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INTERVIEW: Jeff Waters – Annihilator

The last few years have been a bit of a roller-coaster for thrash metal legends ANNIHILATOR with a drastic change of personnel including the departure of their long standing vocalist but 2017 see’s them bounce back with one of the greatest offerings of their career in recently released For The Demented. We caught up with frontman and founding member Jeff Waters to get some insight on what the future holds for ANNIHILATOR and to get a little insight into how the new album came together.

First of all I’d like to go back a few years, In 2014 Dave Padden left the band after being in the fold for over 10 years. At that stage did you have any major concerns for the future of ANNIHILATOR?

Jeff: Yeah, I think it was like the first four or five days I was walking around my house thinking “What the hell…”, I was in total shock. Dave was a good friend, he still is. I go visit him when I head over to Vancouver. The shock was that I had no idea it was coming, he made a decision in his own mind a couple of years beforehand that he wanted to get out so to speak as he just really didn’t enjoy the travelling. For me it’s kinda part of the whole package. He did it for 10-11 years and for me I could do this until the day I die! Some people just get tired of it you know? They think “the only way I can play with the band is if I’m going to be on the road for another year and a half and I just don’t wanna do it anymore.” He didn’t know how to say that to me and I think he kept it bottled up inside him for a long time until he told me really nicely days before he was coming to do the album with me in 2014/15 and just said “I can’t do it” and I was like “oh shit! Do you need more money? Is anything going wrong here?” and no it was fine, he just didn’t wanna travel. So I think I panicked for about three or four days where I was just like “what the hell am I gonna do…”. I thought he would be there until the end! Shit happens and I thought well I can’t get him back but it didn’t end on a bad note so that was good news and he is gonna be happier backing out of it so I went on to looking for a singer. That went on for about a week, talking to singers and I was at it like 24 hours a day! I would find old school guys who were right into what I’m into but they probably wouldn’t last out on the road in terms of physical condition and then thoughts led to “what about this old guy, that I’ve had before” until I realised that there is no past guys that could do this anymore! Then there was the younger kids. I mean I call them younger kids because I’m 51! They were in their 20’s and 30’s and had the right level of energy but I just wasn’t finding a connection. So I thought “well hey, the answer is right here in front of me!” I’ve sang on three albums previously and one of our biggest albums King Of The Kill but singing is not my strongest suit. Guitar playing is my number one thing and always has been. I was basically a part time singer in the 90’s so here we go again! I hadn’t sang in a decade and a half! When I play on stage its easy, when I walk around playing guitar it’s like nothing, just running around and having fun. It’s actually not that difficult for me as it’s all I’ve ever really done throughout my life! I was totally up for the challenge of singing again so that was my goal. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to just jump back into it live and I was gonna have to learn real quick how to get back into the groove and get my shit together. Confidence in the studio on the last album was like triple! I took out a lot of the obvious influences in the song writing and guitar playing and the riffs and the vocals that were obvious on the last album. I tried to return to signature Waters, early era of the band kinda vibe.

So you and ANNIHILATOR have your 16th studio album For The Demented due out on the 3rd November, how was it getting Rich in the studio and relinquishing a bit of the control you were so used to?

Jeff: After our third album Set The World On Fire basically I came into a pile of money and I got a house, bought a studio, couple of cars, you know, living the life but I was smart enough to get the house and the studio and the reason why that was smart because that was around the time when traditional 80’s thrash metal in North America tanked, it did everywhere else but not quite as bad! That was when they started bringing in the new school of metal like PANTERA, SEPULTURA, BIOHAZARD. Nu metal, the Seattle scene so I was lucky that the timing was good and I loved learning from all these amazing different engineers, mixers, producers that I’d been in these world class studios with in the earlier days. I wanted to be in a studio and run a studio and that’s what I got in ’94 and that was perfect as a lot of bands lost their record deals and couldn’t afford to go into studios without the record advances and I was just sat here in a brand new built studio I was able to keep making my music. So for ten years after that I was just making records for myself essentially bringing in singers, drummers but me still playing 95% of everything, writing etc and you just get used to it. It was just an economical thing that I got used to, it wasn’t too much about control I just love working in the studio and getting better at it and I’m not the greatest at a lot of it because you can’t do ten jobs amazingly but its just a personal thing because I wanna do it! I realised after the last record (Suicide Society) I got way too off my little fanboy filter. [Laughs] You know when you write a riff and you think “that sounds like Damage Inc vibe lets keep it!” normally I would say “dammit, I really like that riff but it’s too close” it’s not stealing but its very clear where your interests are and on this record I wanted to get someone into the studio who would effectively be my yes or no guy and be like, “yes Waters, that sounds like you” or “no Waters, that totally sounds like SLAYER” so within two days of the yes/no guy showing up which was Rich. He basically grabbed a guitar and a bass on day two and was like “why don’t you try ending the riff like this?” and finished riffs for me! By day three or four I was like “dude, you realise you’re basically co-writing the album right? You’re not just a little credit, you’re 50/50!” [Laughs] Then he got nervous as ANNIHILATOR and MEGADETH were his favourite bands when he was a kid. That sort of shocked him after the fourth day and he realised “oh shit! I’m actually writing half the album with Jeff[Laughs]. He stood back and a few times and couldn’t believe he was writing the record.

Well personally I hope this iteration of ANNIHILATOR sticks around for a long time as I’m really impressed with the new album. I can’t wait for everyone to check it out!

Jeff: Oh cool!

Did you have a particular concept or train of thought in mind of what you wanted to achieve with this album before you went into the studio?

Jeff: The number one was right after we did Suicide Society in about 2015, I knew even before it was released that there were about six riffs where I thought “Uh oh, some of these are just to close to other bands” and it wasn’t blatant it was just like the guitars sounded similar then the drums sounded similar and it was cool in a way as it’s being honest about your influences but I realised I had to get back to the old school days like the demos and the first four ANNIHILATOR albums. So that was the only pre-thought out plan before I got Rich in to keep me in check! When Rich left and I went on to record the record, do the lyrics, vocals and all that stuff I was on my own for that as usual and that was a key for me. You’re never gonna take the METALLICA or the MEGADETH or the influences out of a metal fan but I got as close as I could to getting the Waters singing back like King Of The Kill album and Refresh The Demon album’s in the mid 90s. We even said we shouldn’t put a ballad on there and I was like “what if we write a good ballad? Why wouldn’t we put it on!” There is always someone who will say “ohhh you don’t wanna piss off the heavy fans and put something melodic in there!” I’ve wrote songs about Chicken and Corn and Kraf Dinner! I hope people like it and some people get that I’m just having fun and doing different things that I like and especially new fans and maybe some fans in the States where music is a little more aggressive. You hear the name ANNIHILATOR and people think “oh man this must be like CANNIBAL CORPSE!” and they listen to it and if you google the wrong video you get a video of us running around like chickens! You might find a ballad or a love song of a ballad that could be played in a dentists office you know what I mean? Or you might find some thrash stuff or something a little more technical or progressive. So I thought “fuck it, I’ll do a ballad” but it was a compromise where the lyrical content would be a true story and it’s gotta be sick and I’ve gotta make it kinda fly by so on the first listen they won’t really get what’s going on. Basically complete cannibal! [Laughs].

It’s funny you should say that as I listened to the album right through a bunch of times and I kind of got the gist of it and when I saw the video for Pieces Of You and saw the lyrics pan out I was like “Oh wow, this is even more gruesome than I anticipated!”

Jeff: [Laughs] Let’s just say I guess my mom isn’t going to be too proud about it!

You’ve released three songs off the album so far have you had a positive response?

Jeff: Usually everybody says the same things so I kinda try to avoid commenting on that but at the same time everyone is loving it so what the hell! It’s more interviews than I’ve done…bigger interviews which is really cool but more interviews in more places. There are labels jumping up and down, tour agencies loving it and other band’s are hearing it. One of the things that some fans may not know is that there is a select group of bands that are like mid level of the thrash and metal scene which have been around since the 80’s and just not stopped and I’m not talking about the SLAYER’s and the MEGADETH’s, the MAIDEN’s, the PRIEST’s or anyone like that but more of the EXODUS’, the OVERKILL’s, TESTAMENT. The band’s who have been on heavy rotation with lineups over the years because there was some big down time for a lot of us so we couldn’t keep the guy’s that we wanted as the money wasn’t there to pay guys to stay longer or stay with it as much as there was before and after that draught but there is a small group of us who actually never split up, never came back and did the whole reunion thing of splitting up for like 10 years and announcing “Hey we’re back!”. Band’s like us, TESTAMENT, KREATOR, DESTRUCTION who never stopped are all finally coming out with some of their top 3 best albums. TESTAMENT’s Brotherhood Of The Snake, EXODUS’ last album was fantastic, I love OVERKILL’s latest album too which gets a fan really psyched up to be a part of that scene and to be in that as part of a band is so cool! We all send each other advanced copies or just some mp3’s and be like “Hey Alex Skolnick, what do you think of this?” or “Hey Gary Holt, check out this riff at like 1:00, it’s like you isn’t it!” and goofy stuff like that. We’re all kinda pumped that in a way we are all inspiring each other to try and get the best out that we can in the last half of our careers you know?

Are you looking forward to getting back on tour with the TESTAMENT guys, just like back in 1989!

Jeff: Yeah! They took us on our very first tour on the States back in 89 and actually British band ONSLAUGHT took us on our first tour ever of Europe so that is something we will always remember… but TESTAMENT took us out on our first big tour for a few months, we learned a lot in a very short amount of time. A lot of professional lessons learned amongst other stuff. Over the years we’ve hooked up in mainland Europe and done some shows but this time Eric and I said lets do a tour together and he was like “Well.. we are going to be ending the Brotherhood Of The Snake cycle next year…your albums coming out a bit late.. we’re doing our own headline thing” so I said “Well can we jump on your headline thing?” so we’re basically special guests but we also have DEATH ANGEL for the first run and then VADER on the next run so it’s gonna be an amazing package!

Will you be debuting a lot of new material on the road with ANNIHILATOR?

Jeff: Not on the first runs with TESTAMENT I don’t think as because it’s a package and when we looked at the set times we were like “ahhh well that isn’t really a headline slot for any of us!” I guess in a lot of places there’s curfews and everyone wants to see all three bands on this trip! TESTAMENT will have to cut down their set a little bit and we’re going to look at this as more as the ultimate thrash package and it’s not really about us its more about the three bands. We will just do “the hits” you know, the ones people like to hear and maybe throw in a couple of new songs if we can. After we finish up with TESTAMENT something else is coming up. I’m guessing ANNIHILATOR will return some time in the fall of 2018 on a headline tour and play everything we can!

Do you think ANNIHILATOR will ever bring Fun Palace back into your set at all? It was always a crowd pleaser at the shows I’ve attended.

Jeff: Definitely not with me singing! Coburn Pharr, the original singer and Dave Padden were so good at it and it was right in where there voices are..especially Padden.. he can do anything vocally! In my case I can play guitar and sing that song I’ve tried it a couple of times but it’s just too difficult for me.. I’ve got some attitude in my singing which saves my butt but I’ve got a very limited range and I’ve got enough knowledge to do it in the studio and try my ass off to do it live but there’s about 30/40% of the catalogue that there is no way I can even try it it would just suck! [Laughs]

[Laughs]. Quite an honest response! Thank you very much for your time Jeff. It’s been fantastic talking to you. I’ve got just one more question. Do you have anything you would like to say to the readers of Distorted Sound?

Jeff: Music is music, metal is metal. There’s so many different styles, if you haven’t heard of us check out our new album For The Demented to see where we are at right now and then I’d say go back to Never Neverland, our second record to see where, in a way, most of it all started for us. We love what we do! We’re not doing it to get on the covers of magazines or being stars. We’re doing it because we fucking love metal! Have a good night and thanks very much for taking your time to talk to me!

For The Demented is out now via Neverland Music/Silver Lining Music.

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