Interview Date: 06/18/2008
Run Date: 06/29/2009
Nobody makes 15 minutes go by faster than Dee Snider, the outspoken but extremely personable lead singer for cross-dressing metal gods Twisted Sister. From the moment we started our latest chat with Dee, we were wishing for more time. He, of course, is promoting the 25th anniversary release of Stay Hungry, Twisted Sister’s most successful album, and we were only happy to talk about the band’s wacky videos (torturous, if you ask him) and whether they were really blown off the stage by Anvil, as the latter band’s hit documentary suggests. Unfortunately, that meant not getting to ask him about his appearance on IFC show “Z Rock,” the band’s Christmas album from a couple years ago, and his gig as host of those VH-1 Classic holiday shows, where everybody looks like Dean Martin on Johnny Carson’s couch when the final credits roll. Still, Snider offered some pointed remarks about working with producer Tom Werman, Tim Burton’s choice of dress on the set of his feature film debut, and why Kiss should forever hang their heads in shame.
Bullz-Eye: How are you doing?
Dee Snider: I’m doing good. You know, busy, and that’s all good. After the doldrums of the ‘90s, it’s good to be busy.
BE: You guys shot a video for the new song “30” last week. Is Mark Metcalf making a cameo?
DS: No, no Mark Metcalf. This video is really a performance piece. As a matter of fact, the people doing the video were going, “Well, where’s the funny stuff? How come it’s not funny?” I’m like, “I don’t want to do a funny video this time.” I mean, we have cornered the market on funny video. This is more along the lines of “The Price” video, where it’s a performance piece. But it plays to the song itself “30,” which is about us still rocking out like we used to but holy shit, where have the years gone? So it’s that kind of reflection with new performance footage and vintage stuff in the there as well.
BE: Now a couple of us on the Bullz-Eye staff also contribute to a blog called Popdose. Tom Werman writes a column about his experiences as a producer for Popdose. What can you tell me about working with Werman on Stay Hungry?
DS: Well, as you probably well know, Tom Werman and I do not speak well of each other.
BE: Actually, he hasn’t gotten to the point where he has talked about your record yet. So I’ll be honest, I know nothing about your relationship.
DS: We were not crazy about being assigned Tom Werman as a producer. His job…he has pop sensibilities and he is sent in to clean up dirty white boys, like Molly Hatchet and Ted Nugent; Motley [Crue] and Twisted [Sister] and Kix and Poison and all these bands. He’s had a lot of success doing it, but that’s his job. So we, in fairness to Tom, we didn’t really want to be cleaned up, and the record company said, “We need to clean you guys up.” So it was a fight, a struggle for me and the band fighting to keep our heavy metal roots, credibility and respectability. And Tom wanted to take us further and further away from it. So that was a battle, an ongoing battle. I mean, Tom was not a fan of the band. He admitted he knows what bands to work with judging by the record company’s enthusiasm for them. I asked him honestly, because he used to be an A&R guy, I said, “Would you have signed Twisted Sister?” And he goes, “No.” He was honest; I can’t hold that against him. But at the same time it just sort of…when someone is working with a band that they really didn’t think was worth being signed in the first place, there’s got to be some problem there. He didn’t want “We’re Not Gonna Take It” or “I Wanna Rock” on the record.
DS: I hard sold him on both those songs. He said “I Wanna Rock” was a Molly Hatchet thing and it’s been done. And he thought that “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was childish. He’s been very upset that I have spoken out about him, his production abilities and whatever. And he speaks out about me. But in fairness to me, in the liner notes of this CD, I suggested that we let Tom Werman put his two cents in because I knew he was dying to speak out and be heard by our audience. I said, “Let him put it on there; fair is fair.” I mean, I’m sure I was no walk in the park, either. So anyway, it was a very successful union. Do I think it was because Tom Werman was involved? No, actually, I don’t. From Under the Blade to You Can’t Stop Rock ‘n’ Roll, we were building a head of steam. We were destined to break, and it was going to happen either way. Tom Werman, like I said, he was an A&R guy originally, so he has a sense for when bands are going to be pushed. He likes to get involved with those projects, and he successfully has, many, many times.
BE: I don’t know if anyone’s told you this before, but while I was listening to the album again with a fresh set of ears, in the first half of “Horror-Teria”, I’m pretty sure I heard the birth of Alice in Chains.
DS: No one has ever said that to me before. You know what? I wouldn’t be surprised, because these guys, all those Seattle bands, what do you think they grew up on? What do you think they were listening to? They were hair metal and heavy metal fans. They took it in another direction, but what else were they going to be listening to at that time? I was reading, skimming what’s his name? Kurt Cobain’s diary. And in his diary he said “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is ripped off from “More Than a Feeling” by Boston.
DS: (Humming the big riff from “More Than a Feeling.”) Sound familiar?
DS: I told Tom Scholz, that and his jaw dropped. He was like, “Holy shit.” I said, “Yeah, dude, he admitted it in his diary. He said ‘I’ve got this song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and it’s pretty much a rip off of “More Than a Feeling” by Boston.’” So we can only regurgitate what we hear. It’s the first time I’ve heard [the Alice in Chains comparison], but if they came up to me and said, “Dude”…as a matter of fact, I have met the Alice in Chains guys and they said they were fans, now that I think about it.
BE: There you go.
DS: They didn’t say specifically, “Hey, we got inspiration from your music” or whatever, but they were fans. They were very cool, the remaining guys.
BE: Please explain the origin of the last track on the bonus disc, with you doing an impression of Alvin and the Chipmunks.
DS: I guess it was simply studio boredom. Geoff Workman – who really is the mastermind behind any sort of positive aspect of the production of the Stay Hungry record – it was all Geoff Workman, who did Motley Crue Shout at the Devil and was a producer himself. I really enjoyed working with Geoff. He was my saving grace. As a matter of fact, I’ll get back to your question, but at one particular trying time during the production when I was just battling with Werman endlessly, Geoff said, “What’s the matter?” I said, “Dude, I’m just worried about this record. I think Tom is screwing up my record.” He said, “Dude, don’t worry about it, this thing is definitely going platinum.” I said, “It’s going platinum?” He goes, “Oh yeah, this record’s going platinum, I’m telling you.” I said, “You want to put that in writing?” He said okay. So I’m looking at a laminated piece of paper from a notebook that is taped on my triple platinum Stay Hungry record. It says, “The record I am presently working on with Twisted Sister is guaranteed to go at least platinum or I resign. Signed, Geoff Workman and witnessed by Gary Mc…” I can’t read his name, but he was the assistant engineer. (Note: That would be Gary McGachan.) So I don’t know, it made me laugh. But years later I found that and said, “Holy shit!” He said, “If this doesn’t go platinum, I’ll quit the business.”
But Geoff, we were in the studio and I guess he was putting some effects on my voice, which people have done all the time. There is this thing called the Harmonizer they used to use, and it’s just supposed to make your voice sound a little thicker. He hit the control and it went too far and the voice goes into this little munchkin voice. So I said, “Hold it, hold it, hold it,” and I started singing “The Lollipop Guild”. Geoff’s like, “Wait, wait, let me get this on tape.” So that’s how “Lollipop Guild” song came about. It was just studio boredom and studio hijinks.
BE: Which was more fun, shooting the real videos for “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock,” or shooting the fake video for “Burn in Hell” in “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure”?
DS: More fun? I gotta say…videos are pretty torturous. They are long days, hurry up and wait. It was summertime, and it was hot. So you know, they are not really enjoyable experiences, they are done in little bits and pieces. It’s like “Okay, go,” and then (singing) “We’re not gonna take it.” “Okay, cut, we’ll do that again.” I was like, “I only sang four words, dude.” “I know, that’s good. Let’s do that a few more times. Okay, try a different angle.” So the “Burn in Hell” thing was like one or two takes, and I got to sit on the set, hanging out with Pee Wee on a major studio [lot], Warner Brothers, I believe it was. And it was Tim Burton’s second movie. (Note: it was actually Burton’s first full-length movie.) So I remember going to Pee Wee, “Who’s that dude over there?” And Tim is walking around the set dressed exactly like Pee Wee, except he’s got this crazy, curly hair. Tim was nobody then, that was his first big movie. He goes, “Oh, that’s Tim Burton, he’s the director.” I said, “He’s a fucking nut man, he’s dressed like you.” He goes “Yeah, I know.” So I would have to say “Burn in Hell,” long answer, “Burn in Hell” was more fun, just in the simplicity of just hanging out and just doing it once or twice.
BE: I was watching the Anvil movie (“Anvil! The Story of Anvil”), and your guitarist is on record as saying they were one of the few bands to blow Twisted Sister off the stage. Is that right?
DS: I’m really pissed off about that.
DS: Because they are the only band that ever blew Twisted Sister off the stage, once. Once. I was at the [movie] premiere and told [my other band members], “Three bands? Who the fuck else?” “Well, Metallica that one time.” I said “Metallica didn’t blow us off the stage, are you kidding me?” I mean, I’m not discrediting [Metallica], I’m just proud of my live performing ability. I also want to give props to Anvil for pulling off the impossible. Nobody wants to go on after us. But the stars were aligned. We’re in Holland; they were on and we were off; Holland just really loves black, speed metal and everything. We were not a black metal or speed metal band at our core, although we tend to play fast. I remember coming up the stage going, “Holy shit, I think Anvil just blew our asses off the stage.” The whole band was like, “Shit,” that, like, never happens. I mean, yeah, we’ve had people that have been competitors, like when we toured with [Iron] Maiden, it was a great show.
BE: I saw that tour, actually.
DS: You saw it, right? That was a great tour. We didn’t step on each others toes musically, and we’re both real performing bands. So they weren’t threatened by us; they held their own and we held our own, do you know what I mean? We’ve had plenty of times where the bands have been up to snuff, but only once, and yes, at the Paradiso, in 1984, in Holland, Anvil did blow us off the stage. Give credit where credit is due.
BE: I’m sure they are going to love hearing that.
DS: Oh, I’ve told them straight out. I’ve talked to Lipps, and I’m so happy for those guys. They are just good guys. Back then we were all shoulder to shoulder, you know? There was Twisted and there was Metallica and Anthrax and Anvil and Saxon. All these bands and we were just shoulder to shoulder. Maiden, Motorhead, and we were all just fighting the good fight. Slowly, people’s careers went in different directions. Some went crazy, like Metallica; Twisted had a big career. And Anvil just faded into oblivion. So they are getting a little attention, and I think that’s great.
BE: We’re running short on time but I wanted to get this one question out. I understand that Twisted Sister are retiring the outfits and makeup at the end of the year. Promise me that this will not result in the Twisted Sister equivalent of “Let’s Put the ‘X’ in Sex.”
DS: “Let’s Put the ‘X’ in…” What is that?
BE: That’s a Kiss song. You’ve fortunately forgotten it.
DS: Oh! Oh my God, yeah. (Acts as if he’s spitting out something foul) You know what, the fact that they’ve ever been forgiven for “I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” you people, your tolerance for bullshit is unbelievable, the Kiss Army. I like Kiss. I mean, I’m a Kiss fan, but that was disgraceful. I did not forgive them, and they are playing it in their set now. They play it in their fucking set, a disco song. They should have been shunned, and nobody shunned them. They should still be shunned for that. Be that as it may, no, we will not be the “‘X’ in Sex”. I have mixed feelings about retiring the makeup and costumes. I know I look like an aging drag queen, but I always look like an aging drag queen, so nothing has changed. I still pull it off. But it’s sort of like, I think the time may have come. So yeah, this is the last year. And the “30” video, it will give you a good idea of us when you see it. It’s a performance piece, but with no makeup or costumes on with a lot of footage from the past, with the makeup and costumes on. You kind of say, “Okay, I could see these guys rocking out without the makeup and costumes; they rock.” Bottom line, we rock.
BE: I wish we had another 15 minutes because I wanted to ask you about “Z Rock.” I wanted to ask you about the Christmas album.
DS: You know what? Feel free to call whoever you called to set this up. Just schedule another call.
BE: Well you know, maybe I’ll just send it by email. We can do it that way.
DS: I can’t. I can’t write. I mean I can, but I write for a living and so now I’ve got to write other people’s emails and articles. No, I don’t do that. But if you want to just reach out, set something up, I would be glad to talk to you again.
BE: I would appreciate that. Thanks Dee, you take care.DS: Okay. Good talking to you.