I'll be the first to admit that when I was introduced to the collected works of Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey-born Heavy Metal icons Twisted Sister via the woefully-underrated Love Is For Suckers (1987), I was immediately 'hooked'. Fortified throughout via an array of radio-ready material (most notably “Hot Love”, “Me And The Boys” and “You Are All That I Need”) that boldly intertwined their now-trademark tonalities with an unabashed commercial element, it would unfortunately serve as the oft-embattled group's proverbial death knell. Now, with the untimely passing of drummer AJ Pero signaling an end to their protracted--albeit highly-successful--reunion, frontman Dee Snider, always a man of many words and interesting stories, was kind enough to speak with us regarding, among other things, the release of Metal Meltdown: Live At The Hard Rock Casino Las Vegas DVD
Todd: What made 2016 an ideal time for Twisted Sister to officially embark on a farewell tour? Were there personal or professional reasons that precipitated the decision to retire or did things eventually run their course?
Dee: “You're asking the wrong guy. I really don't know why it has to lead to this. I've been trying to say farewell for about ten years now. I love the guys and I have a great time with them. I wanted to reunite to fix things and the problems that we had. We weren't talking and a lot of us were bitter enemies. I felt that Twisted had gone out with a whimper and I wanted to go out with more of a roar. It actually began at the end of our Live At Wacken: The Reunion (2005) performance. It was unbelievable. There were seventy-five thousand people there. It was the perfect weather, the perfect night and the perfect crowd. The band was on fire and it was all documented by a twenty camera high def shoot. It was an A plus on every level. I walked the stage and said guys, that was perfect. It will never get better than that. It may be equal to that, but you can't do better than an A plus across the board. I was like 'Can we call it quits?' and the guys said 'Seriously? No'. ...That was when I started the campaign to say 'We've done what we have to do'. To me it' a reunion, ya know? To me, it's a reunion and it's not meant to be a fart in a paper bag where the smell never goes away. A lot of other reunion tours have set a precedent for the fart in the paper bag tour, so I guess we sort of just fell in to the thing. We reunited and now we've been together longer in reunion than we were the first time around. Ultimately, it was the passing of AJ that finally got everybody on the same page. Do we want to be that band that slowly drops off members or do we want to be the band that was the same five guys through it all, through thick and thin? We decided to be that band rather than one of those bands that eventually just has one member that shows up when they feel like it. I won't mention the other bands, but they're essentially tribute bands. ...We don't want to go out as a tribute band.”
Todd: At this point, what's 'next' for you? Creatively, what can we expect from your post-Twisted Sister careers?
Dee: “I have, since the band first broke up and during the time the band's been together, always continued to expand my brand, my footprint and my value. I've been doing radio for over twenty years. I've been on Broadway, I've written books, I've done movies, I've Produced, I've written screenplays, done a shitload of reality TV. ...I've done so many things and I have no intention of stopping those things and continued to expand on those things. I don't want to stop making music or doing radio or acting. It's just the Twisted Sister chapter that's will be finished. ...When that's done and we've closed the door, then I will start talking about my projects.”
Todd: What separates the Twisted Sister farewell tour(s) from the farewell tours of your contemporaries? What made it more 'special'? Was there an element of authenticity that might have been missing from tours of others?
Dee: “There's a few things. For one thing, it's the original guys. A long time ago, before Twisted Sister reunited, I was doing solo shows with a side project called SNS, which was me touring and playing Twisted Sister music. At one of those shows, all the guys came down. This is pre-dating our reunion. It was a 'sticking your toe in the water' type of thing. They came up on stage, took the instruments from everybody and we played. At the end of the set, my wife who's been with me for forty years now and has played a very integral part with the makeup and costumes, said 'Dee, I would love to tell you that your solo band sounded better than the guys in Twisted Sister or that there was no difference, but I can't tell you that'. She said 'There is something when you guys get, it's just an intangible, that you guys play together and you said, it was unbelievable. It was like somebody flipped a switch'. She said 'I'm not saying that you doing the Twisted Sister stuff with the solo band was bad. It was great, but when the guys in Twisted Sister got up there with you, it was just something I can't explain'. Yes, there's that and that plays to the passing of AJ and us not wanting to call it a day and not wanting to lose that and have it become Dee Snider with a bunch of other guys. That's assuming I outlive everybody, which is my plan. ...Also, we didn't play very often, so for me, one of the great things about not playing very often is it brought back some of the magic that was lost when you make music your job. When I first started, it was such a rare occurrence. Like a show every three months, and you'd find yourself looking forward to it, counting down the days. There's that excitement. Then, somewhere along the way, it becomes your job and you've got an eighty man crew, you've got all these semis and responsibilities and you're playing night after night after night. I'm not sitting here wining and bitching 'Oh, my life sucks'. But you don't have that spontaneity. You're now on a schedule, you're on a clock and you've got to do it. Unless you're (Guns 'n' Roses frontman) Axl Rose, you've got to do it. You've got to get up there and it doesn't matter if you feel like shit one day. You get guilted by everybody. 'Oh dude, everybody's all set up'. You could be like 'Dude, I'm throwing my guts up and I feel like I'm going to die' and they'll be like 'Yeah, but everybody's already here'. There's this pressure. We don't have that. But we play so infrequently, we're happy to see each other. We also don't have problems because I don't abuse my voice like I did back in the day singing night after night. I sing a show, take a couple days off, sing a show, take a week off, sing a couple of shows and take two weeks off. It allows you to be fresher. I could have just said 'It's because we're that much better than everybody else', but that wouldn't have been honest. I'm trying to recognize that fact that we're blessed to be able to do this as almost a hobby and really just enjoy everything.”
Todd: How did the group become involved with (ex-Dream Theater/The Winery Dogs drummer) Mike Portnoy?
Dee: “Well i wasn't kind of nothing. We had talked about picking replacements, and AJ said Mike Portnoy. I don't think he was planning on dying. We played very infrequently, and just being really frank, they were big money dates. We play for money. I'm going to shock people, but when you play so infrequently, to cancel a show can be economically catastrophic. Everybody picked a replacement to fill in in the event they couldn't make a show. Two years ago in Europe when (bassist) Mark 'The Animal' Mendoza couldn't do the show, his replacement stepped in. AJ had picked Mike Portnoy and Portnoy said 'I'd love have the opportunity to play with Twisted Sister'. Mike used to go see us back in the club days, so for him, it was like a dream come true. You're talking about bucket list kind of stuff, ya know? Then AJ passed away. It felt like we were being true to his wishes. Of course (former drummer) Joe Franco (Magellan, Steve Walsh, Vinnie Moore) is a great friend. He was a natural choice if Mike had been unable. It came down to those two and Mike made himself available.”
Todd: In regards to the Love Is For Suckers (1987) era, do you feel it was the 'straw that broke the camels back'?
Dee: “It was supposed to be solo album. The band had had a rough ride with Come Out And Play (1985), and basically, we were like 'Let's take a break'. I was going to go do a solo record and AJ went off and did Cities (i.e. Annihilation Absolute, 1986) and then the record company and management pressured us to do the record as the band. I think that was a catastrophic mistake. I think if the band would have taken that break from each other and taken a little space publicly, because we were so overexposed, then the whole thing would have come back a few years later. We could have put together a record and it might be a whole different history. They forced us into a room together when were already getting on each other's nerves and pulled us into a record we weren't ready to make. Musically, there were some things that worked for Twisted Sister, but it really wasn't a Twisted Sister record. ...I don't want to say everything was their fault, but it certainly contributed to the end of the band.”
Todd: What was the main motivation behind the group choosing to prolong your farewell tour? It's not often you see a group spread out a finale over a truly extended period of time. Was it a matter of it being world-wide?
Dee: “It's mainly because of me. I refused to tour. It took me a very long time to establish other creative outlets for myself. What happens when you tour is that even though you feel like time has stopped, when you come back home, there and people have moved on. There are so any opportunities or projects that you got started that have now dried up. ...Other ventures require concentrated attention or they dry up, so I can't commit to a life on the road. I don't really want to. When the band reunited, I said 'I'll do fly-aways, I'll do one offs, but I'm not getting back in the van, so to speak'. It's worked really well for Twisted Sister because it's made us a hot commodity and at a lot of festivals, we're headlining over bands that sold way more records than us and getting paid more money. Those bands will complain and the promoters will say 'Well, they haven't been here in five years. You were here last month at a club'. Those bands de-value themselves by being out there so much, where with Twisted Sister, because we show up so rarely, it's an event. Events are worth money and they're worth billing and they're worth a lot of things, so we come in as heroes. It works out really great. As far as a farewell tour goes, I'm not doing reunion touring, I'm not doing farewell touring. Honestly, it was supposed to end last year. ...Last year, I said let's do it and then we'll stop period, ya know? Then AJ's estate was a complete mess. He was the most prolific of the band members, not as a songwriter, but as a child bearing person. He had a lot of children and a lot of exes, but he had no will and no estate plan, so he left a mess. It was like 'Let's go out and do some shows so that we can leave something for his family'. That was last year. That was supposed to be it. Then we started getting these fortieth offers. I said 'All right, but only if this can be special. I don't want to be playing just for the sake of playing because AJ's gone and even with five of us there, the unit is no longer there.”
Todd: I had assumed it was no coincidence that the group chose to retire during your fourth decade of existence.
Dee: “That was the pitch. I know people believe in that stuff, but me, not me so much. When you're thirty-nine or forty, it's your thirty-ninth or fortieth birthday. Are you really that much older? ...When I turned forty, I carved forty in to the side of my head and wore Depends all day. I said 'Yeah, forty. What the fuck? It's a year older than thirty-nine, a year younger than forty-one'. I don't put that much significance into it, but there are a lot of people who do, so it had a nice ring to it. ...And then when We're Twisted Fucking Sister came out, giving people the real story behind the band, it made a lot of people appreciate us on a whole other level because most them didn't know. ...Most people did not know that we were around that long, that we put that much into it, that we were that committed, that we suffered through so much to achieve what we achieved and that we weren't just jumping on the bandwagon. We were out there building the bandwagon for bands like Mötley Crüe to jump on.”
Todd: In hindsight, do you feel Twisted Sister received the credit they were due for influencing other artists and groups? It seems obvious that at the group's imagery and tonality had a profound impact on many of their peers.
Dee: “Absolutely not, but with the help of the documentary, that's starting to change. The amount of E-Mails I've received from people who've said they've seen the documentary and it changed their whole view of the band is amazing. They know us for on album or they know us for a couple of songs., so we're a blip on the radar screen, but our place is much more significant. ...I don't think people understand how many bands out of the Northeast that we influenced like Anthrax, Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Overkill and Poison. Every band that came out of the Northeast bowed down to the alter of Twisted Sister and studied us like it was 'Rock 101'. They sat there and learned their craft from us, and they'll tell you that. There's not one of those bands who won't say that. ...Overkill is one of the original Speed Metal bands. (Former Overkill drummer Rat) Skates did a documentary and on it, they said the reason they played fast was because Twisted Sister played fast. I know they used to come down and study us. (Overkill vocalist) Bobby 'Blitz' (Ellsworth) used to imitate me. That's where he learned to be a front man. I also know that Anthrax and another Speed Metal band Carnivore started playing fast because Twisted Sister played fast. We played fast because I was so amped up on caffeine, I was out of my mind. No drugs, just caffeine. We played everything super fast, so all these young bands said 'You've got to play fast' and all of a sudden, Speed Metal was born. Yeah, I'll take credit for Speed Metal. It's endless but, nobody outside of the tri-state area knows about it. ...If you weren't in that area, you watched MTV and saw the video for “We're Not Gonna Take It' and then we were gone. People were like 'Who? Twisted Sister? Oh, they're gone. They were cool for a minute'. We were cool for a lot longer than a minute, but how else can they know? How is someone in Texas going to know the story? A documentary like this is a Godsend for us and the great thing is we didn't pursue it or instigate it. It was an independent documentarian who approached us. We supported it, but it wasn't self-motivated. It was genuinely inspired by someone who heard our story. He wasn't even a fan of us.”
Todd: You've always steadfastly maintained that Twisted Sister was 'the best live act in the world'. How did the group maintain such a lofty reputation even in the twilight of your career? Was there a method to your madness?
Dee: “You notice that I didn't say 'Aw shucks, no we're not'. We definitely are one of the greatest. There are still some other great ones out there. If you strip away the stage show, will they sill rock? ...That's the test. Twisted Sister prides itself on being stripped down. Our production now is a backdrop and my pink mic stand. We pride ourselves on that. There are some great live bands out there. Aerosmith just did an amazing DVD (Aerosmith Rocks Donington 2014). I really can't speak for the other guys, but as my wife said, we're a unit that connects when we're all there together. Maybe it's from the ten years before we broke. We literally did thousands of live show. That develops you into a unit. Very few bands have that kind of experience under their belts when they hit the mainstream. ...And there's also ego involved. I try to stay in shape to allow myself to do the things that I do. When I feel like I can't do what I want, my ego just will not allow me to embarrass myself, other than the way I normally embarrass myself with my normal antics. I've got this drive, but that's one of the reasons why calling it a day is important to me. I need to walk off at the top of my game while I'm still able to do what people expect me to do. It's bizarre that at this age that I'm doing it like that. I don't want to be up there at any point where people are going 'Remember when he was still good? He used to rock.' I am getting out before that all happens.”
A Twisted Christmas (2006)
Live At Wacken: The Reunion (2006)
Still Hungry (2004)
Big Hits and Nasty Cuts (1992)
Love Is For Suckers (1987)
Come Out And Play (1985)
Stay Hungry (1984)
You Can't Stop Rock 'N' Roll (1983)
Under The Blade (1982)
Ruff Cuts (EP) (1982)
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