Canadian thrash legends Annihilator are about to release Triple Threat, a three part package on January 27th, 2017. The package includes a live set from the Bang Your Head!!! festival in Germany from 2015, an unplugged, acoustic session, and a mini-documentary showcasing a more personal side of the band and their projects of late.
Metal Wani’s Laura Vezer got to chat with Jeff Waters about Triple Threat and some of the challenges of recording a completely new project, as well as some of Annihilator’s plans for the future, including plans for the new album, and maybe, just maybe a Canadian tour in 2017! Here are some of the excerpts:
First of all, how has 2016 been for Annihilator? Tell us about your year! What are some of your highlights?
Jeff: 2015 and 2016 have easily been the busiest couple of years of my life. For Annihilator and myself it’s been crazy. We did a record in 2015 called Suicide Society where I was back singing again for the first time in many years. It was my fourth album with Annihilator singing. It was quite a challenge to get back into playing and singing again. So a lot of work and a challenge, and we weren’t sure how the record was going to be received. Luckily it did better than the previous one which is always a good thing. We did a bunch of festivals in Europe in the summer, then the album was released after that period. We did a headline tour in Europe and then we were getting bombed with more requests to tour there again! We went through two summer cycles, and two fall cycles touring just in Europe. In between that we’ve been doing guitar clinics for Gibson and Epiphone, and the Revolver Music Awards, and 70,000 Tons of Metal, (where I host an all star jam every year). There’s so much going on here, and in the midst of it all I’m supposed to be writing the next record! You can’t complain when you’re busy with positive things!
Triple Threat is your upcoming album and package, due for release on January 27th. So far “Sounds good to Me” was released as a single earlier this month. What’s been the general reaction from Annihilator fans?
Jeff: I think when people realize this is going to be a three DVD set, and it’s not just “Waters and Company filmed a live concert and here are some boring bonus tracks…It’s more of a three, equally important DVD set with audio discs. A live acoustic set, a pretty interesting mini documentary that’s about the summer of 2016. A lot of personal stuff; where I live, house studio, puppies..the fun times we have when we’re able to get away from the music for a bit. Also answering a lot of fan questions, where fans sent in videos talking about what they like and what they don’t like about us…I think there’s a bit of excitement about it which is good because we worked our butts off, and spent a shit tonne of money on it, so it better be good!
This time you chose to “unplug” for part of Triple Threat. You said the unplugged sessions were one of the bands biggest musical challenges. Why is that?
Jeff: Our first four records were with four different singers, four different line ups, and four different styles of metal music. The first one ‘Alice in Hell’ which was released in 89, was a raw, un-produced thrash metal album. The second, our biggest, was called ‘Never Never Land’, and was released a year later. This was still a thrash album, but more melodic. We had a singer who had a lot of melody to his voice, and this brought in a more melodic heavy metal influence. The third album, ‘Set the World On Fire’, and that was more of a commercial hard rock heavy metal album where we had a softer side and even had some ballads, and some really soft songs. The fourth one, ‘King of the Kill’ was a 95% traditional 80’s melodic heavy metal album, like the Priest, the Maiden, stuff, with a little bit of thrash in there.
So you had four albums that were very big for us. Once you hit records three and four, you realize they had a lot of stuff where we thought, “hey, we could actually do an acoustic thing.” This was around the time the unplugged thing was going on in the early 90’s. We never really went for that. Around 2012 I bought the Van Halen release, ‘Different kind of truth’ with David Lee Roth back in the band. On that CD was four bonus video clips, and they were four songs in Eddie Van Halen‘s home studio, where David Lee Roth’s dog was running around and everyone was smiling and having a good time. It was done with a couple of cameras, in black and white. To me, this just blew my mind, it was better than everything on the CD. I thought “Wow! I’d love to do something like that in my studio.” Then I forgot about it and come 2015 we started talking about some kind of fan package release.
We said if we were going to do this, we’d do a three disc Blu-Ray and CD package, and fill it with three separate, interesting things. We came up with the mini documentary in the summer, film a live show from either Calgary Metalfest, or a German festival, and the acoustic thing where I said “damnit I’m going to get my Van Halen out and we’re gonna do this!” That ended up being one hell of a tough thing to do! The Van Halen clips were these guys just kicking back, some of the best musicians in the world who were doing it for fun. They just looked like they were having a good old time doing it. I wanted to do the same kind of thing. It ended up being 5% fun and 95% pure anxiety, stress and concentration! We did it all in one take like Van Halen did, but in our case we had five musicians coming from totally different backgrounds coming together to play songs that I wrote decades ago! Boy it was tough. One person would make a mistake (and it was usually me!) and we’d have to start the whole thing over again. We all agreed that we were not going to fix it up. It’s easy to do that in the studio. So we said no way we were going to do this live. That was good and bad. The good was because it’s real, and honest. It’s live, and that’s exactly what we wanted to do with it.
Over to the live part of the album, you’re releasing your set from Bang your Head!!! in Germany from 2015. You toured a lot in 2015, as you mentioned earlier. Why did you choose to release the Bang Your Head set over the other shows you did last summer?
Jeff: Bang Your Head!!! came about as a last minute replacement for one of the headliners. We were already over there and said for sure lets do it. They said “we are filming the Twisted Sister live concert tonight, would you guys like to film your set to use for anything you want, for a smaller cost.” We looked at the cost of filming in Calgary, or at Bang Your Head!! , and we realized that we really could put the money to the other DVDs (by filming in Germany). Bang Your Head!!! was different as it wasn’t all Annihilator fans. It’s not a thrash festival, it’s an every thing metal festival. You have everything from the hair metal bands like Sebastian Bach, or Ratt…then you would get Slayer, or Testament, or Annihilator, and maybe a classic rock band. We knew at Bang Your Head!!! that it wouldn’t be an Annihilator crowd, we knew it would be 50%, and the other 50% would go “who are they?” but we took it as a challenge as we did with the whole package and said “let’s do this and see what happens!”
For the first time you took over vocals completely on Suicide Society. You ended up taking some training and worked on your singing way more than in the past. Is there something different you want to do vocally when it comes to next Annihilator record?
Jeff: One thing vocally and one thing to do with how I’m doing the songs. I took over the vocals completely for three albums in the 90’s. I was not a singer. I would sing on all the demos, then send to the singer showing my idea of what I needed them to do. I was thrown into singing in 1994. I thought my career was done and that ended up being the second biggest album in Japan (other than Bon Jovi’s Bed of Roses!). All of a sudden I had a career as a professional singer, in a professional band selling a shit ton of albums, and we had to do a mega world tour of Europe and Japan where I had to sing and play guitar for the first time. It was the scariest part of my life!
When I play guitar for Annihilator live, and to honest it’s it’s not something I need to prepare for. Playing guitar is what I do. All of a sudden singing and playing guitar was a challenge. For the next album, I’ve decided that:
1) I’m not going to worry about catchy commercial choruses. By commercial I mean where you intentionally make that chorus the most important part of the song. You want people to remember that chorus every time. On the Suicide Society album, you’d have a heavy song, but you’d get to the chorus go woah, that’s pretty mainstream.
2) Since I’m such a fan of so many bands, I let myself go a little bit on the last album with being too blatantly obvious about my influences and musical loves as a fan. You really heard a song that had the Master of Puppets era of music, you really heard a Megadeth sounding song. You could hear the Hetfield-isms and Mustaine-isms in my voice. That was great as a fan to get it out, but I think I need to do more of my own thing on the next album.
Talking about the next record, some of the fans miss the thrashy metal side of Annihilator. Do you plan to surprise them with a thrashy record next year? If yes, what’s the current status?
Jeff: We’ve been out of the North American scene since 1993, that’s a long time to be out! Younger fans started discovering us in the late 90’s. If they catch the right album or song, they think whoa, this is cool, but if they catch another song and go what was that? Is that a ballad about his kid? What’s this all about? We have all these different styles because I was influenced by hard rock, heavy metal, and thrash metal. People will always hit me with “you have to do King of the Kill again” or Americans or Canadians will say Alice in Hell or many European countries say Never Never Land.Which one is the better one? One country says this, another country would say another. You cant please everyone and it can drive you nuts! You can’t go back 20 years and recreate something you did back then… I just have to move on and do my own thing.
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