ANNIHILATOR – JEFF WATERS
Written by Simon Lukic
Transcription by Claudia
Live pics by Marko Syrjala
I’ve been an Annhilator fan since 1989, the day I purchased ALICE IN HELL. Throughout the many changes in both personal and style Jeff Waters has remained a constant source of inspiration and is to this day my favorite guitar player. With that said, I’ve been waiting a very long time to interview Jeff and my opportunity finally arrived with the release of Annihilator’s latest effort METAL. My expectations were high and they were easily met and then some with Jeff answering my questions with a lot of enthusiasm and honesty. I had a blast and I hope that you enjoy this interview as much as I do.
So how did the tour with Trivium go?
Fantastic! It was two months in Europe and we did the first three weeks in the UK which was really one of the most important parts of the tour for us because Annihilator doesn’t do very well there. We haven’t for many years and Cory from Trivium noticed that and said “Hey, come on that first part with us”. We soon found out that Trivium are huge in England so we got to play in front of ridiculously large amounts of fans who didn’t know Annihilator’s music, so it was a really good thing for us. We got a lot of new fans out of that.
And the rest of the tour was in Europe where we are already pretty well known so it was a great package.
I got the chance to speak with both Matt Heafy and Travis Smith when they toured Australia in January of last year and they were very excited about Annihilator joining the tour so it’s good to hear that it all went so well.
Cool! Yeah it was… when you’ve been around for a while like me it’s pretty cool when you see one of these younger bands put their money where their mouth is and bring out a metal band like Annihilator because a lot of bands wouldn’t do that. They would rather take a younger band out that are playing more of the modern stuff – bands that are going to sell more tickets in a lot of those venues. It’s always good, but everybody’s using the word metal these days, almost like a trend. It’s a trend for nineteen your olds starting out to say “yeah. We’re metal”. And then it’s also a trend for bands that have been around for a while to sort of change and now all of the sudden declare they are metal now. It’s great to see guys like Trivium who actually live it and listen to it day and night.
It would be fair to say that Annihilator’s profile is on the up again which is a really positive thing. Your persistence and patience is starting to pay dividends.
Yeah I hope so. I remember back when….way back in the forties… (Simon Laughs)…. No. I remember back, I guess the nineties, early nineties and we were lucky enough to do a tour with Judas Priest and this small, unknown opener went on before us called Pantera. It was something else because I got to hang out with KK Downing a lot. It was just one big party back then but the one thing that will always stand out for me from that big haze of crazy partying and having fun was as long as you’re around long enough and you believe in what you do and enjoy and love what you do, someday it all come back to you when you least expect it or when you’re not looking. You know what I mean? I just do this because I love it and I’m not expecting anything out of it. I’m just grateful that I got the opportunity to keep putting these records out and have people buy them and do these tours. And yeah, it’s nice to see something good happen for my band for a change. It’s always an up and down life when you’re doing this but when good things happen, it’s like “yeah”! You almost feel like you deserve it even if it’s not the right way to say it.
Were there times where you felt like laying the band to rest and calling it a day?
Probably about three or four times. Usually it was over a divorce or money. As far as keeping things rolling, it’s pretty expensive for a Canadian band to tour overseas and from about 97 to the year 2000 I was fighting not to give up on this thing. It would have been very easy to take a good high paying job doing something else in music but I just can’t give it up. I’ve realized that I just like going to metal concerts and I like playing metal music. I like traveling and playing in a band and playing metal. In the end I’ll be either penniless or rich or in the middle and it won’t matter to me. It’s all about the music.
You’ve were offered an audition with Megadeth which you chose to by pass for Annihilator. Was that the most prestigious?
No. That’s not the most famous one. But the other one is kind of private. (Laughs)
Okay, fair enough.
Because it’s not a metal band. It’s more of a pop band so I wouldn’t even go there. With Megadeth, it was a cool connection because in 89’ we were touring with Testament and Chuck (Billy) storms into my hotel room and when he storms into your hotel room you stand up at attention and listen. And he’s, like “Waters. Dave Mustaine’s on the phone”, and I remember telling him to fuck off. He goes “no seriously, he’s on the phone”. He was looking for a guitar player and he was looking at Dime, myself and Marty Friedman and he obviously made the right choice. He got the right guy for that one. Over the years I’ve got a call from him or someone around him saying “yeah, Dave needs you or Dave wants to talk to you about…”, you know, this kind of stuff. So I was always the guy that was sort of there but never really went past being the guy he was talking to. After joking about that for long enough, we finally became friends a couple of years ago. We started talking and hanging out a bit so my goal someday is to write a song with him.
Well you might get an offer to do Gigantour in the future which would be a good thing.
Yeah. That would be great. He’s mentioned that to me and I said “yeah, if you want to take us, we’re there man”.
Shifting gears to the debut. ALICE IN HELL which was a massive success as was NEVER NEVERLAND. Was it difficult to adjust when things started to go into a bit of a slump?
Ahh….well it was a very shitty time for metal. I think it was around 93’. 93’ is when all of the sudden it wasn’t cool to be connected to the word metal in any way. And I think most…I mean I’m just taking a guess here, but I’d say about 98% of the metal bands out there lost their deals. The venues and tour agencies wouldn’t book metal tours unless you were Metallica of course and unless you were one of the metal bands that sort of changed with the times. I’m just speaking from a Canadian perspective over here in North America, but I’m sure it was that way in most parts of the world. You could say it almost completely died.
How did it go with Roadrunner at the time?
When we did our third album SET THE WORLD ON FIRE people were saying that metal was dead and “Waters, you better change your music and sound like Pantera, Biohazard or Sepultura if you want to continue with Roadrunner”. I went ahead and did like a real, commercial, eighties metal sort of album and ironically that got me let go from Roadrunner which was the greatest metal label you could probably find. We did amazing things at the start of our career and without them we wouldn’t be here but that third album, while everything was supposed to be dead…it was ironic because that was our biggest selling record in Asia and in parts of Europe. We almost got bigger, especially with our touring. We had bigger tours. And then after that it was very official that metal was dead. Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam and Nirvana and all that were in full steam and then when 94, 95 came around I was with a new label called Music for Nations in Europe. We had an almost bigger album called KING OF THE KILL, so I was kind of in shock because I’d been with Roadrunner who were not taking care of business and there was no money, at least for myself and the band. It was being taken by other people around me but we were still selling lots of records.
Then metal was supposed to be dead and we became even bigger for a few years. I started managing myself and all of the sudden it was strange, we were selling out tours and I was making a lot of money. So it was kind of weird for me to watch all this stuff die around me and then I had these great years and people didn’t realize they were great years. A lot of Australians and North Americans wouldn’t know because we were dormant. We never came and toured there. Anyway, I’ll try and speed it up. After that there was a time when it was dead. After we did REFRESH THE DEMON you just couldn’t keep it going. It was just dead. Nobody wanted to book you, you know? It was just Metallica. Slayer was hanging in, you know, Priest were hanging in with Ripper and Blaze Bayley were hanging in with Maiden. Anthrax with Bush and Exodus was hanging on. Metallica wasn’t really hanging on, they were going to the top but most of the metal bands were just surviving at their own level.
Moving onto the new album. What did you want to deliver this time around?
A lot of times I just don’t put pressure on myself. I just say, “Okay, you’re going in so write a record and that’s all there is to it”. Occasionally I pre-plan stuff. When I’ve got a lot of melodic ideas I guess it’s going to be a more melodic album. Or I just say, “No, my ideas are too melodic and I’m going to write a little heavier before I actually do the record”. And that’s about the most that I pre-plan anything. I just let it go and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, you know? Like with any artist, you can never write ten BACK IN BLACKS or ten NUMBER OF THE BEASTS you know? You’re always going to have your ups and downs as a songwriter. So sometimes it’s hit and miss. With me it’s no different and with this one I just did what I normally do. It was just another record for me. It was my twelfth studio CD and at the very end of the recording I got a surprise when Cory Beaulieu called me and said “Hey listen. If your record’s not done let me play a solo on it”. I’m like “What? You want to play a solo on my record”? And Mike Amott called me the same day and I figured well, if Corey wants to play, why I don’t ask Mike Amott. Then it sort of steamrolled from there. I had pretty much finished the record, it was about 90% done and then I found myself, right at the very end, having to stop everything and go along with the idea that Corey gave me subconsciously, which was “ Hey, call up your friends that like your band and see if they’ll play a solo on your record”. So that was it. At the very end of the recording I ended up getting a whole pile of guests on there – great guitar players and they’re all friends of mine. That stalled the record a little more but it was well worth it.
The fact that it wasn’t pre planned and that it just kind of happened is very cool because it’s a fantastic thing for guitar fans.
I remember the first day, nah, the second day after Corey….he didn’t really give me the idea as in “Hey, why don’t you call up all your other friends and get them on”. By him calling and asking me, it sort of spawned the idea. Like, wait a minute! Why don’t I call the other guys up”? So on the second day I got Alexi Laiho on board and I went “My god! Alexi Laiho!” After the second day I remember the third day waking up, sitting at breakfast with my girlfriend and saying “Whoa. I can call up KK Downing”. And I was thinking of this pile of really big names you know? Like big names but my girlfriend shut me down real quick. She says “Jeff don’t do it. This all started about friends of yours that like your music and you like their music. Just keep it at that and don’t go out and try to get the big star power and end your career by people going “hey, you need all these big names on your record to sell it”. So it was tempting, you know, just to have some of the bigger names on there. I thought wow! Wouldn’t it be cool if blah, blah, blah…and then I realized that was more of a side project. That was not really an Annihilator record or and Annihilator theme. Having people that like my band or were even influenced by stuff I’ve done and the fact that they’re friends of mine and I like their music makes a lot of sense.
You’ve also said that the album was written in a similar way to your early albums. What did you mean by that?
I was just trying to shake it up a little. Cause you know, honestly, when you got this many records out and you do most of the writing and most of the recording process by yourself – the instruments and technical stuff, engineering, producing, mixing, you know man, it’s real tough and it’s probably not going to be some ground breaking, innovative, new sound. Basically with the way that I’ve been doing things I got to fight sometimes to really get the fire going. Not the mental fire but to not play the same riffs rehashed over and over again because it’s very easy to do. I mean, I can pull out all the old riffs and write a record in two weeks but I know that’s its going to sound like crap. So I push myself to try and come up with some new stuff and mix it in with the older stuff that I like. What the hell was the question? Cause I totally forgot. I’m talking too much.
(Laughs) You’ve said that when going in to write the new album, you approached it in a similar way to the earlier albums and I was just interested in why?
Yeah. I got it. Sorry, my minds….hey remember, it’s 8:50 in the morning and I’m a basket case.
Oh you’re doing quite well.
(Laughs) I can talk and talk and talk at least. The only difference this time is that instead of sitting in my studio with all this fancy equipment I just sat down with one guitar and a little, tiny Marshall practice amp and went into the cold, yucky, amp basement/furnace room with a cassette ghetto blaster like the old days when I first started out and just stood there. Usually I’m sitting down in a nice chair and relaxing with a coffee. This time I was standing up, just jamming on this little ghetto blaster without the help of all these other tools. So it was about liking the actual guitar riff because if you don’t really like the riff, it’s not going to sound too much better when you put everything with it. But if you really think that the riff by itself is amazing or great then when you put everything else to it, it’s going to sound fantastic. It has to sound good by itself.
Yeah I remember reading, I think it was in the ALL FOR YOU liner notes, where you wrote about your song writing process and how you would sit at a computer and program a drum machine and put parts together. That cut and paste method.
Yeah. I do the same thing really. I’ve always done that even before computers were around except computers just make it easier to put together different riffs to see if they’d fit. But I mean the old school way was just, you know, a ghetto blaster and a little tape machine. You know, I sit down and write a riff and then it’s gone in two minutes. Once I got the riff I record it and then it’s “next” and I just keep going. I think it’s what a lot of people do. It seems like there’s two schools for music writing in metal. The guys that sit down and build the song, you know, you write a verse or write a riff and you say, “That’s the verse”. Then you sit there and work on that. You work on that song and build around it. Me, I just don’t think about a song. I just sit there and blast off all these different riffs and then get rid of the ones I think are no good or not so good. Then it’s a matter of just putting them in their place. If one sounds like an intro then you put it in the intro pile and one sounds like a solo riff then it’s a solo riff. You know? That type of thing.
SCHIZO DELUXE had some really crazy parts that would sometimes just come out of nowhere. That doesn’t seem to be the case on METAL. It seems…streamlined is not the word but it just seems to flow more smoothly.
Yeah, yeah for sure. Actually one of my favorite Annihilator records is SCHIZO DELUXE – it’s definitely in my top three. That one’s a tough one to beat so if you can’t beat it, you have to do something else. You know what I mean?
That was a really difficult guitar record to make with the starts and stops and stuff like that. I think METAL’s more straight ahead, definitely.
Fair enough. As a songwriter you’ve always shown your diversity. Has this kept things fresh for you?
Yeah. When I started out, I guess it was in 85 with Annihilator, I had a partner named John Bates. Over the years he’s written many good lyrics for us from ‘Alison Hell’ to ‘King Of The Kill’ and other songs. He was the original singer when I tried to put this band together but I couldn’t get these guys to come down and practice sometimes. We were teenagers and everybody just wanted to go out and party and bring their girlfriends to practice or not show up and call in sick. So I always had this attitude, well you know, I want the girls, I want the booze, I want the party too but if I spend a lot of time and become a good musician, write some cool songs, maybe I’ll get a record deal and then I’ll have more of all that stuff than those guys will. Ironically that’s exactly what happened. But you know, I learned very early that “Oh, the bass player didn’t show up so I better learn how to play bass and do the demo. And the singer didn’t show up so I better write the lyrics and try to sing. And the drummer didn’t really want to work on his stuff so maybe I should write the drum parts”.
Which is what you’ve continued to do.
That’s the theme that’s kind of stuck with me. Getting to the changes and not only the different styles of song writing, you know, Annihilator has love songs and ballads all the way up to like real thrash and hate songs and a lot of different styles in between. The way I would usually record records is, it would be myself and a singer and I’d just hire a drummer to do the drums. I’d play most all of the instruments, the guitars and the bass and take care of that. So it’s really a three piece or even a two piece on the three records that I sang on in the studio. When we play live it’s a band and I hire a bass player and a drummer for the touring so when we go out we’re an actual band. It’s not like a Jeff Waters show – it’s a band when we go on tour. So I’ve always changed stuff. Everything always seems to change and at first glance, to people who don’t know anything about Annihilator, you just think right away, wow, that guy must be a real asshole. He must fire everybody and be hard to get along with and he’s one of those guys. But it’s just that I’ve got a very unique way of running this whole band thing and it’s like a solo project meets a band basically. And when you make changes, like when you have different singers and you have different musicians, different drummers, different production styles, song writing styles, it always keeps it interesting you know? If I was stuck playing one style of music….like my favourite bands are Slayer and AC/DC. By taking just those two bands, we all know that they each have their own sound and style. And they repeat that over and over again because it’s their formula and because it’s amazing. It’s them. It’s Slayer, it’s AC/DC you know? It’s recognizable and I was not like that. I am kind of the complete opposite, so if I can change something or if I can do something different then I’ll try it. I’m not doing incredibly different things, like going from Dream Theatre to a Slayer. I’m not as technical as Dream Theaterand I’m not as heavy as Slayer. It’s little less of an extreme and that’s really what Annihilator is.
But you could have played it safe and rehashed the finer moments of ALICE IN HELL or NEVER NEVERLAND but you chose not to. Do you think that if you had stayed the same that….
That would we have been done in 93’.
Yeah. It would have been detrimental to your career?
Yeah it would have. I mean doing it the way that I’ve been doing it, you get a lot of criticism because when you do those changes, some fans just can’t or don’t want to follow that. They’re like “Wait a minute. I like the Slayer type vibe that they do on this record”. And the next minute, on the next album they got these lovely instrumentals and a ballad for his kid”. You know what I mean? And the next minute you write these angry songs and then you get some of them back again, but then you lose them again you know? We’ve ended up developing or gaining a following that is expecting change and they kind of find it interesting. They can always count on wanting to check out the next Annihilator record because it’s either going to suck or it’s going to be amazing. Or it’s going to be heavy like I like it or it’s going to be lighter like I don’t or vice versa. So you’ve got three groups. You got the heavier Annihilator fans, you got the lighter ones and then you got the ones that just like us because we mix it.
Yeah I’m one of those in the third lot actually. (Laughs)
(Laughs) It does keep it interesting, but I’ve done everything wrong I think to become a big band. I mean the changes? You don’t have that recognizable singer that’s there all the time. And changing sounds and changing styles, that’s not a way to sell a ton of records. There are a lot of things that I could have done differently if I’d really wanted this thing to be a financial or a big, massive selling machine. And it doesn’t mean it would have been but it would have had a better chance. It’s just not what my goal was and I’ve never ever had that goal ever. In the beginning it was just to get one record deal and that was my goal. From then on I never set any goals on this thing and now I’m looking at twelve records now, touring with a band like Trivium and some of the tour offers coming in. I’m like looking at it going “what did I do right to be 41 years old and doing this”? (Laughs) You know what I mean?
I think it’s pretty cool and a lot of it has to do with your talent and song writing skills that have allowed you to survive so many line up changes. Back in the day when a member would leave a band there‘d be an uproar amongst their fans because they were so connected to the line up.
Especially singers. I can only think of Brian Johnson…. There’s probably a couple more examples but it’s the best one you know? You’ve got AC/DC with Bon Scott. How could you ever get better than that? And then Brian Johnson steps in and does BACK IN BLACK and FOR THOSE ABOUT TO ROCK. It’s just like, “My god”! It is possible but in my case I didn’t just switch from a Bon Scott to Brian Johnson, I went from….I’ve had five singers in my band. You know what I mean?
Well Randy Rampage to Coburn Parr is a big jump in itself.
Yeah. And then from Coburn to the next guy, Aaron Randell it was completely different. And then the fourth one was Aaron to Jeff Waters singing. So the first four Annihilator records, if you put it in perspective, the first four Annihilator records had four different singers.
And those four records were huge for Annihilator.
That could quite possibly be a Guinness Book World Record?
Yeah. I’m not joking here, I thought about it quite a few years ago and I was thinking, “I wonder how many singers Sabbath had”? Didn’t they have like Tony Martin and then they had Ian Gillian and Dio. They had three there but I know there was a couple more.
Then they had Ray Gillian who went onto Badlands.
Let’s see if there’s a fifth? I’m going to check that out in the internet when I get off the phone and see if there’s a fifth there. (Here’s the complete list as I know it…Ozzy Osbourne, Dave Walker, Ronnie James Dio, Ian Gillan, David Donato, Glenn Hughes, Ray Gillan, Tony Martin and Rob Halford who sang with Sabbath for two shows – Simon)
I’ll do the same and I’ll get back to you.
Maybe they have got a fifth but I don’t know how many bands could have pulled off being in the 80’s then the 90’s and all the way up to 2007 without stopping. You know what I mean?
Speaking about vocalists Dave Padden seems to be working well. What is it about his style that works for you?
Well he’s sort of got the same ideas vocally as I do musically. Sometimes it’s light stuff, some heavy, some in the middle and he can adapt to that. He got thrown into the band in 2003 and the first thing I did with the guy is throw him on stage in Europe in front of hundreds of thousands of people at some festivals and that was his entry to the band, singing Annihilator songs without him being on a record. That was a tough one because usually if I make a change like that it’s when an albums coming out. It’s not “oh here’s the new guy”. He’s singing the old songs and that was tough for him because he got some criticism there and it was not his fault. He did a good job. It was his first real time singing too and playing on a big stage. So I threw this kid out, bang, there he is! Then we had to go do a record called ALL FOR YOU in 2004 and I really had no idea what this guy was going to sound like in the studio and what style he was going to do. So we sat there and I’m pretty good at getting a lot of good vocals out of singers who haven’t been doing it that long. A lot of my singers…Randy Rampage, the first guy was like a punk bass player in a punk band called DOA and Coburn hadn’t sang for a while and ……
Well did you make Coburn sing one line over and over again back in the day. Did you do that to Dave?
Well what we did was – I sang everything on it for him to give him a guide. I said, “Here. Try to sing this.” And he was just so receptive and nervous and didn’t know what to do that I literally would say “Hey. Try that”. And he would do it. It worked but there’s like freakin’ seven or eight different styles of vocals on here and that was an issue for some fans because they really couldn’t latch onto the vocals. So some fans received him right away and some absolutely couldn’t take it at all. He put up with the criticism on the next tour we did with Judas Priest in Europe, as well as some festivals and he came back and stuck with it when he easily could’ve easily backed out of the band. So we did the next record, SCHIZO DELUXE, which to me is, if you listen to the vocals on that record, are pretty amazing for a guy that’s just on a second record.
So when it comes to Dave, I give him total respect for walking into something that he shouldn’t have walked into that way and just pulling it off and doing a great job on all the records. On METAL it was just a quick get in, get out, sort of thing for him. There was more that he could do on the new record. I’ve actually pre planned one or two things on the next Annihilator record and I want to get some melodies on there again because I noticed I didn’t have any on METAL. I’ve got a pile of really nice, melodic parts and then the odd ballad I might want to put on again. That’ll be neat to hear Dave go from the one extreme to the other again.
Well he comes across as very versatile. Speaking of versatility, he’s also playing guitar in the band. How did that come about?
I think after the 2004 touring was done and we did SCHIZO DELUXE. He was playing around on guitar and he was a guitar player before he became a singer because Annihilator was his first singing gig. Actually, another guy I had Joe Comeau who was on the CARNIVAL DIABLOS and WAKING THE FURY records and the DOUBLE LIVE ANNIHILATION record was a guitar player in a band called Overkill. He sang in a band called Leige Lord for one record but he hadn’t sang in ten years. So yeah, I got another singer who wasn’t a singer but I noticed that Dave was always showing Curran (Murphy), our last guitar player how to play some of the riffs. Later on it was like “well Dave, if you can play the stuff can you actually sing it too”? And he goes “oh I don’t know. You mean like James Hetfield”? And I said “well no. Not like him but, you know, how he plays and sings. You think you could pull that off”? And that’s a hell of a job to ask a guy, to play the Annihilator guitar parts and sing it live, but he did it. I mean it’s tough for him to move on stage so he’s kind of planted firmly in front of the microphone most of the night but he’s a fantastic guitar player too.
When it comes to guitar playing you’re of course considered as one of the genres best. How do you feel your playing’s progressed over the years?
I think it’s kind of weird for some people to fathom but I used to practice a lot when I was a teenager. There was probably a ten year run when I was a teenager and into my early twenties when I practiced, you know, ten hours a day and learned every Randy Rhodes and Van Halen lick, rhythm and solo. I really studied metal and played everything I could. Angus Young, Schenker…everyone you could think of. And then I think when I got to the SET THE WORLD ON FIRE album in 93, that’s about the time when I stopped practicing. I actually did not practice guitar again until last month. So there was a time from about 93’ to 2007 where the only time I ever touched a guitar was when I was warming up, going into the studio or getting ready to write. So I’d go down and I’d start writing right away and there was no practicing. It was warming up and then bang, you’re writing songs and then it was warming up and bang you’re recording. Then I’d literally, if you can imagine, since I’m doing all the production, engineering and mixing, once my guitar parts are finished in the studio, there’s many months of work to do after that because those guitar parts are done. You’ve got vocals, the drums and then there’s the editing and the engineering stuff that needs to be done near the end. Then there’s the mixing process and the mastering. Then you deal with the album cover artwork – the business and the press trips you know? The list goes on, setting up tours and all that stuff. It goes on and on where…I guess a good example is in October of 2006 when I finished the guitar parts for the METAL album and I didn’t pick up the guitar until March, the first week of March of 2007. So that was five months straight that I had not even touched the guitar and a lot of kids when I say that are like “yeah right”. But I practiced so much when I was younger and I didn’t want to get arthritis or any of these tendonitis hand problems later on. I didn’t want to become the guy that sat in my basement and life passed me by and I didn’t enjoy life. I saw a lot of guitar players doing that back then and I thought screw it. I’m good enough to do what I want do and I learned enough about rhythm. I learned enough about solos. So I just went and learnt how to write songs. That’s it you know, I just don’t really need to practice. The downside is I don’t come up with all these great new things as if I’ve been practicing six hours a day for ten, fifteen years. But the good side is, it just keeps me totally fresh and loving guitar, loving music, loving metal and physically I can play. Do you know what I mean? (chuckles)
I don’t have to worry about, you know, hand problems because a lot of people do. You don’t really hear about it but a lot of guitar players slowly fade away because they can’t hold a pick anymore and it’s from the ridiculous amount of practicing that a lot of people do. So that’s it. I don’t practice and I don’t come up with a ton of new things. What I do is I just try to write songs.
Well you’ve always been more than just a guitar player. You’ve been wearing many hats for so many years now.
Yeah. You know, I have a very short list of guitar players that I think are the at the top and they’re not at the top necessarily because of “wow, this guy can shred” and “wow, what an amazing image and what amazing sweeps” or “wow, he’s so schooled and he’s on the cover of guitar magazines”. My short list of top guitar players has to have three things and it’s really difficult to name more than maybe five. There are really three aspects to metal guitar playing. There’s soloing or shredding. Then rhythm guitar playing which consists of picking, chords, knowledge of the fret board and the third thing is if they can write songs? I mean, I’m never going to be like these guys, I only wish but Randy Rhodes, Eddie Van Halen and Michael Amott are at the top for me. I know that when I put Mike Amott in there, some people may go “what?” but to be able to play all those things great in your own way is very rare. If you name any guitar player…any of the big names, most of them have two out of three. They can play great solos and great rhythms but are they a song writer? Nope. Or you go, okay, this guys an amazing rhythm player, like Malcolm Young who’s an amazing song writer and amazing rhythm guitar player but he’s not a solo guitar player. So I looked at all these people when I was younger and went “wow. I’d love to be one of those all around guys”. Van Halen was the king because he could write and he could play amazing solos. Everybody knew he was on the cover of magazines because of those great solos but he wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for the fact that he could write incredible songs. Above all, his rhythm guitar playing was almost better than his solos. Anyway, that’s a long story short. I always just wanted to reach a point where I was a good solo player, a good rhythm guitar player and a good songwriter. I wasn’t striving to be “Mr. Excellent, guitar magazine cover, famous, rich guy”. I wanted to just do well at all those things and there you go! I can at least say I did a good job with all three with Annihilator.
You’ve actually got a fourth thing because you produce, mix and put together the whole album together which Van Halen, Rhodes and Amott didn’t and don’t do.
Yeah but that sucks because I’ve probably lost fifteen years off of my life because of the stress involved in having to do all that extra stuff. I’m not proud of that. (laughs)
(Laughs) But that was probably out of financial necessity?
Yeah. At the very beginning of Annihilator before money was coming in it was just a necessity because nobody in my hometown of Ottawa wanted to do what I was doing and make a career out of this. They just wanted to party and do it once a week. So it started off as a necessity and then it moved into habit when money was coming in and we were selling a lot of records. It was routine and that’s the way we did it. We then had to do this when the sales went down and it was a matter of survival. I had to do all this stuff because I couldn’t afford to pay big studios, and producers and mixers and all that. I never actually explained it like that before but, it makes a lot of sense.
So what’s next for you and Annihilator? Obviously there’s going to be a hell of a lot of touring.
Yeah, well knock on wood. It’s was a stroke of good luck when I managed to get out of my record deal with AFM records after I did the SCHIZO DELUXE album. It was just a disaster. I’ve been with Roadrunner, Music for Nations, SPV and AFM in my career. The first three companies were fantastic for us and I just hit a bump in the road with AFM. I got out of that and some business mistakes that I’d made, even after all these years. I hooked up with a few companies and agencies that were just “Oh no. What did I do? I really screwed up”. That’s one of the times I actually thought that Annihilator was finished because I had about three or four deals, with merchandisers, tour agency, publishing company and record company and they were all screwed. It was just bad luck or something. Stupidity on my part to get into them in the first place and it that was pretty much going to be the end of Annihilator was after the SCHIZO DELUXE record.
Nobody really knows that. One of my favourite records and I was just about ready to completely pack the whole thing in at that point. Not just one day waking up and saying “ah, I got to quit”. This went on for a year and I was like “I think it’s finished”. But I fought like hell to get out of it and a lot of people don’t know that the METAL album was really a survival record. I wasn’t just doing that for love of it but because I had to do that one. It was either do that record or finish the band. So I got out of those crappy deals and I managed to get back in with four new companies. I ended up signing with Sony Publishing, which is a huge deal for me. SPV records for Europe of course and I ended up with Bravado Merchandise. The big one for me was The Agency which is a big tour agency that books a lot of the good metal bands that are out there right now. The one I got is based in England and they took a chance on us and said “yeah, we’re going to push the hell out of you guys and get you on the road with Trivium and a whole bunch of other bands”. Yeah, so in other words, I think we’ll see you in Australia for the first time ever.