Unless you slept through the 80s, chances are you are quite familiar with the name Twisted Sister. When the band exploded on to the music scene and into homes across the nation via MTV, no one knew the impact the band would have on the music scene or the pop culture landscape.Their powerful songs of rebellion, undeniable guitar riffs and high flying choruses and shockingly unique looks quickly catapulted the band to the top of the charts with hits like “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “I Wanna Rock,” and “The Price.” As Twisted Sister, five guys from New York took their potent brand of high energy rock ‘n roll to the masses and went on to conquer New York, MTV and The World. Over a quarter of a century later, The Iron Men of Rock ‘N Roll continue to thrill fans around the world with the same level of intensity that launched them into superstardom. Twisted Sister is undeniable proof that “You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N Roll.’
The voice of Twisted Sister, Dee Snider, keeps himself busy in or out of the limelight. Whether it is hosting one of his many successful radio programs, working on his next feature film or raising awareness for his favorite charity, The March of Dimes: Bikers For Babies, Snider shows no signs of slowing down. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with the legendary frontman to discuss the history of Twisted Sister, the 25th Anniversary re-release of the classic Stay Hungry album and his work on Strangeland: Disciple, the highly anticipated sequel to the film in which he wrote and starred.
How did music first come into your life?
I think it was 1964. The day after the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. I didn’t see the show because my Dad had banished television from our home but the excitement at the bus stop the next day was so much that I was completely taken. I remember very clearly the moment that I decided that I was going to be a Beatle. [laughs] Obviously I couldn’t do that so I decided I wanted to be come a musician. Everyone was chattering and all abuzz about the Ed Sullivan Show and the Beatles being on and I heard that everyone was screaming. As soon as I heard that everyone was screaming, I was like “I want to be a Beatle!” For that moment forth, I just got into music and singing and choir and rock bands and just never stopped.
Twisted Sister has influenced a lot of bands over the years. Who were some of your influences starting out?
Well, the Beatles certainly, although you don’t hear a lot of that in Twisted Sister. The next jump after the Beatles was Paul Revere and The Raiders and one of these days I must thank Mark Lindsay, their lead singer (www.marklindsay.com). From there, the heaviness started to filter through with bands like Mountain, Grand Funk Railroad, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. When I put the big bands on the list it is always Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Alice Cooper.
What has kept you inspired through the years?
I don’t know how inspired I am! [laughs] I am really an oddity, ya know? My sole desire to be a musician was that I wanted everyone screaming for me, it was an attention issue. I was recently watching an interview with Jay Leno and he cited the same experience except that his was Elvis. He saw everyone screaming for Elvis and said “This doesn’t suck!” I needed the attention. I was the oldest of six kids born in an eight year span. So I was definitely an attention freak and being a musician was a way to get that attention. I don’t feel the motivation that other musicians did because I just wanted to be a rock star. I did an interview with Steve Miller for VH1. I was doing a specialty broadcasting for them. That was a big revelation for me, “Why was Steve still out there playing in his sixties?” and he said “Well, I would be out there playing no matter what because I love playing and I am a musician.” Then I realized “Shit! That is the difference between you and me. I don’t care about playing because I just want to be a rock star.” Having achieved that, I don’t really feel the drive or the need to continue and get the attention in that way. [laughs] But I do it for a variety of reasons!
Is their something that jumps out at you in your mind as the defining moment of your career?
It is easy to look back at those moments. When they were happening I didn’t realize it. There was a moment when Twisted Sister had an independent record deal with an English record company that fell apart. In 1981, I think. We released a record under that label and the company went tits up. We were at the end of our rope. We had lost our deal and didn’t know where to go or what to do. We had an opportunity to play a live television show in England called “The Tube,” using three songs live and the show went out live. We begged, borrowed and stole from everybody that we knew to get the money to go over to England to do this show. If you and the audience aren’t really connecting, then the person sitting at home on their couch is definitely not getting it. I realized that the makeup was a big problem. Twisted Sister predates the hair metal movement with the original hair farmers. KISS was taking their makeup off and we were putting it on. There was no Motley Crue or any of those bands in ’81. One of the things that I did on that show was took a can of makeup remover, put it all over my face and then took a towel and wiped my makeup off on live TV. I said “If that’s what’s stopping ya, now what’s your problem?” and the place just went nuts! They hadn’t seen Bowie, Alice Cooper or KISS do something like that and our point was made. Immediately after the show were signed and got a deal with Atlantic Records. Everything just exploded from there. At the time I didn’t realize how significant that moment would be but it turned out that it was a real turning point.
For me personally, a moment where I said “I have arrived!” is when I came home from Europe. After Stay Hungry was released, we toured Europe first. I came back home and got in my car and turned on the radio and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was playing. Having heard my own song enough, I hit another rock station and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was playing. Just for the hell of it I hit another rock station and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was playing! I said “Alright! I think we did it!” [laughs] That is the personal moment when I realized that I had arrived.
This June you will be re-releasing ‘Stay Hungry’ for it’s 25th Anniversary. What can you tell us about the process of putting this re-release together?
Jay Jay French and Mark “The Animal” Mendoza share credit for really putting the effort into making this thing a reality. The album, of course, was our biggest record. Twenty-five years later, to see the life that the album and some of the songs in particular have is pretty amazing. When you try to do something like this re-release you really try to pull out all the stops that will make the more than casual fan intrigued by giving them more information about your state of mind and what was going on at the time. As the only songwriter in the band, I always overwrote for every record. I had written twenty five songs for Stay Hungry, of which we chose ten. So, when we started digging through the tapes, we found demos for the other fifteen songs and it was kind of a no-brainer to say “Here’s what we didn’t put on the album!” I remember Jay Jay was going through it and he called me up and said “We could have put out a double album or a sequel, like Stay Hungry 2 or something. There is some great shit on here!” I always said that I never presented a song to the band that I wouldn’t be comfortable with having on an album, so although I may have presented twenty five songs, I wrote fifty. So, I said “Yeah man! That’s good shit!” so digging out all of that stuff is just natural for something like this re-release.
The album will feature a new song entitled “30”, which is the first new Twisted Sister song in 11 years. What can you tell us about that?
Yeah, I stopped writing a long time ago. Again, just no inspiration. I hate to sound so jaded. I am not jaded, I am very happy and creatively driven. I write a lot, I do radio, I do TV, I write screenplays, I’ve got a movie in development and a television show. I don’t think I would be content to just sit back and do nothing creatively. My creative juices just flow elsewhere, I just want to clarify that. As a songwriter, I woke up in the 90s to “The Grunge Invasion,” which I quite liked musically. Imagine being a doctor who specializes in a form of medicine that they have found a cure for! That’s what the 90s were for me! [laughs] I dedicated my life to a certain style of performing, a style of songwriting and a style of singing and around ‘92, ‘93 and ‘94, they said “Uhhh yeah, we aren’t doing that anymore!” It was very disheartening to me as a songwriter and I had a couple of bands after that where I tried to find a place and I wrote hundreds of songs, really to no avail. I got discouraged and I just stopped writing. I did a show called ‘Gone Country’ a few years ago and on the show we had to write a “country song” that we had to perform at The Wildhorse Saloon. I started the show by saying that I really didn’t like country music and I ended the show realizing that was an over generalization and is like saying I like “all rock ‘n roll.” I only like certain rock ‘n roll. Well, there are different kinds of country. Rock essential comes from country and blues, so the core structure of the songs and the chords themselves are very similar. I created a song done there with some writers called “30” and did it for the show. The song really isn’t that far removed from an AC/DC song or Led Zeppelin’s “Rock And Roll” even. So, when we started doing this record, the guys in Twisted Sister said “That’s a rock ‘n roll song. Why don’t we record it?” So I said, “Well if you want to!” A producer friend of mine said, “Melody is melody. How you dress it up is what defines the genre the song will be in.” We stripped away the country elements of it and just rocked it out! It’s a heavy rock song. That said, we also sent it down to Nashville to a few of my friends in the Nashville Music Mafia and said “Alright, country-fy this motherfucker and let’s see what Twisted Sister sounds like country!” There is actually a country mix that is going to be released. Ya know, we have to keep up with Bon Jovi and Kid Rock! [laughs]
You mentioned some of your other projects. You are working on a musical based ‘A Twisted Christmas.’ What is the status of that project and when can we expect to see it hit the stage?
Well, that sort of contradicts what I said to you before! [laughs] Up to very recently I had not been doing any writing. I was not inspired. The success of ‘A Twisted Christmas’ got me thinking and I actually wrote a full blown musical using ‘A Twisted Christmas’ as its inspiration. The musical itself is about eighteen songs long and I am about eight or nine songs short of a musical. Interestingly enough, these songs are not Christmas songs, they are the counterbalance. Without giving away the story itself, which I am not prepared at this time to reveal but is quite brilliant if I do say so myself, [laughs] let’s just say that the fictitious band in the show is torn between being a metal band and playing these Christmas songs. For the counterbalance to the Christmas songs are very heavy songs like “Death May Be Your Santa Claus” and “Another Christmas In Hell.” There are a lot of those type of songs that I have been working on. Musically, that is coming together. I am actually collaborating with other members of the band for the first time. Realistically, it is a 2010 release not a 2009 release.
After all these years in the spotlight, do you think that there are still misconceptions about yourself? Any rumors that you might like to dispel?
Alice Cooper told me that I made a mistake by correcting the misconceptions! He said to just say “Yes, it’s all true!” [laughs] But yeah, and this applies to the band in general. I think it is that we play what we play, perform how we perform and looked the way we looked because we had no other options. That is anything but the truth. I am a classically trained counter tenor. I have won all sorts of awards from when I was in high school and my one year of college. I chose to sing rock the way I do because I like it. I can sing opera. It’s funny, I had my throat surgery and they sent me to a very high end specialist, a voice therapist for the healing process. When my voice started coming together and she heard me singing she said “My God!!! You can sing!!” She was amazed. This women works with the biggest, biggest stars and she said “You could do another record under a different name in a whole different genre and people wouldn’t even know!” I said “Yeah, I guess but this what I want to do, this is what I like!” Jay Jay French is an accomplished blues guitarist but this is what he likes. A.J. Pero was a child prodigy. He was touring Europe when he was ten, playing drums with a big band. Little Tony Pero and The Swinging Whatever, playing in front of the Eiffel Tower for dignitaries and heads of state, but this is what he wants to play. Dieter Dierks, a producer who worked with us, said that he never met a person with more inherent, natural guitar playing talent than Eddie Ojeda. Leslie West of Mountain carries two guitar picks in his wallet, Eddie Ojeda and Eddie Van Valen. The point being that we play simple, straight ahead rock and perform the way we perform and look the way we look because we like it and not because we are incapable of doing something else. That to me is the biggest misconception. As I have often said to my lawyers, my doctors and anyone else that I deal with — you are just lucky that I didn’t what your job!
There are some rumblings that the band may retire the makeup at that point. Any truth that rumor?
Yeah, there was definitely talk about making that statement. There is certain, I don’t want to say frustration with wearing the makeup, but at some point you think “Well, what am I doing?” It’s fun and all. It’s crazy as all hell! But you think, how long are you going to do this? To me, doing the reunion, means doing it the right way, which is doing the makeup, doing the costumes, doing the hair and doing everything! That’s the deal. There was some discussion about it and I was kind of on board with that for a while but I am kind of torn because is it Twisted Sister without those elements?
Fred Curry from Cinderella said that we are “memory merchants.” That was his description for what bands like Cinderella, Twisted Sister and other bands like us do. Our job is to give these people the most memories that we can. So, is Twisted Sister going out there with no makeup, no costumes and sort of stripped down, is that disappointing people or letting them down? At that point should you just say “Why even do the reunion anymore?” Like I said, I am obviously torn because the other side is I’m in my fifties and I still pretty much look like I did back in the day, which is great but I am friggin’ jumpin’ around wearing shoulder pads and platform shoes! The other side is that it is really fun and who thought that I would still be having fun! [laughs] So really I don’t know where it is going to end up. That is a long answer to a short question and I don’t know the answer but there has been some talk of that.
You host Fangoria Radio on Sirius XM each week alongside Debbie Rochon and Tony Timpone. I tune in each week and you guys do a really great job of keeping us “on the cutting, bleeding edge” as Thomas Jane would say.
[laughs] Thank You.
I want to turn the tables a bit and talk to you about Strangeland. For those who may not know, how did the the concept for the original film come about?
The original Strangeland was an offshoot of frustration meeting realization. The frustration, it goes way back to the 90s and me screaming at the TV because nobody was stepping on the Leprechaun or kicking Chucky! I was just thinking “Come on this is fuckin’ horrible! This isn’t a horror movie! You are running from a doll. IT’S A DOOOOLLLLLL!!!” I just remember thinking “Where are all the horror icons that I know and love?” So I got up and said “That’s it, I am creating one!” The realization was “Well, yeah you have one… Captain Howdy.” That was the beginning. Originally, I was working on a rock opera. Don’t worry people, I am not doing it! But it was the character and the essence of the story, Horror Teria: Captain Howdy and Street Justice, was the basis for Strangeland.
What was the biggest obstacle you faced in getting that original film made?
Well, quite a few and they were all basically me! The first one was that I was so caught up in classic slasher films that my original script was just a rehash of a typical slasher film. It had all been done before and there was nothing new or original about it. Thankfully, Tom Savini took the time to sit me down and said “This sucks! Let me tell you why.”
So, I went back to the drawing board, rethinking and reexamining the genre. The next big obstacle was me bringing it to my literary agent and her going “My god this is great.” But actually, she couldn’t look me in the eye because the previous scripts that I had sold were a children’s film, you know family films and one about a dog. It was very diversified and she was getting ready for another nice little happy movie and she gets Strangeland. She said “I think we can make some money and sell this.” I said “Cool, but there is one thing, I want to star in it as Captain Howdy.” She asked if I had acted and I said no. She said “Well, that is going to be a problem with studios.” Then I said, “Well, there is another problem. I want to control it and be one of the producers.” She said “That is really going to limit our ability to sell this.” I said “Oh well, then I won’t sell it.” Because I was insistent on being a co-producer and insistent on it not being taken away from me, because I didn’t want somebody re-writing the movie, and that I wanted to star in it, it really narrowed down our possibilities on getting it made. We had to go the independent route.
A few years back your son, Jesse Blaze Snider, wrote a prequel to Strangeland entitled Strangeland: Seven Sins, how involved were you on that process? And it had to be pretty cool to see him take the reigns of your creation.
Yeah, he is a really good writer and has written books for Marvel and DC. He has an original six book series out right now for DC called Dead Romeo. Book two is on stands right now and getting really good reviews. It’s a vampire series. Fangoria Comics was just starting up and they wanted to do something with Strangeland. My son was an aspiring comic book writer, so I saw an opportunity for him to express his creativity. He vetted everything with me but very much wrote it himself. I had to make sure everything rang true to the characters and the back story that I knew of the characters. He obviously created some of the back story that I didn’t know about. I still wanted to make sure that I had done an analysis of the characters to make sure that it didn’t conflict because I didn’t want anything to come back and bite me in the ass when we go to do Strangeland: Disciple, finally. This is reality based horror so I don’t want anyone to point a figure and say “Wait a minute! In the prequel he said this but in Disciple, he did this, which contradicts.” I didn’t want any of that shit happening.
You will be moving forward on Strangeland: Disciple. What can you tell us about the sequel?
The script is done obviously and powerfully disturbing! I feel that people have taken inspiration from my new direction with horror and I know for a fact that the Saws and Hostels of the world wouldn’t exist without Strangeland. The whole concept of people not dying but just suffering was something that was uncharted when I did Strangeland.
So the script is done and Robert Englund is attached. He returns as Jackson Roth in a very significant way, which is great. People are really going to enjoy seeing Robert in the powerful role that he is playing in the movie. That is going on. At www.screentest.biz, NEHST Pictures is holding an open casting call where people from all over the country can audition for supporting roles, extras roles and things like that. It looks like we are filming in the fall in Ohio, Beyond that, we are looking for directors right now and we have a long list of people that we’re interested in. The good news is that I got really hamstrung with the last director, but there is a lot of young talent out there, so even if we don’t get some big names that we have on the list with the obvious answers there, you can start to move down to the B-names and there is still great talent. There are also some up and coming people. Especially, being with Fangoria, I have gotten a chance to see a lot of stuff that makes me very confident in our choices and that there are a lot of talented young directors out there that can do this thing.
You do a lot of charity work for The March of Dimes: Bikers For Babies. How did you get involved in this project originally and what can you tell us about it?
The March of Dimes approached me about ten years ago when I was on the radio in Conneticut. They heard me talking about how I rode and that we had two pre-mature babies. They said “Hey, this is our Grand Marshall for March of Dimes: Bikers For Babies. Our focus is prematurity and birth defects and we use motorcycling to bring attention and raise money.” So he reached out to me and I got involved. I definitely became enamored with the organization. Seventy five cents of ever dollar actually goes to the research, which is really great. They really have done some great work in the field. As I started to expand my involvement in the Northeast by being Grand Marshall in various rides and then starting my own ride on Long Island last year after about eight years of being with the March of Dimes, the national March of Dimes asked me to be their national spokesperson. Now I travel around the country doing the same thing, Grand Marshalling, raising awareness and promoting the cause. I connect to the cause in a big way because I have personal experience there, although I was lucky enough to have my two premature kids grow up to be healthy with no ongoing health issues which many families suffer through. That how I got involved!
Thanks for your time, Dee! We look forward to seeing you and the rest of The Iron Men of Rock ‘N Roll on the road!
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For all the latest information on Twisted Sister’s upcoming summer tour dates and the re-release of ‘Stay Hungry’ on June 30th, 2009 on Rhino Records, go to the band’s official website at www.twistedsister.com.
You can also check out Dee Snider’s official website www.deesnider.com for all of his upcoming projects and appearances.
For more information on The March of Dimes: Bikers For Babies and how you can help, go to www.bikersforbabies.org.