Lips from Anvil – Interview
Lips from Anvil
by Victoria Holdsworth
In conversation prior to the York gig on Anvil’s 2018 UK tour, the frontman of the metal legends talks comebacks, Pounding the Pavement, setting the record straight and why every day is a good day to be alive…
So it’s been seven years since we last spoke. How does it feel to be back again on another tour in the UK?
I love it! It feels great! I absolutely love this place.
And how do you like York? Have you seen much of it?
I honestly haven’t seen any of it! [laughs] I saw the hotel next door, and I saw this hallway and this room! Oh and you. [laughs]
Before the documentary (The Story of Anvil) came out, you were pretty much still under the radar as an almost unspoken inspiration to many other rock bands. Is it a good feeling to be in plain sight now and inspiring a new generation of rockers?
How does it feel to do that? I guess it feels good. You don’t really know that you’re doing it. You know what I mean? It’s not something that I walk around being aware of. It’s usually in retrospect that you realise it. It’s just like the first few albums, and everybody talks about you, years later. Particularly, as an example, the third album was slagged to shit. I’m serious! Forged In Fire was slagged to shit, which put the band into a tail spin. We lost our mojo because of it. We thought it was the best way to go, and that it was an advance way of metal at the time and not understood. And the next thing that you know, is that everybody is copying it! So when people ask if we inspired people, I thought we sucked. You find out later that it was different.
Since appearing at Download Festival back in 2009, things seem to have gone from strength to strength for you as a band. Does this mean you finally feel like the true rock stars that you are?
I don’t think that you ever really feel like that. I think that also comes way after the fact too. I think that we are so busy trying to get there, without even realising that we are there, if that is the case. There is no question about that this is the busiest, and furthest we have gotten, where we’re actually doing things, like playing the UK, because we haven’t really ever done it. It’s the highest point that we have ever known.
You’ve played some strange locations recently too I see.
We are playing locations that it took us 40 years to get! Whether you as the audience or the people comprehend what’s going on, Anvil hasn’t played 15 shows in England since the Motörhead tour in 1983. These are completely our own shows, regardless of size, regardless of turn ups, regardless of everything! This is the most successful we have been in the UK that we know of, so I’ve got no complaints! [laughs]
There have been a few band member changes, seemingly bass players. Is there a ‘Spinal Tap’ issue going on here?
Well we haven’t changed a bass player in four years now, so that’s good. We can talk about it though if you like? What happened was, we had a bass player that was with us for 15 years, then we start getting some place, he gets all bent out of shape because he doesn’t feel that he’s getting the recognition HE deserves. He became jealous of Robb and I, to the point where he couldn’t handle it at all. We would be going to do promotions for the band, getting up at 6am in the morning, especially when we did the movie, and he’s whining and complaining. Okay, well fine! He finally comes with us, and he’s moaning that no one asks him any questions! Why are they gonna ask you any questions? You are not an original member! What have you been doing for 30 years? You’ve only been here for 15! That is why you are not being asked! So he said that he can’t handle it anymore and he said that they had to see him at the same level as Robb and myself.
“Levels of personality”
Hey, it’s not my fault that you were two-years-old when I started the band. I’m sorry but you are not an original member, get over it! He said that he couldn’t, so he quit! When it happened, it happened two weeks before going on a US tour! So, what do you do? Who is the first guy you’re gonna call? Somebody that we saw a couple of weeks earlier, and say ‘Hey man, what are you doing? Can you come and help us?’ So, Sal Italiano helped us out. Of course, he was completely the wrong guy! On levels of personality, and what it was all about. The guy comes on board, absolutely flatly refusing to come to Toronto to rehearse! He didn’t take part in any kind of songwriting, so we started working with Chris Robertson, in Toronto, while Sal is still in the band. We couldn’t just let Chris play, so we decided that for the time being, Chris would just come with us and watch us play every night, and you can help us load all the gear. So, Chris came out on the tour with us and naturally, Chris is watching everything that is going on onstage. There was a couple of times that Sal didn’t make it in time to start the gigs, because he was running home to New York to go hang out with his parents, and would leave us to do sound checks too. So Chris stepped up and did the sound checks, and he sounded ten times better than Sal! So we asked ourselves, why are we doing this? What are we doing?
So are you all settled now?
Well yeah! I mean we finished that US run, and there was a gig that came up in Germany that we were supposed to play, and I told Sal that we were gonna be doing this festival, and told him I was going to have to sort the airline tickets out for it. Sal turns around and tells me: ‘I’m not going! Get Chris to do it!’ So I said fine, okay, and it has been that way ever since. So Chris has really been with the band for five years. Whilst Sal was still in the band, Chris was in the band, rehearsing with us at home, and actually writing for Hope In Hell. He was actually helping us get all the writing done. Then there is the personality aspect of it all. Sal hadn’t contributed jack shit, other than just played some parts, right? I said to him, we are going in to record Hope In Hell, and I will give you one of two choices: Either I’ll write you in for royalties, and you go and do it and get your daily ration of food and a place to stay, but you are not getting paid, or don’t do it at all. So he said okay, and we went into the studio, then he calls his lawyer! The lawyer said to give him a royalty advance. So I said this is where it stops! Here is your pay for the studio work, go fuck off and don’t ask me for anything again!
He was the wrong kinda guy, man! We put out a promo picture and he says: ‘Where is my money for the promo picture?’ He said he wanted paying for a picture! I asked him, who the fuck is paying me for my promo picture? Why should you get paid for that? He said it was because he was bringing in an audience. Oh, really? Nobody knows who you are! Why don’t you pay me because I’m making you famous? I ended up giving him a dollar a picture. [laughs]
Ultimately, it has to do with the environment from where you come from. America is all about the dollar, and that’s all that it is about! They are dedicated to the dollar, but they are not dedicated to a band, to an individual or even to themselves! How much money? It’s always what I can get out of you, is the only reason that they are here. Not because I like what you do, or I want to be part of it, but what is in it for me? That’s just not team playing! It’s not the right kinda of person to get in the band, and that is why it was so short lived with Sal. It never had a chance out of the gate! When somebody is asking you for money for a promo picture, then you think, okay, this is NOT going right! So that is what happened in detail, and up until now, I have not spoken about it with anyone! I never have! So it isn’t a case of ‘Spinal Tap’, it’s a case of the people that we had to deal with, were real fucking pieces of work! That’s the real sad part. I am the fairest player that you are ever gonna fucking meet! It doesn’t matter to you that I shot myself in the foot, to help you out!
“We sold millions of copies man!”
The other things that I would love to dispel are that he says that he didn’t make it because the band sucked. No, we didn’t make it because we got fucked over by the business, to the point that the first, and second albums were sold to a French label in 1982. They pressed a million copies of Hard and Heavy and Metal on Metal on picture discs, distributed it at every corner of the planet, and we never got paid a nickel! So was Anvil famous? Anvil was hugely famous, and hugely successful but un-tabulated. There was no book work to back up the popularity of the band. There was no written documentation to say that we sold x amount of albums or records. Anvil got fucked, not to do with anything to do with us musically or inspirationally.
When people say to us: ‘Well why didn’t you do something about it?’ What were we supposed to do? The record company that we were signed to was getting sued, and the people they did the deal with, did this to them! Who am I suing? [laughs] There was no evidence of anything, until years later, when you’re going to places like China and Japan, and people are coming up to you with a picture disc to sign, and that’s all that everybody has. We sold millions of copies man! This was worldwide! It wasn’t like it just happened in France, nope, it went everywhere! You can find picture discs everywhere, which I suppose was testament to the distribution that we did have. Hell it was better than Capitol Records! [laughs]
Pounding the Pavement will be the seventeenth studio album. Where do you pull your inspiration from after all this time producing music?
It’s not so much about inspiration, as it is about loving what you do. It’s like turning the tap on! Time to make some more! Just like you enjoy doing everything else you enjoy doing in life. I’m a songwriter, that’s what I do! It’s not something that you really need inspiration for; it’s either you are inspired, or you’re not a songwriter! That’s how I look at it. There is no such thing as: ‘I got writer’s cramp, or writers block’. What the fuck is that? I go into the studio, I’ve written all my lyrics. My approach to lyrics became the same as my approach to lead guitar. I don’t like to plan it, because then you are putting parameters on everything that you do, and it doesn’t give you any room for exploration or fucking discovery! Okay, so what do I do? I write all my lyrics, then I go into the studio and work through it, listening and applying my voice and see how the words fit in the music, and what melody sounds best and I work with the producer to get through all the parts. Then, all of a sudden you go: ‘Well, you know what? I forgot that it had all these extra parts to it.’ You can’t say that you can’t finish the song. Just say what you wanna fucking sing! You’re the writer! You don’t have to ask somebody to do it, you just do it! [laughs] Think about things, just give it a few seconds, and if you don’t come up with anything immediately, have a cigarette and come back to it, and do it again! Some of the most beautiful, inspirational lyrics that I’ve ever written have been spontaneous and right then and there on the spot! It’s the same thing with melodies. So what is inspiration? It’s not inspiration, you turn the tap on and do your work! Do what you are supposed to do!
You made an appearance in The Green Hornet back in 2010. Which super hero is your favourite, or do you wish you could be?
Oh hell! I don’t really know. I don’t pay much attention to that shit to tell you the truth. I always make fun of Superman and Spiderman [laughs]
Come on Lips, you are no stranger to Lycra!
[laughs] This is true, but it’s like all of these things are like crime fighting, wholesale! [laughs]
You turned 62-years-old in March 2017. How much longer would you like to go on performing, and any thoughts of retirement?
Here we are, 12 years after the movie. In that film you watched me turn 50, and now it’s twelve years later! Hey it isn’t overnight success, and the movie lasted longer than fifteen minutes. [laughs]
I will be playing until I drop dead! Till they take me away on a gurney! I’m already doing my permanent vacation, what else is there? Retirement! Retiring from retiring? [laughs] How the fuck does that work? I retired from doing deliveries and horrible fucking jobs, and this is what I do for a living now. Something I love to pieces! You could never complain about a damn thing! You have to live on a tour bus, and I say: ‘Really? Wow! Excellent! It’s like a kid being told it’s going camping.’
“Fulfil my passions”
I’m really serious when I say this, but the whining musicians that are complaining like little children are just full of their own ego bullshit! I don’t put up with that. I don’t like to hear about it, see about it or anything! Nothing could be more disheartening than hearing Tony Iommi say: ‘I’m quitting playing my guitar.’ Whaaaaaat?? The last thing you want to do is to stop picking your guitar up? I almost started crying when I read that. What the fuck is that? Listen, the day I don’t wanna pick up my guitar is the day that they are putting me in the ground. That’s it! I just don’t get it!
Speaking of guitars. Did I read that you had access to Ted Nugent’s guitars a few months ago?
What happened was, stuff gets around, and friends who know friends that know Ted Nugent, got in touch with me and showed up to one of our shows with a Byrdland for me to try. Of course, a Byrdland is worth tens of thousands of dollars, it’s not like you’re gonna get to just go test one out! Or should I say – they won’t let you test one in your amps! [laughs] So this guy came to the show, and let me try it in my own amp, and I was going, ‘WOW! This is an experience!’ From there, Ted of course knows all about me, and he sent me a set of his guitar strings, and arrow from one of his longbows and some guitar picks, with a signed photograph, so it’s really very, very cool!
So as the Anvil juggernaut keeps on rolling, what is next?
What’s next? More! It’s what’s always next. Until I die. That’s just what’s gonna happen. If you don’t enjoy your life, and do what you want to do, and do it the way you want to do it, and be fulfilled and happy, then what’s the point in living? I have been trying my whole life to fulfil my passions, my desires and my dreams. That’s what we all do. We are all looking for that fucking pot of gold at the end of our rainbows. Always! We are always in search of the next good time, to get over the worst, or a bad thing, so we can find the sunshine the next day. So, what’s for me? I’m still gonna be looking for sunshine, every fucking day! Every day alive, and above ground, is a good day. That’s it!