Anvil's Steve "Lips" Kudlow Talks About His Dreams and the Evolution of Metal
In 2008, influential Canadian heavy metal forerunners Anvil finally tasted the fame that had eluded them for decades, thanks to the documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil. Instead of becoming novelty stars who had a heart-warming yet heart-wrenching movie to their name (like the stars of The King of Kong), guitarist/vocalist Steve "Lips" Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner grabbed the bull by the balls. Gone are the day jobs and thoughts of "What if?" or "Will it ever?"
The two core members have turned into middle-aged road warriors, championing a vintage brand of heavy metal that's way too raw and sincere to be branded anything but genuine. Theirs is the kind that helped parent watchdog groups spring up all over the globe in the early '80s. Metal is scary, but the dildo that "Lips" has used to strum his electric guitar is even scarier.
With a remastered slew of albums, including Strength of Steel and Pound for Pound, set for Valentine's Day release (you've been wondering what to get that special someone, haven't you?), Kudlow, Reiner and a newly reworked line-up has hit the road once again. Dallas will get their share of Canadian metal when Anvil takes the stage Saturday at Trees.
We caught up with "Lips" over the phone and discussed musical vocabulary, metal ballads and the South American air.
So are you now living your dream? Oh, yes. This is exactly what I had always thought it would look and feel like. They say to be careful what you wish for. But I say not true, don't be careful.
In the movie, you remarked that so many of the band's albums didn't sound good. Is that why the remastered albums are coming out? Do the albums sound better now? Well, we self-produced the albums I was referring to. We didn't have a real producer for those, and that's the real reason I said that in the movie. They have been remastered, but whether they sound better or not, well, that's up to the people. The albums are what they are. Yes, sonically, they sound better. Is that going to matter? I don't know. Is that going to be enough to make a big splash? I don't know. They're old records and sometimes people can get pissed when you start messing with those. It's like you're trying to change-up the words in the Bible. Not a lot is really done by remastering, except that it may sound fuller, but we didn't change the mix or the takes. It's all good.
When Anvil started, metal was new. Now, there are so many different types of metal. What do you think of that evolution? Initially, it was all hard rock or heavy rock. Around 1980, it started getting called metal and heavy metal. At that point, there was really only that one kind of heavy metal, and it encapsulated a wide range of sounds. As time went along, a hundred different types of metal popped up. At one point, you could put a ballad on a metal album, along with a fast, brutal song and also a bludgeoning, slow stomper and it was all cool. Now, it's really uncool to do that. Now, so many records sound the same, every song is the same, the singing is often the same. There's no bloody melody, no real rhythm. Why is that? It's like, if you get commercial success, you can't be metal anymore. If a song gets popular, it's no longer metal - you sold out. It's just human nature to try and categorize and pigeonhole everything. That's all it is.
So, just for the record: Can a ballad still be metal in this day and age? Absolutely! I mean, come on. One of the original, biggest songs of all time is "Stairway to Heaven." What's at the end of that song? Not heavy guitar with distortion, but that's still metal. It isn't half-metal. Just turn on the stereo and listen to the music.There are really only two kinds of music: good and bad, that's it.
The tour schedules for Anvil are often packed with as many shows as a month or two can handle. You play several nights in a row in many cases. Can such a schedule take a physical toll on you? It does, sometimes, but when you do what you love it's not a job. It's as simple as that. You persevere, and you don't really think about stuff like that. The only time playing so much has been an issue is when it's been our fourth or fifth night in a row and we play somewhere really dry like Vegas, or in countries like Bolivia, where we're like 15,000 feet above sea level. So sometimes the actual environment isn't the best, but you just deal with it.
In the documentary, both you and Robb worked day jobs. When you're recovering at home between tours, you don't still have to go punch in somewhere, do you? No day jobs, man. That finished a couple of years ago. We've been so busy touring, what job would keep us around? We had the material for the [2011 album] Juggernaut of Justice ready for two years before we got around to recording it, because of our busy tour schedule. The essence of what we do points towards playing live. I play gigs.That's what I do. If I'm not playing gigs, I feel awful. After coming home from a tour, sure, I'm tired. But after a night or two of sleeping in my own bed, I'm ready to go again. I'm addicted to the endorphins that are released when I play live. I need that and I get used to that after a month of playing live on the road.
Could there be an Anvil without you and Robb together? No. The simple answer is no. It will always have to be both of us, and there are a hundred and one reasons why. We started to play together in 1973, and we were inseparable. Also, I have a complete love and understanding for the drums. I'm the perfect guitar player for a drummer because I know what he's always doing. Robb always knows what I'm doing, too. Our musical vocabulary is virtually identical. We'll put songs together by simply discussing them.
We've written songs on the way to rehearsal before, just by talking about it. Only we understand that vocabulary. How do you separate that? If I go anywhere, I take my voice and guitar with me and I'm still the guy from Anvil. Why bother leaving where I came from, because it will always be me. Robb will never have a circumstance where he can have the influence and understanding that I provide for him.The main currency of Anvil is drumming. Anvil is about drumming. I write songs to accentuate drums, because I've got a great drummer. It's about acceptance. Acceptance of the good and the bad.
Anvil performs Saturday, February 11, at Trees.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.