"If the fans and the record company say, “okay it really sucks now it’s time to retire” I will do it in a second"
With the new released "Triple Treat" hitting the stores a couple of weeks ago, we contacted with Annihilator’s mastermind Jeff Waters in order to learn the details behind the whole triple DVD idea. Of course we didn’t focus only on the new release but we also find the time to discuss many interest topics, from the constant changes in the line up to the new Metallica album. Read below all the interesting things that Jeff had to say.
Let me start by asking you how this whole idea about the “Triple Threat” release came up.
The first thought of what ended up being the live acoustic DVD sort of came up in some way in 2012, when Van Halen did a record called “A Different Kind of Truth”. If you remember that record, there were four bonus videos for acoustic tracks with Van Halen playing songs like “Beautiful Girls” and “Panama” in acoustic, in Eddie’s studio. It was black and white videos and for the guitar fans and Van Halen fans it was an incredible thing to see. The four of them sitting in the studio relaxed and having fun and getting to hear this great songs turn into acoustic songs. That was the moment I thought “wow what a great idea for me to do”, because Annihilator has many melodic songs and ballads and instrumentals and it would be fun to do that.
We did the record “Feast” and then a lot of touring, which did really well, so I forgot the idea. After we finished with the touring for “Feast” and all the festivals I recorded another record and I demoed the singing and all the music in the studio and the lyrics for our singer Dave Padden. The week before it was time to fly to Canada to my studio, he basically quit the band. It was a very sad thing for me because he was partner of me for 13 years. So, I really didn’t have the time to think about acoustic things. I had to think about the next record the new singer or me singing. What happened was, December 2015 I talked to a record company guy, who is an old friend, in UDR Music and he signed us to SPV records years ago. He said “You should do a fun package, putting many DVDs in the package.” I said the acoustic idea, he said of course and a mini documentary about the life here in my city town, my studio, the band, the crew and the puppy dogs, the beaches. We came up with the idea in December 2015.
If we did a live concert DVD it would cost us so much money. So we thought we would do a summer festival instead and shoot it with house cameras, with the video setup that Bang your Head has in Germany. And Twisted Sister filmed their live DVD there. The owner of Bang Υour Ηead festival said “why don’t we record your live DVD and you make the DVD and we use the DVD shoot to make sure all the technical things are working properly for Twisted Sister?”. And I said “Perfect! Perfect!”. So, that’s how the live DVD was covered.
The mini documentary it was shot here in the summer, while we were doing the rehearsals for the touring and the acoustic set. Basically, the live acoustic thing took the most time. It took an incredible amount of work, because we had two different solists, me and my friend Marc LeFrance did a lot of the songs together or by ourselves. I needed a third guitar player so I had a friend form here called Pat Robillard to help and I needed bassist Rich Hinks and guitar player Aaron Homma So we had a good team of different style of players. We had the people, but also we had to decide the list. This wasn’t that hard. The hard part was to record all the parts live. Because you can’t fix anything, parts were you make mistakes. You see a lot of problems and mistakes with tuning and the solos and the guitars. But it’s real it’s raw and it’s five guys really concentrating and stressed and having fun too.
So let’s talk about the unplugged CD first. Some specific songs like “Sounds Good To Me” and all the ballads it’s kind of clear they have the unplugged feeling in the original versions. The peculiar thing is that even songs like the “Stone Wall” also fits in this approach and I couldn’t help but wonder if you used acoustic guitar to write those songs back in the day.
No, the only song I ever wrote on a classical guitar would be "Crystal Ann" and this was our first instrumental from “Alice in Hell”. I didn’t do that, I just took an electric guitar or a Fender Start guitar to write clean staff, ballads or something. Twenty seven years now, my Epiphone Annihilation and Annihilation 2 guitars are used for the guitar riffs. So, no. Only "Crystal Ann" was created on acoustic guitar or classical.
It’s kind of weird, because the melodies… It’s like they are built on acoustic guitar, that’s one of Annihilator’s best elements; the acoustic kind of staff you play in the songs.
Thanks. I guess on our third and fourth record, “Set the World on Fire” and “King Of The Kill, that’s when we started doing more melodic songs. And those songs now could be turned in acoustic songs.
I remember when I bought “Refresh The Demon” CD and heard he "Innocent Eyes" with your newborn son crying in the beginning… How does he feel about the song now that he is in his twenties or something like that.
Well, there are two songs very special to me… or three… It’s “Phoenix Rising”… or four… or five... All of them! (laughs) I think "Innocent Eyes” was one of the two songs that I wrote about my son, Alex, when he was young. And they mean a lot of me, and they still do that’s why I put the songs in there too. It was funny because "Innocent Eyes" is on a record called “Refresh The Demon” and it quite shows my different style and influences in my musical background putting a song of love about my son sounding a little like The Eagles and the next minute you have the song “Refresh The Demon” or “Syn Kill 1” about terrorism. I like showing the different styles of the band. And some people like the melodic staff, some people like the heavy staff and some people like both.
Do you feel the acoustic approach gave a whole new meaning to the songs, music wise? How do you turn a thrash song like “Stone Wall” to an acoustic one?
At the beginning when I created the song list, I had included more heavy songs and I thought I needed to turn them into acoustic songs. But, we didn’t do that. “Stone Wall” was the only song that needed … It wasn’t even thrash. It is more like commercial heavy metal song. That was the only one needed to be transformed a little to more melodic song. All the other songs were already melodic. Of course, we took out the drums and used acoustic guitars and acoustic bass. And already that makes it really mellow, but we stayed true to most of the arrangements, except for “Stone Wall”, where we tried something a little different on the chorus, but we didn’t really fuck around with that, it’s quite how the song really was.
The “Bang Your Head” CD has the classic appearance of Annihilator show with all the aggressive staff. You kind of answered me already why you chose the setup for the DVD recording. But did you feel you sacrificed the vibe of an Annihilator club show?
There were many different ideas. We were thought about filming at a thrash metal show in Canada called Calgary Metalfest. And that had bands like Razor and Exciter and some killer early thrash bands. That was a crazy crowd, the crowd was going nuts and screaming and putting hands in the air. But we decided doing it not in night time, needing special light and hiring people for the lights and needing bigger stage, bigger lights, bigger crew. We didn’t want it to be the bigger thing in the package, just one of the three different important DVDs. It’s not a thrash metal festival. It’s a heavy metal festival. And that’s not bad. It even had hard rock and hair metal and many things from the 80s. Bands like Testament and Annihilator and Twisted sister. It was an interesting choice for us. You can see it in the crowd. The crowd was interested and liked us and liked it, but mostly just watched us. And that’s because maybe the half of the crowd didn’t really know us, because they were more into rock and heavy metal kind of music. The other half of course knows us, because you can hear them singing the songs like “King of the Kill”. It was kind of an interesting choice for us. We thought maybe this is not a good one; maybe we should just do an Annihilator concert. But it all comes back to budget and money. We didn’t want to put everything into the live concert and have nothing left for the acoustic and the documentary. That would not be a fan package that would be just a live concert DVD. So, we basically said let’s just play in our second home Germany at a festival we would love to play at and we have played before, and it is just a general heavy metal festival. And it was fantastic we had a really great time and I think we made a lot new fans too.
You‘ve played recently in Greece too. What do you remember from your visit here, did you have a good time?
Yeah, of course. The highlights of the tour we just did was the beginning and the ending. The middle was great, being our typical European touring, where we see our old friends and musicians from other bands are coming to see us. You know, the crowds are going to be great, always consistent, always good fans. But, the beginning and ending were the parts we were really excited about. We started off with some shows in Greece and finished with some shows in Russia. And that’s what happened, we had the highlights in Thessaloniki and Athens and Moscow for sure.
You decided to sing again in “Suicide Society”. You told me it was on a very short notice so I guess you didn’t have the time to search for a new singer. In the future are you willing to cooperate with another singer for another album?
Well, if I can’t physically do it or I have a health problem or something, then I will consider another singer for sure. Or if Stu Block wants to quit and join Annihilator. He is one of my favorite singers. From when he was in Into Eternity, in the band before Iced Earth. Just an incredible singer. A very underrated singer. He is probably one of the best singers out there, but he didn’t have a chance to show how great he is. Or if Rob Halford decided to quit the little band he is in. What is the little band that Halford is? I forgot the name… (laughs)
Iron Maiden (laughs)
Iron Priest? Judas Maiden? (laughs) And I don’t think he is going to quit Judas Priest for Annihilator so that won’t work, and Stu Block is certainly happy with Iced Earth. So I will keep singing until I can’t do it, or get worse at it or until someday maybe find a really good singer. But until then I will be working on the next album.
I read in the press release that some songs were written even before a band member was born. How does it feel to work with these young guys? What are the pros and the cons of collaborating with such young guys?
Well, the cons are experience and sort of knowing what to do when problems happen on tours and stage and dealing with them. Having experience to get along with people on the road and respecting. The basic things.
The pros are that you got guys that are really-really excited; the most excited they ever been about music, cause they are playing in a band they like and they are playing in big festivals that they dreamed about playing, like Wacken and Bang Your Head and going to Greece and Russia and all those countries and South America and Japan. They are playing with bands they have only dreamed of, like Megadeth, Rammstein. So that’s the pros. You get younger guys that have a lot of energy and Annihilator have to have energy on stage, otherwise we cannot survive.
We like playing and I want everybody to be enjoying what we are doing and feeling the energy and having fun. If they don’t have fun then there is no energy and I need to replace them. The thing about what happened in Annihilator the last year… Annihilator have always been a solo project and a band, too, and I hired different people for tours because I wanted something different. But in the last year, well we’ll see what -will happen in the future, but the younger guys that we found, they don’t have many cons. They are easy to get along on the road, they are professionals, they like to learn and to become better and they are having a lot of fun. So on the tour we just did was the best tour and we had the tightest musicians as a team that I played with for a long time. I would say since “Set The World On Fire” line up. As far as playing tight together.
So, why did you think that Annihilator never had a steady line up for lets say ten years?
It’s more like 30 years. In the beginning it was me and John Bates, a singer form Canada starting the band in late 1984. He was writing the lyrics and I was writing the music. The drummer we had in the early days, his name was Paul and he was a hard working kid. But the bass player didn’t show up in the rehearsals, because he wanted to go out with his girlfriend to party. I went to rehearsal on a Friday night and I sat there for 6 hours and wrote the bass parts for the demo. Then the singer didn’t show up either too, because he had big parties and he didn’t care to do it full time and get really-really good.
So I said, I’ll write the lyrics and when I didn’t get someone to sing I would sing for the demos. So, I would sit behind the drum kits after some time and I would write the drum parts for some of the demos, too. So, very quickly in the demo days I realized that if I wanted to do it in the level I wanted to be, at which was to work hard and get better and better, I had to do most of it myself. And that’s how it started and that’s how it still is up to today.
Well, you know, when I am going to the studio I am saying I need a singer and a drummer and I do everything else. So, I play all the bass on all the songs on the albums. I have been producing, engineering and mixing in most of the records. I just need a singer and a drummer for the studio. When it is time for touring I find musicians. Sometimes it is the same drummer, sometimes it changes and in every line up we do some changes if we have to and if we want to try something different. That’s why if you look at the first four Annihilator albums, every one of these CDs had different singer, line up and sold a lot of records and had a lot of fans and every one had a different kind of metal. “Alice In Hell” was a thrash rock/metal record. Then, “Never, Neverland” was a thrash record with some melody. The third one was commercial hard rock/heavy metal, melodic and the fourth one was traditional 80s heavy metal like Priest and Maiden, very small percentage thrash metal with the song “King Of The Kill” or maybe some other songs. So, you’ve got completely diverse fan base, total different styles, but all in the heavy metal music and that’s one of the reasons we are still around and why we had that four massive albums. None was the same kind of music.
The last time we talked, we were doing a video talk and there was an Eddie Van Halen poster behind you. How important was Eddie Van Halen for you, your music style and how you developed as a musician as a guitarist?
Well, the thing is I am a number one Van Halen fan. I have a collection, some of his guitars and strings and pedals and picks and pictures and songs. But, I wasn’t sitting in my room playing Van Halen. I never sat in my room and played a whole Eddie Van Halen solo. I never learned a complete Van Halen song until 2012 when I was on the 70 Thousand Tons Of Metal where I did “Ain’t Talking About Love”. I never learned to play his songs and solos, but I was the number one fan. He was my number one favorite guitar player of all time and still is because he is one of the best original rhythm guitars, original lead guitars and one of the best and original songwriters. So he has all three categories.
There are not many guitarists that have all these three categories. The only guy in the heavy metal music that is there, is Glenn Tipton from Judas Priest. He is an incredible lead guitar player, rhythm guitar player and songwriter. The next one up there is Dave Mustaine. He plays great solos, writes good songs and plays great rhythms. So, there are not many people that do all these three things in the highest level and Eddie Van Halen in his music he has that feeling. The songwriting on three first albums was just the best. His influence was not really…We also played a song called “Delight” on our 2010 record so I did play a song by him in 2010. But I never played other staff by him. So, his influence is as a fan, my band was never really influenced by him.
You mentioned he is one of your favorite guitarists. I have read an old interview of yours around 20 years ago. The question was about you picking an all-star heavy metal band. And you chose obviously for the singer Rob Halford, for rhythm guitar James Hetfield because you said his right hand is amazing and you also picked Agnus Young and also yourself as guitar player. Do you still stand up for this all-star band?
Yeah, I am trying to think. Eddie Van Halen should be there too, but I am thinking Agnus… It is really difficult, there are so many great players. I mean, I like so many different players from Steve di Giorgio to Steve Harris. There are hundreds of guitar players I love. And so many singers. But I think Halford is number one, or Freddie mercury, Bruce Dickinson with the great attitude. But it has to do with what music you play. Of course there should be Hetfield in there and Dave Lombardo, you know what I mean.
My last question is because the last days it’s kind of viral on the internet. Metallica put out the new record. Did you have a chance to listen to the new album “Hardwired To Self Destruct”?
Of course. When the first thing it came out I was a little bit worried. But, when I heard what they did in the whole album I said “oh yeah, this is good”. I am a fan of the first two albums and it is just as raw. You know, “Black Album” is a legendary, incredible record, but not my kind of staff… I was stuck in the past Metallica albums. “Load”, “Reload”, “Black Album” all that were great, but it wasn’t my thing I didn’t want to listen to it or buy it. But “Death Magnetic” came out and I thought I like this and I played that album loud for a few months and I liked it. It reminded me of “… And Justice For All” and all that good Metallica staff I liked.
And then the new one came out and I remember hearing the first song, and thinking “ooh I hope it gets better”. And it did. And I was like “oh yeah, this is great”. You cannot expect people to go back 30-40 years and get the same thing they had so many years ago. People change they are different and their lives are getting completely different, so you can’t get the same thing. But, I think that the new Metallica album is the best that you can get for 2016 and its fucking great and gives inspiration to a lot of musicians. I love the way I think its “Hardwired” where there is a mid-section in the song where if you listen carefully the very first Metallica song which was called “Metal Militia” on the compilation album you hear that riff in that song. So, they went to their first album and realized we need to go back. And that’s song I don’t think it was in the “Kill ‘Em All” was it? It was a separate thing.
No, no the first song in the metal massacre was “Hit The Lights”…
Yeah “Metal Militia” I think was in another compilation.
Yeah, but it was also on the “Kill ‘Em All” album too, you know.
Yeah that’s right… It’s a long time ago. Yeah “Hardwired” had that riff from “Metal Militia”, so when I heard it I became a fan of that album right away.
One last question. Which of the moments with Annihilator are you most proud of.
I guess with the songwriting. When I write a certain song I am very proud of it and sometimes no one hears the song in the beginning, it’s just me by myself and songs I make it for my son or like “Phoenix Rising” about my aunt who died of cancer. Some other songs like “Fun Palace” where I was very proud of the guitar solos section, not because of the lead guitar, but because of the rhythm guitar and the lead guitar.
You know the proud moments is finishing the record. Every time you finish the record it is survival. You are creating something that some people want to hear and you still believe in what you do. Sometimes you have great songs sometimes not so good. Sometimes you make a record and will be a classic like “Never, Neverland”, sometimes you make records like “Remains” which goes on the bottom of the list. So, you just got to keep trying to do the best you can. I think the pride with Annihilator is just being able to get a record deal and make a new record. That’s just the number one goal. Not the money and fame and things like that. It’s about being able to make the record. If the fans and the record company say, “okay it really sucks now it’s time to retire” I will do it in a second, because I do it for myself and I want some people to like it. So the pride is making a new album.
Jeff thank you very much for your time it was my pleasure talking to you.
Thank you and maybe I’ll see you again maybe the next year.