Dee Snider looks pretty good for a man of 52. That's my first thought as I'm introduced to him, the man I once laughed at the first time I saw him on Top Of The Pops, and laughed even more at when I finally got the joke, purely because he seemed to be laughing at himself as well as all the narrow minded people of the world. Like many others, I loved the music that seemed to shout out 'Fuck You!' to the World and I also loved the videos that accompanied it. I remember being happy buying the LP of 'Come Out And Play' with it's pop up Dee Snider cover, and also being sad when their last album 'Love Is For Suckers' seemed to be the product of a band that had been neutered by the tosspots that wanted to tell American kids what they could and could not listen to. That was twenty years ago, with compilation and rarities albums keeping the bands name alive. In 2001 they reformed for the occasional show, and last year recorded 'A Twisted Christmas'. Where they put their own spin on traditional Christmas songs. This year it's being accompanied by a live DVD (see review elsewhere), and more live dates. I managed to get to meet the bands fearless leader at the Hard Rock Hell event in Minehead, England.
I'm still finding it hard to get my head around the idea of Twisted Sister doing a Christmas album, let alone that album being successful, and I ask Dee whose idea it was. “JJ (French) brought up the idea,” he admits. “Oddly it was an idea I had back in the eighties, when I was an angry young headbanger! I was at some Christmas party and they were playing some Euro party Christmas album and I was like ' Fuck! Where's the fuckin' metal Christmas!'. I remember thinking when I get back from break I'm gonna call everybody up and get everybody to do a song. Am I started thinking 'Oh yeah, I can hear Maiden doing White Christmas, and Lizzy doing this one...' so I planned it in my head, and then, like a leaky roof when it stops raining, the holidays were over and I forgot. Then 20 years later JJ says about a Christmas album, and I said you know what, people will think it's crazy but I'll trust the headbanger who wanted one back in the 80s.” Surely, I say bravely, there must have been a worry that some would see this as final confirmation that Twisted Sister are no more than a joke band these days. “Yeah,” he says honestly, “but I don't really care any more. We did this reunion for one reason. It wasn't economic, it wasn't for glory, it wasn't to be in the spotlight – I have all that. It was purely for the relationships we've got together. We've been together five years and done 55 shows, which is not a lot of playing. We are willing to do things and take chances for the fun of it, and not for ourselves. There might be people who think it's a joke, but in the States it was a hit. We were actually going to completely call it quits at the end of December and then the record sold a huge amount of copies – it sold 100,000 copies in one month. Even when the record came out stores didn’t want to put it in. One of the big chains in America is called Target. When they were asked to preorder records they said ‘Twisted who?’ That was what they said!” Dee looks smug, like cat whose worked out how to open the budgies cage. “This year they ordered thousands of copies. ” Ain't vindication wonderful, boys and girls!
Mention Twisted Sister to anyone, and it's likely that they will know who you are talking about, visually if not musically. From the start, the band dressed in garish clothes and plastered on make up to get a reaction, and it worked. “It was funny though,” says Dee when I ask him about people's first impressions when the band hit the stage in the early days. “Because if it was a negative reaction I'd be very upset. I'd get pissed if it was a negative reaction, yet I wanted a reaction. But we came from a club and bar scene where the bands were expected to be a juke box. You were expected to play hit songs and not be too loud, and Twisted Sister just said 'Fuck that' and we deliberately dressed outlandish and acted outlandish so they had to pay attention to us.” Even before they recorded an album they became the stuff of legend, supporting the mighty Motorhead at a time when bands wearing make up were frowned on, and often spat on. “That show was at Wrexham football stadium,” Dee reminds me. “We were recording Under The Blade. I guess because we were involved with Motorhead's management (our manager was working with Motorhead's manager) they got us on the bill for this stadium show. There was about eight bands, and every band had albums out – they were known bands. We were special guests. There was Motorhead, Budgie, Twisted Sister and then all these other bands. Budgie cancels, so we wind up being second on the bill to Motorhead. An unknown band from the states, we have no recorded product out, and we wear make up, and at that time there were stories about Girl being bottled off the stage... Anvil, from Canada, Lips used to wear one fishnet sleeve, and they got bottled of the stage for being poofters. So on top of everything else we never played in the daylight. We always went on at night here we were going on in the daylight. The opening song 'What You Don't Know Sure Can't Hurt You' was the only song I ever wrote to a lighting design. There was this whole thing where we would come out on stage and people would judge us before they'd heard us, so the idea was we would do a quarter of this song in silhouette, so you would hear the band before you saw the band. So now, it was our opening song but it was daylight, so we couldn't have that effect, and we were really freaking out. The guys wanted to not wear the make up and costumes for the first time in six years, and I'm going 'Listen, I've been wearing this shit in every fucking bar in every situation... I've been fighting every night of my life, literally to wear this, and I'm not taking it off now. No way.' And if you look at pictures of the show you will see Mark Mendoza has sunglasses on over his eye make up, and his Twisted Sister vest over his costume.” We agree, in jest, that Mark Mendoza is a pussy. “Lemmy saw that we were really nervous,” continues Dee, “and he said 'I'll bring you guys out on stage' which blew me away. So we go out on stage and you can literally see people holding the bottles and cans, then Lemmy steps out and everybody stops. Then, I didn't speak Lemmy, and all I heard was 'aaarruughhharrrafashiisssthddguuuyyaarrgghh'. I'm friends with him now, and I understand he said 'These are some friends of mine from America. Give them a listen.' which gave us a bout sixty seconds of breathing room. We came out and we just tore into our shit the way we do. The place went wild. In my career I remember certain ovations, and that was one of the greatest ovations that I remember. We were sitting in the locker room ten minutes after our show, and somebody says 'Listen', and we hear the stadium going 'TWISTED (boom boom) SISTER!', like that. I was just blown away. Shortly after that Lemmy came over and said 'I introduced you, now you introduce me'. So I walk out on stage and bring on Motorhead, and the crowd goes nuts when I step out on stage. Lemmy dedicated ' America' To me, which is like, you know, someone on the telly talking to you! It was an amazing day, really what broke us through. I think if Lemmy did not do that it would have been a very different history for the band, as no one would have given us that moment to hear us, and we would have been canned and bottled off the stage, and who knows where it would have gone from there.”
Many years later, Motorhead covered Twisted Sister's own 'Shoot Em Down' for a tribute album. I ask Dee how he felt about having such a band play one of his songs. “Fucking amazing!” he enthuses. “What struck me about it was how great it sounded as a Motorhead song. He just made it his, and I was blown away.” It was not to be the last Dee Snider song that Motorhead were to be connected to, either, as Dee explains: “I wrote a song called 'Hardcore: Lemmy's Song' about Motorhead, and Twisted went about recording it and it wound up appearing on 'Never Let The Bastards Wear You Down'. (Dee Snider solo album, 2000) Lemmy recorded it! I don't know where or for what, but Lemmy recorded a song that I wrote about him. I don't know if that was ever released.”
Over the years, Snider has had the chance to meet and even work with many stars that would have been his heroes when Twisted Sister were starting out. I ask him how it felt to work with, for example, the great Alice Cooper. “ I’ve met a lot of my heroes,” he says, “become friends with my heroes and worked with my heroes and it’s so real. We toured with Alice in the UK a couple of years ago and he invited me out to sing ‘Under My Wheels’ with him onstage, and it was like ‘I’m up here singing with Alice Cooper!’ It’s amazing when you get to hang out with or work with any of your heroes.”
One thing that always struck me about Twisted Sister in their heyday was the fact that in the legendary video for 'We're Not Gonna Take It' you have the actor who played Neidermeyer in 'Animal House' basically reprising his role as a dick so that the TS boys can beat upon him. Great fun, but I wonder whose idea it was to actually get the guy (Mark Metcalf) in to do it. “It was funny because the video ideas were mine and I co wrote them with the director,” explains Dee. “At the time he was saying 'Who do see for the part of the father?', and I was like 'The guy who played Neidermeyer. Someone like him. Someone who can look like him and talk like him...' and Marty says 'Well why don't we get him? Is he working on a cure for Cancer or something?' (laughs) No one had heard from him in years, but to me he was a big star because I was an Animal House fan. So we reached out and got him, for literally a thousand dollars and a coach class ticket on the plane. I remember the day he arrived they were gonna send down a production assistant to pick him up at the airport and I was like 'No fucking way! I'll pick him up! I want to meet him!' I was so blown away, and he was shocked that anybody even cared.”
In a similar vein, the band referenced the film 'The Warriors' at the beginning of the song 'Come Out And Play', and I ask if it was the actor from the film, Patrick Kelly, doing the voice. Dee can't even remember his name, but there's a reason. “The guy from the Warriors, I forgot his name on purpose, because I love the movie,” he snorts disdainfully “We reached out to him to do the voice, and he says (puts on snobby voice) 'You know, I'm not into redoing that role.' So I did the voice. The thing is, any movie he's done afterwards, Dreamscape, Commando, 48 hours... he's the same fucking guy! He's a weasel!” We all agree that Patrick Kelly has made a career of playing weasels, and there is much hilarity.
I'm in a movie frame of mind, so we get onto the subject of 'Strangeland', a 1998 horror movie from Snider, starring Robert 'Freddy Kruger' Englund. Although I have yet to see the film, I'm curious about how it did, so ask Dee to fill in the blanks. “Strangeland was an independent film, made for 1.1 million that I wrote, co produced and starred in,” he says without a hint of big headedness. “It did very little in the theatres, but when it got to DVD, as these scary movies do, it was a top rental when it came out and since then it's become a pretty big international cult movie. Robert Englund, who was in it, we were doing a horror convention and he came and grabbed me and he says 'Your movie's a cult hit. I've been all over the world doing Freddy Vs Jason, and everywhere I go I'm signing copies of Strangeland. Are you doing a sequel?' So the hope is to do a sequel. I've been in a legal battle, because the company that made the first one got indited by the US Government, and they confiscated everything they had! I hang out with good people (laughs). It took me seven years to get my movie rights back, so I'm hoping to do something in the future but I'm getting a little discouraged.” I ask if the sequel has actually been written, or is it just a dream at the moment. “It's called Strangeland: Desciple,” he says, confirming that it has been written. “We're right now supposed to be doing an extended DVD release (of Strangeland) that will include the opening scene to Desciple as a teaser that will hopefully lead into the making of the sequel.”
Snider is not a man to sleep on his laurels, and always seems to be doing something, be it deejaying or appearing on reality TV shows, making him a very well known figure in the States. “ I’ve been together with Suzette for 31 years and we have four kids, he says proudly of his family. “They’re all clean and sober, with no drugs and alcohol. They tried a reality show, they were looking for the next Osbournes and they did a test with us. They aired the show and I got a call the day after saying ‘We’ve got bad news and good news, Dee. The good news is they love your family and the ratings were great, the bad news is there’s no show – you guys get along, you love each other, your kids said you were cool on the air, nobody’s in rehab… there’s no programme!’ And I said ‘Good’. Now they’ve come to us with a new show we’re doing a pilot for, where we’re gonna help other families – think Supernanny for teens, but they’re gonna send me into the house! In America adults and kids respect me and relate to me, and I’ve got half a brain. So they’re gonna send me in, and I’m gonna fix the families, with my family helping.” This ties in nicely with the subject of songwriting, as Dee seems to have no real desire to record another Twisted Sister album. “I have not written anything except for a country song a couple of weeks ago for a reality show called 'Gone Country' that I just did,” he explains. “They took 7 singers down to Nashville and tried to make us Country singers. My room mate was Bobby Brown... that was interesting. So we all did country songs and I kicked ass! Other than that I've not written anything in years, I've not been inspired to.” I remind him that there was a song that Celine Dion sang that was supposedly written by him. It was called 'The Magic Of Christmas' and featured on her seasonal album. “I wrote it for my wife,” he says. “My wife wanted me to write her a Christmas song. I couldn't sing it, so I had someone record it as a gift to my wife and someone in the studio saved a copy and one day I get a phone call, saying that Celine Dion wants to record the song. I said 'Does she know who wrote it?' They said no and I said 'Well don't fucking tell her that Satan wrote your Christmas song!' The present that keeps on giving, I suggest, mindful of royalties. “That was like 8 million copies sold of that record, it was awesome,” he says happily, and who can blame him.
And so ends my time with Dee Snider, introduced at the PMRC hearings as 'Dee Snider, the Twisted Sister'. One things for sure, and that is that he can talk for his country, often flitting around and managing to answer questions I haven't even asked him yet. Nonetheless, he's never anything less than charming and interesting, his fierce intellect shining through at all times. This is a man who is happy to say 'Fuck You' to anybody who tells him what he can and cannot do, who will fight for your right to party even whilst writing soppy Christmas songs and appearing on reality TV with Bobby Brown. A hell of a guy, Dee, and still a real ambassador for rock and metal music.
Interview & photo by Alan Holloway