Just a few days before the opening of the European Annihilator Tour, Metalpaths had the great honor to interview Mr Jeff Waters, the creator and soul of the band. A virtuose guitarist, enjoying the respect of the metal music scene, Waters is sharing his insipired music with the rest of the world for over 20 years through Annihilator. Undoubtedly, a great musician and one of the most pleasant people. You can either listen to the mp3 format of the interview or read it in a text format.
* Listen to the interview here.
Here we are in MetalPaths and we have the great honour to have with us Mr Jeff Waters from Annihilator. Hello Jeff…
Well it is a great honour to be talking with someone from beautiful Greece, too.
So, let’s start with the new Annihilator album, the new self-titled Annihilator album. How are things going so far?
Yeah good, you know when you make a record you hope that you’re doing good songs and making a good album. Hopefully you’re trying as hard as you can. The next step is you hope that, you know you’re happy with it, you hope that the record company like it cause they have to promote it, and you hope the press like it, and then the last step is that you hope that the fans like it. Really, you know, we don’t give a shit what the record company or the press really think, in one sense, because we do this all for our selves. We make the music because we love the music, right?
But it’s very important for the press to like it, because if the press say it’s a bad album then the fans will read it and they might think that it’s a bad album too. Now the press became very important to the band, even if you don’t like that, it’s important, and it’s important that your record company promote it, so hopefully they have to like it, right? But really it’s all about the minute that we finish making a song, or making a record, it’s really Dave Padden and my self, sitting back after we’re finished, and nobody’s heard the album, just the two of us, and if we look at each other and say :“We did a great job”, then we’ve won, and we just hope that everybody else and the fans like it, you know? The good thing is, it seems that, with record sales, it seems like a lot of people like the new album, because we really have had a lot more sales on this record than we did on any of the other ones since, you know, since the early 2000, almost 8-9 years.
Yeah that’s a long time!
Yeah, it’s good!
Speaking of the fans, have your European fans embraced the album? How are things going so far?
Yeah, it’s been going up and up for us, we are the luckiest people and we are very grateful that the European fans in different countries, you know, they sometimes they go away and they don’t like some of Annihilator’s music, or line-ups, or albums, and then all of a sudden they come back and they like some newer stuff, or all of the stuff. You know what; you have your own preferences and who you like and what albums you like. I think we just got really lucky with this album, it just worked out well and people really seem to like it. So, yeah we’re happy, you can’t ask for a better life than to be making your own music and travelling to Europe every year to play your music to really good people, it’s a great job.
It’s great to hear that Jeff! Let’s talk about the album. People tend to compare every new album with the good old ones, like the killer: “Alice in Hell”, or “Never, Neverland”. What’s your opinion on that, on comparing albums?
Yeah, well “Alice in Hell” was a very important song and it was pretty good that that record got us a lot of attention very fast, and it surprised us and we were all very happy and excited that it became a very big success in many countries all over the world. Then we were very lucky because we had a change of singers, our singer left and we had to find new singer, and the next record called “Never Neverland” was even bigger, it was a much bigger record, so we went up and up with the line up change and then we did a third album called “Set the World on Fire” that was very huge in parts of Europe and Japan, and then we had a fourth album “King of the Kill” which was straight big in many parts of Europe and Asia. So, really if you’re talking about the big years and the big sales it was four albums for us, not one, and it kind of depends in what country you’re in. Some countries think “King of the Kill” is the best record, some people think “Never Neverland”, some people think “Set the World on Fire”, like Italy, Germany and Japan love “Set the World on Fire”, and then some countries like Spain and the Czech Republic, and all that, they love “Alice in Hell”. So, it’s pretty cool to be in a band and have many different albums that are successful.
Dave in now singing in the last four albums, do you miss the vocal parts of the songs?
Yeah, I mean I did some records, “King of the Kill” “Refresh the Demon” and “Remains”, but he has done four studio CDs so he is the winner, the most successful singer! You know singing is a lot of physical work, I mean, you have to be in good shape, and as I got older I thought: “you know I don’t think I want to sing and play guitar live”, so we got Dave to sing, but now Dave, of course, is the guitar player and singer in the band, as well. I get a lot of attention from magazines and fans and guitar players and that, but I think, slowly, a lot of people are discovering that Dave Padden is one of the big talents in the band, so this is really cool.
Well, yeah Dave is a big part of the band now…
Yeah, well he is a partner with me now, like a business partner in Annihilator, the band is just Waters and Dave Padden now, so that’s pretty cool.
I wanted to ask you, what is needed to just grab your guitar and create a new killer song, what inspires you most?
Well, hey, sometimes you grab a guitar and you try to create a killer song and some times you write bad songs. Sometimes the songs are good but not great, sometimes maybe you’re lucky and get some great songs, and sometimes you get a classic song, you know a really big song, but you know, you can’t always write a great song… It doesn’t work for Maiden, or Slayer, Metallica, Annihilator, ACDC, some of our songs are maybe great songs, and some of them are not so good. It’s all about luck, and honesty, and effort, you know how hard you work at it. Sometimes you just try so hard to write a great song that it does the opposite; it turns out to be bad, you know? A lot of times the best songs are things that you will make up when you are just lying down on your couch with your guitar and watching TV, you know what I mean? For us, the way I write is like simply I just take a guitar in my studio or on the road. If I’m in my studio I put on a drum machine and make up some cool drum beat and then I just keep playing till the beat make up a lot of riffs, and I just keep doing that and I put them all together over time. On the tour bus I pretty well do the same thing with the laptop; I just jam in the back of the bus. Once the music is written, then we write the lyrics.
Speaking of guitars, I guess you must be proud of the “Jeff Waters Annihilation V”.
Oh yeah, that’s pretty cool. Everybody knows Gibson and Epiphone are very important, good, guitar companies. Gibson are known to make the classic and more expensive and better guitars, but Epiphone seem to have their reputation of making the cheaper guitars, but Epiphone have changed a little bit the way they are doing business now and they are starting to bring the quality up higher on their guitars. That was something that was very cool for me to be a part of. We created a guitar that was very low priced, but of a medium quality. Normally the guitar should be priced at about 1200 Euros, and somehow they brought it down to 600-700 Euros. So, it’s a very cool thing for metal guitar players to check out because it’s not very expensive at all.
So Lets go to the touring parts of the questions. You participated in some summer festivals, and now in a month you will hit the road for Europe.
Yeah we’re doing a two months tour in Europe and its going to be fucking fun, it’s gonna be a lot of fun. We’ll see what happens; we’ve got a lot of excitement about the tour, there’s a lot of people in many countries now that are just scrambling to buy the tickets, some of the places will be sold out. It depends on the country, but people should go and grab their tickets and do it quick because I think that’s gonna be a really fun show.
What should your fans expect from the tour?
Maybe we should put the CD’s on and we’ll karaoke! (laughs)
That would be really fun, singing with Jeff Waters!
Yeah, “Come on and sing with Jeff Waters and Dave Patten”! Maybe we do that, maybe we should have the fans come up and sing with us when we play our songs, that would be good. Yeah, I mean we’ve called up some old songs that we’ve never played before, there’s a song called “Tricks and Traps” of the “Remains” album in 1997 and that’s gonna be one of our coolest songs to play cause we’ve never played it and it’s a really awesome thrash, speed, song, you know, it’s gonna be really fun. And we’re bringing back some songs from the dead, a song called “Time Bomb” from the “Carnival Diablos” record, we haven’t played that for a long time. We have a 140 song in our CD’s, so we can only pick 16 or 18 songs for our headline set, but it’s difficult to choose them. We like to change them up and do some classics; we like to try some newer songs, and some old songs we’ve never played.
So who are the musicians that will tour with Annihilator?
We got an Italian drummer named Carlos, and a Toronto Canada based player called Al Bruno. It’s the same line up that we had when we did all our summer festival tour this summer.
Cool, so, let’s go to the music of our days, do you like the way the music industry works in our days, or you just want to go back in the 80s?
Well, I mean back in the 80s heavy metal was very very big and made a lot of money for people, for record companies and managers, and even some times the musicians. Financially it was easier to tour and be in a band then, now it’s very difficult because you see a lot of package tours with like four or three famous bands all touring together. With the illegal downloading hurting the album sales and the economy in some countries is not that good, so it’s hard to get people to some of the shows. But I think it’s slowly coming back and it’s gonna get bigger and bigger every year I think, so I think it’s a good time. Remember, all kinds of Heavy Metal got so big in the 80s that when something hits that big it has to crush, it has to go away for a while and cycle back, and come back again, and now it’s finally back, you know? So it’s a good time. One thing too, and I find it important to say when I talk to people, is that there’s a small group of bands, you know, I’ll give you some examples, Exodus, Testament, Annihilator, Overkill, we’ve been around since the 80s and we’ve been playing music every year and putting out records and touring, and even when there was no money and we some times had no money from the tours and the shows and it was a disaster for the money stuff, and we had to borrow money sometimes, you know, we had to fight to survive. We never gave up, us bands, you know, the Testament, Overkill, Exodus, Annihilator, type of bands. We never stopped playing and quit for ten years and came back for a reunion, we’ve always been playing metal, and this is a great time for us bands now, because we are slowly getting the recognition now for being there for 20-25 years. It’s great to see Exodus putting out good records and being even more successful now, the same with Testament, and us and Overkill, Overkill did a great album.
Well I guess it’s a very great honor to have all kind of ages love your band.
It’s funny, we have three groups of people, we have our older fans that have kids now and sometimes those kids are seeing our shows, and we have new fans. We did an album three years ago called Metal and we had a lot of guests, and you know, on those albums were guys from bands like Trivium, Lamb of God, In Flames, you know, a lot of these great new bands. That album got us a lot of popularity from the other band’s fans, so we see new fans out there, and then we also see just new fans that are just getting into heavy metal now and they look up and they find out that bands like Testament, and Annihilator and Exodus have been fighting to survive and really believe in their music and that we’re honest bands, we’ve been playing metal since the 80s cause we really do love it, you know?
You are 21 years in discography and touring, do you ever think that it’s time to quit, or you feel tired of all this or, you know, you just want to retire like some bands do and then make some reunions and then retire again?
I think I would if I didn’t enjoy it. I mean I would stop if I didn’t like it any more, if it was not fun. I’d also stop if the fans told us: “We really don’t like what you’re doing any more”, because, you know, we’ve got a lot of records, and, you know, what’s happening to us is the opposite, now fans are making us get bigger and bigger. That alone, just that is exciting and that gives you more inspiration to work harder on your song writing and work harder on stage and try to talk to your fans more on your website and on the internet and do contests, and give away guitars, and give away CD downloads, and free stuff. It gives you more energy to go out there and be a good, honest, metal band, you know? So, the only time I ever wanted to stop, was in 2005 when we put out, what I think is one of our top three best albums called “Schizo Delux”. A lot of people have never heard of the record because the president of our record company, AFM Records in Germany, died in a car accident and it was a very sad time. From the business side, our album “Schizo Delux” got no publicity, just bad promotion on it in Germany. It was sad for us, because David Patten and I worked very hard on the record and we knew we had a special record, a really good one. It got no chance, it was dead. So, that was depressing, and that was a time when I thought that maybe I might want to stop. But you know what? It’s in your blood and you cannot get rid of it!
Well, good for us, let’s hope you’ll never stop!
Thanks man, you know what, as long as I’m doing things that the fans like then I’ll keep doing it, but if they tell me that I’m not doing good stuff, then I will stop, of course.
Let me ask you another thing, what do you prefer most, being in studio, composing a song and writing an album, or do you love touring?
They’re both two completely different things. Everything, everything is totally different. When you’re on touring there is a lot of work and stress to set up the tour, but when you start the tour is the most fun and coolest vacation you ever had. It’s a lot of work but it’s fun. When you’re in the studio it’s a totally different thing, you’re sitting by yourself, you’re being creative, there’s nobody around you, there’s no people, you don’t talk to people every five minutes, you’re by your self and you get to be creative and do what you do. So they’re completely different things. So I think anybody that answers: “Oh, I like touring better”, or, “Oh I like the studio better”, it’s not a really fair question, because they are two completely different things.
I see… For the young musicians of the world, let’s say that you have started your career now, what would be the first step that you think would make the people to pay some attention to your band?
Wow, I mean, it’s the music first… The 90s created a generation of people that didn’t practice very much on their instruments, and now on the year 2000 people have realised that to play great guitar, stuff like Randy Roads and Van Halen, and even Slayer and Metallica, you can’t just play three cords and learn how to play in six months. You need to spend a lot of time in practicing and learning. Thankfully guys like, you know, Alexi Laiho, and a generation of kids that came up and studied music and practiced 8 hours every day for years. That’s the thing; music is first, and rhythm, guitar, and song writing are much more important than guitar solos, you have to learn how to write a song before you can have a career.
Do you think the internet is good or bad for the bands?
It depends, if it’s for a young band, who’s just starting out, it’s great, because it lets them get their music to people from all over the world, people can hear their band and it’s just a great way to get your name out and get some fans and fan base going. For the major, big, bands, well, I mean, it’s obviously a good thing for them, but I think where it hurts bands is the bands in the middle, the bands that need the record sales to survive, and that’s bands like I said, Testament, Annihilator, Overkill, Exodus. We all need those record sales; we need kids to buys the shirts at the shows, we need them to come to the concerts, and we need them to buy the CD, because we’re not small bands, but we’re not the big bands like Slayer and Metallica, so we really need the fans to buy the CD’s and support us, and when you have illegal downloading that hurts the bands in the middle.
Well Jeff, I really want to thank you for your time, it was a great honour speaking to you.
Thanks for having me; it’s a honor to be able to talk to people from other countries, so thanks for taking the time.
For the end of our call I want you to give us a greeting for the Metalpaths.
Yeah, hey, listen, you know, it’s been a long time that Annihilator has not been to Greece. I think the last time that we were there I think was with Nevermore, I think, I can’t remember, but it was a long time ago in 2002, or whatever, and we know we have a lot of metal fans in Greece and we need to get back there, that’s why we work so hard to put the two shows together in Athens and Thessaloniki. We’re finishing the tour in Greece, so that’s the big excitement for us, is that we get to come back to Greece to finish the tour and play some old classic Annihilator songs, and stuff from the middle years, and some new stuff, so hopefully everybody comes out to check the show out, cause I hear rumours that it might get to be a sell out pretty soon, so that would be fantastic.
Interview by: Constantinos Giarmadouros.
Transcribed by: Elpida Petraki.