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A Feast Of Metal: An Exclusive Interview With Jeff Waters Of ANNIHILATOR - Part I

By Rob McNees, Vinyl Aficionado
Wednesday, October 23, 2013 @ 5:23 PM


"I'm still having a blast at it, putting on the engineer hat, the producer hat and the musician hat."

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Jeff Waters and ANNIHILATOR have been around in one form or another and making demos since the mid-80's. You can count Jeff as one of the early purveyors of not only Thrash Metal but even early Death Metal as well. Jeff opens up about these early years, as well as the trials, tribulations and lean years of trying to play the music he loves. He also tells some here before unknown facts about ALISON HELL and LIZZY BORDEN! Read on and learn the story of Thrash Metal veteran Jeff Waters & ANNIHILATOR and the rise & fall of the music business.

KNAC.COM: How are ya doin' man, this is Rob McNees from KNAC.COM, how are ya doin' brother?

WATERS: Good, very good. How are you doing out on the West Coast, warm & sunny, right?

KNAC.COM: Well actually, the funny thing is even though I write for KNAC.COM, I live in Texas. So figure that.

WATERS: Oh, so you live in Texas?

KNAC.COM: I do. I live on the Gulf Coast.

WATERS: Great! My only times in Texas besides recording a live album there with my band in 1990 and having some friends from there is I used to vacation there...in Galveston! Well, until the storm blew it away. I haven't been down there in so long, I can't wait to get down to Texas again.

KNAC.COM: Really? Galveston? I'm about 45 miles from there actually, in a little bitty town called Jones Creek.

WATERS: Wow, that's great! What is the big city close to there... San Antonio, right?

KNAC.COM: Actually the closest to Galveston is going to be Houston.

WATERS: Oh, right, it's right across the bay in the water there, right?

KNAC.COM: Well, not really, to hit Houston you take what's called Interstate 45 and that shoots you right to the Gulf of Mexico.

WATERS: Ohh, right. Dang I need to get back down there.

KNAC.COM: Obviously, you do need to get back down here. (laughter)

WATERS: It's looking better for us now to get back down there, so that's good news.

KNAC.COM: When's the last time you toured here? It's been quite awhile that I remember anyway, but that doesn't say anything.

WATERS: Back in '93 was the last time we toured in the States. We'd only really started in '89, the end of '89, almost '90, so TESTAMENT was the 1st band to take us out in the States. It was one of the most memorable tours and experiences ever. They were on their Practice What You Preach record and we had our first one, Alice In Hell out, and the first band on was WRATHCHILD AMERICA with Shannon who went on to play drums for God....something.

KNAC.COM: GODSMACK.

WATERS: That's it, yep. That's good memories then. I think we did another tour for the next record we did, which is when we recorded that live album in San Antonio. So I wish we could have gone back in time and kept doing it, playing Canada and the States, but our luck kinda ran out there in '93 or so, so we just went where we were wanted.

KNAC.COM: Well here in America now it's finally getting better, there are bands who are finally touring over here, for you it's a little easier since your from North America but most European bands can't afford it cuz they can't make the money over here.

WATERS: Yeah you know my thing was I could have poured money into it, it would have been my own money to lose but my issue was I didn't have a record company that wanted to sign me, and I had another issue in '93 when the traditional Metal, the 80's Metal, the Thrash Metal went kinda, almost extinct around '92 / '93 and the labels back then were dumping everything that had anything with Metal in their bio, and the only options you had were...I think I had Roadrunner at the time telling me that it's 1993, this stuff's out, that unless you change the name of your band and write in the style of BIOHAZARD/SEPULTURA/PANTERA, then you're dropped. And I just said "Sorry, that's not my thing." As good as those bands were I didn't want to drop what I love doing all those years and do that, and I actually thought that was the end of my career. I thought, "Aw Shit, I guess this has run its course, I'm glad I did what I did for 3 albums and had the time of my life, and big tours and fun stuff but actually the opposite happened. We had a bigger career just hit right after that in 1994 with the next record we did in Europe, Japan and Asia. So thank God for that, otherwise I'd be working a normal day job or be a dead alcoholic, one of the two so...(laughs)

KNAC.COM: Well, alot of bands sold their soul between the hair rock invasion of the what, mid to late 80's and then the grunge of the 90's, bands sold their soul to join in on that mockery of music.

WATERS: This is not a slam cuz I know Rob and the guys well and they're amazing and The Blackening is one of my favorite albums but I remember bands around that time like VIO-LENCE, which had Rob & Phil from MACHINE HEAD, I think they were given the same ultimatum you know, you change what you're doing or you're gone. They turned into MACHINE HEAD and changed their image and music and all that stuff and it worked good for them at the time or sometimes worked good for them, and they've done their more Metal thing for a few years now and all that but there were a lot of bands that just couldn't keep their band together, couldn't keep their record deals, no agents wanted to let them tour or play in their clubs, the Metal shows were being forced off and all over the place, you know? Used to be, at least here in Canada, there were strip clubs and a Metal bar right beside it, it went hand-in-hand so to speak, and they turned into dance bars or bars with SMASHING PUMPKINS and PEARL JAM, Alanis Morrisite music blasting and all that stuff and that's just how music went. Metal got so damn big it had to go for a while. But for me, it was a double whammy why I was out of the States and Canada, my home country, for awhile. Not only did the music kind of disappear, I mean there were bands, if you look back at the history of this stuff, it was a little difficult for Canadians even or Americans to see ANNIHILATOR as part of anything because we kind of seemed to disappear but we carried on overseas, we never stopped, we put records out every year and a half. Just 14 records later, we're putting a new one out now. In America, we kind of evaporated but bands like TESTAMENT, OVERKILL, EXODUS, DESTRUCTION, KREATOR, who, except for us in North America, we all went thru line-up changes, we all went thru tough times, no money, and went back to the small clubs but we didn't quit. And now some of those bands are putting out some of their best music ever, and live shows like TESTAMENT are just kicking ass overseas, they're just on fire. They're older then I am, they've been doing it for all these years, and again, those bands I mentioned and us, we all continued when most bands had to break-up and lost their deals and we somehow held it all together and starved, or did other jobs to support what we love to do. And again, It might sound weird to North American listeners or readers if I said something like that, but it's understandable. We haven't toured or released records here, but we've been over in Europe since '89 and been popular over there ever since. Luckily in the last 6 years we've just gone up and up in our sales and it's just ridiculous, you pinch yourself and go, "I'm 47 years old, I'm still playing the music I love to play, we're getting bigger and bigger shows, T-shirt sales and attendance and better record deals". I'm having the time of my life actually.

KNAC.COM: That's a good thing.

WATERS: Do I sound excited or what?

KNAC.COM: Absolutely. I actually got into you from the '86 demo, The Phantasmagoria demo.

WATERS: Oh wow.

KNAC.COM: That was a brutal, brutal little slab of plastic that came out. In fact, without going too far out, I would have to say that when Alice in Hell came out, I was a little disappointed. It was surprising. It was almost death metal vocal style that you were using at that time. You kind of went a different way.

WATERS: I didn't know how to sing at the time, I never sang before, and I had these songs. I wanted to just keep writing and keep moving, until I found a singer. I wrote this demo with "Alison Hell" and stuff on it. I was doing a lot of that stuff in '83 and '84. I was a late starter. My record Alice in Hell actually came out in '89, but I started the band in '84. I didn't go out there as an 18 year old and have some big records at 18 and 19. I didn't put out Alice in Hell until I was 23. I was doing that kind of death metally vocals. I didn't know what death metal was, and I was doing it because I didn't know what else to do. So I started yelling and screaming, like an axe murder victim or something. I was doing that in '83 and someone called Monte Connor from Roadrunner. Somebody got a hold of me for a book that was going on and somebody had asked Monte, "Was Waters one of the first people doing that?" The demo was '86 but I've got demos from '83 or '84 doing that horrific voice. I am a slight fan of death metal, but not a lot of bands. I didn't realize I was doing that right at the beginning when it was happening. I'm not sure when it even started.

KNAC.COM: I would say the earliest that I know of, which wasn't really death metal even though they're credited for starting all of it was VENOM. But you had POSSESSED from the Bay Area, HELLHAMMER / CELTIC FROST from Switzerland with Tom G. Warrior.

WATERS: Yeah, that's true. What years did those guys start tho, was VENOM '84?

KNAC.COM: Oh no, the first VENOM was '80. You know, Welcome to Hell.

WATERS: Yeah, that's right, for sure. I just hadn't listened to them then when i was doing my demos, I listened to them the year after. I was like, "these guys are singing really raunchy too"...hehe. But it was funny, I was up in Canada right, and there was no internet or anything so I didn't know what the hell I was doing and I thought "did I create something"?? And you realize you're at the beginning of something but not really. That was fun, it was a fun time and I can remember when I did that demo there was a song on there called "Alison Hell", and I remember it was Brian Slagel from Metal Blade who sent me a contract, and I thought "Oh my God, I'm getting offered a record deal". And I read it carefully and what they were trying to do was buy the song, the rights to the song "Alison Hell" from me. And it was to be used for LIZZY BORDEN. That's a weird piece of history that I'd totally forgot about.

KNAC.COM: WOW! When you started that story I figured maybe he was gonna put it on a Metal Massacre or something but to use that for LIZZY BORDEN? That's crazy!

WATERS: You know what? That's actually a good one I gotta remember because that song "Alison Hell" was pretty much the reason why, I mean it was a pretty good album, but back then you had to have full album's worth of good stuff, you couldn't just have 1 good song, you had to have at least 5 or 6 awesome songs and you'd spread them out on Side A and Side B to make it a strong record. You know that's back when you had Black In Black and The Number Of The Beast, Reign In Blood, Master Of Puppets and all that stuff, or Kill 'Em All or whatever when almost every song was good you know?

KNAC.COM: Right.

WATERS: I think that's funny because if I'd actually signed that, I was tempted to sign that, I think it was something like 1,500 U.S. Dollars and at the time that was probably about 2,200 Canadian. And i can remember talking to my Father about that and he told me No! If he's willing to offer you 22, or whatever the money was now, keep making your own stuff up and somebody will pay you a lot more for you to do it. I didn't know what that meant but I guess he was saying keep writing songs and somebody will pay YOU to do it.

KNAC.COM: Truly.

WATERS: If I had not listened to him, which I was considering, that could have drastically changed my whole entire life there for sure.

KNAC.COM: That's quite the scoop for KNAC.COM right there, that's crazy! I'm glad to hear that.

WATERS: Yeah, if anybody denies that one I believe I still have the original contract I was sent because there was no emails, no nuthin', you just waited by the ol' parents mailbox until the mailman came to deliver it and I would have kept that in a box at my parents house for sure.

KNAC.COM: Yep, tape trading was the way to go back in the day like when I was in high school, maybe a year or two later.

WATERS: Sure. Actually something I want to mention, when I was yapping away about saying that except for METALLICA did their change of image, and the music changed and I'm just talking about the mid 90's and stuff and then the PANTERA's and the BIOHAZARD's became the big ones and the traditional Metal guys and the Heavy Metal guys sorta lost it you know? You even had JUDAS PRIEST scaling down, who were playing arenas & stadiums down to clubs in Vancouver where I was with Ripper Owens and then you had Maiden, who you know got uh..what's his name?

KNAC.COM: Blaze Bayley.

WATERS: Blaze Bayley, right, and they scaled down their shows and ending up not even coming to North America, and you had all this downscaling. SLAYER was playing arenas and all of a sudden I was seeing them in the late 90's in a bar in Vancouver, you know? So in North America for sure, this kind of Metal made 99% of bands lose their deals, break up or get real jobs and try other things. But some changed, like you said. I had kind of a double issue happen there because I lost my North American deal too, like everyone else, but I was lucky because instead of quitting, I had Japan & Europe. And they picked up on the next one even more and I was off to the races for the rest of my life so to speak. Even tho we had a low point for sales a little bit after that for about 9 years straight I still had enough sales to keep doing it over there. But, it also, it worked out because if it had to sort of die out over here, it worked out perfect because I ended up having a son, and got married and then my wife died of cancer.

KNAC.COM: Ohhh...

WATERS: I was with this little baby boy, a year old, and now a single father. So you can imagine the choice you have to make. Do you stay at home and be a father to a little baby or do you go off and be Mr. Wanna-be rock star and keep living your dreams and keep doing that stuff? And the answer to me was very simple; I was now done with it and it will be finished. Then my father flew out to Vancouver where I was living and helped and actually suggested something. He said "why don't you just fly your family out here once in a while while you go over to Japan and Europe and do your tours and then you come back and be a dad and then we'll go back home??" "You do it like a part-time job. And just forget about Canada and The States because as you said Jeff, business there just doesn't want what you're doing." Not the fans, you know, but because of the business, the way it was going. So it became a part-time thing for me. I would literally go over to Europe for a month, do these sell-out tours, make money and then come back and look after my son. I bought a house and a recording studio and I would babysit my son 9-5 and at night I'd go into my studio and write music I love doing. And then when it came time to do another tour or another record I would do that same thing. I'd fly out my parents or my sister to watch my son at my house while I went out and played wanna be rock-star. It was perfect for me because that kind of music was out here anyway. I could never do world tours and work The States & Canada as well as the rest of the world and do all that and be a dad. It was a very unique story. I'll give you another story: the first 4 ANNIHILATOR records, ok, for people who hadn't heard of us or didn't follow us or lost track or whatever, had 4 different singers on them.

KNAC.COM: Yep.

WATERS: And 4 different line-ups. And on the touring line-ups as well. Each one of those records sold more and more around the world. Not necessarilly here in Canada or in The States but everywhere else where they came out. When you add that to everything else it's just a wacky scenerio. You know, I've had about 30-something musicians in the band, ok?

KNAC.COM: Uh-huh.

WATERS: Which would imply I'm some kind of asshole dictator dick or that I like to work with alot of musicians, which is actually the case. I also ran this thing so long as a solo project. I called it a band but it was really Waters hiring a drummer to play the drum stuff he wanted to have played on the records that he wrote, and wrote the vocals and lyrics, produced, mixed, mastered & engineered the records and then I'd get a singer. So basically ANNIHILATOR was just 3 people. The singer, the drummer and The Waters. I played all bass and guitars. And I would continue to do that but I'd switch guys. I'd say, "I want to work with Mike Mangini, or I want to work with this other guy". And that's how it would work. And then I'd hire other guys for the tours. So while I was cruising thru 10-15 years of doing this, people who didn't know anything about us thought I was nuts. They thought this whole thing was insane. Like what's wrong with this guy or this band, you know? It will make for an interesting little book or something you know? (laughs). It might be fun to write about all the ups and downs, the fun things that we've done and the fact that we're pretty original AT LEAST in how this whole thing has worked for us.

KNAC.COM: Earlier in the year when Jack Frost had his new SEVEN WITCHES CD come out I did an interview with him, and both of you guys to me are kind of in the same boat. He was like "You know, people think I'm an asshole or whatever because I've had so many people but that's not really the case. It just seems that way from the outside". He has worked with alot of people as well.

WATERS: Yeah, well some of it could be because someone has a really strong artistic vision and it's their baby and they want it a certain way and there's lots of guys like that. The driving force so to speak. A lot of times in bands there's 2 guys like that. They're usually a team. Sometimes 3 maybe. But the other side of it is that sometimes things like this can work to your advantage. At least for me, why it's lasted so long and done so well for us is because I wasn't splitting any money that came in in the tough years with 5 guys and a manager, and a lawyer, and an accountant and all that stuff. I was managing myself, I would hire my musicians, and take care of all the business. I would only use a lawyer to run by the final stuff I was putting together. I didn't have lawyers cutting deals and getting all these big money percentages and I ran it very early on as a business. I was able to, with minimal sales, do better than most bands with big sales. So I think that's an advantage and why I'm still around today to keep this thing going. I'm still having a blast at it, putting on the engineer hat, the producer hat and the musician hat. I bought a studio instead of pissing away my money by going on vacations or buying cars. I put the money into something I could use for the ANNIHILATOR stuff. I also had to quit drinking 15 years ago and probably another reason we're doing ok cuz I had my head clear. I was a drunk too so that didn't help in the early days. (laughs)

Stay tuned for Part II of this awesome interview!


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