Once you begin listening to Anvil, you’ll never look back. Their initial 80s output—Hard ‘n’ Heavy (1981), Metal on Metal (1982), and Forged in Fire (1983) — is essential to thrash’s expansion worldwide. Subsequent releases will leave you equally shocked as to why the band’s credibility has only recently been embraced to a surprising degree. Nonetheless, it’s no surprise that the biggest round of veteran metal acts—of which Metallica, Slayer, and Motorhead make up just a few—have deemed the Toronto trio influential. But there’s another quality that defines Anvil, and that is their ability to maintain a humble composure through nearly four decades of trial and triumph. In just 2 weeks, the band will release Anvil is Anvil, their 16th and most poignant album to date.
There is no pretension about their front man, Steve “Lips” Kudlow. For those who were introduced to him through the documentary, Anvil: The Story of Anvil, you’ll be fortunate to know that he is exactly as he is on screen—kind, polite, sincere, and full of passion. True to his nature, Lips managed to set aside some time before rehearsal, and allowed me to interview him by phone. He showed great enthusiasm when I told him I was a fan from the United States, and excitedly sang “You’re an American fan!” to the tune of Grandfunk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band”.
Within that lapse, four elements rang pertinent in our interview: touring, authenticity, tones, and most important of all, happiness.
ME: This month, you’re touring as a special guest alongside Udo Dirkschneider from Accept. How did you guys initially get acquainted with one another, and what’s it like working with him?
Lips: Actually, this will be our first time working with him as far as going out and doing a tour. We met him in the past—didn’t know him well, but it’s interesting we ended up with the same manager. That’s kind of how we got connected. From that manager came the same producer, who produced our newest album. That’s Martin Pfeiffer, and yeah, it’s been great! We got all attached to that stuff and the people involved, and became really close with Udo’s son, Sven, who’s now U.D.O.’s drummer. It’s all good, man! Great people!
ME: Can you tell me a bit about the process involved in getting the tour underway?
Lips: Well we knew far before we began even recording. We had a meeting in July of last year; sat down, wrote and discussed it with management, the producer, and ourselves when the record will be out, and when we were going to tour. It’s all connected. The manager wanted us in the studio, for sure finished by November so the record would be out in time for the tour in February. That’s how you make your career work; get organized! And it was well done—very well done this month.
ME: In the past, you’ve opened for Saxon and AC/DC. Does being a special guest differ in any way from the opening act?
Lips: It’s interesting. When we did AC/DC we were actually a special guest, because there was an opening band for us. We got quite long sets as well. It means a hell of a lot. In fact it’s the most significant thing you can do as an artist, and as a band. Those are the real opportunities, the places where you get your credibility. They’re the places where people get to believe in what you’re doing, because if you don’t get there, then you’re never going to get there (laughs). It’s not an easy business; it’s a very difficult business, and even to become a support band is a miracle. You’ve got to count your blessings; that’s how you’ve got to look at it. I was very fortunate. But having said that, I’ve also worked hard for everything I’ve ever gotten (laughs). No question about that.
ME: Just last year, you did a US tour with Lord Dying and Sunlord, who are both on more extreme spectrums of metal. Do you find yourself opening up to a diverse array of styles, especially nowadays?
Lips: Well we’re lucky enough—because we had a movie—that young people have become interested in us and now we’re cool enough today, and authentic. I think it really comes down to authenticity more than anything else, and that’s a really good thing. I find it a little odd sometimes, because some of the support bands that’ve been opening for us, particularly in the United States, have been completely different from us. I find them completely not like us! Like, how do you listen to that? Who are their fans (laughs)? I think that’s what I kind of wonder most, like, “Who’s a fan of this”? “Are there fans of this”? And the reason I ask that is that I’m not sure that there are (laughs)! Because I can’t tell whether the audience is there to see them, or in many cases, the bands will play and no one in the audience is near the stage! In some cases, I’m going, “These guys are supposed to have sold tickets for the show. Where are there fans? Where are the people that supposedly support this band in front of the stage? Who likes this music?”
I’m left with that question, and it’s not that I don’t like it. I’m saying it is music—it’s musicians playing what’s in their hearts, and they’re giving it all they’ve got. But who’s listening to this music? What is this music? What are you guys doing? I can’t identify with it. It’s not that I’m against anyone doing that, or attempting that, or being that; I can’t comprehend it (laughs).
ME: So in keeping a rapport with a younger audience, there’s an undermining passion to play for anyone. As long as the fans are there and you’re able to put on a good show, that’s all that matters, right?
That’s it, man! That’s what you live for! That’s what you’re doing it all for (laughs)! Everything you do, man, means everything! When you write music, that’s what you do for a living. You live from it; you live for it; you live to do it. It’s like breathing, eating, sleeping—it’s your life function. That’s what you are. So with everything you do, you’re doing it to the best of your abilities. That’s the beauty of doing what you love.
Imagine if everybody did what they love; what a world this would be (laughs)! You know, you get served at a restaurant and the person will have a smile on their face, and it’s authentic!
ME: Yes, I understand completely. I’ve been a fan of you guys since watching The Story of Anvil. I’ve dealt with a lot of shallow people, and I honestly don’t see that in you. You’re a very sincere guy, and very passionate about your experiences.
Lips: Thanks, man! Hey, how much have you heard of the new album? Have you heard anything yet?
ME: Not yet, but my next question actually talks about that (laughs)! Is authenticity what defines Anvil Is Anvil? Like, “This is us at our core—our full, unbridled spirit”?
Lips: I would say that, more or less, that is precisely what it is. If you’re expecting us to be different or to have sold out, it ain’t gonna happen (laughs)! It’s an album about self-reflection, in the sense of how we picked and chose our favorite feels. That’s what it all goes around, right? If you write a riff in this feel, or that feel, or the other feel, you get different songs (laughs)! So what we did is we picked our favorite feels from all through the years and worked with those. A couple things are new. Things that we’ve never done before? But of course there are, because you’re always attracted to things you’ve never done before, so you add those in too—sure, why not (laughs)? At the end of the day, it’s very, very identifiable. You won’t listen to it for two seconds without being able to tell who it is.
ME: In terms of achieving the sound for the new album, what attempts had you made to find what worked?
Lips: My guitar sound this time, more so than ever, comes from my Fender Twins. And I’ve got to tell you that it’s a weird thing to be able to say. This is the first time I can say that the sound of my guitar in this new recording is the closest reproduction of my Fender Twins I’ve heard yet. Everything else sounds like an interpretation of it; these actually sound like it. That’s the way to describe it, to me, and that’s a really good thing. There were a couple of albums where the engineer refused to even let me use them. I can tell you that on the albums Still Going Strong, Plenty of Power, and Speed of Sound, my Fender Twins were not used at all. That engineer didn’t record them. God only knows why, but (laughs) whatever!
At the end of the day—and here’s the interesting fact—the engineer, in eventuality, would come up with something that sounded like a Fender Twin anyway, which was really stupid. “Let me ‘recreate’ your sound”. Why? Put a microphone on it! To this day I don’t get it. For three albums we’re working with that particular engineer. So coming out of that, of course we recorded with Chris Tsangarides in the UK. But we didn’t use Fender Twins for that either; we ended up using some vintage 30 watt Ampeg amps—open-back Ampeg amplifiers, which were not Fender Twins but nonetheless combos. So generally speaking, it’s the same sort of thing. Not far off the mark, but still not a Fender Twin. After that point, we recorded in Los Angeles with Bob Marlette and used the Fender Twins for some of the rhythm tracks—the first time we’ve done that in a long time—and that I thought that definitely was a step in a right direction. So really, Juggernaut and the Hope in Hell album have that essence in it.
But I honestly have to say that [Anvil Is Anvil] is more than an interpretation of it; it’s a duplication. That’s a little bit different. It’s more precise and more authentic to the real tone that was coming out of the thing. Martin [Pfeiffer] did a killer job getting the microphone just in the right place, and microphone placement is crucial along with the use of which particular mic. In this particular case—and of course because I’m half musician, half observant technician—you use a Sennheiser 421, a very special one. It wasn’t the usual black casing; this was like an off-white color. Sennheisers are really nice, and the tone on those things is just spectacular! They really got the tone, and it’s interesting because I run my Fender Twins into a Marshall Celestion. We listened to the difference, because using a Celestion versus using a Jensen that comes in the stock Fender—they’re two completely different speakers; they have a different tonal quality. There was something about the sound coming out of the actual Twin that sounded much more authentic! I think Fender is very particular in what they’ve chosen to project the sound that comes out of the amplifier, and actually, the Jensen had more of an authentic tone. Certainly not the same as my Fender Twins at home which have a JDL in them, but make no mistake, I use one of each. The JDL, I call it “the razor”. [Anvil Is Anvil] doesn’t quite have the razor, but the only place you really need the JDL is on lead guitar.
ME: Now at this point, are you a metal band, or are you Anvil?
Lips: I think we’re Anvil. I answer that with a bit of thought because, much like my idols, I live in my own world. I’m not really influenced by anything new, so it’s not going to change to something contemporary. I stay true to myself. I don’t listen to pop music—never have, so therefore at the upfront, everyone will do that, right? I listen to the foundation of rock music that created what we know is now, so I stay true to that. That’s not going to change because I grew up with it.
My musical education began with Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley. I saw the beginnings of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, and everything that happened after that. I became absolutely obsessed with the guitar, and the guys who played the best, the fastest and the meanest, and heavy tones. I kept on looking for that, watching as music got heavier. The guys who brought it to the forefront were the great lead guitar players. I followed that all through the years, so I’m from that; I’m part of that. That’s where my roots lie. It’s not about “I started playing when Megadeth first came out”. I started playing when the Stones came out. It’s a different thing; you didn’t have Megadeth to listen to back then, you only had Rolling Stones (laughs)!
ME: Last question – for everything you’ve been through in the 80s, and the last several years with the documentary, are you especially content that all these opportunities have opened up for you?
Lips: Happiness is something that we’re always in search of, and there’s never enough, right (laughs)? The real truth of that is, that’s what it really is. What I’ve actually discovered about life is that it’s the moment, really, and you live for those moments. They’re endless until you end. So there’s no sense measuring it. Day to day, am I content? You’re never a hundred percent content if you’re a human being, because you’ll never find enough happiness. It’s never ending, isn’t it? I mean, I’d pose it as a question to each individual; it depends on how—and what lengths to go—to find that happiness and what is that happiness.
Am I content? I’ve always been content. And the reason I’m like that in a certain sense, is that I’ve always done it the way I wanted to do it, when I wanted to do it, with whom I’ve wanted to do it. I have no regrets, so there’s contentment that comes with those things (laughs)—obviously! You always want to look at a brighter tomorrow, and you always want success for tomorrow, even if today, you’ve had a lot. You want continuation, and that in itself is the past. Is it something to be threatened by? It can be very difficult. It won’t end; the difficulty doesn’t end. You’re constantly trying to live up to what you just did, or what you did in the past—always! You’re always under scrutiny; it’s not that I pretend I’m under scrutiny; I am (laughs)!
You know? There’s always a sidewinder that we always make fun of, “So whaddaya gonna do now?!?” ‘Whaddaya gonna do next?!?’” Hey, the bottom line is, as satiable as the people are, from the listener’s sense, you can’t give them good enough. You can’t give them good enough records, you can’t give them good enough performances—it’s as insatiable as that is! You can never satisfy! You can never be content! It’s really part of the same equation, isn’t it? So if you ask a musician if they’re content, or if they’re happy, you can ask a fan the same thing! And they might answer “no…” (laughs)! There’s nothing we can do to satisfy, ever! In its day, we put out Forged in Fire—not good enough; not what we expected. 20 years later, “It’s the ‘best album ever’! It was ‘revolutionary’! So even in its day it was “still ‘not enough’”.
I kind of look at it as one in the same thing (laughs). Find your happiness, because whatever you do best is what you’re happiest doing. That’s part of the equation too, to get the most out of your whole life. I’m getting the best out of my life, and I’ve made decisions by structuring my life so I’d get the most out of it, and I have! And if you measure life on the people you meet, the places you go, and your experiences—if you measure life on that, I’m a billionaire (laughs)!
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