Jeff Waters of Annihilator
Jeff Waters of Annihilator
Interviewed by: Roger Scales
Annihilator are back with their new disc Feast and we caught up with Jeff Waters to talk about it:
It looks like Feast is yet another collection of assaults on the senses. Is the creative process any different now than it was 30 years ago?
Hmmm. Good question I’d say no. The results can be a lot different. The actual process is pretty much the same. I just sit down with what used to be a drummer years ago years and years ago or writing by myself writing guitar riffs and putting together an arrangement and then showing the drummer what to play and then the bass player what to play it’s evolved pretty quickly into me playing everything in my own studio. I might also program a drum machine to jam along to while I’m putting together the guitar riff. I just put the music together by myself now. Slowly built it and record it from there. Usually I write the lyrics myself and sometimes pawn some of the songs off to Dave (Padden, rhythm guitar and lead vocals). It’s more or less the same idea as in the past. When I’m writing the guitar riff I kind of have an idea of how I want the bass and drums to sound so it is in a sense a solo project really but in the last ten years it has been more of a Jeff and Dave band. We decided this time to stop switching drummers and bass players (Mike Hershaw and Alberto Campuzano) out on the road and find a pair we like and keep them around.
“Smear Campaign” to me has the best riff found on Feast and some very cleaver lyrics. Was that written about a particular incident or individual?
Well first off, musically that was a weird one for me because I’ve been a Metallica fan for a very long time. …And Justice For All was my favorite record and after that I slowly started losing them. I’ve liked a few songs here and there especially on St. Anger but honestly the old stuff is the best stuff. The main riff in the verse and in the intro is actually St Anger in style. I think it came out of watching the ‘Some Kind Of Monster” DVD I saw and when the band was just jamming in the studio it just sort of stuck with me somehow and came out in that riff and into that song.
I didn’t really listen to St Anger when it first came out but I saw the movie and then later listened to more of it. Lyrically it had started out after reading some real nasty stuff online about Scott Ian (Anthrax) on a personal level. It was a real nasty personal comment and had gone way beyond what the individual thought of Scott as a musician. It got me thinking about how quickly rumors can spread now (due to jealousy or a personal rift) with social media. You can makeup crap very easily and can possibly ruin someone’s career because of it. 20 years ago that could never have happened.
Jeff, how quickly do you detach yourself from the recording process where you are able to look objectively at the album prior to reading reviews from the press and fans alike?
Objectivity is very skewed for me because not only do I write the music and then play on the record, I also produce, engineer, mix, master the record. Creating the cover art and even writing the album before even stepping in the studio can take up to 6 months or longer. By then my ears are completely shot and trying to hang onto my sanity at that point barely. Physically you’re a mess because you spend so much time on a computer and your wrists and arms are so screwed up from all the studio work. So yes it’s a fuckin’ battle to do these records but at the same time it’s something you love to do. It’s always hit or miss with albums even for me as a fan of other bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Metallica, and Slayer. Any of my favorite bands I have almost all of their records and with them they have some great albums and some not so great albums. Great classic songs and their shitty songs. Same for every artist. I can only look back about a year later and say hmmm..I give it a 6 out of 10. I have my own opinions on what albums of my own are really great songs and others where I go Shit I should have spent more time on it.
Do you write the music first or the lyrics?
Typically the music although sometimes I’ll just write down titles for things over the course of a year or even just subjects to write about as well.
No. Never. It’s always about writing the music first and then liking it. Just continue this process until you get at least ten songs that you like. It doesn’t mean they are all good but at least you have an album’s worth of material. Then you just hope that what you do after that like the performance of the singer for instance, the production work, the lyrics and hope that each of these makes it into a good song. I’ve had songs where I’ve liked the music but I’m not really sure about it but I don’t want to get rid of it and these sometimes end up being the most popular songs on the record. Sometimes the song you think will be the most kick ass song on the record nobody ever talks about! Set The World On Fire (1993) the last record we did for Roadrunner that was the only one where we sat down and talked with the label and they told me listen Waters you like The Scorpions, the melodic Ozzy with Randy Rhoades stuff and more commercial metal and ballads. Why don’t you record an album geared more towards that? Away from the thrash side of things and be more appealing to a different audience.
Ok so I did do that but that was the only time I sat down and targeted a writing style and during that process I came up with stuff that was actually too heavy and had to change it. We actually had to leave off from the last few records a few melodic pieces and a few ballads because Dave was simply saying listen I don’t like or I’m not comfortably singing these melodic songs you wrote for a person or about a certain subject if I don’t feel that I’m just going to destroy the song. On this record Dave did like the ballad I had written for my partner called “Perfect Angel Eyes” which throws the whole project up in arms right in the middle of the record!
You tend to tour predominantly outside of North America. Do you feel that European fans or South American fans have a greater appreciation for metal in general?
No I don’t. For my perspective living in Canada I had a few things going on which has greatly affected my touring in the US. 1993 was the last record that we had released in North America. That means the US and Canada my own home country. I backed out of touring here because nobody wanted us. We got dropped in 1993 after that last record came out because of the great shift that has happening within the industry at that time with the onset of the grunge era. Every label in the US was dropping any band that had metal in their bio. It was really sad and looked like the extinction of metal at that time. Unless you want to change the name of your band and you want to play Pantera, Sepultura, Biohazard style of music was the direct quote from the label representative. As great as those bands are that’s not what my band is about.
I was in a very lucky position where Europe, Japan and the rest of Asia increased our record sales overseas and increased our following there as well. While it was dying out in my own country that traditional metal and thrash our band was getting bigger and bigger, at least up until about 1997. The biggest reason why we didn’t tour in the States and Canada was because nobody wanted us. There were some fans for sure but the industry didn’t want us. The timing was somewhat ironic also at the time because I now had a child and was a single father as the child’s mom died from cancer. I didn’t have the time to tour as much because I had to be a full time dad. When I finally came out to promoters when my child was old enough to let them know I wanted to do more touring we tended to go where we drew the most interest and that was Europe and Japan. I’ve also struggled to get a release here in North America. We are an older band and were never a huge seller back then so it’s been tough. Finally have Feast released here in Ottawa and I’m not used to seeing it anywhere here.
As a collector of live videos of bands like KISS, Van Halen, Scorpions, and Rush growing up in the 80’s I would often obtain material from the Much Music channel, the MTV of Canada. Was that a big part of your youth?
For sure. You guys in the States had “Headbanger’s Ball” and we had what was then called the “Power Hour”. You could see Skid Row, then Slayer, then Metallica then a Dokken video or a RATT video. It was such a big part of my musical maturity and enjoyment of it at that time. It’s not the same now. Sad. We just finished shooting a video in Germany for “No Way Out” which is great but where is it going to be aired? YouTube and Facebook is where they will see it.
Who was the guitar player that influenced you the most growing up?
So many. It’s really hard to say one guy. Tipton, Van Halen, Hetfield, Jabs, Rhoads, King. They all rounded my sound!
With all of the changes that have occurred since you mailed out your first advance cassette back to magazines and labels in the 80’s who benefits the most from this and who gets hurt the most by this?
In the early days it was fun to mail out a tape to somewhere in Brazil and three months later you would get a photo copied sheet maybe a three sentence mention in a review sent back to you. The gap of time you have just to get a small mention in a fanzine was insane. That’s how we all had to do it then. It was totally fun and thrilling for every band to go to their parent’s house and dub tapes to tapes to keep mailing them out. Now you can fart into a microphone and it’s worldwide in 10 seconds. There’s pros and cons to both. The internet promotes the good and the bad. The illegal downloading is a negative. The medium level bands that need every cent to still exist get hurt here not the top selling pop acts.
We have all adapted over the years it didn’t just hit each of us all of a sudden. The best thing for good up and coming bands is the internet because it helps them right away. The labels are still making money by selling those internet rights all over the world to air music videos and liver performances. The movie industry knew that the internet was coming and they forethought and worked their ass off as an industry to prepare for it. They made a killing at it. The music industry of course just kept riding around in their fancy cars and kept at their big spending ways and didn’t prepare for it. Then all of a sudden the internet came they were unprepared and went bankrupt most of them and paid the price. Yet Exodus, Testament, Annihilator, and Overkill we are all still here. We never quit. We kept battling even in the tough times of the 90’s.
TheyWillRockYou is based out of the Boston area so we have homegrown former Annihilator alum in Mike Mangini. Does it surprise you at all that he was able to obtain such a high profile gig replacing Mike Portnoy in Dream Theater?
No not at all. After he left us in 1994 after the “Set The World On Fire Tour” ended he played with Extreme and Steve Vai and also taught at Berklee so he kept busy. He also came back and played on All For You (2004) and Metal (2007). The guy that originally recommended Mike to me back in 1992 was a guitar player Neil Goldberg who was also from Berklee. He said you have to check out this guy he’s a genius and that’s exactly what he was. You could tell because he was so technically advanced he was always going to be something big. He didn’t really have a simple AC/DC beat down pat early on and that’s where Annihilator gave him a good start. We put him in the studio with Max Norman and myself and watched this kid play amazing drums but couldn’t play a simple AC/DCD beat. We gave him a quick lesson and I realized I was going to lose this guy within a year because he was too good and we did. Other than Rush Dream Theater seems like the perfect band for him!
What are the touring plans for Annihilator for the remainder of 2013 into 2014?
We have a lot going on actually. I do a lot of guitar clinics for Epiphone and Gibson overseas. I have been talking to a few bands about the possibility of bringing us to the States. I got some good feedback from a few of the “Big Guys” and nothing is planned but all think we’d love to but we just need to make sure there will be funding for the tour from the label. We did Europe again this year and South America. We want to stay on the road and promote Feast for as long as possible.
Any final thoughts on what the future holds for you and the band?
We are just doing our thing as we always have but the press has picked up quite a bit for Feast and hope that the label can really see and use this momentum to get us out on the road and playing in North America. I hope we get lucky and can show all you US fans that we still got it.