Mark Dean of Myglobalmind webzine recently conducted an interview with guitarist Jeff Waters of Canadian metal veterans ANNIHILATOR. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Myglobalmind: ANNIHILATOR have been around since the Eighties and are among some of the first albums that I ever bought. How do you explain the band's enduring popularity?
Jeff: Popularity has been there for us, mostly. I don't know why but everywhere. Mostly on the underground, but mainly Europe less a couple of the Scandinavian countries. Less the U.K.; we haven't really been there, and haven't really had any success there since the early Nineties. Generally, the rest of Europe, South America and Japan have always been there. People would hear about us in the U.K. or Scandinavia that wanted to find out about us and they could order the albums. When you don't have promotion in certain countries, it is hard when there are so many bands that you are being forced to listen to, or read about, especially in the press. There are only so many choices that you can make about what to buy with your money. Maybe ANNIHILATOR was not playing the kind of music for many years that was in some of the countries. The U.K., for example, especially in 1993, when we put the record out "Set The World On Fire", we knew right then that the U.K. press had completely changed. Basically, we never made it back in. We have done some tours there and played some shows, but, basically, jumped on with other bands, for example TRIVIUM. We just got lucky keeping going, doing what we want to, musically. We sold a fair amount of records, but not at the level that a band like SLAYER would have. I get all creative control, the labels don't tell me what I should be doing. They just say, "All right, Jeff, take a calculator out and determine how many sales you think we will get." They pay us, we go in the studio to make a record and they just say, "Tell us when it's done." Creatively, we get to do what we want, so I think that gives us a lot of fans that may lose us along the way, but they find us later on. We have different styles on different records and we had some different singers on some of the records. Some people like some of them and didn't like the others. Again, with so many records out, sometimes you write some really good songs, maybe a few great ones. Sometimes you just write some that you wish that you didn't put on a record and that you had written a better song. You just can't hit gold every time you do a song or a record or indeed anything. Right? I think, with popularity I have been lucky since 2007 when we did a record. In 2010, we did another, which went up and up in sales. We just did this "Feast" album, which went up even more and this is at a time when bands are losing sales. Sales are generally dropping and dropping for metal bands unless they are the big bands that are promoted. Yeah, it has been a very lucky thing to have been around this long and I am still not in my fifties yet. [Laughs] That is still a few years away, but still to be going with this many fans. We play anywhere from 400 people to 45-48,000 people, depending on the country in the world. We have great fans and are just lucky that the Internet is there to give new fans the chance to find us.
Myglobalmind: Apart from Dave Padden, the ANNIHILATOR touring/recording lineup fluctuates. Why? And doesn't that make it more difficult to obtain a unified band chemistry and cohesion?
Jeff: It depends, I mean, if you can keep them together, then that's great. I realized since I started out, even from our demo days, that ANNIHILATOR in the studio was probably going to be Waters playing the guitars and the bass guitars. I did that on all the albums. Then hiring a drummer to record the album and getting a singer. The singer would stay as long as we would keep him, or as long as he could, and then we would find someone else. The studio, except for a few minor exceptions, I am engineering, producing, mastering and playing all the bass and guitar. Writing all of the music and almost all of the lyrics. It has become more a Waters/Padden solo project whereas before it was more of a Waters solo project. Then we go on tour and it is more of a band feeling. It is stil "my baby, it is still my creative baby. I am lucky that fans have figured what we are, who we are and how it works. Fans expected changes, when they didn't like it, they just skipped it and didn't buy the album. Or they bought it and just said, "Well, I'm not sure about this." Then the next album they would like. It took time for Dave Padden to be accepted there. He has been with me now for ten years. It seems like we have found each other as partners, and I have found the guy that will be here until I finish. Some people may argue the opposite, that if we had kept the first singer then, or the second, that could have really restricted us as to the music we were able to make. It all worked out, though. [Laughs]
Myglobalmind: What are the best and worst aspects of being a working and touring musician in the Internet age?
Jeff: Oh you threw the Internet in there, OK. Why don't you ask me two questions, one without the Internet and one with? Well, I guess, in my particular case, it's just a typical thing. If you have a nine-to-five job, sometimes you have job security, something that you can rely on. You have a paycheck that you know that you are getting every two weeks or every month. At the same time, you know people lose their jobs. It's not really all security. The thing with the music business is that you just never know. You could come up with the best record that you think that you have ever come up with, or best songs, [and] a label can totally destroy it, and the potential for it. Or it may be the album that you look back and think, "Man, that was not maybe the best album at all," and people really like it. If you want control over things, you can't control the outcome of what people think, the press or the fans, you can't control what the record company will do, no matter what your contract says and they tell you. That part sucks — that you can't really write some of your best music and get it really appreciated. Sometimes you write your best stuff and the press slam it. Or sometimes you write stuff that is not so good, and they will love it. That's a tough one because remember that if they like it and it sells it means that you have way less stress. Now you have a job for the next couple of years. Meaning that you have a record deal that they want another record, and you get paid to do the record. When that happens, you are all happy, because, "Phew, I have survived for another couple of years with ANNIHILATOR at least." The best feelings in the world are when you write a song, and the second best feeling is when people appreciate the song. Number one is that you have got to like it first. You just have to take care of the business. If I was starting up now, it would be very difficult for a musician to start now because the record companies want more and more of a piece of you. In ANNIHILATOR's case, it is much easier because we have a track record of selling records for a couple of decades. They can rely on us putting out at least a good album, if not hopefully something better. There are lots of things. If you are drinking and doing drugs, and if you want a long career, then you have a real problem. If you are not keeping your head clean and sober, then you can't really take care of business. If you can't take care of the business side, then you won't have a career. It's that simple and it's why it's called the "music business," because you want to play music, but if you want a career in it, you must take care of the business side. You can't do that if you are fucked up, or have a big ego, because you think that you are a big rock star and you think that you deserve everything. You will just get taken by other people. That is more like advice, and things to look out for. The best part is, obviously, when you write the song and you like it — that's the best feeling in the world. Playing in front of a lot of people, or a small amount of people, that really like what you are doing and everything in between, is amazing, the travelling, the food, are amazing. You learn to find out what people in the business are good people and the other 95% of the assholes in the business you learn to stay away from them. Or how to deal with them, and yeah, there you go.
Read the entire interview at Myglobalmind.