Although the buzz around the documentary Anvil!: The Story Of Anvil (screening at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown this week) suggests that the obscure Canadian metal band is a “real-life Spinal Tap,” that’s a bit misleading. Yes, the band has hung in there since the late ’70s with amps that go to 11. But singer-guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner have soldiered on with their then-groundbreaking speed/thrash metal against impossible odds like legal problems, woefully inept managers, and eventually being eclipsed by bands that they influenced, like Slayer and Metallica. Those years of marginalization may have finally paid off, though, making Lips and Co. the ultimate underdogs in Anvil, which follows the band from 2005 to 2007 as it attempted to tour Europe and also record its 13th album, This Is Thirteen. Rejuvenated by the release of Anvil, the band booked some of its highest profile gigs in years; fresh from quitting his day job and poised to make a comeback, Lips spoke to The A.V. Club about being the mom-and-pop store of metal bands and why you should never give up on your dreams.
The A.V. Club: What has happened to Anvil after the end of the movie?
Lips: We’ve been very busy. Obviously, everything’s picked up a thousand percent, man. I’m not playing gigs for a thousand, 500 bucks anymore. [Laughs.] Whatever. A lot of those things have changed and I don’t think they’ll ever be the same. We’ll never be on the level, the sort of lower echelon that we’ve traveled through for the last 30 years.
AVC: The movie doesn't really go much into Anvil's chronology.
L: No, they don’t, and it gives you the idea that we’ve done nothing. It’s actually quite ludicrous. I’ve been using the analogy of Home Depot and the independent hardware store. We’re the independent hardware store. Just because we don’t make millions of dollars doesn’t mean we’re not successful. We’ve got basically all the close-by neighborhood people buying from us. Yes, the majority of people buy at Home Depot, but what about when you need something really quick and you don’t want to drive all the way out to Home Depot?
AVC: So you’re the mom-and-pop store of metal bands?
L: [Laughs.] Yeah! Only about .1 percent of metal bands make it. I mean, come on, man. When you think about how many thousands of metal bands there have been, and there’s only four really big ones. That speaks real loud and clear to me. The average person doesn’t realize that, and there’s a lot of judgment that goes with that. Very few ever get much further than recording a couple of records, never mind recording 13 records.
AVC: Do you think Anvil would have been equipped to handle the fame and attention you were seeking in the '80s if you got it at the time?
L: That’s a good question. And I would probably say no.
AVC: Why not?
L: Because we were only in our 20s. You’re usually pretty self-destructive at that point. You have an attitude that everything’s gonna last forever. And when I think about the past, that’s why it didn’t really faze us at the time, that things were fucked up and we’d have to do it all again. I mean, it’s like, "So what?" It’s gonna last forever anyway.
AVC: How did you pioneer playing guitar with a dildo?
L: By the time I was 20, we were putting Anvil together, and Robb wrote some of the pilot lyrics like for "School Love" and stuff, which were really nasty porno-lyrics. So, we said, "You know what? Let’s make the image of the band and the style that we go for this kind of thing." We started thinking of things we could do to exemplify that, so I just thought, “What about a vibrator? Why not try a vibrator and see what it would do?” I knew it was going to make [a] noise through the pick-ups, but I thought, “It vibrates. So, it’s going to make my strings vibrate as well. And it’s round, so it can be used for bottle neck.” So, that’s where it came from. It certainly was an interesting idea if nothing else. Nobody ever forgot that I did it—that’s for sure.
AVC: It’s memorable.
L: Yeah, it is. It came along with a lot of stuff that used to go on in our shows, man. Crazy. We’d hang bras and panties and all kinds of shit on the amps and mic stands. [Laughs.] Feather boas. Real sleaze. That was ridiculous, man. In the early days, you’d come off the stage after and you’d have to fight your way into the change room because there’s girls lined up. Lots of things have changed since those days, but it’s still fun to think about them. It’s a completely different era. The real perverse, sexual stuff that existed in the '80s is gone. Once AIDS came in, it was over, man. Completely changed everything.
AVC: People are eager to compare the movie to Spinal Tap. Do you think that's a fair comparison?
L: Spinal Tap is our Trojan horse. There’d be no way in a million years that you could make a documentary about a metal band without it immediately being compared. We embraced it. People [come] in expect[ing] to have a big laugh at Anvil and end up crying at our trials and tribulations, and falling in love with the characters and only wanting success for them.
We’re not pitiful characters. I don’t know if you can say that someone who is tenacious and dedicated is a loser. This is the first time that someone’s actually had enough balls to let the world see what it really is. This is what it means to go on the road. This is what it means to go after your dreams and try to do it, even when you’re the only one who believes. Lots of people own their own businesses, man, and give up, and maybe had they waited an extra month things could have turned around. This is the beauty of the whole thing and it’s quite remarkable.