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Jeff Waters (Annihilator)

Interview with Jeff Waters from Annihilator
by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos at 11 July 2010, 12:07 PM

ANNIHILATOR have just released a killer album and METAL TEMPLE had the chance to speak to Jeff Waters and get in-depth info about it. Jeff is a really down-to-earth person and is very nice to talk to. So, read below what the conversation was all about.

Hi Jeff, this is Dimitris from METAL TEMPLE how are you?
Fine man thanks.

Ok, let’s start; first of all, you have a new record deal with Earache. Did the problem with SPV had an effect to ANNIHILATOR?
No, we actually were very very lucky because we had just finished our record deal one week before SPV applied for bankruptcy. So, you see we were very lucky…

Great. So, what did convince you to sign with Earache?
After SPV was finished we decided to do something a little bit different; we decided to take our time and not worry about a new deal and deadlines and things like that, so, we just took our time and just did the album. When we finally looked for a deal we had offers from Nuclear Blast and a couple of other labels but then Earache came the last minute and said that they would like to try with this album. They offered a better deal with money and terms of the agreement than the other labels. Then we said, “Are you sure?” (laughs). They really wanted the album and I had the feeling we should try a little different and new by going with a company with a different outlook, a different thing. But, you’ll never know, I mean you could be with the biggest company in the world or the smallest one and what really counts is a good CD. Let’s say, if you had a very bad CD, a shitty CD and the company puts a lot of money on promotion, most of the time it would not do well, because when someone is going to listen to or buying it then will say that it sucks. And since the internet is a word of mouth, you know if there’s a new good album, people will hear first from the internet, you know… But I think we did a good job on this album.

Yeah you did! So, did you have the album ready before signing the contract?
Yeah, most of it. I mean the mastering we did it 3 times and all that. The most of it was almost finished. And that was good for me because we got the chance to work without worrying about deadlines and also had a lot of time to mix it and then to remix it up for second time to make it better. During the 21 years of ANNIHILATOR making CDs this is the first one when we had no deadline.

Great. Ok, let’s talk about the music in the new album. First of all, is it my idea or the album opener has something from “Alice In Hell”? The opening riff for example.
Yes, there’s a little bit of feeling in that album on a couple of the riffs I think. The intro, right after the middle of the song I think it has a little kind of a nod or a smile from the early days but not all the song; just a couple of little things. And there are a few things in the guitar parts I did for the record. “Alice In Hell” was not actually our biggest record, we have the feeling that other album are bigger, more popular like “Never, Neverland” or “King Of The Kill” and it depends from the country if gonna like a record or not. ANNIHILATOR have a history in some countries our CDs would be very big, some countries would not so big and then we’ll do the next album and we go down in a country and up in another. So, it’s kind of very interesting and cool to have this kind of variation. We’re not always successful; we’re not always doing bad. We’ve ups and downs. ANNIHILATOR is really a Heavy Metal band mixed with a Thrash band. So, one minute we can have harmonies and instrumentals and even sometimes ballads and love songs and maybe a little bit of Jazz or Blues somewhere in the songs. And the next minute we take from the Thrash Metal or Speed Metal that I liked when I was a teenager. And I still like today.

You’re from Canada, a great country with Thrash.
Indeed, in Canada, we have three very important bands for Thrash and Speed Metal; EXCITER, ANVIL and RAZOR. And back in the early 80s these 3 bands were very important, while RAZOR was a little bit later in the 80s, but there were classic albums form these bands and they’re very influential on the big bands.

I could not agree more. You said that the idea for the new album was born from a nightmare, including “Alice”?
I watch a lot of horror movies and do you remember the movie “The Exorcist” with Linda Blair? So, the exorcist girl I think she was in one of my dreams and I woke up very frightened. So, I wanted to make a mix about the exorcist girl and Alice like a dead ghost of Alice (laughs).

This is why the artwork is like that?
Yeah, it’s a cross between the dead ghost of Alice and Linda Blair from “The Exorcist”. It’s a kind of a haunting cover but it was different for us because it was more dark cover for us.

Actually, it’s the first album that doesn’t have the logo, the classic ANNIHILATOR logo.
We talked with the artist about it and where do we put the logo and he said great, you don’t need the logo because we’ll put the name in the girl’s forehead (laughs). And we thought that was a good idea. In the next album I’m sure that the logo will come back. For this album this is perfect…

So, what about your composing process; did you have in mind what the sound should be?
Not really. We just went to the studio with a cup of coffee and jam with drums and write riffs, have fun with no pressure. We had a little more attitude and aggression in tabs like being a bit more angry this time and hence the sound of the album is better. I also had more time to work and do it in my way. So, the sound is better, the singing is much better than it was in the past.

Great. What about the lyrics; is there any concept behind them?
No, it’s just the same as always; each song is something different. All our lyrics and songs are about life; the mean the good and bad things in life. Things we see on TV or hear in the news, or things we see in our friends or family, things that happened to people and made us happy or sad or angry, you know… Whatever. So, we can get an idea of watching TV or from a bad business partner, like a record company, lying or making false promises, or a death from a family member. Also I wrote a love song for my son when he was a little baby. Then we write some cruel, angry songs like “Coward” or “Ambush” or something from the new record, you know? It depends on the day and the time, sometimes we write songs of hate, others we write songs of love and everything in the middle.

Just like life.
Exactly! So, sometimes the songs are important talking about important or not important things.

So, how do you built the songs, do you start from a single riff or you just work as it comes? Do you have a certain recipe to write songs?
Yeah, every time it starts with the guitar riff. So, it’s always the guitar and the drums. The way I am doing this for many years is sit down and write riffs because if I put pressure to write a good song, it never works. So, I just take away all the pressure and I just grab the guitar and jam to our drum machine usually, or drummer. And I just jam cool riffs and sometimes my riffs are good, sometimes not so good and sometimes they’re really good but too much like my favorite bands, so, I have to be careful because I’m also a fan, right? So, I sometimes jam a riff and I love it, it’s great and my finger tells ‘hey, that’s too much like EXODUS. (laughs)

When you are writing songs do you listen to music, or you avoid listening?
I remember there was an album I did that, in 1994, called “King Of The Kill”. It was a very successful album and it was really good British Wave Of Heavy Metal kind of album and it was coming from a Canadian band. I think that was the time when I remember hearing the song “Five Minutes Alone” by PANTERA. That album was… I really have to fight strong trying to keep that influence away from my music because everybody was been influenced by PANTERA and I love the band and the drum grooves and Dimebag’s playing and it’s really easy to start writing songs like the people you like. So, I had to stop listening to that album because I knew I would start writing too much like it and that was not…

Of course… I think it’s the first time for ANNIHILATOR to have the same singer for 3 albums.
Yeah and if you don’t count myself singing in “King Of The Kill”, “Refresh The Demon” and “Remains”. Dave joined the band almost 8 years ago and he was just a new guy without a lot of experience on stage. But he was very good guitar player and singer and I thought I could work with him and make it better. He worked hard and made himself better despite the fact that some of the press or the fans still don’t like what he is doing, he just kept going forward and getting better and working hard and now he’s able to stand on the stage in front of 30000 people without me by his side; he can just stand and talk to the crowd and take over the band. And after 4 albums and all these years where people and the most of our fans all over the world know him and he’s the frontman , he’s ANNIHILATOR’s guitar player, it’s cool I have got a partner with the band finally.

Eventually. Have you ever thought of getting a drummer and a bass player and not only just for touring?
No, I kinda like working with other drummers and getting to know different styles. I just sit down at the beginning of a record and say ‘who do we like to drum’. It’s great to sit down and say ‘lets try this drummer’, it’s kind of cool. And also we love to work with so many musicians; it’s a strange way to do it but it’s fun to work with so many different people.

Ok, that’s fair enough. Now I have a question about a rumor I read on the internet; I read that you can’t play live “Crystal Ann” in the original speed?
I don’t know where people got that because playing fast is not important but it’s fun sometimes and there are other guitar players who play much faster than me but that’s one thing about my playing is that the last years in the albums, I’ve got faster songs and I play faster than everything I did in the early days; so, again, it doesn’t mean anything. “Crystal Ann” was not a very very fast song at all.

It has a lot of melodies, a lot of arpeggios, it’s very cool.
Yeap, but if you listen closer songs from our new record, you’ll see that they are faster.

What about the touring plans? Will you go to the US?
We are going to start hopefully the real tour on September in Europe and then, of course we have to play a show in Athens or maybe in Thessaloniki and we can do that on October or something.

You should. Do you remember the first you were here in Greece?
Yes, I think it was for “Never, Neverland”. We had these really cool couple days off from touring with JUDAS PRIEST, so we came and play at the Rodon club and that was fun. And then we played later on “Carnival Diablos” tour with NEVERMORE, there was a lot of fun.

Is there an ANNIHILATOR song that is the most difficult to play live?
Some of the ones we never play because it can be very difficult. And the reason is that on stage we have another guitar player who is good but cannot play some of the songs that I could do, and sometimes we have a song that we want to play but we realize that I can’t sing and play at the same time. We have some songs like that, but that’s not because of the people of the band, it’s because it’s hard to play guitar and sing; that’s very difficult, You know, like James Hetfield writes his songs so when he’s stop singing, he’s doing the most cool things with his guitar and all the technical riffs. I, for example, I do not write songs like that, I just take my guitar and play and I don’t think about the singing. We might try “Imperiled Eyes” though, from “Never, Neverland”; that’s really a difficult song to play very tight, it’s a difficult song but we might play it again sometime.

 What about the album producing; do you see it as a daily job or is it something that you like doing?
When we started recording our first demos and I had to learn how to record them by myself because nobody else had don it before. So, that was my training period to become an engineer. Later on, when we did “Alice In Hell”, I ended up learning from an engineer and he taught me a lot of things and finally, when I did “King Of The Kill”, I bought my own recording studio and I learn all about how to record and that, and it was like a hobby; it was fun. And then, I really got to and liked it and started to buy a lot of equipment; so, it’s my fun thing…

I got it. So, there has been more than 20 years from the first ANNIHILATOR album; have you ever thought of doing something special to celebrate these years?
No, it’s really strange that some people celebrate album anniversaries and all these kind of stuff, but for me, since I finish a record and go on tour, I’m in a different life; it’s almost like all the others belong to the past. And I’m lucky because in some countries “Alice In Hell” was a popular record and helped us to be a name and I’m grateful for that but then even after that record, we had a bigger record which sold many more copies and it was more popular and then, later “King Of The Kill” was even bigger; it’s not like METALLICA. You know METALLICA had the “Black Album” and that was the album that broke walls and was their huge start everywhere in the world. But with ANNIHILATOR, the things are totally different. We had a little small success around the world with different albums, “Alice In Hell”, “Never, Neverland”, “King Of The Kill” etc.

So, don’t you feel the need to celebrate the band, the 20 years of the band, the ANNIHILATOR being active for more than 20 years?
You know, most of the time all these celebrations and anniversaries come from the business side and usually it’s the manager or the record company that push the band to release some anniversary stuff; some times the band wants to do it but mostly the companies are involved into it. Take JUDAS PRIEST 30-anniversary of “British Steel”; that makes sense - that was a pretty cool anniversary. But in my case, nobody wants to talk about 20 years or something. And what about the band, we just never really care about that. What are we going to do? An anniversary for the 20 years, and then the 25, and then the 30 years? It doesn’t make sense! We don’t want to look back, we just play; we write songs, record albums, play live shows, we move forward. We don’t want to remember ANNIHILATOR for the past but for now, you know.

Jeff, thank you very much for your time; unfortunately, because of the volcano thing we didn’t make it to make this a face-to-face interview.
Yeah, I know, I was stuck in Stockholm because of the volcano and I didn’t make it to visit Greece, But hopefully, I’ll meet you in October or something.


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Edited 17 September 2021

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