Anvil: No longer bottom feeders with success that’s well deserved

By Ola Mazzuca; Photography by Frank Mazzuca

Anvil is relaxing before their sold out show at The Rockpile. In a sparsely furnished storage room of the Etobicoke Ontario venue, Steve “Lips” Kudlow, drummer Robb Reiner and new bassist Sal Italiano sit and eat from a selection of sandwiches and drink coolers. The plumbing system is audible, with water running through pipes that line the walls of the dim dressing room. There’s no leather loveseat or flatscreen TV, but that’s the least of the band’s worries or wishes, as they remain unfazed.

“The bottom line is, when something like this happens, everybody’s attitude towards the people it happened to changes,” he says of response to Anvil’s success. “We carry on as if everything is the same.”

Kudlow isn’t concerned about the money, and considers himself someone that will always be successful regardless of monetary value.

“To me, success is writing a song, getting it on records and into people’s hands,” he says of Anvil’s work ethic. “How many people’s hands? That’s the size of the success, not the success itself.”

As a result, Kudlow is on a permanent vacation. He no longer works at Choice Children’s Catering and pursues being a music “lover and creator” full time.

“Anvil is our day job,” Reiner adds. “I knew one day that it would all come together, it’s all about hanging in.”

This is a mutual strength for Kudlow and Reiner, who are sons of Holocaust survivors. Kudlow believes that “no matter how much money you make, there is never a means to an end” as it is not something one can derive satisfaction from.

Being thrown into a heavy metal abyss in the 80s without a producer, manager or financial support, the band needed extra assistance, but faced challenges with a resilient independence.

“We didn’t have all of that but we still had to survive,” Reiner says. “Through struggle, we enjoyed it.”

The band considers Anvil! The Story of Anvil an act of karma for their contributions in a hapless past. In Anvil’s obscurity, things came full circle when their once 15-year-old-roadie-turned-director Sacha Gervasi contacted them.

“The manager that we had back in the early 80s who pulled us out of our original record deal and left us high and dry couldn’t have done a better thing,” Kudlow says of the documentary’s focus. “If we had made it, I wouldn’t be sitting here.”

Falling off the radar wasn’t the only drive for survival, but a higher energy that guided them since the beginning of their comeback. In 2005, Kudlow received a call from an Italian promoter, inviting Anvil to play at Tradate Iron Fest. As he hung up the phone and accepted the offer, Kudlow knew that this would be a catalyst of change for the band.

“I felt this overwhelming heat up my spine, like nothing was ever going to be the same,” Kudlow says, wide-eyed.

He would later experience a chain of events and chance meetings that reestablished a new network. Arriving at his hotel in Varese, Italy, Kudlow bumped into Jon Oliva, who was touring with his project, Pain, before eating breakfast with Ronnie James Dio and chatting with members of Candlemass.

When they returned to Toronto, Kudlow received his first phone call from Gervasi in 25 years.

“Things happen like that because they’re connected,” he says. “That’s beyond coincidence, man.”

The pair made cultural ties during the documentary’s screening at the 28th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. It was there that Kudlow realized the significance of his friendship with Reiner and Anvil’s long awaited recognition, experiencing survival vicariously through their parents.

At the film’s screening, Kudlow saw a haunting image across the street from the theatre. Crying before his puzzled friend, Kudlow explained that he saw Reiner’s father behind barbed wire, staring at his grandfather’s dead body at a concentration camp.

“This is the result of that survival,” Kudlow says of their fate. “You can’t get that kind of clarity without living those profound moments.”

When Anvil received a Juno nomination for Juggernaut of Justice, Reiner felt that audiences beyond Anvil’s original fan base finally “got it.” After traveling extensively to promote the documentary and tour, Anvil receives immense support from countries like Sweden, but Reiner says there’s no place like home.

“Canadian society has a special strength,” he says. “People are not run by the almighty dollar like others are.”

Kudlow, a self-proclaimed “Stompin’ Tom Connors of Heavy Metal”, believes that cultural values are evident in Anvil’s mission.

“Canadians take pride in being humble, extraordinarily hard working and persistent,” he says. “The Canadian way is not about quitting.”

Reiner’s son and tour manager, Tyler, enters the dressing room several times to mention the arrival of friends and family. As the band prepares to greet those waiting, they make mention of Anvil 2: The Quest for World Peace. A newspaper article on the Gaza strip sitting on Gervasi’s kitchen table inspired the sequel that Reiner says will be a way to give back, by “rallying the world into a peace festival in Israel.”

Beyond all modes of validation, Anvil is pounding forward with whatever the universe hands them. The juggernaut that graces the cover of their 2011 release has become synonymous with the band. It’s a symbol that will drive them to a promised land, be it Jerusalem or Toronto.