Steve 'Lips' Kudlow - Anvil & Bruce Kulick
Steve 'Lips' Kudlow - Anvil
By Rob "Bubbs" Harris
At this point, I do not think that telling you who Anvil is would be of any use. Unless you have been a mindless shut-in for the last year, you have probably seen the gritty documentary that showed how a never-say-die attitude and a pact among friends could take a couple of guys from Canada and turn them into a cultural phenomenon. Anvil: The Story of Anvil is a movie that deserves all the praise it has been getting, not only from the heavy metal community, but also from top film critics around the world. However, all of this sudden fame hasn’t made Steve "Lips" Kudlow forget where he comes from, or what it took to get where he is. Lips was good enough to talk to Metal Exiles about the movie and whatever else he felt like talking about.
Metal Exiles: Although Anvil: the Story of Anvil has been available on DVD for a while now, it is still getting a lot of play and attention at international film festivals. After all this time, are you blown away by the immense popularity of the film?
Lips: It is amazing. It really is. There are so many things at play here that it kind of makes sense, but it also makes no sense at all what’s going on here. It’s just miraculous. I mean, all of this was put together by somebody we met back in 1982 when he was a kid. We met Sacha Gervasi at the Marquis Club in London back then and he became a drum roadie for a little while. Then, he just disappeared, which left us all wondering for years what had ever become of Sacha. Lo and behold, he contacts me in 2005, says that he is now a screenwriter in Hollywood, and wants to do a movie about Anvil. If that isn’t a miracle, I don’t know what is. Not only did we reunite with a long lost friend, but we were able to create something special together. It’s funny the way that everything had to happen for all the little pieces to fall into place. It just blows my mind how big this thing has become.
Metal Exiles: I have been thinking about this, and I think that heavy metal is the only genre where something like this can happen. I do not think that if somebody made a movie about A Flock of Seagulls or some shit, it would have as much impact on the general demographic. Metal fans are always metal fans. We don’t take our music for granted as much as some. Metal is timeless.
Lips: You said it pal! Nothing could be said better. Metal is Timeless, especially the underground styles of heavy metal, which takes up 98% if not more of the fucking bands out there in the genre right now. There’s really only a small percentage of metal bands that really break out into the mainstream. What sucks is, once they do break out there, they start to compromise what made them “Them”. But the majority of metal lives and thrives in the underground, and it will never go away. With other music genres, styles and taste change every year or two. Metal fans still listen to the same shit they have been listening to for thirty years, but still have an unquenchable thirst for it and have to seek out new stuff as well.
Metal Exiles: That is a good point you make there, Lips. You guys have never gone away, which means that you still have fans that have wanted to hear whatever Anvil has to offer for all these years.
Lips: That in itself is a success. Just being able to keep a band together for as long as we have is a success.
Metal Exiles: True. There are many guys out there that start bands but then whine about touring and whatever else makes their pussies hurt at the time and quit.
Lips: That’s why you have to go into it, like you’re not planning on making a comfortable living out of it. If you go into it thinking that you’re going to make a million bucks and be on the cover of every magazine, you won’t. It will cost you a million bucks after all the shit you have to put into it. That is the reality of it. But the cool thing about music is being able to enjoy your life. Being in a band and making records isn’t for everybody, but I sure as hell enjoy it. As long as I am able to play music and live my life the way I want to live it, I am happy.
Metal Exiles: So overnight success has never appealed to you?
Lips: No thanks! I loved being in the underground all those years, where we had a certain amount of fans that wanted to hear our records and bought enough for us to continue to be able to record. All the success that has followed the movie hasn’t changed that. I still love it in the underground. The goal of Anvil was never to be a big radio commodity. We maintained a certain stature in the world of heavy metal for 30 years before anything ever came of it, other than the satisfaction of being able to play and record music. How was I to know that a fan/friend from back in the 80’s would come back and put together the movie that shows the journey?
Metal Exiles: What about the early days when you were opening up for some big names?
Lips: It’s all in the way you look at it. People perceived us as a big band that played the big arenas with some big headlining bands, when the truth of it was, we were just a bar band that every-so-often would get to play a big show. We were lucky that we got to do something like that, but we did not think of ourselves as a big player at the time. Which was both good and bad in a way, because we didn’t depend on that to get us to the next level, but unfortunately, the rest of the world didn’t see it that way and kind of forgot about us.
Metal Exiles: But why? Why do you think that things never took off?
Lips: Well, for one thing, our first record was released on an independent Canadian label that would not license our music in the United States. Why? I do not know. So, while we were making a good impact on Europe, Canada and the rest of the world, we couldn’t break that threshold and move to the next level because we couldn’t get our music to the American consumers, which is the largest market in the world. We got some big time manager guy who came in and crow barred us out of our record deal somehow, maybe in our best interest, maybe not, but we could not find another label that wanted to sign us. So we sat without a record contract from 1983 to 1987, which was the most important period in metal history if you ask me. Everything we did from that point on was self-financed and DIY.
Metal Exiles: What really makes the Anvil story so interesting to me is the eternal bond that you and Rob have. That kind of friendship is not something that is too common in this world, especially in the music industry. How grateful are you to have developed that brotherhood with Rob?
Lips: I am extremely grateful to have had someone to share all the ups and downs with. I do not know if I would have made it this far on my own. Rob is my best friend, and this common cause that we share has kept us together for thirty years. Without Rob, there would be no Anvil and none of this would have ever happened.
Metal Exiles: Just out of curiosity, does anyone ever give Rob a hard time, considering he shares the same name as the guy who directed Spinal Tap? You have to admit, that is a funny coincidence.
Lips: To be honest, not a lot of people put two and two together on that one. It is funny though. I am sure that some people might give him a hard time after reading this.
Metal Exiles: Anvil did a tour with Saxon not too long ago. How was that?
Lips: Incredible! The guys in Saxon and us really hit it off very well. Nigel, the drummer for Saxon, comes out of the bus one night with a CD of this band Cactus. I’m not sure if you are familiar with them, but we make mention of them in the movie. Carmine Appice was the drummer for Cactus, who is now a good friend of ours. Anyway, Nigel comes out with this disc that had live performances of all the songs from the Cactus album, so we went on a little journey through time together and shared what I thought was a very special moment together. What made it better was the fact that we called up Carmine right then and talked to him while listening to Cactus with the guys from Saxon. As far as the tour went, it was fantastic. Saxon are an amazing band to see live and it was a pleasure to share the stage with those guys.
Metal Exiles: Now that you have done a few good tours, you are doing the VH1 tour, where you will headline and show the movie. Are you excited about that?
Lips: Oh, absolutely. I just hope that we get a good turnout to these shows, because the question is, even though the movie stirred up a lot of curiosity, do people want to come out just to see Anvil? We will see how it goes.
Metal Exiles: Now that you guys are getting recognized from the movie, has that made it difficult to hang out with the fans?
Lips: Shit no! We love to be right there with them in the crowd when we are not on stage. In fact, some of the other bands we toured with thought we were crazy because we would get done with our set and then go stand at the front gate selling our merch and talking to fans. We are not rock stars. We aren’t too good to shake some hands, sign some stuff and take some pictures. Without our fans, we are nothing. It was the fans who kept Anvil alive all these years, so why wouldn’t we want to give a little back?
Metal Exiles: It is so cool to hear you put it like that. You know, I just went to see Queensryche and scored a meet and greet pass. I did not pay for any of this, but I was amazed to find out how much people pay for these little stickers to go meet the band. Also, when we got up to the meeting room, the tour manager says that we only have ten minutes and the band would only sign one thing. It was a major letdown on many levels. What are your thoughts on bands charging insane amounts of money for extra shit like that, on top of unnecessarily expensive tickets?
Lips: I think it’s really sad that some bands do that. Why should fans have to pay an inordinate amount of money just to say hello to a musician and get his signature? Anvil came up in the underground metal community, where the fans and the bands were on common ground, and that is where Anvil will stay. We still don’t like the fact that some of the ticket prices for shows we are on are so expensive. We are grateful to every fan we have. That’s why we stay at the venues for hours after the show to meet with every last person that wants to meet us. We don’t need any fucking security or tour managers telling us to keep it to a minimum or to tell the fans to back off. This is heavy metal. It’s a brotherhood. Leave all the passes and laminates to the pop fuckers.
Metal Exiles: Thanks for the chat, Lips. I hope everything works out on the road.
Lips: Thank you too, man. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the fact that you even wanted to talk to me. This whole thing is still a bit surreal to us. I hope we can meet face to face and have some good times. Keep it heavy!
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From Meat Loaf to the Good Rats, Blackjack, Union and KISS, Bruce Kulick has always delivered the goods. Now with the release of his third solo album, BK3, Bruce has raised the bar higher and has easily shot over it. BK3 is not a typical guitar player’s solo album; there are meaty album cuts and singles that are begging to be played on radio with some of the best singers in hard rock today. Bruce was gracious enough to sit down with Metal Exiles and give his honest take on the process of making BK3 happen as well as a look back to how he got there.
Interview with Bruce Kulick.
By Jessica Bohatch-Easton
Metal Exiles: It has been several years since Transformer came out. Why the long gap between solo records?
Bruce Kulick: Yes, a long gap. I used to enjoy getting product out every few years because I had stuff to promote myself with as in the Union DVD. I also put out some vintage music I had from a band in 1974 called KKB, which I sold on my website. The intention though was that the third solo record had to be great, a real step up from the previous releases. I am busy at least a third of the year gigging with Grand Funk Railroad, session work, getting hired for corporate gigs and touring with ESP, the Eric Singer Project. I cannot say no to a lot of the opportunities to promote my career and perform. That does not mean in any way that the record was not foremost in my mind. The first song that I wrote is I’ll Survive. I did not completely write it then but I knew it was going to be a song. That was in 2003 after the shooting incident. I was getting together with Jeremy Rubolino, the producer, and the commitment was to write in 2004 and throughout the year we kept writing and demoing through 2005 and in 2006, we went into the studio and cut ten tracks. I think only five of the tracks survived because even though I loved them all once I got a commitment from someone like Gene (Simmons) it changed the whole recipe of the record. It made me more confident to ask other players that I know that have a real name in the business that would a spotlight on the record. It all happened organically but it was a snowball effect from there. Jeremy and I were clear that there would be no compromise on the record and if it took three times to do it right then that was it. I do wish it could have been ready a year ago but between all of the things I was involved in and the intentions of the record (artwork, labels, mixing and writing) you just have to be patient.
Metal Exiles: BK3 is a diverse record with the songs and different singers involved. Did you know where you wanted to go when you started writing it?
Bruce: It was always evolving. I am very diverse with who I work with like Jack Bruce (Cream), Jon Anderson (Yes), Grand Funk and be known as the KISS guitarist so I wear different hats guitar wise. I did not have a clear direction other than I wanted great songs and sonically to have it sound very powerful. A benchmark that Jeremy and I would talk about was Revenge. I did have highlights on the other KISS records that I loved but with that record I left thinking I was 99.9% sure I was happy with that. I also wanted to be that happy with my record considering I am funding it and putting my name on it. That was a tall order to be as big and bombastic as Revenge and Revenge did make a statement for KISS. Not only the leather jackets and the artwork, it was well produced and every song meant something, it was a benchmark for us. It is good to reach high and the record is cohesive and strong, I think Jeremy and I did a great job on it.
Metal Exiles: With songs like “Fate”, “I’ll Survive” and “The Final Mile” seemingly come from a personal side. Do you mind sharing the meaning behind the lyrics?
Bruce: It was important that I come out with guns blazing on this record. It was really hard to come out with “Fate” because I had to dig deep for inspiration. I was trying to express that we all go through our journey and come off with a bit of strength. I never looked at not being in KISS anymore as “poor me”, I look at the positives of being in there for 12 years. The message is, “Here I am, I do not have anything to bitch about and this is who I am.” For “Final Mile” Jeremy and I had a whole different song written for that, a love tune that said,”what did I say to make you disappointed in me” but we were really stuck in it. We changed many things, it is samey in the verses and we needed help with it. I discovered that if you live with a song in demo form for a long time you get demo-itis. Jeremy and I were stuck in it and we could not bring it up another 20%. Dan Lavery, a talented bass player from Tonic and The Fray, came along and had an idea for a lyric. It is about going away, thinking of you, I will be back and I miss you. I can relate to that because I have been in relationships and I even miss my dog when I am away. I put my stamp on it because I can relate to it even though I did not write the lyric. I have to give credit where credit is due. “I’ll Survive” is tied to that shooting that happened to me on the Sunset Strip. I could have been crippled or killed but I got through it and I ended up strumming a guitar and singing I’ll Survive. It was one of the first things that Jeremy and I looked at when we got together in ’04. I was trying to be lyrical and poetic, not being obvious by singing “Some idiot with a Gun”!
Metal Exiles: You do have a diverse array of singers on the record. How did you set about recruiting the vocalists for each track?
Bruce: It was real organic how each one came along. John Corabi, who sang on “No Friend of Mine”, was the easiest. We knew that the track was going to be for him so when he came to L.A. to rehearse for the ESP tour last year we buckled down, finished the lyrics and got it going. I always hoped that Gene would do a vocal and he said yes and then offered up Nick so that is how he came about. Steve Lukather came about by surprise, I never thought about another lead guitarist for the record. Kenny Aronoff, the top of the heap session drummer, said if you are doing a record he wanted to do it. Jeremy and I realized that there was no instrumental on the record so I wrote “Between the Lines” and Kenny was available for it. The studio that we were using was booked when we were ready to record “Between The Lines” so I remembered that Steve Lukather had something to do with The Steakhouse Studios. I reached out to him who gave me the contact and then he said, "Hey, let’s do lunch." I told Jeremy that I was going to have lunch with Steve Lukather in which Jeremy said to ask him to play on the record. I know that Steve is a monster on the guitar and I know that some people have respect for me but I know when someone plays something that I cannot comprehend and it freaks me out. (That being Steve Lukather) Steve Vai is another one; I do not want to be in the same room with him. I asked to Steve to do a dueling guitar thing on the instrumental but it is not your typical wankfest. Tobias Sammet is someone I met through Eric Singer and it was easy to reach out to him. He was touring through L.A. so he came down the next day, we finished the lyrics, he recorded “I’m The Animal”, and was off to Frankfurt. Doug Fieger (Singer for The Knack) is someone I met at the Rock N Roll Fantasy Camp and I knew we had a lot in common. We had a lot to talk about with gear and the Beatles and I also got to play guitar on My Sharona. We came in and banged out “Dirty Girl” in about an hour and it came out great.
Metal Exiles: “Hand of the King” is the first single of the album. Why did you choose that over the other “single ready” tracks?
Bruce: I have been in the business long enough to know that the artist never picks the single. So in other words you have allowed the label to listen and learn then say, “We love this song.” I love every song but it was on my short list of songs that should be a single. I think Nick took a track that was very fresh and it came out great. He has a powerful bluesy voice.
Metal Exiles: What was your first impression of Nick’s voice?
Bruce: When I first heard him I thought, “Wow, he has this huge voice and he is more bluesy and growly even than Gene in a way.” I think he is still finding his muse. He played me some stuff that he is working on and it is this great 70’s rock riffs, I think it is great that he is into something that old. He was somewhat green in the studio and I can understand why. I think that was part of Gene’s desire, to go record Nick on my dime and give him a lesson or two. What I get from him is that he is a star in America but people overseas are mildly familiar with it because not every country has the show. I was not trying to showcase him because he is Gene’s son, he has a great voice. If he was not able to cut it, we would not have used it. He wrote the lyrics, which are based on Manga, the Japanese comic series. They are great lyrics, which I could never write. Great imagery in them.
Metal Exiles: You are endorsed by ESP. What are you currently playing and playing through?
Bruce: I am a guitar freak and I have had a long relationship with ESP. They make quality guitars and even with their less expensive LTD line, they are all great. With Grand Funk, I have the luxury of three backline trucks so the gear can go where we are and there will be two or three ESP’s in there. I love Gibson’s, you cannot get away from those and I love Paul Reed Smith guitars as well. Don’t get me started, I am crazy about guitars. Amp wise I am a Marshall guy, live you always see me with Marshalls. In the studio, I play Marshalls in conjunction with other amps. I use pedals to as well so I can get creative - the possibilities are endless.
Metal Exiles: Meat Loaf’s bat Out Of Hell: The original Tour is finally out on DVD. What are your thoughts on it after seeing it?
Bruce: I am completely freaked out seeing that. First off, I am happy that it is out because not everybody is aware that that is my first arena tour, which made me learn a lot. My brother and I were in the band, we were Killer and Pretty Boy, I will be clear that I was Pretty Boy. We had some great dual harmony guitar parts and I will say that our model for that was Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner from Lou Reed as well as Alice Cooper’s solo Group. (Editors note: If you want to hear the best example of the aforementioned dual guitar sound with Steve and Dick, listen to Intro/Sweet Jane from Lou Reed’s Rock N Roll Animal, it is massive.) On the record, Todd Rundgren did the guitar parts but my brother knew I would do the grunt work and learn Todd’s parts. For a nine-piece band, we were featured well enough so I am excited about it.
Metal Exiles: You have been part of many bands in the past so what is the feeling when you are able to put your name on something you release?
Bruce: I always hope that it will be the best it can be. I hate it when you send a picture in it changes colors so I guess technology must be getting better from the computer to the printer. I learned from watching Gene and Paul who are big control freaks. I understand why, because they are not going to drop the ball. They are not going to rely on anybody else. When it comes to the music part, I always use the same team of people around me because I know they will help me get the sound I want. All you have in this business all you have is your reputation and if someone hires you, I want to give them the best and I give quality work.
Metal Exiles: Any final thoughts on BK3 and tour?
Bruce: I am thrilled out of my mind that people are getting it. I want people to know that I did not just do another solo record, that it was a huge labor of love and a lot of money to get it to sound this good and to have the featured guests. It is great to hear all of these different singers singing my songs and the common thread is my guitar playing. I feel that the production that Jeremy provided is top notch and it is time for all of the fans to hear it. I have noticed lately that I am receiving emails from people offering me things that I have not gotten before so I think that I have brought the levels up with this record.
Bruce truly has brought the levels of his solo career to new heights and with one listen to BK3 you will be on soaring....