An Interview with Lips Kudlow of Anvil

All images courtesy of Lips Kudlow/Anvil

By Andrew Daly
andrew@vinylwriter.com

All images courtesy of Lips Kudlow/Anvil

Steve “Lips” Kudlow of Anvil needs no introduction, and Kudlow’s band, Anvil, hardly needs one as well.

Kudlow, flanked by his partner in metal-related crime, Robb Reiner, has been in the game for over forty years. With the fearsome duo now being ably aided by veteran bassist Chris Robertson since 2014, Anvil is poised for levels of greatness previously unknown.

After decades spent setting trends, but never getting their deserved due, beginning with 2016’s Anvil Is Anvil, the band began a run to unmitigated glory, which continued with Pounding the Pavement (2018), Legal At Last (2020), and the band latest effort, Impact is Imminent, released on May 20th, 2022.

At this stage of the game, Anvil’s influence over the genre is undeniable, and while many bands might sit back and allow their past to define their future, Anvil is ever vigilant in moving forward and containing to redefine themselves on their own terms, with each album rising to the self-imposed challenge of bettering its predecessor.

If you’re still sleeping on Anvil, you’ve made a grave error to date, but that can all change by heading over to the band’s Facebook page, where you can keep up with Lips’, Robb’s, and Chris’s latest coming and goings.

I recently sat down with Anvil’s venerable frontman to dig into Anvil’s latest record, Kudlow’s ever-evolving songwriting process, and what metal’s most feared trio has in store next.

Andrew:
Lips, thanks for taking the time with me once again. Let’s dig into the new record, which is called Impact Is Imminent. What are the origins?

Lips:
The pandemic. I mean, ultimately, you can’t get around it. And from that, I thought that the way to illustrate what we thought was having a close call was that title because it’s only a matter of time, really. It shows we’re just kind of scraping the outskirts of our planet, you know what I mean? Saying that “impact is imminent” is just another way of saying “it’s only a matter of time,” right? Everybody’s gotta know that it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. It’s going to happen one way or the other, at some point, whether we want to believe it or not. I mean, just look at our moon, its surface tells you about all the impacts that have happened throughout history, or at least as long as we’ve known about it. Not to mention the number of times stuff has hit the Earth, even in our short several thousand years of knowledge. But hey, what do we know? [Laughs].

Andrew:
Of course, you’ve got the first single “Ghost Shadow,” which is an awesome track, Lips. Peel back the onion on the writing and themes there.

Lips:
With “Ghost Shadow,” it’s just what felt right from a long list of titles. After I picked the title out, then I wrote the lyrics for it, and it fits the way that it sounded in the music, so from that, it devised its own subject matter. What’s a “ghost shadow?” I guess a ghost shadow is something that you can’t see, right? I describe what it’s like as a sense that something or someone is watching you, but you know, maybe it’s a troll, an internet troll. Especially these days with the internet and so forth, certainly there are lots of ghosts out there, you know?

Andrew:
That’s very true. What led you to choose that track as the lead single?

Lips:
Well, it wasn’t a matter of choice, it’s just what got done. I don’t know? [Laughs]. I don’t make that kind of decision, that’s all the record company. I just write all the songs! Quite frankly, it sometimes astounds me which ones get chosen, and for whatever reason, that seemed like the best first step forward for us.

All images courtesy of Lips Kudlow/Anvil

Andrew:
I really enjoyed the video for “Ghost Shadow.” How did the concept come to fruition?

Lips:
Yeah, it’s the same guy that created the cover artwork, the same guy that put the photographs in the CD, and the same guy that did the video, and that is our art director, W. Cliff Knese. So, he went and rented a hall and we went there from our recording studio. We just grabbed a couple of our amps, stuck them in the background, and set up the drum kit. And the guy brought all these lights, and there are even shots that are done from a drone. It’s actually quite remarkable to the degree in which these guys masterminded a video, and in a matter of hours to boot. But you know, all we did was play the song. [Laughs]. And because we were so fresh out of the studio, it was actually pretty easy to do, particularly the solo, which I was actually playing. The thing is, when you do these stupid things, you’re not really playing, but you also kind of are. While there’s no sound pumping out of the amps, I am still playing and doing it exactly as if I was playing. So I am actually playing the strings, and I’m actually singing to the track full-throttle. It’s my real voice, the faces that I’m making are real, and if you watch the video, my face is going red because I’m actually singing so hard. So when you watch the video back, it’s virtually real, because they are filming me performing the song. And, you know, when they are filming you playing your guitar solo, you’ve got to be accurate if you want it to look real.

Andrew:
I believe Martin “Mattes” Pfeiffer and Jörg Uken produced the record, right? What impact did they have on the overall sound and direction of the album?

Lips:
Well, the most direct impact they have is on the way harmonies get used in the vocal tracks, and maybe even the end choices of whatever he wanted me to sing. If he didn’t like what I did, or if we wanted to try and do something with lower registers, and stuff like that. So, Martin is just sort of a vocal producer, and he’s very particular about keeping it within the realms of heavy metal because we could go so much further, but we don’t. I laugh about it, but it’s true. I mean, you can go ridiculously far with harmonies and tracking vocals, and then Martin will be like, “What are you doing? You’re becoming a pop band. You’ve got this ripping guitar going on underneath, and you’ve got all these smooth-sounding vocals.” So, he keeps us from doing certain things that just don’t go together and he keeps stuff the way he thinks will be best. And that’s not to say what’s good or bad, that’s not what the job of a producer is. Martin just keeps us on track, and what he helps most with is vocals. The other guy, Jörg, is the guy that works with all the tonal qualities, and the actual physical recordings of each of the instruments. He’s the guy who puts the microphones out there, he’s the guy that tweaks, and makes it sound the way that it does. So yeah, to me, we’ve got a dream team, and they’re working their magic. It’s awesome. We’re in a great place right now.

Andrew:
I saw something online which I thought was interesting where you mentioned that you feel that Impact Is Imminent is Anvil’s most cohesive record. With eighteen outstanding albums out prior to this, what makes this record Anvil’s best?

Lips:
It’s the really fine details that went into it. And it’s mostly because I was pre-producing from home with Martin. I was sending Martin all the recordings and overdubbed vocals via email, and he’s giving me pointers on what he would do. It was interesting, because before going into the studio, the album was completely reviewed, top to bottom, where you don’t normally go that far. And there’s a lot to be said about that because, in hindsight, it makes me wonder, “What if I’d done our other albums this way?” Every time I finish an album, I look at the plan we had, and I say, “But what if I’d done it differently? Maybe I should have done this or that differently? Maybe not?” At the end of the day, what real difference did any of this make? I think the only difference it makes is in the sound, and that it’s pleasing for people to hear. Whatever it sounds like to me, after a certain point, is meaningless, that’s actually the truth. No matter what I feel about something afterward, it’s not going to change a damn thing.

All images courtesy of Lips Kudlow/Anvil

Andrew:
The album is outstanding, Lips. It continues an unprecedented run for the band. To that end, what is it about this version of Anvil which has allowed the three of you to create some of the most inspired music in the band’s history?

Lips:
It’s actually my own personal growth to a great degree. My songwriting and my approach in which to get that done have totally changed, and all for the better. And then you add a combination of having a bass player that is as dialed in, and as incredibly spontaneous as your drummer, it’s actually quite amusing. At some point, it’s like, “All I’m doing is hitting a chord, what the fuck are you guys doing back there?” [Laughs]. It’s just amazing, those two are just amazing. Some of the chops that I’m hearing going on and what’s actually on this album are insane. All people have to do is sit and listen to the bass playing, and the drumming, and after a while, they’re gonna come to realize what’s going on, and they’re gonna go, “What the fuck am I hearing? They’re both crazy.” You can hear that they both connected as human beings to the music – it’s actually there – and they really align with each other. It’s magical stuff, man. I mean, I’ve always aligned with Robb anyway, so that’s always been there. It’s one thing to actually find a bass player that actually fits, but it’s another to have what we now have, where it’s a phenomenon. Honestly, there’s a sound that emanates, there’s a certain sound that sometimes comes from between the bass and drums, there’s an enveloping tone, I can’t even describe it. I’ve never heard anything like that in the studio before, but I’ve heard it when we play live many times, but finally, that tonal quality is actually being captured on an album for the first time. I’ve actually heard it, and it’s like, “Holy shit, man, my fucking balls are falling out of my fucking underwear.” [Laughs].

Honestly, man, it’s really exciting. It’s just something really phenomenal to have. And you only acquire something like that when you’ve worked hard enough, and created a legendary name of a band, which you need in order to attract somebody of Chris’s caliber. You need to mean something to people so that they want to belong in the band, and with that, you’re giving them something in return. You’re offering them something if you understand what I’m saying. Trust me, I know from experience, you don’t just start out with a player like this – you earn it. And that’s how I feel about what’s happened, it’s not an easy thing to acquire, and it’s not just the abilities of that person, it’s their personality as well. That’s got to work in a huge way. It’s a huge part of it, especially for Anvil. So, this really is a magical time for Anvil this the second time around. It’s the right place, the right people, the right time, and everything is falling into place. We’re earning our way to what we want to do, and that’s all there is to it. What we want to do is continue on, be able to play, and enjoy our lives. Are we gonna make a million bucks? No. And that won’t be enough anyway, so what difference does it make?

All images courtesy of Lips Kudlow/Anvil

Andrew:
How would you describe your progression as a songwriter today, compared to Anvil’s 80s heyday?

Lips:
It’s a level of internal confidence. I was talking about this to Robb, and he was like, “I don’t understand how you come up with riffs the way you do, but don’t explain them to me, just play it.” At this point, I go, “I am looking for this kind of riff,” and I play it, and I write it. In the past, if I tried to do that, I wouldn’t have been able to do it, but now, if I’m looking for a specific thing, I pick up my guitar and play it. And that’s what the difference is. It used to be, “I don’t know what I’m looking for, but if I happen to find it, I’ll be lucky.” It’s two different things, those are two different things, man. You know, at this point, I’m extraordinarily capable in the sense that I used to go in with bits and pieces to the rehearsal room, and then I’d depend on playing with the other musicians to actually inspire me to write more parts for the song. I know that sounds like a weird thing to say, but that’s exactly what would happen. So, let’s say I came in with a major part of the verse riff and the chorus riff, and then I start playing that with the band, well, once I did that, then I’d start finding out where the subcourse is, where the guitar breaks are going to fall, and I would do it all with the band. But what I wasn’t realizing for many years is that I could do that at home on my own. I don’t need to sit there and figure out what the bed track is with the band. I said to myself, “What if I just do that on my own? Just create that and then bring that into rehearsal?” Well, that’s easy enough to do, isn’t it? You gotta have the confidence though. It comes down to me saying to myself, “Can I do it without having to ask the other guys what they think first?”

So, I got all past that, and what drove me past it was I kept on coming in with all these ransom parts, and then I’d play all these parts to Robb, and then one day he got really upset, and he goes, “Just pick one of these fucking riffs, and let’s get to work on it. You only bring in parts, man. Bring me in the whole fucking thing, don’t fucking drive me crazy with parts.” [Laughs]. And then all of a sudden, it just struck me – what was happening is I was bringing in my discovery recordings, where I’d be playing my guitar, and I’d discover a riff, and then from that riff, it would go into all these various improvisational changeups. Nothing was ever planned, I just played whatever I played, and I’m bringing Robb just raw ideas. So, I took a step back for a second, and I said, “When I bring this stuff in, does it mean anything? Is it ever going to mean anything?” I didn’t know, but that’s what I was bringing in. I wasn’t bringing in something that was focused and done, and that’s what Robb was complaining about. So, then I started rethinking what I was doing, and I’d go back and just pick something, and write the whole thing. I’d put the whole fucking thing in order, and then play it for the guys.

So now, I’ve gotten in this mode for the last two years now, and what that’s done is it’s allowed me to not only write this album, but I’ve just finished writing the follow-up to Impact Is Imminent as well. I wrote another fourteen songs since I got back from the studio because I found a new way of recording, I found a new way of writing, and I got into a comfortable role. Actually, I daresay, and I know that it sounds crazy, but it sounds even better than Impact Is Imminent. It’s everything that wasn’t there before, but it is there now. I don’t know how else to explain it, but I do know that it’s because every album is attached. Legal At Last is virtually attached to Impact Is Imminent, and the newest one that I’ve just finished writing is also attached. And it’s because they were all written in a succession of each other, with no touring in between, and there was no opportunity to forget what I had just done. So, what I was forced to do is something completely different for every fucking song, which is my rule anyway. There may be some similarities to what I just did, but not very many. We were off the road, and I was bored, and I was forced to write there because I just finished an album, I gotta come up with something new, right? It’s not like I felt I could borrow from the last album, I said, “No, I gotta make new stuff right now.”

Andrew:
Last one, Lips. You mentioned you’ve got the follow-up to Impact Is Imminent already set in stone, and Anvil is about to hit the road. Walk me through what’s next on your docket.

Lips:
Yeah, man. Like I said, the next album is going to be insane – even better than Legal At Last, and even better than Impact, and I love both those records. I had a great time doing it, man. I brought in two to three songs a week, and I tried to push it, and we ended up taking fourteen weeks to record the follow-up, which will be out in 2024 after we tour for Impact Is Imminent. Martin is already listening to it, and checking out the arrangements, so that’s already cool, and we’ll see how that goes. So, that’s sort of where I am right at the moment. Where I am right now is the moment before the storm hits. And what do I mean the storm? Well, once we start playing, which will be about the 21st of May, we will not stop playing until just before Christmas. I mean, we’ve been off the road for a long time, so we’re ready to go. We’ve got twenty dates in Canada to start, a bunch in the USA over the summer, I can’t remember how many now, and then we’ve got about sixty dates in Europe. So, we’ve got tons of fucking work to do, man. Get ready, because Anvil is about to make up for some seriously lost time in a big way.

All images courtesy of Lips Kudlow/Anvil

Interested in hearing Anvil’s latest record, Impact Is Imminent? Hit the link below:

Be sure to check out the full catalog of VWMusic Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vwmusicrocks.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Inspired by the likes of Hunter S. Thompson, Lester Bangs, and Eddie Trunk, coupled with an immense passion for music, and a disposition for writing, freelance journalist Andrew Daly moved to found VWMusic in 2019. Over time, VWMusic has grown into a bustling music outlet harboring a staff who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles, interviews, and more. In addition to running VWMusic, Andrew is also an accomplished freelance journalist, currently writing for Copper Magazine, as well as a drummer, and lover of all things guitar.
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2 thoughts on “An Interview with Lips Kudlow of Anvil

  1. Anvil were never trend setters, they emerged in the early 1960’s riding on the singed coattails of the metal explosion out of the UK…

    1. I think you’re mistaken. Anvil formed in the late 70s and were complete and total precursors to thrash metal.

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