Hard Talk

Interview with Annihilator’s Jeff Waters

Annihilator are considered by many as one of the forefathers of the thrash metal movement of the 80’s. And to others, Annihilator are considered as, “Who?” Yes, this too surprised me as well. But being as their success has mainly been in Europe and Japan, the North American shores have not seen Annihilator play a show since 1993. Even their homeland of Canada.

Over the years Annihilator’s music may have been hit or miss from one disc to the next. That’s the beauty of a band like this. (Or curse) And the writing of Jeff Waters. The diverse styles from one album to the next always keeps you wondering from one track to the next what the next song will sound like. Annihilator has never bored me as a listener since that first show when I was but a young lad. Although a bit diverse from time to time, Annihilator charge full speed ahead with the latest release ‘ Metal ‘. And that exactly what it is. A full on, true to the genre metal album that will surely win over many new fans, as well as rekindle the spirits of past ones.

I just recently had the chance to talk with metal guitar legend Jeff Waters about, well really about a lot of stuff. I put in as much as I could this time around. Jeff touches on a few topics that I hope you will all find as helpful as I did.

JH: Hello.

JW: Dude, deepest apologies from Jeff Waters here.

JH: Yeah, I left I actually just got back.

JW: Hey, if this is a bad time, we can do it later.

JH: No. This is fine.

JW: Yeah, I just got off the phone with Mr. John Schaffer. He’s doing good. He’s all psyched about the new record and Matt’s back in the band and all that fun stuff that I’m sure all the metal heads already know about. Listening to all his plans and maybe going out on the road with Iced Earth sometime soon.

JH: That would be great. So how’s Mr. Jeff Waters doing today?

JW: Great. Just sitting up here in Ottawa, Canada freezing. It’s minus something, no it’s actually plus 10!

JH: Yeah, it’s been pretty chilly here the past couple weeks.

JW: Where are you at ?

JH: Fort Wayne, Indiana. John’s stomping grounds/hometown.

JW: No shit?! That’s weird. So you didn’t get any of that big storm?

JH: About 8 inches or so.

JW: Ah, that’s not too bad.

JH: So congrats on the new album. Kicks ass.

JW: Another one. Every one you do you just sit back and go, “phwew, got that one done!”

JH: Can you give us a brief rundown on it?

JW: Well it was recorded quite awhile ago. It’s been out in Europe, and Japan for some time now. We’ve only just been able to get a deal for it in the states. Just another Annihilator album so to speak. As far as I was concerned. You know when it’s done, you look back and think there are some good songs or you could have fixed this one or done this or that. I think every artist does that. But as a fan, my favorite bands are Slayer, Priest, Exodus, AC/DC…. But you know, I don’t love every song that they do. You don’t have to like everything a band does. Anyways, when I look back on it, there is some good stuff on there and I like it. At the end of the record I got a call from Michael Amott and Corey Beaulieu. The both just called me up on the same day. Corey said to me, “hey, if it’s not done yet, can I play a solo on it?” I thought it was a pretty bold request at the time. I thought well hell yes if you want to, sure. So later on when I was talking to Amott, I thought if Corey wanted to play on it, maybe Michael would too. So in a day I got two guys wanting to play on it. So the next day I was thinking, wow, that was easy. Maybe I can call Alexi Laiho up . He said yes right away. This is just too damn easy. I got a bit carried away after that. I was actually going to call up some real big names in both the rock and metal genres. It may have got me some more attention and maybe sold me a bit more records, but my girlfriend slapped me back down to reality.

JH: Do not take this the wrong way Jeff, as I’ve been a fan since the beginning, but that would almost look like a sellout or even better, a desperate attempt to try and sell an album.

JW: Yes I know. I was thinking that way for a couple days thinking I can get this guy on or that guy on too. She asked me what got this started. Basically, Corey got this started. The idea was planted by Corey. A close friend. The idea was just to have some close friends on the record. Not the big greats or giants like Priest or someone like that. Those types are all metal friends that you talk to from time to time, but not like real close friends. She said it would hurt my fan base making me look like a sellout. So yes, the next day I came back down to reality. So I proceeded to call a couple more really good friends and they were all very excited to be a part of it.

JH: I really wondered that when I got the promo and saw all the names/guests on there. Like, what’s going on here.

JW: No, I mean it is good for me as it does create a bit of attention to Annihilator’s music. I did know that I would be a target. Like people would be saying, “this guy needs these people on there to sell a record”, which it’s kind of silly because this is our 12th record, and overseas especially we’ve had a thriving career since 1989. Not as much in the states. But Europe and Japan. I’ve made a reasonable living out of it, get to tour the world, have a nice studio. I’ve never had a regular job because of how well I do overseas.

JH: Well it doesn’t help that the U.S. sort of sucks for metal. It always seems more of a corporate say so more than anything. And the markets for metal are so spread out here. I really wish there was more metal radio stations. That would be a good start.

JW: Yes. I have been noticing a lot of great bands coming out of the states since about 2002.

JH: Well there are so many that for some reason or the other will fizzle out because metal in general is still frowned upon.

JW: I’m from Canada. And for years on the internet I’ve been hearing this Annihilator band is always changing musicians, and because of that I’m portrayed as an asshole. Or he shuns the United States and doesn’t tour there or put records out. What happened, I have not even played a show in my home country of Canada since 1993. The same goes for the states. This has noting to do with the fans. There are a couple of different factors. You may remember back around ’93, it was a sin to even mention the words heavy metal. I think that’s when all the grunge was huge. The whole Seattle thing we all know the story there. Unless you were changing you sound or image of your band there was no way that you were going to continue your ’80’s style of metal band. Clubs wouldn’t book you, radio wanted no part of it. Maybe the underground Sunday night shows at 3AM, but that was it. So, one, I got run out of N. America by the business and two, I don’t think my music was even heavy enough to be liked by the new age metal kids who were listening to Pantera or Sepultura. I think around that time I may have had a couple ballads on my records. The ‘Set The World On Fire’ album. It was not the type of music that was going to be accepted in the states. But in Europe on the other hand, that was on of our biggest selling albums. And it continued from there.

JH: Well I’m hoping you get to tour here for this one. It’s been a long time.

JW: Yes it has. You know it’s not an embarrassing thing to be an ’80’s metal band anymore like it used to be. It’s one of the things I noticed with my cliché title ‘Metal’. I did not know what I was going to call it. My website has been Annihilatormetal since the 90’s, and I thought, gees, it’s right there in front of me. So I thought for some time, has Judas Priest ever used that title for an album or compilation? Cause if anyone ever deserved it, it would be them.

JH: I have all of them, and there is not one.

JW: Yeah, it doesn’t seem that anyone ever has. I thought it was really cheesy, but whenever someone asks what kind of music does Annihilator play, I can’t say thrash, although a majority of our music is thrash, but there are also ballads on some of the albums. And such. So, I’ve always just called it metal. So no bullshit here, it’s metal. You know it’s great, I got that title in just before this whole new trend that it’s actually cool to be “metal” again.

JH: The great thing about Annihilator is the fact that you have stuck to your laurels and have not really strayed too far from the metal realm. Some albums, as with any band may be a hit or miss for the fans, but all in all, it’s still metal.

JW: Well yeah, the third album, ‘Set The World On Fire’ was the last one we did for Roadrunner when, “metal was on it’s way out”. And that, to this day is the only record where I actually sat down and planned out what it was going to sound like. We targeted putting a couple ballads on there and made sure that it wasn’t a real heavy record. It worked great overseas. Here, we’re talking about Pantera was the big thing style. They’re brutality was sick.

JH: Now you stated that you composed this album in a fashion much like early Annihilator albums. What was the recipe?

JW: Well, it’s not a big story or anything. For years now, since I have my own studio, I’ll grab a cup of coffee, go down there like a real job and put on a drum machine and just jam out riffs. Use a lot of fancy equipment. All this new equipment, I’ve noticed on the past couple albums, I’ve wasted about 60% of my time tweaking this or that to make it sound cool. This time I just went down to my cold , crappy furnace room with a ghetto-blaster , buy a cassette tape (which was pretty tough), and just sat there with my amp and guitar and play. Really the only common thing was the coffee.

JH: So the production process went smooth?

JW: Yes. Just another Annihilator record. Quick and easy. This whole guest thing at the end of recording was, the record company in Europe and Japan just started jumping up and down about it like, “holy shit, this is great”, sales did go up for this album and yes, I believe it is due to the fact of having all my friends on it.

JH: What’s your favorite track off it?

JW: I really like ‘Operation Annihilation’. And a more commercial type metal trachk for Annihilator is ‘ Couple Suicide’. I just like that because it has a different singer on it , and of course I’m so used to my singer Dave on the past albums he’s been on, and to hear someone else on the Annihilator album was really cool.

JH: So what does the tour schedule look like for ’08?

JW: Well we’ve done a lot of touring for the album, outside the U.S. release for the album already. We did a couple months with Trivium, a month with Iced Earth. Japan, Nevermore , Destruction. Now the label is giving us sort of a pot of money to draw from to do Canadian and U.S. touring. So right now I’ve just been calling around trying to get something lined up. We’ll see what happens.

JH: So what other things are going on in the Annihilator camp?

JW: Nothing much really. Just putting together Australia, U.S., Canada, Japan and just some other interesting things coming up. It’s the holiday season so things all over are pretty slow everywhere. I have to just force myself to relax till the rest of the world picks back up.

JH: Is there anything you’d like to vent about, get off your chest?

JW: The ‘Metal’ album really says everything I’m really pissed off about today. Managers, labels, agencies. Just people that rip you off blind and try to take advantage of you. And the cool thing to is being mid-aged or whatever you want to call it, I’ve been around awhile and have a lot of friends in the “metal” business, but it’s real hard for me, I have to bite my tongue a lot of the time because I see these bands that you know very well, and that are doing very well, sign just ridiculous deals and they’re on the top of certain big charts and they’re getting like $1000 a month to split for rent/food while the management and other fucks are just robbing them blind. I think that kind of become, you know someday I’m gonna be old and some day I’m going to have to pack this in. I don’t know if it will be in 3 years of in 15 years. But guys like Dio and Priest and Maiden are the great examples that you can defy the odds and do what you love. But in my case, one thing I would like to do, if I were to do something else in my career is to manage bands, but not in the traditional sense, but get them out of bad deals and put them in good deals. Sort of help them out. So they get their money and not someone else. To really make sure they have something for themselves. That’s my real pet peeve. How the system is set up to rip everybody off. That’s not anything to really bitch about in one sense because I do know if I don’t like it, I can get out. Right? But, instead of getting out, I’d rather fight against it and help some people out. I’ve already helped a couple bands out of a few bad deals. Who knows, maybe a second career choice.

JH: That sort of what I’ve been trying to get into with a couple bands. Doing consulting, managerial type work while they’re getting started. I’m new at it , but it’s some what beneficial to me that maybe I’m doing some good for someone out there.

JW: That’s great, there’s not a lot of honest people in this business. You know it’s funny cause you see all these bands that are selling a couple hundred thousands records and you have to say to yourself, they’re selling a shit load of records and are making no money. What’s up with that? They’re being brainwashed by the management. A lot of time they’ll just keep the band drunk or stoned all the time and keep them so busy, you see some of these bands being keep out on tour for like two year tours or more. You know if you go out on the internet you’ll know because they are to bands you always, always see in the news who are on tour with this package or that package. Then they’re headlining then they are back to this package. When most see that they think wow, a lot of publicity and money but in reality, the musicians are dying out there. Mentally and physically dying out there because they haven’t had a break for years. The tours are being set up so the artists aren’t making the money. Everybody else behind the scene is.

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