Fireworks Magazine Online 84: Interview with Dee Snider

CE Updated


Interview by Sonia Waterfield

Dee Snider: Icon, Metal Legend, and a man who has lived a surprisingly healthy and honest life-style considering his long career at the forefront of the American Heavy Metal scene.

Fireworks hooks up with Dee as he shares everything from the his time in Twisted Sister and the 'intimate parts' of his life — in more ways than one — to discussing his brand new solo album 'For The Love Of Metal' and working with producer Jamey Jasta (Hatebreed).

Dee Snider Fireworks Interview

So how did you first get into Metal?

The Metal journey? Not the Rock and Roll journey, the Metal journey. The birth, the ugly breach birth of Heavy Metal. I'm old, I'm an original head-banger — day one Blue Cheer, day one Grand Funk, day one Black Sabbath, day one Led Zeppelin first album ... wasn't even called Metal, it was called Hard Rock and it was the first music form that actually alienated certain music fans. Up to that time in Rock and Roll — and Woodstock is a perfect example — everybody listened to everything. Everybody listened to everything and they shared, watched Richie Havens and they watched The Who and Ten Years After, Crosby, Stills & Nash and they'd cheer as loud for everybody. And then came this music that some people didn't like and then others of us, these angry young men and women, mainly men from suburban and rural areas, were like no, we like this, fuck Richie Havens — and I proudly swung a sledgehammer to destroy the Woodstock nation. And I just turned from Hard Rock and became more and more focused as Heavy Metal. I was right there at the forefront of the movement.

Before Twisted Sister, you were in bands that were not really, well, Metal...

Yeah, I have been in bands since I was 9, sort of Beatle bands, you know. I always leaned towards the things that had a harder edge. I remember when Sabbath arrived, I was in a band that only played Black Sabbath, that's all we played. It was because they took it to another level, defining the genre, which by the way should be pointed out, they didn't know they were defining. They were a Jazz Blues fusion band that went horribly wrong. They were like, "Oh shit, we have created a new genre of music", but you would see them live and in the middle, Tony would go into like a little jazz break and the audience would sit there and go "What's going on?" He was still in the Jazz Fusion band.

None of these bands that have made the big changes in Metal think of themselves as Metal bands. AC/DC, they wouldn't call themselves a Metal band, they think of themselves as a Rock band. Metal absorbed elements of their style but they themselves don't consider themselves to be a Heavy Metal band and neither do Black Sabbath nor Led Zeppelin.

So what lessons do you think you learned from your time in Twisted Sister?

That's a very interesting question that I've never been asked. Twisted Sister was the greatest chapter of my life and certainly the vehicle that allowed me to realise my dreams, and then subsequent other dreams. I've done so many things since then but it all would never have happened. I wouldn't have been on Broadway or Rock of Ages if not for Twisted Sister, I wouldn't be doing a National Radio show if not for my time in Twisted Sister. So it started everything.
The greatest lesson learnt from it all I learnt very, very, late. Don't wear pastel Spandex on stage. I learnt this only recently, years after I stopped wearing pastels. I met some girls who used to come see us and the boys, because my wife would make me pink and yellow and baby blue Spandex which I would wear proudly. And these girls said, "You know that we can see your penis?" [laughs]. I was like, "Yeah, the outline, sure".

And they said, "No, no. You would sweat and the lights would hit the pastel yellow and blue and you can see entirely through your pants." I said to my wife, "Did you know you can see through my fucking spandex?" She said, "Yeah, you didn't?" [laughs].

Moving on from that valuable lesson, how did you manage to stay out of the stereotypical sex n' drugs part of the business?

The drugs part, and alcohol ... my very first drinking experience was so bad. I was 14 and the first time I drank, I couldn't just have one drink at 14, I drank until I was practically paralysed on the floor vomiting and I just thought, "You can't do this because you will die. You may be that guy." So if I'd had a different experience I may not have stopped but fortunately I had that really bad one.

As far as the sex part, that is weird. Certainly I'm a dude and I had fantasies that any dude had, but I always knew that I was going to be successful. I was convinced, and I always had this concern that when I'm famous, how am I going to know if a girl likes me for me, or for my money or my success. I met this girl in the very, very, early days, literally; we had no following, no popularity ... just a weird band. Not only did she have no interest in me, but she didn't own a stereo, didn't own a record, didn't care about music. And for some reason I said, "This is my girl." She's extremely hot. You'll find her on any top ten Rock stars' wives list. I just thought, "If I can win this girl's heart, I'll know it's for all the right reasons, because she loves me and I'll know that I have someone who is there for the right reasons". Forty-two years later ... she was there when I had nothing, there when I had everything, there when I lost everything and I never thought for a minute she would leave. She just went back to work and is still here with me today. She did the costumes, she did the makeup, she did the hair, she did the bone logo for the band; she became the woman behind the man and look, if I was screwing around on her by this point it will be on YouTube, Facebook, or something [laughs].

Moving back into history, when the notorious PMRC targeted Twisted Sister, what were your thoughts at that time?

Long term it's made me into some kind of folk hero, honestly. It's added to a legendary career and it's historic and now encourages any course of censorship chapter of that moment in time. It turned out to be great long term. Short term it was not the best career choice. You know I was always open about my clean and sober lifestyle, in my belief system, in being married, having kids. You know I was on a world stage, and for the first time on a grand scale a lot of fans found out these things about me. I always thought that's the beauty of Rock and Roll, you can be what you want to be. I found out, guess what? You're not allowed. They want you to be a certain person. They want the life-stylers, the people who are just as fucked-up off stage as they are on-stage. That was disheartening for me, hurtful to our career. My phones were tapped, my mail was checked, my packages were checked. I became public enemy number one for a short time within the government. They hated the fact that I went there and made it look foolish. I'm not saying that's the only thing that damaged the band, but MTV banned one of our videos as a token gesture.

I remember after a show, meeting a fan who was wearing a Dokken shirt, saying, "Twisted Sister is my favourite band, I love you guys, almost everything blah blah blah." I ask, "Well, what are you doing wearing a Dokken shirt?" and they go, "Oh, my parents can't know that I was here." My parents can't know that I'm here?! As far as the parents were concerned we were public enemy number one, as far as the kids were concerned we were kinda the least bad of the bunch. Short term it was not a good thing, long term, I've never been one to do the smart thing, I do what I believe to be is the right thing, the thing that I want to do. So long term, I'm proud of that moment in time.

I remember Ronnie Dio and others, particularly Ronnie Dio. That crushed me. In a Rock magazine he went off: "Who the fuck is Dee Snider to speak on our behalf?" and the first words that I said in my speech were, "I cannot speak for the others." He didn't even hear. Ronnie Dio, one of the smart ones, didn't even listen to my speech and just passed judgement on me. That's the kind of stuff I was suffering through; no support from the community, the fans were apathetic. It didn't seem like a big deal to most of them, and they just didn't get it. Ronnie probably apologised when he found out the truth, but it was just hurtful when I thought I was doing a service and my own community, for the most part, just turned their backs on me.

No interview would be complete without talking about your infamous and iconic track 'We're Not Gonna Take It'. Did you ever think it would ever be as big as it was?

No! I thought it would be a hit. I mean I didn't know what kind of hit, but a Rock hit. I remember, we were working, we're recording a song called 'The Bad Boys of Rock & Roll' for the 'Under The Blade' album and I was telling the guys, "I've got another one, it's a killer. It's not ready yet but I already have the chorus". I didn't know it would become so big ... it's practically a Folk song now. Everywhere in the world they know the song. A lot of people don't know who recorded it, they just know the song. So it's amazing as a songwriter to see a song take a life of its own, but was it expected? No.

Moving on to your new album, 'For The Love Of Metal', how did the relationship between you and Jamey Jasta (Hatebreed vocalist) start?

I was on his podcast and he said, "I have a challenge for you." I asked what, because as far as I was concerned, I was done. Done recording new music. He said, "I challenge you to do a contemporary Metal record. Think Rob Halford 'Resurrection'. Your iconic voice with new sounding Metal" and I asked, "Who's producing?" Jamey said "I am". I asked, "Who's writing?" You see, I wrote every Twisted song. I stopped writing in the 90s, so we sound like a 80s Rock show. As much as I love new bands, I couldn't write new sounding music unless I was imitating them and that's not genuine. Twisted Sister worked because I wasn't imitating, I was in it, in the thick of it and at the forefront and it helped me to create what became a time in the music scene, the Hair Metal era. I was a part of it; it was very real, very genuine. Here, I can't do that anymore. Jamey said, "Dee, everybody's gonna wanna write for you."

So we went into the studio, recorded song one, no recording budget, no record deal and it just started to gel. It was better on both sides; better than I thought it was going to be as far as me fitting with these newer sounding songs, and better than they thought it was going to be with me fitting with these songs. Then suddenly, as Jamey started playing it for people, friends of his, people from Lamb of God, Disturbed, Killswitch Engage ... they started to think, "We want to get involved in this. How about we have some song ideas for Dee?" Everybody started contributing and working. Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy) duets with me, Howard Jones (Killswitch Engage) duets with me and it became this passion project, again with no record deal, no budget, just for the love of Metal. That's where the title came from, because it couldn't have been more genuine. There was nothing in it but the passion of making a great record and hopefully we did.

You did. I have listened to it several times and it's fantastic.

You know what? People, many people are pleasantly surprised! [laughs]. The biggest compliment, and I take it as a compliment — "I wasn't expecting that."

Jamey really thought this record out. He said, "Dee, this is important to me on many levels. You're a hero of mine but I challenge many people to do this, you're the first person to say yes." [laughs]. I was like, "Oh shit, alright, you got to deliver on this."

I see it, I got the idea for it. I want it to be amazing. He wanted to bring in fans, wanted to bring newer fans, he wanted to cross-over whilst still being Metal, a real Metal record. He didn't want to just have one sound, which a lot of records do. So he worked so hard on this record, and I'm really happy that he's already been getting offers to produce other artists, major Metal artists, because people are hearing it. Somebody asked me, "What's your advice to a heritage artist who wants to make a new sounding record?" I said, "Hire Jamey Jasta" because he did not steer me wrong.

He's done an amazing job. The lyrics and the music itself are quite positive.

Again, this is the thing that I gotta be clear on. With Twisted Sister, I wrote every single song: every word, every melody, every guitar part, everything. This record I did not write one thing. Now I stopped writing in the 90s because I said I found myself trying to imitate instead of lead and I got called on it. On my last record with Widowmaker, one reviewer said "some guy's trying to sound like the younger bands," and I was doing exactly that! I thought, "Oh man." I was trying to sound like somebody else so I decided that I was just going to back away.

So I said, "Jamie, I can't write the songs". Jamey climbed in my skin. We talked a lot, we talked about what I wanted to say. He told me he listened to everything I ever did — everything. So he understood my voice, understood my range and understood where I came from. He asked, "What do you want to say now? Who do you wanna be? What are we talking about here?" I talked about bullying, I talked about being the voice of the oppressed, even though I'm a happy grown man now with family and success, I know I am the voice for others, I can be the voice for others. For the frustrated people, the angry people. I've got that tone. I've got that attitude. I can represent. There were political things I wanted to talk about. So Jamey brought songs to me. And just to show you how much he climbed into my skin, and this should blow your mind... [big intake of breath] During the making of this record, the recording which went from about September/October to January, my 85 year old mother, who was the epitome of health, as an active an old woman as you can imagine, was hit by a car, brain damaged, hospitalised, a vegetable for two months and then died. And Jamey said, "Do you want to pause all recording?" and I said, "No Jamie. Metal has always been this emotional outlet." That's the beauty of Metal, whether it's performing it or recording it or just rocking out to it. It releases these darker emotions.

The last song recording ... I'd just buried my mother and was recording a song called 'I'm Ready'. I'm recording, and suddenly I stopped recording. Jamey's not there. Nikki Bellmore (co-producer and engineer) is there. The line I was singing was, "Death leaves a sorry that no-one can heal, Love leaves a memory no-one can steal." I stopped and I go, "Nikki, did Jamey write this about my mum?" He said, "Yeah, he wrote that for you." He saw what I was suffering through and wrote a song, or a statement, for me about facing mortality and loss of a loved one. And that was the last song recorded. That's how much he was feeling Dee Snider. When he delivered this song to me, it was like his words were coming out, they were my own words, and I could sing them with such passion, which is important, and sing with such belief because there wasn't a lie on the record. There was no like, "What am I singing here?" Oh, I know what I'm singing, I believe every single word, this is Dee Snider. So Jamey Jasta, thank you.

So what is in the future for Mr Snider?

I'm gonna do some live shows starting in the first week of July, but this wasn't planned to be for the 'Love Of Metal' because there was no plan. Most record deals, albums are recorded with an entire game plan. This is what we are writing, this is what we are recording, this is the release, this is the promotion, this is the tour — a long range plan. We had no record deal. So that's why the record has been released on July 27th, what a terrible release date. We didn't plan Spring or Summer touring. So I have a handful of dates right now but with the positive reception of the record, the intention is to continue moving forward. I'm already booked for every Metalfest; Hellfest, Bloodstock, and everybody is like booking me already for 2019, because they know about this Metal record and Metal band and entering the contemporary world of Metal. There is so much interest in that album. There will definitely be a lot of live shows coming.

It has been so unexpected. I was done, I did not expect to see this happening at 63. I welcome it. It is exciting. I'm up for the challenge as I was in the studio. No-one will be disappointed. Anybody who sees me live is never disappointed. It's just unexpected. The record label has a two record deal. They've already said they are taking their option. So in our minds even though it's down the road, 'For The Love Of Metal 2' is somewhere on the horizon, so I think I found my place in the contemporary world of Heavy Metal and I couldn't be happier. I hope people enjoy the record.

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