Canadian metal band Annihilator
ascended to worldwide acclaim with their
first two releases on Roadrunner Records:
Alice in Hell (1989) and Never Neverland
(1990). The band’s founder and visionary
guitarist/songwriter is Jeff Waters, whose
blazing fretwork and skill at blending elements
of modern thrash and classic melodic
metal have made him an influence on many
players and kept Annihilator front and center
in the European metal scene. Ever since
his band lost its deal with Roadrunner after
releasing Set the World on Fire in 1993, Waters
has forged ahead primarily on his own—
writing, engineering, and producing all of
Annihilator’s subsequent albums, including
2007’s Annihilator Metal, which featured
guests such as Jeff Loomis, Alexi Laiho, and
Michael Amott. The 2010 release of Annihilator
marks the band’s 13th studio album.
What happened in the metal scene here that made
you move your operations to Europe?
Heavy metal just kind of died in the U.S. when the Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, and
Pearl Jam came in. I’d say that 98 percent of
metal bands lost their deals. Roadrunner,
the great label that I was on, told me that
unless we were willing to change the name
of the band and the style of music we played,
they were going to have to let us go. I just
thought, “Now what do I do?” So I went
overseas where the record companies were
still doing old-fashioned bidding wars, and
we wound up having one of our most successful
records in the same year that we were
kicked out of Canada and the States. And
now we’re trying to come back.
You’d like to sign with an American label again?
Yes. The problem is that Annihilator was
never a big name in the metal scene here.
We did have a couple of very well known
records—Alice In Hell and Never, Neverland—
and we did tours with bands like Testament
and also some headliner tours. But it was all
very short lived. We’re also an older band
now, and when a label puts money into something
they’d rather it be a younger band. So
the grand comeback never happened for me.
In fact, I couldn’t even get my foot in the
door. I had to release this new record through
a digital online company in San Francisco. I
couldn’t get a physical CD deal for this thing
even in Canada.
Who were some of your biggest musical
As a teenager I was influenced by hard
rock and heavy metal acts like Kiss, Aerosmith,
AC/DC, Judas Priest, and Iron
Maiden. And then I got into the thrash metal
bands like Metallica, Exodus, Anthrax, and
Slayer. So I’m basically pulling from two different
kinds of metal—the melodic stuff and
the fast and aggressive picking from the
How do you decide which style to pull from
when you’re writing songs?
It’s all about being in a certain mood or
in certain place in my life personally. One
minute I’ll write a love song and the next
I’m writing a totally angry F-you kind of hate
song. We’ve got silly, immature Canadian
humor in some songs, we’ve got a bit a blues
and jazz occasionally, and we have classical
Were you intentionally going for a more aggressive
sound on this album?
The production is a little more aggressive,
and the guitars are louder and grittier
than usual. I typically like that older kind
of Priest/Maiden rhythm guitar sound where the pickups are more bluesy sounding
and any distortion is coming from the
tubes in your amp or maybe a pedal. But
this album has more grit on it, which makes
it sound heavier. Our singer also sounded
angrier this time, and I actually tried to tone
him down a bit. If you’ve only heard this
album, it might be a little deceiving, because
if you go back in the Annihilator catalog
you’ll hear things like a song I wrote for my
little baby son or a ballad I wrote for an
aunt who died. I produce, engineer, and
master my records, so it’s a lot of jobs in
one. Maybe some of them I should not be
doing, but I love gear and I love working in
studios. It’s the coolest hobby in the world
for me, and even if I had ten billion dollars
and wanted to hire a metal genius like Colin
Richardson to mix my records, I still wouldn’t
Can you describe some of your recording techniques?
I record to Cubase through really good
Apogee convertors, and I generally just pick
a very simple chain using a nice preamp and
a Shure SM57 mic—just like all the oldschool
guys used to do. Here’s a tip I learned
from three of the big four metal bands: Put
an SM57 in the bottom left speaker of your
4x12 cabinet, aim it dead center in speaker
and up against the grille, and then move it
to the left about an inch or so. That’s pretty
much the miking technique for most of the
great metal albums that came out in the ’80s,
and even including Pantera in the ’90s. I have
a good set of Celestion speakers in my
Hughes & Kettner cabinet, and, quite honestly,
as long as it’s Celestions and an SM57,
you can get a great metal sound.
You mentioned pickups earlier, so what is your
preference in that regard?
I’ve tried EMGs and Dirty Fingers and
all these “metal” pickups, but I realized if I
used cleaner sounding old-style Gibson or
Duncan pickups, I then had the option of
putting more or less gain on the amp or
pedal. If the gain is all in the pickup, you’re
screwed, because you can’t add or take away
What amps did you use for this album?
For recording I use 1982 or ’83 Marshall
JCM800s. I have 50- and 100-watt models
that have been hot-rodded by a guy in Vancouver,
Canada. I also have a lovely plexi
Marshall that I like to use for solos. I’ve
always wished that I had an amp that I could
use for recording and touring, and recently Hughes & Kettner asked me to try one their
amps. It was the new Coreblade, and when
I saw that it had a USB port on the front I
went “oh no!” But when they explained that
it was an all-tube amp, I was kind of hyped
on it. So I tried it and it sounded good, and
the computer side of it is just for saving the
presets. It’s basically a Marshall with a computer
hooked up to it, and it has these great
built-in effects. The USB port allows me to
put the presets on a memory stick, and I
can email those presets to my guitar tech
in, say, Spain, fly over there to do a festival,
and all he has to do is load those presets in
the amp. Within ten seconds I can be using
the same sounds onstage that we had in
Are we hearing the Coreblade on the new
I recorded it with the Marshalls, but I
also DI’d the sounds just in case I wanted
to re-amp it later. After I did the deal with
Hughes & Kettner I spent three days re-amping
my guitar tracks with the Coreblade.
What sorts of things did you specify for your
signature Epiphone Flying V?
I’ve always been attracted to cheaper guitars.
The first three Annihilator albums were
done with an old Vantage V, which probably
cost $150 or $200 back in 1981. So I didn’t
want to do an endorsement deal where I’d
get a fancy $5,000 model that’s built for me,
and then they’d stick my name on some
cheap piece of junk and charge kids $1,400
for it. When I finally got a call from a guy at
Gibson in Berlin, who asked me if I’d like to
do a signature guitar, I was really excited.
But once I stopped dancing around about it,
I came back to the reality of wanting to make
a guitar that kids could afford and I could
also use live and in the studio.
Epiphone would seem to be an ideal company
to make that happen.
Well, for about a year they just couldn’t
come to the table with a guitar that was any
good for the price they wanted to sell it at.
I understood that they had to make a profit,
but I just didn’t want to do it with the kind
of guitar they were offering. Eventually they
came back and said “We’re not going to make
much profit on this guitar, but we’ll build it
the way you want.”
What was your input on the final design?
They sent different versions of this guitar,
and at first it had Gibson Dirty Finger
pickups, which were too high output for me.
So they got Gibson to wind a different pickup
and that’s what I chose. In designing it, I
kind of mentally divided the guitar into two
pieces—the right hand and the left hand. On
the right hand I wanted to be able to get that
chunking low-string thing that James Hetfield,
Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King from
Slayer, and Gary Holt from Exodus perfected.
Part of it is the picking style, but you also
need a cleaner pickup so you can get that
chunk from your amp or an overdrive pedal.
For the left-hand part I wanted to have the
Zakk Wylde or Dimebag squeals and harmonics,
and the neck had to be a shredder
type that feels like you poured oil on it. In
the end I’m happy because Epiphone kept
the price as low as possible. It’s like getting
a $1,500 guitar that’s been squished down
to seven hundred bucks!