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Anvil lives!

Documentary brings never-made-it Canadian metal band back into spotlight

Steve ''Lips'' Kudlow recently performing at the premiere of the film ''Anvil!: The Story of Anvil'' in Los Angeles. Steve ''Lips'' Kudlow recently performing at the premiere of the film ''Anvil!: The Story of Anvil'' in Los Angeles. (kristian dowling/getty images)
By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / April 12, 2009
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Slash of Guns 'N Roses idolized them. Lemmy of Motorhead is a fan and friend. Lars Ulrich of Metallica considered their early albums like "Metal on Metal" - with breakneck drumming and punishing guitar riffs - a vital building block in the foundation of speed metal. So why have most people never heard of Anvil?

Bad timing, bad luck, and most of all bad management, according to the Canadian quartet's lead singer and guitarist, Steve "Lips" Kudlow.

But that's all about to change with the release of "Anvil! The Story of Anvil," a new documentary directed by Hollywood screenwriter ("The Terminal") and longtime Anvil fan Sacha Gervasi. A hit on the festival circuit, the funny and heartfelt film - part real-life "Spinal Tap," part scrappy underdog tale - is generating renewed interested in the band almost 30 years after its first brush with fame.

The film, which chronicles a disastrous European tour and the band's attempt to escape the dingy clubs and get a foot back inside the stage door of the "big show," opens at the Landmark Kendall Square cinema on Friday. The night before, as a kickoff to the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival in Worcester, Anvil will play a show at the Palladium after a screening of the movie. Last week we chatted with a tired but ever-genial "Lips," 53. He'd been up all night mixing the long-in-coming Spanish Inquisition jam "Thumb Hang" but was happy to discuss the band's unexpected second act. "If you go through life thinking tomorrow is going to be a better day, it will be," he says. "I'm having the time of my life."

Q. What did you think when Sacha - whom you met when he was a teenage fan in the '80s - said he wanted to make a documentary?

A. To me it's like Mr. Hollywood just came to give me the opportunity of my lifetime. I flipped out! In all honesty I saw it finished in my own head. I know that sounds really weird, but I almost had a flash of the future.

Q. Did the finished product turn out like that flash?

A. Yes, it did, that's what's even scarier. (Laughs)

Q. There are some tough, unflattering moments in the film: your fight with drummer and longtime friend Robb Reiner; nearly empty shows; you roughing up a club owner for payment; family members questioning the need to keep the rock 'n' roll dream alive. Was there anything you really didn't want in the final cut?

A. No. At the beginning Sacha sat us down and said, "Everything is relevant, let me film everything. If you don't like it, we can remove it later." But he told us right to begin with this is going to be a very personable style movie, it's not going to be one of those typical rock documentaries; people are really going to engage with the people you are.

Q. In many ways, your story - slugging it out on the margins for the love of the music - is much more common than the people who go on to major fame and fortune.

A. Oh yeah, this represents the vast majority of what goes on in the music and entertainment industry. Only about .001 percent make it. Let's look at the big picture: We've got what they call the big four: Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax. What about the 100,000 other bands? MySpace is chock full of bands from all over the world that make their own music all day long that no one has really ever heard of.

Q. A lot of people in your position wouldn't retain the optimism you show in the film, though.

A. You have to understand the secret to this is always being ready. And never quitting. Because it's all random. The same bad luck could just as easily be good luck, and it could strike anywhere at any given time. Generally speaking, if you stay long and true enough at something and stick to your guns, eventually your card will come up. And our card has come up.

Q. What happened to the other original members of Anvil, guitarist Dave Allison and bassist Ian Dickson?

A. We saw them about a year ago when ["Anvil!"] played at a film festival here in Toronto. Dave Allison, I hadn't seen him in at least 15 years. I haven't seen him since. He somehow thinks he's going to be a millionaire [from this]. Hopefully, maybe he's right. Maybe the residuals from selling the old albums will finally surpass the red line. (Laughs)

Q. If the worst thing that came out of this is your old guitar player becoming a millionaire, that wouldn't be so bad, right?

A. (Laughs) Yeah, sure, because if he did well, so will I.

Q. You wear a fanny pack throughout the film. Dude, what's in that thing?

A. (Laughs) Everything from false teeth to flashlights.