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On the brink of an extensive, fifty dates, European tour we talk to Steve Kudlow aka Lips, lead singer and guitarist of Anvil. Forty years in the business, a new album and staying true to what you belief in. In this extensive interview the friendly Canadian takes all the time to get in to these subjects.

By: Wim R. | Archive under speed / thrash metal

band imageHi Steve, how are you, still jetlagged as this is the first European date?
No, no problems. We came over a few days ago in Germany, but thanks for asking.

Forty years of Anvil this year. Any special things lined up to celebrate this milestone?
I am not an anniversary kind of person. To be honest, I hardly look at the calendar. I have the theory that the more you look at the calendar, the older you get. You count, you get old! I don’t count! Okay, it is forty years, nice number. I look at the last forty years as one long albums and tour.

What were the highlights and downsides during these forty years?
The highlights were never very high. To be really honest with you we struggled during the ‘Metal On Metal’ and ‘Forged In Fire’ albums. Once ‘Forged In Fire’ came out, it was slagged heavily in the press immediately. We only felt some sort of glorious with the release of the ‘Hard And Heavy’ album, but that quickly disappeared. Realistically, there were never any real highpoints, but a constant struggle until now. The people talk about our glory days, well not much glory I tell you. We never were million sellers, just support band to Motörhead. That was the best we saw. The year after we did the Japanese shows, they were quite big, but we were cut short to a shitty forty minutes set… a throw away support band. Is that a high point? I don’t know, hahaha.

What made you persist in keeping Anvil alive, with all of the struggle you just mentioned?
Well, it was not a road that went from very high to very low. Just a constant struggle in achieving success. We never felt that we were big stars.

Not even in your home country, Canada?
Oh no, the respect and recognition only started with the documentary/movie (‘Anvil: The Story Of Anvil’). In Canada they have a hard time accepting that we are still around. If you want to be a name in Canada, then you have to be known worldwide. There are some exceptions in Canada, for example The Tragically Hip and April Wine, who are only world famous in Canada. But Anvil is the opposite. Known everywhere, except in Canada. But the moment the documentary broke in the States, Canada was ready to embrace Anvil.

But still it is an achievement to have a forty-year career and stay true to your roots.
Yeah, but all of that stuff is not relevant. What is relevant is that we have an audience that supported us and paid to keep Anvil alive until now. It is not important what a certain person or industry thinks, it counts what the Anvil fans think. And you know, I am a metal fan too. I judge my music against the music I like myself. And you know what? I am still here after forty years and the record companies that did not belief in us, are long, long gone.

There are bands with a career as long as yours, that were persuaded to change their sound or image.
Not with us though. We did the opposite to what most bands would do. Changing your sound and maybe break it big, will lead to a break up. That is what happens to most bands that I know or knew of. We were the most commercial in the beginning of our career, from there on we only went heavier and heavier. Everything from 1986 to 1996, I like to refer to that as our ‘Dark Period”, we got so fucking heavy even I could not handle it anymore, hahaha. Instead of working to be become a radio band, we tried our best to stay away from that. We don’t want it, that was our attitude. We don’t want it. So, we wrote songs like ‘Show Me Your Tits’, nasty stuff. Musically it could have been on the radio, but lyrically? No way. Live the fans want to hear songs like ‘Backwaxed’ or ‘Five Knuckle Shuffle’. Underground love. They are warm to your ears. Record companies asked us to give something for the radio. But we thought ‘fuck you’ and went the opposite way. The fans that love us for our original sound, thought that the “Dark Period’ was too much for them and far from the Anvil they became familiar with and loved. There were millions of parts in these songs, insanely difficult to record, let alone play live. We did not need to go that far, but we did. Once we left the “Dark Period” behind us, I started revaluating. With ‘This Is Thirteen’ we returned to the sound and songs that fans knew and loved us for. So, we stopped making songs where we threw everything we had, including the kitchen sink, in it. And that track is the one we still follow until now.

Your new album ‘Pounding The Pavement’ was recorded in Germany, was there a specific reason for this choice?
The record company, our management, touring agency are in Europe, and so are the best sound technicians. You will not find that in North America. Where are you going to find a producer who knows metal? In Germany, not North America. The heart of metal is in Europe, not in North America. Our first and third album were recorded by a British producer, Chris Tsangarides. Want to do it the right way? Find the right guys. And those guys are to be found in Germany, England and maybe even in Holland. Bottom line, European production is the best production.

Were you familiar with the producer Jörg Ucken?
No, we did not know him before. It was a new situation. Our record company suggested him and his studio to us. And it was very comfortable for the band. The place we recorded was the place we stayed. No need to rent a car, shops just down the street, and you took off your guitar and could jump into bed straight after. It was very convenient and relaxed.

How long did it take you to record the new album?
A month. Actually, just three weeks, the last week was just partying, hahahaha. And we used the last week to rehearse for two festivals in Germany. Ever heard of that? Rehearsing for live shows in a studio? Well, it was a first for us. After that we had four weeks off, and here I am talking to you. This is our most busy and successful period ever.

And the tour that starts tonight is a big one…
This is the longest tour we ever had on our own ever, in forty years. Very impressive. But now the question is, how am I going to handle that with sixty-one years, hahahaha. Fifty-one fucking dates and we love it! We are the happiest, content that we ever were.

And I think your real strength is playing live, being on stage.
You’re right, it always has been. The biggest shining star of it all is that live shit. And the constant challenge is capturing that live spirit on an album. And more than once we had to deal with the wrong label, producers whatever. But when you have a producer from Quebec, Canada instead of Germany the album won’t sound that good. Now we have European producers, our albums are sounding better than they ever did back in the day. We sound more cohesive on stage than we ever did I think.

The production job on ‘Pounding The Pavement’ is really heavy but clear.
Yup, it is. It sounds fucking unbelievable. No samples, only real band takes.

So, not too much tinkering during the production?
No, we had the goal to make the album sound real and live.

Can you tell something about the song writing within the band?
The same as I always approached it, always on the hunt for that one riff. And I never seem to have a problem finding them, haha. And be as quick and spontaneous as you can be. Have an idea, do not overdo it. Do not think too much about it, if it feels and sounds right. All good songs are writing within thirty minutes. Goes for all of our songs in the old days. It was only during the nineties that we are getting technical and more complex sounding. We were trying to be more than we actually are. Put this part in, that part in. but in the end, it did not contribute to the quality of the song. As a musician you might think that is impressive but might not be that pleasurable to listen to in the end. Playing a million parts does not make you a great musician.

band image

Less is more?
Satisfying your musical ego is not the same as playing a great song. It is what separates your Bon Jovi from your Yngwie Malmsteen. Bon Jovi makes a great song, Malmsteen makes a great solo. And the two do not meet, two different worlds. You can play a great guitar solo, not write the song for the solo. Let the solo follow the song. The producer is your audience. He ought to tell you when you play too much notes and will ask you to do it differently and more accessible and simple. Later when you hear it back, you know he will be right. Maturity also has to do with it, it is a learning curve that never ends. When you are young, you just want to impress. You need experience to be able to identify your identity as a musician.

Back to your last album, did you have any influence on the productional side of things?
Generally, you are in charge. The songs are yours. You are at the mercy of your engineers. So that is why we went to Germany. Those guys know how to tweak dials, and we know how to write songs. They know how to make a kick drum whack you in the head. I do not know how to do that, I play guitar. So, we need experts for that. It is our job to find those guys, hoping you make the right choice. We tried with guys that were not that good at it, unfortunately. The songs are there, but the sound sucks. Many good songs died because of that. But after the album is done, you are at the mercy of the record company in ways of distribution and press and promotion. Making sure we get reviews of the album and shows from guys like you. And we have seen every form of that during these forty years. You release an album, and you do not have one fucking interview. So, you know that no one is going to know about our record.

That’s a shame…
It is shameful. The Canadian government gives grants to bands to do promotion. In Canada we became our own record company because of that in the nineties and paid a girl five thousand dollars from that grant. She got us TWO interviews, TWO!! That is brutal man. We tried to do it right but picked the wrong person for sure. If you pay someone that amount, you should get more than two interviews. Where is the publicity? Why did you not send hype sheets to the radio stations? Or the magazines? She said it was too expensive mailing it out. What do you mean? I gave you five grand!! She received one hundred cd’s, not one was send out!! But we are no youngsters anymore. We know what a record or publicity company should do.

So are you satisfied with SPV then, your current record company?
They are pretty damn good. We never were on a major label, sadly enough. SPV is one of the best we ever had.

Earlier in this interview you mentioned Chris Tsangarides, who produced three oy your albums. He passed away in January.
It is a shame, all the bands that worked with him have good and fond memories of Chris. Other musicians come to me after he passed. They all think Anvil was the special one for Chris, because he was in the documentary. The documentary meant a lot to Chris. Before that no one really knew him as a person. The movie made him known as a producer and human being. After the movie he was busy all the time, good that he had the chance to enjoy that.

Ok, to wrap things up, the final question, do you have any ideas or plans for the next forty years?
Forty years? I hope I get another ten healthy years. No chance of retiring, metal is in your blood. They will have to bring me out on a stretcher. I will tell you I was in Los Angeles with Lemmy in the Nokia concert hall. He was doing his soundcheck ten days after he had heart surgery! Everybody was saying that he was just released from hospital. Thinking if he will pull it off. Robb said backstage to him if he should not take it a bit easier. (in his best Lemmy impersonation) ‘Of course I am going back on the road, what is the fucking use of recording an album if you don’t go out on the road?’ hahaha, ‘Fuck my health, I am going out on the road!’ He was so passionate. All those cry baby musicians going on about hard life on the road. Fuck off, stay home then! They are just fucking down right lazy! I have two hours of work today, do not complain. I have meals cooked, I do not have to do shit. Home is harder. My wife goes on that I have to take the garbage out, mow the lawn. I work harder at home pleasing my wife, it is true!

So, this is vacation?
Yeah, I see it as a vacation. I am really honest and serious about this. A day to day life is really much, much harder. On the road everything is being done, I do not have to carry my own gear, all is taken care of. Tough on the road? Really? I was reading about Black Sabbath, these guys were staying at five-star hotels, the limousines are ready. They do not have to hire a van or carry their equipment. But still they fucking complain! Whiners! Maybe, if you’re used to do nothing and nothing, getting out of bed may be too much. Pampered too much I tell you! You know, when I worked for the catering company back home, that was fucking hard! Being in a band, that is not hard. Going up the snowy hills with all the food piled up, that is hard, in the brutal cold. Phone ringing, move it, there is another delivery. That is work!! Want to do an interview? Are you in the mood? Oh, how hard that is! Shit, I got a blemish on my face. Get the fucking roadie to get me some powder for my face. And pamper my ass when you are at it. Fuck that shit! Be real!

It is all about staying close to yourself and reality?
Absolutely! Be thankful and value what you get. People do not value music because they do not pay for it. Back in the day you would go ‘Look, I bought the ‘Metal On Metal’ album, I got the whole thing!’. Now I click the button, and it is in my hard drive. Nothing to hold or read.

I remember buying ‘Forged In Fire’, not knowing the song titles or what the cover looked like…
Yeah, exactly. The good old days, when music was being appreciated.

Steve, thank you for your time, and have a good tour
Thanks, and all the best to the metal fans in Holland!

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