|Jeff Waters - Annihilator - Interview Exclusive|
|Written by Matt Phelps|
|Saturday, 30 October 2010 05:00|
I was 14 in 1989 and by Christmas that year my youthful teenage fist was nothing but a fast moving blur above my denim clad crotch. Now I know what you're thinking.....Kelly Bundy right? Wrong! Well partially right but that's not what I'm getting at here, I mean my air guitar. I'd just got my leather clad fists on what still ranks in my book as one of, if not THE, greatest thrash metal debut albums of all time, 'Alice In Hell' by Canadian speedsters Annihilator. Since the heady days of '89 Annihilator founder Jeff Waters has accumulated a list of ex-bandmates as long as a telephone directory and the band's history has had more ups and downs than Divine Brown's head in Hugh Grant's car. Through it all I've steadily kept the faith so to have the chance to chat to Jeff ahead of Annihilator's impending European tour was an opportunity I grabbed with both hands. Read on to find out about not only what's new in Camp Annihilator but also how the past shaped the present and how a Jewish school, Elton John and roller discos all played a part in shaping one of the most influential guitarists to ever take to the metal stage.
Hi Jeff, Thanks for taking the time out to chat with me today, it's good to be talking to you.
You too man, I'm really busy, I'm walking around trying to figure out what I could have for lunch and if I'm gonna have a little nap this afternoon, (laughs) no it's not that easy a life believe me.
Congratulations on the new album, it's getting some very positive reactions. Annihilator's profile has really been starting to rise again. How have you felt seeing that happen over the last few years?
Um, well I could just do what I should do answering an interview question but I'm gonna go out of the norm and say what I really feel. In the UK and parts of Scandinavia, we were kinda out of those territories since 1993, and to most people and a lot of press we literally just disappeared as if we'd broken up and went away. But for some reason the rest of Europe, press and fans really liked it and all the records we did since '93 sold fantastic and we've been going back every year putting out albums and touring and playing for anywhere from 200 people to 30,000 people, depending on the counties, and sailing along just fine. Then this band who were half of my age, named Trivium, called me up and asked if they could do me a favour, they said they would like to take one of their main influences and favourite bands, called Annihilator, and take us to the UK for their headlining tour, back in 2007, and introduce us to their fans because they knew we didn't sell any records there and have almost no popularity in the UK. So we said wow that's pretty amazing that 20 year old kids would show that respect to us older guys and do something as cool as that. So we went to the UK in 2007 and all of a sudden some Trivium fans and some press started going "Who's this Annihilator band?" and they started looking into it and a few years later our albums started selling, not a lot but more than they ever had since '93 and bang here we are all of a sudden starting to get a bit of press in the UK and coming back and at least having promoters give us a chance to come and play the clubs there. Basically we've always been doing well in the rest of Europe it's just now we've got this awesome bonus opportunity to almost come back and restart and earn our keep and work our way up again in the UK so it's really good to get this opportunity here.
This new album is a real return to form, isn't it? There's so much melody and the solos, I mean the sticker on the front of the album is pretty impressive in itself, 66 solos! Was that a conscious decision to go back to more of a style that helped make your name with the first three albums?
Yeah yeah, the solo part if I deal with that quick. Dan at Earache Records, our new UK label, had stuck that on there because he thought it would be an eye catching thing and it looks a little arrogant or a little pretentious but it's got a lot of attention from the UK and a some of Scandinavia because some people would be saying "Who's this guy?, Big Deal! There's 66 solos but who cares, maybe they're all shitty" you never know right? But it was kind of a cool idea that he actually counted the solos cos when he heard our record for the first time the first thing that struck him was "wow there's a lot of guitar solos on this record", so he actually spent the time counting it and I was quite amazed, I don't even know if it's 66 he maybe wrong but the one thing that does kinda ring true about that is that I did spend a lot of time on the guitar solos this time where there's always been guitar solos on all 13 of our studio CDs but this is the first record I've ever written and recorded where I had no record deal cos SPV Records the label we were with went under so to speak and luckily I was able to get out of that deal but instead of just grabbing another record deal, which would have been pretty easy to do we thought well let's do a record first and make it a good one and try extra hard and take our time this time because we have no time restraints or schedules or deadlines and let's just really try to get as much fire as we can in our old creaky 44 year old bones then get a deal, you know? So I guess this is the only time I've ever had where I could sit down and not rush guitar solos, guitar solos are not that important at all, not to me, there just the icing on the cake, there a bonus on the song, it's really about the singer and the drum beat and the guitar riff you know? But I think in this case it was Hey Waters has the chance to sit down and not rush the solos so maybe I'll play better, maybe I'll write better solos, maybe I'll have longer to do them and make them better and that's what happened I guess.
Yeah, well I would have said you've always been highly regarded in the field as one of the best guitarists. Top 3 wasn't it? Joel McIver's book?
Yeah there's some cool books, Joel McIver's book then there's a bunch of other stuff but I've always been one of these guys where um, I think this goes a little off topic, but things like "image" and what we look like you know, long hair, short, whatever, who cares? Tattoos, I don't care, Earrings, I don't care, having a little gut from sitting around in the studio eating too much pizza, things like that were never important to me, always number one was the music. In fact the fans actually were secondary, it was all about if I like what I'm doing, if I like the music then I'll offer it to companies and fans and press and if they accept it and like it then I'm really really happy but if they don't well dang it I'm just gonna have to do better or give it up. Wait a minute what was the question again?
Yeah yeah the guitar thing. I've always admired guitar players that you know back to that image thing, that wasn't important it's all about the music blah blah blah, it's all about honesty and I never wanted to seek bags of gold and Ferraris and all that kind of stuff, I never had that as a goal so I couldn't fail at that. I never had the goal of getting guitar magazine covers or to be a "guitar god" you know? Someone like Zakk Wylde is on the covers of all the mags because he looks the part, he looks like the "biker guy" but he isn't, he's not a biker guy but he's just a nice guy, a great guitar player and had a hell of a life and he's got a certain image and other people do but I never wanted to, it was not important to get in these mags, it wasn't even important for me to sell x amount of records, the only thing I ever strived for or had a goal was just to do enough where I could just do another one, it's always been a survival for the next record thing with me and if you look at it that way then all you have is success, every time you do a record you're totally successful and you have nothing to be let down about and nothing negative. So when people say things like "Oh he's this good guitar player blah blah" it's a total bonus and it makes you feel real good but you let it go real quickly because it's kinda like a nice thing but it really doesn't mean anything, it's just a bonus right?
I like guitar players that would do all the three categories well like um rhythm guitar playing, lead guitar playing and song writing and guys like Van Halen, Michael Amott (Arch Enemy), Alexi Laiho (Arch Enemy). Glen Tipton from Judas Priest and Eddie Van Halen are the two extreme best examples. All those guys I mentioned, you know Tipton and Van Halen could write amazing rhythm guitar parts and play great rhythm, they'd write amazing songs in their career and they wrote amazing guitar solos. Look at 'Victim Of Changes' all the way to 'Painkiller' or any of those things by Tipton they're just the most amazing and unique songs, rhythms and solos, and same with the first four or five Van Halen albums. So I've always been in that category where I've strived to be good at all three of them and therefore this guitar god thing is shocking for me to find myself on any of these lists because I'm always off the radar on that kind of stuff.
Talking about the music and the strength of the songs being more important than the image makes me think of '25 Seconds To Die' from the new album. A few times in the past like on 'Stonewall' or 'Never' you've written songs based on, or at least inspired by, real events. Can you give us a bit on the back story of '25 Seconds...'
Yeah, well our lyrics are about everything, really they're about stuff I see on the news, whether it's true or not I don't know, I guess if I'm getting it from the news I assume it's true though that may be dumb ha ha. Newspapers, things that happen in my life personally, professionally, whether it's a promoter, agent, record company that lies to you, rips you off or whatever or tries to be dishonest or if it's a band member or family member dies of cancer, I had a song called 'Phoenix Rising' that I wrote like that. Depression, alcohol abuse, I quit drinking a decade ago and you know our songs are about everything and I'm Canadian so I've got a lot of silly laid back humour that might be kinda silly to a lot of Europeans but I don't think it'll be too harmful to the UK people cos we have the Queen on our money so we're related you know, but we've got a lot of goofy humour that's shown up in a lot of our songs over the years. Then we have songs that actually mean something and might touch on a subject that actually means something and '25 Seconds..' was an observation and was something that I simply saw on TV on the news a few years ago, you know how some people get these things in their life where they see an incident happen to someone or they hear about something tragic that happened to someone and sometimes the weirdest story, or most unlikely events hits someone you know?
So do you feel that there's also a kind of social conscience to your writing, where you think you have to highlight some of the injustices you see in the world? Using your status to raise awareness so to speak.
You know I never sit down and think "Oh I have to write a serious song about something that actually means something", or something that's important. If I describe my lyric writing, which some people love and some people hate, and some people like only certain songs and some people think some of the lyrics are stupid, and I can totally get that. If you're not Canadian with a sense of humour like ours there's a lot of songs you may not even appreciate as even decent or good, but I think it's just observation. So anything I observe in my life or TV or news or whatever, friends, relatives, other people, record companies pissing me right off, it doesn't matter but I never sit down and say I'm gonna write a socially conscious song. I don't feel like it's my place to be a messenger, to tell kids you shouldn't drink or you shouldn't smoke cigarettes or that drugs are bad. If I get hit by something and I sit down with a pen and start writing this stuff then I have no problem saying "hey I don't think this is good" or "this is bad" but you don't find that many songs with Annihilator that are like that, you only get these little glimpses. I think what fans of our band like is that they'll have these songs about different things, and weird psychological kinda things, then all of a sudden Waters throws in a song about him being all bummed out about something, or quit drinkin', or a divorce I had years ago or a song about my son Alex. He's 15 now but I remember when he was born it was a very touching moment, as it is for any father, and I wrote a song about it and put it on my 1996 Music For Nations release 'Refresh The Demon' and the song was called 'Innocent Eyes'. I had this band called Annihilator releasing a record called 'Refresh The Demon', metal band, and then I've got this beautiful little ballad for my new born son. You know right away that there are some Slayer fans or real hardcore heavy heavy fans that are gonna listen to that shit and then drop us off their buy list. That's it, sometimes there's important shit on there and sometimes it's absolutely irrelevant, not important, and just something that I observed and came up with you know? Anyway I sure take a long time to answer these simple questions (laughs)
I think that's one of the main things that many fans do appreciate about Annihilator, the fact that you do change between so many different styles of music, all the way from 'Innocent Eyes' to something like 'Betrayed' from the new album. How would you say, judging from your stage view, that the crowd and fans have altered over the years? Have you seen much change there?
Well it's gonna be fun to come to the UK again cos the last we really remember of the UK would be back from about '89 to '93, which is really a short run. We got to play with some cool people, for example Annihilator and Judas Priest would do almost a month in the UK together on the 'Painkiller' tour in '91 you know? So I got to see the UK a little bit better than doing the bar scene, I got to see the big athletic halls and the arenas and all that so this is gonna be fun to come back and do the club thing. But as far as changes that I notice um, it's typical of someone of my age, I'm 44, I'm not as old the Anthrax or the Metallica or the Slayer guys you know, Dave Mustaine and stuff, I'm not near their age yet and certainly not near the Maidens and the Priests, I'm kinda like in-between, cos I'm not a young band, I'm not a young guy but um, my first album 'Alice In Hell' came out on Roadrunner in 1989 one month before 1990 so I was 30 days away from being a 90's band. So I was really at the very tail end of the thrash metal boom that went on until about '91 you know? I think one of the last great metal albums that signified the end of that cycle was 'Painkiller' by Judas Priest in '90 or '91 or whenever it came out. That was for me kinda like the last hurrah at the time, it meant metal was gonna go away for a little while or change shape and form but it would be back, you know? Now I'm gonna say what a lot of people about 44 will say but you see a German guy, a 40 year old German in a leather jacket with a cut off sleeve jean jacket with patches on it of every metal band ever, you'll see those hardcore Annihilator fans, but they're not just Annihilator fans they're metal fans and now all of a sudden you see their kids. That's the cool part for me cos I have a son, a 15 year old boy, and just to go out there on this tour coming up, we're gonna see so many of those kids of our fans, and you find out that these kids are full on Annihilator fans at 18 year old, you know what I mean?
Another thing too, touching on one thing you said about styles of music. In 1980 when 'Back In Black' and 'Women And Children First' by Van Halen came out, at that time 'Love Gun' and Kiss 'Alive', all that stuff was out, I was brought up in the hard rock, real hard rock, kinda Aerosmith 'Rocks' that's like the ultimate Aerosmith album that most people don't even know about, they think of 'Toys In The Attic' or the 'Love In An Elevator' stuff. But to go back to Aerosmith 'Rocks' or Sweet's 'Desolation Boulevard' which was one of the most classic records back then, and essentially Van Halen, Kiss and AC/DC were called heavy metal in that time, 1980. So I grew up with hard rock/heavy metal and it wasn't until we did a cover of 'Romeo Delight' from 'Women And Children First' the Van Halen album, that one has a bit of aggression in it. I'd never heard that much kinda anger and physical adrenalin in a song before and that led me to want to find other bands with that kind of vibe. That led me to Sabbath and that led me to Priest and Maiden and that led me to Venom who led me to Slayer, Exodus, Anthrax, Metallica, Razor, Anvil, Exciter's first albums. So in other words this long story shortened down a bit more is that I and Annihilator are essentially a heavy metal hard rock band meets thrash/speed metal. So that's why you get a love song one minute and you get a hate/thrash song the next minute with us. Phew I gotta sit down, that's a lotta talkin' (laughs)
You're coming back to Europe soon with the new guys Alberto and Carlos giving Annihilator yet another different line up. Can you tell us a bit about those guys?
Well when Annihilator started out, as much as I wanted to make a band I kinda discovered early in the city that I was in, Ottawa, Canada, that there was not many musicians here and the ones that were here really just wanted to look good with the hair and the image and party with their girlfriends, drink and look good at the clubs which all of us young teenagers like to do, and I loved to do that too but I realised at a young age I wanted to be in a band, I wanted to learn how to play my guitar better and I'd always say to myself you're not that good yet, get your shit together and practice and while other people would go out and party and do their thing I said you know what I'm gonna learn how to play my instrument. I wanna learn how to write songs like Hetfield and Hanneman and King, which I could never do but I would always strive to be good, and if I do a good job and start a band then I'm gonna get all the booze and all the women I could ever imagine and that ended up being exactly right on the money (laughs)......Hey I forgot what I was saying. What was the question?
Alberto and Carlos...
Yeah yeah and my answer had nothing to do with that did it? Anyway so I'd always end up doing things myself. I would do the bass guitar and all the guitars on the demos and I'd sing the lyrics I wrote, and we got signed to Roadrunner pretty much on a demo I did myself, so it's like the saying if you wanna do it right do it yourself, and I had to do that cos the other guys didn't wanna practice and show up. That set the stage for Annihilator's very strange and weird career of looking like a band but being more like a solo project. I'd hire a drummer to do the albums and I'd hire another drummer to do the tours and the same with the bass player. I'd play the bass myself in the studio and hire a bass player for the tour. That kinda gave me a strange reputation with people thinking I must be some sort of asshole, dictator or jerk or whatever, hard to work with but it was kinda the opposite, I wanted to work with other people. Now I have the ability to sit down, especially with my singer Dave, and sit down and go who do we want to try to get for the next album on drums, then we'd sit down think of names, Joey Jordison, Mike Mangini, Dave Lombardo, we go through all these lists and call people up. For example, an album we did in 2007 called 'Metal' had the great Mike Mangini on drums but he wasn't the first guy Dave and I called, we called Joey Jordison and said "Hey Joey, you wanna do an Annihilator record" and he was like "woah awesome", and he was in and ready and then Ministry called him up for their big final reunion thing so we called Mike Mangini. So essentially Annihilator is Waters' solo project but in the last 8 years with the addition of Dave Padden on guitar and vocals it's become the Jeff and Dave Annihilator and getting to your question 20 minutes later Alberto and Carlos are just the new drummer and bass player but I think for the first time ever we've felt like we're an actual band so we'll see if we can keep these two guys in the band now.
You mention Dave there, he's been in Annihilator longer than anyone else apart for you, why do you think that particular relationship has stood the test of time so well?
First of all he lives in Vancouver and I live in Ottawa and if you check the map out that's thousands of kilometres away (laughs). So that's the good news we don't have to be in each other's face all year round. But no that's not the reason. He was born February 13th 1976, I was born February 13th 1966 so it's exactly 10 years apart to the day and I don't know whether that has anything to do with anything but there's just some kind of connection there. When we did our first tour and we were in Vancouver Dave was a kid, he was only like 15 I think, and he came with his father or some family member and he saw our Alice In Hell or Never Neverland tour and from that day on he just wanted to get into metal. So in a way I had an effect on this kid's life just by playing in a band and all these years later he becomes the 8 year long, 4 CD, second longest running member of the band, but also a partner in the band, a friend, and also he's playing guitar and singing a la Hetfield kinda vibe. It just all worked out you know?
Cool story, Annihilator's own Ripper Owens! Well aside from Dave I'd say most fans favourite era of the band was when you were fronting it yourself.
See, the first four Annihilator CDs were 'Alice In Hell', 'Never Neverland', 'Set The World On Fire' and 'King Of The Kill' and I only just figured this out the other day, which I guess shows I'm not too swift a lot of times, but I just figured this out that we had four very successful albums and we're a very selectively liked band. In some countries, like Italy for example, they will tell you right away your best album is 'Set The World On Fire' and they will fight you to the death to argue that point. Then you step over to another country and they will fight you to the death by saying 'Never Neverland' is the best album and then you go over here or Germany or somewhere else, Japan, and they'd say Oh it's obvious 'King Of The Kill, then you get some 'Alice In Hell' fans. So it depends on every country. By the way that's gotta be some kind of record, a band has four very successful records in a row starting from their first one with four completely different singers and line ups, that's kinda cool. I just figured that out the other day and I thought to even go that far is luck, and a lot of hard work, but LUCK and to have done 13 albums at this point is ridiculous. There must be something good happening there, someone watching over me.
Looking back then at that whole run of 13 albums, which one would you say you feel didn't get the credit it deserved?
'Schizo Deluxe' 2005 definitely. This is an interesting thing too, I just said then we were very lucky but we had a run of very bad luck with record companies starting in 2003. We left a very successful label called SPV which we should not have done, we should have stayed with them in 2003. But the manager I had at the time, I don't know what was going on behind the scenes, but somehow he convinced me to go over to this label called AFM and that was a total disaster and we did a record for them and then the President of the company died which is obviously a terrible time, he was a father and a husband, and to have the boss of the label die was personally a sad event for everybody involved and a lot of press and a lot of people in Germany...BUT for the business side for Annihilator it was a total disaster because the next album we did for them in the contract, called 'Schizo Deluxe', it was almost like it felt that we'd made an album and they put one small ad in one magazine. That's how it felt at least, the press was a disaster, the guy who did the press for us in Germany was a total disaster. The fucked up thing was that Dave and I had actually felt that that was the strongest Annihilator album since the 'Never Neverland' and 'King Of The Kill' albums and I still to this day feel that way. That was one of those records that was such a good record and following that we just couldn't get it back up to that level again and honestly I'm not sure if we ever will. That was an album in '05, five years ago, that we worked so hard on then only to find out the label's just dropped it you know? Artistically you've worked so hard on a record, it's like your baby and all of a sudden your baby is just killed off, it was actually a very depressing time. And just when you think it couldn't get any worse it rebounds and goes into SPV again and that's great news we toured with Trivium and Iced Earth and we did Sweden Rock and all these festivals and everything was fantastic again, we had our album called 'Metal', which looking back was not our best album, definitely not but I guess having a lot of guests on there saved our ass basically and gave us a lot of new fans and that helped set up our new record.
One of my questions that you have sort of touched on there regards giving stuff away; the internet must be a real bonus for Annihilator in relation to getting your name and product out there when you don't get in the magazines like you say. Having a profile online where fans can come and get your music directly from you now compared to the 80's early 90's.
Well there's so many different views on that. I think the internet, illegal downloading and legal downloading for that end of things it's pretty clear that for the big big bands I don't have any pity for them cos they're already making millions, so anybody that's making millions why are they complaining they're losing a few million. I understand that it's their hard work and their money and they deserve it and all that stuff but I don't really have pity for the super rich. But for the young bands and new bands it's a perfect opportunity and the internet is a perfect thing because you can get your music out there. You can actually have somebody sitting in Istanbul listening to your record in 4 minutes, email it to them or put it on the site and somebody sitting in Hawaii or Iceland can hear it at the same time you know? And they can get it without having to courier or post it and wait weeks for a response like the old days. So it's great for young bands to get their stuff out there. Where it hurts bands is the bands in the middle, bands like Exodus, Testament, Annihilator, Overkill, the bands that have never quit, they've always been there despite the press fading away or whatever. The bands I mentioned were always there since the 80's, we never stopped, we never broke up, reformed and done a reunion, we've always put records out, changing line ups because of the times when shit happens cos you don't have success to pay people and people leave for jobs, you know? The illegal downloading is what hurts the bands in the middle like us cos we don't need the fucking press we need the sales to keep going you know what I mean? (laughs)
Another thing with the internet is the work you do outside of Annihilator, mixing, mastering, producing for bands that can contact you through the website. How did you get into that and what do you get from it?
I think the first time I ever got online was a year or two after I built my studio in '94. '96 I think I got my first laptop, first computer and remember we're talking about fax dial up modems that were the slowest things and the hard drives were so small they could barely hold one video. I remember the reason I got it was that I wanted to play Doom, remember that game Doom? Well me and my engineer that I had in my studio, he would go home at night after a session and we would hook up by the fax modem and we'd play the game Doom, and it was the stupidest thing ever because you'd take a shot at the guy and have to wait for 10 seconds before he would even get it, stupid things like that. But....um....what the hell was the question? (laughs)
Mixing and producing for bands....
Oh yeah. So when I finally got into the email thing in the late 90's, we got a band website annihilatormetal.com, we put our email address on there and the CDs and I found there was a lot of people out there who really liked the mixing and production I was doing and I started getting people writing to me say "Hi, we're a band from Italy and we were wondering if you would mix our record." So I'd just say "Oh ok, send me a quick burnt CD of what you're songs are like and I'll let you know if I wanna do it." And it ended up being almost like a second career in a way cos I have a stack of projects that I do, and they pay you good money to do it most of the time, and I do it whenever I can between my Annihilator schedule and it's just something fun to do in the studio. I found out I was pretty good at it but I couldn't do it full time, I couldn't go out and advertise and fly around to different studios and mix I could only do it on my time. So I haven't taken on a lot of projects but I probably get 7, 8, 10 records a year to mix and another 5, 6, 7 mastering jobs. You gotta remember in between there I'm touring with Annihilator, taking care of the business side of Annihilator, rehearsing and writing songs.
One of the reasons I'm still going here is cos if you don't take care of business and money you can't survive in this kind of business and one of the things I've done to make sure I can financially do what I want to do, which is play in Annihilator, is I've written a lot of songs for other artists that are not even connected to the hard rock/heavy metal world at all, totally different types of music. I've been doing that since 1993, everything from TV commercials to a bit of movie stuff. Mainly writing pop and country ballad type songs for other artists, so if you have a couple of hits in that or a couple well received songs there you don't have to worry about money for a while, you know?
Any names there you could give us?
(laughs) No, when I die everybody will know but right now and the way it's been is I've used another name since '93, and that's almost 18 years now. Now I don't really give a shit as much but when I was younger I thought there's probably a lot of fans that would totally make fun of, or laugh at or disown us if they knew I was doing some other stuff. That was a big deal up until the 90's or so but after that I didn't think anybody really cared but I tell you man I was trained and brought up in that 80's world where I liked Slayer and if I turned around and said hey I also like a couple Rolling Stones songs then there were people who would actually punch you or fight you, and you'd be called a poseur or an asshole and you'd be sort of kicked out of you crowd so to speak. Slayer was the crowd that I was in, you had to be a metalhead, have long hair, you couldn't like other kinds of music and that was strange for me cos I thought David Lee Roth is the best front man in the history of music, I fucking love blues guitar, I love Angus Young but there was a time that if I like David Lee Roth they'd call me a fag, and that's in High School right? So I was from the school of thought where I said OK if you're gonna write some songs for other artist you better not let anybody find out (laughs). Now it's kinda cool cos I think later on when I retire from this thing or get too old to play and tour in a band then I'll just quietly mention what I've done on my website and everybody can have a good laugh over it.
I was gonna say that my copy of 'Remains' has a little section at the end called 'Jeff speaks' or something and you mentioned on that about your love of different types of music and how you've got loads of tapes stacked up of non metal songs you've written over the years. So my question is do you think we may ever see a Jeff Waters solo album made up of some of those songs that you wouldn't want to put out under the Annihilator banner?
I've thought about that over the years, a solo project and that kinda stuff but it's like being tempted with other jobs, you know, offers from different bands. I've had those offers and they'd be good paying and high profile and some of them outside of the metal world, more of the hard rock stuff, the only prerequisite was I want you to lose a bit of weight and grow your hair long (laughs). It's always tempting to walk away because it's great when somebody offers you money, so I kinda turn my head and look and take one step in that direction to see if it makes sense but I've realised over 21 years of putting records out with Annihilator that I'd be an absolute fool to do anything else cos how many people can go 21 years putting out records and be paid to fly over to somewhere to play the music that you make to other people and experience their cultures, their foods, sightseeing, their customs. Paid basically to go over there and meet all the friends I've met over the years, I'd be insane to do anything else and it's the same thing with the solo project stuff. I always start up something thinking Oh what a great idea maybe in my spare time I could do a solo album and get a deal with this company, get a 30,000 dollar advance from them, licence it to someone in Japan get another 15,000 from them then I could do a little tour, hire Mike Mangini and some great musicians and then it all comes crashing down when reality hits, which is why in the fuck do I need to do that when the number one thing I like, whether people tell me I'm too old, need to grow my hair or need to get a real job, why in the hell would I ever distract myself from what I'm doing now. The only way I would is if the fans said hey man we don't like you stuff, we're not gonna buy it.
It would be interesting to some people but I don't think enough people would give a shit about it to make it worthwhile doing. And it's kinda weird because it exposes you to a lot of things, you can go into it one way where you say I'm just gonna tell the things that sound exciting and make them sound a little more controversial than what they really are and then not reveal the real secret inner self and all that kinda crap. I don't wanna do that because I have a 15 year old son that I've been raising as a single parent since he was 3 years old and I just don't want my kid reading all this stuff about that. The other side too is that I came from a really good family, I didn't have abusive parents, I don't have heroin or cocaine addictions in my history, or any extreme bad life turned good kinda thing. I did have a serious problem with alcohol for many years but I quit almost a decade ago, other than that my vice was cigarettes and I quit that 8 years ago and now the only thing that I have a serious problem with I guess is cheese and bread (laughs).
There's the single father goes through court battle and wins, heavy metal dad wins custody over the mother, stuff like that, it's like big deal that's life and it's not a very happy part of life. I've been in the business a long time and I could tell you a lot of stories that would blow your mind more. A lot of people trust me because I'm not a drunk, I don't do drugs, I don't burn bridges and I genuinely try to be nice to everybody that I meet, for two reasons. One, I don't wanna be an asshole and two, these people may help you on the way down when you need a hand or a favour so I've always been like that. Just writing a book, I could write a great book telling you stories about all the musicians that I've met and the real stories behind what they've done and what they're doing and the mean nasty people and the really fucked up people and their bullshit lies but boy I'd be an asshole to do something like that (laughs)
What I did learn though. One thing I'd never done was guitar clinics, you know where you go around show people what you do, play your songs, talk about it and answer questions. Even worse off than that I'd always had this fucked up stupid impression of guitar teachers, because a lot of guitar teachers I've met over the years, friends from high school that were gonna be stars ended up teaching guitar for a living, I'd always had a low shitty impression of guitar teaching and I'd always thought in a way it's where the failed musicians go to die or finish off their life, or when they can't succeed as musicians that's the only thing they can do. And that was a really bad attitude that I had up until last year so basically I live 'til 43 years old thinking that being a guitar teacher was not the best profession to be in, and I don't mean all teachers but I've just been a bit jaded by some people, guitar teachers I knew that thought they were stars and I was like what are you talking about you teach guitar you know? And then a company called Hughes and Kettner in Germany, and Epiphone/Gibson said "Jeff, we'd like you to go on a guitar clinic tour for a couple of months in Europe" and I went, well I've never done one but what do I need to do?
So I looked up what some other people were doing and thought OK I guess I could do it. I did it and it totally changed my life because I realised there that I was sitting in front of older people who played guitar, younger people who played guitar, we're talking 16, 14, 13 even 12 year olds sometimes and it's just me and they're looking at me wanting to learn from me that's the only reason they're there. They're not there to say oh it's Jeff Waters blah blah, they're there to learn not to fucking make you feel good, idolise you and tell you nice things, they're there cos they want to learn something. That's when my whole life changed, I realised oh my God now I know why guitar teachers can be very fulfilled and why that's such a good profession. I learned the very fine art of giving back, giving kids information on what to watch out for from my perspective and what they should practice and short cuts for this and that. I felt bad like I was a know it all telling them stuff, like who the fuck am I? But at the same time I realised that these kids were emailing me back a month or two later from the clinic and just writing me these long letters about how I'd saved their practising skills, I'd saved them all this time and one guy even said he'd got rid of his manager because of what you were saying there and I realised he was ripping us off and now we're going to business school to learn how to manage our finances. Shit like that, it's unbelievably amazing how it totally changed my whole perspective of guitar teaching. And now guess what I'm doing, I'm trying to set up with a couple of music schools who asked me to go on a one or two month tour of Europe around this chain of music schools and that's more exciting almost than playing in a band now. It's quite a life changing experience there.
Well I was just gonna ask you what would have been one of your proudest achievements through the years so I take it that one's gonna be pretty high up there now?
Yeah I mean that one is definitely the one in the recent times, of the last few years, that made me think hey maybe it isn't so bad to be a teacher, and holy shit the bonus is they don't pay me 30 bucks an hour to do this, they pay me a lot more than that so it works out great both ways. It's like I can do a positive thing and still make a living in between the Annihilator stuff and I have a feeling I'll be doing that long after Annihilator finishes. It'll be kinda fun, I've gotten into this mindset that if I can help someone out, fuck, go for it you know?
But I guess before that there's highlights, highlights and low points. If I go really quickly and scan through I'd say getting my first record deal with Roadrunner, which is a dream come true for any kid. The big shock for me was a year later when they said OK now you have to do another album and I was just like what? I have to do another one? I hadn't even thought about that cos my only goal was to get a record deal. From then on we had a bigger record called 'Never Neverland' which was our biggest selling record ever, and then bang, we're headlining Europe and the States, sell out tours and we think we're finished and Glen Tipton calls up and says "Jeff we love your record, you wanna come out and do the 'Painkiller' tour?" You can just imagine a kid getting a call like that right? Then after that there was an unknown band on the bus called Pantera. They shared the bus with us and they were the unknown new band, 'Cowboys From Hell' was released in North America but it wasn't out in Europe at the time of the 'Painkiller' tour, early '91. So we got to be friends with the Pantera guys and share hotels and buses and all that stuff for a few months. You could just imagine the parties, the women, the crowds, the stadiums, the arenas, the metal, the Judas Priest guys were amazing. And to listen to the 'Painkiller' album every night and 'Victim Of Changes' and all that stuff was just...... You know I remember me and Diamond, as he was known, he wasn't known as Dimebag then, Diamond Darrell would just sit every night at KK Downing's guitar tech station and high five and drinks beers, singing and dancing to every Judas Priest song while they were playing. It was like the ultimate fan experience of my life. There's highlights like playing big festivals and actually headlining some of these things, playing with other bands, touring, there's lots of great stuff but I think those are the two real highlights, the old one and the new one.
I was actually at one of those Priest/Annihilator shows, Newport in Wales, amazing night.
Yeah, Pantera got kicked off the tour I think? I think it was just Annihilator and Priest on the UK run?
You know what if they weren't kicked off then maybe they had some engagements in the States. I remember their manager at the time was saying something about stuff they had to do in the States but we all thought that they were getting kicked off. Um.... an interesting story about Pantera, and this is a really cool one that I love saying cos A - it's true and B - it's totally cool. When we were sharing the bus with Pantera, Annihilator was at the peak of our career, we'd go into a shopping mall in Germany and we'd get mobbed, that's how popular we were at the time. When Priest asked us to do the tour we were just overjoyed cos we also got asked to do a Megadeth tour in the States and we chose to do the Priest one. Then we had this unknown band from the States and they seemed a little kinda, I guess this is stereotyping and it's not a negative thing, but they had a kinda redneck vibe. They were southern US guys, the singer had short hair, part shaved head, tattoos, he's wearing shorts and he would go on stage more like a Henry Rollins, punk type front man. He would spit on the crowd, put his middle finger up at the crowd and tell 'em to fuck off, call 'em motherfuckers that kinda thing and we would all stand at the side of the stage with the Priest crew guys with shivers down our spines cos at that time in '91 the metal community was so tight that was just something that you didn't do to those heavy metal fans out in the crowd. You did not insult them, you did not talk down to them, these people were your life and your friends you know? Your fans. Pantera went against the grain and said FUCK YOU, right? If the crowd didn't react to them, which they didn't a lot of times because they didn't know who they were, it would piss them off and Phil would retaliate and say stuff.
Just to spin that about your favourite albums, you said that about 90% of your CD collection is rock and metal and you've spoken about how you write pop and country and other stuff. What would be your favourite non metal albums, the ones you would have been too embarrassed to admit liking in the eighties/nineties?
So there you have it. Not much more to say other than make sure you check out Annihilator somewhere along the way on the upcoming European tour, to see this guy and his band in action close up and personal is a treat every serious metal head needs to experience. \m/