Hi Jeff, the previous studio album ‘Suicide Society’ was released in 2015. What did that album mean for Annihilator both from a commercial as well as an artistic perspective?
The album did really have an effect in a couple of ways. The first surprising thing was that the album in fact did pretty well and the record company was very happy with that. I say surprising because it was my first time singing with the band after Dave Padden had been with us for about twelve years and I wasn’t really sure how I was going to do singing-wise because I had not sung since the nineties, so that was a scary record for me. It also was a game-changer for me, because when I did the record I didn’t realize at the time that you could really here my influences on there. It therefore was very clear where I got my ideas, riffs and vocal style from, making if more like a fan-Waters record if you know what I mean. Despite of all this the album did pretty well, certainly compared to the previous ones, which was good commercially. Artistically though, I realized that I needed to filter my influences more and go back to find out what was so interesting about the first four Annihilator records and the demos that we did in the early days. Therefore this time I needed somebody to come in to keep me on track and help me maintaining my own style. I used my bass player Rich Hinks for that and together we co-wrote the music for the new album.
Was it your initial intention to do the vocals yourself on ‘Suicide Society’ or did you try to find another singer but couldn’t find one?
After the touring for ‘Feast’, Dave Padden was supposed to come in to and sing on the new album, but he just shocked me by saying that he couldn’t play in the band anymore. It had nothing to do with the band, but he just didn’t want to travel as much anymore and wanted to spend more time at home. As a friend I understood, but I had to fill in the gap that he left behind. I started looking for singers but within two or three weeks I stopped as I realized that maybe I could do it myself and so I gave it a shot.
How was it for you to write with another person as you normally always did everything on your own?
For me Annihilator is a full-time job as I do the writing, recording and mixing of the material and I do the management for the band as well. So this was really the first time that I worked with somebody else to write the music for the entire record right from the beginning with me. No problems, no issues, no egos, but basically a friendly writing session, which was fun to do and it worked out fantastic.
After the release of ‘Suicide Society’ you recruited Aaron Homma (guitar) and Rich Hinks (bass) in 2015 and the current line-up was completed with drummer Fabio Alessandrini in 2016. Do you feel that this time you have the right guys on board?
I think there’s a really good chemistry with the current line-up now and hopefully these guys will stay on board for a long period of time. They’re twenty years younger than me and that’s a very welcome thing as it requires a lot of energy to be able to play Annihilator music and these guys bring in lots of energy and excitement in the band and that’s exactly what I need to kick my ass and keep me going.
Early 2017 the 2-CD/DVD package ‘Triple Threat’ saw the light of day, which featured the performance of the Bang Your Head festival in 2016 as well as a live acoustic session. What was the idea that you had with this release?
It was a very simple video shoot for the Bang Your Head festival as they already had cameras set up and I immediately thought to use this recording for a possible DVD. The acoustic live-performance was to see if I could capture some of the early feelings of the songs in an acoustic environment, which was kind of a nice treat to fans who really liked the melodic side of our older material. ‘Triple Threat’ was more the idea of the record company to put something out in between two albums and I thought that this was a great idea.
I was particularly and very positively surprised by the acoustic session as I never would have thought that this material would sound so great in an acoustic environment. Didn’t you think that you took a big risk by presenting this to your die-hard thrash metal fans?
As the DVD-set was not really meant as a new Annihilator release, there was not pressure on what style or songs were put on there. As this was going to be for the true Annihilator fans, they know that we’re not all-out thrash all the time, but that we’re incorporating quite some melody in our songs as well. I always had ballads and instrumentals and I like all kinds of music, so it was also some kind of way to shock a few people to show that our songs very melodic enough to be played in an acoustic setting.
So let’s move on to the new album ‘For The Demented’. When did you start with the actual preparations for this album and what was the game plan that you had?
I knew it was going to be a different album as I wanted to filter my influences more as mentioned earlier. Furthermore I knew I needed to get somebody in to keep me on the right path, which is what Rich did. We did the 70.000 Ton Of Metal boat cruise show in the second week of February and when that was finished Rich came over to my house to go through all the riffs that I’d written in the last two years. Instead of him choosing which riffs would be suited for the new album, we deleted all of the riffs except one. Then we started writing riffs together and those became the basis of this ‘For The Demented’ album. After this writing session he went home and I finished the lyrics and the vocals and recorded the album
The music reminds me quite a lot of the early years of Annihilator. Was that your intention from the start or did this just happen naturally?
If you look at the first four Annihilator CDs, each one had a different singer and each album was big in different countries. Each one was a little bit different style-wise, so going back and try to copy it was going to be very difficult. So I just used those four records and our demos as a reference to see what I did differently back then compared to our later releases. The bottom line answer is that lately I was more concerned with having fun and being more a fan of the other bands rather than trying to be original. For this record I tried to do original Waters-riffs again instead of riffs that were influenced by bands that I love.
You’ve chosen for a common lyrical theme as well on this record. Why did you decide to do that and can you elaborate a bit on the theme itself?
When I listened back to all the songs when I recorded them, I thought that it was pretty crazy music as there are a lot of crazy guitar parts and other weird things in the music. So I thought that it would make a good lyrical theme as well so I focused on lyrics about the human mind and the brain and touched subjects like addiction, depression, ADHD and mental illnesses. But the main message is actually a positive one as it doesn’t matter what society tells you, because most people have problems of issues and you still can be an incredible human being despite of all that.
As a first video ‘Twisted Lobotomy’ was released. Why did you choose for this track for the first video and will you record more videos for the album in the future?
We’ve done a video for the song ‘For The Demented’ and we working on a creepy video for ‘Pieces Of You’, which is in fact a true story about a very sick person. ‘Twisted Lobotomy’ was just the choice from the A&R people from the label and a few others that heard it as it sounded totally different from the Annihilator of the last couple of records.
How important is a video nowadays for a band like Annihilator as there are not too many broadcasting possibilities anymore besides YouTube?
Videos have never been really important for me as they cost a lot of money and as you say the broadcasting possibilities are limited. In the last couple of years they’ve become more important though due to the rise of social media and those kind of platforms. I really like writing and recording music and going on tour, everything else is not really that important to me. Therefore I’m happy that we have a record company that helps us out with all the other stuff that needs to be done.
Speaking about record companies, you remained loyal to UDR Music (which is now called Silver Lining Music) this time. How come?
I have a very good relationship with them and I’m very happy with what they’re doing for Annihilator. They’re basically friends of mine, very honest people and easy to deal with and for me that’s the most important thing in a relationship, to be able to trust them and to communicate well. It’s easy to stay loyal to people like that.
I know it’s always a difficult question, but if you had to pick one song from the new album that would represent Annihilator best now, which one would that be and why?
I would say that ‘Pieces Of You’, which sounds like a ballad musically but lyrically it’s an evil true story, is one of the best songs on the record as I like the way I combined a ballad-like piece of music with a really mentally insane lyric. Another one is ‘For The Demented’, which has a really cool groove in my opinion. And ‘Twisted Lobotomy’ of course, which we will definitely play in the live show as it is a lot of fun to play.
Did you write and/or record more material than the ten songs that are to be found on this new album. If so, which ones and what is going to happen with them?
No, as the whole thing was done on a schedule with a clear deadline. In that period that we had, these were the songs that we wrote, so there are no extra tracks.
Annihilator albums always have great artwork. Who was responsible for the artwork this time?
Since 2004 I met this young artist who was at the beginning of his career and his name is Gyula Havancsak from Budapest, Hungary and he has been responsible for all of our artwork for all of our releases and t-shirts.
’For The Demented’ is already your sixteenth studio album, so what are you own personal expectation from this album? When will it be a success for you?
For all our albums I thought that they were a success if fans liked it enough to sell in such quantities that it allowed us to do another record. In the early days you have dreams of being a rock star and have money and cars and such, but the last couple of decades I’ve been realistic enough to know that this is not going to happen with this kind of music. Success for me is survival, to be able to do another record.
Although your studio albums are great, I still believe that the true strength of Annihilator is on the stage. The first tour for ‘For The Demented’ will be with Testament and Death Angel. How do you feel about that?
To have such a package with Testament and Death Angel reminds me of 1989 when we were still in our younger years. I’m really looking forward to this tour and I believe that the last date we will play is in your beautiful country, so hopefully a lot of people will show up there.
You will be the support act for Testament, so how’s the set list for such a relatively short performance going to look like as everybody will expect a mixture of new material and Annihilator classics?
Our total set will be about seven or eight songs, so it will be a struggle to pick the songs for this. But it going to be very clear that ‘King Of The King’, ‘Set The World On Fire’, ‘Alice In Hell, ‘No Way Out’ and a couple from the new album will most probably be played.
What else do you have in store for us concerning touring? What are the further plans that you have after this Testament/Death Angel tour? Will you be back for a headline tour?
Yeah, most probably that will be in the October/November 2018 timeframe, but before that there’s talk about going on tour with some of the really big bands in the scene, but it’s a bit too early to be more specific here.
Okay Jeff, I would like to thank you for your willingness to answer my questions. Is there anything that we didn’t cover that you want to express to our readers?
Keep listening to metal and keep supporting the scene!