Interview and live pictures by Marko Syrjalä
Annihilator’s thrash band is the guitarist Jeff Waters’ lifework. Waters founded the band in Vancouver in 1984. It took almost five years, and numerous lineup changes before the band released their 1989 debut, ALICE IN HELL, which was an unqualified triumph and epitomized state of the art in terms of thinking man’s thrash metal in every aspect. Album was a success, but more changes followed. Original singer Randy Rampage decided to leave, and Coburn Pharr replaced him. Pharr then recorded the album NEVER NEVERLAND and toured with the band. Album was again very successful, and the band did a lot of touring across the world with such names as Judas Priest. The third album, SET THE WORLD ON FIRE, was released in 1993. At that point, Wayne Darley was the only remaining member alongside Jeff Waters himself. The album was way more pop-oriented than its predecessors, but it succeeded before the grunge invasion. In 1994, Annihilator lost its record contract and broke up. The band soon resurfaced with a new lineup and released a series of albums: KING OF THE KILL, REFRESH THE DEMON, and REMAINS. Waters handled vocal all duties now himself, but Annihilator never regained the success band once had. In 1999 band made another attempt to re-find their glory days and reunited with the original singer Randy Rampage. The band released the album CRITERIA FOR A BLACK WIDOW. The reunion didn’t last, and soon Randy was out again because of his drug and alcohol problems. It was time to find another singer, and Joe Comeau stepped in. Annihilator released two high-quality albums CARNIVAL DIABLOS and WAKING THE FURY with Joe before he was surprisingly out after releasing the live album DOUBLE LIVE ANNILIATION in 2003. Canadian native Dave Padden replaced Comeau, and he’s been in the band since then. Annihilator has lived through many ups and downs in their career, but what’s most important, the band always survived, and now they’re once again back with their 12Th studio release called “Metal.” For the first time in sixteen years, the band visited Finland last April while on tour as a special guest for the U.S band Trivium. I had the opportunity to sit down with Jeff Waters in Helsinki before the show in House of Culture, and here are the results of our lengthy discussion.
You have played several tours in Europe in the past, but it’s been a long time since you’ve played in Finland or Scandinavia. If I remember right, the last time was in 1991 when you supported Judas Priest with Pantera?
You’re right. This is our eighteenth tour of Europe, and we’ve been touring every year in Europe, but we haven’t been in Scandinavia or the UK for about, well the last time I was in Scandinavia was 1991. Corey from Trivium was cool enough to call me up and ask us to support them on their tour, which was cool because they are a hot band to speak and get a lot of press. They are selling a lot of records. A lot more than Annihilator is selling right now. But the cool thing for me was Corey said, “Hey, you wanna come along to the Scandinavia and UK tour?” because originally, we were going to do the rest of Europe with them. Still, they did us a huge favor and brought us to places that we hadn’t been popular at, which was amazing. We have just done three weeks in the UK playing to 5000 people a night. All 15 to 20-year-old kids, so it was a really good thing for Annihilator, that’s for sure!
When did you last time play in the UK?
The UK was 1993 or 1995. I think maybe a few shows a little later on but not a real tour.
Like you mentioned earlier, you have now reached a whole new audience who haven’t heard about Annihilator before.
Well, even just in the UK, the three weeks we just did there, a record company called about a week or two weeks after the tour started and said, “Guess what? Your record sales now are going up, and all the stores and chains are ordering your CDs.” So, yeah, it’s precisely what Corey said would happen, and he’s right. We owe him a lot of gratitude from our band! It’s really cool.
This is the best possible promo you can have?
Do you have any plans to tour anywhere else apart from Europe after this Trivium thing is over?
We are going to do Japan and Australia, different parts of Asia in the summer. Maybe a few festivals in Europe, but our plan is just a support act until 2008. By April 2008, turn around and headline a few shows, do a headline tour in Europe, and then come back and play some clubs here in Scandinavia.
Whoa, you are coming back to Scandinavia?
Next time for sure, we are headlining! Probably some smaller places, but still, we would be able to play our own set. I’m happy doing this type of tour, but that’s great if we can come back and headline.
I remember that you played Scandinavia last year when you took part in Rock the Boat -cruise?
I already forgot that. Wow!!! For me and my singer Dave we were more excited by playing with The Haunted! Because we are big fans of The Haunted, we are big Slayer fans, many fun, and many incredible people.
METAL FOR LIFE
Speaking about your new album “Metal,” you have many interesting names as your guests there. Where did you get an idea to ask such names as Alexi Laiho and Michael Amott to play in your album?
The whole “Metal” thing was around for years. Back in the nineties, where bands had to get a website? Annihilator.com was taken, so I thought, “Ok, Annihilator.” Everybody asks what type of metal do we play, and we say, well, a bit of Thrash, a bit of Speed metal, some melodic stuff, progressive metal, whatever kind of metal we play, we play a little bit of all of it. So I say, I don’t know, I guess we’re metal. I said that back in the nineties, and it’s always been Annihilatormetal.com. So it’s always been there every time I look at the website. After the record was about 90% finished, Corey from Trivium and Michael Amott from Arch Enemy gave me a call on the same day, and one of them, I think it was Corey, said, “If the albums not finished. Can I play a solo on it?” That’s a pretty bold and aggressive thing to say. I mean, I could call up Alexi Laiho and say, “Hey Alexi, can I play on the new Children of Bodom album?” I would expect Alexi to be a little bit like, “Errrrrr, not sure?”
That sounds almost like, “Can I be with your wife?” “laughs”
Well, there you go! But I said yeah right away, and I talked to Michael the same day, so I thought Fuck it, Corey’s on, might as well ask Michael, and he said yes right away. I thought this was too easy, so I called Alexi from Children of Bodom, and he said, “Fuck yeah!” actually, I think he said, “Hell, yeah motherfucker! “Just that week, I thought, well this might be cool to have an album full of people who like Annihilators music because I spent my whole career telling Journalists, and through my music, it’s obvious that I like Priest and Maiden and Exodus and Slayer and AC/DC. You can hear that I’ve been waving a flag for my favorite metal bands for 20 years! It’s a cool idea to have some of the newer guys come on and say, “Hey, we like Annihilator” It’s an honor for me. I keep singling out Alexi because he’s coming down tonight to jam with us. But to have a guitar player like that play with you, it’s fantastic.
So for this album, did the musicians contact you, or did you contact them?
No, No. After that first day talking to Michael and Corey, I made a shortlist of the people I knew who play guitar.
Were there any players you would have wanted to be on the album, but they never made it for one reason or another?
No, I just kept the list to people that I knew, friends, because there was this one morning where I thought, “Hey, maybe I can call Halford or KK Downing or maybe even Kerry King? I know these people, but we are not great friends. We say hi and go to their shows, but we are not really friends. I thought we could get some really big names. Then my girlfriend told me, “Don’t fucking do that! Just stick to the people you know because if you try to get these really big people, it is going to look obvious that you are only doing it to sell records.” The only guy was Mustaine. He and I have been trying to get together and even write just one song, so he said yeah, he would be honored. But he had some problem with the Gigantour when he would come to my studio and play, but he couldn’t do it. That’s the only guy who couldn’t do it.
One interesting and perhaps the most unexpected guest on this Annihilator album is Danko Jones. But he’s been a friend of yours for a long time?
I’ve known him for a while. He’s from Toronto, Canada, and I’m from Ottowa, Canada, which is very close. I go to Toronto to see a lot of concerts, so I know him from there. He played a show with his band in my city Ottawa, so the next day, we went to breakfast and said we had one song left on our new record that had no lyrics and no singing. While talking to him, I thought it would be cool to get him to sing on it because he’s not a metal band, he’s not a metal singer, but he’s a real hard rocker, Guns, and Roses type of singer and frontman. But the thing about Danko and the reason I asked him to is that he writes columns for magazines here in Scandinavia, but mainly in Germany and other countries that are Heavy Metal columns. He’s a huge, huge metal fan. His favorite bands are Arch Enemy and Slayer, so that’s how he fits well into the record. He’s a big metal fan!
I think that “Couple Suicide” is one of the best tracks on the new album?
When you take Annihilator’s music, a more melodic song, you put Danko Jones on there with Angela Gossow, phew! I knew right away, looking at it on paper, that it would be a good song!
One more thing about “Metal.” You have now grown your hair back, and overall the whole band is looking very 80’s thrash band. Does that reveal that you’re now back in “Metal” on all levels? “Laughs.”
Not really, every time I try to grow my hair long, it gets to that point where it sticks out, and I just cut it short again! I finally thought I had to get over it and grow my hair long again. No, it’s not connected!
TEN YEARS IN HELL AND SOME MORE
Last year you released Annihilator’s first-ever DVD, “Ten years in Hell,” which offers a great review of Annihilator’s past career, but what’s the reason that you skip over many years on that DVD?
We missed a few years in the middle because we couldn’t use some of the footage. There are two guys in there, Randy Black, the drummer we had for the “Set The World On Fire” -tour, and “King Of The Kill” and “Refresh The Demon.” He came back and did “Double Live Annihilation” and “Waking the Fury,” an amazing drummer. Then there was Joe Comeau, who was a singer on a couple of our records, “Carnival Diablos” and “Waking the Fury” and “Double Live Annihilation.” Those two guys are a really important part of our band’s history, but they both refused. They wanted a lot of money, and there isn’t much money in old metal DVDs! It’s not exactly a gold mine! So I explained that this DVD is for the fans, you’re an important part of history, but they both said no, they wanted a lot of money!
That’s a bit sad
Yeah, it is. I had a lot of footage for that “Ten Years in Hell” DVD, and we had to take out over 50% of the DVD footage because they were in it. Good footage!
Speaking about Joe Comeau, is it okay if we talk some more about him?
Tell me something about his background and how he ended up being in Annihilator in the first place?
He was one of the guitar players in Overkill, and we toured with Overkill in the year 2000, a two or three-month tour of Europe. We also did Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Moscow, Romania. He went from being the guitar player in Overkill to singing in Annihilator. A lot of the guys I get are like that, especially singers. Our first singer who did an album called “Alice in Hell” was Randy Rampage, and he was a punk rock bass player!
Ray Hartman, Russel Berquist, Joe Comeau, Jeff, and Dave Davis
I know about Randyï¿½s background “laughs,” but going back to Joe, I read from some magazine that he offered himself to come and sing for you?
Yeah, our singer Randy Rampage, in 2000 at the end of that tour with Overkill he did some crazy things, so bad that he had to leave the bus because he had dangerous problems with drugs. We had to let him go, but we still had a few shows left, so Joe came and said, “Fuck, I’ll sing.” He’s a guitar player, and he doesn’t look like a singer. How is he going to sing? So I sang the rest of the tour and went home, but he kept calling and emailing, saying, “Hey, listen. I am a singer!” He sent me a CD of a thing he had done in a previous band called Liege Lord many years ago. I realized he had a good attitude and wanted to do it, so I thought we could try it and see if it worked. It worked great! He has a great 80ï¿½s metal voice. He’s a great singer.
Your first release with Joe, “Carnival Diablos,” was a brilliant album but “Waking the Fury,” the next album, was even better, and then Randy Black was back in the band. On that album, there is maybe the fastest drumming on any Annihilator album ever?
I agree. I think that the best drumming on an Annihilator album is “Waking the Fury” with Randy. You know Randy is one of the most accurate drummers in the metal world. Sometimes he played like a drum machine, and, sometimes, people thought it was a machine, not Randy playing drums. He was great.
On the other hand, Ray Hartman was a very good drummer too. He was very different from Randy because he was playing more with feeling. If you listen to “Carnival Diablos,” you can hear what I mean about Ray’s playing. That’s him at his best!
Well, after two great studio albums, you released a double live album called “Double Live Annihilation” with that lineup, but then it was Joe’s turn to leave. Would you tell me what happened between the two of you then?
He left around 2003, and I can’t remember exactly when, but he left, and we got Dave Padden and started doing festivals. It’s coming up to 5 years with Dave. A long time for an Annihilator singer!
But what were the reasons why Joe left?
I have kind of agreed with him to keep that quiet for his benefit, so I don’t talk about it.
THE NEW BEGINNING
After Joe was gone, you find the current singer Dave Padden. Tell us how you find him?
I met him in Vancouver, where I lived in early 2003, and the same thing, he was not a singer. He was a guitar player! I heard him singing a few Annihilator songs, so I said, let’s do it. It was a good decision for me. Then we did the “All For You” album, and that was it.
When Dave first joined, he got a lot of criticism. Did you notice that and what was the reason for that?
We always get criticized when we change! Whenever we make any changes to singers or styles! But the album sold well and did well for us. We toured with Judas Priest for a while on their reunited tour. One of the mistakes I made was in the chorus of the song. “All For You” was a very, some people call it Nu-Metal which I think is very strange. Yeah, it was stupid on my part to put that song on the album first and call the album that, and we did a video for it. That was a mistake because we had many other songs that should have had a video or been first on the album. We put a lot of pressure on that one song, probably the wrong song to say, “Hey, here’s Annihilator!” With the internet and everything, itï¿½s first impressions. There are a lot of good CDs out there, and journalists and fans don’t have time to listen to 1000 CDs, so you hear the first song and if you don’t like the first song, forget it, I’m not going to listen to the rest of the CD!
How do you like the video of “All For You.”
It’s ok. It was a low budget. We just did it and went on tour. We don’t think too much about it. These things happen fast; you get on a plane, do a video, fly home, done! Forget about it! I hope it works out.
The next album was “Schizo Deluxe.” I would say it’s kind of a sister album to “All For You.” Would you agree with that?
It’s like a heavier version, and the vocals on “Schizo Deluxe” are the best vocals on any Annihilator album. It is one of my favorite CDs.
Mike Mangini, Jeff, Dave Padden, Corran Murphy, and Sandor De Bretan
THE MIGHTY MANGINI
Mike Mangini, who now played drums for “Metal,” originally joined Annihilator in 1993, and he did the album “Set the World on Fire” before he decided to leave and join Extreme. How did he come to join the band back then?
When he joined the band, he was a friend of our guitar player Neil Goldberg. Neil was in Berkley music college in Boston, and so was Mike Mangini. Neil kept telling me about this great drummer, and he’s going to be famous! Yeah, ok! So we auditioned him, and he was in the band after he played for about 5 seconds! I knew he was amazing, but I knew I could also lose him very quickly because I knew another band would take him, he’s so good! And of course, Nuno Bettencourt came down and saw him and bang, and he’s gone! That was it, but we’ve always kept in touch and been friends since then. He came back for “All For You,” and he’s back for “Metal” it’s an honor for me to play with a guy like that, a genius. He’s the Eddie Van Halen of drums.
Speaking of drumming, in the very early days of Annihilator, you played drums by yourself. Do you still play drums?
No, I can’t physically play. There’s a lot of practice and muscles involved, but I can air drum really well! I can program drums and what I do with my albums, even with Mangini, is I program a drum machine with the beats that I think work well, and then someone like Mike Mangini would take that and say, “Yeah, that’s a good one” or “No, I think I could change that and make it better.” I just let him do what he wants with it.
Mike doing his drum clinic in Finland
Mike was in Finland last year doing drum clinics, and he said that he is proud of his work with Annihilator!
I’m proud to have him on our records, “laughs.”
Tell something about the birth of the song “Brain Dance.” It’s a weird song, but it’s still my favorite on “Set The World On Fire”!
Yeah, that was a crazy one! That’s the first record I did sober, but it’s a pretty crazy song. I don’t think I could ever do something like that again. I don’t know how I wrote that song. If I could do that again, I would do it. It’s a very cool song! Itï¿½s got very Alice Cooper’s verses and Annihilator choruses, then the middle of it is psychologically crazy!
I would even say that it sounds like System of A Down a little bit in a positive way?
Yeah, you are right! “laughs” I never thought about it like that, but there is a little “SOAD” in the middle! Bit Alice Cooper too, crazy stuff!
Do you know what Aaron Randall is doing these days?
Oh, drugs? No, I don’t know! He’s been out of music for ten years; I talked to him a couple of months ago. He’s a great singer. I don’t know why he didn’t keep going.
I actually like his band Speed.
Yeah, that’s his band. His vocals got really good on that one.
For me, he sounds kind of like Sebastian Bach on that album?
Yeah, actually, he really liked Sebastian Bach back in the day “laughs.”
Jeff, Neil Goldgerg, Wayne Darley, Aaron Randall and Mike Mangini
HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING AND MEGADETH
In 2002 you toured briefly with Savatage. How did that come about?
I have known Chris Caffery, the guitar player, for many years, and I guess their guitar player Al Pitrelli couldn’t do the tour for the whole summer. So he called me up and asked if I would like to play with Savatage for the summer. So I asked them to send me the songs I had to learn and then I’m in! I didn’t care about money. I know they would pay me well, but that didnï¿½t matter. I just loved to do the gig for the experience and honor of playing with them.
Are you a big fan of them?
Yeah, oh yeah! I was a huge fan back in the early nineties, you know? So I asked when the rehearsals start and he told me next week! What? That was a tough gig for me to do. It was about ten tents and nights. Instead of taking showers, I would take a bath every day because I could take my CD player in the bathroom to hear the music 24 hours a day. At night I would have the music on while I’m sleeping! There were so many songs to learn. Jon Oliva asked me to learn almost 40 songs in one week. So I went crazy, but when I got to rehearsal, Jon Oliva says, “Oh, we’re just fucking with you. We’re only playing about 14 songs.” So I didn’t like that but heï¿½s the boss, and I’m the employee, so I did my job. Forty fucking Savatage songs, when I only had to learn 14!
Which Savatage songs were the toughest ones to learn?
Oh, I don’t know, I can’t remember the songs now, it was a lot of songs! The one I liked to play the most was “Hall of the Mountain King,” of course!
Tell me something about your relationship with Dave Mustaine. I mean, it’s not a secret that in the early 90’s you did audition for Megadeth, but you also made another attempt in 2001, right?
There’s a lot of rumors that I don’t say anything about because the more you don’t talk, the more people make up stories, good press! Dave and I have been friends for years, it started in 1989 when I was touring with Testament with the album “Alice in Hell,” our first record, and he just called me up in a hotel room and said, “Hey listen, it’s Dave Mustaine. I have your Alice in Hell record, and I like the song Crystal Ann and Alice in Hell, and I like your guitar playing. Would you like to come down and audition?” Not join the band, audition for the band! He had Dimebag Darrell, Marty Friedman, and me auditioning, and the right guy got the job. Dimebag stayed with Pantera, and I stayed with Annihilator.
The right guy got the job because “Rust in Peace” is one of the best records ever! We have a funny history because when Megadeth recorded “The System Has Failed,” I heard from someone who works with them that they might need me on the album. That never happened. Then Dave called me touring “The System Has Failed” and asked me to be in the band. At that point, I didn’t know if it was a good thing or a bad thing. Working with Dave would be a lot of fun, but I know what he’s like, and I know what it is like to be a band leader. I know what I expect from the musicians in my band, what I need them to do, and how to act and be professional. So I knew exactly what Dave would want, similar to the gig with Savatage. I knew exactly what Jon Oliva would wish his guitar player to do, be quiet, learn the songs, be professional, and do his job. So that didn’t work out. He went with the Drover brothers, which was a good thing for them. That’s it! I talk to them all the time, have dinner with them, we always joke that someday we should get together and record some songs!
BITS AND PIECES
The “Remains” album, wasn’t that first supposed to be your solo album?
No, I just got lazy and didn’t use a drummer! I should have used a drummer; it would have been a bit more metal! I don’t know why I did that, but that’s the only mistake I made on that record. I got a whole lot of studio gear right around the time of that album, keyboards, drum computers. At the time they were very new and expensive, but now they are just cheap crappy things! So I was playing around with those for a couple of months, you know, when you are in the studio, and you just don’t come out! You start to get into a different world, and you create all this stuff using drum computers. I just left it. I donï¿½t need a drummer! It should have been a solo project, though!
How busy are you with your own WATER’S STUDIO?
Yeah, sometimes I’m really busy. I’m trying to keep it so that the only work I’m doing in there, besides Annihilator, I’m mixing other bands’ CDs. Because I have too much work in there to do, busy with Annihilator stuff too, but if there’s a band that wants me to mix even their demos, sometimes I’ll do that. I like helping out younger bands that are really good but don’t have good opportunities. There are Greek bands and Spanish bands which are playing really good metal, but they can’t get out of their country, so if I can help them or do a demo for them, sometimes even for free, it depends on the band! If I can help them out, then yeah, I’ll try and do that.
Jeff, thanks for your time, and see you again when you’re doing your headliner tour in Scandinavia!!
Maybe next time, I’ll still be supporting other bands! Not sure yet!
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