It's seems that Jeff Waters made the right decision going a little bit back to Annihilator's roots, as his latest opus "For the Demented" is the most well-received Annihilator album in years. It's also the first album in years where Jeff didn't write all of the material just by himself, joining forces with the band's bass player Rich Hinks, and this creative collaboration turned out to be very fruitful. To promote the new release the band played a string of European dates as special guests to Testament, which was a good occasion for us to ask Jeff a few questions.
So, how is the European leg of the tour going?
Good, it's the second one. We did the first couple of months in mainland Europe and that was a lot of fun. That was in October, November, December and then we took some time off, Testament took some time off, I was on the 70,000 Tons of Metal boat cruise, I go on every year. And then we started up again and now, the first tour was with Death Angel opening-up and this one is with Vader. It's kinda cool for us to change a little bit.
I think your first ever proper tour was with Testament, so it's like a re-union?
Yeah, the first North American tour, so Canada and the States and that was '89 and that was amazing. Your first tour and you're touring with Testament for 3 months, that was incredible.
"Suicide Society" was quite a diverse album, with lots of influences on it, and it did very well, but you didn't continue in that direction, but went kind of back to roots, to the early Annihilator style. Why?
Well, "Suicide Society" was the first record I did that, like you said, you could hear the influences really clearly on everything. And that was the first album I did where I was writing riffs or songs and it sounded a little bit like Megadeth or it sounded like "Master of Puppets" kinda riff or something, and normally I would say, "OK, delete", but this one was like, "Fuck it, I love Metallica, I love Megadeth, I love these bands, so let's just do it." So, it was more of a, I don't know, just little bit of a fan kind of influence album and it did very well. Actually, it did better than the one before, but I knew when I did the record and I was finished, "Ooohhh, that's on the edge," you know? It's very much influenced by other bands. So, I tried to do something a little bit, it's not easy to do, but try and go and do more of like we play a riff and people go, "Oh, that's Annihilator" or Waters, whatever, not, "Oh that's Iron Maiden." So, I tried to get a little bit more back to the original style I guess, that I was doing earlier on. So, it's kind of back to the roots, a little bit, 50-50.
I think it's the first time in years you let someone else co-write stuff for Annihilator. I'm thinking, Rich must have blackmailed you or something?
Nope, nope, ha-ha! No, he was shocked that I asked him. He was wondering why. He'd only been in the band playing bass and touring for a year or something. But he also likes studio work, he was watching me in the studio all the time, pressing buttons and doing things. And everybody was very quiet and he asked a few questions, this is before we did the writing. And he likes two kinds of metal, he likes the sort of really technical metal like Meshuggah or something that's not straight ahead like AC/DC like I like, he likes more the math-metal stuff. But his favourite bands in high-school were Megadeth, Judas Priest, Annihilator and Metallica so that's his four favourite bands and I knew that because it was on his Facebook site before he auditioned for the band. So I was, "Hey, he's not lying, he's not bullshitting, he actually liked Annihilator." And he's a good bass player. So I just invited him to my house, to my studio in Canada and said, "You have to stay for a few weeks, but why don't you come in and sit in on the record when I'm writing and starting the writing of it and maybe when I play some riffs that are too much like my favourite bands or just not good riffs you'll just say no, if it's good you'll say yes and the nos we delete, yeses we keep." And after the second day he picked up a guitar, which he's a bass player, but he picked up a guitar and said, "Why don't you change the end of that riff and make it like this." So, I tried it, "Hey it sounds good." So, within about three days I realised him and I were both writing the music and that's where it went. We went to the end of the record and wrote all the songs except one I wrote myself, but basically it was Rich and I writing the music and he went home and then I finished everything, recorded it and stuff. It was interesting for me to have somebody else there, it was more fun, you know what I mean? It's like you are by yourself it can be a little bit more serious and not so much fun, but if someone's in there and you're making jokes and you're having good time it kinda comes out of the music I think.
"For the Demented" is the first Annihilator album where the songs are connected lyrically, have a common theme, the human mind. So, you have 16 albums out, why did you decide to do this kind of concept album just now?
Yeah, I thought maybe, like with the music, I wanted to try and go back to the beginning stuff, but not rip it off. I know I can't get albums like "Never, Neverland" ever again. If I could do that again, I would make every album like "Never, Neverland", they'd be very good albums. But lyrically I just said, "Aaahh, let's make it really easy." I like crazy stories and psychology and read books about mental illnesses and a whole bunch of different things. And with my family and some friends you know, father has Alzheimer's, this person I know has severe depression, and I've went through things like that before, alcoholism, whole bunch of things, so I thought, "Well fuck it, write the whole album about the good and bad and the strong parts of the human mind and the weak parts and some crazy parts", you know? So, I just thought that'd be kind of a neat thing. We kinda touched on that on the early albums. I think the next album though, I think I'm gonna get the original co-writer that wrote songs like "King of The Kill", "Alison Hell". His name is John Bates and he wrote a lot of those crazy psychological kind of songs with me. He lives in Vancouver and I live back in Ottawa, very far away so I emailed or facebooked him or something a few months ago, and said, "Write another "Alison Hell", write it," ?cause he and I both wrote the lyrics for that but I just said, "You write it, just do it all yourself and just write an "Alison Hell part 2."" And then he actually came back to me and said, "It can't be part 2." and I go, "Why?" and he goes, "'Cause you already wrote that." And then I realised, I never said in interviews, but "Alison Hell" part 2 was the song called "Never, Neverland" and then we did an "Alison Hell" part 3, it was another song, I can't remember what it was, but we never put "Alison Hell" or never said anything. So, technically, maybe we'll call it "Alison Hell part 4". And then people will go, "Where's two and three?", ha-ha!
What's the idea behind the title of the album? I mean it seems you wanted to say that it's an album for crazy people, but the truth is, people who don't listen to metal are crazy, there's something wrong with them...
Yeah, it's something like that. When I looked it up in the dictionary of English language and "demented", I knew what it meant, it meant somebody with dementia, as an illness, and I didn't wanna write about that. But then I was gonna skip the pages and I saw the second meaning, the not so popular meaning which is wild, crazy, fun or different. OK, you can be different if you like black metal or if you like one kind of music or one kind of band or if you like tattoos, or the way you dress, or you just like different things that other people don't usually like. So I thought, "Well maybe I'll write a song called "For the Demented", this is for the demented" and I thought, "Maybe I'll make two meanings, the one meaning could be it's for people, just be yourself and fuck everybody else." If you like art or you like music or you like to do something for your job. Like people when they ask what do I do for a living, whether I was 20 or whether I'm now 52 somebody says, "Oh, you're playing in a band? What's the name of your band? And I say, "Annihilator", they laugh. If they're not into metal they just laugh and they think that's silly, "No, but what's your real job?" I'm like, "Well that, I play in a metal band.", you know? So, I was kinda like, just be yourself, fuck everybody else, if you like something and it's a good thing that you're doing just do it and just try to black out everybody else. And the other thing is, I wanted to write two stories in one but nobody knows what the other story is, only me. The other story is I went to see a doctor, a family psychiatrist for my son and myself ?cause many years ago my wife died so I had a little baby son and it was just me being a father, the only parent. So it was difficult travelling and I wanted to make sure that he wouldn't get too many problems when he got older. And me too, I wanted to learn how to be better at doing things the right way so I paid a lot of money to go see this woman psychiatrist. And after the fifth or sixth time that I went in five weeks she looked at me and she said, "Maybe it's time that you," she looked at my shirt and it was a Metallica "Justice for All" shirt that I was wearing and she goes, "maybe one thing that you could start doing is thinking about another career, changing your careers and dressing differently." And I just looked at her, like, I was in shock. Four times I saw her and everything was good, she was teaching me things about being a better parent, and what I needed to watch for and bang! The fifth time she said, basically, "You should change your job, and get a real job" and I'm like, fuckin' 40 years old at that time or whatever age I was and she's telling me that. Anyway, I wrote basically a "fuck you" in that song for her, ha-ha!
I absolutely love the demon cover art but I'm not sure how it connects with this concept?
I don't really either, ha-ha! We have an artist, named, I can't pronounce his last name, Gyula Havancsák, he's done so many good covers. When I met him nobody knew who he was really, he hadn't really worked with any other bands. And then he did our first maybe two or three albums, and then Schmier said, "Hey, who does your albums?" and then the labels all wanted to get him and now everybody wants him to do their artwork. So, yeah, he's great. A lot of times I'll tell him exactly what I want and a lot of times I'll just say, "Think of something." I don't know what that one's about, I do know I wanted white on the cover, I wanted the logo in red on the side, and he said, "What about a demon or something?" and I said, "We've got demons and zombies on covers, no more "Alison Hell" dolls and stuff, think of something else." And then an email came and he goes, "I'm really sorry, but I really got into this idea of a demon again." And I'm like, "Oh shit!", but I clicked the email and it was great.
You filmed three video clips for the album but "Pieces of You" has been the most talked about one. Why did you decide to film something as controversial as this?
Just to get it out. We didn't have much of a budget for anything, so that was a cheap lyric video, and we said, "Well, we just want to get the song out so people could hear it.", you know? It's very hard to get promotion. On Facebook if you put a video there, there's filters on Facebook to keep people from seeing it, you know? It's just all really difficult to get your music out there right now, without paying a lot of money to Facebook or other companies. But we didn't have the money to make a big fancy video so we just said, "Let's just do a lyric video" and Gyula did that video for us. And we tried to make it a little bit more controversial, not with the video but just the way we announced the video and stuff just to see if people would look at it. It's a strange song, it's very weird... I don't think we've done a song like that before, about a very twisted, gruesome real murder. So, I thought, that might be kinda interesting to do.
I've read somewhere that you wrote that song on a plane?
Yeah. Actually, our guitar player Aaron, a lot of us keep saying, "Why is it taking him years and years to make his own band's CD?" He's got sort of a hardcore, a little different style music band at home, but he doesn't do many shows, so a couple of years and still, "When's your album, when's your music?" and nothing. He said, "Oh I'm working on it" and I said, "Well you have to work at this, you have to." Because he's a friend and he's in the band I was very direct, I said, "Well, it's not gonna fall on your lap, you need to work, like 10 hours a day, you've got to work for this." "Oh, I know, I know." I said, "I'll show you, I'll write a song while we're on a plane", from Spain to France I think it was, just a couple hours' flight, I said, "I'll write a song on the plane, I'll show you, you just gotta do it." So, I wrote a song, showed him at the end of the flight, I said, "Look, an hour and a half took me to write the song" and that was "Pieces of You" song. But he still hasn't finished his album yet, ha-ha!
Dan from Exciter did backing vocals on the new album again. I think he's appeared on most of your albums for the last 15 years or so...
Yeah, five or six of them I think. I met Dan in high school. Our high school goes from grade 9 to grade 12 and he was in grade 12 finishing his last year and I was going into grade 9, same high school, but he was leaving and I was starting. And he was the only one in the school that had a leather jacket with a jean jacket with patches on, it was 1980 I think or something, very early. And I was into like Scorpions and Van Halen and stuff... So I thought it was cool because he had Motörhead and Judas Priest patches on his jacket, "Whoa, this guy is cool!" And he was tall. Turns out he's not tall, he's the same height as me, but I thought he was really cool in high school. And then I moved to Vancouver for 19 years, I came back in 2003 or 2004 and I thought, "Hmm, Dan Beehler, he hasn't been doing anything in music for decades." So I looked him up and then we became friends. He has a very successful painting company, he paints buildings and offices and houses. Actually, a lot of people don't know this, but I got about six of their albums back for them from old record companies that were ripping them off. Got the records back and did a deal with Megaforce in New York to sell those six albums. They went their whole career without getting one dollar and then I came back in 2006, got them all back and gave them to Megaforce and they each made, not a lot, but they made some good money off it. So, they finally got paid for their albums from the early days. So, he's been a friend ever since 2004. He comes in the studio, whenever I need backing vocals like the shouting vocals, he comes in.
It's your second album without Dave, where you took over the vocal duties. Have you thought about getting another singer at all, or was it like, "I did it in the past, why bother?"
The first week I was in shock because Dave left I think in 2014 when I was just finished with the music for the album and I wrote the lyrics and sang on the demos for the singer which was Dave and then he was supposed to fly to my city and do the record. Three days before he was supposed to fly he basically quit and he said, "I can't explain it but for a long time I haven't been into doing this." I said, "Dave, how long?" "Well, six years", I'm like "Ooohhh. You should have told me six years ago." But because he was a friend, I wasn't angry, I was just sort of like, "Oh shit, that sucks." And then I thought, "Well, what am I gonna do now?" For a week I was a little bit in shock, but then the next week after that I was like "OK, I'll find another singer. That's what I always do." And then I looked for two weeks and I couldn't find anybody. It was either older guys, yes, I'm older too, but older singers that were only into the old-school kind of singing and a lot of them were not in good shape to do tours like we do for like 12 months sometime, or younger kids who were in their 20s, that had good voices but they were more into the screaming. I couldn't find anybody in the middle that would do both. There are guys who can do both but there's only that many. Like Stu Block from Iced Earth, with Iced Earth he's playing traditional Iced Earth style heavy metal, but Stu has the ability, he has the potential, he should be the next Rob Halford. So I just said, "Fuck it, I need a challenge." For me to play guitar is easy, because it's what I do all my life, so it's easy for me and on stage it's just like running around, sweating, trying to lose my belly but singing and playing guitar is way harder. That's like guys like James Hetfield and especially Dave Mustaine, to play technical guitar parts and sing at the same time, most people can't do that. So I said, "OK, well, I need a challenge, so I'll try to do that again." But I had to really work at it and I still have a lot of work to do.
I've read somewhere that Justin Bieber is your favourite Canadian artist?
Ha-ha! No! There are some pop artists I like. I like Brian Adams. Brian Adams has always been my favourite. My Polish aunt taught Brian Adams for two years when he lived in Ottawa so every time Brian comes to play in Ottawa we always get tickets. And there's two big Brian Adams hits from the ?80s that were written about my aunt. He was just a teenager, a 14-year-old in school, looking at his 30-year-old teacher who was a very pretty woman and he was like, "Oh wow, Mrs Smith, Mrs Smith, you're so beautiful!" you know, in his head and he wrote two hit songs about her. And then I met Brian in 1993. I ended up working in his house in West Vancouver. He had a little studio at the bottom floor of his house and I ended up doing some of "Set the World on Fire" in his house. So, he had this young metalhead, thrash metal guy hanging out with a popster and his friends, Sting and all these things and I was like, "Wow, what a cool life I live."
Do you think any of the young thrash bands will be able to go on for 30-40 years like the old-school bands do?
I don't know what's gonna happen in the future. Right now, we just haven't seen any of these bands come up and take the throne from the greats, from the Maidens, the Priests, AC/DCs even the Scorpions' and the Kisses... Metallica, Exodus, Anthrax... There's a lot good musicians, good bands. Korn, Five Finger Death Punch, Machine Head, you had all these bands, they're maybe more commercial or changing their styles all the time, like Avenged Sevenfold is that Metallica style kind of band, you did think one of those bands was gonna take over, like somebody's gonna get up there. Even if that's not my favourite band, you know, it's commercial, poppy metal music, it still hasn't happened. Avenged Sevenfold never got to Metallica's level and nobody's got there. So, I don't know. Record companies also make it more difficult to stay together now because the bottom line is, record companies used to sign a band, even the small independent labels like when Roadrunner started out, they never signed bands to put their first album out and then if it didn't sell on the first week they dropped them and say no. They signed them for long term albums. Part of that was to rip them off, but the other part was because they saw that maybe the first album won't work, but maybe if we keep working with the band it'll go up. And labels now with the total change in the business, now the labels if an A&R guy signs a band put some money in and it doesn't do well right away, the band's gone but also the A&R guy is fired so he has no job. So, there's no risk anymore. There's no money put in, no risk. That's why younger bands have more difficult time. Because that means on their first album they have to be successful or else they have no chance.
A lot of bands have recently played their entire albums live, for some special occasions. Any chance for an "Alice in Hell" tour next year? It will be 30 years old if I'm not mistaken?
I've actually been talking to all the guys on the first two albums, ?cause it's 30th Anniversary of both records within a year. So, I've been slowly talking to everybody. We'll see what happens. It doesn't mean I can do it, it's hard to put that together plus there's some of the guys that are a few years older than me and so I'm 52 and if you took somebody that goes to a normal job for 25 years and then you get on the bus, get on the plains, travel, your sleep's fucked up, you have to learn how to eat better, and go play on stage and then do all these crazy things that screw up your brain and your body a lot of people would have a heart attack. You can't just jump into this life and say, "Oh, I was in a band 25 years ago, now I'm gonna tour for two years." Physically, you can't do that. There's a lot of bands that come back and they're ready to die after the first show or first week. So, I'm trying to find out if some of the guys can even do it and if they can, maybe it'll be for just a few shows or something, you know?
I saw your amazing custom guitars with the cover arts on them. Are they one-offs?
They're one-off things, yeah. You see them from a distance and they look like beautifully painted guitars, but if you saw them up-close, they're not. They cost like about 50 Euros and you can get a company to print out your album cover with that vinyl, it's not glue but you just push it on, smooth it and it's finished. And you cut around the edge of the guitar. So, everybody thinks they're so special and it's like, me and my bass player Rich, we just took a razorblade and cut it up and there's a new guitar.
I saw your Facebook post where you said you were looking for guitar sound for the next album... What did you mean?
You know, I have a lot of different amps, a lot of different things but there's a little more behind it. Because every time you go into a studio, well I have my own studio, but every time you start again on another record when you have a microphone or you have an amplifier they all sound different and if you take a microphone and you move it 4mm it changes the whole sound. So, really when you're getting a guitar sound in the studio, most of us are just trying to get something that sounds good enough, you know, because it's not easy to say, "I want to sound like this." You can spend months and spend a lot of money on equipment. We just put the microphone or we use a thing called Helix Line 6, we just play around with it until it sound good, save it, that's how I get my sound.
OK, let's wrap up. Can you see Annihilator still going strong in 10-15-20 years, you know, like the Stones or Aerosmith?
No, I don't think I can physically do that for another 10 years... No, 52... I'll say 60, that's my cut-off. There's no way I can keep going after that, that's crazy. But we'll see. Ask me that question in 5 years.