Intervista Annihilator (Aaron Homma, Rich Hinks, Fabio Alessandrini)
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Hello, guys and welcome to Truemetal! So, how was the show at Bologna, last night?
Fabio: I should do this one, it’s my hometown! So, we were not expecting it to be that wild, because everytime we go to Italy, especially me, I am wondering how it’s going to be, knowing that all my friends will be there. You tour all over Europe, you don’t know what to expect, especially when you play in your hometown. It turned out to be amazing, because the crowd was wild, we played pretty good. This was my favorite show so far, because everyone I know was there. It’s very hard to get the right vibe at those shows, when you know all your friends are there. It’s different from every other show, from the routine, where you think “ok, we are here, I don’t know anybody.” You want to deliver the best show you can every night, but when you got those shows you want to do even more. It was a lot of fun, we are looking forward for tonight as well, before heading to Switzerland. I hope it’s going to be as well as yesterday.
You have almost completed half of your long European tour, it’s going really great, as seen from photos, videos, including sold out shows as well. How is the tour going for you? Has it fulfilled your expectations?
Fabio: It was much better than I have expected so far.
Aaron: It’s been two years since we have been on a real, headlining tour. We only got to play for forty minutes while on tour with Testament or while doing some festivals. It’s not the same like when you are doing one hour and a half setlist. I think this tour has been the most physically demanding for all of us.
Rich: When you don’t play a headlining set for that long, you don’t know what to expect, you know it’s going to be different, but you don’t know in which way. I think it has been better than anyone of us would have expected.
Aaron: When you go on tour with a band like Testament, you know they bring a lot of fans. But we weren’t sure about how many people would come to our shows. It has been amazing, though, because I think touring with them has helped us out a little bit.
How do you cope with the difficulties of the tour? It’s physically demanding to play every night, it could also be difficult to be far from home, I guess…
Aaaron: None of us drink while on tour, some of us don’t drink at all in real life. Whoever was smoking has quit for this tour. We don’t feel the pain of smoking cigarettes all the time, we are all focused on stretching, taking care of ourselves, eating right. We are not really into doing any sightseeing, normally bands do sightseeing. We sleep on the bus all day, we eat and then we go play.
Rich: We are all focused on playing the show, that’s the main thing to do, that’s why we are here.
This is the “Tour For The Demented”, dedicated to your previous album, but postponed this year. You have a new album coming out “Sadistic, Ballistic” on January 24th via Silver Lining Records. Do you have any anticipation for us regarding the new material?
Fabio: You could expect real drums, well I guess it’s not the main thing (Rich: for you it is!) While touring with Testament, we were all talking about the writing process of the new album, I guess we were too loose, so Jeff said to me I should come out with drum patterns, record them and send them to him, so he could write riffs on them. “For The Demented” was written by Jeff and Rich, but this time he wanted to change it, so he went back to the old school way of writing music, just guitars and drums like he did for “Never, Neverland” for example. We were going on sending back and forward riffs and drum patterns, we started creating music, then we wrote the lyrics, we did the arrangements and stuff. I went to Durham,UK in July to record drums and he assisted. It’s a really old school record, “For The Demented” had also a lot of old school stuff. There are many riffs, many unexpected arrangements, it’s going to be very exciting.
Rich: We have gradually been going to the old school direction since the last record. We have also been a consistent lineup for the last four years, there is a major trust in each band member. You want to write a record with this person, you want to do it this way, you actually experiment, instead of staying on the safe path, you actually do something different. When you first start a band, you don’t have this great plan on what you are going to do album by album, you take it as it comes and you see what happens. It’s a bit of what this album is like.
Your brand new single entitled “I Am Warfare” has been recently published. Which are the topics you are dealing through your lyrics with this new album?
Fabio: We have many topics in this album. We are about to release “Psycho Ward”, a song about this guy that we want him to be dead, actually. It’s a really heavy song, not musically speaking, but the lyrics are very heavy. Jeff really got himself into writing the meanest song he has ever done, lyrics wise.
Rich: It was also the first time that he had recorded in front of anyone, he has never done that before, recording in front of us.
Aaron: We were all there, I came down to do some guitar solos and really just sit there in a form of moral support, I guess. We were all sitting there, watching him record the vocals. It was the first time, he has never done that.
Rich: It was really something new to us.
Aaron: We are more like a band. I think that Annihilator was and will always be Jeff’s vision, but it turned out to be a big responsibility on our shoulders for everything, I mean, also emotionally. We have this cool vibe going on, we have been the same lineup for long and it looks like we are going to stay that way.
Jeff has recently moved to the UK and he has his own Watersound Studios over there. Have you used the new studio for the recordings?
Aaron: Yes, that was where the new album was recorded. “Sadistic, Ballistic” was practically recorded there.
You have been a stable lineup in the last four years and there is an obviously great relationship between all of you. So, what do you remember from the first time you have met Jeff Waters? How could you define your relationship with him?
Aaron: It’s been six years for me!
Fabio: I am the latest addition, the youngest, the one who gets to shower last ! (laughing) The first time i met Jeff it was when he picked me up at the airport in Canada. I am a huge car lover, so he showed up with his Camaro, he doesn’t own it anymore though. It was a twelve hour flight, I was so tired, but hiked up at the same time. He showed up with the Camaro, I was like “Oh my God, that’s Jeff”! I actually had some records, I wanted him to sign them, but I was in a panic and at the same moment I felt I was the right guy because he welcomed me like I have been in the band for years. I had that weird feeling, it wasn’t that easy at the beginning, drumming wise, he was awesome, super nice, much better than I have expected him to be. He is still one of my idols, he is a friend, he is so cool.
Aaron: Jeff is like my big brother, he reminds me of myself so much and vice versa. We get along pretty well and when we fight, we fight pretty well, too. It’s awesome, it’s like having and older version of myself hanging around, so I could see what I should do, you know? I get to learn so much from him, it’s awesome.
When you started playing with Annihilator, were you already familiar with thrash metal? Were you fans of the genre? I know you have your own projects of technical death (Aaron) and progressive (Rich) metal music.
Rich: We were familiar, I got into the super heavy stuff first, but then I moved to stuff I was really into. Annihilator was one of the first thrash bands that I liked when I was about thirteen or fourteen, but then it went more technical for me from there, so it’s really cool to come back and do that stuff, but there is also the technical stuff I am into. It gives you a good balance.
Aaron: I have never heard any thrash metal in my entire life when I joined the band. You see the t shirts around, you hear that music on the radio, you recognise it, you know? I got an audition for Cryptopsy at the same time as Annihilator and Flo (Mounier) ,the drummer of that band, had played with Annihilator before. He told me I should really go with Jeff, because we could be a really good mix together and he was super right! So, thank God for that, the rest is history, right?
Which were your feelings when you have first played these legendary songs live with Jeff?
Fabio: It’s kind of weird, because we know some of those songs were written like thirty years ago. We keep on playing those songs and we watch all those people of all ages in the crowd. It’s really great, but at the same time when you are on stage you don’t really think about it. You are in this kind of space where you just play music. Those songs really mean a lot to me, because I grew up listening to this band, but at the same time when I play them I am focused on what I am doing, I am centered, I am in this weird space where I don’t think much about it. It’s weird, but you see how the people are reacting because they love the songs, the same as I do.
Rich: It’s actually funny because today for the first time in a while I heard some of the original recordings. like “Alison Hell”, “Welcome To Your Death” and stuff like that. I last heard the original recordings probably when I was actually learning them. We get used to us playing them, but also get used to Jeff singing them, because he didn’t sing in many of the original songs. So, we see and hear all these great songs from a new perspective when we play them. It’s kind of interesting, because you don’t think about that when you play them on stage, you kind of live in the moment, you don’t think about the history of it. But sometimes, if you do, you kind of take a step back and think: that’s kind of crazy that we play all these songs, but it’s also not something you think at that moment, you know!
Aaron: I just want to play these songs better than anybody. I am a bit competitive when it comes down to it, I just want people to remember this lineup, because we worked our asses off to play these songs in order to put on a show that everyone will remember. All the bands at the age of Annihilator they stand up, play music, they have a light show or whatever. We are jumping around, we are moving our asses, we want to make sure that people remember how hard we’ve worked for our shows.
Fabio: You come to see a show, so we are focused on working for that.
Rich: When you look at videos made from bands like twenty years ago, you see we are moving more now than they did back then. We just do the opposite than the other bands do.
It’a a kind of contradiction, because you are the new blood of musicians fitting great in an old school thrash metal band, most of your young colleagues prefer taking a modern direction…
Fabio: That’s a tricky question, I think none of us listens to modern metal stuff.
Aaron: We just want to carry on touring better than anyone. We don’t consider Annihilator as a Thrash band, but as a Heavy Metal band.
Rich: There are so many sides to it.
Aaron: Yes, maybe you can see it by the setlist we choose. When we choose a setlist, we are not thinking about the heaviest songs, we are thinking about the songs that we would like to play the best. Some of them are the most difficult. Well, we represent the band as a whole, not just its thrash, progressive or hard rock side, you know? There are so many different sides in the way that Jeff writes music we just want to do the rock show and that’s it. It’s like you go see Mercyful Fate or Ted Nuggent play live or something, it’s a rock show. We have no idea of modern thrash metal bands could be.
Fabio: That’s a good point.When I joined the band, I felt lucky to be able to play these songs, but I also felt like growing up in Italy where there is not a big metal scene. There are not many bands that play metal as I like it, like Annihilator, Megadeth, like old school British metal. I felt so lucky because I have jumped into the last train of the metal i really like. I am very young, but all the musicians I like are at their fifties, sixties or seventies. We are very young, but we got this great chance, I feel like Jeff is at the same age as us, he is not 53 to me. The way he moves on stage every night has actually inspired me to be like: “Come on Fabio, pull out the show, let it in”! That’s why we say we are at the same age.
At this moment, Annihilator has a stable lineup and Jeff seems to be open to your own ideas in writing music for the latest two albums, in the preparations for the live shows …
Fabio: He trusts us. It’s a more of a band now, than it was ten years ago. We move on stage, we do stuff, we try to push ourselves to be better musicians, to be better as entertainers. He is open to our ideas on stage, to where we should play on our next tour, we are actually planning together where should play. We do stuff as a band now.
Aaron: We are having meetings about our ideas, when we are doing music videos, about the songs we choose to make videos for. I don’t think it was the same about eight years ago, we are running a band, I can only imagine how it is to be alone. It’s probably good for him too, I mean to be surrounded by people that really care about the band, it’s not just a paycheck for us, we are into this because we really want to be in.
You have last visited Milan as a guest of Testament with a forty minutes’setlist. We have finally the occasion to see you in a headlining show tonight. What have you prepared for your tonight’s live show?
Fabio: The first song we play is “Betrayed” which is a great one. People expects us to go directly to songs like “King Of The Kill” or something more classic, but we start with this one. We also have some classics, since Randy Rampage passed away last year and it’s the thirtieth anniversary of the “Alice In Hell” album.
Rich: It’s a kind of tribute, yes.
Fabio: We play half of that record, five songs to be exact.
Aaron: We were supposed to do a tour with Randy’s band, he was supposed to do some songs with us on that tour, but he died. So, we do a kind of tribute to Randy on this tour. We are playing some of his favorite songs, so we picked many songs from “Alice In Hell” album.
Fabio: We don’t play many songs from “Never, Neverland” because it’s the thirtieth anniversary of that album next year and we are planning something pretty big for that, which … you will see.
What’s your favorite song to play in a live show?
Fabio: It changes day by day.
Rich: it also changes tour by tour, because we change the songs, we add some of the ones we don’t play very often.
Aaron: The consistent favorite of all of us is “Phantasmagoria”. On this tour I could say we all love “Schizos Are Never Alone”. It’s incredibly challenging for all of us to play that song, it represents all our hard work we put into making it.
Rich: it also contains all the elements we play outside of this band too. It’s got all the wacky, crazy, like all over the place kind of songwriting we love.
Aaron: That’s the highlight of the tour for me by far.
Fabio: I like both “Schizos” and “Burns Like A Buzzsaw Blade”.
Which is your major influence as a musician?
Fabio: Tommy Aldridge is my main guy for both as a studio and as a live drummer. That’s the guy I would love to be one day, but it’s not gonna happen. Maybe one day! (he laughs)
Rich: Never say never!
Aaron: I personally grew up listening to Extreme and Mr Big, Paul Gilbert and Nuno Bettencourt and maybe that’s what describes what our show’s going towards, the nineties rock metal. In recent years, I am incredibly inspired by Fountainhead, because he brings something fresh to the guitar.
Rich: I am inspired by songwriters and progressive bands like Dream Theater and John Petrucci, bands like Periphery and their bassist Nolly (Getgood), he is one of my latest favourites. I get a lot of influence from songwriting and producing because I do a lot of studio work as well. I think I will go towards that direction.
We are waiting for the new album in January, what are your plans after its release? Maybe another tour?
Fabio: Yes, probably next year, same period, to promote it. We will come back probably next year. We also play festivals, like Wacken.
Aaron: Yes, we are going to keep on touring, keep on playing. We have some festivals planned, we want to do another tour next year, we are not sure when, but we’ll be back for sure.
Rich: There is always plans on the works.
Thank you very much, guys! It was great talking to all of you!
Rich: Thank you, it was great meeting you!
Fabio: It was great, thanks to me of course! (laughing)
Aaron: It was nice meeting you, see you later!