"I don't believe miracles happen halfway," Steve "Lips" Kudlow says. "It took a lifetime for this to actually come to fruition, but this time I went up to bat and knocked it right out of the park."
Anvil, the influential yet decidedly underground thrash metal trio Kudlow started more than 30 years ago with childhood friend Robb Reiner, is finally having that breakthrough moment most bands only get to dream about. In the past three months, the group has signed a management deal with Rick Sales (Slayer, Mastodon), taken on booking agents Steve Strange (Coldplay, Eminem) and Scott Sokol (Oasis, Black Sabbath), hosted VH1 Classic's "That Metal Show," prepared to play headlining slots at the Glastonbury and Download (formerly Donnington) Festivals and geared up for the U.S. nationwide theatrical release of its award-winning documentary "Anvil: The Story of Anvil."
But it was a long way to the top for these rock'n'rollers. While its debut album, 1982's "Metal on Metal," brought the group some renown and influenced a generation of million-selling bands like Metallica and Anthrax, Anvil remained an obscure sideshow of the heavy metal culture for two decades. By 2006, the band had released a dozen albums on numerous labels with negligible sales and played dozens of grungy club tours while achieving none of the fame, fortune or trappings of rock'n'roll stardom.
In fact, on his 50th birthday, Kudlow was working the sunrise shift at an industrial kitchen while desperately trying to keep the band together and raise enough money to record Anvil's 13th album, "This Is Thirteen." And the break he had long been waiting for finally came in the form of a call from an old fan and friend, Sacha Gervasi. The one-time 16-year-old roadie for Anvil had gone on to an illustrious career of his own: He founded Bush with Gavin Rossdale and penned screenplays for Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Nicole Kidman and Keanu Reeves.
Gervasi's love for the band hadn't faded in the intervening years despite falling completely out of touch with Kudlow and Reiner. After tracking the group down in Toronto and learning that Anvil was still recording and playing shows, Gervasi recognized in his old heroes a universal tale of perseverance, dedication, passion and the uncompromising spirit of metal. He proposed not just a documentary, but a partnership.
"I financed the film, but we did it in such a way that in terms of the creative contributions, it's all favored nations between me and the band," Gervasi says.
"The whole beauty of this story is that it was a fan that came and did this with his own money," Kudlow says. "It's a miracle that we met Sacha 20 years ago only to have him come back and repay his childhood friends."
The Spinal Tap/Anvil comparisons are inevitable—especially with alliterative album titles, a drummer named Robb Reiner and an amp that really does go to 11—but it's the film's emotional core that has struck a chord with audiences. The movie debuted to standing ovations at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008, won festival prizes from Los Angeles to Sydney to Singapore and earned praise from Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore.
After several early screenings with live Anvil gigs caused a pandemonium in London, where the film was released in February, "Anvil" is now the highest-grossing music documentary in U.K. history.
VH1, which is distributing the film on DVD in the United States, is throwing the full weight of the network behind the project and the band. Prior to the film's theatrical release in April, VH1 Classic is sponsoring the Anvil Experience seven-city tour: At each stop, a film screening will be followed by an Anvil live set. For the first time, VH1 added a movie trailer as if it were a music video in every block of VH1 and VH1 Classic music programming; the "Anvil" teaser will run more than 40 times per week throughout April. The DVD release and TV premiere will coincide during the summer.
As for the music, three major labels are bidding for the soundtrack, while the band's self-released "This Is Thirteen" is flying out of the merch booth at every screening and gig. Due to the overwhelming demand, Anvil is also planning to record a new album soon. "This is a one-of-a-kind situation where by the end of the movie people have emotionally invested in us and then they can be a part of the epilogue," Kudlow says. "Their reaction has an effect on the way our lives continue on—by buying the CD they've changed our lives."