With all of its provinces, poutine and 35,749,600 people, Canada’s contribution to rock is worthy of some sort of shiny award.
We challenged Annihilator guitarist and Ottawa native Jeff Waters to pick the 10 best bands to emerge from the Great White North. He picked 12.
“I’m going to give this to you in order, but I’m probably going to revise the order the second you shut the machine off,” says the guitarist, “but this is my first, instinctual reaction to the challenge posed…”
**10. DANKO JONES **It’s not necessarily because of his music, but because of his attitude and the fact that he’s Canadian and the industry over there has repeatedly turned their backs on him over the years. That’s happened to me too, and other people on this list, some of which are bona fide geniuses – like Devin Townsend who we’ll be hearing from next – but the fact that he can go and play Scandinavian arenas to 1,000 people a night, and then come home and play small club shows in Ottawa, Canada and have to fight to get towels and drinking water, is absurd. He went on stage once and got shocked by the monitor board because it was so old there was water and moisture in it, he actually got an electric shock whilst he was playing. And this is how he gets treated in his home country. I can relate to that. But his attitude is inspirational. He’s a really nice guy too, and a big, BIG metal fan.
**9. DEVIN TOWNSEND **Devin is one of the top geniuses to ever come out of Canada. Everything he’s ever done is great. He’s not been an influence on me musically, just like Danko hasn’t been, but I also love Devin’s attitude. He went on an acoustic tour a few years ago across Canada, and he wound up playing shows in front of about 40 people a night. It’s mind-blowing that a country as big as Canada - the population is around 38 million – can turn their back on someone as successful overseas, and as musically gifted as Devin Townsend. He’s a genius.
**8. SLOAN **Sloan are probably an unheard of band everywhere in the world except from Canada, but they were great and I always appreciated the diversity in what they were doing. In my own little comparison, Annihilator have everything from love songs (The One) to goofy, punk rock humorous songs (Kraf Dinner), to serious songs about family members dying (Phoenix Rising). Musically, we’re just a schizophrenic bowl of poop mixed together, and Sloan were one of the bands that taught me you could mix different styles successfully. Sadly, they never made it though. They were popular in Canada and on the video channels over there, but they were one of those bands that should have been much bigger. I think like a lot of Canadian-only bands – i.e. bands from Canada that only sign to Canadian labels – they screwed themselves over, as it’s a terrible business over there. I think they would’ve been massive in the UK if they’d gotten out of Canada.
**7. BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE **When Randy Bachman split from The Guess Who, I guess there was a bit of competition because The Guess Who were a huge band at the time, but he somehow managed to get out of one hugely successful band only to form another that was equally as massive. And it was neat to see the guitar player go out and be so successful by singing too. I was only a kid when I first heard songs like Takin’ Care of Business and You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet, but even then they blew me away.
**6. RAZOR **These guys are a Toronto-based band. They were originally fronted by Stace “Sheepdog” McLaren, and were around during the early days of thrash – they were very influential on some of the big names in metal. Older journalists and metal fans – the ones over 40, at least – will remember songs like Evil Invaders and their album Executioner’s Song. Their guitarist Dave Carlo had these brutal riffs that sounded like a super-heavy Motörhead, but a violent one, and he was definitely an influence on some of my early guitar riffs. We have a song called Phantasmagoria, which was a pretty big song for Annihilator back in the nineties, and the main riff from the chorus comes directly from a song called Cut Throat by Razor. So I was very influenced by this band, and they did affect my career a little bit. _ _
**5. BRYAN ADAMS **My aunt was his teacher in school, and I’ve met him a few times. I’ve worked in his home too, mixing one of the Annihilator records (Set the World on Fire), and there’s a connection there. If you want me to be honest, you cannot deny the incredible talent of that guy, and his writing partner Jim Vallance. I go and see him every time he does a tour in Canada – whether it’s acoustic tours, band tours, or whatever – and he just has to be one of the top five performers and songwriters in the history of music. He’s phenomenal. You don’t even have to like the music – you can’t deny he’s a genius.
**4. EXCITER / ANVIL **There were really three Canadian bands in the thrash metal vein in the early eighties that had an impact on me: Razor, who we’ve already talked about, Exciter, and Anvil. So number four has to be a tie between Exciter and Anvil. Exciter are the only heavy metal band, other than Annihilator, to ever come out of the Canadian capital city of Ottawa and get out of the country and sell any kind of records. They were also the first. Back in the eighties they put out an album called Heavy Metal Maniac, and like Razor it was that Motorhead-influenced beginnings of metal. But whereas Razor took that Motorhead vibe to a more aggressive form, Exciter took it to a faster form. Their sound wasn’t all that aggressive actually. If you look back on it now, it was almost poppy and catchy. But it rocked! As for Anvil, a lot of people that know of them are going to think of the movie that was made (Anvil! The Story of Anvil), but that’s not the Anvil that I knew. With their first two albums (Hard ‘N’ Heavy and Metal on Metal), they were inventing something that nobody else was doing at the time. The Big Four, and everyone else that followed in the years immediately after that, all got stuff from those guys. They were groundbreaking.
**3. MAX WEBSTER **The main guy Kim Mitchell started a band with some other people, and they called it Max Webster even though there was no one in the band called Max Webster – I don’t know why. But they were like a Rock ‘N’ Roll spin-off of Rush. They were technical, and did this weird spacey stuff, mixing Rush with all this wacky Frank Zappa-type stuff. And there was a French-Canadian that wasn’t even in the band writing the lyrics, which were all in English. It was a recipe for disaster really, but somehow it turned out to be the exact opposite. They were an underground, cult hit with musicians because they realised the music was like Rush, but in a totally different style. There was no competition with Rush of course, because they were two completely different bands, but they exerted a lot of influence on me in that they taught me you could try all sorts of different things and not give a shit about what people say. They had some funny songs, and some weird shit too, and I loved it all. They gave me the permission I needed to go and write whatever I wanted to.
**2. APRIL WINE / TRIUMPH **Another tie at number two, because I can’t leave either of these bands out. Both April Wine and Triumph had some amazing, rock radio orientated hits, in Canada at least. I got a lot of rocking melody from both of these bands, not so much in terms of influence, but they’re both just bands that I love listening to all the time.
**1. RUSH **Even if I didn’t want to put Rush at the top of this list, they’re the number one, undisputed kings of Canadian music. They weren’t necessarily a musical influence on Annihilator in any profound way, but you just can’t deny their power. They’ve got probably the best drummer in history, and even though they’re insanely original they’re not afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves. It was amazing for me as a kid to look at the records, and see the dates, and realise that Rush took a lot of influence from The Police. They showed me that it was alright to show off your influences. You can hear all sorts of musical influences in Rush – from Led Zeppelin to AC/DC and particularly The Police – but it’s done in such a way that you know they were doing it just for fun for themselves, rather than to get their songs on the radio. Just by what they did for musicians all over the world, the mighty Rush get the top spot by default.
Jeff Waters was talking to Matt Stocks. Annihilator’s new album Suicide Society is out now.