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Dee Snider Says There Was Always More to Twisted Sister Than a ‘Couple of Funny Videos': Exclusive Interview

Dimitrios Kambouris, Getty Images
Dimitrios Kambouris, Getty Images

You can say many things about Twisted Sister, but don’t call them an overnight success. The truth is, the legendary Long Island-bred hard rock group spent a whole lot of days and nights working hard to make their eventual breakthrough happen. According to longtime frontman Dee Snider, the struggle was very real – though largely unrecognized.

“It’s certainly the least known part of Twisted Sister’s history for most and a part that we wish more people knew about. Because without it, we seem like we jumped on the bandwagon and the fact is that we built the f–in’ bandwagon,” Snider says, laughing. “There was no bandwagon! There was no [Motley] Crue or Cinderella or Poison. You know, there was none of these bands. Props to Quiet Riot on the West Coast, carrying the torch over there for the remnants of the glitter era themselves. I often felt that Quiet Riot was sort of our mirror counterparts on the West Coast. But you know, there was no bandwagon to jump on and it always frustrated us, the band, that people would think that. That we just showed up one day like, ‘Hey, we’re putting on the costumes and makeup and here we are, capitalizing on this new exciting scene!’ No, it was nothing like that.”

We Are Twisted F***ing Sister, a new movie by director Andrew Horn (which is being released by Music Box Films), tells that story in depth for the first time through new interviews with all of the band members and longtime associates and fans, surrounded by a wealth of rare and previously unseen footage.

Dee spoke with Ultimate Classic Rock recently about the film and Twisted Sister’s current run of tour dates, a farewell run that has been humorously labeled as “Forty and F– It.” Will this really be the end of Twisted Sister? Snider, as you might imagine, has some colorful things to say about that subject during our conversation.

We Are Twisted F***ing Sister is the new film. I’m curious to know what sort of feelings you had when you first heard about the idea for this documentary.

You know, I thought it was great. I was pleased that someone legit had independently approached the band and discovered our story and wanted to do something. This was not prompted by the band in any way. It has been supported by the band, but Andrew Horn had interviewed [guitarist] Jay Jay [French] and I for a documentary he was doing on a guy named Klaus Nomi. Our paths had crossed apparently more significantly than me and Jay Jay knew. During that time of interviewing us, he got wind of the history behind Twisted Sister and became intrigued. He wasn’t a Twisted Sister fan. He only knew of us peripherally, but he became very intrigued with the idea of a band being together for 10 years before the world finds out about them.

I think you probably know the traditional arc of movies like this. Usually you get like 20 or 30 minutes into the film and it’s like, hey, now the band has made it. That was the interesting thing with this movie is that doesn’t happen at the 20 and 30 minute mark. He spends a long time showing exactly how long you guys spent slogging it out in the clubs.

Yeah, and that was the point. He gets to really the breakthrough point for us, which was doing The Tube and getting our deal with Atlantic Records. And at that point, he feels like, “Alright, you know, the rest is relatively known history.” There’s no need to document that other than to stroke your own egos. I loved the approach and the band – again, to our credit, while we supported it and we encouraged him, he did it out of his own pocket for a long time. After a couple of years, he wanted to go do a GoFundMe, so we helped out with some signed merch and stuff like that. And then it still came up short, so we did a show where we gave the proceeds to him.

But the one thing that we decided from day one, to our credit, is that we would not interfere in the creative process at all. We truly had an objective outsider [who was] friends with no one. He knew nobody and like I said, not a fan. He was aware of us, but he’s older too, so when he was living in New York, we were just sort of background noise. We said, he’s going to get all of the information; he’s going to do the interviews; he’s going to get the footage and he will tell the story as he sees it – uninfluenced by any one side. We stayed true to that, as far as I know. I know I didn’t call him up and say, “Hey dude, you’ve got to do this.” I had very little contact, other than the interviews.

So, what was your reaction to this when you see the film as the guy who lived through all of this? Was there stuff that was in there that you had forgotten about?

No. Unfortunately there are really insane scars all over my back and my body, so I remember every single bump and bruise and fall and stumble and crawl and scrape and punch. But what I did see, stepping back from the forest and viewing the trees, which something like this gives you a chance to do, is how I soured. You know, the anger that I could see going from starting out with the stars in my eyes and just [being] like, “I’m going to be a rock star! I found this great band and we’re going to be famous!” Going from that and then starting to just sort of, not get beaten, but get more battle hardened.

It reflected in the way that I performed and looked, and it reflected in the way I talked. It reflected in every single aspect of it. I could just see how angry I had gotten over the years and how pissed off. But really, it’s that fire, I think, that changed my songwriting. You know, my songs changed and songs like “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “I Wanna Rock,” “You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll,” were born from that. They were born from that refusal to die and the refusal to give up. It’s really what made the band have the success that it had.

Watch Twisted Sister’s Appearance on ‘The Tube’

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Do you recall points where you thought that the band was going to be in the clubs forever? As a unit, were you guys able to keep some sort of positivity and see some sort of end to the game that was positive?

Well, you know, I’ve said that if I had known it was going to take that long, I don’t know if I would have done that. I don’t know if I would have started out and said, “You know, this is the band for me, the one that’s going to take forever!” But you know, you don’t see the mountain. You’re just climbing and you figure it can’t be much further up. [Laughs.] This has got to end soon. But besides that, we had such positive reinforcement from our audience. As the [film] reflected, we were playing to thousands of screaming kids – teenagers – every night.

So, by day, you get a rejection notice but by night, there’s lines around the block with these fanatical fans, wearing Twisted Sister T-shirts. You go, “They gotta be the ones who are right here!” These guys sitting in their towers in New York won’t even come down to the club to see us perform. They don’t know what the f– is going on. These kids on the street, they get it and they feel it. So, that was every day. We were positively affected and lifted up by the outpouring from our audience, and I love the fact that Andrew made them an important part of the story.

For sure.

Because he saw it. This band didn’t have a record out: Why were they getting this adulation? Why was Twisted Sister being treated like they were stars when they were just a local band? What did these people know that the executives didn’t know? Because they obviously did know. So, I love the fact that there’s this acknowledgement of the importance of the fans. Because they were always our – they kept us going, really.

How did he go about tracking down some of those fans that are in the film?

Jay Jay is very big on that aspect of things. He’s a “take a fan to lunch” kind of guy. That’s his bag. So, he has a lot of contacts and then you know, I think one leads to another and to another. That one woman Donna, she travels around the world – still. Now, she’s at the point where we’re just like, “Donna, you don’t have to stand out in the pit. You’re 50.” But she would just be at the barrier at some festival in Barcelona. I’d look down there and I’d go, “Isn’t that that girl who was following us since the ‘70s?”

I told him, if I had my say in the filmmaking, it would have ended with her at the barrier at Sweden Rocks or Bang Your Head, still out there coming to see the band. That’s what she does. But that wasn’t my film to make. But anyway, Jay Jay had some connections with these people and I think that some of the crew people [did as well], and like I said, one person leads to another.

It seems like the band has a pretty good archive of material. It was cool, for example, to see the bonus DVD of the Reading Festival performance from ‘82 that was on the Under The Blade reissue that came out a few years ago. Was there a pretty well-organized archive of film stuff and audio and various memorabilia that he had access to?

Well, first of all, Twisted Sister is the Tupac Shakur of heavy metal. [Laughs.] It’s unbelievable the amount of product we put out. I’m stunned. I’m not an active participant in the machine. I mean, I’m in the band and I’m friends with all of the guys, but the day to day stuff – the way I was back in the ‘80s, so hands on – you know, I’ve got my own personal thing going on. This came out and that came out and I’m going, “They ran cameras at the Reading Festival?” I had no idea they were filming.But again, Jay Jay is very big on that stuff. Him and Mark Mendoza, I guess along the way, they’ve been smart enough to secure some of these pieces and this footage and get the rights to it and get control of it or do deals. So, credit to Jay Jay on that front.

Joe Gerber, who was our tour manager, he’s interviewed quite a bit driving the car in there. He was a big technology guy, so he had all of those Beta videotapes, all of those old recordings – and he was smart enough, like he knew to keep them in cool, dry places. He had the presence of mind, because he came from – we actually got him from an audio/video store that he ran. So, he had the presence of mind to make sure that this stuff was preserved. You know, a lot of these tapes, they put them on and they just shred. They’re worthless because they weren’t stored properly, so credit to Joe Gerber, as well.

Watch Twisted Sister Perform at 1982’s Reading Festival

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It’s got to be a gift for you guys, as the band members who have been through this whole thing, to get a chance for everybody to tell their story – especially now that A.J. Pero is gone.

You know, it was. I think there were truths, be they pretty or ugly – and some were pretty ugly – that should be told and people need to take ownership of. [Laughs.] I’m very big on taking personal responsibility, and also acknowledging some of the ugliness that’s behind the scenes. Again, everybody has this vision that it’s five guys, side by side and we fought the good fight! There’s a truth to that. Somebody said to me, “Well, how can you be at odds, yet be a band?” I said, “Because you have a common enemy.” And the enemy, whether it’s the record companies or the audience – because you know, a band like Twisted Sister, going out in front of some of these audiences, it was a war. You band together. You put your personal problems aside, because you’ve got the bigger enemy to fight and then the minute you’re done with the battle, you go back to bickering and giving each other the finger and stuff. So, you can still be unified and be a gang, even though amongst yourselves, you can be at odds.

This year is the year that it looks like you guys are going to put Twisted Sister on the shelf. When you look back at the history of this group, are you satisfied with what has been accomplished and the legacy that exists today? Has the band finally gotten their due and the respect that’s deserved in your opinion?

Well, first of all, I love the fact that you put the qualifier “looks like,” and with understanding. No more tours, Judas Priest, Scorpions, the list is long and glorious. Our agent is going out, “Hey, Twisted is doing a handful of farewell shows and not even doing a tour – select dates, so there’s a premium on these dates, because they’re really the final ones.” The agent comes back and goes, “Nobody believes you.” [Laughs.] I said, “What do you mean nobody believes you?” They said, “They’ve been burned by every band in the world!” Judas Priest is still going around. The Scorpions did three years and then said, “Ah, we changed our mind!” It’s like, yeah sure, until next year. And I said, “No, seriously! This is for real!” So, anyway, it is for real and you know, no. I mean, the band had too short of a window.

I’ve often taken personal responsibility for wherever I went in my head, making the wrong decisions. All of the right decisions that I made to get us there, I started to make wrong decisions to crash and burn too early. And the band is dismissed as being a flash in the pan, one-hit wonders – actually, two hits. That’s troublesome. The thing that bothers me more than anything is that Twisted Sister is one of the best live bands. We really didn’t tour in the scheme of things on an international scale for that long of a time. There was a couple of years where we were out there in the thick of things. A few years, but we aren’t known as that and it’s a shock to people when we do these festivals and we annihilate everybody. And we do and people are going “Holy s–, I didn’t know!” So, it’s still one of the best-kept secrets.

You know, out of all of the things that I do personally – and I do a lot of things, you know, I act and I do radio and I write screenplays , all of that stuff – the thing that I do best, I front a band and I front it like few front a band. But I’m not [part of that conversation]. I see a list of the greatest frontmen of all time and I’m like 46 and I’m going, “46?” I’m looking at the people in front of me going, “Seriously, Tom Araya?” I mean, nothing against Slayer but I mean, he’s a bass player, he’s not even a frontman! But that just speaks to the fact that, hey – and I think if Tom saw that list, he would go, “Holy s–, I really shouldn’t be in front of Dee.”

I remember that we played some huge festival and I’m going to the stage – oh, it was Heavy Montreal and it was Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer and Twisted Sister’s on the bill. Seventy-five thousand people are going, “What the f– is Twisted Sister doing here?” We’re walking to the stage and I see Kerry King and the band up there and I go, “What are you doing up here, Kerry?” He goes, “I told the guys, you’ve got to go up and watch Dee.” And we took that f–ing place apart. You go look online at Heavy Montreal, it was like, holy s—! Twisted Sister, a bunch of old men, came up there and just melted every f–ing bit and destroyed every band, and nobody saw it coming. So, that’s frustrating to me and so no, I don’t feel like really the band has gotten its due.

Watch an Exclusive Clip From ‘We Are Twisted F***ing Sister’

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With that said, I created the situation. I caused that, so I blame nobody but myself for that. But over the past years since we reunited, we have had the opportunity to do and headline a lot of festivals around the world and do a lot of shows and show people what we do. It’s better than it was when we fizzled out in ‘87. We’re definitely leaving on a better note right now, I feel.

This documentary, you know, not only am I glad that it’s been made, but it’s also being made at a time where people have the opportunity to see documentaries and people are watching documentaries. Netflix and other outlets, people are actually going to the docs. Doing a doc used to be such a PBS, self-serving thing. Nobody saw documentaries. But now people watch them pretty regularly and they can easily access them, so it’s nice to have that story out there and hopefully more and more people will realize it. I remember a number of years ago, I was talking with Jack Irons – the drummer with the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers, the drummer with Pearl Jam, right? He was playing with a band called Eleven at the time.

Great band.

Yeah, they were great. I had just seen the Eleven set and after the show, I had never met Jack before. I’m backstage and we’re talking and you know, one thing and another, we were just talking about our bands. He goes, “Wait a minute, you joined in ‘76?” I said, “Well, yeah.” He goes, “How long was that band together?” “Well, it was eight and a half years with me in the band before we broke.” His face changes and he goes, “That changes everything.” I said, “What do you mean?” They were on the West Coast, so he goes, “We just thought you were just one of those bands. You know, hair metal, Motley Crue, Ratt, here’s Twisted Sister, you know? It’s like, let’s just put on some costumes and makeup. We just thought that was what you guys were. But now that I know that, it just changes everything.” So, I hope with this documentary, a few more people will go, “well, that changes everything!” [Laughs.] You know, “that’s not what I thought about this band. There was way more to this band than just a couple of funny videos and two catchy anthems.”

I guess that’s kind of the benefit with all of the information that we have access to these days. Now, people can find out the story – because, as you’re aware, certainly it got to a point where there were the bands like yours that had come up and paid the dues and all of that kind of stuff, and then there was just a whole sea of bands that were put together by labels. So, with everything you’re hearing on the radio at that time, it’s easy to think that a lot or all of that stuff was manufactured – and obviously it wasn’t.

It’s a natural assumption. I mean, I deal with this daily. Every time I do an interview, except obviously with a magazine like yours, I get on the phone and they go, “You know, I went to your website and I had no idea. You were on Broadway?” Like you said, the information is accessible, but now you’ve just got to hope that the people access it so that they can learn the truth about me and the band as a whole.

Where are things at with the new solo record that you’ve been working on?

Well, I promised the guys that I wouldn’t talk too much about this stuff, because it winds up being the headline. So, I’ll just say that half of it is done. I’m heading into the studio at the end of [February] to complete it and I expect it to be released probably in the fall of this year. I’m taking a break with the Rock & Roll Christmas Tale, which has been taking up my falls for the past couple of years. We’re going to pick it up next year and do a tour with it. I’m taking a break, so I can actually have that time to release, promote and do what you should do when you put out a new record – not just throw it out there and let it die on the vine. [Laughs.]

So, we’re actually focusing on it later this year. But right now, I’ve got this and then I’ve got Forty and F– It. It’s only eight shows right now. I think it will probably get up to a grand total of about 10, and we’re going to call it a day. And yes, promoters, you won’t see Twisted Sister calling to go back out and do more shows.

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