Friday, September 16, 2011

An EXCLUSIVE Interview with ANVIL!

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

     Canadian Heavy Metal band Anvil is celebrating their 30th Anniversary as a recording unit with the release of the anthology Monument Of Metal. While the album contains 19 of their finest musical moments (including re-recordings of a handful of their early tracks), it’s merely an introduction to the band’s journey, which has been a long, frustrating and ultimately fruitful one.
     Led by guitarist Steve Lips Kudlow and his childhood friend drummer Robb Reiner, the band has gone through many personnel changes over the years, although their riff rockin’ Heavy Metal sound has remained largely unchanged. While their early ‘80s contemporaries were fast becoming millionaires by jumping from one Metal trend to the next, Anvil were largely forgotten as Hair Metal took root and became the music of choice for Rock fans all over the world.
     Like any other trend, Hair Metal and all the bands who sailed that ship were cast aside by Grunge, then Nu-Metal, Hardcore and every other trendy Metal genre that was quickly snapped up by the general public (and just as quickly discarded). Through it all, Anvil kept doing what they did best: creating classic Heavy Metal.
     In 2008, longtime Anvil fan, former roadie and film director Sasha Gervasi put together a documentary entitled Anvil: The Story Of Anvil, which thrust the band into the spotlight again and made them instant Metal heroes. The band has never looked back and are busier than they’ve ever been.
     Earlier this year, Anvil released their 14th studio album, Juggernaut Of Justice, and received some of their finest reviews to date. The album’s closing track, the glorious horn-heavy “Swing Thing”, is quite possibly the first Swing Metal track ever to be recorded, and it’s one of the band’s crowning achievements.
     Barely half a year later, the Monument Of Metal compilation is about to hit the shelves and take Anvil to a new level of Heavy Metal insanity. Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to catch up with guitarist/vocalist Steve LIPS Kudlow to discuss Anvil’s latest releases and talk about their career thus far…

SPAZ: A few months back, you released Juggernaut Of Justice and you’ve got the Monument Of Metal compilation dropping at the end of September. How are you feeling about things right now?
STEVE ‘LIPS’ KUDLOW: I feel pretty good. We’re about to start touring… well, we have been touring and it’s been quite non-stop. This has been the first actual few weeks that I haven’t been that busy. Having three weeks off, it seems like an eternity… but it’s not that long!

SPAZ: It’s your 30th Anniversary as a recording unit: did you ever consider releasing a box set spanning your three decade-long career?
LIPS: I think it was something that we were considering and it still may happen. The compilation album was the door-opener for all of it. We picked the choice tunes (for Monument Of Metal) and then we’re probably going to re-release the whole back catalog. We were talking about doing it in a box set but we’re not sure. But they may just come out individually over a duration of time. Our European label wants us to do that. But there’s some issues that still have to get worked out like unreleased tracks, obscure things that never saw the light of day… getting those included so there’s something more there than just the old catalog. There’s a bunch of stuff in the works, but everything takes time. We like to concentrate on the future rather than worrying and focusing on what we’ve already done.

SPAZ: Given that Monument Of Metal is a single disc collection, was it difficult to choose the tracks? And what were the criteria for the 19 tracks that ended up on the album?
LIPS: It’s really interesting because we didn’t really put a criteria on them. We just went, “Well, off of this album, which song?” And then we’d pick a few songs and say “This was on the first Anthology (released in 2000) and this wasn’t. And since it stands the test of time, OK, we’ll use this one!” That’s sort of how we went about doing it. We talked about the records and just picked our favorites at the moment. That’s really what it came down to. This is the second anthology that we put out. We couldn’t keep pressing the first Anthology because we had to keep buying the rights (of the songs) from the original label so we had to make a new one. We changed a few things from the first one and added a couple of re-records. Because of the legal aspect of using the old versions, it would have cost us a lot of money. Even if you own the studio albums, you’re going to want this because it has stuff you don’t have.

SPAZ: It’s pretty amazing while listening to Monument Of Metal and noticing that you have remained pretty true to your original sound over the years. Have you ever been tempted to alter your sound to keep up with the ever-changing music scene (like so many of your contemporaries have done)?
LIPS: It’s my own self-belief in my personal identity. That’s what it comes down to. I can’t be anybody else. I’m not going to contrive things just to make money. That doesn’t work for me because I take responsibility for it all, even if it’s in a detrimental way. That’s just the way it is. I’m not going to change what I’m doing… because that’s who I am! (laughs) I think that there are those who are easily influenced by outside people who are inconsequential… people who are just money-makers and want to make money. Their attitude is “Why wouldn’t you want to change your sound to make money?” If you think about it in those terms, then they are probably right if you look at it from their perspective. But from another perspective… this is what I do. When I create a song, it’s one of my songs and it sounds like one of my songs: it has an identity. Now, why would I want to change that when I’ve worked 30 years at maintaining an identity? (laughs)

SPAZ: Some bands change their style only to find that their old style has become hip again and they scramble to regain their old audience.
LIPS: It’s really the trend-oriented, commercial pop bands like Poison, who disappeared and were replaced with Alternative Rock and bands like Nirvana. The incredibly pretentious style got replaced with an incredibly unpretentious style. That sort of illustrates how trends work. Trends work like a pendulum. They swing back and forth. What might be out of date today is tomorrow’s biggest thing… and vice versa. So there’s no point in trying to change anything you do. Just wait for the pendulum to swing back! (laughs) That’s the reality of it. For most, they’re never gonna last long enough for that ever to happen. For the most part, that’s usually the case. When the pendulum does swing back, all these bands are scrambling and putting the band back together and trying to get back out on the road and going again. They didn’t stay at it, so whatever record they put out is certainly not going to have the flow. It’s going to be picking up… but not picking where they left off. It’s going to pick up further down the road because they let it slip. There’s no real way to make up for the lost time.

SPAZ: Juggernaut Of Justice is your 14th album. Back in ’81, when you released Hard ‘n Heavy, did you ever think you’d still be putting out albums 30 years on?
LIPS: I hoped I would be. You have to understand that my perspective was not to become the commercial hit of the day. I never wanted to do that. That’s not what this is about. This is Hard Rock and Hard Rock is a hard sell anyway. I never wanted to be a commercial commodity and I stayed away from it pretty much for 30 years. If you are a commercial band, that’s very very short lived. So, I’d rather put out 20 albums that are exactly the way I want to do it and what I want to do than two or three albums that are completely contrived record company product. You can always do that… or at least attempt to do that… but then you are either a hit or you are gone. I never wanted to go in that direction. That’s not with this is about. This is about longevity. It would make a lot more sense to put out a lot of hardcore records and then maybe at you’re 20th record, make an attempt at selling out! (laughs) If you hit it out of the ballpark after 20 records, then everybody’s got 20 records to buy. For us, that kind of innocently happened in a sense. Here, we stayed in the underground and we were very accepting of our situation. Then along comes a fan, from a long time ago, and makes a movie… and that changes the course of everything. The thing that’s very cool is that, what you always worry about when you’re in a Metal band is that when you become popular is that people immediately start pointing their fingers and say “Sell out! Sell out! Sell out!” But in this particular case, the movie actually glorifies the fact that we weren’t sell-outs! And it’s that that made it so successful! (laughs). People are not condemning us for becoming popular because we became popular by being unpopular!

SPAZ: Albums seem to be a dying art form these days. When putting Juggernaut… together, did you think of it as one whole, or do you still think in terms of Side A and Side B?
LIPS: I think we put it together so it would run as one whole thing. That’s what we were looking to do. You want people to listen to it from beginning to end.

SPAZ: Where on earth did “Swing Thing” come from? It’s an excellent mix of metal and horns plus a great showcase for Robb’s skills. Any chance of doing more tracks like that?
LIPS: It’s interesting. Robb has been a fan of this music for many, many years. In fact, that’s what started him on drums: seeing Buddy Rich on Here’s Lucy. As a young kid, he took drum lesson from Jazz teachers. That’s where his roots are. He took lessons until he was about 17. I’ll never forget it… his teacher used to come and give him lessons at his house and I’m standing next to Robb, his teacher and Robb’s mom and his teacher goes “This is Robb’s last lesson. There’s nothing more that I can teach him. He’s already surpassed my abilities!” It was pretty insane. He’s extraordinary fanatical in everything he does. Having that in the band, we’ve utilized many things from that genre, but of course it’s not recognizable because it’s being presented in a completely different format. We’re using distorted guitars so it really doesn’t sound like Swing when you remove the horns, let’s put it that way. But in this particular case… my father passed away about five years ago and I inherited his car. Along with his car came all these cassette tapes: Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and, of course, the radio stations. I began listening and I wouldn’t change the stations… and it really dawned on me as to why my father thought what I was doing was noise. And how archaic and Neanderthal what I was doing in comparison to what was going on in these songs. It is how remarkable how simplistic things became. And it’s not just necessarily the music as much as musicians not being educated by the things that have been. They fall out of trend and great abilities get lost. We’re never going to see a clarinetist like Benny Goodman ever again. There isn’t a call for it so no one is striving to get there. Kids are getting up now and they’re going “I’m gonna learn how to play guitar!” That’s what’s been going on in the last 50 years. Having said that, it’s gone through an incredible evolution. Now, one day I woke up with this chord progression that I could hear being played, in my mind, with horns. And I thought that’s really interesting. I wonder how that would work if I wrote all the guitars that I’m hearing in horns. Usually when I think of things, I think of things in guitars and I never fathom horns, but this was a weird moment. I could hear the horns, so I figured it out on the guitar and I began arranging it with the band. I created a bed track that you could put horns right n top of it and that was what I was really striving to do. So I leave the tapes with our producer, Bob Marlette, who says “Lips, it’s not a problem. My wife plays. We can do it with real horns.” About a week later, he sends me the recording and I put the headphones on and I listened to it and I practically had to go empty my pants! (laughs) From a musician’s point of view, when you break barriers with a piece of music, that is the most gratifying feeling you can ever have… when you’ve created something that no one else has ever heard or fathomed before. Nothing can be more fulfilling than doing something like that.

SPAZ: Heavy Metal and Hard Rock has so many subgenres nowadays. Which genre do you think best describes Anvil?
LIPS: Part of the problem is where do we fit in? Where do you pigeonhole Anvil?

SPAZ: To me, it’s Rock ‘n’ Roll.
LIPS: It can be. There’s a lot of factors. The Juggernaut… album is like a template of all different kinds of Metal. You look at a song like “When Hell Breaks Loose”, that’s kind of Speed Metal. You’ve got a song like “Paranormal”, and that’s your dark, slow Metal. And then you’ve got “New Orleans Voodoo” and that’s like Scorpions Metal. There’s a lot of different facets on that record.

SPAZ: What’s next for Anvil?
LIPS: We have an American tour coming up in October. In November, we’re in Europe with Saxon. Then in the Spring, it’ll probably be South America. We’ve got a lot of touring this year. A lot of touring.

SPAZ: What do you currently have spinning on your CD and DVD players?
LIPS: The most recent thing I watched on DVD would have to have been Withnail & I. Every time I tried to watch it before, I couldn’t hear the sound or I fell asleep. I finally sat down with a pair of headphones and watched it. Good movie. And yesterday, I went through the process of listening to the vinyl version of Juggernaut… and the CD version.

SPAZ: And which one was better?
LIPS: The CD. It’s not because the vinyl isn’t good, it’s just that the CD is better. It’s clearer and the output is way way higher.

Thanks to Steve LIPS Kudlow
Special thanks to Anthony Balboa, Jenny Modglin, Andreas Katsambas and Kevin Farrell


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