Pioneers of metal and Canada’s number one selling heavy metal band in history, Annihilator are back in action with their new album ‘For The Demented’. This testament of metal will be released on November 3rd on Neverland Music/Silver Lining Music. Metal Wani’s Chuck Marshall had the good fortune of chatting with Annihilator founder, guitarist, and vocalist Jeff Waters about the new album, his collaboration with bassist Rich Hinks, and upcoming European tour. We also had a chance to touch on the tough time the band has had at home as compared to Europe.
Your 16th album ‘For The Demented’ is coming out on November 3rd. Fans can get a taste with the new video “Twisted Lobotomy”. I think that is a really cool tune. I’ve actually heard the whole album and it’s awesome. I think it really speaks to the heart of Annihilator fans and thrash fans in general. How do you feel this album stacks up with the rest of the Annihilator catalog?
Jeff Waters: Thanks for the kind words. Yeah, excited about it. It’s I don’t know. Annihilators always been, well mostly as many North Americans know a European, a 95% European band in the sense that we really, outside of South America or Japan, it is the only place that has really taken off for us ever since we started. It’s like the reaction is really good on it, but as people from North America who do know about us, know we have a whole pile of different things that go on every album or every couple of albums, from singer changes to productions styles.
One of the cool things I like about this band and the way I’ve been doing this since the 80’s, is that I’ve had the freedom to just do anything I want. Since I’m a fan of heavy metal and thrash metal and lots of styles of music. I don’t really have to play one style. I can always play around and do whatever I want to. From a love song to an angry thrash song and everything in between.
I think this recent record after the previous one I did in 2015. I knew while I was doing the record, especially the writing that I wasn’t filtering myself from “Waters the metal fan”. I was really kind of you know, if there was a riff that was very clearly influenced by Metallica or Mustaine or Gary Holt, Exodus, or Slayer or something like that. Those are my favorite bands. Usually I put a cap on myself and say “Damn it. That is a good riff but it sure sounds like Gary Holt or Mustaine or whatever.” That album ‘Suicide Society’, ironically did better than most records in the last three or four. But it was clearly influenced heavily by a lot of bands I like.
After we finish that record, I was amazed at the reception in Europe to the record. It brought us up to a new level again. We seem to keep going up real slowly in that European world for 10 years now. It did well but I said “Yew, I better not do that again” because there were people that clued in right away that “Hey that’s like “Damage Incorporated” on that song.” That is just the fan part of me and when you are a musician and a huge metal fan that’s going to come out no matter what. I just didn’t filter it out that time.
This time I knew, Let’s go back to the old stuff and lets go back and see. Not go back to the early days and try to copy a record, as that never works at least almost never. I kind of thought, well the first four albums were very successful overseas and some around the world. Maybe the first two. Generally, in Europe the first four and the demos were like the big things for us popularity wise and they are all different.
Those first four records are all different, different singers, different styles. So copying was not the answer to anything. I just wanted to go back and see what was more “Water’s style” versus “What Waters likes to listen to style”.
I think I went back and captured that thanks to our bass player who I’d say is a 50-50 equal partner in the writing of the music for the record (‘For The Demented’) because I had to have somebody with the ability to look at me and just shake their head and say “dude that’s Slayer. Stop it.”
You know I’d get two or three of those little riffs that I love to write and then he goes “Bang! That’s Waters” and that riff would stay. So I think that’s really what happened. It’s not so much back to the roots, its more back to Waters. What people in the early days said “Hey that sounds like that Annihilator guy.” A bit more of that on there. But you still can’t take away the fan out of the musician.
I was going to ask you. That kind of led into my next question because I know for this album it had been mentioned that Rich Hinks, your bass player, you dragged him into the studio. So it sounds like he did some of the writing. Was he involved in it alI? I know that you do most of the heavy lifting you know with writing and recording, did he (Rich Hinks) get into the any of the production or any of that? Or was it just primarily songwriting?
Jeff Waters: I gave him co-production credits on the CD for the writing process. Because he wasn’t there for after the music was written. I wanted to give him some kind of production credit because without him basically co-producing that music writing, it wouldn’t have turned out this way at all. And he’s a great bass player but he didn’t even think he was going to play bass on the album. Because, I’d played the bass and written drums, lyrics and sang on five/six records and played almost all the guitars and blah blah blah..engineered, mixed, produced, managed, blah blah blah (laughs).
So he kinda knew, ok Waters is ready. You know it’s like that AC/DC Malcolm Young thing and Hetfield (James) where AC/DC / Metallica would be doing a record and play the rhythm guitar part and then realized that you know Angus or Kirk Hammett playing the other speakers rhythm part may not be as tight as if Malcolm or James played both tracks. That is kinda what on the guitar the I would do it.
On bass, it is the same thing. When I write the bass part, it never made sense to me, since it was more of solo project, to have at the time the bass player of the day so to speak, come in and play the bass. Because it was like “Hey man, I sit here and write the parts”. I know exactly what I want, let’s do it. I mean I have essentially. I write the riffs for records maybe a year or two in advance over the years of touring for a record or whatever spare time. This time if you could round off the number of riffs I had ready to go to start the writing of this new record, let’s say it was 150. We literally deleted 149 and we kept one riff from that whole two years of, off and on writing that I was doing myself.
Just started from scratch. That’s like a big change for me. I’ve already asked Rich and said, “Hey man we’ve got some gaps in between the next two years of touring coming up, let’s plan to do some writing.” So it’s already kinda set. And it makes sense that it’s going to sound better when you get the right set of ears in there helping you direct the ship you know.
Yeah definitely. You can definitely feel a change in the in this album and I’d say its even slightly heavier than some of the stuff you’ve been doing last couple of albums, so I like it.
Jeff Waters: Yeah, again if I had to say what it was, I would say two things. One was that Rich got to sit there and say, “No no no yes no yes no no” to what I was doing. And also, the fact that I realize really quickly after the last album, despite it doing very well, that “Oops. I think you should have filtered that one a little more.”
So not only do you guys have the new album coming out, but you’re heading out to Europe with what I think is like ultimate thrash metal tour with the Testament and Death Angel. I gotta tell you that the first time I ever saw Annihilator was with Testament back in 89 so I think this is fantastic to have you guys back together. How did this tour come about?
Jeff Waters: You know like you touched on, Testament was the first band that took us to Europe for our ‘Alice In Hell’ record in 1989. Not just going on tour was an amazing thing, but they personally taught me quite a few things about touring and trying to be professional. And they were a young band then too remember. They were a little bit older and they sort of showed me the ropes, I was like a bright-eyed kid you know, who just had an album go through the roof in three weeks out of nowhere. Nothing. In the basement, writing songs to wham your international, nice buses and people are showing you attention.
So it was amazing. They showed me a little bit about how to put a cap on that and just try to calm yourself down and focus on playing as good as you can and keeping your band focused a bit on there, cause it’s easy to get distracted touring, especially when you are younger.
They taught me a lot of stuff. And then over the years with our career in Europe that’s been nonstop, we see them and play shows with them all the time over there and festivals and things. I think it was Erik (Peterson – Testament) that I was talking to last year. I said something like “Hey you know what? We should do a tour again” and then bang their looking for two bands to play on their “Brotherhood of the Snake” and called me up and bang it’s like a 1989 bill all over again.
Awesome, that’s fantastic. Any chance that you guys will come to the States?
Well we’ve been trying a lot. What happened essentially is when our traditional heavy-metal / thrash metal kinda died in most parts of the world, I mean 98% died around ’92 to ’93. And it did. All the venues in North America, Canada, the States, everywhere started, you know were either shutting down or turning into this newer style music, Seattle scene or, kinda you had to be a Biohazard, Sepultura, Pantera or the Seatle scene. You know that sort of crashed.
We got lucky and kept Europe. Somehow people still wanted us over there. Basically, I said goodbye to my own country and the States because nobody wanted us and many other bands anyway. Unless we change the name of our band or tried different music.
So we continued on and we didn’t even try to even get the band back here because I didn’t see any scene happening until 2000 and something. Then when it was clear people were looking and starting to come back to this kind of music. It was…people were discovering. You know young kids, who were into Sum 41, Blink 182 all these pop punk bands, were all wearing Motorhead, Priest, Maiden shirts in their videos. Their young fans were starting to discover these bands. These heavy-metal, classic heavy metal bands.
And then that spun off into the Anthraxs, and the Slayers and a lot of other bands were getting discovered and rediscovered by young kids. When I realized it was coming back, I went into the States and Canada trying to get a record deal thinking for some silly reason it wouldn’t be too much of a problem and I was literally shut down by every single label that I approached.
And got a reality check that when you go out of an area or of the country, or a scene, or a continent; and just because you’re having success somewhere else, and your kind of genre music is kinda coming back here. Number one, I’m not the sort of young kid who is going to sign any contract, so I had some kind of minimum that I needed for a reasonable deal. Number two why would labels want to put money into a band that is not a young band, that wasn’t really big in the States and Canada and they could sign five, ten bands for the for a similar kind of agreement. They could sign a whole pile of bands for terrible contracts and hopefully one of them took off rather than investing in this older band that really wasn’t big anyway.
I got a rude awakening. So I’ve been having a hell of a time to get back to the States. I get these one-off offers to do certain shows and then it becomes like “Hey man, you’re drummers from Italy, your bass players from the UK, you’re from Canada, you’re other guy from here and oh shoot it is expensive to bring that band in.”
Then promoters realize, well it’s not like the reunion of the ‘Rest In Peace’ (Megadeth) line up here. We’re talking about Annihilator (laughs). So in other words, yes you could go in there and slave away. But I hire my guys, so I have to pay them and so the whole thing becomes a financial disaster. We’ve even had, I’ll say at least two members of the big four asking us to come on their tours in the States. And if you can imagine that, talking to labels saying “Hey so-and-so will take us on a month tour here” and labels still just saying no.
Really, wow, that is disappointing. That kinda dovetails into my other question. There does seem to be a resurgence of thrash metal. I mean pioneers like yourself, Anthrax, Testament are still out there creating new music. Then you’ve got the upstart bands like Havoc and Power Trip and Hatchet you know, that are bringing fresh blood to the genre. So I was kind of curious what is your thoughts about the longevity of thrash music as a genre?
Jeff Waters: Well, you know it will always be there. Even when the underground scene went massive. You know I think at some point this kind of music in North American and the World was the third biggest music behind pop and country. I can’t remember what it was back in the 80s, but this kind of music is always going to be there. It’s just a matter of will the money behind the industry start supporting it more. You got liquid metal in North America, and you know satellite radio, that are still keeping it alive and getting the music up there. And labels are starting to say “Hey let’s make sure we get our band on those stations” and all that. It’s still there. It’s just a matter of you know, it’s never going to die. Obviously, it’s not going to die. This stuff is just too good to go fade away.