Back in 1987, a young Brainfart was watching Headbanger’s Ball this absolutely insane video came on. It was for a song called “Mad Dog” and it was by a band that I had never heard of called Anvil. I immediately went out and bought the album Strength of Steel and I was a fan without a doubt. Well, if you would’ve told me me back then that I would be sitting backstage interviewing lead vocalist/guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow I would’ve never believed you but sure enough, there I was.
My conversation with Lips lasted for over an hour and we talked about the ups and downs and more recent ups of Anvil, his love for the music and just about everything else you can imagine. Lips was by far one of the most interesting and truly kind people I have ever had the chance to interview. It was such an honor to interview a metal legend such as himself and I hope you all will enjoy this interview.
Lips, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me today. It’s quite an honor I have to say.
No problem, Don. It’s great to talk to you man.
I will never forget the first time I ever heard/saw Anvil. Headbangers Ball, 1987, the “Mad Dog” video. I was so blown away I immediately went out and bought Strength of Steel!
Oh man, that’s cool. You know, it’s an odd thing. Being different and being unique, which I’ve always lived by, has kept me obscure. As much as it’s made me stand out it’s made me obscure. There were a lot of people who saw that video and felt that there’s no room for comedy in metal. I just said, “Really? Why?”
You mentioned being obscure. In the movie, there seemed to be this sense of not wanting to be so obscure and to maybe have a bit more commercial success. Since then, have you found some comfort in being an obscure legend?
I’m living with it [laughs]. The real truth is, whether I want to admit it or not, I know what I’ve been doing all along and I realized that what I am doing is keeping me an obscurity and that’s ok. Selling out isn’t what I’m about so I can’t complain. If you’re not willing to actually do something about it, and you haven’t done anything about it, how can you complain? I’ve never written songs to be radio songs. I’ve never done it with that intent so why would I expect it to happen?
When you finally had a chance to sit and watch the documentary, did you get any kind of awakening from watching yourself in such a vulnerable state?
No, not really. It is what it is. I got what I wanted all along. To me, I became successful when I stopped doing Ted Nugent songs in 1979 [laughs]. When we dropped those songs, that was the first day of success for Lips. That’s what we were called at the time. When I put out my first album and I no longer played cover material, that’s what success was to me. Success was becoming an original artist. The amount of records sold isn’t part of that equation. It’s only either or. You’re either a cover band and you never make records, or you’re a “real” band and you make records. How many you sell… who cares? It doesn’t really matter at the end of the day because at the end of the day, the people that buy the Anvil albums are devoted Anvil fans and they love us and much as I love my Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Those bands, when I loved them in their day, were obscure and big sellers so numbers mean nothing. It’s what you’ve done for the fans that listen to you. If I’m number one to the fans that listen to me, then I’m number one. The people that don’t listen to me, they don’t get to rate me.
Those are the people that you don’t even really have to worry about at all. It’s more important to put your emphasis and energy into pleasing the ones that truly love what you do.
Exactly. Should I care about the people that don’t like my band? Absolutely not. If you sit there and dwell on what people don’t like, especially if you’re in a metal band, you might as well quit. The real truth is that most of those people don’t listen to metal in the first place so where are you getting your success? From the people that you sell records to. Why be worried about the people that you don’t sell records to. It’s not self hype but you can’t teach everybody a new history once they think they know it.
Elaborate on that a bit more.
Well, you’ve got the Anvil movie that came out and told everybody about how Anvil inspired Anthrax, Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth but Anvil didn’t make it. But see, that’s not true. How could something that didn’t make it be influential? You’re not going to unlearn that. They don’t want to learn it so it changed nothing. Even though the information is out there and the guys in the bands themselves said it right to the public on film, it didn’t change a thing. We’re still nothing in comparison to Metallica, or Megadeth, or Anthrax. No one will give us that ticket and say, “You know what? You’re right!” Nobody will buy that ticket. “You guys suck. You still suck and you always will suck.” You can’t unteach them that. You can’t. Now matter what songs we put out. We could surprise the fuck out of them and put out a song and they’ll go, “What? That’s Anvil. Well, it still sucks. [laughs]. They’ve already made up their mind and already drawn their conclusion. The history that they learned speaks for everything. You cannot unlearn it and you cannot fold back the pages of history and re-write them.
Trying to convince people that don’t like Anvil that Anvil is a great band is almost like trying to discuss the idea of evolution with die hard Christians. We will never be able to re-write history to make them see it one way or the other.
Exactly. Religion. Now that is ridiculous. Religion was built to control and manipulate humanity. There isn’t one shred of evidence that we have that there has ever been or there ever is a God yet everyone believes that there is one. How does that work? [laughs]
There’s more concrete proof of aliens and UFOs than there is of there being one all powerful God.
Absolutely but nobody wants to admit that because if there’s aliens and life on other plants, there’s no such thing as God. Can’t do that! Even if the aliens showed themselves to us tomorrow, they would still say, “There is still a God, and I don’t believe in you.” [laughs]
I had a conversation once with a guy who told me he thought I was crazy for believing in UFOs and Aliens and I told him, “But you believe that there was this guy who was executed, then rose from the dead and then walked on water and disappeared to go hang with his dad, God, we have never seen any scene of?
[laughs] This all powerful God who nobody sees, who lives in the sky, judges everybody, and decides what we can and can’t do but at the same time, he doesn’t do every well with money because he keeps asking for it and on top of that, he tells you, “Go kills guys who don’t believe in me.” The whole concept is fucked up. How do you fix that? How do you unlearn that? You don’t. It just keeps on being incorrect. So what I’m really saying is that it’s just human nature. No matter what the fuck we do, it won’t change anything.
I just love to hear that you have found a way to be at peace with this. As an Anvil fan, this makes me very happy because this shows me that what you guys do is for us and nobody else.
Yes. It’s authentic, untouched, and uncompromising. It’s untouched because I don’t really fucking care but me. If I’m good with it that means it’s ok. I have to live with me. That’s it. As long as I get to express myself I don’t really care. If I sell a million, sell two, who the fuck cares. I got to express myself and that’s all that matters to me.
Ok Lips, so before we get started, I have to ask, what is ONE question you get asked so much that if you hear it again you’ll beat someone to death with their own shoes?
Oh man, that’s a good question. I think what I hate the most is when I’m asked when did you guys start? You know? Questions about old history that has no relevance to today. A typical question I get asked a lot is “What was your favorite gig?” [laughs] How do you answer that? We’ve been doing this for 40 fucking years. Think about how many gigs that is and ask me what my favorite gig was? [laughs]
In the documentary, Anvil was going in to record This Is Thirteen with CT (Chris Tsangarides). You had really high hopes for that record. At the end of it all, was it worth everything that went into it?
Production wise, Chris Tsangarides let me down in the final processes. When he delivered me the final CD after it had been mixed, he gave me a master copy that was in 16 bit. Basically, he gave me a lower quality version that could barely be mastered. When I approached him about it two days after I tried to get it mastered. He told me I was full of shit and that the engineer that I took it to didn’t know what he was talking about. After it was mastered and we made our way through it, and after it was put out on VH1 Records, and it was out all around world and finally done Tsangarides finally admits to me, “You’re right. It was in 16 bit and it should’ve been in 24.” When I listen to the album, it’s got a distortion all the way through it. There’s not a lot of volume and it’s all a result of what he did in the very final stages of giving me the record. Unless you’ve heard the 24 bit copy nobody will ever know the difference but I know that it sounded a hell of a lot better in the studio than my finished product. So now, I live with it. There’s nothing that I can do to change it. So you ask what I think of This is 13? That’s how I think about it. Musically speaking, it was a good selection of songs but not really our best work. I think the songwriting has improved because the stakes got higher.
That leads me into the latest release, “Anvil Is Anvil.” What a return to form for you guys. I felt like this album really captured the spirit of what Anvil is all about.
Thanks, man. Well, we’ve been going in that direction since This is Thirteen.” Every record we’ve done since that one has gotten more and more back on track to what Anvil should be and the way it was originally supposed to be. You can listen to this one and hear the roots that go right back to the first album. There’s nothing new being invented here. There are a couple of new things that we’ve never tried before but it’s still 100% soaked in our own identity. It’s new but it’s still Anvil.
Anvil was always a two guitar band. Since parting ways with guitarist Ivan Hurd in 2007, you’ve been a three piece with you as the sole guitarist. Was this change in dynamic a hard one to get used to?
No, because the real truth is that Anvil was a three piece with an extra added guitar player pretty much since day one.
You’ve stumped me here. What do you mean by that?
Well, all the bed tracks, going back to the first album, were done as a three piece. The 2nd guitar was always done in overdubs if and where it was needed. As far as This is Thirteen goes, I don’t think Ivan even played any rhythm guitar on that album or the three previous to that. The only thing that he did when he was at the studio was a couple of lead guitar overdubs. Other than that he played nothing.
So if this is the case, then it really wasn’t hard for you go out as a three piece.
Oh no. It was actually harder to get used to adding the 2nd guitar once the albums were finished. He didn’t know the fucking songs.
Was it by their choice that they weren’t fully on the albums or was that your choice?
Well, when we started discovering that it was redundant, the producers told us to go out on the floor as a three piece because we just couldn’t get tight. The 2nd guitar was making it impossible for us to play tight. When you’ve got a single guitar playing to the drums and bass, there isn’t a 2nd guitar to get in the way. The second, you add a 2nd guitar you’ve got an obstacle and if that guy doesn’t play tight to you, you just get a blur blur blur. You need a tight bed track so that at least everybody plays on point. There’s no time to waste in the studio.
So what eventually lead to Ivan’s departure from the band?
After This is Thirteen, Ivan was really miserable. He’d had enough. It really wasn’t in his heart the same way anymore. Even before the album, he never showed up for any of the rehearsals or any of the writing so when we left for England, he didn’t know the songs at all. I did all of my guitar solos in 3 or 4 days and then I just left the spaces where we needed a 2nd lead guitarist and it took him as long to do 30 or 40 seconds of lead guitar as it took me to do the whole album. He was not honed and tuned into what we were doing because he didn’t learn the bed tracks. He didn’t know the songs to begin with. He didn’t care.
But in the live settings, were you happy with that line up together.
What would happen in the live settings was that when you added that 2nd guitar, Robb’s great drumming is being drowned out. You can’t hear me sing that shit well. Ivan didn’t sing. Glenn (Five; former bassist) didn’t sing very well so the band was not where it needed to be. It wasn’t growing. The first step was getting rid of the 2nd guitar. The next step was finding a bass player that could sing and that was a real three piece bass player. There’s a difference between a four piece bass player and a three piece bass player.
Well, yeah because the three piece player understands the importance of having to take on two roles.
Yeah. You’ve got to do as much as I do. Now you’ve got to be that third leg to keep us standing. We need powerful fucking playing, not just round big fat notes that just swamp the bottom end. We also needed a second vocalist. We’ve been hurting for a second vocalist since Dave Allison. The fact that Dave sang was what kept that four piece line up what it was. Glenn was good enough to be in a four piece band because we had that 2nd guitar which helped filled the voice. Once Glenn left, we had to find a guy who could do Dave’s singing and is a better player than Ian and Dave ever were together. We needed a full fist that wasn’t missing fingers [laughs]. This didn’t transpire until we got Christ (Chris Robertson; bass).
So how did you end up with Christ? That guy is a fucking monster!
When Glenn left, an American guy named Sal Italiano who even sang worse came in. He also thought he was Steve Harris but he wasn’t bringing the edge at all. We got the American guy immediately after Glenn left but we had no one to rehearse with in Canada so we found Christ. We started working with him and we were like, “WOW!” We go out on the road and the American guy comes in and plays and I go, “Oh no. We’re better in rehearsal than we are live.” Something just wasn’t right. What eventually happened was that I got this Canadian guy who’s coming down every fucking day for rehearsal and then we go out on the road and leave him at home. So I had him come out with us on the tour at least as a roadie. He would be paid as well as if he was playing so why not? He came out with us and was observing us for two months on the road and knew every one of the songs. Eventually, there were arguments about pay, arguments about royalty rights which he had no part of but Sal wanted it anyways. We did talk to a few others. We talked to Mark Mendoza of Twisted Sister and I thought that would be awesome. We asked his manager and he said, “Forget about it. He wants $1,000 a gig easy.” Fuck, I’m lucky if the whole band gets $1,000.00 a gig [laughs]. I was like, “Don’t even tell him I asked.” Things finally ended with Sal and…
Enter the Christ!
[laughs] It was as seamless as it has ever been. Now we have someone who is not just a great bass player but he’s a harmony machine. I’ve never seen anything like this in all my years. He nailed every harmony in one shot. He’s just great.
And obviously he loves being in Anvil first and foremost.
I don’t hear shit about anything to do with money from Christ.
Because he’s in it for the same reasons that you and Robb are in it; for the music.
That’s right. He’s just the right fucking guy. Finally. There’s no stupid bullshit about give me money because I’m in a picture. All the shit just disappeared. All the shit that the original bassist, all the grief he gave us was gone.
Are you talking about Glenn?
Yeah. We got the fame of the movie because it was about Robb and I. He was the third guy that nobody really noticed or at least that’s how he felt. He felt as though he was left out and he became envious and begrudging of our notoriety. He was no longer a team player. He became an opponent. When we would be at the merch table, people would ask Glenn to take a picture of them with Robb and I. That would blow his stocks. He’d fucking lose it but I get it. To feel completely left out and un-noticed is a horrible thing. He had a good point and I get it and honestly, I don’t know that I would’ve reacted any differently than he did but it doesn’t make it right. I can’t really blame him but it doesn’t mean that I should take it out on my fellow brothers or the fans.
But Christ, he takes this situation with a completely different attitude doesn’t he?
With Christ, he asks people, “Do you want me to take a picture of you with Robb and Lips [laughs]. He’s completely comfortable with it and actually has a fucking laugh over it. Previous to the shows, people don’t know who he is and hangs out at the bar in complete anonymity. After the show, he becomes one of us because then everyone knows who he is.
Chris seems to have such a positive attitude and you can tell that he loves being in this fucking band.
His positive attitude seems to be projected from the stage and the audience can feel that. I think that in the past,, people felt the tension from Glenn and wouldn’t approach him for his autograph. It’s amazing what a smile and some good energy can do to an audience.
That chemistry is also shining through on the latest album.
It’s because it’s finally right. This is the best. We do this one album with Christ, and all of the sudden everythign is right. He’s just the right guy and it’s great.
Lips, I have a few more question for you but these are going to be some more light hearted questions so let’s have fun with these.
Ok, sounds good!
If Hollywood was to make a movie about your life, who would play you?
[laughs] Oh man. Geez. I don’t think there’s an actor that would do that.
Well, you could always play yourself.
But I already did that didn’t I? [laughs]
If you could see Anvil on the road with any band, who would it be and why?
It would’ve been Motorhead. I don’t think there could’ve been a better match. When we did play with them it was fucking off the charts. The tours we did with Saxon were fucking great too. Honestly, I think any band from my era would be the best. A tour with Raven would be great. A tour with The Rods. A tour with Riot. Y&T. It would have to be someone from mostly my era.
Back in the day, what bands treated you the nicest and who were the not so nice?
Honestly, we never really had any issues with the bands we supported back in the day. There might be one or two occasions where the roadies were the assholes but not the guys in the band. We played in Calgary once with Goddo and Girlschool and the roadies were just doing stupid shit like turning my Fender Twins off while I was playing or pulling the bassist’s cables tight so he couldn’t move. Just stupid shit and that’s the only one that sticks out to me because I was so appalled.
How about end of tour pranks?
Oh Motorhead was the best. On the last night of the tour we did together in ’83, they told me that I could use the catwalks and the stairs that were part of their stage setup. I go up to the catwalk above the amps to start the first song and they came out and took the stairs away [laughs]. So as I’m standing on top of my amps trying to figure out how I’m going to get down, another roadie comes out and starts taking drums and cymbals off of Robb’s kit. Then here comes the crew stew. That’s everything that was in catering mixed in bowls and they tossed it all over us. It looked like shit dripping off of my face. Lemmy says, “We gave you the crew stew. Yeah!” and ran off stage [laughs].
What is the most UN-METAL thing about you?
Probably the fact that I don’t drink. I don’t drink and I don’t deal well with people who are drunk. Could that be un-metal? I don’t drink and I don’t really like talking to drunk people, particularly drunk women. That’s a real big turn-off. Ugh, go the fuck away. Don’t breathe on me [laughs].
How do you want to be remembered in the metal world after you’re gone?
I want to be remembered as someone who never compromised one moment. I did it the way I wanted to do it, how I wanted to do it, and when I wanted to do it my entire fucking career. I’m still going to do it that way until I’m a gardener pushing up daisies.
Lips, if you had to send a message out to the fans reading this, what would you say?
I don’t know that I have any real advice but I can say that there is never an end to knowledge. You can never get enough. Don’t go after money. Go after knowledge.
If you could do it all over again, would you do the same way?
Yeah. I have been doing it for 40 years. Every time I go to make a record I’m doing it all over again [laughs]. I’ve done it all over again 16 times [laughs].
Lips, thank you so much for taking so much time to talk to me. It was such an awesome experience getting to know you and as a long time fan, it’s been an honor.
Thank you very much, Don. I really appreciate that.