A Conversation With Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider
Less than 24 hours before Twisted Sister’s historic final performance, I interviewed the band’s frontman: Dee Snider. He was a pleasure to speak with and our discussion covered a wide range of topics, including his excellent new solo album, We Are The Ones, his war of words last year with KISS’ Paul Stanley, our mutual love of musicals, and much more.
You recently released a new solo album, We Are The Ones. What can fans expect from this new record?
Expect a complete style change from my Twisted Sister legacy. Expect a contemporary rock record. Think Foo Fighters and 30 Seconds To Mars. But it still contains my internal message of rebellion and fighting for what you believe in.
Will you be touring to support your new solo album?
I’ve been in rehearsals already with my new backing band and we’re gearing up for touring in the new year after the holidays.
It should be noted that if you come to see Dee Snider as a solo artist, you should not expect to see a Twisted Sister show with a couple of my solo songs tossed into the set. That would be insulting to my former band, Twisted Sister. This is going to be all new music with a couple of Twisted songs. The reverse of what most guys usually do.
That’s interesting. It reminds me of when I saw Tom Jones a few years ago. Nearly his entire set was new material, except for one or two hits.
Yeah, people don’t expect it and they hate that, particularly your old fans. They don’t like that. I’m hoping the separation from Twisted Sister will give me at least a little bit of latitude. But at the same time, I know there are those who will expect me to play all of the old Twisted favorites. However, as I said, it would be disrespectful to my old band, and it defeats the purpose of going solo and try to move in a new direction and create a new sound for myself.
Makes sense. You can’t move forward if you have one foot stuck in the past.
Exactly! This is a pretty crazy experiment, actually. At 61, I’d say it borders on insanity.
In 2012 you released Dee Does Broadway, which you co-produced with Patti LuPone and Bebe Neuwirth. What was that experience like?
First of all, some would say that We Are The Ones is my third solo album. However, Never Let The Bastards Wear You Down was a collection of outtakes and Dee Does Broadway was a pure covers record of broadway classics that I envisioned rocking out, and that’s what I did. We Are The Ones is the first album of completely new, original material and it was written specifically with the intent of going solo. Dee Does Broadway and Never Let The Bastards Wear You Down weren’t solo attempts.
Dee Does Broadway was a very personal record. I remember I told my manager that I wanted to do it and he said, “Who’s going to buy it?” I said, “Probably nobody.” And I was right. I had just come off doing Rock of Ages, and I had always been into musical theater as a fan. Being in a Broadway musical for a few months reconnected me with the music and the power that I think a lot of those songs have, and I wanted to show it in a rock recording.
I thought it was terrific. I’m a big fan of musicals and Broadway myself. So, I really enjoyed it.
Thanks, man! Within the Broadway community, that album is heralded. (laughs) I think most of the copies of that album were sold to people on Broadway. They just loved it. It was respectful. I wasn’t deconstructing. I was interpreting. And the fact that Patti LuPone, Bebe Neuwirth, Cyndi Lauper, and the cast of Priscilla Queen of the Desert – everybody loved it. They said, “This is great!” Because they all grew up on rock. And I was mixing their love of theater and their love of rock into one speedball of entertainment.
And sometimes people don’t see, on the surface, the parallels between musical theater and rock music. For example, I’m a big fan of KISS and Barry Manilow, and both of them are theatrical in nature. So, it make sense to me that you, someone who is also theatrical, would want to sing these songs.
Oh yeah! A lot of rock stars are huge musical theater fans. Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne and Rob Halford, for example. You look at their shows and you’ll see they’re very dynamic and very dramatic. There is a lot of theater involved in them. So, when you have a theatrical performer who says, “I’m a fan of musicals” it shouldn’t be a complete shock. (laughs) When those people say, “Really?” I ask them, “What about the makeup and costumes didn’t scream musical theater?” (laughs) I thought it was pretty obvious, but some people were surprised when I did that record.
Around this time last year, you had a war of words with KISS frontman Paul Stanley that snowballed into a big story. Since you’re performing in Mexico tomorrow as part of the same festival KISS is headlining, is it safe to say that you and Paul are on good terms again?
I haven’t spoken to Paul since our war of words. As I’ve said repeatedly, I’m a KISS fan. I own the first seven albums. And I’ve said things, as a fan, that have upset the band, but if a fan’s not allowed to voice his opinion, who is? If a record-buying concert-going fan isn’t allowed to say what he thinks about a band he’s a fan of, who is allowed to say it? If you’re going to rebut me, that’s fine. Paul chose to slander me and my band. I’m not in awe of anybody, really. While I respect those guys as a fan, I’m gonna’ call them on their shit. You can’t talk about me and my band like that, and I’m gonna’ call you on it. And he wisely went quiet, but he shouldn’t have said anything in the first place.
A lot of times people connect the artist to the art, meaning the personalities. And because they don’t like the personalities, they no longer like the art. Well, most artists aren’t the nicest people in the world. They’re kind of egocentric, narcissistic and bizarre. So, if you look back historically and you find out that Michelangelo was gay and you don’t like that, are you no longer going to appreciate his artwork? When it comes to artists, their art should be separate from who they are. My frustration with KISS bears no reflection on my respect for or enjoyment of their art.
When did you first become a KISS fan?
Day one. I’m old. (laughs) I was into glitter and glam, and there was this buzz that there was this band playing around in makeup, so I was hearing about them before their first album came out. I remember reading Creem magazine and seeing a photo from their showcase. Then, afterward, Alice Cooper went to see them. There was local buzz that this band was coming out. When their first album came out, it had “Kissin’ Time” on it. I was the first person on my block to get a copy of the record. So, I’m a day-one fan.
I’ll say it till I’m blue in the face, if a fan can’t voice his opinion about a band he likes, then who can? Strangers, complete strangers? People who don’t like them? Is it OK for those kind of people to talk shit about them? And I wasn’t even talking shit. The thing that started it all was I said I think it’s reprehensible that Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer are walking around in Peter and Ace’s makeup. I just think it’s wrong, and many fans agree with me. And many don’t. I’m allowed to voice my opinion.
What’s your favorite KISS studio album? And what’s your favorite KISS song?
My favorite KISS album is the first one, and my favorite KISS song is “Strutter.”
How did KISS influence your work as the frontman of Twisted Sister?
Twisted was born before I was in the band. It started in 1973. Jay Jay French was in Wicked Lester with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, and he left to start Twisted Sister. They changed, got Ace and became KISS. So, both bands were out in the same club scene. I was in college at that point, for a year.
Both Twisted Sister and myself were more influenced by David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Slade, and the New York Dolls, than KISS. We were influenced by bands and musicians that influenced KISS.
Speaking of Twisted Sister, the band is performing in Mexico tomorrow as part of its farewell tour. Will this be Twisted Sister’s final performance ever or will there be more dates to look forward to in the future?
Tomorrow will be the final time anyone can see Twisted Sister live.
Congratulations on such a huge milestone.
Thank you. It is huge. Some people say it’s sad, but I see it as crossing a finish line. I’ve been running a very long marathon for many years. I perform at a very high level of intensity and it’s not getting any easier. I have not disappointed anybody, but I live in fear of staying too long and giving fans a lackluster or weak performance. So, I’m crossing the finish line in physically great shape. And I’m joyful because it’s been such a long run.
The album Stay Hungry put Twisted Sister on the map in a big way. While you were recording that record, did you realize you were producing something special?
That’s a good question. No, I don’t think I thought it was any different than any other Twisted Sister record. I did think there were a couple home-run songs on there, and I turned out to be right about that: “I Wanna Rock” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” I don’t remember thinking the album was any different than anything else we’d ever done. But I did notice that Atlantic Records in the U.S. finally decided to push the buttons and spend the money to clear the path for the record to go. Up until then, we had been running into a wall, even with our own record company at home.
In 1985 you, along with John Denver and Frank Zappa, testified against the censorship of music. What was that experience like?
It was eye-opening, on a lot of levels. It showed me the truth of our government as an organization. It was disheartening to see how self-serving and incestuous the government is. It was also disappointing to see how corporations work with the government. For example, when all of us arrived we found out that the RIAA had already agreed to the parental advisory sticker as a compromise to the rating system the PMRC wanted. So, we all said, “Well, why are we here?” I thought we came to have an open discussion about the subject and it was already a forgone conclusion that the sticker was a done deal. So, it was frustrating to see that our own team was involved in back-room negotiations before we even showed up.
I was also disheartened that when I spoke openly about who I am and what I represent that many fans were disappointed that I wasn’t a lifestyler – that I wasn’t a wasted moron. I received backlash from some fans who said I wasn’t a real rocker because I wasn’t a complete fuck-up.
When I first spoke I said that I could only speak for myself, not other artists. Despite this, I got people like Ronnie James Dio openly trashing me – and I was friends with Ronnie – for speaking on behalf of rock and roll, which I never did and I never tried to.
Following the event, my mail was being checked, packages were being watched, phone lines were tapped by the government. So, initially it was not a good experience. But, long-term, I feel great about it and I’ve come out of it looking like a hero, as time has passed. I get a lot of respect and a lot of admiration for what I did, but it wasn’t the smartest thing for me to do, at a career level, at the time.
The censorship of art makes me think of the late, great George Carlin. Not only was he arrested for his art, he frequently spoke about euphemisms and how certain words and phrases have become less impactful as a result of our obsession with being politically correct. He once said, “They’re only words. You can’t be afraid of words that speak the truth, even if they speak of an unpleasant truth.” As an artist, what are your thoughts on this sentiment?
I agree, 100%. It’s why god gave us fingers to change the dial or the station and why he gave us feet to walk away. We don’t have to subject ourselves to things we don’t like to hear, when it comes to art and freedom of speech. And, yet, people will stand there or sit there and listen and subject themselves to these unpleasantries and then go and complain about it. Quite honestly, unless you’re a quadriplegic, you’ve got nothing to complain about. If you’re a quadriplegic, I could understand. You can’t walk away and you can’t change the dial. But, otherwise, shut the fuck up and leave.
Any other new projects you’d like your fans to know about?
I’m always up for doing new things. I didn’t plan on continuing my music career when we announced the end of Twisted Sister. But then I was challenged to try and create new music for a contemporary audience and reinvent myself and bring the Dee Snider message to the masses, and I’m doing it. I hope my old fans will give it a shot and enjoy it, and I hope to attract new ones to join me on this adventure.
I’ve written movies, I’ll be doing more acting, I’ve been doing radio for 25 years now, and I plan on writing more books. So, hopefully, I’ll provide some other form of entertainment – I even have a children’s show in development – for those who don’t enjoy We Are The Ones.