It’s been a good year for all things Twisted. Eagle Rock released a welco
med bombardment of quality Twisted Sister reissues and special editions over the last year (perhaps the best of the bunch were the Club Daze reissue and the five-disc DVD set of live performances over their entire career, From The Bars To The Stars); a documentary by Andy Horn is in the works; and now the band celebrates Christmas in their own Twisted way with a performance at The Best Buy Theater in NYC on Saturday, December 17.
And with a new solo album (Dee Does Broadway) on its way out and an autobiography to come, Twisted Sister vocalist Dee Snider is keeping busy with his own career. However, he was kind enough to discuss the musical impact of Twisted Sister’s legacy.
I love the Club Daze CDs. I was too young to get in the bars when Twisted Sister played. My cousins used to give me the club flyers and stuff. It created this sort of mystique, you guys didn’t have a record out. And I think I was more hyped on Twisted Sister than, say, Judas Priest and other bands at the time. Don’t you think that mystique worked for you back then?
Dee Snider: Oh, absolutely. Funny thing, back then, my wife was 15 and she snuck into the bars … so, I mean, we definitely were a phenomenon and there was a huge mystique about the band. In some areas we would occasionally get to do a theater show, like upstate New York. We would pretty regularly play the Mid-Hudson Civic Center which is a good venue, and it was an opportunity for the kids to come to the shows — and you had to have a Twisted Sister shirt. It was like the definition of coolness that you were there — or even if you got something from a cousin, like you said. It was like “Oh shit, it’s so cool that you got that.”
It was a pretty interesting time and there is actually someone working on an extensive documentary about that time right now. A documentarian out of Germany (Andy Horn). He is an American but he has lived in Berlin for decades. (Horn) was working on another documentary, and we had crossed paths with the person he was doing the documentary on: Klaus Nomi. Klaus (once) came down to a club we were playing in and asked if he could open for our band. He was a weird performance artist out of Germany. He thought that (since) he wore makeup he thought our audience would like him. That didn’t quite go down too well. [laughs] But this was about that event. Because, apparently, this was like a serious down in Klaus’s career, devastating to him on a personal level, this horrible experience. (Horn) interviews us about it and he slowly discovered this phenomenon that existed before Twisted Sister ever even had a record — this epic struggle for recognition. Meanwhile with a huge amount of success within a limited area. So (Horn) is creating a documentary that goes from the beginning to getting signed by Atlantic records. And that’s where the documentary ends, from that point on it’s pretty well known what happened. It’s the story before all that you’re talking about that he has been working on for a few years now, actually.
That story is very interesting.
Snider: (Horn) had sent some interesting observations about what Twisted Sister was at that time — as opposed to what it became known for and what it became. Plus there is a whole Rocky inspirational story there – the band that refused to take no for an answer kind of thing – just kept fighting until we win.
The band lived up to the hype. When I did get a chance to finally see the band live in a club, you were one of the best club bands I have ever seen.
Snider: That’s where we perfected our craft. And usually these things that you build up in your mind, your expectations are so high. I got that with Alice Cooper. When I was a kid, I never saw Alice Cooper. He was one of my biggest influences. I never saw him in concert and back then there were no videos, there were no DVDs — so all you had were photos and the music. And looking at the photos and listening to the music, I’d imagined he performed in the way that I’d performed. Not that I was trying to be like Alice Cooper but I didn’t have anything to work off of. I performed completely different than Alice. Obviously, I am much more phonetic than he is. As a matter of fact, I was a bit disappointed when I saw him because I really envisioned this actual, literal, wild man. I only saw him in the 2000s, and the first time I ever say Alice Cooper perform, he sort of slinks and moves slowly around the stage. And I’m not saying it in the negative. I’m just saying the hype to me was of a rock and roll animal and he is not a rock and roll animal, that’s not his thing. So when the performance lives up to the hype, that’s a pretty high compliment actually.
Twisted Sister matched that sort of speed metal and power metal of the time.
Snider: No doubt. Not only did we match it, I think we were helping to create it. Those Twisted tapes were getting around, it was the birth of that stuff. And people look at me like I have horns when I say it, but I’ll say it again and argue and prove it — that Twisted Sister is responsible for the birth of speed metal or at least partially responsible. And if you say ‘How?’ I say ‘Simple.’ If you use the live tapes back in the day played at such a high speed, musically. All the cover songs we did — everything was always sped up. That was purely due to my highly caffeinated state and my mental state. We didn’t realize how fast we were playing. I was the one controlling the speed and I kept screaming ‘Faster., faster!’ Bands like Overkill, Anthrax, Carnivore — they were out in the crowd, in Brooklyn, watching Twisted Sister, following Twisted Sister. If you ever saw the Rat Skates documentary [drummer, Overkill] … He did a documentary about Overkill and there’s a whole section on Twisted Sister and basically we were the standard that everybody emulated. Keith Alexander from Carnivore told me, ‘We came to see Twisted Sister and Twisted Sister played fast, so we played fast.’ They took frantic performance, our frantic performance and interpreted it as play fast, rule one is to play fast. And then they went back to the garages and sped everything the fuck up, literally to be like us. So it wasn’t like a conscious thing like ‘Hey, we’re going to create this really fast approach of playing.’ No, we just played that way and inspired bands like Carnivore, Overkill and Anthrax, who went on to the forefront of the whole speed metal movement. The influence that Twisted Sister had, people don’t’ even realize. Then you have bands like Bon Jovi and Cinderella and Poison, who are coming down to see those same shows and they’re taking away a whole different set of rules. Their thing is, they’re seeing something else about how to create your sound and how to perform and how to look and they’re taking a whole other thing out of it. We are uncredited but we are without a doubt responsible for spawning all kinds. And then there are the punk bands that were into Twisted Sister. A lot of them overseas. To this day you will see a lot of punk bands that cover “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and do Twisted Sister songs. There was a confused audience because there were ‘bangers, punks and skins and they were all coming to see the same band, looking at each other, going ‘What are you doing here?’ They all thought they were seeing the next punk/skin/ metal sensation. At the time — 1981, 1982 — there wasn’t Hair Metal by definition. There was new wave of metal and Twisted Sister wasn’t falling easily into anyone’s previous conception of what a band should be.
That was the best time period for metal.
Snider: Oh, absolutely. These people were living off of, as you said, information they got from their cousins. It was the age of tape exchange. We had no albums so these punks were hearing these high speed, machine gun songs, buzzsaw songs and go ‘Oh!’ And it wasn’t punk, it was Twisted Sister.
That’s funny you mentioned that because back when I did see you in a club, you played a cover “Run Like Hell” by Pink Floyd and it was so sped up, it was like a punk song. It was brilliant!
Snider: Exactly. I mean, we used to do “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)” and that was prime example of taking a classic rock song and turning it into something wholly different. And our version was a punk version of “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)” and that was our closer for a decade, practically.
And Metallica opened for Twisted Sister and that was an amazing show.
Snider: You were at the Fountain Casino show?! [December 30, 1983 in Aberdeen, New Jersey]
Yeah. What were you thinking about Metallica at that time? Did you think, ‘Wow, this band is going to be huge’?
Snider: I didn’t even know they were on the bill. I didn’t even know they existed. And Jonny Z [Megaforce Records], who was a big supporter of Twisted, crammed them on the bill. When we toured with Metallica in Europe, they said ‘We played with you guys in Jersey. And I was like ‘You did?!’ I didn’t even know. I was oblivious to the opening band. In effect it was like a no name. And I was never out before the show. I was always in the back getting ready. You never saw me. You didn’t see me walking around the club. You only saw me on the stage and then I disappear. I’d get there before the doors opened and I left when the doors closed. You weren’t supposed to see a rock star walking around like a human being. So I had no idea Metallica played. But during that tour , I remember clear as a bell when we arrived in Holland we see these posters that had a huge Metallica with like a troll head — an early symbol they used — and on the bottom it said ‘…and Twisted Sister’ in little letters. So I said to our tour manager, ‘Tell Metallica they can close, obviously people are coming to see them.’ And my tour manager comes back and says they said no. I said ‘No?’ He said Well, they said it seems suspicious. They are confused. ‘Why would you give up the headline slot? What are you up to?’ I went into their dressing rooms and said ‘Guys, the people are clearly here to see you. I’m not a complete asshole. I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’m the headliner. It’s obvious you’re the guys that everyone is coming to see.’ So they closed the show.
As a result it was the one time I got to see them. And I still remember standing on the side of the stage, watching their set and I turned to Mark (Mendoza) and I said these words: ‘These guys got a lot of heart but they’re never gonna go anywhere.’ So that’s what I thought of Metallica. (laughs) I just thought they were too heavy. It’s so heavy, there is no commercial accessibility, there’s nothing for them to get through to the mainstream audience. They would just be one of those great heavy bands. … You know the Overkills, the Carnivores, one of those bands. I admit saying that. (laughs) Nobody hears it all, all the time. Nobody sees it all. You get it sometimes, you completely miss it other times. Who knew that people’s taste would become acclimated to that much heavier of a sound.
When Stay Hungry came out, the songs seemed to slow down a bit. Do you think fans were a little freaked out by that? Obviously it was a huge success … but I’m talking about the hardcore fans.
Snider: We only knew to slow down in the studio. Even on Under the Blade, there is a studio speed and a live concert speed. I’ve listened to Live At Hammersmith and there is a moment in “Under the Blade” on the guitar solo into the second half where it literally is a fucking machine gun. AJ (Pero, guitarist) comes in and ‘dididididididiid-bakaabakaabakaa’ (mimics machine gun sound). We invented the whole polka speed mental thing right there. It’s just fucking ‘Roll out the barrels – bakkabakkbakka’ I was like ‘Holy shit!’ The first time I heard it I was like ‘Oh my God!’
Live, we absolutely haven’t changed a thing. If you go listen to a live concert for any period of time, even then we were still playing things that were at breakneck speed. You know that hasn’t’ changed at all. The finny thing about people they often cite Stay Hungry as the sellout record or the whatever record, this that and the other thing, and I laugh because I finished writing that album during the recording of You Can’t Stop Rock n’ Roll. I used the down time in the studio to write, like when we were doing Under the Blade I was using the down time for You Can’t Stop Rock n’ Roll, when we were recording You Can’t Stop Rock n’ Roll I was working on Stay Hungry. I was using the downtime. I didn’t party, I didn’t hang out, so I just worked on the next music for the next record. Not only that, the chorus to “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” I wrote in 1980. I wrote it before we had any records out. I had a great chorus and I couldn’t finish the song and I finally finished the song before we went out to record You Can’t Stop Rock n’ Roll. When I finished the song I was in a studio apartment, married, had kids but we were broke and we just lost the Under the Blade tour with Diamond Head, we had lost our record deal, we had nothing. All this ‘Oh, that’s when they became sellouts…’ All that stuff was written and created at a time when I was most desperate, not becoming a fat cat by any means.
Well, you know sometimes how hardcore fans are. It probably has to do with that being the album where you achieved commercial success.
Snider: Absolutely. I totally get it, and its more than that. You know, it happens with all bands, When (Stay Hungry) first came out, it was embraced, but by the end of that same year it was reviled. Sadly, that’s a normal process for original fans. I have this ‘Diamond-in-the-pocket’ theory about it, where the’ original fans’ have it in their pocket — in this case it’s Twisted Sister, in my case it was AC/DC. I told everybody I knew about this diamond, that nobody believed or knew it was a diamond. And everywhere I went, everything I did, I wore their patches, their jackets … I did everything I could to promote the band. And when they broke through, and my diamond came out of my pocket and put on full display, where there were lines around the block to see the diamond — waiting on line to see my fucking diamond! — the feeling of abandonment was massive. Basically, it was like ‘They don’t need me anymore.’ Which is not fair to the band, it’s a natural reaction. And after that when your 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20 year old kid and your 12 year old younger brother or sister gets into your band … well, ‘Fuck!’ (laughs)
I never heard of these issues explained like that but it’s dead on.
Snider: I have analyzed it at length and I’ve seen it happen to so many other bands. My daughter is into a lot of hardcore bands and it happens with her. She gets into these obscure bands and all of a sudden they get some recognition and popularity and she abandons them, because she no longer feels like their her band. Yet, she was the one who promoted them so tirelessly. It’s a sad recurring phenomenon. Eventually the fans return. Usually after the band falls form grace and they come back and say they acknowledge they’re the same band the (original) fans loved. Or they say they shouldn’t be abandoning them wholesale because other people have come to appreciate what they appreciated first.
I think 10 – 20 years later, the fan looks back and thinks ‘I was wrong for thinking that way.’
Snider: It’s regrettable but it’s natural. Unfortunately, it’s unavoidable. I mean, Metallica suffered it. I think one of the bands that suffered the least was AC/DC. For awhile there, people would come and say ‘I got the first AC/DC album,’ and you’re like ‘Which one? High Voltage or the Australian releases?’ ‘No, Back in Black.’ I’m like ‘Are you fucking kidding me?!’ There was a huge frustration on my part to have these Johnny-come-latelys talking like they knew the fucking band.
But I love listening to new bands. My daughter turns me onto so many new hardcore, screamo bands… and I like a lot of them. I find it exciting. When I listen to old bands, I feel kind of sad. Their time is past. But when I listen to new bands — the ones that have that same quality that the old bands had — they’re at a point in their career where they have nothing to lose, and they don’t give a shit. That’s when bands are their greatest. And that’s what Under the Blade had and that’s what You Can’t Stop Rock n’ Roll had. We got nothing to lose. Hearing that moment in time, that fire. It fireds me up when I listen to new bands and I go to their concerts. I take me daughter to concerts, so I just went to see Escape the Fate, Alesana, and like five other hard core bands in Jersey. And I just love that moment in a band’s career, in a band’s life. It inspires me to hear that, that rejuvenates me. To hear that, like, ‘Fuck ’em! Fuck ’em!’ As Marilyn Manson once said “I wasn’t born with enough middle fingers.” One of the great lines of all fucking time.
All the great bands had that moment. There’s that great debate about whether bands should carry on or should they just rest on when they were at their best and leave it at that.
Snider: Yeah. You know what, I’m sort of with that. I’m asked ‘Why aren’t you doing new music?’ I’m like, ‘I’m not driven. I’m not motivated to do the music anymore.’ I don’t feel it, I don’t have.. I mean I’ve seen this quoted and it’s true. After Stay Hungry I was declawed … well, not declawed. I remember this moment: I was sitting poolside in the 80s in a million dollar house with five cars, two boats in the driveway, and I’m sitting by the pool with a fucking full wallet and I’m thinking about the next song of teen angst. And I’ve got nothing, I’m literally sitting there going. ‘I’m not mad.’ I’m not screaming about we’re gonna make it, and we’re not going to take it, and I wanna rock. I made it, I didn’t take it, and I’ve rocked! And I’ve got nothing. And you continue to write for a couple of years and the song quality was there — no doubt about it — my craft was there on Desperado and Widowmaker but what drove me and Twisted Sister to the heights was that gnawing, that fire, that frustration, it was the message in my music. I’ve talked to a fan who became a big record executive for awhile, now he’s a big Hollywood movie writer, his name is Brian Kauffman. He had seen Twisted Sister 45 times, and I asked him ‘Why did you come to see us 45 times?’ And in a moment of idiot savant, he goes, ‘Because I believed you believed.’ I was like ‘What the hell does that mean?’ He said ‘You were so convinced when I saw you on that stage. You were so convinced you were going to be the biggest thing since sliced bread. I had no choice but to believe in you.’ And, again, going back to what I like about these bands, hearing that moment in time when they believe they have nothing to lose, and will take out anybody who tries to get in their way.
Are you going to continue to tour under Twisted Sister?
Snider: I want to. The guys know that. I mean, I love the guys and its fun but gravity wins. Eventually gravity wins out over all. We will all be pulled down into the earth and gravity will take us out. Last year at 55, Twisted Sister got some review, they were the greatest reviews we have ever gotten. I don’t know if you saw our reviews from Bloodstock or our reviews from the French festival we did. It said that we set the standard by which all other bands performances should be judged. So for guys in their middle 50s to get that kind of review on a bill with all younger bands — not all, but the range of black metal, hard core metal and nu metal and old metal bands — and to headline events like that and get that response? What more could you ask for? But eventually I’m gonna to get beat by gravity. Eventually, I’m going to slow down and I don’t want to be on stage when that happens. I don’t want to disappoint people. Eddie Trunk once said, ‘I understand what you’re saying. You kind of put yourself into a corner with your performance style.’ And I said ‘You’re right.’ He said we defined our style with this aggressive, physically demanding performance. I’m still doing it. If you see the band now, you go “Holy shit! How old is that guy?’ That’s exactly it, how old is that guy? It’s not like he is an old man but 55? There’s not a 25 year old on the bill that can do what he’s doing. So the point is, I don’t want to be up there when that fails. That is my fear.
I also do a lot of other things. I’m always looking to the future and moving on to new projects and new endeavors, like doing Broadway for three months. I like surprises. I didn’t plan life at 30, so everything is a surprise to me. If you told me 25-30 years ago I would be doing Broadway, I would’ve punched you in the face. But 25 – 30 years later someone says ‘You want to do Broadway?’ I’m like ‘You know what — Yeah!’ What the fuck! … to challenge myself and feel like its new and fresh. It’s not the same old thing. I’m more challenged to do a Broadway show. I had butterflies for the first time in 30 years. I had an upset stomach the morning of the first show – ‘I’m Dee Snider I don’t have butterflies!’ I had butterflies. It was Broadway, that was not my element and after the first show, I rocked that too because that’s what I do.