Anvil: Decades Of Chasing The Rock Star Dream 25 years ago, the heavy metal band Anvil was red hot. Decades later and with no record contracts or platinum albums, the band still dreams of hitting it big. Anvil's short rise and long fall is the subject of a documentary, Anvil! The Story of Anvil.
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Anvil: Decades Of Chasing The Rock Star Dream

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Anvil: Decades Of Chasing The Rock Star Dream

Anvil: Decades Of Chasing The Rock Star Dream

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Sure, plenty of people started bands in their garages with their buddies. Steve Kudlow, also know as Lips, and Robb Reiner started theirs when they were 14 years old.

Mr. ROBB REINER (Drummer, Anvil): I think the first song we wrote was called "Thumb Hang."

Mr. STEVE KUDLOW (Lead Singer, Anvil): Yeah.

Mr. REINER: We were writing - we were trying to write a song about the Spanish Inquisition. We learned about it in history class. They would hang people up by their thumbs if they didn't take on Catholicism. So, you know, I figured, hey, there's a cool subject.

Mr. KUDLOW: (Singing) Thumb hang. Thumbs will twist. Can you resist? Thumb Hang.

Mr. REINER: We should be doing that again.

CONAN: It's a long time since that first song. The band that grew out of that friendship is called Anvil. And once upon a time, the Canadian metal band was the hottest thing going. It toured with Whitesnake and Bon Jovi.

Time and record sales were not as kind to Anvil as they were to Bon Jovi. And this day, Robb and Lips struggle to keep the band going in their 50s. But as the new documentary "Anvil! The Story of Anvil" shows, they continue to rock despite their families, their day jobs and the occasional cold burst of reality.

Robb and Lips are with us today. We want to hear from you. What's the dream you never quite let go of: 800-989-8255, email:

Steve Kudlow is the lead singer of Anvil. His buddy, Robb Reiner is the drummer. They're both with us today from the studios of Chicago Public Radio. And it's nice to have you with us.

Mr. STEVE LIPS KUDLOW (Lead Singer, Anvil): Hey, man. How's it going?

Mr. ROBB REINER (Drummer, Anvil): Hey. Glad to be here.

CONAN: And Steve, can I call you Lips?

Mr. KUDLOW: Yeah. Sure. Certainly.

CONAN: Everybody does, I guess. The movie is a living testament to your enthusiasm and your persistence despite overwhelming odds. We see several people trying to talk you out of this in the course of the movie. How much did that happened with your band over the years?

Mr. KUDLOW: Since day one, so I'm quite used to it. And I have a shield of armor that keeps me from ever giving in to it. And that's my true belief in what I do and what I believe in.

CONAN: Robb, has it been easy to sustain that belief over all these years?

Mr. REINER: Yeah. Absolutely. For me, I'm alive for it and I'm still here. This is all I know and this is all I do and this is all I love.

CONAN: This is all you love. You obviously have to make a living, though. And for a long time, the band has not provided the opportunity to do that.

Mr. REINER: I've managed to survive my whole life, and I'm still here.

CONAN: And you're still here. That might be a motto, Lips?

Mr. KUDLOW: I mean, to supplement my music career, I never really had a problem with it. I mean, it's a major pleasure to have music as your main outlet. And taking a regular job for half a day or whatever it takes to be able to supplement your income is a small price to pay for the enjoyment and fun that we derive from doing this.

CONAN: There's a moment in the documentary, and this is a recording of you, Lips, talking about, well, with, I must say, brutal honesty about the age that you're now at and the age remaining to you.

(Soundbite of documentary, "Anvil! The Story of Anvil")

Mr. KUDLOW: Time doesn't move backwards. It moves forwards. Your belly gets bigger and your face starts to sag. Your hair falls out. You run out of time. You got to do it now. You know, 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, you're done, you know?

CONAN: And the movie tells the story of your taking Anvil back on the road for a European tour - parts of which do not turn out so well - and then raising the money to do another album and recording another album and being very happy with the record, but then not being really able to get any labels to pick up the record.

Mr. KUDLOW: Yeah - this is now. Yeah, this is very common, like, 90 percent if not more are refusals. Generally speaking, in the music business, it always has worked that way. And then finally, you'll find a believer, a label or somebody to step in that's helped us.

And it's been like that for 13 albums. Nothing's really - nothing really changed over the years. We've always been able to - and because of the devoted following that we've had over the years, we've always been able to somehow get a record contract. But as times have changed in the music business, where virtually most…

Mr. REINER: There's no more labels…

Mr. KUDLOW: …of the record companies don't even exist, I mean, that -for the most part, every label we have ever been signed to doesn't even exist anymore. So now, it becomes a question of do we even need a record label, and if the record label is involved, at what capacity.

Having a movie like this and having all of this happen, it kind of defeats the purpose of the record company because record company's purpose is to promote a band. But we have all that in place. Holding on to the rights all by ourselves, and selling the stuff directly to the public, we cut out the middleman, which would normally take up as much as 90 percent of the income that comes from selling these recordings.

So at this point, the question is do we need a label? So what we do need, we do have. We have a wonderful management now - Rick Sales, who manages Slayer. We have incredible agents that book the band all over the place, which is ultimately the biggest prize of all, because this is what we live for and do it all for is to play live. And those things are in place.

CONAN: Well, we wanted to hear…

Mr. KUDLOW: And certainly, there's a long list of whatever remaining labels that exist that want to sign the band. So it's now a question of should we, and if we do, with whom.

CONAN: Well…

Mr. KUDLOW: So, it's - we're in a wonderful position. There's nothing…

CONAN: We wish you the best of luck with that. And - but we ask our listeners to call in about the dreams that they've never allowed to die, and we'll get some of them on the air. This is Riley(ph). And Riley is calling us from St. Louis.

Riley, are you there?

RILEY (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Yes. Go ahead, please.

RILEY: Hey. I'm 23 years old. I've been a drummer for the past 15 years of my life. And, you know, it's the one thing I'm just never going to let go.

CONAN: I think, Robb, you might have some empathy for Riley?

Mr. REINER: Absolutely. Riley, you know, if you believe in yourself and you really believe that you have what it takes, then just stick to it, man. It doesn't matter what anybody says. Just keep pounding, man.

CONAN: Keep pounding. What style do you play, Riley?

RILEY: All styles. I like punk rock and metal a whole lot.

CONAN: Well, you might like the Anvil movie then.

RILEY: I have checked them out on the Internet and they're pretty good guys.

CONAN: All right.

RILEY: Pretty good sound. Keep rocking, fellows.

Mr. REINER: Thanks, brother.

Mr. KUDLOW: Thanks very much.

CONAN: Riley, joining us from St. Louis. We're talking with Rob Reiner and Steve Lips Kudlow, the members of Anvil.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION coming to you from NPR News.

And let's get Damien(ph) with us. Damien calling from Louisville in Kentucky.

DAMIEN (Caller): Hey, how are you doing?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

DAMIEN: Yeah. I'm still trying to be comeback artist. I've been working out since I was 17 years old. I've been to a couple of conventions, sold some of stuff, made - sold everything but made no money back.

CONAN: And how old are you now, Damien?

DAMIEN: Oh, I'm sorry.

CONAN: And how old are you now?

DAMIEN: Sorry, I'm 32.

CONAN: Thirty-two, so it's - they basically have been 15 years.

DAMIEN: Basically, either I'm really bad or I can't give it up. I'm not sure which, but I'm going to keep doing it.

CONAN: Well, good luck to you, Damien. It's - appreciate it.


CONAN: All right, bye-bye.

Let's see if we can go now to Jason(ph) from Leominster in Massachusetts.

JASON (Caller): Hey, guys. Thanks for having me on the show. I just want to say you're in great hands with Rick Sales. And you guys are awesome. I've checked you out on the Internet a whole bunch of times.

CONAN: What's your dream, Jason.

JASON: To be a fighter pilot for, like, the last 20 years of my life. My grandfather was a fighter pilot. But coming up on 30 now, for some reason, the Air Force doesn't want a short, fat, guy that's got a bad eyesight.

CONAN: Well, their standards are just ridiculous sometimes.

JASON: I know. And I can't believe it.

CONAN: And so how do you keep that dream alive?

JASON: Well, I do a little bit of flying on my own. But you don't get to shoot at anything when you're up in a two-seater.

CONAN: Well, that's why God invented the videogame.

JASON: Yeah. I guess so. I'll live vicariously through videogames then.

CONAN: Jason, thanks very much for the call. Bye-bye.

JASON: Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And I'm surprised, Lips, you guys got a lot of fans out there who've checked you on the Internet.

Mr. REINER: This is what we're finding out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KUDLOW: Yeah. There are some. The word is actually spreading quite beautifully. It's unbelievable. It's a wonderful thing. It's - we're going through a period of discovery and rediscovery because there's many, many fans - the people that actually have followed the band through the 13 albums and have - I mean, we were signing records down here that people had to really, really either buy on eBay or get on import shops.

But for the most part, our stuff has never been available in the United States, and the people that have bought our albums have actually bought it through our European distributors. And these are really devoted fans.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. KUDLOW: And I thank them every day, man, for being there for us because that's what's made it possible to have a career of 30 years long.

CONAN: Let's go to Steve(ph). Steve calling us from Pleasant Hill in California.

STEVE (Caller): Hey there.


STEVE: Hi. I just told your screener there that I'm 59 years old. I've got a bass player who's 70, and my drummer is 58. He's the youngster.

CONAN: He's the youngster. So…

Mr. KUDLOW: Hey, it's never too late to rock, man.


Mr. KUDLOW: Never too late.

STEVE: Once you start, it's really like an infection. You don't get it out of your system very easily, I guarantee it.

CONAN: I think it was called the rocking pneumonia and the boogie-woogie flu.

STEVE: I'll take that.

CONAN: Okay. What kind of music do you play, Steve?

STEVE: I play rock. I also play in a big band. I play some jazz and that sort of thing. But the rock…

Mr. KUDLOW: Oh, that's really cool.

Mr. REINER: That's really cool.

STEVE: Yeah. You guys…

Mr. KUDLOW: We love the big band stuff.

STEVE: Oh, yeah.

Mr. KUDLOW: We've actually have ways of transposing some of those feels into our music.

Mr. REINER: We have jazz metal now.

STEVE: Oh, great.

Mr. KUDLOW: Jazz metal.

CONAN: Jazz metal. Okay, Steve, keep rocking.

STEVE: Thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

And let's see if we can get one more in. This is Trevor(ph). Trevor with us from Charlottesville in Virginia.

TREVOR (Caller): Oh, hi. I just want to tell you guys keep it up. There's nothing like it. I'm 52 and I'm an operetta singer. And I met a women on a plane the other night, and I told her I just recently given up, that I was too old to be doing this anymore.

And she told me about a man in San Antonio where she lives - he was 70, who was - still had a career doing concerts, including operetta. And so she re-inspired me to continue. There is an audience - and like you say, you never lose your love for it. And as long as you still have your voice and you still have your fingers, keep playing.

CONAN: Trevor it's brilliant.

Mr. REINER: You really got it, man.

Mr. KUDLOW: And if you keep using it, you won't lose it.

CONAN: Trevor, are you singing anywhere soon?

TREVOR: I'm - yeah. I'm singing in - actually private homes, people invite me. I sing in church a lot. But rather than sing with regional pop or accompanies - and I've decided to just do my own. I have an accompanist and I do my own repertoire.

CONAN: That's a little like selling your own records. And guys, Robb Reiner and Lips Kudlow, are you guys playing in Chicago tonight?

Mr. REINER: I don't know. We actually played last night to a sold-out house.

CONAN: Sold-out house it is, nothing better than that.

Mr. REINER: Yeah. We did the Anvil experience, which is we showed them and we - and then we come up and play for them a half-hour little set.

CONAN: A mini set. Well, Trevor, continued good luck to you.

And we'd like to thank Steve Lips Kudlow and Robb Reiner for their time today. Again, the movie is called "Anvil! The Story of Anvil." It premiered last year at the Sundance and is now in limited release around the country. They joined us today from Chicago Public Radio.

Guys, good luck to you.

Mr. KUDLOW: Thank you very much.

Mr. REINER: Thanks for having us.


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