Anvil hit the UK again this year on another intense tour. Gary got the chance to chat to two of metal’s favourite characters before their show in Edinburgh.
Welcome back to Edinburgh and Scotland!
Lips: We haven’t been here since 1983 [Anvil were actually here in 2009 as special guests to Saxon at the Edinburgh Filmhouse – Gary]
Fourth date of the UK tour, how’s the tour being going so far?
Lips: The same (laughs) that’s why it’s called Anvil is Anvil, we haven’t changed, still the same.
You mention Producer Bob Marlette influencing the way you write and construct songs now. Can you expand on this?
Lips: Yeah, he’s been a very inspirational kinda guy y’know? Made me refocus on the way I’m arranging music, made me come to realise what I was doing originally and how to apply it again, that kind of thing. It’s much more concise, straight forward arrangements, not a million parts and not hard to remember with good hook lines.
Regarding the writing, how does the writing work between the two of you – who does the most?
Lips: Me! I’ll bring in musical ideas and work the stuff through, and then write the lyrics and I sing it, so that’s kinda the way it works. I’m a guitar player – if it doesn’t start there, where is it gonna start? I guess it could start from a drum beat, but generally we need a riff.
How do you think the new album has been received by the media/press?
Lips: I dunno, I don’t pay attention to the press!
Robb: I’d say the press generally like the new album, there’s always haters, But in general, they like the album, that was the impression I got, we got more good reviews than bad ones. The British press was very good to the album!
Speaking of Britain, your tour at the beginning of the year with UDO, how did that go?
Lips: The tour with UDO was amazing!
Robb: Really good, a big success and did very well. We made a lot of new fans.
Do you look forward to coming back to the UK, and do you think the UK has been good for Anvil?
Lips: Oh yeah!
Robb: Yeah we’re starting to realise the UK love for Anvil!
Lips: It only took 40 years.
Robb: It’s been going pretty good over here lately.
The band was originally named ‘Lips’ but changed its name to Anvil, was there a set reason for that?
Lips: Yeah ‘Lips Incorporated’, ‘Horse Lips’ they didn’t want any confusion, so the record company suggest we change our name.
Robb: And the name ‘Lips’ doesn’t really define what it really is. We’re a metal band so we needed more of a metal name, so it made sense to change it. What’s more metal than Anvil? (laughs)
Following the release of Hard n Heavy, is it true Lemmy asked you to join Motörhead?
Lips: No it was before the release of Forged in Fire. It was after we opened for Motörhead and gotten to know them. We played a show with them in Toronto and Eddie Clarke had a hissy fit and quit the band and called me (laughs). I couldn’t do it, so they got Brian Robertson.
You once said Canada didn’t ‘get’ Anvil, is that still true today?
Robb: No, not as much. We do the best we’ve ever done in our 40-year history in Canada currently. Why is that? They’re just catching up. The movie obviously had a great contribution to all that.
Lips: The recognition in the USA impresses Canadians, and when they saw we had some recognition in the United States and Britain, they thought we must be good!
Robb: I guess you gotta look at it that way too, but all of it in general, we do better in Canada now than we have done in years.
You once said if it wasn’t for Germany you wouldn’t be here – is that true?
Lips: That’s right! We’ve been signed to German labels for our entire career, including up until now, so no German labels, no Anvil!
Robb: We have a German Manager, German Agent, German Record Company, German Producer, we have a German team currently. It’s not by design, it’s just kinda led that way. They are very passionate about it…
Lips: Yeah and exact and perfect!
Robb: All through the other years, we’ve always made record deals with German companies, because that’s what kept us whole.
Lips: Yeah financially, we’ve been backed by German money for years. It’s the metal world!
When Sascha Gervasi suggested making a film about you, did you have any second thoughts on it?
Lips: None at all. Opportunity of a lifetime, what is there to think about? (laughs)
Robb: There was nothing to lose, as far as we were concerned.
Lips: Everything to gain.
There’s a lot of highs and lows in the film, from not getting paid for small shows to the large show in Japan.
Lips: There’s a lot of highs and lows in real life isn’t there? We finished a show the other night and had a great, great time, tried to pull out and then we hit a low – the bus couldn’t move.
Robb: The bus got stuck, after the first show, great gig, everyone was high, wow what a good night…next thing, oh the bus is stuck. It’s just how it works.
Did you think it would make the difference to the band’s fortunes that it has?
Lips: I knew it would.
Robb: I was hoping it would.
Lips: I knew what it was the second he said it to me.
Robb: Yeah Lips always thought it was going to be successful.
Lips: To me, when a Hollywood director says to you “I’m gonna make a movie about you, it’s a Hollywood movie”, what doubt is there?! It’s not a guy with a video camera, it’s a director from Hollywood, you’re gonna be making something that’s really special, immediately right off the bat.
How has life been since the documentary?
Lips: We don’t have to work at anything else but the band, so no more day jobs, so we’re living the dream. We’re getting to do what we love and making a living – perfect!
Robb: The band is the day job. So it’s been pretty damn good. When you can just survive off playing music, That’s living the dream right?
It’s obviously changed the fortune for the band, has it changed yourselves in anyway?
Robb: I think we’re absolutely the same people.
Lips: I think everybody around us has changed, because their outlook on us has changed, so they expect us to change, but they’re the ones that actually changed. We have got friends that go ‘oh, you guys think you’re stars’ and you get in touch with them and they say ‘we didn’t expect you to get in touch with us’ well why?! ‘oh because you had a movie made about you’ well what is wrong with you? What does that mean?
Robb: We’re still the same people, still live in the same house, still married. We could have moved to Hollywood years ago if we wanted to, but you know what? I’ll never live there, I’ve been there so much, that town sucks.
Lips: Yeah we don’t really like The States anyway, we’re Canadians. We’re like the British, we just don’t like The States.
Robb: Canada, best country in the world, hands down, I’ll stay in Canada.
So has your audience changed since the film?
Robb: Yes, quite dramatically.
Lips: We have lots of young fans, we’ve crossed over into the younger age.
Robb: We have lots and lots of new young fans that’s very true, and all kinds of fans, older people, younger people, kids, girls, lawyers…anybody!! We meet all kinds of people who say ‘this is my first metal show that I’ve ever been to, it’s just amazing’.
The Anvil Metal Pounders Union, how did that come about?
Robb: That’s been going on since the beginning of the band’s career, it’s our fan club and we just named The Anvil Metal Pounders Union, and we got it going about 5 or 6 years ago. We have over 5000 members now! Including a lot of well known rock stars also.
It’s a one-time card, it’s a lifetime membership, you buy the card once and you’re a Pounder for life. We have family photo albums, we take pictures, and we have thousands and thousands of humans from around the world. That’s all it is, it’s a fan club.
Media coverage before the movie must have been limited to the specialist metal press. Do you get more coverage nowadays?
Lips: We wish! We get coverage, but we don’t get the mainstream like we should be.
Robb: When we first exploded after the film, yes the mainstream was all over us. We were in every publication, every TV show, but the spotlight doesn’t last forever. We got a great run with that. General metal press, Lips does interviews constantly, not like the Daily Mail. We shouldn’t probably be talking to the Daily Mail right?
Lips: Very, very unusual for a metal band to get done in the normal press, but every once in a while, it happens. It’s not much as it should be happening though in my opinion. Then we’d get to all the movie people, what I mean by movie people, the people who aren’t really metal heads, right? They love the movie and they love to see the band, but they never know we’re there because metal clubs don’t advertise in mainstream media.
In the film, Slash and Scott Ian from Anthrax amongst others name Anvil as a big influence. Why do you think those guys made it while you existed on your own plateau?
Lips: It was a question of missing the boat. We got pulled out off the scene right at the height of our breakthrough and we didn’t put out another album for four years after putting out three in a row in three years. Then you put out nothing for four years, lost all the momentum, and by that time, thousands of bands came up around us and they got signed and we did not. So that’s the kinda stuff that went on.
Tell us about that flying V guitar that you use. Is it endorsed by anybody?
Lips: It was! (laughs)
Robb: It’s his own model.
Lips: It was made a company called October, but they went out of business about two months ago. They made ten of them, and that’s it. They’re no longer in existence.
How many do you own?
Lips: Of that particular model, four!
Robb: It’s called a Lipsomatic.
So you have sixteen albums out now. How do you manage to pick a set list for the tours?
Lips: What feels comfortable and what the people demand to hear, if they wanna hear.
“March of the Crabs”, they wanna hear. “Metal on Metal”, they wanna hear. “Mothra”, they wanna hear. Something off Forged of Fire, so you gotta at least do “Winged Assassins”, doing something off the first album.
Robb: We do the classics off the first albums, you have to do that – forever! For the newer stuff, they’re becoming classics. The newer badass rock and roll ones, some of this new material, it’s like relevant right? Which is amazing for a band to be able to do that later in your career. Most people only care about your old shit, and we’re getting new classics, it feels good, we love it!
How do you find the music industry these days?
Robb: For the last album we used Pledge Music and did a pledge campaign and it was very successful. The fans supported it all the way and we went above the target we were looking for. There’s record companies that also wanted the record, so we did it both ways y’know? So we had the fans help us get the record, then handed it to the record company.
Was it hard? I don’t know, but it was a new experience, fans came and sang on the new record, you could buy a pledge where you could sing on the new Anvil album, we had how many people Lips?
Lips: about 10-15 guys and girls.
Robb: They all came into the studio, it was a great experience for us, engaging with the fans and just to see how happy they were and gladly to pay the money. It wasn’t about the money but it was just about ‘I get to sing on the new Anvil album, yeah!’ It was a good experience and I really enjoyed myself!
It must be better to be full time musicians rather than have the day jobs, did that happen straight after the film?
Lips: Not immediately after, no. It took a bit to build a momentum, and then you can leave a job and you didn’t have to work anymore.
Robb: Maybe no more than two years after, it came pretty quick on. You start getting out there working and it seems like we haven’t stopped and then it’s like ‘oh man that was already eight years ago’.
You tour a lot and they’re never short tours compared to a lot of bands.
Robb: Because we want to. Even this UK tour, the agent had more shows but we just couldn’t do any of them. He was trying to say ‘hey man you could add 10 more shows to the UK tour’. Next time round, we’ll think about that and come here for 3 or 4 weeks.
So in the beginning what were your influences for starting the band?
Robb: We grew up with all the old great bands, Purple, Sabbath, Hendrix, Cream, Grand Funk, all that stuff.
Off tour, Robb, you have your painting. Have you got anything when you’re off tour, Lips?
Lips: Writing riffs so we can write some songs (laughs).
Robb: Yeah I paint, I’m very serious about my painting, when I don’t rock I paint, but I don’t sell them. I show them – I sell other things relating to it, but I don’t sell canvasses. People want to buy them, I just don’t want to sell them! I love showing them, setting them up so people can come and look at them – I love to do that. I started when I was 8 years old, I started to take it really seriously when I was about 25. Now I’m very serious about it. If I wasn’t playing drums no more, I’d just be painting. So, I do both, it’s good therapy, keeps you cool, grounded and it’s creative.
You’re approaching the 40th anniversary of the band, any plans?
Robb: As we speak today, no. We haven’t thought about it, it’s our 40th man, what we gonna do? We’re going to make our most smokingest album, we got half the songs written now and record it next year.
How is Chris’s input into the band?
Robb: He’s not involved in the song writing. He’s a bass player, a musician. We treat him like a brother, he’s not really involved in anything business or creative wise, it’s better that way. It’s nothing personal against any of the guys, for years we’ve been doing it this way and it works really well, and whenever you get more people into the pie, it ends up working not so good. We learnt that many years ago with one of the other members. Chris just brings good bass playing and good vocalist stuff to the party, and he does what Lips asks him. We do give him musical freedom though, we want him to do that, you got to encourage that. Bring your own thing to it and he does, and we’re very happy with the last album, so let’s see how the next one comes out.
What’s the plans after the European tour?
Robb: Back to The States, we have another U.S tour in March, April and I think we’re going to Brazil in February for a few shows. Then we got a couple of Canadian things, then we got an American/Canadian tour, couple of festivals, might go to China and Japan, record a new album, do it all again!
The film must have opened up a few other countries to you, have you been to a few places where you haven’t played before?
Robb: We went to Singapore, Taiwan, New Zealand…
Lips: There were areas on the old tour we’d never been, like we’d never played some places in Poland.
Robb: Estonia, Poland, Latvia, those Slavic countries, Czech Republic we went into deep Czech, not just Prague but we went into some of the smaller places. We’ve been expanding. We have never been to Russia, there’s a market we need to try, a lot of rock bands go there.
When you go on tour with the bands, do you get a say in who supports you?
Robb: The bands for this tour were all selected by the agent who put this whole thing together, and they recommended to us that these guys were cool, that they fit in with your band, and we trust them… and he’s right, these guys fit, to be honest with you. We don’t really go round and pick bands y’know.
Final question, are there any bands you’d like to go on tour with?
Robb: These days…I don’t really know.
Lips: I don’t really have a preference.
Robb: I’d like to open up for KISS, that’d be a cool gig probably, I’d play with Metallica again, Motorhead was a great choice but they’re not around anymore.