A few days ago I had the chance to talk with Jeff Waters about the upcoming Annihilator album “Suicide society”. The Canadian guitar wizard was in a very good mood and talked about the new longplayer, the Annihilator history and if he might have a chance to meet his old friends of Savatage in Wacken.
MHMB: Hej Jeff. Good have you on the phone. How are you?
Jeff Waters: I’m good, thanks. I’m here in Hannover looking forward to see AC/DC tonight with around 88.000 fans.
MHMB: That sounds fantastic. I have seen them a few weeks ago in Munich and I can tell you, it was amazing.
Jeff: I’m very much looking forward to see their great stage show.
MHMB: Absolutely. And the light show was exactly how it needs to be combined with a sound that was perfect too.
Jeff: I think they have enough money they can afford a good soundman (he said with a smile).
MHMB: How are things going right now with your band? Annihilator has a new album ready to be released.
Jeff: Yeah. There is a lot of work to do here. It’s one of those ‘rare’ CD’s where you think that everything’s being normal and than all of a sudden things change. Our distributor (Warner) talked to our label (UDR) and they wanted a music video for “Suicide society” and “Snap” – two of the songs on the new record. So they called us up at last minute and said that they needed me and the band coming over to Europe to do the videos. This was on pretty short notice. Having just two weeks to come up with concepts, ideas, locations and budgets isn’t a lot of time. What I was informed about was that I didn’t need to worry about the budget; we just have to do it. It was the first time somebody said “don’t worry about the budget”. The moment I heard this I was thinking about a very small low-budget production with maybe three people on the crew and the cameras. In the end it was 14 people on the crew and three different cameramen on three different types of cameras. It was a real professional video shoot and we did two of them. This is something that didn’t happen to me since “King of the kill”. And after all this the label called me up on Friday and said “We want a third video”. Three videos!!! Usually I have to debate to get one. That was a first sign that something might be different with the new record.
MHMB: That sounds great and I think it’s quite the opposite of what happens to a lot of bands in these days.
Jeff: Right. I had a talk with Jay (A&R at UDR) and we had a look into the numbers. The first four Annihilator records have been the big ones and they had four different singers on those first four albums.
MHMB: Indeed, I can remember that.
Jeff: I think no other hardrock- or heavy metal band has done four different records with four different singers with each of them being successful in many countries. But than our record sales went down, like most other metal bands. Quite some metal bands actually lost their record deal in those days and retired. There was no way for a lot of metal bands to continue after 1993. Some groups like Overkill, Exodus, Testament and Annihilator – we kept on going in smaller/medium levels. Annihilator was really dropping sales from 1996 onwards and that was explainable. It was the industry. Such a situation, when metal is going down and down, is very depressing for an artist. And when you’re depressed and don’t see a good future. This means that you don’t get motivated as well and your songs are probably not as good as they could be. That’s what happened to me. The whole thing became more ‘survival’ than ‘love’. Not that the ‘love’ for metal was entirely gone, but the percentage of ‘survival’ went up.
It was in 2007 when we did an album called “Metal”. This record became a turning point for Annihilator. The label informed me that Annihilator sold more records than what we usually sold. 2010 we did the self-titled record and we sold more. Than came “Feast” with UDR records and bang, we sold more. So again, those are two major things. The first four CD’s with four different singers and all the albums being successful; than we went down for a long time and than, in a time when almost every artist is selling less and less, we go for more and more and more.
MHMB: It’s interesting listening to all this, because when I prepared the interview I was also looking back in time. And came up with the same thought. It was the first 3-4 Annihilator albums that really impressed me and than it was the “Metal” album that brought back the old strength of the Annihilator sound.
Jeff: Yeah, it’s a kind of funny and it’s a very interesting story. I mean, it is a story of survival, a story of real love for what you do, a story of not giving up and a story of luck.
MHMB: And to make things even crazier is the fact that it has been one constant singer, Dave Padden, on the last three successful albums.
Jeff: True. So we had the multi-singer period and we had the Dave Padden era.
MHMB: So what’s coming next? I heard that Dave left the band.
Jeff: Oh yes. He told me in December of 2014 and it was a big shock for about a week. Dave explained to me why he quit and after a week of shock I woke up and recognized that I’m maybe not having a training voice but I have some feel. You might like or not like what I’m doing, but I have some feel. And I think this is actually more important than being able to hit notes. If you don’t ‘sell’ the lyrics they are just useless. Punk rock was a good example. You don’t even have to know how to sing, but if you listen to e.g. Randy Rampage – he could not sing a note but he would yell and scream in a way that makes you listening to what he is singing. That was a voice that made your the hair to stand up at your arms. I think that I’m maybe somewhere between Padden and Rampage. I have my own style and it’s not really trained, but at least there is some good attitude.
MHMB: Will you continue doing the vocal or are you looking for a new singer?
Jeff: I looked in the first three weeks in December. I had the idea that I had to look for a singer fast. All the music was written and recorded, the lyrics and the melody lines were all finished and all I needed was somebody to step in and sing it. I looked around and talked to a few singers. I realized that it was always one of two schools. It was either the school of the older guys doing the oldschool heavy metal and there were the younger guys in the twenties and thirties. Most of them have been influenced by bands like Killswitch Engage and Machine Head, with the screams and the clean melodic vocals. I wanted to get someone who was both and I got nothing. I couldn’t find anyone and I decided: ‘I just do it’. And since I actually don’t really like my voice on the three albums I was singing on I decided this time to take vocal lessons.
MHMB: Let’s talk a bit about the new record “Suicide society”. Can you tell us a bit more about the album?
Jeff: It’s quite a diverse record in the sense that there are different styles on the album. It starts off with “Suicide society”, a grooving Megadethy Annihilatorish song. Than you go into something that sounds like it was done in 1985 - a thrash song called “My revenge”. That one is obviously influenced by an early ‘“Master of puppets” kind of ‘-vibe. But than, in the middle of the song, everything stops and it breaks down to a really slow almost “Set the world one fire” era Annihilator. There is also a little Guns & Roses style in there too. You can actually say that there are three songs where you can put your finger on the title and say ‘1985’. “Creeping again” is certainly once more Annihilator 100% back in our demo days.
Something like “Snap” we have never done before. It’s the easiest and most simple song I have ever done. The focus is mainly on the vocals. The last song on the record has nothing to do with the rest of the album.
The last song is more a hardrock, pop, heavy metal song. In general you could say that the new album covers everything – from thrash metal to heavy metal.
MHMB: And even with the mentioned diversity, it all sounds like Annihilator. You can identify the Annihilator sound immediately.
Jeff: Yes. And this is the historic good and bad thing for Annihilator. Because if you only like thrash and the really heavy stuff you’re definitely not going to like more than half of the songs, because we are not playing heavy music all the way through. But if you like a sort of melodic heavy metal than you like maybe only half of the record again. So in the end we have three kinds of Annihilator fans. Some who like the real heavy songs, some that like the more melodic metal and some that like both.
MHMB: Let’s have a quick look on the lyrics. Where do you take the inspiration from for songs like e.g. the title track “Suicide society”?
Jeff: Well, at some point in most people’s life you start caring about the environment. I have done some things over my life quietly but I don’t want to go out and preach all those things because in fact I’m also guilty sometimes. For example when I smoked cigarettes I threw the cigarette butt out of my car, let it burn and pollute the earth. But as you get older you hopefully start changing things. I was used to always leave the water tap turned on for all the three minutes I was brushing my teeth. I turned it off when I was finished. But after I watched a program on TV I asked myself why I’m not just turn the tap off while I brush my teeth. So you hopefully most of us learn those kind of things over their life.
Another thing is when you turn on the news and you just shake your head and go ‘what in a fuck are we doing as a society’. Destroying the earth, extreme religion terrorism, poison and pesticides in our food and all the stupid medicines we don’t need. You just sit back and question yourself what we are doing as society.
On the other hand there a lot of great people out there who are doing a lot and you think ‘wow’. It feels almost like I haven’t done anything and those people have done so much. I thought that this is a good subject to write a song about. I’m sure it’s not original. Many people wrote about this, but I did it my way.
The only good side to all that is in the very last line of this title song. I wanted to bring it back to a reality where there is a possibility to fix most of the stuff we are doing - whether it is drugs or killings or race issues. But we are running out of time.
All this took me to the idea of the cover too. I didn’t want the cover to be that serious as this subject because if you really think about what’s going on in reality it’s depressing. For the cover I said’ Let’s go a little bit a different direction’. I like the idea where earthlings and the human race is an experiment. We failed the experiment since we are destroying the planet and ourselves. So, whoever made this experiment sends an annihilator, a terminator to just wipe us out and start all over again. That’s where the cover’s coming from.
MHMB: Jeff, you’re going on tour in Europe in autumn this year and you’re playing Wacken as well. A band that is also playing there is the legendary Savatage. You have been part of the band. Is there a chance to see the guys again?
Jeff: True. I think I was part of the very last Savatage line-up. I like the band and it was a very exciting time for me. Standing besides Jon Oliva at every show, playing a Flying V through my Marshalls and looking over to Jon Oliva, smiling at me while playing the piano, I thought, this is the coolest thing ever. But I don’t think we will see them because we have a pretty short two and a half weeks festival run this year.
MHMB: Can we expect already one or two of the new songs on the setlist for the festival shows this summer?
Jeff: I guess at most of the festivals we don’t play more than 60-75 minutes. There are only one or two festivals this year where we get 90 minutes. There we might throw three new songs in. For Wacken it most probably will be only “Suicide society” since the video will be released in parallel.
MHMB: Jeff, is there anything more you want to share with the fans?
Jeff: I just want to say, “Check out the record”. I will not say anything positive about the record because whatever comes out of my mouth is the same stuff every artist is going to say. But to me it is a very exciting record that is definitely something to check-out – and if it is just see ‘Hej Waters is singing? What the hell is going on?’. Just check it out for that reason.