The new dawn of Annihilator

The Epiphone Interview: Jeff Waters

Our longtime Epiphone Signature Artist Jeff Waters is a full time clinician, composer, performer, and one of the fastest and most exciting guitarists of his generation. In fact, the best players of his generation have never hesitated to express their admiration for his shredding prowess. When you see the man at work, even the term "shredding" doesn't quite seem apt. His guitar clinics, held around the world, have probably turned more people onto guitar than any single player over the last decade. Jeff's longtime band Annihilator will release their new album, Suicide Society, on September 18. And if That's not cause for celebration enough, Waters not only composed all the songs, played guitar and bass, engineered, produced, mixed, and mastered the album but this time, he's singing lead again, too. Is there anything this man can't do?

Last year's departure of longtime vocalist Dave Padden gave Waters incentive to reassess the band. And as you might expect, he came through just fine. The new Annihilator will have longtime fans (and new ones) sit up and take notice. Waters spoke to Epiphone.com about the band, his newfound voice, and yes, that new Epiphone he's been playing.

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What's a typical day like for you?

It's like someone who has a job with different projects, like a graphics company.They go crazy on a project and then when that's done they start on another one if they're lucky. It's kind of like that. Each little segment of doing a record is like that, especially if you're doing almost everything yourself, there's just so many different aspects to it. From this time to that time, you're going to be doing "this" and then it just keeps going on. Somewhere in there you try to fit in your gal, your family, your puppy, your bills, your taxes, and a bit of free time to try to have some fun somewhere else other than music, which is almost impossible--I think--for me. A typical day depends on where you're at in the cycle.

The Epiphone Interview: Jeff Waters

Do you practice every day?

No, no. For me it's been like this since 1993 where I did my time in hell practicing for a good 10 years solid--as a teenager into my early 20s--when I did my insane practicing on everything I could find that I liked. Obviously, there are just so many great players and bands. But I targeted my Randy Rhoads, my Slayer, and my Angus Young blues leads and rhythm playing... Van Halen, all of these great people... Judas Priest; that was my sort of time-in-hell decade. You could probably average it out to 6-8 hours a day whether you had a part time job changing tires and going to school or whatever it was, it came out to 8-hours a day for a good 10 years. Do the math on that one! After that it became maintenance. If it was time to write a record, then you slowly ease into it and you don't kill yourself right away. You just jam, have fun, get sounds in your studio just as a warm up, and then you start playing every day, writing. And then when the writing is done, you've actually recorded the record at the same time. So then all of a sudden, I'm done and I don't touch a guitar for a long time because I did the vocals, the mixing, the mastering, and a lot of the business aspects--band trips, promo things with the label, videos, tours and all that. So then you're destroying yourself on a computer with your right hand working the mouse and sitting in the chair for long periods of time and you're kind of glad to not play guitar at that point because you're doing enough destruction with a mouse for months on end setting everything up. And then when it's time to rehearse for a tour, I'm just jamming to get slowly warmed up. Then after two weeks, you're really working 6-7 hours day, building the muscles and getting it back and there you go. It's just maintenance hopefully.

Do you see a time when you'd bring in a producer or a mixer and say: "Here's the sonic palate I'm after but I just want to be the performer. Here are the pieces, build the house?"

The Epiphone Interview: Jeff WatersMany people think I'm a workaholic but I don’t have a real job, this is my hobby job, right? So, it's not really mega work. I know musicians who are actually doing pretty well with touring but they also have jobs at home--families with young kids. That's real work when you have to juggle all of that. My son is 20 and he's out of the house (laughs). And I love what I'm doing. I've had my own studio for decades and as a hobby I love engineering, producing, mixing, mastering--so to do it myself, it's like it’s something you like doing, like jet skiing or skiing down a mountain. It's fun.

So it's not a control issue so much as you like the different perspectives it gives you on the music? Can you be critical of yourself and be a fan at the same time?

If I wanted to get someone to mix an Annihilator record, I'd look up someone like Colin Richardson (Machine Head, Trivium, Slipknot) and his team--for example--is so good at what he's doing. But sometimes you gotta throw them dozens of thousands of dollars right? And that's just fine if you have the money. But why do it when you love doing what you're doing? Just to have this really cool thing you can put on your resume? It's 80% likely it's going to sound better than if I did it myself, or at least 30% better. But then you think: hang on a second, why would I throw that money away?

If I were a zillionaire, I'd definitely get him to do it. But why do it when you're having fun and your album mixes don't suck? They may not necessarily sound as good as someone who does that full time for a living. But back to what you're saying--yes, you're a fan, but it's your hobby too. And it's your business and you can't throw away that kind of money. You can hire a producer and a mixer and rack up a bill of $30-40,000 if you want to just get the middle-of-the-line guys. There are many examples of bands where they bring somebody else in and it's either completely wrong or it doesn't make much difference. But no, not a control thing. Except controlling my love of the studio and the budgets.

Tell me about the new album, Suicide Society. You're a lead singer again now, congratulations.

Thank you.

Did you already have the record written when singer Dave Padden decided to leave?

Yeah. Usually what I do is record the record and the lead singer probably wouldn't even hear it unless he was dropping by to rehearse for a fly-in festival or something we had to do in the middle of writing and recording an album. And I would just literally get it all done, sing on it, and make a cd as a guide. And with Dave--for almost 12 years--it was really simple. He'd get it, listen to it, bring his ideas in there. Try to make it better or say "Hey Jeff, that really sucks let me try something else."

The Epiphone Interview: Jeff Waters

So, it was kind of done and Dave was set to come in and sing last December. And at the very last minute he basically resigned. I tried to see if it was me or lack of money. I offered him more money and he said "no, no, no." His reason was the traveling--he just didn't want to do that anymore. He doesn't open up too much. I was in kind of a shock for a few days. I never expected Dave to leave because everything was going so well for both of us and the band. After I realized he had something else going on and he was serious and he wouldn't open up about it, I started looking for singers for a few weeks.

I heard lots of new-school guys who can sing fantastic but it's mostly like the heavy screaming during the verses and the choruses are clean and melodic--like a Machine Head or a Kill Switch Engage kind-of-sound. Or, it was old school with older guys--like me--who were just into the (Rob) Halford sound--which is amazing, too. I just wanted someone who can cover both and I couldn't find anyone. I spent four or five nights on YouTube, watching the Wacken Battle of the Bands website where all these cool young bands were putting their songs into this worldwide competition. I couldn't get anyone so I thought: I'm just going to do it myself. I'm not going to just walk in like I did on the demos and just sing it and say that's good enough. I'm going to spend 2 or 3 months taking lessons and really get this on the right track. Find out what I hate about my voice and get rid of it and find what I like and just go with it. I'm not a great singer but I'm good enough I think. When I'm in my car and just rehearsing or in the shower, I'm always singing Ozzy or Layne Staley of Alice In Chains or Dave Mustaine or James Hetfield. So my singing is a combination of all of those things and I think that's what came right out on the record.

But you’ve sung lead before on your albums.

This is the fourth album I've sung on. The first, King of the Kill, in '95 was actually a huge record. That thrust me into learning to sing and play guitar live. It was tough then and it's going to be even tougher at 49 years old.

Has the band changed significantly since Dave's departure?

The band has obviously changed when you change a singer. After 12 years he became familiar. But if you look at the history Annihilator in North America, a lot of people don't even know us because we haven't been touring and a lot of fans have just stumbled on the band. They don't see the records, they don't see the promotion. But the history of the band has been to hire different people to do different jobs. I've had many different singers. It's another era but it's also not that new to me or to a lot of the European, Japanese, or South American fans. That's the story of this band; we've had probably more members than anyone. Our first four records did very well and they had four different singers on them. That's pretty unique in the whole music business or heavy metal business for sure.

Tell me about the your new Epiphone Jeff Waters Annihilator II™.

People seemed to really like the first one. It was affordable and it was a great guitar and I used it on stage. When that ran out, Jim Rosenberg and I talked about doing another guitar. I thought it might end up being more expensive but Jim said let's reduce the cost slightly but keep the quality up and really offer Metal guitar players something great. I didn't have a huge pile of lists of things I wanted. When you find people who know what they're doing like Epiphone, you just let them do it. They threw me the guitar back and I'd say 99% of it was just perfect from the start.

The Epiphone Interview: Jeff Waters

How has the guitar worked on stage this summer?

It went great. A tour is a real testing ground for a guitar. I know a lot of people who will buy the guitar won't be going on two month tours followed by more two month tours and banging them around like we will. But it was important that it could stand up to what I would put it through. I used the prototype on the record. The Epiphone ProBucker™ pickups are great. I heard them once and that was the end of that (laughs). It took 30 seconds to decide on them. They were perfect. It's a really, really great guitar.

The Epiphone Interview: Jeff Waters