ANVIL’s Robb Reiner - Passion For Painting

May 24, 2022, a year ago

By “Metal” Tim Henderson

feature heavy metal anvil robb reiner

ANVIL’s Robb Reiner - Passion For Painting

Catch that title? Every Anvil album name since their debut 41 years ago (1981’s Hard ’N’ Heavy) consists of three words, with the first and third words starting with the same letter. 19 times in a row, including their new album, Impact Is Imminent, which was released last Friday (May 20th). Drummer Robb Reiner says he has a book filled with potential album titles, with the same rule applied; the first and third words starting with the same letter. Impact Is Imminent is actually the first album in their history where each word starts with the same letter. But I digress. This artistic tale isn’t just about music. Robb Reiner also holds another wooden stick in his hand, albeit with a brush on the end. He calls it Fine Art Paintings, special Kodak moments that light up on canvas, when he’s not sitting on his drum stool. And he’s been snapping photos for decades, during his travels around the world pounding the pavement with cohorts frontman Steve "Lips" Kudlow and bassist Chris "Christ" Robinson. 


But you try not to show your poker face. There is a shortlist of bands that touch you so deeply, you decide to make a career out of it. Reporting on music. So yes, Anvil are most certainly one of the “Bands That Built BraveWords” as it were. And to be invited into your idol’s home is about as surreal as it gets.

So the drum legend gave BraveWords a rare glimpse at his passion for painting at his personal gallery that takes up virtually everywhere you look under his roof. 

“Either I'm touring, or I paint,” Reiner begins. “I don't do anything else. Yeah, but when you don't tour, like with this COVID thing, I painted the most pictures. Since COVID, for two and a half years - and touring is going to start now - but that was the most paintings I ever painted in maybe my whole life. Because I had the time. I made I think 18 one year, and 16 or 17 the next year. I've never done that. I usually get to do about three. That would be a normal year for me, because I'm always on the road. 

So what lit the spark in the ’80's when trying to launch a rock band and paint at the same time?

"I always wanted to paint,” he explains, about the roots of the passion. “I painted since I was a kid, I started when I was eight. I was introduced to painting, and I kind of had a knack for it. My mother, her brother's family, are famous painters. They're Hungarian. So I got introduced by my mother and she signed me up for art lessons. I was a little kid. I still have the very first painting that I ever made. But I really got into it when I was in my 20's, and fully turned it on in my 30's I guess. Whenever I could paint, I would be painting. For the last twenty years probably has been the most prolific time. I'm obsessed with it. If I retired from music, I would just paint. And maybe then I'd sell a couple! So, that's kind of how I feel about it. I have no intentions of stopping playing music, but you never know, right?" 

But before BraveWords gets the grand art tour, Reiner walks us through two truly Holy Grail moments in his career with collectibles to show! The first, a gift from a drumming icon that was a major influence on him and his style. 

“How I acquired Cozy Powell’s pedals (above) was very basic,” he explains a truly remarkable tale of acquisition. “We were touring in the UK and a fellow, he was from New Zealand, was in a band that was supporting us. And of course I can't remember his name at this moment. He was a really nice guy and we were playing a lot of venues. Some venues you couldn't put the whole back-line up, but I said, 'Hey, you can play my drum kit'. And he was completely blown away by that, you know? Nobody does that, right. So, a few shows through that tour, here and there he would play my drums. So, in the last gig, he comes up to me with those (pointing to the pedals) and he presents them to me. I got these from his personal collection. He used to work for Cozy Powell as a drum tech, when he played with (Queen’s) Brian May at some point. So, Cozy gave him some stuff, he had a case, some snare stands, some pedals. As a thank you to me for letting him use my drums, he gave me those. I'm a big Cozy fan. I couldn't believe it. I didn't even want to take them. I said to him, 'Hey, dude, you don't have to give me anything. It was my pleasure'. He knew I was a big drum collector guy, and it was going to a good home. I put them in there with these ones - mine are right beside them, and they sit there. Those are a couple of Cozy Powell's drum sticks, and I've got a few pairs of those. So that's how I acquired them. It's a very uneventful story. He had ten pedals, and that's five and nine.” 

And just a few feet away, we travel downstairs to visit the Reiner basement, where you walk into a drummer’s dream room and encounter an artifact so important to Canadian heavy metal history. 

“As you can see, I've got a really cool collection of snare drums," he points at a truly massive wall of heavy history. "I collect snare drums. I know, it's got nothing to do with art. This is my vintage collection. I know you're not a drummer, that's cool, but if drummers come here and see this shit, they go fucking nuts. But this one here, this is the most famous drum, I guess (pictured below). This was recorded on the first three Anvil records (Hard N’ Heavy, Metal On Metal and Forged In Fire). That's the snare drum from the day and that was the sounds on those three records. It was created by that thing. You know John Tempesta? He offered me like 25,000 for that, because he collects shit too, but I told him, 'Yeah, that's cool, maybe I'll bequeath it or something', but I'm not selling it to nobody!’ Forged In Fire, one of your favourite Anvil albums, this is the sound that was recorded on that record. It's in pretty good shape still, isn't it? But it's special because of the size. It's ten inches deep. And it's made out of stainless steel, the whole thing. You know what this was? This was a Tom Tom. This was actually a Tom Tom and I converted it into a snare drum, by just putting all the snare drum shit on it, and snare drum heads, and now you got a snare drum. But it was actually a Tom Tom. Back in those days, you know, when I was a kid you had to be innovative, like 'What am I going to do? I want one of those! I want a big fat thing, but they don't make them.'"

BraveWords: So tell us about the inspiration, because some of these “Kodak moments” are everyday images from your travels. Yet they impacted so deep that you decided to spend hours painting them. 

Reiner: “So, where does all this stuff come from? Where do I dream this shit up? Virtually every place that you look at, I've been at, so that's part of it. So, I'm kind of documenting my life, I guess. But not so consciously. But it's turned into that. They are all based on my photographs. ‘Yeah, that will make a good image'. When I look at nature, I see everything this way. Anywhere I look. If you square it up, I go, 'That can be a picture'. I walk around outside and I see buildings, I love buildings. The certain sunlight reflection and all that. When I see certain things, I'll go, 'Yeah' and I'll take a snap of it. Later, if it still makes me feel really good, I'll make a sketch. I'll make a little noodle, doodle. Then I'll go, 'That will definitely work', and then I'll proceed. So all these places, I've been.” 

“I’ll tell you about this one. It was never published in the book it just sits here. This is the only copy I've ever made of a picture. That's an Edward Hopper, famous artist. I painted that probably in the '80's, when I was first getting the hang of painting. So that's what that is. That's a New York Summer (see above), and I've never been at that spot. But all these other ones, if you want to ask me where they are, I can probably remember.“

BraveWords: The drum sticks on the seat is a powerful image. 

Reiner: “That's the second, there's two of them. That's called Waiting To Play, Still Hope. The first one was just Waiting To Play - No Hope. This is like more hope, now. I created that, it's a drum stool in a room, and a door with some light coming in, something simple, I dreamt that up. What I do is I change the moods of my painting from whatever the picture might have. The mood is altered. the lighting, the colouring. Sunlight in certain places and the rest is like dusk or twilight. I like to do that with some of them. This one here (below) is across the street from the studio in Germany (Soundlodge Studio in Rhauderfehn) where we recorded the last three or four albums. So the studio would be right here and if you walk outside, that's what you see."

"There's a path, and the studio is in a residential neighbourhood, and you wouldn't think that. It's just like if you came into a house like this and it has a recording studio. The studio is this whole building here, and the house is attached to it. So that's where we were making the last bunch of Anvil records. I just saw the light on the path and I said, 'Yeah'. These are born out of nothing, and it’s in the middle of nowhere. It's about two hours outside of Hamburg. Close to Holland.”

BraveWords: This ramp shot looks familiar. 

Reiner: “That's in Japan. If you watch the Anvil movie again, that is in the Anvil movie. That's the ramp that we walk up to the stage and that's where we play. I took that picture at the time and it had nothing to do with the movie, I just took a picture. And then later, same thing, 'Yeah, it kind of looks cool, the spotlight’.”

Reiner: "That's from New Zealand, that's that famous volcano. It's a famous dormant volcano. I was there and I liked the sky. That's what really got me, it was a cool looking sky. It's quite a cool country. It's isolated."

BraveWords: Had Anvil played there?

Reiner: "Yeah, we did. We've been to Australia a few times, and we have a tour actually pending right now to maybe go back in February. We're one of the few Canadian bands that are lucky enough to go there, from my understanding. It's far to go, but I'll tell you, it's hard to leave because it's so beautiful. It's like Canada - you're Canadian - so if you go there, you'll say, 'Man, this feels kind of like I'm home." But then you'll also feel a nice touch of America, a little bit, and you'll get tonnes of UK. That's what Australia's like, it's three in one." 

BraveWords: What's the story behind this? This is the only human being in any of your paintings! And it’s just his behind!

Reiner: "That's one of our roadies, back in the day when we used to rent those types of vehicles. That's from the early ’80's. I took a picture from the car, and they drove beside us. We were driving along, and these guys come zooming beside us, and that's what we see, right? So I go, 'Fuck man'. Click. And that's all it was. So I made a picture of it."

"And this is Aushwitz. This is something else. Those are the actual gas chambers, there is a whole row of them, still existing. That's all that's there. The rest of it has all been burned down. But this is still all the original. Lips and me went there maybe ten years ago. They were filming Anvil Two - you know they did film an Anvil Two, kind of. There was a lot of footage that got shot. And part of it was that we would go visit this spot. So when I was there I took a bunch of pictures and I made, I wanted to make three, I've got two and I've got another one upstairs I'll show you. It was a mind-blowing experience, actually. So many people actually said to me, 'Oh it's just a fake, it never happened, it's just a museum, they staged it so that people would think that it happened'. All this fucking shit, man. Like, how would someone just dream this stuff up? It's real, I mean you're standing in front of it, why would this be fake? I'm in this room and there's like 80 million pieces of people's hair, and their baggage and their shoes. What are they talking about? This ain't fake. You can see that it's real. Anyway, so that's what that was, and I made a painting of it way back when."

"And that's a very famous theatre in England, the Shepherd's Bush Empire, we played there, that's why it says Metal On Metal, that's how they built the gate, but it didn't say Anvil, that's all it said. We played there one time, back in 2010." 

BraveWords: Can I ask you a question in particular with respect to Stonehenge and I won’t make a Spinal Tap reference! Did you feel anything spiritual when you were standing there? 

Reiner: "Yeah, yeah. Yes I did. There's a lot of energy there. That's what I feel. You just feel this energy. I don't know if it's because you think you should, or if you're hallucinating it, but the funniest thing about those rocks - not this time, but another time, is that we jumped over to them. There's like a little rope - it's bordered off, and there's security people standing around. Anyways, we hopped it and ran up to a stone to touch it. We had to do it, it was almost like, how could you not do it? And what blew us away was that it was a hot, hot boiling, sunny, beautiful day and when we touched the stones they were ice cold. Ice cold, like frozen, like refrigerated. I can't make sense of it. I mean, usually the sun, it absorbs heat, right? But I was like, 'Whoa, it's fucking freezing'. That was the weird thing about the experience.” 

BraveWords: And via the success of your movie, Anvil! The Story Of Anvil, it placed you right on stage with Conan O'Brien.

Reiner: "We actually played on that show, we didn't just sit on the couch. We did something that most celebrities don't do - we got to talk and play. That was so surreal. See, a lot of that Anvil movie stuff that happened years ago was cool, but a lot of it was surreal. To me it was surreal. You start hanging around with, to me, not our crowd. We would be going to these Hollywood parties, thinking we don't fit here, I don't know anybody. Meanwhile there's Clint Eastwood, and all of these famous, super famous people. We were a bunch of scumbags walking around. Meanwhile they were like, 'You guys are Anvil, that's so cool!', and I'm going, 'This is the most fucked up thing I've ever been involved in!'."

BraveWords: And what is the one painting that sticks out, that's close to your heart? Or are they like your children and you can't pick just one?

Reiner: "Yeah, it's more like that. I don't have a favourite. And that's the truth. They're kind of all the same. They're finished, and once you finish one of these things, it's like a song. It's recorded, pull down the fader, tune's over. More than likely we'll never play it again, and not because it's no good, it's just you can't. But it lives on your record forever. To an artist, paintings come and go that way, too. You sign it, and you move on. I don't get too attached to it that way. As I said, I'd like to exhibit it, because there's nothing like looking at art. It's like, you can listen to a record, but it's not like the live show. You go to a live show and you feel it, hear the volume. It's the same with art, standing in front of it. If you want, you could touch it, so that's an experience. I'd like to do a real nice show where people can come and gawk at them. I've done them, but not here. My son wants to be a curator. He wants to do it. I would do it, but I don't want to sell them. I'd want people to come and see an exhibit, to look at them, that's it. It's all about the experience. Come and check them out. If you want to buy the book and merch, that's another thing. I mean you could offer me some crazy money and I'd probably say no because I've already been offered pretty crazy money, where people say I should go see a psychologist or psychiatrist, honestly. I just don't want to do that. That's it. Primarily I like to work the book, the book's quite popular. I'm actually making another one now.”

With numerous records under his belt, performing in most countries around the globe, with added fuel from their hit movie, Anvil! The Story Of Anvil, Robb Reiner isn’t fazed by fame. And his painting expertise takes him to another level, yet he remains level-headed and soft-spoken. He lets his passions speak for themselves. Marching to the beat of his own drum. And remember, at the end of the day, “metal on metal it's the only way.”

“Like Danny Bonaduce once said to me, 'Man, it doesn't pay to be a legend’,” he recalls as our tour winds up. “And he was not so wrong. There are so many legendary people but there's no big paycheque that comes with that so-called status. So no, I don't think about things like that. I just go on about my scope. I don't think about it much unless I'm reminded.” 

You can learn more about Fine Art Paintings and buy his book, The Canvas Collection, at this location.

All photos by Sephora Henderson

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