A Tribute To The Old Guard – An Interview With Annihilator

annihilator_2013_3In their many years of existence Canadian thrash metal outfit Annihilator survived all the trials and tribulations that left many other bands by the wayside. Feast, their fourteenth (!) studio album is about to see the light of day and it may very well be their strongest effort in a long time. Ghost Cult had the pleasure to talk things through with the band’s resident mouthpiece, the ever chatty and jovial Jeff Waters

Feast is a particularly inspired effort. Are you happy with it?

I certainly am. As as artist you’re sometimes lucky when it all comes together, be it painting, singing or whatever. Sometimes you want to do something good and when you’re busy with it you seem to hit the nail on the head. When you listen back it doesn’t contain your best work. Sometimes it just works. Bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Slayer and also we in Annihilator have great records and we have our share of not so good records. Different times, different places, you know. Maybe we were lucky with Feast and maybe we were inspired. A lot of it comes from that my partner in Annihilator, singer/guitarist Dave Padden, said that we should take a break for three years from writing music and focus on other things. We did a lot of touring, I worked in my studio, give guitar clinics for Gibson and Epiphone and we played the 70.000 tons of metal cruise, all these cool things. The break breathed a lot of new life in the Annihilator music and that’s probably where a lot of the inspiration came from. I’ve been writing music for the band since 1984.

One of the standout songs on the new album is ‘Wrapped’, which features Danko Jones..

When you mentioned that song I had to smile, because that’s one of my favourite songs. Back when I was younger I had some lessons in classical guitar playing and a bit of blues and jazz. Not much, just a little. When people describe our music some people get it right when they say a combination between thrash metal and classic heavy metal. That’s pretty much the only correct description of our music. Everything else is just zooming into one album or one aspect of Annihilator. Heavy metal is made out of blues, classical music, jazz, rock and roll, punk, everything really. You have The Scorpions doing rock ballads, the music Ozzy Osbourne did with Randy Rhoads features a lot of classical guitar playing and the likes. You can put any kind of music you want with traditional heavy metal. When I discovered thrash and speed metal I mixed it into the Annihilator style. I’ve been on press trips for this album for the past six weeks and I was always waiting for journalists to say which songs they really like. ‘Wrapped’ was always the least liked song, so you mentioned it, I was like “alright he got it”, because it’s a Guns N’Roses/Rose Tattoo-type song mixed with heavy metal with Danko Jones singing on it and writing the lyrics. That’s what Annihilator is all about. We can do a traditional thrash metal song, but also do something different and mix things up. Some people like it and some people don’t.

It’s the left field songs that give Feast its juice in my opinion. ‘No Surrender’ is another perfect example..

That songs stands out a lot too. The intro of ‘No Surrender’ has this funky Living Colour/Red Hot Chili Peppers type of off-beat sound. The verses in that song kinda stick with that musical theme. The rest of it is really heavy. It was one of those things I really didn’t notice when I was writing that song. Just after the whole thing was completed it occurred to me it contained influences outside the traditional Annihilator box. We’re known for including offbeat type of songs on our albums throughout the years. On the last couple of records those type of songs were missing. There weren’t any ballads or any anything really melodic. It was nice to include some curveballs on Feast, the type of songs people didn’t expect from us. Our Japanese fans are clamouring for a melodic album for years. I still have to deliver on that. Perhaps it might be something for a solo project, haha.

With every Annihilator album you take on many different roles, including the one of producer, mixer, main songwriter and guitarist. How do you prevent losing your mind?

That’s true and the reason behind it is pretty simple. I have my own studio since 1994 and I got into gear, reading books from other producers and studio engineers and how weird as it may sound, it turned into my hobby. It started out as something I had to do, because when metal music lots a lot of its commercial staying power back in the early nineties you had to start thinking about business just to survive. For most bands it was already too late, but I was smart in the way that I invested in a house and my own studio. I produced all the Annihilator since 1994. I don’t particularly go nuts because I enjoy every aspect from the process, but there are some negatives as well. First of all you get severe tendonitis because of all the guitar playing and spending so much time behind the computer. I had to deal with 6 years ago and I luckily recovered from it. Another element is that’s hard for your ears to stay objective, because you’re listening to the same stuff over and over again for four months and that’s where an outside producer or mixing engineer could certainly help and thirdly you really can get nuts because of the intensity of the whole process, haha. What I’m doing now is recording the albums and take a lot of breaks, you know taking a week off. The whole process becomes very efficient, because you have the get the same amount of work done in a smaller time frame. It keeps your brain and ears in good shape. Another aspect is that you’ll save a lot of money when you do everything yourself. It’s basic economics really.

Dave Padden is your partner in everything Annihilator for quite some years now. How was your working relationship with him developed over the years?

When Dave came in 2004 was just “another” singer. We had a lot of different singers and musicians in the band throughout the years. Looking back every singer was good for the time they were in the band and without them things would have been much different. When Dave joined the band 10 years ago things were different, because he was a guitar player and not really known as a singer. When he auditioned I really liked the versatility of his voice, so I decided to give him a chance. I stuck with him and worked with him long enough to see him developing into a killer guitar player and singer live. He’s a very talented guy. He came from being scorned and criticised to becoming an integral part of some of our best albums. After four or five years I realised he became more of a partner and I start phoning him to ask for his input on touring, equipment and endorsement deals. So we’re half a band nowadays, you get two out of four, haha.

Finally, there’s a whole new generation of thrash metal bands that are good at what they do, but some of them are more interested in emulating bands from the 80’s , than giving the music their own twist. What do you make of that?

There are some good things about that. When there’s a band that is good at what they do and they reach a certain audience, it’s good for metal business as a whole, but I understand where you’re coming from. On our last album I wrote a song called ‘The Trend’, which is exactly about what you’re trying to say. I just find it so funny that band that were up and coming in the late nineties and early 2000’s when their music got stale and old and people were starting to look for something new, they would change everything from their music to their looks and they were suddenly oh so metal. I come from the Overkill, Exodus, Testament and Annihilator kind of school and I always considered us to be the little four, so to speak. We had lineup changes, difficult times, but we always kept going, come what may. There’s a band on Earache, called Evile, which are cool. They pay tribute to Megadeth, Annihilator and many other bands in the same way I pay tribute to Exodus, Judas Priest and Slayer in my music. You’ll always find bands that will jump on the bandwagon deliberately and there are quite some successful bands out there that have just done that. You know, us bands that have been there for a all these years know this and we just keep on going and have fun while doing it.

Raymond Westland

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