Annihilator: Jeff Waters is no longer feasting solo

Annihilator took their own sweet time. Their new album, Feast, released on August 26th, was three years in the making, when the Canadians are usually a bunch of productive artists, who can deliver quality records as quickly as they play music. But Jeff Waters hasn’t been the sole mastermind behind the band for about ten years now. As Waters himself points out in the following interview, his acolyte and partner Dave Padden plays a major part, making Annihilator more of a real band and less of a solo project disguised as a band. Which is why the decision-making process (in terms of music as well as business) is a two-man thing nowadays, and the current line-up needs a few breaks now and then to stay stable.

Waters also explains the context surrounding this new record: happiness and fun – two elements that are part of the DNA of each and every one of the Canadian band’s albums. It’s all about the joy of making metal, the music that the band’s leader loves so much and that he wants to share with the youngest fans of his group. For in the end, Waters is a simple man, who enjoys metal and food (especially donuts). It is therefore with great simplicity that Annihilator’s guitarist (and bassist, and vocalist, and main composer) talks about himself, and reminds us that honesty is one of the most important things in life.

« When metal’s in your blood, it doesn’t matter what your hair looks like, what your body looks like, nothing matters, your image isn’t important. »

Radio Metal: In the past you told us how you were constantly writing and in 2010 you already had some new riffs. So, if you’re so productive, how comes this album comes out only three years after the previous one?

Jeff Waters: We’ve been doing Annihilator CDs for many years, we did thirteen of them. Usually there’s about eighteen or twenty months between CDs. You know, there’s a lot of guitar riffs that I’ve written since 2008 all the way up to the end of 2010, when we finished touring. And Dave and I decided: “You know what? We’re changing the record company, so why don’t we just take some time to do a lot of good things for Annihilator and for ourselves? And the one thing that we’ll try to do is to not go in the studio and not write songs.” So, we spent almost three years out of the studio. I was in the studio mixing and mastering other bands. I did some guitar clinics for Gibson and Epiphone around the world and we did two South American tours with Annihilator and some festival. We also did the 70,000 Tons Of Metal boat cruise. Lots of fun stuff. I was hosting a jam on the 70,000 Tons Of Metal last year. So we kept very busy with Annihilator and metal but pretty much decided to not go and write. Simply because we thought, maybe, that would give us some life and more energy. You know what I mean? Because I think we could have been right away in the studio and do another CD. But maybe it wouldn’t have been as good as the 2010 release and we just thought it would be a good idea to try something a little different and take our time to come back with some more energy, desire, will, anticipation and excitement. That’s what we did and somehow, I don’t know how, we did a record. We started in middle of January and finished in the middle of April, with the cover and mastering and everything. It took a little over to three month, when it usually takes me four to five months. It was quick. Plus we recorded fifteen songs for some free bonus tracks. So we did a lot of work in a very short time. Dave Padden and I live in different parts of Canada, very far away, many thousands of kilometers away, so we got a break from each other. We didn’t see each other for a long time and then we got together to do the record and it was like “Alright! Let’s do it!”

There’s a song called “No Surrender” that includes some pretty funky parts, especially the introduction, there’s a ballad called “Perfect Angel Eyes”, which is something we haven’t heard from the band in a long time, etc. Were these songs a result of the break you did from the studio?

You know, on the last three or four Annihilator CDs, one thing that we didn’t have is the sort of 80’s kind of ballads I like to write. I was writing them and when I write a ballad, it’s usually a song for a girl or something very melodic and cheesy, it’s kind of very personal. So, sometime in 2007, when I would come up to Dave and say: “Here’s a nice ballad I wrote, do you wanna…”, he would reply: “Ah, I really don’t wanna sing the ballads”, because they’re not something he wrote. So he’d say that maybe I should sing it or leave it off the record. We did that for three or four albums and the thing is that, before that, Annihilator has always had ballads. But this time I played him a song I wrote and asked: “What do you think of this one Dave?” And he said: “Do you know what Jeff? I like this one, so I’ll sing it!” So that’s why that one’s on here now. There’s a song, I think track five, called “Wrapped” and when I wrote the music to that one it was more like an early Guns N’ Roses, Rose Tattoo, kind of hard rock / punk influence. Dave and I thought about it: “You know what? Danko Jones would fit this song better than me or you singing.” So we got our friend Danko Jones to write the lyrics and sing it. So that’s two songs right in the middle of the CD that seems a little bit different than the last three or four CDs. But it’s not different for Annihilator; we’ve always done these kinds of things but not for a while now. And yeah, the other is track four, the intro, for like fifteen or twenty seconds, sounds like a funky Chili Peppers vibe. Not the song but the intro part of it.

And do you actually listen to funk music?

No. I mean, I like it because I’m forty-seven years old, so when I was a twelve years old kid, I was listening to Earth Wind And Fire on the radio. When I was little kid, disco was in, funky stuff was in. So, I think that I have a little bit of that in my head, my brain has a little bit of funky Flea bass and drums in my head. Any little pieces that I liked from old bands, sometimes they find a way into my writing. Just a little bit.

« The cool thing is that there are a lot of musicians that say: ‘You know what? We like your guitar playing but we love your bass playing!' »

On “No Surrender” Dave is shouting “Please God Help Me”, just like Ozzy’s shouting it in the song « Black Sabbath »… Could this be a little wink at Black Sabbath?

Ahah! That was me! That was my voice. That’s good! That’s probably because I love Sabbath! (laughs) I love Ozzy! For sure. There are little pieces of those kinds of things in all of our songs. I mean, we’ve got many songs where we go into a guitar solo and it’s not a fast solo, it’s a very simple one, and a lot of times those usually are in the Maiden or Priest style because I was a big fan of those bands when I was young. And sometimes I use a Wah pedal and then I realize: “Wow, that’s a Kirk Hammett influence coming out !” And then sometimes I do something melodic and I remember Matthias Jabs from the Scorpions or I use the MXR Phase 90 pedal on a solo and realize: “Holy shit! That’s like a Van Halen influence!” It all depends on what comes out at a time.

There’s a song called “No Way Out” that sounds like talking about suicide. This is a pretty common theme in metal music. Why did you or Dave choose to talk about this?

Yeah, it sounds like that this is what we’re talking about, but that song – actually that’s my favorite song on the record, track two – is about one thing they had from January to April on the American TV – we’re from Canada but we also get a lot of the United States television. It was a court trial that was on television every day about a woman who murdered her ex-boyfriend. And this was everyday on the television right when I started working on the Annihilator CD. I would find myself in the studio, working for an hour on a song or a riff, and I went upstair and watched this trial on TV. Then I went downstairs and worked for an hour, then went upstairs for twenty minutes to watch TV. I became very obsessed with the court case on television, with this girl on trial for murder. Finally, near the end of the CD writing I had to write a song about the trial, about this terrible person. So, it’s not about suicide. That was just one of the things that this girl said in her trial: “I almost cut my ex-boyfriend’s head off, stabbed him twenty-nine times and shot him in the head, I felt so terrible that I wanted to commit suicide”. So, that’s how these lyrics came into the song. It’s difficult sometimes, because, one thing I used to do in the past, in the liner notes, is to write a short explanation of what the song is about. It’s good that I do interviews, so I can clear that up, that it’s not about suicide and all that stuff. It’s just part of what she said in her trial.

Once again you recorded the bass parts for the album and actually you have a pretty distinctive and recognizable way of making and playing bass licks…

Yeah! Somebody recognizes that! Yeah! (laughs)

Do you think this adds to the personality of Annihilator’s music?

Absolutely! I mean, a lot of fans and journalists and people in the music business and in other bands, they know me as a guitar player but the cool thing is that there are a lot of musicians that say: “You know what? We like your guitar playing but we love your bass playing!” (laughs) A lot of people don’t realize that I play all the bass on all the Annihilator CDs. Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of the one little thing I wish some people would know. I think that the bass playing sometimes is very good on some of the songs. It’s just because I love Michael Anthony from Van Halen, Geddy Lee from Rush, Steve Harris from Iron Maiden, even Cliff Williams from AC/DC, I mean, he knows when to play one note and he knows when to do something else.

Who’s playing drums on the album? Is it this guy named Mike Harshaw who joined the band not long ago?

Yeah, that’s him. He joined about two years ago and he’s a young kid – I think he’s twenty-three years old – and actually the funny thing is that the three guys in my band were fans of Annihilator when they were teenagers. (laughs) It’s kind of funny for me but I pretend that I’m young! Mike is like a little Mike Mangini, Nick Menza and Dave Lombardo fan. So, he’s like one of these young geniuses that I’m happy to play with. I like playing with some of the older really great drummers in metal, but it’s also cool to sort of discover a younger drummer that really loves metal music and metal drumming.

In the press release you’re saying that “we truly are among the few bands with a long history, that have always waved the flag for honesty, integrity and perseverance in this hard-edged category of music”. Do you think honesty, integrity and perseverance are three qualities that are not so common in the metal world?

I’m trying to think: “Did I really write that?” But yeah, it sounds good! I think honesty in general is important because, for example, the music business gives me a lot of inspiration for writing aggressive or angry lyrics and sometimes music. Because, amongst the people I meet in the music business, record companies, publishing companies, merchandising companies, fans, journalists, managers, everybody, there’s a lot of great people and most people are good people, but there are some of these people that, of course, try to rip you off, try to steal, try to lie to you or try to be dishonest. My anger at some people’s dishonesty is a very main topic on many of the recent Annihilator CDs. So, if I have a bad deal or a bad relationship with someone in the music business, I can use it, as a therapy, and write a song about it and say “fuck you!” to those people (laughs), without mentioning their names. But, honesty in metal, it’s the same thing: most of the musicians in bands and metal are great, but there’s a small group of band when they started off playing music that was not traditional heavy metal or metal and then, whether they changed because their record sales were going down, they changed their image, they changed their style of music… And now they say : “Oh, we’re metal! We’re heavy!” I watched that happen for the last ten years or so. For me it’s kind of funny because, right from the school, when metal’s in your blood, it doesn’t matter what your hair looks like, what your body looks like, nothing matters, your image isn’t important. Testament, Exodus, Overkill, Annihilator, Slayer, etc. these band, it’s in their blood. They may have other jobs or other things but their main thing is metal. There was a big wave in the last six years or ten, when bands would say that they’re metal and they would sell a lot of records, wear makeup and look good on covers of magazines. But they weren’t real metal bands and they were being dishonest about what they were doing. And there were a couple of songs that I wrote about this too but I didn’t name names and I didn’t say whoever I was talking about, it’s just my opinion.

« The music business gives me a lot of inspiration for writing aggressive or angry lyrics and sometimes music. »

Do you think the fact that Annihilator is driven by one man only, for instance you, explains the band’s longevity?

Up until ten years ago, I’d say you’re right. But since Dave Padden’s been on five or six records and he’s been a partner in the band with writing and a lot of the decisions I make with the business stuff and touring, etc. it’s been the Waters / Padden project I guess, at least for the last five or six years. But yes, I think that, in the earlier days, I wanted a band but the problem was that, when you’re writing the drums, writing the bass, writing the guitars, playing the guitars and bass on the albums and when you’re writing lyrics and telling the singer what to sing, you can’t have a band because, it’s really a solo thing, right? So I ended up hiring the musicians to tour with. So I hired a drummer and a bass player. And then, of course, when the tours are done, maybe they join another band or do something else. So I have to find someone else. It’s a very strange way to be in a band but I think that since Dave Padden came along it’s a bit more of a band or partnership feeling. And now that we have the same drummer and bass player for a few years, it’s a little more stable. But that situation was never my goal; I really like working with other musicians too! But now that we’ve had the same voice in the band for many records, a lot of fans – especially new fans – are starting to see Annihilator as a band.

Actually, in 2010 you were already telling us that Annihilator was now the band of Jeff Waters and Dave Padden. Does that mean that you share more duties with him now, like the band’s management or the decisions? How’s your relationship after ten years of playing together?

Yeah, these are some of the reasons why we’re together. He has a lot of the same influences that I do in music. He’s got some newer bands in his style and I’ve got the older bands in my style. But yeah, we share a lot of things, like “what do you think about this tour, this support band or this festival?” Or “What kind of equipment should we use? What kind of company do we want to talk to for endorsements?” We talk about lyrics, of course. In the studio, sometimes he’d say: “I don’t think you should put a guitar solo there, you should put a vocal bridge or a big tremolo solo, not a fancy fast solo…” So, I have his comment and I listen to them. He’s moved into a partner kind of relationship. And I think the fans see that too. It’s pretty clear. You like him or you don’t like him. If you don’t like him, you don’t have to listen to the albums, because he’s probably going to be on the next one too! But yeah, it’s been a really good relationship.

This year is actually the tenth year anniversary of your collaboration. Will you do something special, like a romantic dinner or something? (Laughs)

We already did that after the last CD! (laughs) The cool thing about Dave and I in the band is that when we finished the touring, since we didn’t do any writing or CDs for a long time, we had a lot of time when he would go home and I would go home, I wouldn’t see him for five months. So when we got together to work on the new record, we were very happy and excited to work together again and, yes, bottle of beer. (laughs)

« I party on steak, cheese, rice, cake, donuts… »

The album is called Feast. Beside the bloody « meal » that’s pictured on the artwork, « feast » also echoes to the act of partying. Do you see your career, your music and your shows as a big party?

Hmmm… Or it could be eating a lot of food! (laughs) For the last ten years, for me, a party would be eating lots of food, because I haven’t drank alcohol for the fourteen years. But yeah, it’s just a metal party, a metal feast. When we saw the cover, that’s when we came up with the title. I realized it was very simple: zombies feasting on food, like fans and us feasting on heavy metal music and thrash metal. There’s no real big meaning to it but it just seemed like perfect title for the cover. I mean, the whole thing, whenever you go and make a record, it’s fun, whenever you go on tour, it’s fun and it’s party. You can just party with cocaine, heroin, beer, a pot, cigarettes, donuts or a cake. It depends on what you want to do, right? I party on steak, cheese, rice, cake, donuts…

By the way, could the girl that we see on the cover be the same as we see on the previous album, on All For you and ultimately could she be Alison Hell?

Yeah, there’s always that link. We’re trying to make it look like maybe it’s Alice, maybe it’s not. The last album in 2010, it was a self titled record and for the cover artwork, I said to the artist: “I want like an undead Alice. She’s dead but not really dead because Alison Hell, the ghost, haunts us”, that kind of silly thinking. He went: “OK, I’ll give you an undead Alice.” That’s what the last cover was: a pretty evil, spooky, almost like The Exorcist kind of feeling. And then the new one was not supposed to be like this at all. It was supposed to be a totally different idea but the artist said: “I have to send you this drawing I did with this zombie thing.” He said: “You know what? Let’s do it again, let’s just keep doing it!” The cover, actually, is really cool and the record company had the great idea of making it into a 3D cover. That’s going pretty cool to see it in the next couple of weeks.

Could we see now this girl as Annihilator’s mascot, just as Eddie with Iron Maiden?

It seems like it, yeah! But we just haven’t made a big girl monster on stage with her! (laughs)

There’s a Bonus CD containing fifteen re-recorded songs, “Best Of Annihilator“. Why did you decide to include a best of compilation now, particularly?

It wasn’t really a best of album. These were song that Dave and I decided we’d like to play live over the next year and a half. So there are some songs in there that wouldn’t really be on a best of album and if it was a best of album, then we’re missing some pretty classic songs that we should put on. But Dave can’t play the guitar and sing all the songs in our catalogue because, on some of them, the guitars are just too difficult, to play the guitar and sing at the same time. We just picked songs that we can do live. I have the albums from Exodus, Testament and Scorpions and all the bands that have done re-recordings, some of them I like and some of them I don’t. And I never wanted to do re-recordings because we could never get the re-recordings to be as good as the original one. Because, the original ones are the classics and they were the best. The singers that were singing were the best at the time and my playing was great for those CDs, the drumming was great at the time. So we could never do it as good. But Dave had a good point: in 2007 our CD sales went up and then in 2010 they went up again, when a lot of albums coming out now – like Megadeth’s Super Collider – are selling less and less than before. So Dave said that a lot of new fans have never heard those old songs and can’t find them in the CD stores or the shops. So, why don’t we re-record some songs from the old days that we’re going to play live? I said: “No, I don’t want to sell that, I don’t want to put that out as a release CD.” And Dave said: “Well, then why don’t we just put it as a bonus CD?” And that’s how it worked.

These songs have been re-recorded in 2012. How did you feel while recording those old songs again?

Well, it was cool because I’ve been playing some of the songs – “Set The World On Fire”, “King Of The Kill”, “Alisson Hell”, etc. – for decades, ten, fifteen or twenty years, some even twenty five years. Over those years, live, you play them a little differently, you try different things, you make new versions. So, I had to go back and relearn the original way of playing. Which was very difficult to do but it was a lot of fun.

And haven’t you thought about playing the new versions of the songs, like how you play them live?

No, because more than fifty percent of the fans buying the records and going to concerts now are under twenty years old, so, most of them have really never heard a lot of these older tunes. So we figured: « Let’s just try to get them a little bit closer to the way they were originally done. » It was a challenge; it was a lot of work but also a lot of fun.

I know that you have hopes in doing some music with Dave Mustaine but that you guys never have had time for this. Do you see a possibility for this to happen in the future?

Yeah, I’ll probably call him up when the tour is finished, in the fall on 2014 or something. Maybe I’ll give him a call and say: “Hey Dave, we have to write one song together, just one!” (laughs) Maybe I can convince him. That’s something I’ve always, I won’t say dreamed of doing, but it’s something that I’ve always thought that would be really cool, to see if we can sit down and write one really cool metal song together for fun. I don’t know if he would do it or not but the offer’s there. I’d love to and we talked about it before. It’d be fun. But one guy I’d like to do something with is someday is Danko Jones. He sang on the fifth song on this new CD called “Wrapped”.

Interview conducted by phone on June 25th 2013 by Metal’O Phil
Questions and transciption: Spaceman
Introduction: Alastor

Annihilator’s official website: www.annihilatormetal.com

Album Feast out since August 26th 2013 via UDR / EMI

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