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Notes from the Underground: Anvil Speaks!

Back in 1984, it might have seemed perfectly reasonable to assume that Anvil would achieve the same level of fame and fortune as their headbanging peers.

Touring with the likes of Bon Jovi, Whitesnake and the Scorpions behind albums crafted by Chris Tsangarides, the Grammy-nominated producer best known for his work with Black Sabbath and Thin Lizzy, Toronto’s premier purveyors of thrash metal were on the rise, or so they thought. But while Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and the like parlayed boyish good looks and bubblegum hooks into arena-sized success on MTV, Anvil found themselves left out in the Canadian cold.

Since then, the band’s co-founders – Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner – have become well-acquainted with humility, working dead-end jobs and playing to near-empty houses while keeping their improbable dreams of stardom alive. While the bands influenced by their bludgeoning, lightning-quick riffs and pioneering sound – namely, Guns N’ Roses and Metallica – became veritable institutions, Anvil kept waiting for their big break.

At last, it’s arrived, in the form of Anvil! The Story of Anvil, a painfully funny (and sometimes just painful) documentary about the band’s history directed by onetime roadie turned Hollywood screenwriter Sacha Gervasi. A crowd favorite at last year’s Sundance, Anvil! may not land the group (which includes longtime bassist Glenn Five) at the top of the charts, but it’s given them a new lease on fame, as they tour with the movie from city to city, playing to houses packed with fans old and new.

Are they getting sick of watching their tension-fraught story unfold on screen, and the accompanying media attention? Not in this lifetime.

On the two-year promotional tour that helped
Anvil! earn more per-screen in limited release than April’s Hannah Montana
movie:
Robb Reiner, Drummer: “This is one of the best things, if not the best thing, that’s ever happened to us. We’re enjoying the discovery and rediscovery combo-pack process of this. People are getting to know our music, getting to know the band, and we’re getting recognized everywhere. We’ve been working hard for 30 years to get to this point, and there's value in that. It goes back to 2005, in Italy, when this buddy of ours from another band came up to me and said, ‘It’s all about history, man, and you’ve got it. It’s all gonna change for you!’ He starts saying this shit to me, and it had no relevance to me at that point, you know? I thought, ‘What the fuck is this guy talking about?’ Well, it turns out he knew what he was talking about.”

On how life has changed since the movie’s release:
Steve Kudlow, Lead Singer and Guitarist: “People are perceiving us as rock stars, for one thing.”
RR: “They’re also perceiving us as movie stars, even though we’re not movie stars, we just happen to be in a movie. We’re total rockers.”
SK: “But we’re rockers in a movie. There is a difference.”
RR: “We’re playing the Download Festival in June, and there are petitions for us to play Glastonbury, but that’s not going to happen.”
Glenn Five, Bassist: “If you believe the rumors, we’re going to be playing several tours simultaneously this year.”
SK: “Yeah, supposedly we’re playing the Whitesnake-Judas Priest tour this summer. What’s that all about?”

On failing to land opening slots in the past with friends like Metallica and the Scorpions:
RR: “It's politics. We’re not a big band, we’re not going to draw people. And we don’t have the kind of money it takes to buy onto those tours. We’re friends with those bands, but they’re not going to give us a free ride. That’s the reality of the business.”
SK: “The record companies we’ve been involved with don’t have millions of dollars to promote us like that. As Robb said, it’s political. Do we know their managers? No. Do we have a relationship with their record labels? Probably not.”
RR: “But that’s going to change. That’s what’s to come.”

On their decision to sell their latest album, 2007’s This Is Thirteen, directly through their website:
RR: “That was something we wanted to do because we've never really controlled the distribution of our music. What do we have to lose?”
SK: “What would we hire a record company to do? We’ve got all the promotional tools you could shake a stick at without them.”

On the current state of the band, whose frustrations and occasional rows are preserved in time by Gervasi:
RR: “We get along great in general. The fact that the movie captures a few blowouts doesn’t mean we don’t. We could play into that notion that we’re at war with each other, but the fact is that we’re buddies, all three of us. At times you have frustrations. Shit happens.”
SK: “I like to tell people we’ve really hated each other since we were 13, but we stuck together because we thought we’d make it. I mean, it doesn’t make any sense. Why would we stick together for 30 years if we didn’t get along?”

On family members who have discouraged their quest for rock-n-roll stardom:
SK:
“That’s Robb’s sister. She’s got a lot of anger, and there is a lot of stuff happening in her life that’s made her that much more on the outs. She didn’t really want to see us succeed, I guess. Originally, she was Dave Allison’s girlfriend – Dave’s our old guitarist – and he left the band. Once he left, I don’t think she wanted to see us get anywhere.”

On retaining the integrity of their sound over the course of three decades:

SK:
“After our initial success in the early ’80s, we got really heavy instead of going the other way. We got harder, faster and more aggressive with our sound, and we really upset our original fans. They were still left in the ’80s, and we modernized. Instead of growing old with them, we got younger and started appealing to kids more because we picked up the speed and made our music more dissonant and evil. We started to sound like Slayer."
RR: “It’s music that's too heavy for wimps. We put that on our t-shirts.”
SK: “Instead of going commercial, as most bands do, we went the other way. Take Def Leppard, for example. They started off pretty damn heavy, but by the time they hit Pyromania, they were chicks with dicks. With us, our first album is probably our lightest, and we got progressively heavier from there. And that was intentional. We’re obscure. We’re underground, and we play to the underground. We’re not playing to 14-year-old girls who have crushes on us. We’re playing to guys, from 18 to 40 – guys! It’s metal. It’s music for men. And we write for our fans, because we’re fans ourselves.”

On the power-ballad-free future of Anvil:
RR: “We got here on our own terms. From this point on, we’re being accepted for exactly what we are, so there’s no need to be anything different tomorrow.”
SK: “We have our own identity, and when we tried to add things to the sound that were not really us, it became uncomfortable. We got too dark and distant, and the music became almost dull because it was too heavy. We’re an in-your-face band that wants to have a good time. Let’s fucking rock, you know? And so we got back to that.”
RR: “We’re not going to compromise the sound of the music, and we never would.”
SK: “No, never. Absolutely not.”
RR: “We’re going to keep supporting the movie, then we’re going to tour, then we’re going to release our next album, Juggernaut of Justice. We’re going to keep on rocking.”
SK: “We’re Anvil. That’s what we do.”