Catching Up With... Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner of Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner
vowed at age 14 to rock together until they died. They’re 50 now, they haven’t died yet, and yes, they’re still rocking. They
were a huge influence on Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer and many prominent metal
bands since, but due to bad management, they never quite hit it big. But that's all changing due to the new documentary and Sundance hit,
Anvil! The Story of Anvil, in theaters now. Paste caught up with Anvil's subjects last week at a screening in Atlanta.
Paste: The movie has gotten an incredible reception, at Sundance and at several other festivals.
Steve "Lips" Kudlow: We debuted the movie at Sundance and it basically blew the roof off. But Sacha [Gervasi, director] is very clever. He didn’t want to sell the movie cheap, and he didn’t want to sell it alone. He wanted to keep the movie and the band intact together, as a unit. He wouldn’t move on any deals unless the two were hand in hand. It took a year and a half of winning awards at all these film festivals, and eventually, VH-1 heard about it.
Robb Reiner: And we found our right man.
Kudlow: And we found our right man. Rick Krim is one of the nicest people we’ve ever met, and he put the whole weight of VH-1 behind us. And now we’re off.
Reiner: Sacha could have sold out to someone like Miramax or Universal or whomever. He had those chances.
Kudlow: But then the band and the movie would have been separate, and it wouldn’t have had the longevity. This is a slow burn; it’s not a flash in the pan. We are utilizing the actual audience to spread the word rather than soaking the media with paid advertising.
Reiner: It’s word of mouth. It’s organic.
Kudlow: And what’s beautiful and unique about it is that the epilogue is being written by the audience. It’s a beautiful thing.
Paste: You’ve been on stage your whole life, and now Sacha is following you around with a camera the whole time. What was that like?
Kudlow: It was amazing, actually, the
circumstances that led up to it. I mean, let’s start from the
beginning. We met this kid when he was 15 years old at the Marquis
Club in London, just this English headbanger, and he became our drum
roadie. So we took him on the road, took him on the joyride of his
life, he had all of his first sexual encounters, we really corrupted
him well! We called him Teabag. And we gave him a life experience
he would never forget.
Eventually, of course, he had to finish school and he disappeared out of our lives. We never forgot about him, and we always wondered whatever happened to him. Then, in the summer of 2005, I got an e-mail from him, and it was like, "Holy Shit! Teabag has returned! And he’s this Hollywood bigshot now, working with Spielberg!" So we go down to his place in L.A., and he has a stack of every one of our albums. He says, “I was sitting down listening to an album by Metallica, and I said, 'This sounds just like my friends Anvil. I wonder what happened to them?'” And about a week later he comes to Toronto and says, “I want to make a film about you.” I started bawling my eyes out. It was like we both went on our journeys, and now we’ve come back together to make this movie. It was like perfect kismet, everything we had both been through was focused to make this movie. And I thought, this is it! The moment has arrived!
Paste: What gave him the idea to do a film?
Kudlow: Well, part of it is that the spirit we had in our twenties is still here.
Reiner: We haven’t changed.
Kudlow: We don’t need to be at the front of the pack to be in the race. Success is doing what you love and getting away with it. Bottom line, whatever you have to do to get away with it, you are getting away with it. That’s success.
Paste: That enthusiasm for what you do really comes through in this film, and it’s really inspiring. It reminds me of that great Bill Mallonee line about the minor-league ballplayer, “We may not make it out of the bush leagues, but that’s not why we’re here.” I watched this film thinking, “Even if these guys never make it back up to the top, they’re going to rock it out every night because they love it so much.” It’s beautiful.
Reiner: That’s really the truth.
Kudlow: It’s like I always say, you don’t have to win the race to enjoy the race. I think we all have a responsibility to make the best of our lives. And to enjoy our lives. And we get so much enjoyment and fun out of being in the band and creating this music. How could you ever stop that? It’s like saying “I’ve already had kids, why would I keep having sex?” Well, no! When I’m up on stage playing and singing, that is the almighty orgasm for me. And I’m not going to give it up!
Paste: One of the other things I loved about the film was seeing the collaboration among the whole band, but especially between you two. Knowing each other so long, loving each other like brothers, fighting like brothers.
Kudlow: Well, we don’t really fight that often.
Reiner: Maybe half a dozen times in our whole career; he just caugt them all on tape!
Kudlow: The focal point and goal is always the same. Where you find problems is the different approaches of how to get there.
Paste: And the fact that you both want it so badly really fuels that fire.
Kudlow: That’s right. Plus, the fuel to impress each other is very, very high octane. Whoever is in your band, you have to want to impress each other. If that wasn’t there you’d lose steam. For me, I’m a guitar player who’s a drum fanatic. What better drum player could I ask for to help me achieve what I want?
Paste: You’ve basically influenced everyone who’s played metal from the early eighties on.
Kudlow: Well, we, like everybody else, were disciples of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. All bands pay homage to the guys that come before them. But we took those influences and said, “What if we played that double time?” And we innocently came up with this thing. And everyone who came after us loved it. And because we were so obscure, everybody could use it and no one would know where it came from.
Paste: Robb, you turned down a chance to join Ozzy to stay with Anvil, right?
Reiner: Yes. But actually that was just one of many bands. My identity is with Anvil.
Kudlow: I was asked to join Motörhead in the early eighties. "No. I’m in Anvil."
Paste: Lips, going back in time a bit, I understand your very first gig didn’t go very well.
Paste: In sixth grade?
Kudlow: My God! You must have read the book! That’s the only way you could know that! Well, I was in grade six, and there was a play that I was supposed to play guitar in. And I didn’t have an amp, so I had taken a microphone and taped it to my guitar and put it through a tape recorder to amplify it. And the teacher wouldn’t give me the tape. And I got stage fright and said, “To hell with it, I’m not going on!” So she hauled me down to the office and the principal swatted my hand with a ruler. That was my first gig. They knocked the stage fright right out of me. A rough way to start, but nonetheless, at least it was a start.
Paste: Tell me about the new album you’re working on. It’ll be your fourteenth album, right?
Reiner: That’s right. It’s called Juggernaut of Justice. All of the songs are now written. We’ll hopefully record it at the beginning of next year. We’ve also recorded the song "Thumb Hang," which is mentioned in the movie. It’ll be on the soundtrack.
Kudlow: You know, we wrote that thing when we were about 14 and we had had a school lesson on the Spanish Inquisition. And we just put it away and never bothered with it. But after the movie, that’s what everybody wants to hear. So Sacha put in the credits that we’re going to finally record it and we said, “What? We are?”
Reiner: And it actually turns out to be a really good song.
Paste: Tell me about what people can expect when they come to a screening where you guys are going to be.
Reiner: We call it The Anvil Experience.
Kudlow: We turn a cinema into a concert hall. At the end of the movie, we come out and play. And it’s not like a regular rock experience. It’s unique because people have connected with us as real people. They get to know us as a who we really are, and then we come out in person. When I look out into the crowd, I’m looking at the kindest, warmest eyes you could ever imagine. When you open for Motörhead, everybody is crossing their arms, wondering if they’re going to like you. But this is so much different. When we come out on stage, it’s like, “Oh my God! It’s Lips and Robbo! I love you guys!” We come walking down the aisle and everyone stands up and goes crazy. And it’s like, "I haven’t even plated a note! What’s up?" It’s special.