Annihilator, interview with Jeff Waters

Nothing seems to be able to shake Jeff Waters’ passion and faith in his baby, Annihilator. Three record companies in three albums. Indeed, at the time of the excellent Schizo Deluxe, AFM Records never allowed him to promote the album he was so proud of. Which led him to sign with SPV. Unfortunately, shortly after, the label stopped all promotion on all their bands because of serious financial problems. Having taken refuge with Earache Records, Jeff Waters has still got his head firmly screwed on, and continues on his merry way with a smile.

Once again, Annihilator is about to strike hard with a new, self-titled album. Since the bombshell that was All For You, Annihilator never stopped trying to reach perfection, with a series of high quality albums. It’s obvious that Dave Padden, with whom Jeff admits he now forms a real duet, has a lot to do with it. With his youthful looks, Dave is the frontman all bands dream of: charismatic, he turned out to be an excellent guitarist and a vocalist with a powerful voice and a large register – the shadow of Mike Patton is never too far. Add to that Jeff’s qualities as a rhythm guitar player and his incredible sense of melody (which we shouldn’t even have to talk about after a 20-year career), and you get an awesome, unique thrash band. We took stoke of this whole situation with an extremely agreeable Jeff.

(NB : The first answers were in French.)

Jeff Waters: Hello, Nicolas! Comment ça va?

Radio Metal: Hi Jeff! How are you doing?

Très bien, et toi ?

Très, très bien ! (In French) Are we doing the interview in French or what?

You know what, you could ask me the questions in French and I’ll answer them in English.

Ah, but I already have written my questions in English!

Well, you only have to translate them back into French! Come on! You have to make me work!

That would take too much time! So if you don’t mind, we’ll do this in English.


Alright, let’s go then. Last year you released a live album and DVD entitled Live At The Masters Of Rock. Do you consider it was the right time to release a live album or was it a pretext to release the band from its contractual commitment to SPV? Or both?

After the Metal album was finished, we went on tour and we gave a lot of shows in Europe, almost a hundred. I realized that our record company, SPV, was having a lot of problems, very serious problems. I tried to leave and break my contract by offering them the Live At The Masters Of Rock DVD. They agreed and let me go. One week after SPV released me from my contract, they went bankrupt, so I was very lucky. Also, the Masters Of Rock DVD was a very good thing to happen to us. The fans really like to see us live, and it’s the first live DVD for us.

The live set on this DVD focuses mostly on the classic ANNIHILATOR tracks and only contains two songs from the Dave Padden era. Do you have plans in the near future to release another more consistent live album which would focus a little bit more on the four albums with Dave Padden?

We wanted to just get the old songs out of the way. When we start touring in September, we’re probably going to change the set-list and play more songs from Schizo Deluxe, All For You, Metal and the new CD. We’re of course going to play three songs from our new album. You’re right, we’re going to do more songs from the Dave Padden era, ‘cause he’s been here for four CDs and eight years. He’s my partner, now. ANNIHILATOR is now Jeff Waters’ and Dave Padden’s band.

«We were out before they went bankrupt, so we were lucky. Lots of the bands that were on SPV have big, big problems now.»

You mentioned SPV’s bankruptcy earlier. How did you live this situation?

We were out before they went bankrupt, so we were lucky. Lots of the bands that were on SPV have big, big problems now.

The last time we talked, you said that SPV was a very good label and you were very happy with them. Then, why did you want to leave in the first place?

Because they stopped all the promotion on all of their bands. Everything was going well for ANNIHILATOR and all the other bands, and one day, everything stopped. When that happens, it usually means that the company is having big problems with money. I’ve been in the business for 21 years now, and experience told me that this means you have to get out fast. I was very lucky to get out.

It looks like you’ve been unlucky with record labels in these past few years. According to our last interview with you in 2007, at the time of Schizo Deluxe, you were dissatisfied with AFM Records, which didn’t allow you to tour in support of the album. Do you think you’ve finally found the right label with Earache?

It depends. I mean, it’s a very difficult business, and most bands would have quit and would be finished by now. But I don’t quit. I take the bad things that happen, I fight and I turn them into good things. What happened with AFM Records is that its president died in 2004 in a car crash. It was a very sad event and caused problems with the label. I couldn’t help SPV going bankrupt either, that was not my fault! It was kind of bad luck, but I don’t give up. I just fight and smile and think positive, and everything works out eventually. Now I have a good label that puts a lot of promotion into the new record. It’s probably our best album in 15 years, so we’ll see what happens!

I’ve read that the album was already finished as of May 2009. Did you feel frustrated with having to wait almost a whole year before seeing the album finally released?

No, no. When we released the Masters Of Rock DVD, people really liked that. It gave us time to relax, and we spent a lot of time on the record. We didn’t have to rush it. It also gave me time to do other things, like mixing and producing. But most importantly, it meant I could take my time to write a new album, and make sure that it was one of the best, instead of just another good CD.

You sound like an extremely positive person – am I right?

I have to, because I take care of the business and it’s a shitty business to be in! It’s great to be an artist and to be able to create paintings or music or whatever, but the whole system is set up with managers, publishers, record companies, merchandise… And they all want to rip you off. You have to be alert and strong, you have to be careful, educated, you have to make mistakes and learn from them. It’s almost like survival. You gotta want to survive and do well.

This new album is self-titled. Usually, bands do that to make a statement, to put forward the fact that the album is special. According to you, what is special about this album that justifies calling it Annihilator?

At first I couldn’t think of a title. I had no idea what to call this album! And my partner told me: “People seem to really like the demos you played, they seem to think that Jeff Waters and Dave Padden did something much better than many of the last CDs. If it’s a special CD, why don’t you just self-title it?” So you’re right, it’s a statement. Dave Padden is not the new singer, he’s an experienced, James Hetfield-like frontman on stage. He’s at a level where he’s one of the great metal frontmen, and he’s a partner. It is a statement: we’re doing well, we’re doing better, and we’re still putting out good music.

I know you were very proud of Schizo Deluxe. How would you compare both albums?

I’ll get the rights to that album back soon. Because Dave and I love that album so much, and because it didn’t get a good chance from AFM Records, I almost want to give it to the audience when I get the rights back. It’s one of those really good records that never got heard. The sound on that album was very good; the guitar sound was the best I’ll probably ever get. I don’t think I can ever get that sound again! And Dave Padden’s vocals on that album are fantastic. This is the fun part about being an artist: sometimes you write great songs, and sometimes shitty songs; sometimes you write average songs, and sometimes classic songs. It happens with every band. On this new album, we really got something special, but we didn’t try to do that. You can’t make it special, it just has to happen. Many things have to be in the right place and come together to make a special record. This one was quite special, compared to many of the old ones.

For the first time in ANNIHILATOR’s career, the classic band logo is missing from the artwork. Instead the band’s name is carved on a gloomy girl’s forehead. Why did you decide to abandon the classic ANNIHILATOR logo?

A lot of things were different this time. The album is self-titled, it doesn’t have the logo, as you said, and it’s the 13th ANNIHILATOR studio album, so it’s kind of superstitious, I guess! (In French) I was born on 13th February 1966, at 13:00, at 1 p.m. It’s a funny coincidence that it seems to be a different record. The cover shows kind of a ghost of Alice.

You said you were born on 13th February. Was it a Friday, by chance?
I don’t think it was a Friday. I’d like to know, though, so I’ll look into history books. That would be great!

(Talking about last album’s artwork) « It came from a dream I had, it was like Linda Blair from the Exorcist movie, something like that. I saw a girl at the end of my bed, floating about half a meter from the floor. I woke up and I wrote an e-mail to my artist.»

Who’s the girl on the cover? Is she Alison Hell?

It came from a dream I had, it was like Linda Blair from the Exorcist movie, something like that. I saw a girl at the end of my bed, floating about half a meter from the floor. I woke up and I wrote an e-mail to my artist, saying: “You have to draw a cover with a really evil, satanic ghost, like a ghostly Alice. She’s dead, but we’re still haunted by her.” I thought it would be a funny cover, but in the end it looks more like a death metal cover! It’s a very scary cover!

What is she so angry at?

I don’t know, I guess she’s mad ‘cause she’s dead! Or maybe she’s just angry at fake, poser metal bands! (laughs)

To tell you the truth, the first time I saw the artwork for the album, I thought: “Looks like ANNIHILATOR’s changing”. I really thought I was going to hear a different ANNIHILATOR, perhaps more modern. But once I listened to the album, I heard ANNIHILATOR doing what it does best, maybe a little bit more aggressive than usual. Has the idea of making a modern metal record crossed your mind at some point?

No. I think this album sounds more aggressive because of the mix that I got, and because Dave Padden’s vocals are more angry. It makes people think it’s heavier than it is. If you listen to the first song, it’s almost melodic heavy metal, but then the sound gets pretty heavy and thrash. The music is more melodic, but the vocals and the mix are thrashy. Just what I love!

During the interview we did in 2007, you told us that you were usually writing a lot, and at the end of the day you ended up with two albums worth of material.

Yeah, I end up with lots of riffs. Not lately, though. But sometimes, when I’m at home or on tour, I can go in the studio or at the back of the tour bus, and write something like 20 riffs in a couple of hours. Later I get rid of the shitty ones, keep the four or five ones that are pretty good, think about them again, and I end up with two or three really good ones. If you do that every day, you can have up to four hours worth of riffs! I have enough to write 20 albums! It’s good to write riffs, ‘cause riffs are the main thing, but it’s how you put them together in a song that counts. These great riffs could make a shitty song, so you have to spend a lot of time putting them together properly.

Have you used some material dating back from the Metal sessions or did you want only fresh material?

There’s a riff on Metal that sounded very much like one from the record called All For You! I forgot what it was, but Dave was like: “That’s almost the same riff as that other song!” Sometimes you hear a riff and it stays in your head for ever. It must be easy for a band to keep writing the same riff because they like it so much. But you have to keep writing and make choices, and hopefully make the right ones.

Sometimes I go back and write a riff, and I realize that it’s the same style of riff as 15 years ago. Sometimes I write something and go like: “Oh, that’s from METALLICA’s Garage Days!” Because I’m such a fan of music, I can write something and realize that it sounds like SLAYER or something. In this case I have to make a decision: if I really like the riff, do I use it and take the risk to sound like SLAYER, or do I just get rid of it and write another one. Sometimes you can hear some IRON MAIDEN, some PRIEST, even some AC/DC-like riffs. It’s because I’m such a fan of those bands.

Metal featured a lot of guests. Didn’t you want to reattempt the experience, especially with Dave Mustaine, who you tried to involve in Metal but couldn’t because of his busy schedule at the time?

Dave and I have been friends for six years now, and I’d like to write a few songs with him. When we have time in our schedules, we always talked about meeting up and write songs together, outside of ANNIHILATOR. I’m sure we will someday, but we just don’t have the time yet. Dave’s on tour, and I’m over in Europe. We’ve also talked about ANNIHILATOR going on tour with them in Europe, I hope that happens. As for the guests thing, I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I had a great time on the Metal album with all these musicians, it was an honor for me to play with them, and I hope it was an honor for them too. But it’s time to go back to doing a new killer ANNIHILATOR album!

It looks like Dave Padden is getting more and more involved in the band. He now provides the second guitar while singing and, since you also get to sing on some songs, you two seem to form a perfect duet…

Back in 2002 or 2003, Dave was kind of a new, inexperienced singer. But I took a chance in him because I knew he liked some of the newer styles in metal, but he was also a big Halford and Dickinson and SLAYER and Hetfield fan. He knew a lot about music and he was also a good guitar player. I thought: “That’s the kind of singer I need for the band.” In the beginning, a lot of fans didn’t like him and didn’t give him a chance, and I understand that. But Dave didn’t quit, he didn’t get depressed and sad about it. He did what I do: he fought and survived, he worked hard and he tried to do better. In eight years, he went from an inexperienced new singer to a guitar player/singer/frontman who plays in front of 30,000 people and gets the crowd going. He’s also great in the studio for us. There’s no question about it, it’s now Jeff Waters’ and Dave Padden’s ANNIHILATOR.

Does he have more input in the composition process, for example?

He writes lyrics on every record. Some people like to go and sit in the studio and write songs and be creative all the time – that’s me. Dave’s not like that. He likes to go out and party and have fun and be with his friends; he even has another job where he lives. We’re opposite personalities. I like to stay in the studio and work when I’m home, and he likes to go out and socialize. The only time he can write songs for me is when I fly him to my studio in Ottawa, Canada, and I tell him: “Here’s two or three songs, write the lyrics!” I force him to do it, and he’s really good at it. He just doesn’t have the drive to write.

At the end of the record, there’s a cover of VAN HALEN’s “Romeo Delight”. It’s quite a surprising choice for a thrash metal band. Actually, not a lot of bands would risk covering VAN HALEN mainly because of Eddie’s incredible guitar skills… Was it the challenge that motivated you in covering this song?

I wasn’t planning to pick a song because I liked it, but because it had changed my career, or my guitar playing, or my musical direction or something. That album from VAN HALEN, Women And Children First, in 1980, had a big influence on my guitar playing career. Actually, “Romeo Delight” was a very heavy song in 1980. Of course nowadays we see it as a party rock song with David Lee Roth and great guitar playing, but back in 1980, it was considered a very heavy and aggressive song. That turned me on to bands like JUDAS PRIEST, BLACK SABBATH and IRON MAIDEN. That song was very influential for me, and that’s why I covered it. I was trying to do a cover song of the best guitar player in history, but I wasn’t worried. I’m such a fan, I love Eddie and I love his playing, so it was a lot of fun to try it.

(About the cover of «Romeo Delight») « I wasn’t planning to pick a song because I liked it, but because it had changed my career, or my guitar playing, or my musical direction or something. That album from VAN HALEN, Women And Children First, in 1980, had a big influence on my guitar playing career.»

Your guitar sound seems different on this cover song compared to the rest of the record. Were you trying to get closer to the classic VAN HALEN sound? Actually, you’re even using the phaser effect VAN HALEN’s well known for using…

What Eddie did in 1980 was use only one guitar. Usually, you put one guitar in the right speaker, and one in the left speaker; but Eddie only had one. I tried to copy that idea, that production style. I also used the same pedals he was using. I collect VAN HALEN things, like shoes and guitars and pedals, everything. I just tried to have fun doing this, the whole thing was fun.

It sounds like you really had a blast while doing this cover! How come you did so few cover songs before in your career? The only one I can recall is a JUDAS PRIEST song…

We never had anything on our official CDs, but we had JUDAS PRIEST’s “Hell Bent For Leather” as a bonus on our Set The World On Fire LP in 1993. We also did an AC/DC cover for a live album. This is the first one that’s on an official album, and it was cool to do it. It’s probably the last one I’m gonna do on an ANNIHILATOR CD. Someday, when I get really old, maybe I’ll do a cover album or something, but not now. “Romeo Delight” meant a lot to me and it was a lot of fun.

When listening to ANNIHILATOR’s albums, and especially this new one, we can really hear that you put a lot of creativity not only in your solos but also in the rhythm parts. This is also something which is particularly striking in VAN HALEN’s songs. In this regard, could we say that you’re somehow the VAN HALEN of thrash metal?

If I said yes, I’d look like an asshole! But the one similarity is that VAN HALEN was very good at rhythm guitar playing, songwriting and guitar solos. I think in my own way, in my own style of music, I’m good at writing songs, playing rhythm guitar and doing solos. Same thing with Michael Amott. Not all guitar players have all three of those qualities, many have only two. For example, Hetfield is a great songwriter and rhythm player, but he’s not a solo shredder. Glen Tipton is the best example of all these qualities: he writes great songs and shreds on guitar and is great at rhythm playing. But there are not many people that do these three things very well. So yeah, maybe there’s a little comparison!

Since the album was ready almost a year ago, I guess you had time to write for the next one. Then can we expect a quick follow up?

I’ve just been writing riffs, I haven’t been putting the songs together. There’s some stuff ready, but I’m too busy focusing on the promotion of the new album and getting ready for touring, the band’s line-up and stuff. When the time to write comes, I’ll have lots to choose from, I’m not worried about it.

Can we also expect a headlining tour this time?

We hope so, maybe in September. We’ll see what happens, though.

I know that, since 1993, you’ve been having a hard time promoting ANNIHILATOR in North America. Do you feel that things are changing?

I never really tried! In Europe and Japan, we’re always pretty successful – in most countries in Europe, not all. I never really tried to go back to the States at all. And if you don’t try, you have no success! It’s my fault. If people wanted me to go back to the States, I would go back tomorrow, because it’s a beautiful country, there are great bands and I have lots of friends there. I just never had real offers to go back there. We’ll see, maybe.

Interview conducted in April 2010 by phone

Annihilator website : www.myspace.com/annihilatorofficial

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