Anvil: Heavy Metal

The Overnight Sensation, Thirty Years In The Making

Published in The Music Network

At the dawn of the ‘80s, Canadian metal exponents Anvil found themselves at the tipping point of mega-stardom. But the needle tipped the wrong way. Fame and fortune proved elusive. More than 30 years have passed, and Anvil is still in one piece. And still rocking. Only through an awesome quirk of fate, the band members have finally been thrust into the big league. Lars Brandle exclusively caught up with Anvil’s Steve “Lips” Kudlow, whose amazing comeback story is sure to rock the socks off Australian audiences.

“We’re an overnight sensation after 30 years,” laughs Lips, the frontman of rock music’s real-life Lazarus. It’s summertime in Toronto where the veteran rocker lives with his family. He’s enjoying the late afternoon rays in his backyard, and he’s in a playful mode. And why shouldn’t he be. Things have been pretty special of late. Anvil have just opened for AC/DC on a pair of U.S. stadium dates, and audiences across Europe have flocked to see this group, which is led by a pair of 50-something rockers. “Britain was amazing, man. Things unfolded there which have absolutely incredible,” explains Lips. But it hasn’t always been such a joyride for Anvil. Lips and his lifelong friend and bandmate Robb Reiner plugged away through decades of obscurity. The one-time stadium rockers consigned to pub gigs, the most recent of their dozen albums falling largely on deaf ears.

Cue Anvil, The Story of Anvil. Filmed by the band’s former teenage roadie Sacha Gervasi, the “rockumentary” has ignited a global following for Anvil and collected a stack of awards since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2008. In the U.K., the film has become the biggest grossing music documentary, eclipsing Metallica’s 2004 film Some Kind Of Monster. The NME initiated an online petition to have the band play Glastonbury Festival. More than 1,000 fans signed, but it wasn’t enough. Instead, Anvil were made to feel at home at the mid-June specialist rock and metal festival Download, in Donington. It’s not just in the live arena where the band is taking off. Anvil’s new album This is Thirteen will finally enjoy U.S. distribution on CD and vinyl through VH1 Classic Records, which is also distributing the DVD Stateside.

“For our band to be completely barren since 1983 to come to that much life in the present is unbelievable. You couldn’t have made more of an about-face,” explains Lips.

Cinderella stories are few and far-between in the heavy world of metal. Once a band splits, or the muse leaves, there’s rarely a happy ending. That’s where Anvil rewrote the book. Apart from the odd quarrel, Lips and Reiner have never split as bandmates. And neither stopped believing they would get their break.

“The bands that seem to come out of Canada and even Australia stay together forever, like they’re friends. There’s almost a fuel of failure,” comments Lips. “AC/DC have stayed together 35 years. The same elements that kept AC/DC together have kept my band together. And it’s not money. They love what they do and they’re dedicated to doing it for their lives. When some of these bands fail when they’ve got all the opportunity, the reason is mostly because of attitude. If you don’t want it together as a unit, it won’t happen.”

Watching the opening moments of Anvil, a viewer could be excused for initially thinking they were buckled in for 80 minutes of pastiche, an update of Spinal Tap perhaps. We see frontman Lips as a brash, big-haired, constantly-smiling youngster, thrashing his lipstick red Flying V guitar with a dildo. Meanwhile, a stadium packed with Japanese fans goes positively wild. The footage is spliced with testimonies from the heavy rock fraternity’s highest ranks, one legend after the other offering the highest tributes. “Anvil was one of those bands who just put on a really amazing live performance,” Slash tells the camera. “They’re a great band. “I always like Anvil,” enthuses Motorhead’s Lemmy. Fast forward half a lifetime, and Lips still carries a happy-go-lucky demeanour. Lips’ hair is still big — few men of his advanced years could get away with such a hairstyle. Reiner, the band’s founding drummer, has lost some of the confidence of his youth. But none of the dedication.

The movie joins the band in 2005. We watch on as Lips fails spectacularly as a telesales rep (he’s quit his day job since the band’s fortunes turned), and we are taken along for the ride on Anvil’s hopelessly mismanaged European tour, which plods from one unspectacular turnout to the next. It’s compelling stuff, and as a bystander you want to get involved.

Which is precisely what Frontier Touring’s tour co-coordinator Michael Harrison did next. Having caught Anvil at the Sydney Film Festival (where it won the Audience Award), Harrison brought the project into the fold of Michael Gudinski’s Mushroom Group. “Apart from being a good movie, you just want these guys to win,” Harrison recalls. “When I saw it, I went home straight away and bought the CD online.” Through a joint venture between Mushroom Pictures and Roadshow Films, Anvil will get an Australian theatrical run from September 10. “In its own way, this film will have the life of a Spinal Tap,” says Mushroom Group chairman Michael Gudinski. “It’s something that people will watch for many, many years.” Lips will make the journey Down Under for the first time, and the band will be on hand to promote the film. Mushroom’s Liberator label will release the movie soundtrack, which is ostensibly This Is Thirteen with a handful of new recordings added, including a cut of early work Thumb Hang. An Australian tour is also firming up, with Frontier Touring on board as promoter and affiliated ATM has stitched up merchandising rights. There’s also a book tie-in, which promises to fill-in the gaps.

Whether the band deserved its break just isn’t part of the equation, warns Lips. You make your own karma in this life. “Just because you deserve it doesn’t mean you’re going to get it. As Lemmy says in the movie, ‘it’s about being at the right place at the right time’. For us, being at the right place was at the Marquee Club in London, England on that September night of 1982, when Sasha walked into our change room. All these rock stars were hanging around in our change room, like UFO’s Pete Way and Twisted Sister’s) Dee Snider. And in walks this 15-year-old kid. The same kid who is buying our records. In having a conversation with him, giving him all the attention and being the guys that we are, this resulted in good karma. You just never know who you’re going to meet, when you’re going to meet them or what significance that person is going to have later in life. These are the things that everything is contingent on in becoming successful.”

The future is looking bright for these sprightly half-centurions. A 14th album is in the works, and Lips is hopeful of collaborating again with Chris Tsangarides, the Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy producer who lent his formidable skills to This Is Thirteen. Anvil has at last teamed with a credible manager in Rick Sales, who also guides the career of Slayer. Anvil will return for a U.K. tour this November with Saxon, “Everything’s possible,” Lips notes. “Having been starved for it for so many years, just bring it on. It’s not like you’re watching a band go through the motions of getting the job done. For me, it’s everything. I don’t know if you ever really stop thinking about ending up at the top or hoping to be up there. It’s certainly amazing to actually live it. It’s one thing to have dreamt it and hoped that it was going to happen one day. But it did.”

 

The Hot Seat: Gerd Leonhard

Published in The Music Network

As the media landscape changes at an awesome pace, Gerd Leonhard has neatly carved out a status as the sage of the digital sage. The self-styled “music and media futurist” is one of the top commentators in the game, his one-man roadshow passing through 15 countries over the past year. Leonhard will add Australia to that list for the first time when he delivers a keynote speech at the August 20-22 AustralAsian Music Business Conference in Sydney. The Basel, Switzerland-based media thinker penned the influential tomes Music 2.0 and The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution, a provocative account of the dying conventional recording industry and the digital saviours at hand.  He has just completed his fourth book, Broadband Culture.

Gerd, how do you see the music business shifting?

We’re move away from the traditional scarcity model which is preventing people from doing stuff to a model which allows them to do stuff. It’s pretty clear that the old way of doing business of music is driving against the cliffs. All revenues are declining, all models are gone, copyright can no longer be enforced in a way that we anticipated. There’s a whole new approach to how business is being done in music, and that is based on selling access rather than copies. It’s now about making money around the music rather than with the music. Rather than the old model which says ‘you can buy the song now if you give me a dollar,’ the new model says ‘you can listen and stream and do whatever for free’ as part of this growing process. You can then offer high-definition concert recordings, a better distribution stream or a deluxe DVD, which will all be done in a highly sophisticated up-selling process.

Where is the money to be made?

The ISPs hold the key to monetising music on the Web. But they are not going to get involved in a system that enforces rules that users don’t like. Music on the Web has to be licensed like it is on the radio and TV – a public license. A license that becomes available to anyone who needs one. Today on the Web there is no standard for anything for music, you have to negotiate every country, every company, every publisher. It’s a dysfunctional system.

Will it become a functional one anytime soon?

It’s a political debate, just like radio and television was. At a certain point, the governments said ‘hey everybody’s listening to radio, but radio isn’t legal. But there’s no way we cannot make radio legal now, because its part of the infrastructure.’ The Web is the same thing. The new model where everything is licensed and everybody participates is much better for the creators and the users, but it may not be so good for people in the middle, because they constantly have to add value.

So where do labels fit into this new model?

Anybody who adds value will do great. Anyone who just extracts value will do lousy. My anticipation is that most of the majors will leave the music business because the enormous margins of the past are no longer realistic. The new players in the music business will be the electronics companies, device makers and of course the mobile phone companies. All the telecom companies will move up the food chain into content so that they become the lubricant of the music system. This is very good news for anybody who wants to be there and be creative about adding value. But it’s bad news for big companies who are just interested in extracting money.

The Hot Seat: Brent Grulke

Published in The Music Network

 

Texans like to boast that they do everything bigger. In the case of the South By Southwest music festival, its pointless trying to argue. Currently entering its 23rd edition, the annual music event in the state capital Austin hosts 1,800 acts on more than 80 stages and is visited by a whopping 20,000 industry registrants. Brent Grulke is the creative director of SXSW. For the past 15 years, he’s played ringmaster to what has become America’s premier showcasing event, a 10-day show which has ushered into the U.S. mainstream an ever-growing list of acts, from Scottish art-rockers Franz Ferdinand to Welsh songstress Duffy and America’s own Norah Jones. Lars Brandle caught up with Grulke, who will deliver a keynote speech during this week’s August 20-22 AMBC conference at Sydney’s Acer Arena.

 

Australian bands had big presence at SXSW this year. Are they finding a voice in the U.S.?

The Australians always find a voice in the U.S., and they have for a long time. It’s because the Australians speak the same language, and they tend to be entrepreneurial and hard-working. Generations of Australians have had a particular affinity with this place. I don’t think that voice will diminish.

 

Is SXSW becoming too big? And how can a band rise above all the noise?

The upside of the largeness is that there are more people here, and potentially more people a band might wish to know. That’s the question, is more people really a bad thing? The real difficulty for a band is rising above the noise. Let’s face it, that competition exists in the worldwide marketplace regardless, you just might be more conscious of it at an event like SXSW. Be creative and find a way to engage those people – they’ve always been the weapons for an artist.

 

Everyone talks about the live business being the music industry’s cash cow. Can live keep growing?

It feels very likely to me, particularly because there is no substitute for that (live experience). Human beings respond to music. It’s more or less hardwired into who we are genetically. As certain as I am about anything, I can say for sure there will always be an audience for live music.

 

Europeans have begun to question whether there are too many festivals on the calendar. Has the American festivals market become oversaturated?

It hasn’t really been the case in the U.S. We’ve actually seen a growth in festivals. Whether there are too many or too few is something consumers will end up answering. The market does answer that quite efficiently.

 

Aside from selling merch and CDs, what other money-making strings are there to a live performer’s bow?

Artists should ask more for their wares than they do. They tend to be reluctant to put a price-tag on what they offer. They need to be more thoughtful about the value of what they do, and they might surprise themselves. They might actually allow themselves the opportunity to continue doing what they do, which is really the goal of all artists. I’ve seen increasing numbers of acts doing live recordings of that evening’s shows, and selling them right then and there. That’s a relatively inexpensive thing, and people like that kind of memento. It costs next to nothing to produce once the initial cost of the hardware recorder is paid for. That all comes down to an artist and their creativity. Some artists are able to sell access to certain features of Web sites to get exclusive content. Others are able to create added-value in the overall concert experience by selling specific things involving connecting the punters with the artists, like cruises or house gigs, and (selling) time with the artist in some sort of fashion. All those things should be considered, but there’s never a one-size fits all. It depends upon the kind of artist and what kind of comfort level they have, and it would have to be something they would enjoy.

 

So far, concert Webcasting has tried and failed. Do you think it will ever find a sustainable niche?

There are very smart people I respect who will create a model that will have revenue attached to it, but I don’t know what it is. I don’t find the experience very gratifying myself. That’s partly my age, but the sound and visuals are crappy.

 

What trends are you spotting on the boards for next year’s event?

It’s a bit too early to tell. But it looks like we will have a greater number of nations represented in SXSW then ever before. I take great pleasure in that.

The Hot Seat: Barry Weiss

Published in The Music Network

 

Australia has proven a happy hunting ground for Barry Weiss. The veteran U.S. executive is chairman and CEO of the RCA/Jive Label Group, whose roster of artists have taken turns at destroying the national sales charts in recent times, the likes of Pink, Kings of Leon, Justin Timberlake and Foo Fighters among them.

Weiss’ destiny was always to be at the elite end of the record business. His father, Hy Weiss, was a notable music man whose doo-wop Old Town Records set the tone for independent music labels in the 1950s. The younger Weiss made his own mark including in 2002, becoming President and CEO of the Zomba Label Group, the hit-making factory behind the likes of Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and ‘N Sync. Throughout the journey, he learned from the best in the business — Zomba founder Clive Calder and Clive Davis, whom he succeeded last year at the head of the RCA/Jive Label Group.

Weiss made a whirlwind trip to Australia last week for a round of meetings and music presentations with his Sony Music Australia colleagues, business partners and caught Pink in action. He even found time to sample the local culture — a visit to an NRL fixture. TMN spent some time with the industry great.

What do you make of the music scene here?

It’s fantastic. Australia is very much like the U.K., the people are very serious about their music and it’s really a big part of the culture. Melbourne has a very Canadian feel to me, like Toronto. Sydney feels more like L.A., with a British culture. Australia is up there with the U.K. in terms of per-capita consumption of music. There’s a great heritage of buying music here. Every act in America knows if you break in Australia, the best thing to do is go and tour in Australia. You feel like music still matters here. In America, music matters but it feels like a commodity. It’s been great watching MTV here and actually seeing music videos, because you can’t find a video on MTV in America unless it’s really an early morning/overnight sort of thing.

Is the U.S. more receptive to Aussie music?

We think Daniel Merriweather’s on the verge of a worldwide success story. We took a shot with Augie March. We didn’t succeed, but we thought they were really cool. It’s down to the music case-by-case. It would be hard to say there’s an Australian wave. American pop radio and the pop marketplace is very consumed with American artists, and with more dance and hip hop based music than it is rock-based, which is what Australia’s generally more known for. We in the U.S. always think of Australia as an unbelievable rock market. The radio slots in America, at least pop radio where you get big upside, is so focused on rhythmic and dance, rhythmic pop and hip hop. It’s tough for rock in America to really break in a pop sense.

You’ve worked with two of the icons of the industry, the two Clives – Davis and Calder. What did you learn from these guys?

Working with Clive Calder for 20 years, that was an amazing lesson in having the right-brain, left-brain balance of creative excellence and business excellence. Clive Calder was brilliant in the recording studio, which most people don’t really realise. He was a bass player and he had great musical, creative instincts. He was as creative a deal-maker as he was a creative record guy. He was brilliant in every respect. Every time I sit with Clive Davis, I feel like I’m still learning. Whatever I’m doing, I realise he’s done it 200 times over and he’s done it for 50 years as opposed to my 25 years. He’s really a master. Between the two Clives and my father, it’s been a great education. But an ongoing education.

Are you still optimistic for the future?

Yeah, but it’s tough. What I’m optimistic about is, despite the doom and gloom and despite the difficulties and challenges of today’s environment, when you get a fantastic artist, it still cuts through the clutter. You can still do really well and you can still run a profitable business and have a profitable exercise. You might not make the money that you used to make, but it still beats digging ditches for a living.

How do you rate the efforts of the Australian Sony Music business?

The Sony Australia company is probably our favourite and best territory within the worldwide system. They’ve done an absolutely bang-up job on our artists. It’s really very exciting to see a company as focused on our music as they are on their own, domestic repertoire.  It’s a very hungry, very cutting edge, very entrepreneurial company. And that’s why Denis Handlin is the best there is, he’s fantastic.

[Barry Weiss has since been appointed Chairman & CEO of Island Def Jam and Universal Motown Republic Group.]