JEFF WATERS (ANNIHILATOR): “With Everything That’s Gone On This Is Going To Be My Angry Album”

Jeff Waters of Annihilator
Photo: Kai Swillus

After 30 years, 17 albums recorded, several million albums sold and numerous world tours under his belt Jeff Waters, the mainman and brainchild behind Canadian Thrash legends, Annihilator, has upped sticks, sold everything and moved over to Durham City to start a new chapter in his life. Mick Burgess called round to his Watersound studios for a good chat about why he made the move, what the future holds and an update on the forthcoming new album by his band, recorded right here in Durham.

You’re from Canada, you’ve been in a Rock band for well over 30 years, you could record anywhere in the world, the Bahamas, LA, the Record Plant in New York, Hansa Studio in Berlin, even the legendary Rockfield in Wales. What on earth has brought you to Durham, a historic Cathedral City in the North East of England?

A woman. A beautiful lady who is smart, intelligent, accomplished and a great Mum and a very caring person. I’m a 53-year-old Canadian who has lived in Canada until almost my 52nd year. I thought I was a lifer in Canada with my family and my 24-year-old son, my studio and rehearsal room, dream home by the river and beautiful puppy dog. She was the only thing that could turn that completely upside down and make me leave everything behind to move here permanently and get married.

Did people think you were mad?

Yes and no. I know when people meet someone new, they think “this is the one” but in my case this was a lot different to anything that’s happened to me before. We had a lot in common and similar life stories. We’ve been married a year and to make the changes that I’ve made have been huge but I’m an all-in type of guy. I thought it’d be easy. I’ve spent my life travelling the world and home is where the heart is and this is just another place but it has been a lot of hard work to get where we are today but it’s been worth it.

What changes did you have to make when you moved over here?

Personally I had a few things to deal with from immigration and everything from bank accounts, companies, equipment, shipping, taxes postponing tours, not all terrible things as it was all for the good but they could become stressful as they were all things that needed to be done as well as selling everything from my home, my car, furniture and my recording studios. There was also this thing called double taxation where I’d have to pay tax in Canada and in the UK too. So, I had a lot of things to do with accountants and a lot of changes just to be with the most beautiful woman that I’d ever met. I had thought it was going to be easy and boy was I shocked. The first five months sorting things out over here were hell from a confusion and anxiety point of view but the best part was the family that kept me going. I just totally underestimated everything that I had built over there and that everything had to go. I had to sell my cars, one of which was my baby, which I had to let go for half price. I had to basically give away all of my furniture as I just didn’t have time to sell everything.

That must have been difficult for you having to sell most of your possessions?

One of the things I was really happy about was when I invited a few friends of mine and their families to my house and said that I was moving and asked them to take what furniture that they wanted. So, I get messages on Facebook from them now and they’d send me pictures of their kid in the bed that they got from my house. My guitarist took my living room furniture and he sent me a picture of that with his wife and his friends so it was really nice to see that. It was part of the realisation of don’t look back, don’t turn back.

What advantages are there for you moving your band operations over to the UK?

I live in a beautiful country; a beautiful city and I have a beautiful family. There’s bonuses too. I can jump on a plane now and it doesn’t take me 20 hours to get to Hamburg. Now I can wake up and can be over there within 8 hours so from a business point of view it’s amazing for me. I could just play the festivals in Europe and retire for the rest of the year if I wanted to. My drummer is from Italy, my bass player is from Cambridge so I’m only flying one Canadian over now so it’s really convenient for my music.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve found living amongst the English?

Just little tiny cultural differences. The pub culture is different here but the pub food is awesome. I’ve discovered Beefeaters which is great. I found a great steak restaurant in Newcastle too. I love Tango in Durham as well, it’s my favourite restaurant. I don’t need a fancy meal to be happy

What do you miss most about Canada?

Apart from my son, who is 24 and my parents, they’re both coming over for a visit soon, I miss friends and my little dog. Apart from that, nothing much really. I think I’ve had to cut certain things from my mind otherwise I could get upset about it. I have travelled a lot over the years so have been away from home for long periods so I’m used to it really. To be honest, I don’t really miss it. I have a new family and three great step kids. The band is very excited about the new studio so there’s a lot of exciting things going on. I get maple cookies sent to me that you can’t get over here so I’m fine.

What do your new neighbours think of having a Canadian Thrash Metal musician living next door to them?

I think they like the fact that there’s a talkative Canadian nearby. Many people I meet here seem to love Canada and many have relatives or stories about it. It’s all positive.

Have any of your fans discovered that you’re here in Durham now?

Some Metal fans from Durham and Newcastle have gone up and down the lane and thrown some stuff and letters over the gate because I put a picture of the signpost outside of the house up on Facebook and people found it on Google maps. I’m amazed at how people have welcomed me here and they really want to help me settle in. People are so friendly.

Obviously as an honorary Northerner you have to like football. Have you chosen your team yet?

No. Being Canadian, you’d expect my answer to be Ice Hockey but that’s a no too. I do remember George Best as a kid and I played a little back then but kids didn’t really play soccer or football, it was more ice hockey and road hockey. I do know that you had Durham Wasps here and had a few Canadians playing for you. I played hockey until I was 16 but when AC/DC’s Back In Black and Van Halen’s Women and Children First came out, I was through with hockey and focussed on music full time. So, football and hockey I just don’t really follow but I’ll watch the finals and the big games but not much else.

Now that you live nearby, do you go and see bands in Newcastle or are you too busy working on your own stuff?

Oh yeah, we went to see Slayer last year and we traveled down to Manchester to see bands and we were up in Glasgow to see Destruction and Overkill. I’ve probably seen 8 shows since I’ve been here so it’s pretty good to get out of the compound.

Your new studio, Watersound Studios is located within walking distance of the City centre. Did you buy Watersound as an existing studio facility or did you build it up from scratch?

It is one hell of a nice location, even against Canadian standards. It’s actually in the grounds of our house with the river just over there and it’s surrounded with nature and trees. The studio used to be my wife’s garage and was used for storage. My wife was the director of a successful Durham company which she sold a few years ago and she’s now into real estate and property. She is an incredible business lady. It’s amazing what she’s achieved in her life and I didn’t realise all of that when I first met her. I had a house and studio in Canada but when we started dating, I started looking at places for a studio as close as I could get to Durham. She offered me part of the grounds for my studio, so rather than spending so much money on buying a place I could put that money into the studio. Although the studio is in the grounds of the family home, I don’t have to do 24-hour bookings to make it work as bookings are by invitation only and it’s used by people that I trust. The studio is separate to the house so people can come in and work and they can leave and don’t even have to talk to me if they don’t want to.

How long did it take you to get it up and running?

The studio is also a mixing studio where mix engineers put together the recordings and this is a big part of what the studio is meant for so it’s a very high specification and that meant that it took longer to design and build than a regular studio. It’s not just designed to record and mix Heavy Metal but Rock and Pop too. This whole studio was completed about 2 weeks ago and it’s been 9-and-a-half-months of work in progress. This was a 5 day a week, 8 hour a day job and the reason it took so long, is that the design of the studio, what’s behind the ceiling and the walls was so involved. The way it’s designed means that what the mixer hears in the room is what they’ll hear on all the other systems. You have to get the room right. It doesn’t matter how good your equipment is if the room is not right then the recording doesn’t sound good on a lot of systems. There’s an American mixer called Chris Lord-Alge and everything he does sounds great on whatever equipment it’s played on so in a properly designed studio what you hear is what you get. Getting the design right quadrupled the cost of the studio but it had to be done right. The studio is perfect for recording, mixing and writing. Everything is here.

Who did the design? Were they local?

I needed someone from England who could work to the specification that I wanted and I was able to find a company called Dacs in Newcastle. They’ve done home studios for Andrew Lloyd Webber and when I spoke with their guy, Douglas Doherty and he hadn’t heard of this Heavy Metal guy from Canada but his partner had so they took the project on and we had a blast putting this together.

Who do you hope will use the studio?

The great thing is I don’t owe the bank any money. I don’t have to bring in anyone and work my ass off to promote this to make the payments. This gives me the option to bring in bands and mixers that I really want to be in here so there’s lots of uses for this place. I don’t have to run it to make money so I can focus on working on projects that I really like. Everything is going great even though we haven’t technically opened the studio until February next year.

You’ve even got living accommodation above the studio in case people want to stay over while working?

I had to build something nice for my band to stay in when they come over so we’ve got a nice band house above the studio too. If anyone doesn’t want to stay here there are plenty of good hotels nearby and the train station is around the corner and Newcastle airport within easy travelling distance so it’s perfect

So, what do you have lined up for the studio over the coming months?

Well first of all I have to finish my record which is scheduled for the end of September then we have rehearsals and a two-month tour where we hit Newcastle first and then we head straight up to Glasgow on the tour bus. Then we go to Germany. I’m looking forward to playing at the Riverside in Newcastle. I went there earlier in the year to see Lost Society with my step son and that was my first visit there so I’m looking forward to returning to play.

You mentioned your new album. It’s been two years since your last album For The Demented was released. How far down the line are you with album number 17?

I finished the lyrics 3 days ago and sang my first song just yesterday and all of the music is finished.

A lot of bands who’ve been around for 30 years or so like you seem to be reluctant to write and record new material. How important is it to you to remain creative and put out new music on a regular basis?

I decided years ago when things tanked for Heavy Metal, when I had opportunities to join video game companies or join other bands, that I didn’t want to leave this band that I had. I wanted to do this and was self-sufficient. I was tempted to do other things but I just couldn’t see my life away from Annihilator. I was lucky to have the choice and this little Metal band was what I wanted to do. In 2007 when it started taking off again, I could just get rid of everything else like writing songs for other people and concentrate on Annihilator. It’s very important for me to continue to be creative and write and record new music and not just rely on what I’ve done in the past.

When things took a downward turn, what did you do during those times?

I was getting hundreds of people asking for me to record solos for them. I also wrote songs for Warner Chappell the publisher, everything from TV shows and some well-known Rock and Country artists; most all ballads. I was very nearly lured away from my band when I was offered Head of Production by some video game companies. Those times sucked because the music that I loved had dropped so low in popularity where many of my favourite bands went from playing big arenas to clubs. Slayer helped me get out of that slump. When I saw them in a club, they played like it was a sold-out arena and that kicked my ass.

Those of you that stuck to your guns and kept working hard lived through those times and came out the other end and are arguably stronger for it?

Bands such as Testament, Exodus and Overkill and ourselves had multiple line-up changes. We all had real issues keeping our bands going. I really respect those guys. Most bands just changed what they were doing or quit. They kept going and doing what they had to survive. Now those bands have been ramping up what they’ve been doing for the last 5 years and are putting out almost as good music as they were in the early days. Priest have put out their best album in years and Slayer just did Repentless so there’s been a surge in stuff. I really appreciated those bands in the middle where most bands quit, they kept going. I feel a sense of pride that I was one of the few bands who didn’t stop doing it and kept going through those lean years.

Where do you find the ideas for songs come from these days? There’s a lot material to consider when looking at the state of the world at the moment?

It can be something that I see on the news, or something that happens to a family member or myself. Just about anything you see. It can be happy, sad, a horror movie, something goofy or about mental illness or anything. On the last album there were a couple of positive messages about mental illness. I don’t tend to do political songs as I’m not really a political type of guy. I guess in my mind, I just wrote that off as I didn’t believe what I was hearing on anybody’s media. The BBC and CBC in Canada seem to be the more neutral and honest kind of vibe but the way the media was feeding constantly about politics it was just too much. I didn’t know what I could trust or believe so I just don’t go there. I’m just not that into politics and people criticise me for not having opinions on this or that but I’d just rather remove myself from it and leave it to those who take the time to educate themselves about it.

What are you singing about from a personal perspective?

A lot of my lyrics are about things that have gone on around me. I was in a relationship once where I suffered domestic abuse about 18 or 19 years ago. I had a son named Alex and his mother died of cancer when he was a baby. I did all of these tours with the help of my family. At that point I thought after 3 or 4 albums my career was finished and I was going to be a full-time dad. My own dad was so supportive and encouraged me to get on in the music business, in fact my whole family was so supportive and they would come out and look after my son while I was on tour earning a living. I ended up moving from my home in Vancouver over to Ottawa four doors down from my parents which was strange but that meant they were there for Alex while I was working. What made me make that move was that I was in a relationship with a lady that was, shall we say, not very nice. I felt that I was the only guy in the world going through this. I was threatened that if I tried to leave that they would take my son. You believe this because you’re in it. It did however provide me with such lyrical inspiration for my music, which was full of anger and confusion from this domestic abuse. I came up with my best lyrics as a result of that abusive relationship. I was lucky that I got out of it and moved to Ottawa with my little son. More recently, when I moved here, there was someone causing the family to live in a constant state of fear and anxiety. That wasn’t a very pleasant time but it gave me some amazing inspiration for writing. When I am happy, my writing tends to be more melodic; when not happy, it gets angry! This is our most-angry record to date; an added bonus to an otherwise traumatic situation that is, thankfully, now managed.

What about the musical direction of the album. Where are you heading musically?

I think that with everything that’s gone on this is going to be my angry album which is a bit ironic seeing as though I’ve found the love of my life and have a beautiful family in a wonderful City. I really think I’m going to have a great life here and I’m feeling so much positive energy right now but to get to this last year or so out of my system, I could drink but it’s much better for me to get it out through my music. In fact, I haven’t had a drink for almost 20 years. It’s been a very cleansing process. Maybe that’ll be a good title for the album.

Are you doing the bulk of the writing or will you take in an idea or two from your band?

I’m doing most of the writing and the production too although I’ve been writing riffs with my drummer Fabio Alessandrini, but not in person. He’s in Italy and he’d send me drum beats and tempos and I’d throw them into my system and would try to play along to stuff. Some I kept but others didn’t work but out of the 12 that he sent he came up with 3 killer riffs that I could add music to. That’s the extent of co-writing that I got on this album but he did come up with some good ideas for me. Bassist Rich Hinks will be working with me mixing the record and was involved in some of the setup in the studio.

Have you recorded most of the music too?

I’ve done most of the music, the guitar, bass and vocals but the drummer is coming in soon to put down the drum parts. I’ve used a drum computer software to put some guide tracks down and he’ll come in and add real drums on the album. The technology lets me get half of what I want then he comes in afterwards and plays the drums so it adds a human touch and reality to the stuff.

Are you essentially Annihilator and your band is mainly for live shows?

I guess so. Since the start it’s basically been a solo project from the business and behind the scenes stuff to the writing and playing but I have had band members and outside writers too but generally I play almost all of the guitars, bass and solos but at times other band members have played too. It’s more of a solo project but when it’s touring, a switch goes off. I’m not the boss, we are all equal. As far as I’m concerned, if the band and crew do their job, I’ll pay them well and we’ll have fun. We have a nice bus and a good friendly crew. It’s not a drugged-out or drunken group of people. It’s not like full on craziness that people expect from a Rock band but we have a lot of fun on the road.

Does that put a lot of pressure on you to do the playing, writing, producing, engineering, basically everything?

It’s a negative in the sense that bringing other people in as musicians or studio people can bring in fresh life but in the late ’90’s when things started heading down, I had to do these jobs myself as I couldn’t afford to bring all those people in. The thing is I love the studio, I’m a geek and read the technical manuals. It’s a hobby for me to record this band as well and now I could pass it off to a great mixer in the business but I like doing it. I might be able to get it better if I sent in to Andy Sneap to mix but you know what? I love it and I get it to the best place I can get it to. Rich Hinks my bass player will be coming over soon to assist me in the production of the new record. My stepson Charlie and my wife, who are both big Rock fans give me feedback on the music. Charlie is into some really cool stuff and he’s more hip to things than I am. I don’t do everything that he says but I do take his views into account. He doesn’t always get it right but then sometimes he gets it absolutely right.

When you’ve recorded an album, do you then take it to labels with a view to licensing it to them to release it or do you have the backing of a label at the moment?

I have had record deals since 1989. Never had a lack of interest as, when you have 17 studio records (millions of units sold), live DVD’s and CD’s you will always sell. Labels always want that. I do licence deals since 1994 which basically means that I own the master recording rights/master audio tapes but let record companies manufacture, distribute and partially promote my recordings for a set number of years. After that term expires, the rights to this revert back to my company. It does not always work for new bands but if you have a track record like us for longevity and sales, you are considered bankable. You also get a higher royalty rate on your 30 or so records, EP’s DVD’s than you would by selling off the master recording rights basically. You would always get publishing money, hopefully, if you sold off your CD’s like typical older-school record deals BUT you would get much less from it, financially. I also have my own publishing company that essentially sub-contracts SONY/ATV Music Publishing and my label licences out the CD’s to real record companies; currently Silver Lining Records, based in London. You’ve got to learn the business if you want to survive. It is the second word in the term “Music Business” for a reason. Currently, I am using promotion companies to start press on our next 6 months of touring and CD releasing, in conjunction with the label. The more the “Artist” keeps its shit together, the more the labels put more effort in. There IS money to be made on CD’s, merch, publishing, sponsorship, endorsements. I stay clean so that helps me come up with ideas. Add my super-business smart wife and I win at life and love.

Do you have any song titles yet?

Not yet, they are constantly changing and one will be used for the title of the album

When do you hope to get the record released?

The label wanted it done like usual “get the album out and then go out on tour” but we will do it in the reverse and tour BEFORE the CD is released in January 2020. I’ve been doing a lot of press on my own this summer. There’s posters around at the festivals promoting the tour and the tour itself is a promotion for the record. In September I’ll do 2 or 3 videos for new songs (filmed right here in Durham) at the beginning, middle and end of the tour so our fans can hear the new songs. We’ll be playing some new songs on the tour too.

On 12th October you kick off your European tour just up the road in Newcastle. Are you looking forward to it?

The first show in Newcastle will be great. We’ll be doing 43 shows if I survive that long. I’ll make sure the other band members learn the lyrics so that they can cover for me if my voice blows out. In hindsight I should have divided it into 2 tours of a month each which would have made a lot of sense. My agent kept calling to say that all of these other places were asking for shows so we booked another 18 so at 53 years of age I’ll be doing 6 shows a week for 2 months.

Are you getting to any places you haven’t been before?

I think Tel Aviv is the only place as we’ve played pretty much everywhere else. I’ve been getting a lot of flak for that on the political front. I’m a non-political guy so even if I said it’s all about the music that might come across as ignorant because there may or may not be reasons why we shouldn’t play or we should play so I’ll stay in the middle of that. Nobody is excluded from our shows; everyone is welcome to come.

How do you feel about the touring process these days?

I have a great band and a great crew and once you’ve done this for as long as I have every time you go on tour you have this template to work with where you have a thousand things to do to get out on the road. What I want to do is work with nice people. There’s agents, lawyers, press people, crew and all sorts of people many of whom are out to take what they can for you so over the years I’ve built up a strong network of people that I like and that I can trust so that makes things a lot easier for me.

You’ve had 6 lead singers over the years. Why did you decide to take on the lead vocals role rather than bring in another singer?

The last guy we had, Dave Padden, was a good friend and with us for 12 years. I thought he’d be the guy until the end of the band. He just got tired of all the travel. I find the travel annoying at times but it’s a necessary evil. Dave just got sick of it. I think he felt like that for a while but was scared to leave as he thought he was letting me down. He realised that I’d sing myself. I still see him around and talk to him on Facebook. So, I started singing in his place. This record will be my 6th album as lead singer so I’m now the most used lead singer in Annihilator. Dave was only on 5 of them.

After your tour ends in Russia in December will you be spending Christmas in Durham or do you head back to Canada for a while?

I think my son will come over for a few weeks after the tour then we may haul the kids over to freezing cold Ottawa so we can see family. Christmas is beautiful there with the snow and all that.

Annihilator’s European Tour starts on 12th October in Newcastle and ends on 3rd December in Moscow. See for more details.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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