Interview with Lips (Anvil)

On the wings of critically acclaimed documentary, LIPS, the star of The Story of Anvil, took time out to talk to Metal Express Radio about this movie, and to talk about other plans the band has coming up …

MER: First of all, congratulations on your film The Story of Anvil, you must be thrilled with the response it’s been getting?

It’s amazing. It’s absolutely brilliant. It’s out of this world, I’m completely beside myself.

MER: The reaction has been phenomenal, even the mainstream press are hailing it one of the best movies of the year, and one of the best music documentaries of all time. Did you ever envision when you started the project that it would turn into such a hit?

Quite honestly, for me it’s never been about being the biggest sensation. That’s really not what my intentions were throughout the years. For me, success was about being able to create songs, record them, and get them out. As long as I could do that I felt as though my life was being fulfilled. What has happened now is completely out of the box!

MER: The premiere in London was quite something. Keanu Reeves was there and you also had your photo taken with the wife of the British Prime Minister. That must have been surreal for you …

It has been really surreal because you have to understand, just like the movie depicts, I’ve carried on a living, working part-time to support my music and my family to be able to get by and be able to record music. It wasn’t an uncomfortable life, at least going to an awful job you still have something that you do enjoy. A lot of people ask “Why didn’t you give up?” But how can I give up? I’ve been doing this since I was 10 years old. To me it’s odd, I mean, you wouldn’t say something like that to a dentist and they have the highest rate of suicide amongst all professional people and you don’t go up to your dentist and ask them “why don’t you quit?” If he says it’s about the money then that’s his choice, but if he is doing something that brings such joy to your life, there’s no price tag on that. You’ve just got to do it; it’s in your blood and you’re possessed to do it. The real artist will not be driven by money; they won’t rock to that kind of drum. What it comes down to … it has to do with playing live, as that’s where you get your instant gratification as it’s no longer just the song, it’s the feeling you get after the song, and you can’t put a price tag on those feelings or what you have to do to get there. I believe that people like The Rolling Stones or Metallica, who have that great success, then the only thing they have left is the enjoyment. You have to say that about those bands as if you have all the money in the world — you don’t need to tour, you don’t need to make the next record, you don’t need to do anything — they can just sit around and do nothing. The guys possessed with the real goods are the guys who’ll go after it regardless of whether they have money or not, and that’s the bottom line of it.

MER: The film has been made by Sacha Gervasi, who wrote The Terminal, which was directed by Steven Spielberg. How long ago did he come up with the idea for the film?

Pretty much after we met up again after a 20-year period of being apart. Anvil seems to be a magnet. A lot of people from throughout the 80’s who got to know us have come back and made themselves known to us. In a long stream of people who got back in touch through the internet, Sacha was one of those people. I didn’t realize immediately what he’d become, that wasn’t the first thing on my mind though. The first thing that did come to my mind was that my old friend had got in touch with me. I’d been looking for him for many years and hadn’t been able to find him, so here he was. We got into a conversation on the phone and before I knew it I was in Los Angeles to see him. I was completely in awe of who and what he became, which is absolutely beautiful and understandable as he was a brilliant young kid, and he wasn’t your average kid. He had a much higher level of mentality than your average kid and it was very apparent that he was extremely knowledgeable in the arena of music that we were doing, and he was a drummer himself and was attracted to Rob’s playing. He befriended Rob, and before we knew it we hung out together. He had relatives in Toronto and he’d visit with us. We suggested that he come out on the road with us, and he did and it was quite amazing. For a 15 or 16-year old to come out on the road with a Rock band must have been like a dream come true, and added to that, Rob was his favorite drummer. Both me and Rob get an incredible fulfillment out of doing things with people. There’s an endless amount of examples, like there’s a girl called Sarah, who is a drummer, from the outskirts of Los Angeles and she got in touch with Rob through Myspace. She was so astounded that he replied. Rob got to know her through email and when we went to Los Angeles, we went out of our way to visit her. You can’t imagine how this affected this girl. I have to tell you that we derive an incredible enjoyment out of doing things like that, as it’s completely out of the ordinary and you get a completely different perspective of who and what you are. It also gives your fans the chance to have a personal feeling towards you. It’s stuff that you wish someone had done for you when you were a kid. She had all of her friends over and we had a big party and it was wonderful. We’ve kind of done that all through the years. It’s great to do these things and you can only do it as a result of being in a band like this. It’s such a great thing to be in a band and people liking your music. That’s so fulfilling to me and I’ve gone after that my whole life and have devoted my life to it.

MER: How involved were you in the theme of the film? Did Gervasi make suggestions to you, or do you discuss things together?

Not really, Sacha was extraordinarily clever. What he did was really groundbreaking in the sense that what he’s done is have non-actors act. He put it in such a format and in such a way that it’s acting, but it’s not acting, it’s completely all real.

MER: Did you worry that the film would portray you as losers or did you trust Gervasi’s judgment to do you justice?

Understand this really clearly, as it’s important to know. We completely and utterly trusted Sacha to an insane level. If this was to happen with anyone else, it wouldn’t have happened. We really let our guard down and I didn’t care where the cameras were as I completely trusted him. I knew he wouldn’t make me look like a fool. One thing that I came to understand was that he was trying to create a real work of art. He was very strict about that — he didn’t want to make a typical Rock movie. He said that every emotion counted and said not to worry about it. If it was out of context, he wouldn’t use it. Anything that came up, whether it was anger, sadness, or happiness, he filmed it and we didn’t worry about it.

MER: What did you think when you first saw it?

I was there for the making of it, and of course for the voice-overs, but I wasn’t completely aware of the whole big picture. You’re doing things in these little segments and I had no idea how these segments all worked, and I didn’t have any clue of what he was putting together. He’d sit me down and have a conversation with me and record it. I’d go, “Is that it?” and he’d say “Yeah, that’s it for now”, and that’s how we’d do it. If there were overdubs and so forth, I didn’t have a complete picture of what he was putting together. By the time I first saw it, I thought it was extremely emotional, particularly the fight scene between Rob and I was disturbing because all of the emotions that came out were coming back to me. I was watching it in rewind, if you know what I mean. I tended to get lost in the thoughts of the argument, rather than watching the film, but watching it through a second time, it became very apparent how it worked and what was portrayed there, and it was really profound. Right away I thought this was not a straightforward documentary and people will understand what it is and it’s amazing and it hasn’t been done before.

MER: The reaction over in the UK has been so overwhelmingly positive with reports of people crying in the cinemas and others saying how inspiring the story was. Did you ever think that Anvil would conjure up these emotions in people?

It’s not what makes people different, it’s what makes us all the same. People realize how much they can relate to things in their life to those things in mine. I’m not any different than anyone else, and that’s what’s so fantastic about this. We all wish for things, we all have dreams, and many times we turn our backs on them. You need to have a really positive attitude and real good code of honor so you don’t let the outside world get into your flesh and take your spirit away. You need to be very strong in that part of your personality.

MER: This shows this is not just a film for Metal fans. Anyone can enjoy the movie even if you don’t like Metal music.

You know Rob and I could have been two pyramid builders. It’s a story about two people who have devoted their lives to a cause and the effect that it has on their families. For the average person, it’s a great movie to watch, most of us have lived this.

MER: Metal music tends to get a pretty hard time in the media where it’s often portrayed as aggressive and macho. Do you think that your film has helped to show a different side to Metal music?

I think it’s really a great monumental moment for the genre of Heavy Metal ,as it puts a new perspective on the people who make this music that people don’t realize exists. It’s not The Osborne’s or Gene Simmons Family Jewels, it’s an average family and that speaks a lot louder in many ways, because it’s the average person and it speaks volumes about the vast majority of the people in the art. That is the bottom line, it’s about people who devote their lives to their art and get paid virtually nothing, but still persevere. There are literally thousands if not millions of us. It really also covers the majority of those in the music business. Like I said in the movie, 99.9% never make it.

MER: If there’s one message from the film, would you say it is to never give up your dream?

It’s important to understand that it’s not a pot of gold; it’s the rainbow and the travelling to the end of the rainbow that this whole thing is about. Once you get the pot of gold, where do you go? What I wished when I started was for my career to be for the long-term so that I could record 20 albums, then finally make it so there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and not the beginning. That’s the most tragic part for those bands that make it straight away. They burn out and fizzle away long before their years are up. There’s no artist development these days. I’ve been a very lucky individual in a certain sense, although some may beg to differ, but we were lucky enough to have record deals and a German label stood by us for 6 albums. That’s a lot of commitment. There was a great deal of luck, but we also had to make our luck because with each recording, as it went, because of the changes in the music scene, the amounts of money we got from the records became less and less and we had to understand this and continue on and on.

MER: During the trailer to the film, there’s a reference to all of the bands you played with and all went on to make it big except you. Also in a recent interview, you referred to Anvil as “a little has-been band from Canada.” Don’t you think you’re putting yourself down there? After all, you’ve made over a dozen albums; you’ve toured the world, played at Donnington and have people like Slash, Lemmy, and Lars Ulrich praising you as a band. That’s actually something to feel very proud of. That is success, and thousands of bands have never got that far.

I’ve got a lot to be grateful for, and trust me when I tell you I AM grateful. I absolutely adore Lars, and Slash, and all those guys. What is so beautiful is that things have come full circle. These bands now inspire me. I really have to say that’s one of the most beautiful aspects is that we inspired the Slayer guys, and now Slayer inspires me.

MER: There’s still you and Rob from the original line-up. What about the other guys? What’s Dave Allison and Ian Dickson doing these days?

They have left the scene completely; they have nothing to do with it. Dave Allison runs a business in the Northern part of our province that clears land to run electric lines; he’s basically a lumberjack and that’s what he’s been doing to make a living when he left the band almost 15 years ago. Ian Dickson still models and some of his work has ended up in a museum. He’s done replica models of dinosaurs and it’s really interesting stuff.

MER: Are you still in touch with them?

Only fairly recently, really. With Dave, I saw him last year for the first time since 1996. I was shocked when I saw him — he looked a lot different, he wasn’t the guy I used to know. I asked him what he was doing, and he said that he’d changed courses, which I thought was an interesting answer.

MER: What have your families made of all this over the years? Have they been mainly supportive, or do they wish you’d pack it all in and get a normal job?

I work for my sister and brother-in-law, and I’m not working at the catering company right now as I was taking too much time off and I couldn’t do that to them. No one has ever really said to me to forget about the music and get a regular job. I think it’s now got past the point of them saying anything many years ago.

MER: Has this resurgence of interest lead to promoters getting in touch with you? Will fans be seeing you out on the road in the coming months?

Absolutely, it’s been going over the top since the film came out. We’re now managed by Slayer’s manager, so that’s a massive change. Of course, there’s been a lot of interest; it’s understandable considering the circumstances. I have to take it slowly. What’s really wonderful is that I’m not a 25-year old completely out of control. I think the first time around I thought that it would last forever, and I took that for granted. This time it’s not that way at all. I could never ever in a million years take this for granted. Every moment is totally cherished and there’s so much more gratitude for everything and I’m way too consumed with that ever to be bitter.

MER: You will be playing Donnington for the first time since 1982. Are you looking forward to that?

I am very much looking forward to that. It’s with a little trepidation, though. It’s going to be on the 3rd stage in a tent. I like that, though, no rain! It sounds like it’ll be amazing.

MER: What are your memories of that Donnington show in 1982? Did it rain?

Oh, of course it did!! There was mud up to our eyeballs, man. We were pelted with piss bottles and everything!

MER: How about a European tour? Anything planned for there?

We don’t really know what’s happening yet; there’s no itinerary yet, but the manager is talking with promoters and the agent is that guy Steve Strange who does Coldplay, so he’s a big time agent. They’re putting stuff together for us, so I’m sure we’ll be coming over and playing. That’s the main reason I do all this shit is to come and play!

MER: What about new material? Do you have a follow up to 2007’s This is Thirteen?

That’s another dilemma. Everyone’s scrambling around at the moment as we’ve got to get a soundtrack album put together, and we’re figuring out how, where, and when we are going to record it. There’s stuff going on with that, and there’s probably going to be a re-recording of Metal on Metal, and we possibly may get guests to come in and add some guitar solos or something. It’ll be something of a Metal anthem that everyone can take part in. This all has to get coordinated.

MER: It looks like 2009 has started off really well for you. Do you think that this could end up being one of the most important years in the life of Anvil?

Oh, definitely. It already is — it’s already way-surpassed anything we’ve ever done already. It’s gone far beyond the exposure that we got initially. That was a small spark in the frying pan compared to this. Back in the ’80’s, it was Sounds and Kerrang magazine that made us known, but in comparison to that, Anvil has been everywhere, on the TV, and in the newspapers. It’s been amazing.

MER: Talking of Kerrang magazine, do you remember the green flexi disc of Forged in Fire that was given away with the magazine in the ’80’s?

Oh yeah, I’ve still got that somewhere. It sounded like crap, though, it was wobbly and hissy. It was awful!! But, there was no internet then, and it gave people the chance to hear us.

MER: Looking forward to the coming years, what are your hopes for the future and what ambitions do you hope to fulfill?

To have endless gigs and to play every night. I don’t want to go back to part-time work. I want to make my living from doing music. That is what I want and it’s mostly for the playing. If I can just get by, by making music for a living. then I’ll be completely fulfilled.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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