvil’s movie earned rave reviews from film goers not necessarily into hard rock music but who could identify with the overall theme about the triumph of the human spirit against the odds.

 It’s the story within a story,” noted Lips. “Everything that happened in that movie has been depicted honestly, It’s the classic story of a band chasing their dreams through adversity. It’s a universal theme.”

With the movie spinning into a book `Anvil – The Story Of Anvil written by Lips and Robb Reiner in 2009 (Bantam Press) and the release of the DVD to a huge global audience, the fortunes of Anvil took a decided swing for the positive. An album “This Is Thirteen”. Previously self-released in 2007 because the band couldn’t find any distribution, was quickly picked up by V-H1 Classic Records in 2009 to capitalize on all the hoopla.

A guest appearance on Conan O’Brien’s late night show (that was shot in Los Angeles) followed on October 6th 2009 and three days later the band shot a cameo of them performing in a club for the Green Hornet movie.

“No doubt the move rekindled interest in the band but we still had to musically come through again and show people that we hadn’t lost our touch,” explained Lips. “It just made us more determined to continue to show how good we are.”

With a new manager in Rick Sales (Slayer, Megadeth), and a new record company (The End) Anvil finally had a support mechanism that allowed the band to just go out there and do what they do best, create records and play concerts. Since the documentary aired, it’s been a none-stop flurry of activity, opening in the States and Moncton N.B for AC/DC, performing in the U.K with Saxon, plus a none-stop itinerary of European and even Japanese festival dates – as well as squeezing out two new albums; the 2011 “Juggernaut Of Justice” and the recently released “Hope In Hell”

Joining Anvil is new bassist Sal Italiano. Italiano, who previously played for an Iron Maiden cover band, is a player Lips had admired for quite some time and was thrilled that Italiano was available to fill in on bass.

Yes, Lips feels that heavy metal is an enduring force, his band his back in the spotlight, they are still cranking out records for fans who still like hard copy recordings. Lips also feels the heavy metal fraternity are still impervious to the internet, although it might make economic sense in the future to release one or two new songs rather than an entire album.

As for any future aspirations, Lips says he’s happy being the perennial opening-act but would like to aspire Anvil to a head line status at major concerts and festivals. “When you open for Metallica and you look at all their gear, you think, Man, when is this ever going to happen to me!”

One final question Lips. Had Anvil ever played at the original Knob Hill Tavern? “Well we did play once before the band was called Anvil,” responds Lips. “We were just called Lips. So I guess the headline would have been Lips Plays At The Knob! “

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