After 30 years, metal band Anvil becomes an overnight successby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
Friday night, some longtime unsung heroes of heavy metal music played in Minneapolis. Members of Anvil have been rocking together since the early 1970's and they are credited as being a formative influence on many of the big name bands today. Yet despite playing regularly for more than 30 years, until recently they were relatively unknown. That's changed as a result of a new documentary.
St. Paul, Minn. — To heavy metal musicians, like Lemmy of Motorhead and Slash of Guns'n'Roses, Anvil is a big deal.
"They were all good, there wasn't a bad guy in the band," says Lemmy. "They were all great at what they did."
"They should have made it a lot bigger," says Slash. "I don't really understand the reason why. Sometimes life deals you a tough deck."
Guitarist Steve "Lips" Kudrow and Robb Reiner met as teenagers in Toronto. They were both enamored with heavy metal. Kudrow says at the time they swore an oath.
"Yeah, we put a band together and said that we'd never break up," he says. "And we have done that."
Kudrow established a reputation for his great guitar playing and a stage presence which somehow balanced a heavy metal glower with an impish goofiness.
Robb Reiner was praised for his drumming abilities. They were hailed as innovators and widely copied.
In the early 80's Anvil shared the stage at big festivals in Europe and Japan bands with bands such as Whitesnake, the Scorpions and Bon Jovi. They were on the cusp of breaking huge.
But it never happened.
There are a lot of theories why Anvil never made it big. Bad timing, perhaps. Maybe poor management. Some say it's because they're Canadian.
They ended up playing to smaller and smaller crowds, eventually ending up on the Toronto bar circuit.
What kept them going they say was that pledge, and their commitment to never sell out.
"Just doing it our own way," says Reiner.
"That concept of staying true to the hard roots that we grew up with and never give in on it. We realized that, very quickly and at a very early age, that commercial success wasn't going to happen overnight, We didn't expect it to and it really didn't."
This is not an unusual rock and roll story, except Anvil refused to give up. Reiner says being on stage is still where he feels most alive. Kudrow worked delivering school meals, and Reiner worked construction to support their families and their music. Over the years they produced 16 albums, but none brought them the attention they had in the early years.
Then one day the story took a fairytale twist. A guy named Sacha Gervasi who had been their roadie when he was a teenager almost twenty years ago gave them a call. He said he was now working as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Kudrow went to see him and within a week Gervasi said he wanted to make a movie about the band.
"I flipped out," said Kudrow. "I thought 'Wow, this is it. This is my chance. My 30 years of stuggle and perserverance was to make this movie.' It was sort of like a meant-to-be."
And so Gervasi began following the band.
It turned into a wild year. He caught Anvil at high points when they were on stage and low when a European tour turned into a bizarre mess of misunderstanding and small crowds.
The finished film called "Anvil! The story of Anvil" didn't gloss over any of it.
The movie went out on the festival circuit, and word of mouth began to build. There were raves in national magazines including the New Yorker. It turned out that even people who hate heavy metal felt some kinship and respect for the Anvil struggle.
Some people compare the film with the mockumentary "This is Spinal Tap," directed oddly enough by the guy Reiner calls "The other Rob Reiner." Kudrow says if people think they are coming to see another Spinal Tap, that's not be a bad thing.
"And it's actually quite amazing that people coming in to have a good laugh at something, realize they are not laughing at it after too long," he says. "They are actually rooting for it and hoping for success for the people involved."
Because of the film, Anvil has a new lease on life. They've quit the day jobs, and they are touring with the film. They've got a big-name manager, and they are working on a new album.
"We couldn't have a better opening act than the movie," Reiner says. "It just doesn't get better."
- All Things Considered, 05/08/2009, 5:45 p.m.