Interviewed by Mark Dean (Journalist/Senior Staff Writer/Contributor)
Jeff”Yes I can sort of make you out,if it stays like that we should be all right”
If there are connection problems I can email the questions through to you.
Jeff” I generally prefer phone interviews-just because I don’t want to type too much on the computer.I am in the studio so if I play lots of guitar in the studio, and then do a bunch of emails, it stiffens my neck and arm up. You know what,lets just try it, if you can hear me then we are ok.”
Currently you said that you are in the studio, are you recording some new Annihilator music?
Jeff”Whenever I am not on tour, or doing Annihilator stuff I am usually either taking just a short vacation then I am right back in the studio, mixing or mastering other bands records or mostly just writing riffs. Writing guitar riffs in the studio for fun, not seriously trying to go in and record a record. It’s just having fun writing guitar riffs and different drum beats. At the end of a few months of doing that you have hundreds and hundreds of riffs, that you have had fun making. When you have a whole shit load of riffs, then you usually invite a friend or two over to just sort of listen to them. You say do you like this, or do you not like this, or is this possible. If we both look at each other and say that its not so good then I hit the delete button. At the end if you have five hundred riffs, you will have thirty or forty really good riffs hopefully when you are done. That is when I take those riffs and I start thinking about”oh that sounds like a verse or a chorus”That is when the song writing begins. I kind of write the riffs first,and then sort of put them into songs.”
You have just released the bands most recent album”Feast”as a special limited edition with a Live Dvd. What was the reasoning behind that, and was it a band or record label decision?
Jeff”Yeah, the label UDR, put out the “Feast”record last year, and originally they had a distribution deal. I think it was with EMI. They made up a lot of records, more than the last one,and they shipped them out. The day of release the label and all of us panicked because we sold out right away. Even me ,the artist was trying to get cds from the label and it was difficult because they needed every last one that they could. You never know how well a record will be received,or how it will do. They took a good guess and it was a reasonable guess. The very first day of release-it was a Friday I called the label to see how it was going. They said that they couldn’t talk because they were in a panic right now. They were having a meeting and all getting together because they had to talk to their distributor to make up records really fast.I think from what I gather it wasn’t their fault but they had problems with the distributor making them up again. They lost the distributor, I guess they left as it wasn’t working. It sucks because we could have sold a lot more records. At the same time it was kinda good because we saw how fast all these records went out the door, basically people pre-ordered them and sold them out through the pre- orders. That hasn’t happened for a long time. It is both a good feeling and a bad feeling. The bad is that we could have sold a lot more and the good one was that at least now the label has a good deal with another major distribution company for the next one. They are re releasing the “Feast “album simply because it is just not available. This was an album that was just released Its got a second life to it, and I said that the only way that we can do a re-release is even leaving five years would be a good idea. The only good reason to do it now is to give them something else. Something more of a bonus, so we just did live at Wacken and recorded that. It’s not a super amazing professional video but it is still “Live at Wacken”, and its a good thing. It was a good experience, it was us Rammstein and Deep Purple playing. There were only three bands picked to play that first day. That was a memorable time and we thought to add that to the fifteen songs that we did on a cd called “Rekill” that was a bonus cd that we did. Plus the “Feast” album gives a lot of people a chance to grab the the physical album that were never able to get it. As I said it sold out the first day, it sold out actually before the first day so hopefully the label has got the distribution end figured out for our next cd. It’s a good way of trying to make up for that and letting the people that want the physical cd to get it.”
Have you actually seen the final package yourself? I have been lucky enough to have been sent one, and its a nice looking collectors item.
Jeff”No, I have seen the pieces like for example the cover, I saw it and approved it but I haven’t seen it together.I don’t have a copy of it as yet. Even the bonus”Live at Wacken”DVD I mixed the audio to make the audio sound better than the original recording. Like when you go in and just take the original tracks and make them sound better. You equalize them and compress them and all that. I made the recordings sound better but I never saw what they did with the video, or how they put the mixed audio to the video, if its in sync. I haven’t even seen it, and so that’s ok. It was a pretty good performance and a lot of fun.I am sure that the people putting it together have done a good job on it.When you work with good people you just let them do their thing”
As I say it is a very attractive package, looks well with the 3 d cover.
Jeff”So the new cover is 3d”?Is it?
Indeed it is and as I say its great.
Jeff”Oh that’s really cool, different artwork and 3d. I didn’t know that it was going to be 3d. Normally I would know everything about this kind of stuff. I just approved the cover and mixed the audio for the bonus stuff. The “Feast”and the “Rekill”stuff were already done anyway, so I didn’t have to listen to those. This to me was to me like”hey”bonus stuff you cant lose, I haven’t even seen it and totally forgot about it until yesterday.”
Regarding the Live DVD,I watched it just this morning. It both sounds and looks great. I was wondering how you retain your vigor and energy for playing live after all these years You and the rest of the band certainly look like you are having a great time on that stage.
Jeff”I don’t do drugs and I quit drinking in 1999, drinking alcohol. I have been smoking a little bit in the last couple of years , cigarettes which is the stupidest thing that I can do at my age. I am trying to quit that one of course, but other than that ….When you don’t drink and do drugs , and party with substances other than the cigarettes that I am sneaking in.you kind of slow down the ageing process. Your lungs wouldn’t be as destroyed as your liver. I am not in great shape probably in good enough shape to keep going for a while. I am always saying that I am going to get in better shape but….that’s probably why I have kept my head together to take care of business and stuff.”
(Interview was then briefly interrupted while Jeff took a courier delivery.)
Jeff”And its my Van Halen Iphone case!!! , and poster (laughs) Can you believe that, I’m ordering from the Van Halen store”
Annihilator have been around since the eighties and are among some of the first albums that I ever bought. How do you explain the bands 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 UK 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 UK 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,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 UK for example especially in 1993 when we put a record out”Set the World on fire”, we knew right then that the UK 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 eg 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 its 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 cant hot 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 are 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(laughing). That is still a few years away, but still to be going with this many fans. We play anywhere from 400 people to 45/48000 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.”
Apart from Dave Paden,the Annihilator touring/recording line up 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/Paden solo project with before it was more of a Waters solo project. Then we go on tour and it is more of a band feeling. It is still”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 Paden 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 from my end. 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(laughing)”
You mentioned having only toured/played the UK sporadically in recent years. Following the huge sold out sales of “Feast”, have you any touring plans regarding that area? possibly even some Irish dates. I recall last seeing the band in Belfast on the Judas Priest Painkiller tour.
Jeff”I will give you an example of a place not that far actually from you, is Bloodstock Festival. We have been trying to get to play that every year, but it depends on the country. We can go to Wacken and open up the festival to 100,000 people. We can go co-headline with Slayer in Bulgaria, or a headline thing in South America for 45,000 people or whatever. Yet for example the places that we want to go to, a few Scandinavian countries, the UK , Ireland and Scotland. It all comes down to the promoters, or club or festival people. If they will pay us enough money to get there. It is expensive-if you go there on a bus, you have gotta pay for the bus driver, you have gotta pay for the bus, the band the crew…You do have expenses.We go to one festival and they give you more than you need and then you go to another one like Bloodstock and they give you barely enough to get there, saying as an excuse “oh you are not that big a band”Its like “OK well we cant play there”Each year we have a discussion with them, and they come back and offer something that is just not really…cool but we would play there in a second. The same thing with Edinburgh, Dublin or wherever the hell we haven’t played we would love to play but it is up to them. The tour agency that we have and whenever we have a tour agency they ask everywhere. If nobody wants to bring us there then we’re fucked basically(laughing..) I will go find a shopping mall and go play in a shopping mall for free. Hopefully it is on the cards, maybe a promoter somewhere, in Scotland or Ireland will pick us up again. We always go in for the London show or a couple of the main places but that is usually as far as we get. The last tour in 2010 we got up to Edinburgh, but it was not enough shows. Someday, someday. I remember that Painkiller tour with Priest, I’m not sure if it was Dublin or Belfast but Joe Elliott from Def Leppard came out. There was Madonna and Rod Stewart also. Yeah I remember that stuff,it was quite a crazy time on those couple of shows that we did up there.”
Just a couple of questions to finish.How do you ensure that playing the old songs like “Set the world on fire”and “Alison Hell”for example stay fresh?
Jeff”Well Set the world on fire” and “King of the Kill”are my two favorite songs to play live, so that’s fun. The ones that I don’t necessarily like playing all the time like “Alison Hell”and maybe a few others you can not really want to play it and not like it. You respect it for the fans that it got and like”Alison Hell”for example, without that we may not have had a career and would never have had a bunch of records out. Usually if you don’t think much about it, and say “OK we have got to rehearse that song”, but then when you play it in front of people…and you see their faces. Usually people are smiling because the song sort of brings them back to a time when metal was at the top of the world and the best music.”Alison Hell”was just one of the many, songs that you could see on the video channels, like Headbangers Ball or whatever. Along with Judas Priest,”Painkiller”,Megadeth,Maiden songs Just so many great songs and music out there.”Alison Hell” was lucky enough to be in with that group of talented bands and good songs. When you play it, and look at the people and then you get into it right away because just for that five minutes you are going to have fun and it means something to some people.”
Just a final question Jeff. 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 its 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 pay check 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. 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 cant control the outcome of what people think the press or the fans you cant control what the record company will do no matter what your contract says and they tell you. That part sucks that you cant 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 cant really take care of business. If you cant take care of the business side then you wont have a career. It’s that simple and its why its 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 cant 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 foods ,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…”
Jeff thanks very much for chatting to Myglobalmind this afternoon.I hope that the UK and Irish promoters will come up with a mutually beneficial package and that we will get to see you play some dates soon in this part of the world.
Jeff” I appreciate it very much, been good talking to you. Maybe I will get to see you someday up there. Take care and have a great day Goodbye and thank you”