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Cult metal band Anvil, playing Cheyenne Saloon, still committed to dreams

Question: "Who the hell wants to know about a metal band?"

It’s currently being posed by a man who goes by the name of Lips and is punctuated by a self-deprecating laugh, like someone chuckling at a goofy old high school yearbook photo.

Answer: A lot of people, actually, a surprise to both Lips and, most likely, said people.

Lips, aka Steve Kudlow, singer/guitarist for Canadian metal lifers Anvil, is speaking about the unexpected success of the documentary "Anvil! The Story of Anvil," which chronicles the scant ups and many downs of a cult metal band whose luck has long been even harder than its tunes.

It’s less a rock doc than an 80-minute encapsulation of the lengths that some will go to in order to hold onto their dreams, even when they become nightmares.

The back story: Formed in the late ’70s, Anvil began to make its name in the fertile ’80s metal scene with its primal, fist-in-the-air bombast and smash-mouth live shows, though that never translated to widespread success, and the band toiled on in the underground.

Fast forward two decades later: Kudlow is working a day job delivering food to schools and surviving a cringe-worthy stint as a telemarketer, borrowing money from relatives to finance recording sessions for the album "This is Thirteen," and embarking on a disastrous European tour where the band mostly gets paid in sore backs from sleeping in strange places.

Tears are shed, harsh words are exchanged, and everything threatens to come untethered from one frame to the next.

Metal is a genre posited on machismo, but there Kudlow is, crying on camera, trying to keep it together, risking one of the only things he has left at that point: his pride.

These days, Kudlow has gotten over any wariness of baring his emotions on film.

"I let that go a long time ago," he says. "At first it was weird, because it was like I became a character on the screen. It was like having an out-of-body experience, seeing yourself from a perspective that you never saw yourself in. It was different from watching yourself on home videos, because on home videos, you wouldn’t let yourself get filmed like that. There were things that I was kind of self-conscious about, but that’s who I am."

Still, Anvil’s story isn’t, in and of itself, a particularly unique one: Fact is, the vast majority of bands toil in obscurity, much more so than this bunch.

So what makes "The Story of Anvil" so compelling?

The fact that these dudes just won’t give up.

Even when they probably should, even when most others probably would.

Sure, seeing the band perform at a barely attended arena gig in Transylvania, where 5,000 were expected but fewer than 200 show up, is kind of sad, but it’s also galvanizing.

These guys never catch a break, and yet they refuse to be broken.

You don’t have to have ever sewn a Motorhead patch on a sleeveless jean jacket to appreciate that kind of sentiment.

As such, this classic underdog tale resonated with far more than longhairs and quickly became a hit on the indie film circuit.

"The phenomenon began at Sundance," Kudlow says, referencing the influential film fest that takes place every January in Park City, Utah. "What happened there was unbelievable. It just went crazy. They had to add screenings. The first night, there was about 800 people there, and at the end of the movie, everybody stood up and gave a standing ovation, to a black screen. And then when they announced we were there, the place went insane. We went outside in the brutal freezing cold, opened up the back of a van, put ‘This is Thirteen’ on the stereo and sold CDs. That’s how it started."

Ironically, the chronicle of the band’s struggles ended up helping to assuage many of said struggles.

Propelled by the buzz of the film, Anvil landed an opening slot on a tour with AC/DC, played major European metal fests and got a deal for a new record, "Juggernaut of Justice," a traditional metal pile-driver released in May.

Still, having a higher profile doesn’t always translate to a corresponding rise in record sales, as Kudlow acknowledges.

"I think we’ve reached a lot of people on a philosophical level. Whether they buy Anvil records or music is another story completely," he says. "People who have always bought metal albums will buy it, people who haven’t probably still won’t buy it, but they’ll buy a T-shirt. They’re listening to something else, but they like us, they believe in our cause, but they’re not into our music. I think that remains."

But Kudlow’s not complaining.

He says that there’s talk of a prequel stage production to "The Story of Anvil," as well as a movie sequel.

In the wake of the film, he was able to pay back his sister for the costs of tracking "Thirteen," and the band is now able to make a living off its music, touring more steadily.

This is all that Kudlow’s ever really wanted.

And so at long last, all those aforementioned nightmares have somehow turned back into the stuff of dreams.

"The movie has acted like a miracle for us. We’re doing what we’ve always wanted to do," Kudlow says. "Everything that we could have ever wanted to happen has happened."

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

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