For 40 years, Dee Snider has rocked crowds around the world as the frontman of the legendary rock band, Twisted Sister. As that chapter of his life came to a close, he was already busy penning a new one and has no intention of fading off into the sunset any time soon! In 2016, Snider struck out on his own to explore a different side of himself as a solo artist. His new album, ‘We Are The Ones,’ pairs the rock legend with Grammy®, Emmy®, and Oscar® winning songwriter Damon Ranger, for tunes hand selected for a contemporary audience. From the call-to-arms manifesto of “Rule the World,” to the anthemic bonding of “So What”, to the thematically soaring “Superhero,” the album truly shows a new side of the musical icon we have come to know through the years. In addition to an explosive cover of the Nine Inch Nails’ iconic track ‘Head Like A Hole”, the truly dynamic duo prepared a newly re-recorded acoustic version of “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, which has been tapped as the official anthem for The Recording Academy’s advocacy efforts. In short, this new collection of material from Dee Snider is every bit as powerful, energetic, and timely as the songs that thrust him into the limelight decades ago. One thing is for certain, Dee Snider is living proof that you can’t stop rock ‘n’ roll! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon caught up with Snider on Election Day to discuss his exciting new endeavor as a solo artist, the challenges of bringing ‘We Are The Ones” to life, his thoughts on the current state of our nation and The American Dream, and what he has in store for us in the year to come!
You have done it all through the years and we can definitely look to you as an inspiration. Going back to your early years, what went into finding your creative voice?
Going to the earliest inspiration, it was purely the desire to get attention! [laughs] I’m the oldest of six kids born in very rapid succession and the oldest grandchild, niece, or nephew. That all evaporated within about a year’s time. There was a very brief moment in time where I was like Simba in “The Lion King.” It was like The Circle of Life where they held me up over the village and everyone cheered. Then, all of a sudden, everyone started shitting out kids like it was a competition and I was just shoved aside! [laughs] That’s not a memory I have but something that I know affected me. The minute I saw that there was a way to get attention for rock ’n’ roll, I said, “Count me in!”
You’ve been at it now for decades and have been very successful along the way. In your opinion, what are the keys to longevity in this business?
Persistence. Refusing to accept the hand you are dealt. We are all going to the business with the same dream of “We’re going to make it,” and by we, I mean every aspiring musician. The same thing goes for athletes or anyone who has a dream of something more than just accepting mediocrity. You view it like it’s a finish line. As a kid, you think you will get across the finish line, will be set for life, and live happily ever after! Yay! Spike the ball! Run a victory lap! Then you get there and you’re like, “Oh shit! It’s not a finish line at all. It’s another starting point!” There is a very small percentage of people who have an ongoing, long career, whether it be in acting, music, or sports. The rest of us have a window of time. Then you’re expected to leave the stage and just go quietly into the night. Don’t go quietly into the night! Say, “No! I’m not done! I’m not through! I’m not ready to leave just yet!” I’m not ready to accept someone saying that my moment in the sun was 1984 to 1986, thank you very much! That mixed with a large degree of desperation, after you have burned through the money you made and wake up at 30-something, you’re married and you have three kids, and you have no income stream, drives me. It drives me to say, “Well, what else can I do that is going to challenge me, make me feel like I’m accomplishing something, satisfy me creatively and provide for my family?”
With that said, you get to meet a lot of people from all walks of life and all corners of the country. What is your take on The American Dream in this day and age?
The American Dream is absolutely alive and well. Bono said, and I’m not a big U2 fan, that America is the greatest idea that anybody ever invented; it’s an incredible ideal. The Dream is part of that America. I don’t think it’s being represented properly, executed properly or living up to the expectations of our forefathers or their vision. That’s not being unpatriotic; that is being ultimately patriotic and saying that something needs to be done. That is the inspiration for “We Are The Ones.” “We Are The Ones,” as a project, coincided with the presidential campaign season. I started on the album a little over 18 months ago and that’s right around when the whole electoral process started. It’s very inspired by the fact that we are in a situation today, with the candidates that we are offered and the environment in Washington, that we have allowed to happen. The we in “We Are The Ones” and the we in “We allowed it to happen,” are the average Janes and Joes. They are The people working the jobs, paying the taxes and fighting the wars. We are living and working The American Dream. While we just want to do the right thing, we have allowed the extreme left and the extreme right to take control and decide things for us. I have been screaming since “We’re Not Gonna Take It” that people need to step up, let their voices be heard, and not sit there quietly. Make a damn stink! Let people know what you think and how you feel! Most of us, the vast majority, are in the middle, trying to make sense of it all and make the best choices and decisions for ourselves, for our families and for the world. Meanwhile, we have crazy people running the show!
“We Are The Ones” is your debut solo album. Did you have any reservations about pursuing a solo career?
Absolutely! I had never planned on it. I thought I was done musically. I hadn’t really done anything creatively musically in decades. I was ready to move on with my other creative endeavors. As you know, I do many other things. I write, I do radio, and I do television. I accidentally ran into Damon Ranger, who challenged me to to take the Dee Snider message, which he said is needed now more than ever, and bring it to a wider and more contemporary audience by creating music for today. At first I was like, “Seriously? Me? At this point in my life in my career making new, contemporary music?” He said, “Dude, yeah! You’re iconic! With the right stuff, you could reach a whole new audience. People know you and they’re aware of you but musically you have only served a very small segment of the rock audience that’s out there.” I said, “Fair enough! What do you have in mind?” We started down the road until we got to the point where we are today!
How much did the finished product you created differ from what you may have envisioned as your first solo record?
I had no vision of what the album might be! [laughs] Damon had it all. I was doubtful that I had a place. I kept seeing this album as a painting, although it’s not really. There are all different hues and colors that are all part of the same painting coming together to make a whole. As each song came together and each piece was brought in, I was like, “I don’t see how that works. I don’t see that happening” or “I don’t think I can do that.” Damon, to his credit, wouldn’t take no for an answer. He very much saw and appreciated my value, my talent and gifts, his words not mine, and that they could work with these different kind of songs in these different kinds of ways. Once I got into the studio and started sinking my teeth into the stuff, I saw it and I got it but it was very much Damon pushing me and encouraging me to experiment and try things that I normally wouldn’t have done.
What do you consider the biggest challenge of bringing this new album to life?
I didn’t think I had a place doing new music and the verdict is still out on that. The people will decide. When I was growing up and I was coming up, there were these artists who would not get out of the way and it was very frustrating to me. Not only would some of them not to get out of the way, but some of them would break into four or five bands! [laughs] Genesis became Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Mike and The Mechanics and Genesis! I was like, “Jesus, man! Get out of the fucking way! There are only so many hours in the day and days in the year! Where’s my place here?” Now, here I am kind of doing the same thing! [laughs] I was like, “Hey, this is for younger talented people to do.” Damon, as part of his pitch to me, was like, “You do something unique. Your voice, your attitude, your rebellious spirit and what you represent historically is important. There’s not like there is a long line of people who can replace you. You do the Dee thing!” My biggest contribution on this record is lyrically and spiritually and the energy that is in there. I tried to put that thing that I have been doing, that Damon, others and, obviously, the record company see and think, “Yeah, there is a place for this! There’s a need for this flavor that Dee Snider brings and there aren’t a lot of people who are doing it.”
“We Are The Ones” feels very balanced. What went into finding the right mix of material to bring this album together as a whole?
Like I said, it was very much like a painting in that you have a canvas, you take the paint brush, you dab it in a color and put it on there and say, “Ok, I like that. That looks good. Now, what would compliment that?” You look at the palette with all of the colors and think, “Hmm, what about this one here?” That was the process and everything was added one stroke at a time. There were many times, like I said, that I was doubtful about it once I got into the vocal booth and started singing and performing it, it became alive, it became mine and it worked. There was only one song that we created that didn’t work. When I went into the booth, it still wasn’t gelling for me. It was the only time where Damon said, “I see what you are saying and I agree with you here.” With the exception of that one change, it was very carefully crafted to be a total package.
What was the biggest lesson you took away from the experience of making this album?
I learned a lot of things. For one, “Don’t sell yourself short.” It’s too early to say that the record is a hit, it is certainly not yet, but the people who are hearing it are reacting, for the most part, very positively. Of course there’re always some naysayers and critics. Some girl from another country, Ukraine or something, called me a putz, which I thought was a funny American word for her to pick up! [laughs] It was in really broken English saying something like “Dee Snider destroyed rock ’n’ roll. Putz!” [laughs] Anyway, I have been pleasantly surprised by how enthusiastic people have been about it. The reviews are positive overall and I haven’t seen one person say, “What is this old dude doing here?,” which is kind of what I was feeling when the idea was first presented to me. It’s not that I feel old but I’m not a fool to think people don’t know I have been around for 40 years! [laughs] At the same time, none of my peers are making contemporary music. All of my peers are either making new old music, music that sounds like it was written in the 80s, or they are going country! I don’t want ago country, and the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result! [laughs] I didn’t want to go back to the future! “Great Scott, Marty!” [laughs] I didn’t want to do an old sounding record that no one would buy or care about and then go out on tour and play two new songs from the record, which everyone goes and pees during! By the end of the tour you’re not even playing the new songs anymore! Hopefully, people will hear the name Dee Snider and think, “Ok, we’ll listen to this…” and then they judge it by it’s quality, not my age or whatever. So far, the judgment has been fairly good then at least I’m happy with the feedback I’ve been getting.
As a guy who’s been doing it as long as you have, you have seen it all in the music industry. What are the best and worst parts about being a working artist these days?
For me personally, it’s too soon to tell you what the best parts may be because this is a whole new world and it’s very different from when I started out. However, the best parts that I see is the passion that young artists have. They are doing this out of pure love and desire to create and perform. When I started out, I wanted to be a rich, famous, rock star, in that order. I wanted to be rich and I wanted to be famous. I like rock ’n’ roll and being a rock star was a way to get rich and famous. I see so many young musicians that don’t even think about being rich as an option. They don’t even view as a possibility! They just want to play because they love it. I think that is sad, but it’s also a very positive thing that there is such a true passion coming from young musicians. It’s great! The worst thing is that people can’t make a living doing what they love. That is the sad part. They don’t even dare to hope that they will make a living doing the thing that they love. When I was back playing the clubs in the 70s, we used to get $300 to $350 a night when we started out. Bands today, if they get paid, get $300 to $350 a night! Most of them have to sell tickets to get on the bill. How can bands still be being paid the same amount of money I was paid! How do you survive on that? How do you do anything? It’s sad!
How do view your evolution as an artist through the years?
Whether it’s writing music, screenplays, writing a book, acting or any of the things I have done, they are all crafts and they require practice an effort and the more time you spend doing them the better you get at the craft. With that said, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to sell product. In my 20s, I sold the most records I have ever sold, even though 40 years later I think I am a better creator and craftsman at what I do, it hasn’t been a guarantee of record sales, so there’s something about simplicity with age and experience, as I say in my book, you learn so many life lessons that you apply to everything in your life. The evolution is a natural one and if you’re not a complete moron, you learn from your mistakes and moving forward you tried not to repeat those mistakes.
It always seems that you have plenty of irons in the fire. What do you have in store for us in the short-term in addition to the new album? Where do you see yourself headed?
The past couple of years I’ve been working on a musical that I wrote called “A Rock & Roll Christmas Tale.” That has been in Chicago and Toronto and I expect to see it being re-staged in the holiday seasons to come. I just signed with an army of agents who are looking for me to do more acting. That has been like a side thing for me over the years and I would like to do more in the future. I also want to do more writing and I have been shopping a book deal for a new fiction book that I am working on. I’ve also written some screenplays that are being shopped right now and, of course, I’m always trying to get “Strangeland 2” going. I don’t know what the hell it is with that thing! [laughs] That whole experience could be a documentary in itself — “The Making of Strangeland 2.” [laughs] What the fuck?! That is what it would be called, “The Making of Strangeland 2: WTF!” There are a lot of creative properties I am looking to explore. Like I said, I was ready to dive in to all these other things when Damon Ranger approached me, So I put everything else on hold to focus on the album for the past year.
We are slowly inching our way toward the 20th anniversary of “Strangeland” in 2018. Are there any plans on the radar for a special release or anything of that sort?
Yes and no. I look for interest from other people to reinforce that the interest is out there. Case in point, the album. Damon challenged me to do something new and we went in and demoed some stuff. In a very short amount of time we had major record deals in the United States and in Europe, so I knew I wasn’t alone in and that there were other people who saw the vision as well. So, I need to see something from somebody besides myself and my own bank account! With that said, I’m at the point where I’m thinking about it more often. So many people ask me about “Strangeland 2.” Someone asked me, “Well, why don’t you crowdfund it?” I’m thinking, “Good point!” if people want this movie so bad, and it seems like when I go to these horror conventions and it seems like everybody wants it, maybe that is the route to go. Maybe this coming year, heading toward the 20th anniversary, what sounds like the right amount of time between funding it, filming it and releasing it, I will see if the audience wants to put their money where their mouth is and join me in this journey!
Well, you definitely have my money!
Thanks, brother! I have to say, it’s a sad but wonderful thing, this whole crowdfunding thing and these pledge sites. On one hand, you have the fact that the artist has to turn to the fans and on the other hand, the fans are there and supporting the artists, encouraging them and becoming part of the process. It’s amazing! Our documentary, the Twisted Sister documentary, would have never happened without fan support, along with so many other great projects are out there. It’s great!
So it sounds like you’re ready have the story nailed down for where you would be going in “Strangeland 2.”
Oh yeah. It was greenlit back in 1997 before the first one came out. It was greenlit, a script was written and we were in the earliest stages of preproduction when the company got indicted by the federal government! I hang out with the best people! [laughs] At that point in time, all the properties were seized and we’re tied up in the court system for seven years. It took me seven years just to get my property back and at that point it was 2004. So, the script was there and now I’m just trying to find a production company and the financing to do it!
I know you also do a lot of great work for many deserving charities. What can we help shine a light on?
I’ve been involved with so many different charities over time and I try to help out as many as I can. When I downsized my house, I had all these platinum and gold records, which I was going to put in storage. I thought, “This is ridiculous. They have been hanging on my wall now for decades and it’s wonderful but I need some new things to hang up. I’m going to auction these off for charity!” I did and I split the money from auctioning them between Broadway Cares: Equity Fights Aids, and The Boot campaign, which supports our troops. I was supporting theater people with AIDS and the men and women in uniform at the same time. I like to be diverse! I just did a video for the acoustic version of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and worked closely with Criss Angel on his children’s cancer foundation, the Johnny Crisstopher Children’s Charitable Foundation. I’ve also done a lot of work with the March of Dimes. I had my annual motorcycle ride to feed the hungry on Long Island. There are so many important causes out there and so many people who need help, so I try to do what I can. I can always do more but I definitely do what I can!
That’s terrific, Dee! Thanks so much for your time today. I really appreciate it. I dig the album and I hope it the first of many for you. I wish you continued success!
Thanks, Jason! It really means a lot. I’m honestly tickled pink to have something new out here at a time when I wasn’t expecting to do anything new and have people going, “I’m really enjoying this! This is great!” Of course, sales is the ultimate compliment! [laughs] I’m joking! [laughs] Having people enjoy what you’re doing and saying that it has value is the first battle and it’s the biggest one, so that’s cool!
Well, like I said, you’ve definitely got my support and we will be spreading the word!
Thanks a lot, brother! I appreciate it!
For all the latest news and dates for Dee Snider, visit his official website at www.deesnider.com. Connect with him on social media via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. ‘We Are The Ones’ is available now!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.