By Steve Newton
When Jeff Waters picks up the phone at his home in Ottawa to talk about his metal band, Annihilator, and plug its upcoming (June 15) show at Vancouver’s Rickshaw Theatre, I remind him that we go way back. I last interviewed him in 1990, just after Annihilator had released its second album, Never, Neverland. So my first question was pretty easy to come up with: did he have any inkling back then that 27 years later he’d still be living the metal life?
“Nope,” he replies quickly. “When I started out in the mid-’80s in Ottawa my dream was just to get a record deal, and I didn’t even know what that meant! But when our first album came out—and I was in Vancouver at that time—it was like, ‘Holy crap, we got one, and it worked!’ After that it was like, ‘Well, now what do we do?’
“Then our singer quits in the middle of a Testament tour in the States, and I thought, ‘Oh, I guess that’s it.’ And the manager was like, ‘Get another singer, do another album.’ So I worked out the wrinkles over the years and just fine-tuned this little machine. We’re sort of unknown here in Canada, but overseas just busy every year touring and putting records out.”
Waters recently learned that Annihilator will be part of a “huge metal package” in Europe this year, but he can’t say with which bands because it hasn’t been announced yet. As always, he’ll be heavily involved with the behind-the-scenes work on that tour, because he’s not just the guitarist.
“Basically, I’m the manager, the tour-agent guy, the mixer, master, engineer, songwriter—everything you can imagine. But I get to do all this playing metal and having fun at 51 years old, and that’s my only job. So you can’t complain about how busy it is ’cause it’s the funnest job in the world.”
One of the things that have kept that job enjoyable for Waters all this time is the music itself. From day one Annihilator’s sound and style have been evolving, and its revolving cast of members—with Waters the only constant—has helped.
“The first four albums we did had four different singers and four different lineups,” he explains, “and they were four very big albums outside of North America for us. So it’s kinda like the most bizarre path any band’s ever taken in metal. And then from then on we just sailed through in our European and Japanese and South American careers and kept releasing up-and-down albums qualitywise, saleswise—which is kinda normal. If you’re the main songwriter and just going forever, you’re gonna have your ups and downs on what you’re doing.”
Annihilator’s latest album, 2015’s Suicide Society, has made the charts in Belgium, France, and Germany.
“We play for anywhere from 400 to 80,000 people,” says Waters of his band’s status in Europe. “We’ll play clubs and then all of a sudden we’re coheadlining a show with Slayer somewhere in Bulgaria. It varies.
“So it’s not a setup for massive commercial success,” he adds, “but it sure is a setup for a pretty good life and being able artistically to do what you want.”