It was only a couple of years ago that Dee Snider was sure that walking off stage may well have been for the last time, after a long and explosive career both as the frontman with metal legends Twisted Sister, and as one of the most respected solo artists in his own right. When I began speaking with him about his new album Leave a Scar, the legendary frontman was very clear that life, the world, and the man himself went through some very significant changes and in his own words he found that he was “pretty bad at retiring” – if anything he found himself creatively ready to start writing and look at performing again.
Hi Dee, it’s great to meet you today, congratulations on the new LP, I’m really looking forward to hearing it, can I start by asking you about the new record and working with Hatebreed’s Jamie Jasta again?
Hey John, good to meet you too yeah! Well let’s say Jamie and I are very much on the same page attitude-wise, and he really studied me, channelled me, created words on the last album so that I couldn’t work with anyone else. But this time out so much was happening in the world, I had so much that I wanted to communicate and make statements about. I said I know it’s time for me to step in here and be part of this process. So it was me, Jamie and Charlie Belmore and a little bit of Nicki Belmore doing the writing.
Great to see George Fisher with you on the album as well, he’s not someone I would’ve necessarily connected to you, how did that happen?
Yeah, man, that was my idea. You know, I waved the flag. From day one I’m a metalhead you know, like I got the first Sabbath album, the first Led Zeppelin when it came out, I got Blue Cheer when it came out, it was called hard rock then. And it was a choice, it was like people choosing – “well, I’m on this side or I’m on that side. I’m not a hippie, I’m a hard rocker” and hard rockers became heavy metallers and headbangers. So I am just a true fan of metal and continue by the grace of my kids who continue to keep me exposed over the years, a fan of metal and a champion of all metal.
One of the things that angers me more than anything is the way we fight amongst ourselves over what is metal. (Back then) people got people, we have a small slice of the pie. Do we really need to chop it up? Even finer? You know, you don’t have to love it all, you know what I mean? But you still accept them and say, yeah, yeah, there’s a family connection. I love it all.
I just started to hear Corpsegrinder’s voice, like just sort of echoing the statements I was making. And I remember when I was recording, I said “Amen!” as one of those things you say out loud and you don’t really think it’ll happen. I don’t know why, but I said, oh, would it be cool if like Grinder co-ops on here? Like sing it with me. And Jamie goes, well, he’s on my podcast. I’ll ask him, you know? And I’m like, really? And then he told me that Corpsegrinder was practically emotional. You know he was like “Dee Snider wants me to be on a song?!” and people are freaking out over this track because no heritage, artist or classic metal artist has ever really reached across the other side and said, “Hey, let’s do something together.” You know what I mean?
So they were just over the moon – just the idea that someone from my generation is doing something with someone from the other side, that other darker side of metal that certain metalheads, you know, that’s the line to cross. There’s no melody, you know, but I get, I get it. It has its place. I totally get that, that voice, that type of singing, no melody metal singing has its place.
Yeah. You’ve got to be trained to do that as well. Your vocals are never going to last, unless you train yourself…
We were talking about who’s going to do this live. So far we have two people simultaneously to try to emulate the neck, you know, well, maybe both of us sing at the same time. It’ll kind of sound like George, you know!
Do you think that’s something you might do going forward? Look at more diverse or contemporary sort of artists to see if you can take yourself in new directions?
I would love to, and you know, it’s funny – I think it’s a respect thing more than anything. It’s not fear, but they don’t think to ask, “Hey, maybe these guys would do a vocal on this, you know, be cool.” We get, you know, Dee Snider. I mean, I occasionally get it, but, you know, I don’t think they think to ask, and I try to open those doors. Somebody said to me on social media, would you ever do something with Baby Metal? And I said, yeah. I’m people say, oh wow, really? He would do something. So I’m hoping they get the idea that I am a champion of all styles of metal.
And my daughter she’s so hardcore too. She likes the most brutal stuff – Jamie looked at her playlist and he was like, “Jesus Christ, she’s more brutal than me!” And on the first album everything had to be run past Shy. It was like, what does Shy think? You know? It’s gotta be harder.
I remember seeing so many bands. There was a band called Attack Attack – I was taking Shy to the Van Warp Tour to see a whole bunch of bands and Attack Attack was on there. And it’s a couple of days before she goes, “You’re singing with Attack Attack!” And I was like, what? She says, “Yes, I contacted the band – and there’s a part in one of their songs, this bridge part, which is really melodic. And you could do a really good job! I told them that!” So like, I don’t even think they thought she was for real what she said, “My father’s Dee Snider!” I show up – I just went up there and I belted out my part, you know, and, uh, shocked faces in the crowd. What’s that old guy doing up there singing!
I was really fascinated by why you called the album Leave A Scar. I thought it might be more about your heritage and legacy, and because you considered retirement and you made your mark and left your scars. You‘re making sure you’re remembered. But now when you talk about working with more modern bands and artists, you’re leaving new scars there as well going forward…
Well, I’m glad, I’m glad the phrase seems to resonate with people. It’s from a song on the album called Stand, and the last line of the chorus is “Don’t leave your mark, leave a scar.”
You know this is it, you only got one time here, and the song is just about that there’s just too much sidelines sitting, hoping it’ll work out – in every aspect of life, you know. You just gotta figure out what you’re about and just leave a scar. You make your people remember you. So yeah that’s how it became the title of the album, and you’re spot on – I don’t just want to leave a memory, I want to leave an indelible memory that somehow just carries it on for years to come.
Yeah I get it, I’m a lifelong rock fan too – and I was really young, probably 10 when I saw you on The Tube (UK TV show) – and you left a scar there. I saw that performance and saw the passion and the anger, the raw energy as well. It stayed with me, and it would have stayed with millions and millions of other rock fans and metalheads as well. I remember the first time I heard “Wake Up The Sleeping Giant” on the Tommy Vance Radio Show, and it was a call to arms and I could connect the two things. It’s something that you’ve always done. You’ve always led. You’ve always been at the front, this is what we do. And you’re doing it with us, whether you like it or not!
You gave me a chill because you just gotta get through the haze, you know? As I said on that show, that was spontaneous. Yeah. I mean, I have thought that this was gonna be a tough crowd. I had a thought that we were going to need to do something really dramatic. The only person I told was my roadie. I said, get a towel and take this make-up remover. He didn’t even know why, and I just had a feeling I needed to do something dramatic at that time – you know, to get through, to wake people up.
I said, you people here in the back, if you remember, I said if you’re just not engaged, what about the other people sitting in a comfy chair at home, what are they doing? Zoning out? How do I get through to them?
And as you know, years later, I went to up to The Tube again, the entire wall of the green room – and it was a wall, easily 25, 30 feet, long, 12 feet high – was a blown-up picture of that moment of rock and roll. “But I Like It”, with the band – Lemmy, Robbo and the pyro going off. I said, “Holysh*t!”, and they said, “That is the greatest moment on this show ever. That is the greatest moment we ever had.” I was like, again, leaving a scar you know, there it was!
It was a fantastic thing – I can understand where that was coming from, the frustrations about trying to break America. I guess it’s fair to say that you were picked up pretty quickly in Britain, we took to Twisted Sister very, very quickly – you’ve always had a good relationship with us here!
Well, yeah. I mean, even though we had this incredibly passionate, regional following, who kept us cheered on for years and kept us going, it’s still there was just this feeling like we were at our wit’s end. We didn’t know what to do to get to that next level in the States you know.
I remember doing the “have it your way kid” with pictures with makeup, or without makeup that we were going to send out and say, look, if you want to sign us, and if it’s the makeup, that’s the thing. Cause remember this is like ‘80, ‘81. So it’s not like the glam thing hadn’t come back in vogue. So we were like, all right, you know, we’ll go either way. At this point, we just need to get a deal. And then we came to the UK and, you know, we’re welcomed with open arms as these crazy yanks, you know? And that was amazing!
Let’s talk about the recording process – how did you find that, during a global pandemic and lockdown? Did it present problems using technology, how did you overcome that sort of stumbling block when you can’t be in a room with people?
You know, fortunately for the world, technology was at a place that could handle COVID, you know what I mean? Imagine if it was 20 or 30 years ago, schools would have just been shut, kids just without education, businesses would have been completely closed. There would have been no Zoom calls. This wouldn’t be going on. You know what I mean? So recording was not really hampered because most people have the technology within their reach to, you know, make, create and record great-sounding music. So I honestly don’t even know what everybody else was doing on their end. Nikki Belmore has his own studio and Jamie lives near there, and I’m pretty sure Jamie was going to the studio and Nicky and Jamie were kind of just making that their bubble, you know. I’ve been living a way out of the New York area for a long time.
So, you know, I recorded everything in a local studio by me with COVID restrictions, things like that. But once you get in that booth and turn on those mics, the technology is such that Jamie and Nicki are listening in real-time, they’re hearing the actual vocal as it sounds going to – it’s not tape anymore – but as it’s being recorded even though we’re not in the room together. Which was the way we recorded a lot of the last record too. I only got to go in the studio a couple of times, but then the rest of the time I was on the West Coast. So it wasn’t that much different for us and the results, you know, I think we really benefited from it, even though the first record was incredibly cohesive.
But the fact that we’d done two years playing shows together as a unit, I think it really built-in trust. Building that relationship, you know, the understanding of how it all fits together. So that part was pretty easy.
It’s the anniversary of MTV. It’s 40 years old and Twisted Sister were at the forefront with music videos and the promotion that came with that. How have you found social media for getting the message across and talking about recording and telling people there is music coming out?
One interesting aside this Sunday is the MTV Television and Movie Awards and the scene from Cobra Kai where I sing “I Wanna Rock” and Johnny’s there with Miguel, is actually nominated for an award…and I feel pretty good about our chances! So the old man’s back on MTV – they turned their back on me for the last 30 years (laughs), and you know, with social media, I’m stumped. I’ll put it this way – when I write about politics, or I write about food, pizza or when I write about other things in the world, you know, it blows up – thousands and thousands share and it’s deemed controversial. But if I write about music and it’s like a quarter of the people responding, whenever it’s about music, social media is not interested.
I guess they expect you to talk about music, so if you do, they don’t react. So I don’t know, at the end of the day, what is the value, as big as I think it is. I know who does think the value is huge – corporate America. They immediately check out how many followers does he have? How big, how many hits is he getting? And they’re judging you by it. So I have to keep up my social media presence because that is what they’re judging things on. And they put a lot of weight into it – I really don’t know if that’s making all that much difference in careers, so I don’t know what it’s really doing for us artistically or career-wise, but it’s sort of a necessary evil for some reason, right?
Yeah that’s the impression I get – I mean it’s easier now to get in faces and ears for the people that want to follow you or want to know what’s going on, but you have to sift through the people that are there to pick a fight. It just becomes tedious after a while that you’ve got to constantly go through the drama of that, just to tell the faithful what’s coming next!
I’m just the wrong guy to mess with, even with the written word, I just love it, you know what I mean? When the trolls come at me, I just like finding the words – 140 characters – and just bury them in the dirt. I do that with a lot of my peers as well online, but Jamie says “Dude, when they start with you online it’s like open season. It’s like hunting. You just destroyed them. We have to write a song!” So we have a song called Open Season, which is about that – it’s the first line. It’s always, “Hey, are you kidding me? You’re coming after me? You come here to me?” And then I just pick, tear them to shreds – Jamie says it’s hysterical to watch. I think a lot of my people follow me just to watch me dismantle people online.
We were talking before about Hard Rock Hell itself being 15 this year, but obviously because of COVID and everything else, the 15th anniversary will be next year. We’re already talking about bands and artists we want see come back, and it’s no surprise that your name has come up more than once!
You know, mentally, I am planning on doing shows. Am I planning on just hitting the road? No, but there’s plenty of shows, like Hard Rock Hell, Bloodstock, or rock festivals in Barcelona. These metal shows where, you know, I’ve been doing it for years You can’t stop rock. I’m always rocking. I once said that I’m pretty sure none of the nineties, the two thousands bands used the word rock, I used them all up in the eighties!
I want to be part of that return, part of that defiance, you can’t tell us we can’t do this. You could stop us for a minute, you can push us away, you can push us back, but we will come back to this. And that’s part of this Leave a Scar album, you know, is just making that statement, making that statement – here we are. And when I get out onto that stage, I think I’ll probably open with “You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll” just for the hell of it, so there won’t be a dry eye in the house. It’ll be, here’s a joy, and I’ll be right there with them going “Yes! Yes!” You know, it’s a statement that I want to make at least one more time, especially after what we’ve been going through. So I’d love to!
Do you listen to a lot of music at home?
I talked about this on social media and people were like freaked out. I said, very little – to me, it’s my life. I said, what you do for a living – when you come home – do you do that? I mean, no matter how much you love your job, when you come home, do you do your job for the few hours you’re at home? Or do you take a break from it?
I don’t own a stereo, you know? So when I’m working out, I listen to music, you know, but as far as like, purely for pleasure, very rarely – but when I find a band that gives me that feeling that I had as a kid, very rare, but Foxy Shazam did it. I don’t know if you know Monster Truck out of Canada. I love those guys. They light me up – and Volbeat. Yeah. But you know, every now and then I’ll hear a band that gives me that feeling like that kid feeling again. And then I’ll be listening to them all the time because I miss that more than anything, I find that when it’s your job, it’s tough not to be analytical, not listen to it with a producer’s ear, or a writer’s ear, you know, to just step back and enjoy. It’s the one thing we lose, the great special effects, we go into the business for the magic, and the first thing we do is find out how they make the sausage.
We pull back the curtain and this is how it shows, and it’s still great, but it’s not a magic trick anymore. We know exactly what it takes to get it up on the stage, and the issues of what’s going on in the production, you know, and it’s just a different animal now. It no longer has that sparkle that we’d had when you were a kid. And so every now and then I find a band that triggers that to me. And I’m so grateful. And the best part is I can usually get their phone number and call them up cold. “Hey, John, Dee Snider from Twisted Sister. I love your band! I got two t-shirts!” and he’s like, so wait a minute – you’re Dee Snider!!! It’s a great thing. I get to actually connect with these artists and just tell him, dude, you’re awesome. It’s just a shame so many of them don’t get the exposure that they should be getting.
The last thing I’ll say, and it relates to this “rock is dead” thing that keeps floating around – and idiots who make that statement from time to time. And it’s so untrue. You just have to get out of your house, go to the small venues, go to festivals, and you see the passion, the love, you see all the dedication with no hope of ever making money, but an audience that knows every word and it’s there. It’s still there. It hasn’t gone away. You just got to get your head out of your … and open your mind and say, I’m gonna, you know, I’m going to be open to the idea. That’s not what I grew up on, but it’s still there.
Passion, it’s so passionate. And it breaks my heart though. It breaks my heart when I see how much passion they have. And I know that the most they’re hoping for is that this is making enough money to go from town to town, pulling a trailer behind their bus. If they’re lucky to have a bus, more of a van… and getting up there and playing their asses off, cause they love it. And they got no choice. It’s what they got to do. Just the hope of actually being able to make a living and having a house on the beach, you know!
Well, we see it all the time. We have headliners and we have established acts on at Hard Rock Hell, but as you know, we have new and upcoming artists. And that’s where you see the thunder, the passion and – I guess the fear – and that combination can make a great performance. Cause these guys want it. You know, they’re fighting against that old attitude.
I compare it to when they always say that college football is better than professional. And that’s because for the college guys it’s either the end or if they have any hope of making it into the leagues, they got to prove themselves. They ain’t got no contracts. They got no big money. They got no sponsorships. It’s all or nothing at that point, you know? And that’s what you see with these young bands. I always say the most dangerous people in the room are the ones with nothing to lose. What are you going to do? Pay me. I’m not being paid now. Not going to buy my records? Nobody buys my records. They’re downloading mine! So they have nothing to lose and they just bring it to every show. And I love it.
Interview by John Ellis