Ironically, a few days before my interview with Twisted Sister front man Dee Snider, I had interviewed metal mistress Lita Ford. Snider, however, came up in the conversation with Ford as one of the people who was encouraging her musical comeback. When Ford was told that I'd be talking to Snider later that week she asked me to tell him hello and to give his family her love.
"Ah, my dear friend Lita," exclaimed Snider just a few days later, "She's one of my closer rock and roll friends but our bond is post-80s and like family-person to family-person, we've had a number of vacations together with our kids and our spouses like each other and it has nothing to do with the music, just people who enjoy each other's company. She's a doll. She blames me for making her come out and stay playing again."
Ford had commented that when she came back out for a meet and greet that she'd attended with Snider, she commented to him how it was weird that she was wearing rock clothes again.
"Yeah, they have a house on the islands and she said that all she ever wears is shorts and a t-shirt," Snider laughed. "But so I'd ask her, 'Do you ever think about playing?' And she'd go, 'No, I'm done with that. That's behind me.' And I go, 'That's behind you? That's cool, I get that.' Even to me it's a hobby now not my livelihood or my focus anymore. But I go to her house and every room has a guitar in it. Not like sitting in the corner and on display, it's like on the couch or on the table. And I'm like, 'What's with all the guitars?' And she'd go, 'Well, I like to play once in awhile.' Oh yeah, you're going to play again, you're not done! Like my guitar player Jay Jay, when he quit the business for a time, you literally wouldn't find a guitar in his house - he didn't even want to look at it. He didn't even touch the guitar for like a decade or something like that; he really just got to that point. So that was the tell with Lita, there are guitars in every room - you wanna rock."
There's no secret about Snider and his Twisted Sister mates wanting to rock - that fact was well documented 25 years ago on the album Stay Hungry. A re-mastered, 25 th Anniversary edition of the disc will be released at the end of this month along with a bonus disc including early demos, unreleased outtakes, and a new song entitled "30."
"Twenty-fifth anniversary and yeah it's pretty amazing to think that 25 years have passed. It's amazing to see the significance of the record, you know the original and how many times I hear people saying, 'This was my primer to heavy metal' or 'I was a disco boy or pop princess before I got my 'Stay Hungry' record and it changed my life.' And then you've got 'We're Not Gonna Take It' and 'I Wanna Rock' which sort of started - especially 'We're Not Gonna Take It' - to transcend even the genre and become almost folk songs. I may be a little over-exaggerating at this point but everybody knows that song and it pops up everywhere - anybody that's got a complaint about anything: 'We're Not Gonna Take It!' So it's really strange to see it take on a life of it's own."
"I remember," Snider goes on, "and plus it was weird - late one night on one tour when we were in Connecticut in a real urban area, and the bus had stopped - I had to make a phone call because there were no cell phones in those days. So it's like the middle of the night and I'm on a payphone and a carload of African Americans drive by, and they look out the window and go, 'Hey, that's that guy from Twisted Sister!' And I was like, holy crap, talk about crossing genres. But I think for Twisted the video did the crossing over and took the song with it. Not the song wasn't certainly embraced, and a lot of people think the video made the song but the fact was 'We're Not Gonna Take It' was added at 145 radio stations the first week it came out and that was two weeks before the video even hit. And just so you know that's a lot of radio stations to play a heavy metal band in 1984. So the song itself spoke for itself but the video reinforced it; when it came to crossing the pop world and into the urban world and all these other communities I think the video - you know, movies are a common bond - and people watched the movie and got hooked on the song."
During the video/MTV age - there were lots of videos that were good with an ok song, and vice versa, but most people would agree that "We're Not Gonna Take It" was one of the rare gems where both the video and the song were equally as strong.
"Plus it was ground breaking - no one was doing videos like that. When ever they have the 'Top 100 Videos of All Time' 'We're Not Gonna Take It' always shows up. And as a matter of fact - and this is a little known fact about the video - when 'We're Not Gonna Take It' was delivered to MTV, I believe the guy's name was Les Garland but I'm not sure, he hated it, he was hostile. The reaction was, 'This is not rock video, this is method acting.' And they never allowed 'We're Not Gonna Take It' to go out of medium-rotation and as much as you know that song that was medium-rotation but it had such a connection that people waited for that thing to come on. And the funny thing is when we delivered 'I Wanna Rock,' which was basically the sequel to 'We're Not Gonna Take It,' the reaction was, 'Ah, now this is a rock video!' So either the perception had changed within the company or they were just sort of covering their tracks from their denial of it being a real video into the first place. But then of course there were so many videos that started following our formula after that it was ridiculous."
"We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wannt Rock" however, are only two songs off an album that is truly stellar as a whole. Did the Twisted Sister guys have any inkling at all when they were writing and arranging Stay Hungry that it was something special?
"You know, no, it's just like we were on a path - it was 'Under The Blade' and that independent record led to our major record deal with Atlantic, 'You Can't Stop Rock 'n' Roll,' and that broke in Europe namely and then it spilled over the United States. And we knew they were going to pull out all the stops on the record. As far as writing goes, I was just writing more music. And one thing a lot of people have said was, 'Stay Hungry was Twisted Sister's go-commercial, selling out.' And I always laugh because it was anything but. That album was written in 1982, what I would do is when we were working on 'Under The Blade' I was writing songs for the next album, and in all the down time between sessions I was working the songs. So I was writing 'You Can't Stop Rock 'n' Roll' when 'Under The Blade' was being recorded. When we were recording 'You Can't Stop Rock 'n' Roll' I was writing 'Stay Hungry.' And we couldn't have been more broke, we couldn't have been hungrier. So there really was no commercialization or selling out or anything like that. I mean the biggest hat-tilt towards commercialization was assigning Tom Werman, who was this pop producer, who was cleaning up people like Ted Nugent and Motley Crue, and they figured, 'Hey, we can clean these guys up too.' So I'll tell you what, I'm looking at something right here - I have this laminated and actually taped to my triple-platinum 'Stay Hungry' album on my wall in my studio where I am right now. And during the recording I was really having a lot of problems with our producer, Tom Werman, and we just didn't agree and I really felt like he was compromising the record, and it was a real struggle for me to try to keep the band's integrity. He wanted to clean us up even more, you know, and I was really frustrated and the engineer, Geoff Workman, who really is responsible for all of the positive things on that record as far as sound and everything. And he said, 'What's the matter, man?' And I said, 'Fricking Tom is killing my record, he's pissing me off!' He goes, 'Relax dude, this record is guaranteed to go platinum.' And I said, 'You want to put that in writing?' And he goes, 'Yeah, I'll put that in writing.' So what it says here on this laminated page - it's written on an old note sheet, it says: 'The record that I am currently working on with Twisted Sister [because we didn't have a name yet] is guaranteed to go at least platinum or I resign. Signed: Geoff Workman. Witnessed: Gary McGachan [who was the assistant engineer].' So, he knew."
Snider goes on: "I'll tell you one other sign of greatness - my son Jesse - we were recording this at the end of 1983 and into 1984. My son Jesse was born in 1982 so he was a year and a half, not even two years old. And I bring home the demos for the record and I put them on and I'm listening to them - it's in the morning and I'm listening to them on a boombox and we're having breakfast or whatever - and Jesse in his diaper, I remember clear as a bell, goes over to the seat the boombox is on, grabs it with both hands, and headbangs through the entire tape. I was like, 'Look at this!' He's like rocking, headbanging, and I was like - what the hell? So that was the only other thing where I said, 'There's something right about this.' There must be something special about this thing, Jesse knew."
So either Twisted Sister was about to release a great rock and roll album, or a great children's album.
"A great kid's album," Snider laughs, "Exactly! Play this in your nursery."
On Disc 2 of the 25th anniversary edition of Stay Hungry is the demo for "We're Not Gonna Take It," and one of the things that's quite striking about the recording is that it really hadn't changed much from its fledgling state to the album version.
"No, that's it. The Tom Werman factor - and I have to point out with as much bashing of Tom Werman, I don't know if you saw the liner notes but I'm the one who wrote that Tom Werman should be able to speak his peace - I want to see what he says, I'm sure he mouths off. He buries himself because he told me straight out that he would never have signed Twisted Sister when he was an A & R man. And I asked him to be honest, he was honest. He also did not want 'We're not Gonna Take It' or 'I Wanna Rock' on the record and it's a hard sell among those. With 'We're Not Gonna Take It' he said, 'Eh, it's kind of sing-song, kind of childish, isn't it?' He totally mocked it, and I said dude, trust me. As a matter of fact they interviewed him on Behind The Music or something and he actually said, 'You know Dee says this stuff about me and I wasn't against 'We're Not Gonna Take It,' but it is kind of childish, don't you think?' But I'm still collecting royalties," Snider chuckles. "But he really didn't do that much. They said they were going to bring in a producer who was going to clean us up, but we're really not as dirty as you think. My view was always that I never expected to have commercial success but I was always curious how a band who's influences, our main inspirations, were AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest - all platinum artists. If everything that's guiding us is platinum bands how can what we come up with not sell, it's inspired by successful bands not by obscure, unknown, underground bands. Our influences were all some of the biggest bands in the world so I was like of course it was going to sell, but I never expected it to be a commercial success the way it was."
As far as "cleaning up" Twisted Sister at that time, the worse image created for the band wasn't by the band itself at all, it was in the statements made about the band by the PMRC which lead to Dee Snider speaking before Congress.
"They were complete fabrications and complete misinterpretations. The t-shirt [describing a woman handcuffed on the front of a Twisted Sister t-shirt] was fabricated on her part, the lyrics - like I said, I can't help it if [Tipper Gore] has a dirty mind," he laughs. "I left room for interpretation but, geez, what's going on in your mind? I mean that was part of the thing, kids in general, teens in general, youth in general are not all that bad, they're just acting out and trying to express themselves and have fun. And anything that's loud and wild is interpreted by certain people as being dangerous. And if you really just sort of strip it away you go, 'Well, they're really just jumping around and singing and sweating and hooting and hollering, and it's not really hurting anybody.' So it's always the people's misinterpretations of the actions of the fans and they read WAY too much - until this day - they read way too much into it. My daughter, Cheyenne, who's 12 and she likes heavy music - she had to write a creative poem, and she wrote a poem - she really ripped off one of her favorite bands," Snider chuckles, "She used them - heavily. And it's an imaginary about suicide. And again, you have 'Suicide Solution' with Ozzy Osbourne, and the school called and everyone was concerned that she was suicidal, it was fictionalized, it was actually her just copying lyrics from a song, but everybody gets very uptight about any talk like that or talk of the devil or talk of any of that shit, especially in the 80's."
Twisted Sister was often a prime target despite the fact that there was far more risqué bands and songs out there.
"Yeah, but they were interpreting our image and that actually hurt us. The kids knew that were one of the least dangerous bands. In all reality I think it's about rebellion, there was no sex, drugs, the traditional things that were in there, and the kids knew that but the parents - they just targeted us. So the parents were like, 'Ok you can go see Motley Crue but I don't want you seeing that Twisted Sister!' And the kids were like, 'Ok, cool.' They were alright, yeah, I'll give up my Twisted Sister as long as I get to see Motley Crue, and my whatever else. So it was definitely - you're right, there was way more dangerous stuff out there."
So now, still hungry but not all that dangerous - and more than two and a half decades later, Twisted Sister will be giving up the make-up and costumes after this year.
"Yeah, well, you know, it's fun and it's amazing how authentic I still look. I look like an aging drag queen but I always looked like an aging drag queen," Snider laughs. "So nothing much has changed, it's the pretty boys of the 80's that are hurting. But all good things must come to an end, and Twisted Sister has gone on way longer than we expected it to so if it's going to continue on may we continue as a rock band and not so much a theatrical rock band in the traditional sense. It seems like a good time, 25 th anniversary, sayonara make-up."
Has the make-up just become too much of a nuisance after all this time?
"Actually I enjoy it; it brings on the whole thing. But you're kind of like, 'I'm in my 50's now!' I know Gene's [Simmons] doing it but I don't know, I just think at some point we just need to pass the torch. 'You take this, you do it for awhile.' It's fun, I'm kind of torn, it's kind of like a band decision and actually I'm the only one that's really wearing the shit, more so than everyone else."
Interview by Melanie "Sass" Falina ©June 2009.