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Annihilator: Simply Metal!

Without doubt Annihilator-Mastermind Jeff Waters is among the world´s best guitarists, moreover, I know from my own experience that the Canadian is also one of the nicest human beings you can possibly meet in this business. Therefore I gladly took the chance to chat with him in Helsinki when the Trivium Travelling Circus dropped by... You can still see Annihilator on their support-tour for Trivium, just check the STALKER tourdates!

However, this very interesting chat about the new CD “Metal”, Canada and Clowns in business found a sudden end. Not because Jeff ran away... Well, indeed he did, yet not because of my questions. Unfortunately those Finnish Journalists before me turned out to be Die-Hard-Annihilator-Fans carrying the complete back catalogue (12 CDs, the Vinyl versions of all those plus dozens of EPs) for signing with them, then they took a lot of photographs... To cut a long story short, they exceeded their time which left to STALKER only a few minutes before the Annihilator sound check ...

Well, first question is sort of inevitable... I know that Annihilator is basically a one-man-project, so why have you never considered to have a regular band, because of financial reasons or something?
No, when I started, I guess it was 1985, I tried to get a band together in my home town, Ottawa, Canada. But when I did it just seemed – we all were kids – that everybody wanted to go with their girlfriends, go drinking and partying, some brought the girlfriends to rehearsal or did not want to go to rehearsal and all those different things. I wanted to drink and play with girls and go on partying and to have fun, too, but I had the idea that maybe I should play in a band first, work on my music and try to become a good guitar player, learn how to write songs – and THEN get girls and booze and everything, and party and have fun. Well, I just could not get the guys to come down to rehearsal and keep a band together. So I thought, ´fine, so I learn to play the bass and how to work a little four-track recording machine and learn how to write lyrics and songs myself, and even learn how to play drums.´ And that is what I ended up doing since 1985, and that is kind of the theme for all the Annihilator records. I go into the studio, hire a drummer, and usually we have a singer, too, who comes in, sometimes I sing on the records. So there are usually three guys involved in recording the records, and when we tour it is different, it is more like a band thing. It is not a solo project on tour – so it´s like half-and-half.

But why didn´t you try later to keep a regular band together, back then in the 90s for example, when you were touring a lot?
Like keeping the same people? Well, we have actually done about 23 tours now, we have done a lot of touring, but we have not been to the UK or Scandinavia, so media and fans here - who might have heard of us many years ago - that we were away or not doing anything. But it´s been a lot of touring and a lot of records, our 12th CD is out now since 1989.

Yeah, but with almost every record there was a line-up change...
Yeah, yeah.

... so I was wondering if maybe Canada is not such a good place to keep a band...
No, no. Just... I didn´t know that change was a bad thing (laughs). For my case I think this is why we have 12 records out, because of the changes, adapting with the times ... I don´t mean the song writing style, but we changed record companies four times – which is good. The first company was Roadrunner, and in 1993, after we did our third record, Metal changed, everywhere, it died in most places and was almost dead in most parts of the world. That could have been the end of Annihilator, and I was told ´if you want to keep making records you got to change the name of your band, play more of the Pantera/Biohazard/Sepultura style music. And I did not want to do that. I like 80s-Metal, I like what I do. So I went to another company, Music For The Nations, who believed in the traditional real Heavy Metal, and we sold a shitload of records on Music For The Nations, we had many big tours in the 90´s when Metal was supposed to be dead. It was a lot of fun, then we switched over to SPV Records, it was even almost better, too, so... it is adapting with the times, as far as the labels ... and as far as line-ups, this is the thing, I am actually luckier than most bands and most musicians because I´ve worked with about 23 or 24, 25 of the top players in the business, some of the best drummers of the world have played in this band... yeah, I like change, definitely. It keeps things interesting.

Well, but I got a little confused... perhaps you can introduce the guys who play tonight, a little bit... in your own words...
Well, with Dave Padden I have been a musical couple since 2003, we have done three records, so he is a veteran in this point. And then those two other guys, a drummer and a bass player, which is what we do – at the end of the recording, when it is time to think about a touring line-up we just go out and find a drummer and find a bass player. The bass player is from my home-town Ottawa, his name is Brian (Daemon, which is not really his last name... he is just 17, from Jeff Waters close neighbourhood, calling himself the happiest musician in the world, because he can be to tour with his favourite band, the ed.), and Alex Landenburg, our drummer, is from Southern Germany (from Saarland, and also plays for Memento and Lancelot, the ed.)

I had the impression that “Metal” is a bit like a summary of your career... well, maybe that word is not the right expression...
I know what you mean... musically .... It´s a pretty simple and straight-forward title, it´s just another Annihilator record, our 12th studio CD. Nothing like... it is not a ´best of´, nothing really like that...

No, I did not mean that...
But it does have different styles of Metal that we have been playing over the years, and the title along with the guests, it creates the impression that it is some kind of ... I don´t know, ´big grandiose album´, but it´s really just another record, and without the title and without the guests on it, the songs have to be good.

So how did you do it with all those guests ( e. g. Alexi Laiho from Children Of Bodom, Jesper Strřmblad from In Flames or Steve ´Lips` Kudlow from Anvil, the ed.), did they send you the stuff or did they come to your studio?
We´d pretty much finished the record except for one song and the vocals, almost done, just another week to finish the record, then I got a call from Michael Amott from Arch Enemy, and Corey Beaulieu from Trivium, we talked about the album and one of them, I think Corey, asked ´can I play a solo in it?` and I said ´yeah, of course you can!` When I talked to Michael Amott later that day I thought, ´well, if Corey is on there I might as well ask Michael if he wants to play´, and he said yes, then right away I got the idea: We´ve got another two weeks to finish our record, maybe I should call up Alexi Laiho and just some people that I know that like Annihilator´s music`. And within a week I got a whole pile of people who wanted to play on it. It was a last-minute-thing. I guess half of the people came to my studio, and the other half were on tour or in the studio, like Corey from Trivium doing the “Crusade” record. So it was easy for him, I just sent him the track while he was in studio doing his album, he did a solo on it and sent it back. Some of the guys did it that way, some came to my house, to my studio.

It seems you had a lot of fun doing it... and some of your lyrics seem to be very personal, like “Smothered” or “Haunted”...
There are about four songs that come from ... ah... 2005 and a bit of 2006 I was in a 1,5 year battle, fighting some bad business partners. That gave me a lot of good inspiration to write the lyrics for some of these songs. It was good, I got rid of all of those bad deals, and the “Metal” album is the beginning of a whole brand new set of deals, new management, new record deal with SPV Records, Sony Publishing, new merchandise deal, new tour agency which is getting us a lot of good tours we are going to be on, so ... actually in 2005 I was thinking that I have to stop the band, because it was looking really bad for us, legally, we had all those bad deals, but I fought for a little more than a year just to get the rights back to my property, and I made it. So it was a real big fight, and that gave me some good inspiration for the songs. A bit of anger. (laughs)

Is “Detonation” an intentional Black Sabbath thing...
I have done two songs over the years, like a tribute to my favourite band AC/DC, and I just wrote this riff one day, played it back and ...´.ffff, that´s like “Children Of The Grave” from Black Sabbath`, it was almost identical, not exactly, but very close, and I thought `hell I just make that into a verse, and that will be my one little Sabbath tribute, and that´s it, no more´, and I threw that in there, so it´s kind of a fun tribute...

How was the tour so far? You just came from Stockholm?
Yeah, two days ago we played in Stockholm, and we had a nice relaxing ferry ride where we slept the whole way, that was fun, a good day off... we had three weeks in the UK with Trivium and Gojira and Sanctity, and that was incredible. We played in front of mostly people who did not know Annihilator´s music, and it worked really well for us, because those kids were 15-20 years old and Trivium fans, and it makes you work very hard to get their attention, they don´t know your songs. But it was good, the record company called us after a few weeks of touring there and said `guess what, your record sales just went...´ (makes a whistling noise and signals “sky-high”) Corey having us come on the UK run has done a lot of good things for Annihilator, so we owe them a lot. And the UK and Scandinavia were one of the many reasons why we wanted to do this tour, because we would get to areas where we have not been playing...

So what was your best, what was your worst show in your career, and why?
Hmm.... the best show was in Moscow, in 2000. That was fun. Why? Because it was HELL just to get there, and when we got there, it was the worst time we ever had, but as soon as the Intro tape went on and the crowd started screaming – we thought something was wrong with the sound system, then we realized that was the people screaming – it was WOW, one of the most memorable shows. And then there was one in a small club called the Marquee in London, many years ago, that was a big stand-out show to us. And 80.000 people at the Dynamo Festival was... not bad.... that was fun. Worst shows... would be any time my guitar equipment does not work. I get stressed, very nervous, about half an hour before a show, even now after 17, 18 years, but ... it´s not the fans, there is no reason except your equipment, your amplifier – if that´s not working then you just cannot play. That´s the only reason. Once I get on stage and everything works, then I have no bad nerves (laughs)

Oh, I have a candidate for not such a good show for you... years ago at Wacken, you got stuck in traffic or something...
YEAH! So we had to play on the small stage because we were late, and kids didn´t know that we were playing...

Yeah, there were so few people ...
But that was a good show.

Now I don´t remember who was the headliner ...
Blind Guardian was playing at the same time on the other stage, and people would turn around from there ´who is there on the small stage?´, and some would say ´Annihilator´, and people ran over ... (laughs)

I don´t remember how I found out that you play, there were definitely not enough announcements at the festival... I just thought that must really suck for you...
At least we got to play, though.

Well... I was a bit surprised that real old stuff turned up again, like those Megadeth rumours (many years ago Jeff Waters was said to become the new Megadeth guitar player, the ed.). Why do you think this is suddenly an issue again?
Oh, I don´t know. Just something to talk about. There´s nothing really to it. Dave Mustaine and I are friends, and over the years he´s contacted me a few times about – not joining, but possibly auditioning, and eventually each time something good happened for one of us, he got Marty Friedman who was the right choice, and sometimes I made the right choice and I stayed with Annihilator. Yeah, we are just friends, and it´s good, I mean it keeps my name in the press sometimes when people talk about that... we´re just friends and we are hoping that we can get together, either we can get on tour with Megadeth some day, or maybe we can get together and write a song, jam... would be fun.

Would definitely be interesting, because for me you both are pretty... well, I don´t want to use the word ´stubborn´... but in terms of music you have your own way...
Yeah, we have our own bands and ideas, yeah.

... so I wonder if it´s really possible that you work together?
Oh yeah, that would be fun. I am pretty good with people, though. So it would be easy for me. I know what he is like, and I know what he would like in his musicians. And I am Canadian, a little more relaxed and laid-back, and I don´t have these feelings of ´being number one´ and ´USA´. The US and Canada are quite different. We are much more relaxed...

So how does the post-9/11 thing affect your country? The States don´t seem too inviting for me at the moment...
Well, it strengthened our borders and law enforcement, you know, rules at the airports and things like that. But ... if it´s gonna happen, either Canada or New York City, or Los Angeles or London, it´s gonna happen. If somebody wants to do something terrible, it´s gonna happen. But it doesn´t mean... Canadians in general, we know it´s gonna happen, probably in our own country, but you cannot spend your life worrying about it, you just have to get on and do your life. And this very very small group of terrorists, they just want to disrupt life, they just want to have people stressed and panicked and feared. But it doesn´t bother me, you know.

My impression is that keeping people in fear, it is easier to change some laws, to keep people much more under control...
Even deeper than that. It is politicians who want that to happen, who want fear ...

Isn´t that also the theme of “Clown Parade”?
No, that´s more of the clowns I had to do business with a few years ago, record companies and publishers and managers I had to deal with and had my problems...

But it fits!
Yeah, it fits! Sometimes I write lyrics and they end up... people take them about a different thing, which is good, a good thing... and if you look at politics... politics of fear. Fear is a great way to get what you want as a politician. Make people scared of Blacks or crime or something, and they can benefit from it. It is just ridiculous. Canada is different. We have crime, we have drugs, we have all the same things the States have, we have racism, but it´s nowhere near what it is in the States. WE have more guns in Canada, per people, and yet ... in some places we keep our doors unlocked, windows open all day and night ... you cannot just live in fear.

Is that a reason you never considered moving to the States?
No, the States have some beautiful places to live, but for example, if you want to live in Florida, it is more geared to upper class... I mean, if you have the money, yeah, it is a beautiful place. There´s more of a division, there is the rich, there is the poor, there is less of the middle class-

(In the background the PA system begins blurting out an instrumental theme)

Oh, that´s my cue, I actually have to go...

Oh, sorry...
No, that´s not your fault, but I really have to go now...

Well, thanks for the interview...

Author: Klaudia Weber, photos: Annihilator
Date: 2007-05-10

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