Every time us artists do a record, we usually think it’s one of our best things. And sometimes, if you’re honest, you look back maybe a year later and you go ‘Hm… Maybe these songs were not so good'”
Jeff Waters: Hello.
Wikimetal (Nando Machado): Hey, Jeff?
W (NM): Jeff Waters, this is Nando, from Wikimetal, how are you today?
JW: Very good, how are you doing, Nando?
W (NM): It’s a great honor to speak with you, thank you so much for your time.
JW: No problem.
W (NM): So, we’ll have a quick interview here, and I hope to see you in the beginning of June, when you’re here in São Paulo.
JW: Yeah, it’s going to be fun, not too many more days until we’re there, so that’s cool.
W (NM): Yeah, it will be soon. First of all, why did it take so long for Annihilator to come to Brazil? I guess last year was the first time you played in Brazil, right?
JW: Yeah, but it wasn’t just Brazil, it was all of South America and Central America, we hadn’t ever been there up until last May, 2012. We had just never gone to South America, because I always got offers from different promoters in all the different countries, and almost everyone I got over the last 20 years just seemed like it was “You get down here, we’ll pay for everything, and this is how much money you’ll get, and don’t worry everything will be fine.” And a lot of my friends in other bands said they went down to some parts of South America, and would not get paid by the promoters. Now, of course that has nothing to do with the fans, the fans are obviously some of the best fans in the world, all over South America. But, you know, I’ve heard horror stories from my friends’ bands over the last 20 years, and I made a deal with myself many years ago, that I’d never go down to places that my friends’ bands were saying there are problems with the promoters: I’d never go down there, unless I got the money for the shows, and the flight, and the hotel – everything before. And finally I met a promoter from Colombia, who’s also German – he’s a German who lives in Colombia, Bogota, and he just said straight out “You know what? You’ve been around a long time, Jeff, and you’ve got a good, honest reputation, so I’ll send you all the money up front, and let’s do some business.” So that is why I haven’t been down there, because as a business man as well, I have to make sure we don’t lose money, and this is guy is the only one who’s given us a fair and honest offer, and now that we found him, this is our second trip back to Brazil.
W (NM): Yeah, surprisingly, you’re coming back exactly a year after the last time, right?
JW: Yeah, and the cool thing for me is we keep getting more and more offers from different South American countries now, they keep coming in. So as long as I’m working with my honest promoter down there, I’ll be coming back as much as I can, as much as people want us to come back.
W (NM): That’s great, I totally agree with you, you have to do things the right way, otherwise it’s not possible. The fact that there’s a gap between the promoters and the fans is a shame, but I guess these promoters should work closer to the fans, right?
JW: Yeah, but I could have taken a chance and just gone down with some of the promoters, and maybe it would have been fine. I have lots of friends and everything, from Primal Fear, to Slayer, to Destruction and kreator, and a lot of these guys say they go down and they have a great time, and most of the time, everything works out fine. And I just got to the point where I wasn’t willing to just trust somebody that I’d never met before. And it doesn’t matter if it’s in South America or Canada. It’s just a matter of honest business, and I didn’t want to take a chance with it, because even some of my friends in those bands said “Listen, unless you have a good promoter that you can trust, don’t even bother, don’t try, but we hope you find one, because the fans are some of the best fans ever.
Annihilator never had good promotion in Canada. Nobody wanted to help us”
W (NM): Yeah, you’re right. So, you mentioned being from Canada… Annihilator is probably the number one Metal band in Canada, of all times, at least the best selling Metal band of all times. How was the scene over there when you started the band, and also, how do you see the Canadian Metal scene today?
JW: Well, the scene was always pretty good, we have a small population, but a huge country. So we may be bigger than the United States, but we only have a little more than 30 million people here. So, of course we’re not going to have as many bands, but I think the bands that come from Canada, in all kinds of music – we sort of are unique, because we have influence from the United States’ bands, but we also have influence from Europe and UK, London bands, England bands, British bands. So we’re in the middle, we kind of are influenced by a lot of different things, so it kind of gives us an original… Not original, but more influences. Not just growing up on one or two big bands, we’re growing up on hundreds. I think when Annihilator started, I was influenced by many bands, like Rush, and Triumph… You know, Brian Adams big in the pop world, and VoiVod was starting out. When I was doing my demos, VoiVod had already had an album out, or a CD, and there were some great, great, classic bands, who’s first albums were just brilliant, who were Razor, Anvil, and Exciter. And their first two or three albums were legendary in the underground scene. But I think with Annihilator, we never really got any support from Canada at all. We went outside of Canada to have our success and to sign a record deal with Roadrunner Records, out of Holland and out of New York. And in Canada that’s the bad thing, because a lot of the Canadian press and record companies, they just want to discover and make success with someone, they don’t want to have a Canadian band have success in other places and reach out to the United States and Europe, so Annihilator never had good promotion in Canada, we were always… Nobody wanted to help us. There was only really one magazine and online press, that was called “Bravewords and bloody knuckles”, wand they were the only ones that supported us. And that is very sad, but it’s just the way that Canada works. But lucky for me and Annihilator, we’ve had European and Asian, Japan success, and now South America is coming back for us too, and we’ve been able to keep going and never stop, so it’s been really cool.
W (NM): Yeah, I spoke to Sam Dunn the other day – we interviewed him as well – and he said almost the same thing about VoiVod.
JW: Oh, Sam Dunn, yeah, with the Metal movies, yeah, they didn’t even mention us in the movies. Annihilator was not even mentioned in those Metal movies at all.
W (NM): And he’s from Canada…
JW: And he’s from Canada. I was from Vancouver, where Annihilator was starting out, and he was from that area, and I’ve always wanted to ask him why Annihilator was never mentioned in any of those videos, because you have even smaller bands that are getting publicity, and getting mentioned in the movies, and yet they never spoke one word about the band that’s actually done the most sales, and still, not just one time in our career, he entire career, 25 years, it’s been 14 records, and we’re still going. In fact, in some places, in Europe now, Annihilator is literally selling ten times more records than we used to sell, so it’s kind of sad when you get Canadian people and press that don’t even mention Annihilator, because some of them… I think they would feel bad or silly if they said “Hey listen, there’s a band from Canada called Annihilator – we never really helped them or covered them or talked about them for 20 years, but now we’re going to talk about them.” You know, some people don’t like to admit that “Ops, maybe we should have mentioned this band.” So it’s pretty sad, we don’t get the publicity here from anyone, really, except that one publication “Bravewords and bloody knuckles”.
W (NM): That’s weird, because you get a lot of recognition from other artists that mentioned you as a big role model, as a guitarist, mainly, and also as a songwriter. You know, people from Megadeth to Killswitch Engage, Trivium, Slipknot – everybody talks about Annihilator. So it’s kind of weird that you don’t get that recognition in Canada. How does it feel to be a role model to all these great bands?
JW: I can give you just the first example that comes to mind: it’s not Annihilator, it’s just the way a lot of people are in Canada, which is very sad and very stupid, I think… But example: there’s a guy named Danko Jones, from Toronto, Canada, and Danko Jones is a friend of mine, he’s also a Hard Rock meets Punk, Metal artist.
W (NM): Yeah, I know them, that’s a pretty good band.
JW: Yeah, for their kind of music, they are.
W (NM): Yeah, they’re kind of more punk rock, it’s not exactly Metal, but it’s a good band, a good Hard Rock band.
JW: Yeah, exactly, good hard rock band, and when they play in Scandinavia or certain festivals in Germany, they’ll play to 50 thousand people. And when they do their concert tours, they sell them out over there, and they’re big. And when they come and play in Canada, and they play different clubs in Canada, they play to maybe 200 people, and the clubs treat them like shit… They maybe get water or towels, but that’s it, they don’t treat them well, they play in some shitty venues, and they get no respect at all from the Canadian media. So Danko and I have something very much in common there, because we’ve been going for a long time doing very well in other parts of the world, but our own home country does not support us at all. Nothing.
What I hope for Annihilator, with the different changes and the different styles, is that – maybe not all of the music or all the CDs – but most of them seem to be accepted by the fans.”
W (NM): Changing the subject, Jeff, you probably had one of the most traded tapes of all times in 1986. Today, there are kids who don’t even know what a tape is. What can you say about those days of tape trading compared to the new era of digital music? Is there any similarity between tape-trading or sharing files, for example?
JW: Well, I think the first thing that comes to mind is… Back when fanzines were the big thing. There were magazines and other things, but there were fanzines, and that was… Real Metal fans would start their own little magazines and it was usually made out of… They would go to their parents’ work, or where their parents were working, and they would ask to borrow the printer, and they would write out a 20 page magazine with black and white, and they would copy it, and nail the magazines out across the room. I remember the demo we did in 1986, called “Phantasmagoria”… When I sent the cassette tape out to all the fanzines around the world and to the record companies, it would take sometimes six weeks for the cassette to arrive, and now, of course, if you have new music, you have the ability to upload it to your website, and have people hear your music one minute after you’ve uploaded it. So it’s quite a great thing for new bands to promote their music, the internet, and it’s a great thing for the bog, big bands. But I think where it has a problem is the internet kind of hurt the bands in the middle, like, I don’t know… The beginning bands, they need the publicity, and they don’t have the record deals, and they want their music heard, and that’s how they can get popular and maybe get a record deal. And the big bands, they’re so big and they sell a lot of records, and they draw a lot of concert tickets, so that’s not important for them to eat, and for their jobs, they’re doing fine. But I think the internet was quite a bad thing for the middle bands, like, we have bands like Testament, Exodus, Annihilator, Overkill – bands like that, that were in the middle, that were not huge like Metallica and Slayer, but we were not a beginner, new band, and I think that was difficult, because the bands like the ones I’ve just said, you know, Overkill, Testament, Annihilator… We need to have record sales to survive, we need to have them to be able to go on tour and to keep everything going, and the internet really kind of hurt the bands in the middle in all kinds of music. But again, I think hat the benefit is much stronger, I think the fact that new bands can really get their name out, and their music out there and get a chance, I think that’s great, and I wish I was around, you know, if I was starting out as a musician, this is a great, positive thing.
W (NM): Yeah, it’s a very interesting point of view. Anyway, Jeff, we have a classic question on our show, one that we ask every single guest that we interview: just imagine you’re listening to music on a radio station, or maybe on your MP3 player, and a song starts that you just lose control completely. Which song is that, so we can listen to it on our show now?
JW:I know there’s a couple here, but now that you ask me, my mind goes blank.
W (NM): It’s funny to see everybody’s reaction, people react in different ways, some people laugh, some people think it’s a tough one… Because it is a tough one, right?
JW: I’d say lately, one of the three or four that have that effect would be Testament “DNR”, the song “DNR – Do Not Resuscitate”.
W (NM): You toured with Testament for a while, right?
JW: Yeah, we did some tours with them, and a lot of shows. One thing I like about Testament is they’ve had a few different sounds, you know, they were kind of going for a bit of the Metallica kind of style in the earlier days, and Chuck was singing more “Practice what you Preach”, and trying to do more singing, and they’ve had lineup changes, a lot of them, just like Annihilator has had. But they’re one of the good bands that are able to… And of course, Chuck went very heavy, I love it when he sings heavy – but they’re one of those bands that most of their lineups had different drummers and different guitars players, most of their lineups and albums were really fucking good, like, they were lucky and smart and talented, they were able to change lineups and change musicians and change styles along the way, and they still kicked ass for most of it. And that’s what I hope for Annihilator, with the different changes and the different styles, I hope that – maybe not all of the music or all the CDs – but most of them seem to be accepted by the fans.
W (NM): You’re absolutely right. And since you mentioned that, what is the new Annihilator CD like?
JW: That’s a good one. You know what? I don’t know.
W (NM): You’re recording a new album, right?
JW: Yeah, we’re finished. We just finished uploading the final artwork and masters to the record company a short while ago. The thing about it is, I could tell you “Oh, it’s one of the best ones, the most synergy and the drumming – the drummer in the album is great, and Dave Padden and I did some fast and cool guitar…” But the whole thing is, every time us artists do a record, we usually think it’s one of our best things. And sometimes, if you’re honest, you look back maybe six months later or a year later, and you look at the songs, and you go “Um… Maybe these songs were not so good…”So it’s really tough to tell you, because I want to tell that this is one of our top four best records for sure, but you don’t know… It’s up to the press, it’s up to the fans, it’s up to the record company to make that statement. I just love it myself. I play it in the car now, because I’m really liking one particular song, I just play it over and over again, it’s called “No way out”. But it’s totally up to the fans and the press and the label, because it’s out of my hands now, I’m happy with it, and we hope to hell that everybody else loves it!
Even with really nice people that don’t do drugs, or don’t drink alcohol, you put them on a bus for ten months and have some problems, it’s just human nature.”
W (NM): I believe you, Jeff. And since you mentioned Dave, what is it like to work with Dave, and how did you realize he was the right partner for you to play with?
JW: Well, at the beginning I wasn’t sure, because when Dave joined the band in 2003, he was a singer but not the guitar player, he was just singing. And he was very new, and he had new Metal kind of influences, because he was much younger than me, but he also loved Heavy Metal music like Maiden and Priest, but he was also into Exodus, Slayer, Testament, so I knew the good thing was he was like me, he liked everything from pop to thrash, to punk, to death, to speed, to classic Heavy Metal – he liked it all. And I like that too, I like a bit of jazz and blues and classical… And I thought “This is a good match, because he likes the same kinds of different styles of music that I like.” But it was difficult for him at the beginning, because he didn’t really have a singing style, so that took, I think, one album before Dave really got confortable. And then he did a second album, called “Schizo Deluxe” in 2005, and it was actually a bad time, because the record company’s president, the label boss – his name was Andy, and he was the boss of AFM Records, in Germany – he died in a car crash, and that was a really sad time for the label, and his family… But it also killed our record, we didn’t really get any kind of promotion from it, because the label was stopped almost. But that’s the album when I realized Dave Padden was going to be a good singer, a really good one. “Schizo Deluxe” album was really good. Then he took over guitar… You know, he played guitar and sang, which is very difficult to do with Annihilator. And he did a great job, he couldn’t move around on stage much, but he could play and sing great. It was a really tough… There are not many people that can play Annihilator guitar, let alone play guitar and sing, so he’s a great talent just to do that. And also the reason I think we’re still together after 10 years is because we don’t live anywhere close to each other, we live very far away – about 5 thousand kilometers away, both of us live in Canada, but Canada, of course, is a big country. And we only see each other for rehearsals, tours and working on new albums, so that means we don’t get sick of each other, you know? We just do our work together and be friends, and then we say goodbye, and then sometimes I won’t see him for six months even.
W (NM): That’s a dream for many musicians, right?
JW: Yeah, think about it: even with really nice people that don’t do drugs, or don’t drink alcohol, and are nice people, you put them on a bus for ten months, you’re going to have some problems, it’s just human nature, and I’m very lucky I’ve been able to keep Dave this long and just look forward to seeing him again for a record or for a tour, you know?
W (NM): Yeah, you’re right. Anyway, Jeff, let’s listen to some more music right now, I’d like you to choose an Annihilator song that you feel really proud of having written.
JW: Um… OK, hang on, give me a second.
W (NM): Another difficult one.
JW: OK, I got this one. Even though there’s only one Annihilator song that is like this, I like it because it’s a little different than what I would normally write, but I kind of like that it’s really heavy, it’s called “Maximum Satan”.
W (NM): We’re reaching the end of the interview, but I want to ask you something, because I think your band is one of the best Thrash Metal bands of all times. Have you ever imagined what would have happened to Annihilator if you lived in San Francisco in the mid-80s? Is it something that you ever considered in that time, at least?
JW: Yeah, the one thing that I used to say, you know, one every six months, I would say to myself “I wish Annihilator had not come out with the first record in 89, I wish it had come out in 85.” When Annihilator had the biggest album, which was “Never Neverland”, in 1990, that was almost the end of the great Metal records, that was the great Megadeth record, that was “Painkiller” from Judas Priest, and that was almost the end of the great Metal records, so Annihilator was coming out at the end, and I was writing this kind of stuff in 1983, 1984. I just took too long in Ottawa, Canada, where I lived, getting everything together. So when my first CD came out in 89, “Alice in Hell”, I was 23 years old. And I think I should have kicked my ass and maybe done that in 1986, when I was writing the music. But at the same time, you know how things can change, maybe that would have been a bad thing… Maybe I would have been too young and maybe I would have gone into drugs, you know what I mean? Because I never tried or got into the serious hard drugs, I was only into heavy drinking, and that was bad enough. If I had maybe had success earlier, maybe I would have tried cocaine or heroine, or done some stupid drugs, and maybe Annihilator would have been… Maybe I would have been dead 15 years ago, who knows?
W (NM): Yeah, who knows? You have a studio in Ottawa, the Watersound Studio, right?
W (NM): Do you write or produce albums for other artists, or is it just your studio for your music?
JW: It’s the kind of thing I do for fun and to keep up my knowledge of technology, and I love mixing and mastering. So, for example, yesterday I mastered a band from France, and the week before I mixed a band from… I think it’s Spain… But I don’t do that all the time, I either do it because I like the music, or because I like the music and their paying me good money. Sometimes I’ll work with bands that have no record deals, I do this a lot, and I just say “Listen, try to come up with this much money for my time, and I can maybe help you out.” In other times, they are more professional things, I do writing for other artists, and writing for the Sony publishing, and all these different things, but mainly it’s Annihilator, the other things are just part time and for fun, a lot of it.
W (NM): OK, Jeff, so first of all, let me thank you so much for your time and for everything you’ve done in your musical career. It’s such an honor to talk to you, and we look forward to meet you on the 2nd of June, in São Paulo.
JW: Good, look forward to meeting you man, that’s great.
W (NM): That’s great, Jeff! Thank you once again, thank you so much for your time.
JW: Thank you, and tell everybody you know to come to show, we need people there!
W (NM): We’ll be there, we’ll be calling them.
JW: Thank you.
W (NM): Cheers, man.
JW: Bye, bye.
W (NM): Bye.