We infiltrated the corridors of power at Glasgow Garage on November 14th, gaining access to Annihilator‘s dressing room and, rather than kidnapping him as we’d planned, settled for interviewing Jeff Waters before they played. We discussed their new album, posers, songwriting and the murky world of record label politics… And not a knob joke in sight.
Leave The Hall: This is the first headline UK tour you’ve done in ages. How are you finding it so far?
Jeff: Lots of fun! Especially being the first time in the UK and to be up here in Scotland is awesome too. We’ve done the rest of Europe over the last 6-7 weeks and its been fun seeing a lot of the new fans that we’ve gained from the last couple of albums, and neat to see the old and young fans together.
LTH: How does it compare to your last UK tour with Trivium in 2008?
Jeff: We’ve done 3 or 4 tours the last few years as guests, which is great because we targeted some different types of bands, different genres of metal, we also toured with Judas Priest a while ago. It was not really our time to go out and do our own shows… We could have, but we didn’t think it would work, that it would have been better to get a little more following behind us. We got lucky a couple of years ago with the tour with Trivium and we had an album called Metal in 2007 with a bunch of guests on it, which opened us up to new fans.
LTH: Do you think that’s how it worked? Do you think that perhaps the outside attention solely on the guests diluted the impact of the album?
Jeff: No, I think before that it was always an underground following since, I guess, ’93, at least in the UK where it just kind of dropped off. The rest of Europe we were doing really well with King Of The Kill etc so it depends where you are. In certain countries like England where a lot of people have never heard of us, or have just heard the first couple of albums, they think it’s our first tour since Never, Neverland!
LTH: People are thinking it’s some kind of reunion tour?
Jeff: There are some people who think we went away in the early 90’s and now we’re just back again. And we kind of did in the UK. The Metal album opened us up to more people, and they start talking and it spreads, and with the internet if you have something that people are interested in or think is good then it doesn’t matter if the record company pours money in or not.
LTH: What do you think Trivium and their fans would make of the lyrics to The Trend?
Jeff: If you look at how things work, going back to Sum 41 and Blink 182 in the late 90s, early 2000’s, seeing these guys with Iron Maiden and Slayer shirts, and I knew that if I was 16 years old and listening to these bands I’d want to know who was on their shirts. A lot of the Trivium fans who were really into them 3 years ago, some of them stay Trivium fans and some of them wander off and find other bands that they like. That tour generated a lot of interest in us in the UK because we were completely unknown here and that helped us.
LTH: What do you think of the whole Thrash Revival and bands like Municipal Waste and Evile?
Jeff: There are a lot of good bands that are listening and learning from the early stuff. It’s the same with everything, there are some labels that just try to sign that because they think it’s hot – ‘Hey, you’ve got to sound like this or be like this and we’ve got to dress you like that, shoot you just like the early Metallica photos…’ you know, and there’s young bands that are doing that. But there are also, like Evile for example, genuine, great musicians who really love the music. Ol (Drake) from Evile is an amazing guitar player, you can’t ‘fake’ that or ‘pose’ learning Marty Friedman.
LTH: The new album ‘Annihilator’ is the most aggressive release you’ve had in a long time. Is this you putting it out there for the die hard fans, saying that this is what we’re all about?
Jeff: We just take every album and do a record. We don’t talk about it, it’s mostly Dave (Padden) and I and we hire a drummer to play the drums. We don’t really pre-plan or think of anything, we just do it.
LTH: Is there a set routine to writing an Annihilator song?
Jeff: It’s pretty well the same each time and sometimes you get lucky, you get something that’s good or better, and sometimes you think it’s good and later you look back and go “Ooh that wasn’t that great”. If you’re honest as a musician, you’re gonna find some songs that are not so good and albums that are not so strong, and then you’re gonna find some classic, kick ass good stuff. AC/DC doesn’t have ten Back In Blacks and Annihilator doesn’t have ten Never, Neverlands!
LTH: What do you think creates these classics? Is there a certain frame of mind or vibe you can get into?
Jeff: You just get lucky. When you’re really trying hard to do it, it usually fails. You can’t think ‘Oh my god I’ve got to write something that’ll sell…’ because it doesn’t work, especially in metal. It’s not like pop music where you can sit down and say ‘I’m going to target this to be the suckiest chorus and the most catchy bit…’ Though, in the back of your mind with metal you do want a catchy chorus cos you want people to remember it. There are formats to songs that make them easier to listen to and maybe get you more fans but I always like to screw things up and put parts in the middle that make no sense…
LTH: That’s what makes it an Annihilator song!
Jeff: …And you can never have big commercial success with a name like Annihilator anyway!
LTH: Self-titled albums are often considered to be a bands definitive statement. Would you say that’s what you were going for with the new record?
Jeff: The stupid answer to that is we couldn’t think of a good title! We usually look at the songs and Dave and I will shoot back ideas, sometimes we think we have the title and then later on we’ll look and say ‘no, we’ll try this’. So I’ll send him some titles and usually they’re song titles – King Of The Kill, Alice In Hell, Never, Neverland, Set The World On Fire, Refresh The Demon, Carnival Diablos… I can keep going on that! – We looked at the song titles on the new album and none of them made for a good album name so one of us just said ‘why don’t we just self title the thing!’.
LTH: There are no guests on the new album, and as a result it’s quite stripped back and streamlined. But were you influenced by any other bands or music during writing?
Jeff: Nope. Dave listens to a lot of newer stuff, and a lot more music than I do. I tend to watch Dallas reruns and I listen to old school stuff when I pop music on. Everyone gives me shit cos it’s the same old shit that I keep listening to over and over again for 25 years, so I’ll put on Fabulous Disaster by Exodus, an AC/DC or Slayer record or Kiss Alive II before we go on stage…
LTH: Do you ever feel like you’re running out of inspiration, that there are no more riffs to be written and played?
Jeff: A little bit, for guitar players, 99% of riffs are coming from somewhere else. The greatest players – Hetfield, Van Halen and all these guys – have admitted in interviews, I’m not just saying it, that their stuff comes from here, here and here. In my case it’s a little easier as I didn’t limit myself to liking two or three bands and guitarists, I liked 50 so it’s a little easier to not repeat myself. All of these influences come together and you end up getting your own sound. I write all the music now, and after a while you start playing something and think ‘This kicks ass! I really like that riff!’ and Dave will say “Err, you used that on the 4th album!” or “That’s a Slayer song, Jeff!”
LTH: So how do you cope with the pressure when it’s all resting on your shoulders?
Jeff: There is none! We don’t have one of these record deals where you sign with a company and they own the publishing, merchandise, live profits and the masters to the albums; a big long contract that never ends until the record label wants it to end, and then you’re sent out in a van with $7 a day a for two years, slaving away. We licence albums, we record it in my studio with our own money, give it to a record company and they put it out – I still own it – and 3 or 4 years later I get the rights back. So there’s no pressure at all, in fact when I was shopping for this last deal with Earache, I don’t think they’d even heard the album.
LTH: So do labels know that you’ve got an album finished and then they come and approach you?
Jeff: Labels know what we’re going to sell in Europe. They’ll know how much Annihilators last album sold, and think ‘If we put a little money in, maybe it’ll sell more’. That kind of deal is great for us because we retain the rights to it and control everything. The downside is, the label won’t do anything for you, because they’d rather sign a bunch of 20 year old kids – and they can sign 5 of those bands – and make them do whatever they want, just pimp them out there while the kids don’t make any money. We just finish our record and say ‘here you go, take it’ but we don’t get the promotion that a band would normally get and we won’t get on the cover of magazines unless we sign our lives away. When people ask “Why haven’t you got bigger and why don’t you get more promotion?” Well, that’s the 100% real reason why things are the way they are – we decided that we didn’t want to sell our soul.
LTH: So are you happy with the situation?
Jeff: Oh yeah, it works great because we can control the music and we control the business side without a record company. But it’s experience and luck; I signed my first deal to Roadrunner in 1989 and they made us pretty popular – without them we wouldn’t have had a career and they’re an amazing label – but that was a sign your life away deal. We just got one in a million luck that they dropped us in 1993 because they cleaned house on metal. Unless you were gonna sound like Biohazard, Pantera or Sepultura, leave. It was a blessing in disguise for us, we probably had the usual deal of another 5 albums and 20 years or whatever, and because they dropped us we were able to start this new model, way back in the early 90’s.
LTH: 2010 is the 20th anniversary of Never, Neverland and a lot of thrash bands have been playing through whole records as a celebration of classic albums. Is that something you could see yourself doing… maybe a DVD release? I’d love to see the Annihilator – Never, Neverland Blu Ray!
Jeff: No, we’ll leave that to Megadeth and Priest! I bought the British Steel one, I bought the Rust In Peace one but you’re not gonna buy the Never Neverland one! It’s a different thing for us… maybe business wise in a few countries it’d be a great idea to make money, but we’re just happy doing what we’re doing now, and I would’t want to put Dave through that. It’s coming up to 8 years he’s been here, it’s his and my band now and that was the past. We’ve never had that. It’s always gone album by album, different singers, different line-ups, different production and song writing styles, and it’s never been like one or two good albums and the rest sucked, so there’s no point in going back and doing the reunion thing. We’d have to go back and do King of the Kill too ‘cos that one sold huge! And Set the World on Fire…
LTH: Every couple of years just keep doing reunion shows…
Jeff: I love it as a fan! But I wouldn’t want to do it for Annihilator.
LTH: Even though Annihilator fans themselves might want it?
Jeff: They don’t. I think most of them think ‘keep doing what you’re doing’. The thing about Annihilator is, you buy one CD and you like it, but the next one you might not like it at all because we go a different way. But our fans know that if they don’t like this one, maybe they’ll like the next one!
LTH: Do you have anything in mind for the next one at this early stage? Any ideas so far?
Jeff: 10 pop songs. Michael Jackson covers.
LTH: That’s definitely the way forward.
Jeff: We’ll just write and see what happens!
Treat yourself. Before Ewen buys them all.