Poised on the verge of success back in rock's big-hair days, Anvil fell from grace with a speed usually reserved for the Grammys' Best New Artist winners. Seemingly overnight, the Canadian metallurgists' frontman Steve "Lips" Kudlow went from international touring and sharing stages with Bon Jovi and Whitesnake to hauling meatloaf for Choice Children's Catering.
In fact, that's where we find him at the beginning of Sacha Gervasi's documentary, Anvil! The Story of Anvil. The film, sometimes characterized as a real-life This Is Spinal Tap, premiered at Sundance and served as the catalyst for rock's most unlikely comeback.
Today, Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner, who've performed together since they were kids, are relishing the fame that once slipped through their fingers. And while Kudlow hung up his trademark bondage harness decades ago, he's clearly lost none of the guileless enthusiasm and extraordinary work ethic that kept Anvil rocking through decades of obscurity.
Indy: The documentary is, of course, a great success, but I'm surprised it doesn't have more of your music in it. Why is that?
Lips: There were a number of reasons, but I think what we wanted to do was whet the palates of the people watching it, to create the interest, and not give it away. In much the same way that, you know, why didn't [Steven] Spielberg show the shark in Jaws? It's really much the same. And it creates an incredible demand for people to see the band. Which is exactly what the whole intention of the movie was to begin with. And now we're actually living the reality of it. So it's amazing.
Indy: There's a scene in the film where you're at a European festival and you're running to catch up with the guy [Tommy Aldridge] from Whitesnake. And it's just so clear that 25 years after you shared a stage with them, you're still as big a fan of the music as you are a musician yourself. Is that something you're just born with, and how did you hang onto that?
Lips: That's actually an interesting question. I think it is something you're born with. I'm just enthusiastic, I love the music, and I really believe that the biggest fans of the music that we do are the actual creators. Like, here we were [earlier in the film] talking about Carmine Appice and Cactus, and there we were at the Sweden Rock Festival and I'm talking to him. [Laughs.] Pretty incredible!
Indy: You've said your next record is going to be a "metal jazz" album. Tell me about that.
Lips: Yeah, it's interesting. About four or five years ago, my father had passed away, and I inherited his car. And the radio station and all the tapes were all big band jazz. So instead of going, "Ahh, I hate that crap," I went, "You know what, I'm gonna start listening to this." So I started getting really into it, and I'm going, "My God, how untalented we actually are in comparison to these big band musicians." And no wonder my dad thought that I was playing noise!
I began to realize that what we're doing is not that much different, in a certain sense. It's just that we're playing chorded instruments instead of having a number of people to get that chord. You know, like, with wind instruments you need a minimum of two players to make a harmony happen, but with a guitar you just need yourself. So I thought, "Geez, what would happen if I used guitar to get some of that same feel?" And that's what I did. I'm actually surprised that it hasn't happened yet. I think it may be opening up a new avenue.
Indy: In the DVD's bonus footage, Lars [Ulrich from Metallica] jokes that the reason your career didn't take off may be because "the dildo gets lost in the arena." When did you hang up the harness and the dildo?
Lips: Well, the harness was hung up pretty much in '82. It had a single comeback at Super Rock '84 in Japan. I thought, "Well, they're videotaping us, let's be as entertaining as possible." But I really had a difficult time identifying with it, because it seemed to be very typecasting.
Indy: It was a little gimmicky, in that W.A.S.P. kind of way.
Lips: Yeah, I wanted to be recognized more for the music than the shtick. And quite fascinatingly, as time went along, the only thing that remained was the vibrator. It works much the same way as Jimmy Page using a violin bow, you know? It's a gimmick, but it's kind of fascinating, because it's not just as simple as, "Oh, he's using a vibrator." I use a variable-speed vibrator, so that you can actually tune it to the music.
Indy: So you use it like an EBow [electric bow], almost?
Lips: Almost like an EBow, yeah. Like last night here in Chicago, I was using it and it was really cool because some of the disharmonies and dissonance sounded so heavy and unreal, man. You know, you got your bass player playing an E, and I actually found E on the vibrator. And when it goes from E to F, you can hear the nah-nah-nah-WUB-WUB-WUB-nah-nah-nah-WUB-WUB-WUB, where it goes against the tuning. It's the sound of the vibrator coming through the pickup that creates this. And you can also use it by banging the strings and playing percussively. And then, of course, because it's a hard-plastic-rounded-edge type of thing, you can play bottleneck with it. So it has a number of different uses.
Indy: I've heard that back in the day, you got offers to join other bands. Is that true, and what bands were they?
Lips: Well, it is true, but the thing is, why are you leaving your own band? There's no point.
Indy: What bands were they?
Lips: Well, I was asked to join Motörhead when I was in the middle of recording our third album. And to be really honest with you, I guess it woulda been a great experience. But here I am the frontman of my own band — why do I wanna become the second banana?
Indy: Yeah, Lemmy would still be running the show, for sure.
Lips: Of course. And, you know, if Robb had gone and played for Ozzy, he'd be a paid member, he'd have no say in what direction or what songs, he'd be told what to do. It's not that much fun to be part of something when it's like that. You want to be an integral part of something; you want to be involved in the creative process.
Indy: There are also rumors of great offstage debauchery in those early days.
Lips: [Laughs.] Well, you know, the early '80s were a different era, let's face it. Everything really changed with the onset of AIDS, it completely changed everybody's sexual attitude. So a lot of the things that were going on at that point really don't exist at this point. I mean, there was group sex, drug parties, you name it.
Indy: That stuff was all real?
Lips: Oh yeah, it was all real. Of course it was all real! As an example, we were all sharing a room with like five or six beds, and one of the guys brings a girl upstairs. And they're carrying on in the bed, and she was really, really drunk and she vomited. She was on her back and she vomited so hard that it squirted straight up in the air.
Indy: Like The Exorcist.
Lips: Yeah, like The Exorcist! And we of course all started flipping out, and yelling out, "IT'S GEYSER CHOPS!" Haha. I mean, you can go on forever, there's just endless stories.
Indy: So if you had a time machine, would you go back for a visit?
Lips. Hmmm. No, I've lived it, done it. I'm not there any more, you know what I mean? There was a time and place for everything. I'm not 25 years old, I'm married, I have a family, it's not my priority at this point.
Indy: So this next album you're working on, will it be self-released or through VH1, or someone else?
Lips: That's a good question. We're not really sure about how that's all going to pan out. Right now, I think the biggest issue is finding the time to record it, 'cos we're basically booked till next September.
Indy: That's a good position to be in. Is the door still open if you ever did have to go back to the catering business, and how would that feel?
Lips: I don't think that is in the stars, thank God. I mean, I really honestly and truly believe that's well behind me. I haven't had a day job for over a year, so I would say it's definitely behind me. Every day it's just spreading out even more, more and more people are coming onboard. We're becoming extremely famous, not only in the United States, but globally. It's unbelievable. And once you're famous, you're famous. Like, it's not gonna disappear [laughs], like all of a sudden people aren't gonna say, "I don't remember them anymore."