Play my music way too loud
My hair’s too long, I don’t fit in the crowd
Leather jacket and denim jeans
Metal studs run down the seams
Times are hard but I don’t care
‘Cause if I want it I’ll take my share
Talkin’ life on a bit too steep
Outta my way or I’ll bury you deep
Metal wouldn’t have evolved the way it has without Anvil. While never the commercial powerhouse of their many high-profile acolytes, this Canadian institution helped steer the course of modern metal and hard rock with an opening trio of releases – Hard ‘n’ Heavy (1981), Metal On Metal (1982) and Forged In Fire (1983) – that exerted as much gravity on young bands as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and the California pioneers like Metallica and Exodus (notably both admirers of Anvil). After a series of rough industry travails, lineup changes and other turmoil, Anvil resurfaced in the popular consciousness in 2008 with the stellar documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil, a fascinating, ultra-warts-and-all history of the band’s endurance in the face of shit that crushes most musicians. It’s a portrait full of intense, understandable emotion and pummeling rock that reeks of ball sweat and real steel, a survivor’s story that’s sad and funny and crazily true.
Since the film’s release Anvil has been more active than ever, and just this year released a bang-up new album, Juggernaut of Justice and a boffo career-spanning anthology, Monument of Metal. Dirty Impound had the great pleasure of a short audience with Anvil’s colorful, ever-rockin’ singer-guitarist-songwriter Steve “Lips” Kudlow, who filled us in on some of the band’s operating ideals as the trio – Kudlow, drummer Robb Reiner and bassist Glenn Five – forges ahead after more than 30 years of heaviness.
Even before I heard the first album, as soon as I saw the name Anvil, I thought, “That is the most goddamn metal name of all time!”
We had to come up with that [name] right from the beginning of the metal genre because somebody was gonna get it!
What drew you into making this incredibly fast and heavy music, which was different from other metal, particularly in North America, in the early 80s?
We were an anomaly, especially for Canada. We had such an attitude right from the beginning which was young and stupid and naïve and call it what you will, but we felt the only reason there were no heavy bands in Canada was no one was doing it.
Starting in Canada is way different than starting in New York or Detroit.
It was. There were heavy bands but every time they petered out and didn’t stay heavy. I’m talking a band like Thundermug. You probably don’t know what that is but I give that as a prime example. They started out very heavy and the infiltration of record companies and everything caused them to dissipate and eventually broke them up. But there are endless stories of that. The initiative and the thing we wanted to do was to create the heaviest band Canada has ever known. That was what Robb and I set out to do. We had to make history for this country, one way or another, man.
We grew up on that shit, and I’m not saying I’m the first one that was ever heavy – no, no, no. I’m a big fan of the Midwest sound of the sixties, where distortion was pretty much discovered, that and Hendrix. And distortion is a big, big deal. Sonically, it’s what really defines hard rock and heavy metal. It pigeonholed the whole thing, but it’s a particular sound of distorted guitar that we’re talking about.
If you vibe with that sort of aggression and volume there’s no other music that will get you off in the same way. That’s how metal becomes the one true love for a lot of people.
People who aren’t metalheads don’t realize the variety in the genre. This leads nicely into the new compilation, which really shows off Anvil’s range. It showcases a lot of different sides of this band.
Well, there are [a lot of different sides], which is part of the problem as well as what makes us what we are. People misunderstand the diversity. It’s just music [laughs]. Certain types of songs sort of argue with others, and it’s really subjective. There’s more to us than meets the eye. Let’s just put it that way.
This anthology really spells that out in a clear, neat way, but it also shows the continuity in your work. Anvil didn’t have one great era; there’s a through-line that speaks to generally consistent quality.
You know what the saddest part is? The production in the dark years – that’s what I call them – when we were completely on our own and didn’t have a producer, well, a lot of those songs could have been so much better had there been another hand in there. You can’t really produce yourself, not properly. You end up thinking in a box. You don’t see the whole picture, and that’s because you’re in the middle of the forest [laughs]. The only way to get that objectivity [on your own] is to record your album, go away, and come back a year later and listen to what you did with fresh ears. How can you get objective about your performances and writing otherwise? You can’t, not without time. When a producer fixes stuff, in their mind, they’re thinking, “This is forever.” In your mind it’s just a performance and it’s over. What they want to do is make sure that the performance presented lasts forever.
Are there any hard rock/metal producers on your wish list to work with? I wonder if a collaboration with some of the iconic producers out there might not be the next step for Anvil’s recent reemergence.
I don’t know if that’s necessarily the next step. A lot of the guys I would have wanted to work with are no longer doing it, or if they are it isn’t going to be relevant enough. It’s a completely different school now. All the guys from the old days – Ted Templeman, Tom Werman, Jack Douglas – those guys worked in the old school, two-inch tape, and today the guys in the studios with Pro-Tools and all the electronic stuff they have nowadays, you just can’t compare. The old guys aren’t part of that world; they came before. I’ve worked with Chris Tsangarides (Killing Joke, Helloween, Yngwie Malmsteen) and Bob Marlette (Atreyu, Saliva, Alice Cooper), who’s a digital genius. He knows how to work in that format, and there’s an art to that which takes years to learn. Bob is a very special producer because he was on the cutting edge of the digital/Pro-Tools thing. He was a consultant in the working group that developed that software. So, not only does he know how to use the software, his ideas helped create it in the first place.
Juggernaut of Justice is a very modern sounding metal record.
It is but at the same time it’s very old school.
One of the things that’s always made Anvil stand out is how you understand that playing fast isn’t the only way to be heavy. You understand the power and impact of slowing down, and how that can be just as heavy, something you show again on Juggernaut.
Absolutely! To me, metal is a lot of different things…because it really is! Most bands are narrow. Either they’re fast or they’re slow, and either they sing with melody or they don’t. That’s like North, South, East, West. No! There are lots of different directions! There’s a lot of different ways to express yourself and feel. Look at this drummer we have. It would be a real shame not to utilize all the things that guy can do. Thank goodness somebody’s here for him [laughs].
The band had been a four-piece for good while but has settled into a really tight trio in recent years. What’s the difference for you approaching the material with three guys instead of four? Personally, I really love the three-piece and how it puts your guitar right in our faces. It’s like this sword in the middle of everything.
I agree. I think that it was unfocused sounding as a four-piece. There are certain things that compensate for other things. It’s hard to explain but you can get away with having a not-great bass player if you have a ripping rhythm guitar. But if you have a really great bass player then you don’t need a rhythm guitar. That’s about as simple as it gets.
Glenn is just wicked.
We hired Glenn after Ivan [Hurd, ex-guitarist]. Ivan was in the band first, and then the bass player we had at the time quit and we got Glenn. When we got Glenn we wondered, “Why do we still have Ivan?” But I wasn’t quick at the draw at it and there were a lot of years of heartache. You try to do it for the greater cause until it proves itself that it’s not. You have to be certain of things before you take steps like that. It wasn’t that [Ivan being in the band] was harmful but it wasn’t going anywhere or growing with us.
Anvil is still clearly growing, and that’s pretty rare for a band that’s been around this long.
I think it’s the will to survive. I think it really comes down to that. It’s wanting to [grow]. Most bands don’t want to, and that’s the problem. I don’t get it. You get these old iconic bands that would be great if they just kicked some ass instead of lightening it up and becoming not heavy anymore.
Playing the same eight songs every night doesn’t seem like a very satisfying career.
I know, and I want to be different. Man, I really want to be different.
You use the phrase ‘the greater cause’ and that’s maybe the heart of it. Anvil has always given the impression that metal/hard rock is a cause for them.
That’s pretty much it. It’s right there in the lyric for “Metal On Metal,” where we say, “Join the heavy metal fight.” That’s been going on my entire career. It’s a fight for survival. It never ends. So long as you create music it’s a fight for survival because music becomes so disposable, in a certain sense, by the public. No sooner do I put out a new album than people are asking when the next one comes out.
It’s like feeding snacks to a dog.
You could have pocketfuls and then when your pockets are empty the dog is still sitting in front of you wagging its tail.