If you’re a fan of Heavy Metal music you’ll not have forgotten the contribution that Canada’s grandfathers of metal “Anvil” have made to the scene. They’ve influenced bands like the Scorpions, Slayer & Whitesnake, fostered the heavy metal hair bands of the 80’s & 90’s and have had the likes of Metallica’s Lars Ulrich feature them on their favourite bands list. First formed in 1978 with drummer Robb Reiner, they worked their way up through the business, sharing the stage with some of the world’s biggest metal acts before falling into obscurity during the early 90’s. All that was to change in 2006 when the documentary “Anvil: The Story of Anvil” hit the big screen, a film Rolling Stone magazine called “The Greatest Rock Movie of the Year!” With rekindled appreciation for their genius, crowds have been packing venues around the world. I spoke with “Lips” on his day off. I could have chatted forever…
Mb: Hey, Steve, how’s your day? What are you doing today?
Steve: It’s a day off!
Mb: How many of those do you get lately?
Steve: Well, we don’t work at the beginning of the week cause there’s no point. Know what I mean? Working Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday in clubs is…
Mb: Let’s talk about everything that has happened since 2007, after the documentary came out. How are you feeling about the resurrection of your career?
Steve: Well, I wouldn’t say so much of a resurrection. We never really went away. If you stop and think about it, it’s only become North America revived. Europe has always been consistently there to the point that we’re going in to do our 17th album!
Mb: That’s a lot of material.
Steve: It certainly is.
Mb: Can you just write a song on a whim? How do you get so much material?
Steve: It takes years! We’ve been doing this for 40 years!
Mb: Do you labour over your songs?
Steve: Not really? I wouldn’t call it labouring. It’s quite pleasurable to write and record. That’s the easy part! (laughs)
Mb: What’s the hard part?
Steve: The hard part is waiting to play. (laughs) Getting in the van and driving 10 hours to the gig. Long airplane rides and line ups. The stuff you have to go through before you play the gig. That’s the hard part.
Mb: So you have this incredible career where you could be opening for AC/DC or playing a club date or flying to Europe. Any preference or do you just really like to play live?
Steve: There’s really no preference because the songs always remain the same. (laughs) You can say one environment might be more preferential, but not necessarily. Opening for AC/DC in front of 80,000 people on Magnetic Hill, it seems like they’re a million miles away. You don’t get that instant gratification that you do in a small club.
Mb: You don’t connect with the audience in the same way…
Steve: No, It’s not possible. You don’t get that same intimate feeling you do in a small club. You look out and the closest person is 50 feet away. It’s not the same feeling.
Mb: I get that feeling that you like the club setting more than the giant gig?
Steve: I probably say that, but the excitement of playing the big shows can’t be compared to, so I don’t know. They’re two different things. I wouldn’t say I prefer one over the other.
Mb: So let’s talk about the documentary, “The Story of Anvil.” How did that happen?
Steve: It was an Anvil fan from the early 80’s who had grown up and become a screen writer and decided to make a movie about us. That’s basically how it came to be. It was somebody that we met, in the change room of the Marque Club in London England in 1982, who grew up and by the time he got to 2005 he’d become a screenwriter for Steven Spielberg. He reconnected with us and decided to make the movie.
Mb: Just called you out of the blue? What did you think? How did you respond?
Steve: Well, “Where have you been?” (laughs) We have many fans that we knew when they were kids. Sasha [Gervasi] was one of those. He was 14 or 15 when we met him. So what happens when they are in their 40’s and you haven’t seen them since… “Where have you been?” That’s the first question you ask. “Where have you been? What happened? What are you doing now?”
Mb: And he says “I want to make a movie about Anvil?”
Steve: It was reconnecting. It came as an email. Back in 2005 I received an email from Sasha who had discovered us by Googling us on the internet. For him, it was like “Oh wow! Anvil is still together. I wonder what they’re up to? Hey, here’s an email…” Next thing I know, I’m being invited to come to LA for the weekend, out of the blue basically. I had no idea what had transpired over the years with Sasha. After I connect on the email, he asked if I want to come to LA for the weekend and I thought “Where the hell have I got the money to do that?” He said “On my dime…” So, I thought “Ok. Whatever.” Before I know it there’s an airline ticket being sent to me by Purolator and I get on the airplane, go there for the weekend and he drives up in a convertible Mercedes or whatever it was, which was originally owned by Sean Connery! So we just start talking and it was like no time had elapsed. We continued where we left off. When I showed him all the albums that we had done and he realized what we’d been doing, he was pretty freaked out, to a point where he felt that there was something he could do to change everything. One of his good friends, a guy by the name of Steve Zaillian, who was the producer of Schindler’s List, we’d gone to visit him and Steve’s going “Who’s this guy?” When Sasha told him who I was he said “You know, you should really consider making a movie about this because no one could do this better than you.” Of course, it was unknown to me at that particular moment, but a week later I get a call from Sasha telling me that he was coming to Toronto and to come pick him up at the airport and we’d go over to his uncle’s place, that we used to go to. So we went to his uncle’s place and he sat me down on the couch and goes “I want to make a movie about you.” I flipped out. I didn’t know… it’s hard to explain what I mean…. but it all came together. You know when you’ve just hit a ball out of the ball park. It was one of those moments in your life when you go “Wow.” A chance like this is a billion to one. But then again, I’ve missed those “Billion to ones” a dozen times in my life. This time I nailed. Nothing has been the same ever since.
Mb: Like hitting the lottery.
Steve: The lottery of life, yes it is. The thing about it is, just like with the lottery, if you don’t keep buying in you’re never going to win.
Mb: So lesson to every struggling artist, keep plugging.
Steve: Ya, or it could be a lesson not to, just as easily, because the odds are way against you. You have a better chance at the casino. (laughs)
Mb: So how did you feel when you saw the movie? It’s very raw, and really exposes the under belly of the band, the business… the relationship between you and Rob. It wasn’t a very glamourous portrayal.
Steve: The thing is, you don’t give that kind of access to just anybody. You’re not going to see another band do that because they’re not going to give a director that access. Would you trust somebody with your life?
Mb: I mean, that’s it. You don’t know how you’ll be portrayed. I don’t imagine you had final cut.
Steve: Because of who it was, and the kind of person Sasha is, I could give that “I trust you with my life.” That’s my little “brother.” I don’t know how else to put it. I had complete trust in that, therefore you give 100% access because you’re not worried that he’s going to use something against you or in a negative fashion, so you don’t guard anything. That takes a lot of…
Steve: Belief and courage. There were times that… let’s put it this way, Rob had a much more difficult time with that aspect than I did, for sure. It was a lot more difficult to get honest footage from Rob, from Sasha’s perspective because most of the time it was guarded. If he was asked a question he’d go off on a tangent and they’d be like “We can’t use a word you said.” He’d come off as negative and bitter. So at the end of the day it shaped the movie and it made Rob’s character a lot quieter and those are the reasons why. But it doesn’t come across that he’s quieter because he’s a dick! You know what I mean?
Mb: I love the movie. I’ve seen it a number of times. There isn’t a musician alive who can’t relate to every one of those scenes. I’ve read a lot of the reviews comparing it to Spinal Tap but it doesn’t compare because it’s real! It’s real courage and truly heartwarming.
Steve: That’s the human element isn’t it? It’s like when you drive by an accident on the 401 and you’re going “Where’s the blood?” (laughs) You know there are people who think it was all scripted.
Mb: I believe it!
Steve: Sometimes it’s so close to the edge of ridiculous, it’s unbelievable! But life’s really like that. That’s what we all seem to forget.