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The Art Of Perserverance: An Exclusive Interview With Steve "Lips" Kudlow Of ANVIL

By Larry Petro, News Monkey
Saturday, May 3, 2014 @ 10:24 AM

"The only thing I canít get too much of is playing live."

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Perserverance: /ˌpərsəˈvi(ə)rəns/ Noun - steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. See Also: ANVIL

If there's one band out there that personifies that definition, it's Canadian metal legends ANVIL. For the better part of 4 decades the band, Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner, along with Sal Italiano, have been bringing their brand of thrash metal to the masses. Despite the fact that the band never made it really big in the States, that never let it get them down and they soldier on. Now, armed with a new album, Hope In Hell, the band is in the midst of what is probably their most extensive tour of the U.S. I had the extreme pleasure of being able to sit down with Lips at their recent stop in Houston, Texas to talk about all things ANVIL. Check it out!

KNAC.COM: This current 2 month tour you've been on seems to be the most extensive one you guys have had in the States in some time....

KUDLOW: Probably ever.

KNAC.COM: Howís it been going so far?

KUDLOW: Not bad, a couple of bumps in the road but what are you gonna do? We had some van trouble; we had a fuel valve go. We rented the thing but unfortunately what happened was we pulled into Mobile (Alabama) and they could have fixed it but they didn't have the part, they had to wait till Monday so we missed Austin (Texas show). There was no way to do it. You can't travel 12 hours in a broken van, you can't do it. It wasn't gonna make it. These Sprinter vans are really specialized. Theyíre made by Mercedes so in order to get service you not only have to go to a Dodge dealer, but a Dodge dealer that handles the servicing. So we did, we tried to get one on the way but they didn't handle the servicing so we went for a run all the way to Mobile and it was really scary. I mean, we got there fine and all but to try to go from there onward it was like no, we've got to wait to get it fixed, no choice.

KNAC.COM: You and Robb (Reiner, drummer) have been friends for over 40 years now. Do you guys ever look at each other and go 'are we fucking crazy for doing this?'

KUDLOW: To be really honest with you those kinds of things donít, it's the business that sucks, not our friendship or our band. If anything that would make us feel that way, crazy to bang our heads against the wall as far as the business is concerned but certainly to keep the band together, and quite frankly we have in the most adversarial situations. Just because the business doesnít treat you right doesnít mean that your band is no good. It just means that the business is filled with criminals.

KNAC.COM: Have you ever felt like throwing in the towel at any point?

KUDLOW: No, because I mean, why would you? Itís easy to say that when you hate what you do. When you love what you do as much as we do you never question that. If anything, you question whether you should fire this guy or should we fire that guy. Should we work with these people, should we not? Not the other, that's been the stronghold all along. There are never ever any doubts in our mind about what we do and how we do it.

KNAC.COM: The amazing thing to me is not so much the fact that you both have been friends for so long, but band mates as well, and for a lot of bands that doesnít typically work out so well. What is the secret to keeping that relationship so strong?

KUDLOW: To tell you the truth, I don't know. There isn't really a secret. It is what it is. You stay with your wife, what's the secret? (laughs) You see what I mean? Realizing what you're strengths are and recognizing them for what they are, there's no reason to take off, thereís no greediness, no selfishness. If you really look each other in the eye and there's an equality then there's no problem. So we don't have that problem, we grew up together.

KNAC.COM: Have you guys ever had any major disagreements over the years?

KUDLOW: Usually it's over operational things, not about the end result, but how do we get there? That's not such a bad thing. The only thing that causes problems is a third wheel. Realistically of course, Iíve been playing with Robb since I was about 15, 16 years old and there's been a multitude of musicians that have come and gone. And basically what it comes down to is selfishness and greed. Guys that have joined, they donít get out of it what Robb and I get out of it, it's our baby. and no matter how long or how hard you try they canít, they can't get in there the same way. The public doesnít recognize it. No matter how good of a bass player or guitar player we hired, they never look at it like that's the band, they just look at it like 'ok, it's a side member', and no matter what you do or how you do it, theyíll always look at it the same way. Much like Ozzy, no matter who Ozzy has playing in his band other than his guitar player, no one else really matters. Thatís just the way it is.

KNAC.COM: After 4 decades of thrashing and banging your head how much does your body hate you in the morning after a show?

KUDLOW: The only part that's worn is my ears.

KNAC.COM: So you stay in pretty good shape then?

KUDLOW: Yeah, Iím in pretty good shape. Well, we rehearse every day anyway when we're not on the road but aside from that, bicycling. I weigh the same as I did when I was 20. I weigh 150 pounds and I never leave that weight. I donít super indulge in any one thing. Everything is in moderation. Just because I like steak doesnít mean I eat it every day. You don't enjoy it as much. The only thing I canít get too much of is playing live. I mean, how do you get too much of that? That's what you live for so the time when it's that hour and a half, two hours onstage is the only time during the day that all your problems and everything that is going on in your life disappears and you have the pure happiness and bliss that music can bring to your soul. It's extraordinarily addictive.

KNAC.COM: Well if you've been doing it for 40 years it's obviously addictive.

KUDLOW: And Iím not going to be leaving it anytime soon.

KNAC.COM: What would you say is your most memorable moment so far in your career?

KUDLOW: Meeting Paul McCartney, and Paul McCartney knowing who we were. That's pretty outstanding. I don't think I could have scored a higher goal in my life than knowing that Sir Paul McCartney knows who Lips is. Thatís pretty out there.

KNAC.COM: What about least memorable?

KUDLOW: Least memorable? Then I don't remember it. (laughs) Hey, I smoke pot to forget!

KNAC.COM: It's probably a dumb question, but have you guys ever experienced your own SPINAL TAP moments?

KUDLOW: Oh endless, endless, endless, cuz that's what it is. SPINAL TAP wasn't based on reality. Reality is even more insane. SPINAL TAP moments, what's that? It's ANVIL moments (laughs).

KNAC.COM: The band has been on about a half dozen or so record labels throughout your career and you're now on The End Records. How are they treating you guys?

KUDLOW: Well, I think it's fair to say no different than any other....(silence)...and Iíll leave it at that.

KNAC.COM: Speaking of record labels, a lot of our readers probably aren't going to know this, but there's actually a connection between KNAC.COM and ANVIL.

KUDLOW: Yeah, of course, Will.

KNAC.COM: Yes, William Howell (DJ Will).

KUDLOW: I love him

KNAC.COM: What is your relationship with Will?

KUDLOW: My relationship with Will began in about '84. What had happened was there was a guitar player, I better remember his name, and the band he was in was called ZNOWHITE. Greg, Greg was his name, but I can't remember his last name. Greg Tafoya maybe it was? He called me up and told me that there's this guy at Metal Blade Records that would be interested in signing my band. And he told Will about us and I sent Greg the demo for the Strength Of Steel album and then William called me. discussions began and we bonded pretty quickly because we have a lot of music in common, like what we like. We've been friends ever since. It's like tradition, when we record an album, he's got to come down, especially when we're recording in L.A. He's even helped roadie the equipment before (laughs).

KNAC.COM: You guys have just had a new album come out, Hope In Hell. Where do you think that ranks in the catalog?

KUDLOW: It probably ranks amongst the best. And I donít say it because it's my newest album, I say it because I think itís a full circle. A musical endeavor where I found myself back where I began to a great degree. What I mean by that is that it came down to just Robb and I. When it came to this album it was really only Robb and I left. And that's the way it began. When it came to the writing it was just Robb and I there and we put the thing together and it came probably quicker than any album we've done since Forged In Fire. what Iíve come to discover is that when you allow, it's what I allow, not so much what I do but what I allow to go on. When you have new members or other members in your band and you allow them to voice opinions, it slows you down because you shouldn't be opinionating before the product is done. If you're not actually hands-on then you have no business making an opinion. These are the things that Iíve come to realize. You don't really realize it when you're going through it. If I stop and think about it there are many times out on the rehearsal room floor with other members, you've got a very fluid thing going, I begin writing and Robb just follows with me and we make suggestions back and forth and then you've got a third or fourth member saying 'hey, what about this, why don't we do this? why are you doing that?' That is an immediate interruption. Right there that's intervention and interruption and that slows down the process and at the end of the day you end up arguing, like I have to end up defending my idea. I shouldnít be doing that, thatís wasting time. It's totally wasting time. If I need to change it Iíll discover it and I don't need somebody to tell me.

KNAC.COM: You're somewhat of a producer as well. Did you produce the album?

KUDLOW: Well, you do produce when you write, you can't help it. When Iím writing songs I can hear it completed long before itís done, long before the producer even gets it. It's up to me to describe in detail what Iím looking to get out of the song to the producer so he sees my vision. So, it does come from the writing.

KNAC.COM: So you've pretty much got it done before it gets to that point.

KUDLOW: Yeah, I know where it has to go. Sometimes it falls short and sometimes it's extraordinary and goes way beyond my expectations. With Hope In Hell, most of it went beyond my expectations (laughs). Thatís why I say that, and I knew when I was done I was going 'wow'. I expected it to work out but wow, it's really good! Thatís a great feeling to have, to know that your ideas worked, and not only did they work, they worked better than they ever have before.

Now, working with Bob Marlette, the producer that did Juggernaut Of Justice and Hope In Hell was a real pleasure and also like going to a university, the university of song and sound structure. He pointed out a lot of things to me that I maybe forgot and maybe put back-burner. When I came to realize that I had done that, things changed very rapidly for me, I knew how to construct a song so that itís memorable. You know, as a musician you work against that, not with it. You gotta be more of a listener than a player, and this is what Bob told me, what you've got to do is make your chorus lines identified. You should be able to identify your chorus lines even by just listening to the music. If you can do that then you've got a winning composition. It doesn't mean itís going to sell a million records, it means that the composition is correct. It means when people listen to it, theyíre gonna get it. If you are listening to a musical piece without singing and you can't tell where the chorus is, you've got a problem. In other words, from your initial bare bones it better be properly constructed. From your cornerstone up, your foundation, the foundation is your main riff and chorus line. work from that out. In the early days that's the way I wrote naturally because I didn't know more (laughs), but as you get to learn more about how to play you want to put everything in and you end up overdoing everything. At the end of the day it's not listener friendly. It might be musician friendly and it might make you feel good, 'hey look what I threw in this song', but people are sitting there going 'why the fuck is that part there?', 'why'd they change keys there?', 'why'd they change tempo?'. Because we could and because we thought it was cool, but it doesnít mean that it needed to happen. What Iíve found is it's not a matter of what you put in, it's what you don't put in that actually makes it better.

KNAC.COM: One of the things that Iíve always loved about ANVIL is the fact that you never really wavered from your classic sound that you've had and for some bands the temptation to conform to the current musical trends is just too great.

KUDLOW: And that's a failing point. And it never ends. There are always people, particularly on the business side, telling you that you should compromise, you should compromise your integrity, you should compromise your sound, and there's no guarantee in that compromise that you're gonna get anything out of it. In actual fact, it's detrimental, especially in the metal genre. You just don't compromise. There is no point. You're not gonna get the radio play you're looking for, it's not going to happen. What Iíve discovered is that even when we have songs that are radio-playable, we don't get it. So why would you compromise, and that's without compromise, thatís just naturally doing it.

Let's face it, "Metal On Metal" should have been a hit, it never was. On the newest album, "Badass Rock N' Roll" is a hit, but it's not, okay? You don't hear it on the radio, so what is the point of trying to tailor it so that it does? What, Iím going to take the heaviness out of "Metal On Metal" to get it on the radio? It would never have been what the song is! You're ruining it! Do what's in your heart, do what you want the way you want and if something big happens, fine, but certainly don't compromise or go chasing it, that's a waste because your fans will know you did and then you're really going to be up shit creek. I know that, I mean, how many bands have I watched do that and fail. Only bands that start out that way and that's what was in their heart and came naturally do they get there. Prime example, Jon Bon Jovi. The first song that he wrote for his first album, "(She's A Little) Runaway". His initial idea was Iím gonna write a hit single, that's what I do here. and from that point on that's what he did, and he wrote hit singles, that's what his trip was. It wasn't 'Iím looking for the heaviest fucking riff and Iím gonna show the world how to play this new thing'. That's not where his heart was, that's where my heart is and that's what I want to go after. So when I wrote my first speed metal riff and the world first heard it I was looking to break barriers, break conventional ideas and do something different than anybody else. That was my goal and those are the things I go after when I play. And when you go after those things it's certainly not radio play. If anything, you're going to be doing something cutting edge and the radio is totally going to miss it, absolutely. And it's going to be that bands who take what you did and utilize it in such a way that they're gonna get the radio play, itís not going to be the guy who spearheaded it, never is. But Iím good with that because quite frankly, that's who I am.

You gotta be able to look at yourself in the mirror and say Iím proud of myself, that I never let anybody down and mostly, myself. I have to answer to myself, I have to be able to sleep at night, that I did it honestly, that I didn't cheat, I didn't compromise. Perfect example, when we were about to do the movie the director says 'make sure you guys have a song on your album that you can get on the radio'. And I went, what for? 'Well then it will help sell the movie'. No, I think itís the other way around, no matter what we do. And even if we do, say, buy a hit from Desmond Child, does it mean that the radio is gonna play it? They're gonna see the name ANVIL and they're gonna go 'heavy metal? Forget it'. They're not even gonna listen to it. And even if they do, they're gonna have a negative attitude towards it and they're not gonna go with it. So, why? Go with what we are, that's what the world should know about us. I donít have to be embarrassed that we failed at trying to do something stupid. Look, the ROLLING STONES two and a half years ago put out one of the most amazing albums theyíve ever put out in the entire career. I listened to it and I could not believe what I was hearing. The highest, best production, some of the best songs Iíve ever heard them do, the best of everything. No one even knows the shit came out! Never mind it didnít get radio play, no one even cared! So when that happens I go ok, and why would you compromise? What would be the point? If people are turning their back on the ROLLING STONES, why would they want to be interested in ANVIL? They're going to be looking at some fucking band with some single guy like Justin Beiber or something like that that's gonna sell to teeny boppers and kids. They're not going to be looking at a 58 year old metalhead and go 'yeah, we're gonna push this and get behind it'. It's just not the way things work.

KNAC.COM: But even so, when that movie came out it did give you guys a little bit of a shot in the arm.

KUDLOW: Absolutely! it's made it so that now ANVIL is, like many other successful bands, we're on the road all the time, which is all I really wanted. That's what I want. Like I said at the beginning of this, we love to play live, can't ever get enough, and that movie made it so we're getting enough. That's all that one could ever ask for. To me, that's what being in a band is all about, playing live. Everything else is just pain and suffering (laughs).

KNAC.COM: Does it ever bother you at all that a lot of the bands that listed ANVIL as one of their influences have gone on to be pretty successful and here's ANVIL, literally having to bust their balls to get every ounce of recognition that you get?

KUDLOW: Not really because I came to realize many years ago that there is no justice in the music business, that's why I said it's all filled with criminals. I don't feel anything about it, really. I certainly don't have any begrudgement whatsoever. Anyone that can make it is magical, bless you. Thank goodness at least somebody is. That's the way I look at it. I can't look at it any other way. If METALLICA makes it big all it does is just make it a little bit easier for me. That's fine, Iím good with that. Bless them. I wish them the best. Sell billions, cuz your billions means Iím gonna sell a few thousand, rather than a few hundred. And that's the way I look at it.

KNAC.COM: You don't plan to give it up any time soon, do you?

KUDLOW: No, why? Why would I? I love it too much. I live for it. It's the only thing that makes me feel fulfilled in my life. Yeah, I have family, Iím fulfilled in that regard, but you gotta feel like you're doing something worthwhile in this world. You need to leave a mark.

KNAC.COM: And I mention that because it was just announced that it looks like AC/DC is going to retire.

(Editor's Note: This was conducted prior to AC/DC announcing that they would continue.)

KUDLOW: I know, it almost put me to tears. Because you know what the truth is, there's no replacement. No replacement, EVER. We're here now, enjoy what music is coming up and is going to come out, and then we're gone. There is no replacement. So hearing that AC/DC is going to fold, that's a tragedy. It's a loss for all of us. There's not gonna be any more new AC/DC songs. Just like there's no more Elvis Presley. Just like there's no more Jimi Hendrix. No more BEATLES. As a human race, there's a whole society that has to come to realize these things. Let bands know that they're appreciated while they're on a high and not after they're gone and then go 'hey, these guys were great', or after they broke up. We have to appreciate them while it's there because nothing, none of us lasts forever.

KNAC.COM: Every band has a shelf life.

KUDLOW: That's right. You can't help it. We're all gonna die. No one gets out alive. All that you can hope is that you left a pile of stuff behind so people can at least have that as a leftover. They might not have anything new but at least they have all the history. That's part of what I live for, is to make that history, to leave a legacy. That's what's really important, you only have one life to do it in. You gotta make sure every moment counts, and that's my philosophy. So yeah, I feel very bad that Malcolm is not well, it's awful. And we're all on a time schedule and when time runs out, that's it. Thatís it, that's all. What am I supposed to say?

KNAC.COM: So when it gets to that point for ANVIL and the stage lights go out for the last time, what would you like for people to remember the most? If there was one thing you could have people remember about ANVIL, what would it be?

KUDLOW: (long pause) Tenacity. Tenacity. And that it's never too late. When you make a decision to be an artist and a musician, you do it for life. There is no retirement. I want people to remember that about me.

KNAC.COM: You're going to keep going until you can't go anymore.

KUDLOW: That's right. Take me away on a gurney, then it's over.

You can pick up a copy of ANVIL's newest release, Hope In Hell, in the KNAC.COM More Store right HERE.

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