Archive photo: Zoran www.sonic-shot.com
Interview with Jeff Waters www.annihilatormetal.com
It was a beautiful sunny day in Copenhagen and I arrived to Pumpehuset, the venue where Annihilator were going to play later that day as very special guests to Trivium. Interview was running late so I was hanging out in front of the venue with some people from other bands and people who were just hanging out there, drinking and enjoying the sunshine. Half an hour later I was invited to Annihilator’s tour bus.
I have been listening for Annihilator’s music for more then fifteen years and it was pleasure to finally meet the main man Jeff Waters. He is the guy who writes all the songs, plays most of the instruments on them, he does the production and just about everything else. His guitar playing has been influence for many heavy metal players and respect among the fellow heavy metal musicians is big. As you will see in this interview Jeff is also a cheerful guy who is a true metal fan and person who doesn’t mind using more time on an interview then what was originally scheduled.
Jeff Waters: Wow what a great weather today. I’ve been enjoying the day, walking around. I sad outside and had a steak.
MR: Yeah but most of the places are closed because of the national holiday.
Jeff Waters: Yeas but there are still lots of girls…I mean people walking around (laughs).
MR: Well should we start with the interview?
Jeff Waters: Is that thing on (points to the dictaphone)?
Jeff Waters: Ok (starts snoring and playing like he is asleep). I am kidding I am awake, I am awake (laughs). Actually I am not tired or lazy I am just relaxed. I had massage in there. it was expensive but it was good.
MR: So the new album is out now. How does it feel and have responses been good so far?
Jeff Waters: Well it is our 12th CD so it’s not a big trill for me anymore. The excitement for me is like two or three months after the album is done, I get the package for the record company in mail and then I see the final CD because for six, seven, eight months before that it’s just a studio, playing, making and creating music but then all that hard work comes down to one little round disc. So when you get the CD it is emotional for about five-ten minutes and then it is done and you start thinking about the future and touring. But yeah it was a difficult album to do again. Annihilator has been struggling sometimes.
Most of the time we have pretty good sales in lots of countries, not so much in Scandinavia or UK but the rest of the Europe is pretty big for us and it always has been since 1989. But we got in some shitty deals three or four year ago and it took me year and a half to get out of them so it was very difficult time and lots of lyrics on the album are about some of the shitty times.
MR: That is always good inspiration.
Jeff Waters: Very good. When life is too good or too relaxed I end up writing ballads and love songs and instrumentals (laughs). And when there are problems and stress I come up with some good riffs.
MR: What about the recording process, was it different this time around? On the album there are lots of guests so how did you approach that?
Jeff Waters: Well the recording was the same as always. The writing was little bit different. Usually I just sit in nice studio that I had for many years…I don’t know how many years…13 or 14 years I guess. So I am in this state of the art studio, by myself. I am there at 9 o’clock in the morning when my kid goes to school and have a cup of coffee after the breakfast and I sit there open the window, the sun is coming in and I sit there from nine to five and write metal music which is great. It is amazing job but this time what I did is instead of doing the easy-lazy-relaxing way I went beck to way I used to do before so I went in to the room next door to studio which is dark, cold, dirty, depressive storage room. So instead of using all this great equipment to record riffs and ideas I just had a cheap ghettoblaster like in the old days I plugged it in into a little Marshall amplifier with a guitar, put a strep on it, stood up and played. Usually I write sitting down. When I am standing up and play I found out that I come up with better riffs. It’s like I give more energy and life into the riffs. So I did it that way in this shitty room next door to this great studio which was all turned off and the lights were out. That is how I wrote the album this time, so it is bit different. Beside that the recording was the same. The guests were not a plan, that just happened at the end of the recording when I got call from Corey Beaulieu from Trivium and Michael Amott from Arch Enemy…oh yeah (laughs and points to the Arch Enemy t-shirt he is wearing)…and…(turns around and looks at the girls passing buy)…I forgot what I was saying (laughs).
MR: Good old Denmark
Jeff Waters: Yeah, good old Denmark (laughs). Anyway, one of those two guys said asked me “Did you finish the Annihilator record?” and I said that I was almost finished but not finished yet and Corey said “Hey if you have time maybe I can play a solo on one of the songs” and I thought “That’s a cool idea, would you really want to?” (laughs). And later that they I talked to the other guy, Michael Amott I think, so I said “Do you want to play on the record too?” and he said “Yes” right away. Next morning I woke up and I was heaving breakfast with my girlfriend and I said to her “I should call up Alexi [Laiho] from Children of Bodom and I think I will call up Willie [Adler] from Lamb Of God and all these other people that I know.
Then I started thinking maybe I should call some other people, naming some big big big names that I know, couple of them were not even metal, bands like Nickleback and 3 Doors Down because lots of the guys in those bands like Annihilator, I don’t know why but they do and my girlfriend sad “No, stop. That is stupid, sell-out gimmick, don’t do it. Just stay with Corey and Micheal who gave you the idea, and maybe some other people who are your friends and who like what you do and who were also influenced by you”. And I thought, ok, that is cool so I kept it reasonable and just asked my friends basically. So that was at the end of the recording and some of them came down to my studio, some of them recorded in their own cities and just e-mailed it to me so it was pretty cool. I have finished the whole record, as far as guitar parts and solo and most of the music goes so I ended up deleting 60 percent of all the work that I did but it was worth it, I mean I much rather had Alexi play n my song then me, I’ve already played many times on my own songs (laughs).
MR: Well actually you have already answered on some of my next few questions (laughs).
Jeff Waters: I know I did that on purpose (laughs).
MR: This is not you first interview, is it? (laughs).
Jeff Waters: Nooooooo (laughs).
MR: I know that it is in the way obvious but I was wondering why did you decide to call the album Metal? In my opinion you have to be brave to do that.
Jeff Waters: As a metal fan I would’ve thought that band that deserves that title would be Judas Priest. Because [Iron] Maiden are metal and [Black] Sabbath started out metal and of course there is Metallica and all that stuff…oh they already have word metal in their name (laughs), but I thought if there was ever a band that should call their album Metal, it should be [Judas] Priest but they never did so…(laughs). But out website is called Annihilator Metal [www.annihilatormetal.com] since the ’90’s so the name was there every day of my life, Annihilator Metal was always there. And at the end when quick guest idea came in I had the list of the people that have said “Yes” to recording for the album and I thought “Wow, these guys are all metal players form different styles of metal bands”, that is fucking cool. And then I went “”Wait a minute…(laughs)…metal…and metal…it’s a metal album.
people always ask “What kind of metal does Annihilator play?” and I would answer that it is bit of trash metal in there, some melodic metal parts and some progressive metal maybe, maybe little blues and jazz sometimes and even some death metal and speed metal and ballads and instrumentals so I thought, I don’t know what kind of metal we are. We are metal band.
MR: Definitely. I wouldn’t say the new album is this or that kind of metal, it is simply metal.
Jeff Waters: Lots of people said that our first record called Alice In hell was trash album and I was thinking about it and you know, the first song on that album is song called “Crystal Ann” and it is a classical guitar piece. That is not trash. Second song is called “Alison Hell” that is not trash song, it’s more like commercial metal song. There is definitely some thrash metal to it, the riffs and stuff but we have ballads and everything. We don’t have any ballads on the new CD but on the next one there probably will be, If not this time then maybe next time. So I could say heavy metal band but heavy metal, I mean we are partly heavy metal but to me that would fit more to Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Saxon and that kind of stuff. So for me, I would just have to say metal band. I play in the metal band (laughs)!
MR: You’ve mentioned Judas Priest and I remember in 1991 when you were on tour with them and Pantera. I was supposed to see the gig in Zagreb…
Jeff Waters: Wow yeah, that was just before the big war. Day before the whole thing started. I remember that show, I can’t remember was it in Zagreb or Ljubljana…we were playing in one of those cities and they told all of us to stay in our bus, not to come out. There were security guards around with the big black dogs and machineguns and we didn’t understand why there was so much security and it wasn’t really for us (laughs). We were told got to the bus right after we get of the stage. We were just going to leave right away because there was going to be war there. We were like “What? there is not going to be war here!” but then some days later we saw it on CNN.
MR: Yes, shortly after then The Monsters Of Rock was cancelled both in Zagreb and in Belgrade.Anyway, how was it meeting and playing as a supporting band to Judas Priest, because I know that you are a big priest fan?
Jeff Waters: It is one of my top three favourite bands. My favourite bands in order are: AC/DC, Judas Priest and Slayer and then Van Halen…early Van Halen. So to have Glenn Tipton call up and say “Jeff do you want to go on tour with us, we have an album coming out called Painkiller” (laughs). I remember when my album Never Neverland came out it was 1990 and that was our second record and Painkiller came out as well at the same time, I remember being on a press trip in Japan and “Painkiller” video was released and I was doing a TV show there and I stopped because of “Painkiller” video and it was live TV and they had to shut off and go to another show or commercials or something because I had to watch the new Priest video. My manager was really angry at me because I ruined the TV show but for four minutes we watched the “Painkiller” video. I didn’t care about Never Neverland or anything that video was the coolest thing in the World and then about eight months later Tipton called and asked if we would like to come on tour with them. That was incredible. We did about three months with them and Pantera was on the first half of the tour and the rest was just us and Judas Priest. They gave us like an hour set. So it was good, really good package.
The only way that could’ve been better for us was if it was two years later when Pantera was like the biggest metal band in the world. Then it would have been Pantera, Priest and then Annihilator. it was also great to meet Pantera guys before they hit the big time. Then the really cool thing for me as a such a big Priest fan was hanging out with K.K. Downing all the time. You know, Scandinavia me and him hanging out all the time, the beer the blond women (laughs). That is just a dream come true for any kid who plays guitar and likes the band like Priest.
The even better one was in 2004 when Priest reunited with [Rob] Halford in 2004 and they called me up again and said “Do you want to come back again, Rob is back in the band, do you want to start where we left off?”. I was sitting in my home in Canada just trying to wake up from the shock that in 1991 and then again in 2004 we are going out with Judas Priest. It’s just crazy! So now the big joke with me is “Well now we are going out with Priest again when they put out the new record again” (laughs). Well I would love to do it for the third time.
But on the other hand I think it is time for me to go after my other two favourite bands, AC/DC and Slayer (laughs).
MR: So talking about touring, how is this tour with Trivium been so far?
Jeff Waters: Great. First three weeks were gift for us because. I mean, Trivium could’ve picked thousand other bands to support them. In UK they played 2-3-4 thousand people every night so it is big deal. They take three trucks and take their Iron Maiden-lights and the big crew and it is just big production. So when Corey said “Jeff, you want to come with us?” I was again in shock because that was just the biggest favour…(turns around again) Oh damn is he going? It is massage guy!
Jeff Waters: Oh well, I had one already (laughs). It’s ok. So it was cool that they [Trivium] offered us to tour with them because we do draw the crowds. We are metal; they are metal just different generations. We all like Metallica and W.A.S.P. and AC/DC and Iron Maiden and Slayer. So that is great package for the rest of Europe but it almost didn’t make sense in UK because Annihilator are not well known there. But Corey and Matt did me a huge favour. So I asked them why do they want to take us there and they said “Well we want to introduce you to our fans and tell them that you are a good band and that they should hear you and maybe go out and buy you records” and that is exactly what happened. As soon we started doing shows in UK our record sales just jumped. Just like that. So you can imagine how grateful I am to them.
MR: So what about the length of the show. It is 45 minutes?
Jeff Waters: Well in UK it was 40 minutes so it is barley eight songs, sometimes seven but we were playing with another band on that stage, Gojira. They are probably in my top three tightest bands I’ve ever seen play live. They are just an unbelievable band. So to have four bands on the bill is a lot and for us to even get 40 minutes there was a lot. We are playing direct support to Trivium so that was great. Sometimes they let us go over, if the crowd really love us then they sometimes tell us to keep going and that is awesome. Priest is the only other band that let us do that. It is not normal. Even the small gig like this [Pumpehuset in Copenhagen] they have schedules for trucks when to leave and stuff and five minutes difference can be big deal. But they have been cool about it.
MR: Is there a plan for headlining tour?
Jeff Waters: No, well you never know how it works out with sales of the new album so that tells the companies and agencies whether they want to put their time and effort into Annihilator but so far it is going well as a supporting band and the agency we are on wants us to be supporting band the rest of the 2007 to bigger bands and come back in 2008 and headline. So that sounds good to me.
MR: Definitely, I would also like to see a full length Annihilator show.
At this point in the interview Jeff gets an SMS.
Jeff Waters: Hey man, you know what? Our music might be coming on the Sony Playstation game. The album we just talked about, Metal.
Jeff Waters: Wouldn’t that be cool?
Jeff Waters: You were going to ask something else…
MR: Yes. Lots of fans of Trivium are quiet young. How do they react to Annihilator?
Jeff Waters: I was bit worried in the UK. The very first I saw Gojira who played before us. I usually don’t see the bends that play before us because it is bad luck to me (laughs) but I knew Gojira was very good band and I wanted to see them so I stood at the side of the stage and I got all depressed before we went on because they were just unbelievably tight.
MR: This comes for Jeff Waters, guy from the Annihilator (laughs).
Jeff Waters: Yeah but Annihilator live is not just Jeff Waters it is four guys in the band and I am guitar player, so all four guys have to be great together. I can’t do anything without these three guys where as for Gojira all four guys in that band were 100%. Only Meshuggah and AC/DC were tighter bands I’ve seen live.
Anyway, I had to watch that [Gojira] and then go on stage after that. They kicked our ass big time.
But we would usually start the show and the crowd would just stand and watch. I started thinking “This is not going well” but after each song they would cheer and roar. I thought that was strange, you know. But I realised right away that most of the kids don’t know our songs. And after the first show the Trivium guys were like “They liked you guys” and I was “Really” (laughs). And later looking at some different forums on internet I could see that most of the people say “Wow we didn’t know about this band, bet we saw them play and they were great and Corey also came on stage and played with them”. Lots of them think that Metal is out first album and it is our 12th album (laughs). But it is good. Record company called us up after the first ten days of the UK tour and said that our sales are going up. And that is all thanks to guys in the blue bus (points to Trivium’s tour bus)
MR: But I am sure that it is also a great privilege for them to play together with the band that they admire and are definitely influenced by.
Jeff Waters: Super, but I was thinking more in the business side of the things. And also there are lots of band that now love to call themselves metal and most of these bands didn’t do that few years ago because metal was a dirty word. And nowÂ I see in all the magazines all these bands saying they are metal so it has become a trend and these guys over here (points to Trivium tour bus) they are playing metal, they are playing Metallica – Maiden style making it into their own style but they are putting the money where the mouth stuff. Not only are they taking from the old school but they are giving back to the old school by for example taking us on tour.
MR: Would you mind telling little bit more about that “Roadrunner United” project you took pat in? How was that?
Jeff Waters: Oh amazing. Rob [Flynn of Machine Head] did few songs and I did couple of solos for him. Actually I could make it sound like it was a big, big thing but I just gut a call from the guy at the label and he said that Rob wanted me to come down and do few solos and would I do it. I said ok, plain tickets arrived. Three days later I am on the plain, stayed in nice hotel in San Francisco. Had a day off, walked around by my self, had some good food, went to the studio next day with Rob played solos for four hours, went back to my hotel, ate some good food, sightseeing next day and then I flew home. That was it. Nothing else. It wasn’t like hanging out with everybody.
MR: There were lots of people involved.
Jeff Waters: Yeah, I only met three people. But the whole thing was huge. They were flying people every two hours, flying them to four different parts of the country.
But the cool part for me was few months later, in December of 2005, they had this Roadrunner United party in New York City. That was fun part for me because I get to come down and meet these amazing musicians that I have been big fan of and meet Trivium for the first time that is where the connection was between Corey and I. Corey has done more for me then…I don’t even know if he knows it, just Corey and of course Matt and the rest of the band. That one meeting with Corey changed everything for my band.
MR: What about inspiration for writing all these songs, what inspires you?
Jeff Waters: Part of it now, when you are 40 year old and you have done this for a while, is just a routine but it is good routine. But you have to be careful about that because routine can mean boring and that doesn’t help creativity. Sometimes I do have to fight and struggle to write riffs, sometimes they are the same ones I’ve done before. On the new record there are few riffs that remind you of some older Annihilator records. Those are because I like them.
I am good at channelling things. Sometimes even if my life is going really good I can find things to give inspiration for the lyrics. You walk down the street and somebody bumps into you and you are like “Fuck! I hate that motherfucker!” and there is the song right there (laughs). Because when everything is going good in my life I tend to write instrumentals and ballads and love songs (laughs). But then I just go see Slayer concert and I just want to punch something or write an Annihilator song (laughs).
MR: Which bands do you listen at the time? I think I read somewhere that you love the new W.A.S.P. album?
Jeff Waters: Oh yeah, Cory and I hijacked our bus driver somewhere in UK and two hours drive on our day off W.A.S.P. was playing so I paid my bus driver on his day off to drive me and Corey and Travis [Smith of Trivium], singer from Sanctity and our guys to this gig. And our bus is the best bus on the tour, there is only six people on the bus. In Trivium’s bus there is 14! There is no room for anything. So we saw W.A.S.P and it was great. Blackie [Lawless of W.A.S.P.] wouldn’t meet us, we tried to say hi to him but he wouldn’t even say hi to us. But that didn’t bother me and Corey because we are huge W.A.S.P. fans and we went out and we made a deal – Corey bought the new record and I bought all their other records. So we have W.A.S.P. parties in the bus. They drink vodka and I drink my orange juice (laughs). New album is great, just fucking great album. His singing is incredible.
MR: There is definitely something about his voice.
Jeff Waters: And he is like…50, or close to 50? Amazing., for me my four favourite singers are Rob Halford [Judas Priest], Brice Dickinson [Iron Maiden], Sebastian Bach [ex-Skid Row] and Blackie Lawless [W.A.S.P.]. I know that some people go “What?” when I name Sebastian there but when you listen to Slave To The Grind and the first Skid Row album, it doesn’t matter if you don’t like that stuff, at that time his voice was unbeatable. And guys like Phil Anselmo [Pantera]. if you go back to albums like Vulgar Display Of Power and Far Beyond Driven, wow you just can’t touch that.
MR: How about some of the newer bands? Do you listen to so of the newer stuff?
Jeff Waters: Our singer Dave is helping me there because in just about every interview I say that I listen mostly to 80’s metal. He is more into modern music and he getting me into newer bands but I am always behind, now I am starting to like band called Slipknot (laughs) and people were discovering that like seven years ago. So slowly I am getting to know some of these newer bands. They are not really influencing my music but I do appreciate those bands. Children of Bodom. Arche Enemy, I am going back and listening to some of their older albums that I’ve missed. Older Nevermore stuff too. So in other words, the music that most of the fans have been listening for some years I am starting to listen now (laughs).
MR: So after almost two decades with Annihilator, how do you look back at that time?
Jeff Waters: Fucking stress, survival, fighting, and loss of life. But that is the negative part (laughs). I can sum it up in one phrase – personal sacrifice. You kid, you wife, girlfriend, family, friends they all end up being second place many times and that is painful, that causes lots of problems but you know some people wonder how I am able to go on tour for three-four months away from you kid. Of course I miss my kid but my son and I do the same thing, we kind of block off. We don’t talk very much on the phone. We talk once a week. Some people, there is actually one guy our bus that talk to his girlfriend all the time. We are trying to teach him not to do that. He is always on the phone with her or mommy or…
What happens is that I see people waste incredible opportunity to experience all the cities, to se you know, Copenhagen to walk around, to go see Little Mermaid, to walk by the see to go have a great meal to watch the girls go by, to see the churches to see everything and meet people. There are people on this tout on every bus that haven’t seen anything. they are talking on the phone or sitting playing on Sony Playstation. Today I have already done four hours of walking around. After the interview I am going to have sound check, take a shower and then go out walk again.
And with my kid, I have to shut that off because it is so depressive. You are leaving your little sun that needs you a lot and you are leaving for three months. But this is the life I chose and I tried to quit it once but it was like a drug there is no was I can quit it. The only way I am going to quit is if fans and record companies say “That’s it, we didn’t want you music anymore” then there is no problem, I had many year to prepare for that. This is just what I do. I had ex-wife that had to find that out. I mean I told her up front that this is what I do and that she may not be number one. It’s just the way it is. So that sacrifice part is difficult, however the great things about it are travelling all the people you meet the amazing musicians I’ve been able to work with, incredible musicians.
Lots of people say “Why don’t you have stable line up, are you Hitler or asshole or dictator?” I know that it looks that way but that is not how this band works. In the studio we are three piece, myself, singer and we hire the drummer. Then we do a record. When that is finished studio line up goes away. We are finished. Then it is time to go on tour. Usually the singer will go on tour, we hire the drummer, maybe it’s the same guy from the album maybe not, we need a bass player because I play the bass on the albums and we need another guitar player. So we hire guys and lots of times these guys can’t do a next tour or they want more money or they have kids or their wives say “Don’t go away on the tour again” (laughs) or they join the bigger band for more money. It’s great for me; I don’t have problems with that. If one guy doesn’t work out or can’t do it I just hire another guy.
For fans it’s very strange and it looks weird because it’s not band that way. But Annihilator is the band on the tour, it’s not Jeff Waters show with all the spotlights on me. It’s the band, four guys but in the studio and behind the scenes is more like Walters with the singer.
And…(laughs) some other good points are; I had every good beer in the world I had every kind of good woman in the world and it is just great to go around and travel, see all the stuff and then when you have to go home and you are away from all the crazy life of touring you go home to this beautiful studio and all these beautiful guitars and amps and you know how to use the equipment. Then you sit down by yourself, make a cup of coffee, open the window and the sun comes in and you are playing heavy metal music. That is just incredible.
So you can’t complain too much about the stuff. There are always things to complain about reality kicks in very quick with me. Like now I was getting bored of thinking about doing another interview because I did like three or four of these already and then all of the sudden I kicked in after few minutes and I went “Fuck that shit, I am here in Copenhagen and it’s nice outside and I should be happy to be doing this interview. I am lucky that somebody wants to talk to me about my album”.
MR: Well I am definitely very happy to be able to meet you after all these years. I would like to thank you for this interview and I hope you are going to have a great show tonight.
Jeff Waters: Thank you. Beautiful city you live in, man.
MR: I agree.
Interview done by Zoran