Annihilator’s Jeff Waters on: New album Feast

Annihilator Jeff Waters Press Shot 2013

James was recently fortunate enough to be able to conduct an extensive interview with Jeff Waters from Canadian thrash metal veterans Annihilator. In the first part of our feature, James and Jeff talked at length about Annihilator’s new album (Feast is released August 23rd in Europe). They also discussed the ‘bonus’ disc of the new album – modern re-recordings of old Annihilator classics – chosen by Waters and singer, Dave Padden.

How did the title of the new album come about?

Thumbing through a thesaurus or a dictionary because we had the cover done already and the cover was like that brand new original concept idea of zombies; groundbreaking new concept feasting on body parts I think, lovely cover and I was just trying to find a one word title for the record and hit the word feast and looked at the cover and looked at the word, back and forth and went “hey! That fits”. To some people it really sounds as though it was planned out that way but it was just like a word from a dictionary or something.

Is that what you do with most albums? Do you do the cover then do the title?

It just happens around the same time so sometimes the cover may come before, sometimes after.

What are your goals on Feast?

The only thing we sorta thought of (we being Dave Padden, my singer-guitar player and I) was that the last few Annihilator records before Dave kinda suggested “just leave off the melodic instrumental sorta stuff from the ballads” and the stuff that I was kinda known for in Europe, for having kinda a thrashy song then maybe a main priesty, eighties old school heavy metal song and then a ballad, and then an instrumental and then a thrashy song. We left it off so what ended up happening is our last couple of records ended up being a little bit heavier and more thrashy but some people say “oh, you’re trying to be thrashy” and its like no we just left off all the other songs that we’d normally put on so this time we went back to just do what you’re doing and a ballad creeped onto this one and a couple of funky little parts and things ended up with a little more groove in the drums and bass. No goals, just do what we do.

Do you write a lot of songs then cherry pick?

Nah I have a really weird way of doing it. At least I think its weird because people keep saying its kinda strange but over the year or two after a records done I’ll go sneak into my studio once in a while like really part-time, couple of hours every couple of weeks and write. So, actually what I did last time was I listened to a couple of my favourite Testament songs, a couple of AC/DC songs, a couple of Slayer songs, couple of Metallica songs and one Pantera I think, and I didn’t copy the beat but I heard what they were doing with the drums and sorta programmed in my little software ‘tunetracks metal foundry’ just that basic beat and I’d write a riff to it, because I like the original beats that were done on those guys albums and then I just sit down there and jam for fifteen minutes and come up with a cool riff and then I’d record – done so the riff could be like twenty seconds then I’d write another one and another one.

Then I’d get bored, tired and just shut down the studio and go upstairs then go down some other day and then at the end of the year and a half of doing that you end up with three hundred little riffs so I invite some friends over at different times to sit through the hell of going through all those one-by-one riffs and I make it simple: delete, or put it in the OK folder or put it in Kickass, that’s a good riff and if two of the guys say I don’t like that riff I know its probably not a good one so I hit delete. Then at the end of that you’re down to maybe 80 riffs and you go down and do that again a few months later with a couple of people and you narrow the eighty down to forty so you basically end up with forty or fifty riffs so when you’re ready to start an album writing and you know that those riffs are not shitty. They’re gonna be good or really really good right? So then you put them in categories, folders, drag and drop right? Verse, something you’d sing to, chorus oh that sounds more like a chorus or that’s a solo rhythm or this is an intro to a song and then it’s easy, you don’t have a guitar you can grab a coffee, sit down in your studio and its computer work. You sit here and you cut and paste you take a verse riff that you like and you go to the chorus folder and you find one and you drag and drop it beside the verse and if they go together? Hey, that’s great! And I they don’t? You grab another chorus, grab another riff and at the end its like a puzzle and you just put it together and you get the craziest changes and sometimes they just sound so well written like, oh wow, the guy mussta spent a lot of time writing the key change and going riff to riff and its really cool. But really its just cut and paste the bloody things together!

So that’s happened on the last few albums?

Well no, it happened the whole time except not with the computers in the beginning. In the beginning I’d just do it was cassette tape or ghetto blaster to ghetto blaster just hit pause and record on these two ghetto blasters – its really ridiculous but that’s it you just piece together the music and then you start fine tuning get the best beat you can for that and then get a bass thing to it and change a few things to it, put a cymbal here and a drum roll there and all of a sudden it starts sounding like a song but as long as you have the guts of good riffs its hard to ruin it, to make it a horrible song. It doesn’t mean its gonna be great buts its gonna be a good riff song.

Have you ever written a riff and then forgotten how to play it

Oh yeah, if you asked me how to play any of the stuff here then I’d have to go over it. It wouldn’t take me long to figure it out and to play it but it would take me, well I’d have to sit down and listen to the riff and practise it for maybe thirty seconds or a minute and then it would come back but right now there’s no way.

Have your influences changed over your career or have they stayed the same?

Influence is really 95% at least haven’t changed I’m just calling up influences from different periods of when I was more into listening to other albums in the early days so sometimes I’ll get a Slayer vibe, sometimes I’ll get a Priest vibe and in the end you kinda find your own way of tying it together that’s your own style.

Why did you want to re-record some old songs for the bonus disc?

Well up until about two, three years ago I’d been asked about what about redoing this? Or anniversary of a record, why don’t you do the whole album on tour or why don’t you re-record this and I was like pfft no? Why would I do that? Maybe that if nobody wanted our records anymore, no one would buy them and no fans liked it and no press liked it and no labels wanted to sign us then maybe as a last resort or a last hurrah or whatever maybe I’d do something like that but I totally changed that around. Dave was talking to me and he was like “I know you don’t wanna redo and stuff and Dave went I don’t wanna do it either because theres too many people gonna criticise it if you put a record out with re-recorded stuff so we agreed lets not make an album of that, its not gonna be a main release, why don’t we do that as a bonus thing for the new fans that we have because now over 50% of our fans are under 23 years old which is awesome, its amazing!

So a lot of them tell us they can’t find our older records, like, album number 6 to album number y’know 11 and record companies aren’t really putting them out or releasing them or making them available so erm Dave came up with a cool idea  – why don’t we just redo them a bunch of songs that we’re gonna play live as a bonus so that they can hear a best-of then they don’t have to go out and buy the albums, they can get a taste of what some of the older Annihilator stuff is like. I think that’s a great idea so we really recorded 23 songs for this release – a lot of work.

How did you go about deciding which songs?

I think Dave had a big part in that because some stuff he didn’t want to sing, he didn’t like or he didn’t like on the original some stuff, he just didn’t have the voice for it he said and so I made him write out the list of what he wanted to do and I added what I wanted to do and we did them. Cause if we’re missing a bunch of songs people would go “but yeah what about that song” y’know and plus, Dave plays guitar and he sings live so some of the songs are impossible to sing and play at the same time so we left those ones off.

When you re-recorded them did you go back to the originals and change parts?

No, the only requirements were to go back and get the drum tempo’s like the speed of each song cause sometimes nowadays you play to a cowbell or a click so the timing’s perfect all the way through and you can fix it up and make the drums perfect back then we didn’t do that, the drummer just played so some parts the drummer would play faster and then he’d slow down and then y’know. So we tried to go back and find out the drum fills and make them pretty much the same. The only things that are really changed were that over the years you play the guitar solo’s a little bit different when you go on tour and while we were doing this record I’d go back to the original and go “oh my god I’ve changed it over years, I’ve totally changed it” so I kept the new version. But mainly it’s just trying to copy the old stuff.

This is just the first part of James’ interview with Jeff Waters. Please stay tuned for more coverage of our time with the Annihilator axeman soon!

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