Twisted Sister put their 40-year career to bed this past weekend but if anybody thought frontman Dee Snider was going to quietly drift into the retirement zone, they will be pleasantly surprised. Snider has just released a new solo album, We Are the Ones, and while it may not appeal to every hard-core SMF, with any luck it will find an audience within those who can keep an open mind.
While there are some barnstormers, like the title track, on We Are The Ones, the record also finds Dee visiting some lighter musical destinations than on previously works. The result is a tremendously strong record that I have been playing to absolute death since I received it. 34 years after first meeting him (a year before Twisted's big breakout), it was a real pleasure to interview him and talk about the new record. Here's our conversation:
antiMusic: Out of all your material, this is the absolute best complete record you've ever put out. Other records, I just focus on favourite songs after the newness of the record wears off. With this one I love each and every song because they all have a real strong identity. So congratulations on a really great project.
Dee: Thank you man. You know, at this point with the record coming out and with something that you've kinda worked on for a couple of years, it's like, "So, okay, what's the reaction going to be?" Obviously getting a reaction like that says, "Well, it's working." I don't know if it'll work for everybody but I'm hearing this reaction often enough that I know, you're never going to please everybody, but that there are people who are getting it and appreciating it. so thanks for that.
antiMusic: I guess to start off with, you had previously stated that one of the reasons you weren't doing new material for Twisted was that you couldn't really feel a connection with that rebellious anger which kind of propelled your music in the beginning. Not that there aren't some dark moments on here but the material may not be as visceral as say, "Destroyer", or "Like a Knife in the Back". However, lyrically, it's still full of that Take No Crap attitude that people associate with you. With that in mind, what was the turning point for you to start the creative process for this record?
Dee: Damon Ranger, my producer, my co-songwriter. I worked with a lot of people on this record. He challenged me to make new music. The real sort of battle cry was that the Dee Snider message is needed today more than ever. And I realized that I may not be feeling it because I don't have to. I mean what do I have to complain about? I'm successful, I'm happy and I'm healthy. People kiss my ass. But he told me, "Your message --- what you stand for is needed now more than ever."
And I said he's right. I have something to say about this and I want to inspire people to step up, stand up, fight back, you know, make sure your voice is heard. Because you guys (Canadians) aren't dealing with what we're dealing with, but what's going on in England with Brexit and what's going on in the United States, and a lot of other countries all over the world --- because the true majority, and that's the people, the centrists, the people in the middle who are just trying to make the right choice and do the right thing, we've been pushed around for way too long by the extreme left and right. They're the loudest voices in the room. I call them the Bullying Minorities and this is what we've got from it.
We've got no one else to blame for it but ourselves. You've got to f***ing stand the F*** up and make sure our voices are heard. The average Janes and Joes are working the jobs, paying the taxes and fighting the wars. We're are the ones who should be making the calls and making decisions and deciding what's right for our lives not some extremist from either side who's so f***ing disconnected from the realities of the world, how could they possibly know what we're going through?
antiMusic: How did Damon get involved in this process and with you?
Dee: Complete happenstance. I was on a radio show in Chicago called Mancow and he was on at the same time. We were introduced and he said, "Hey man, you know, with the right record, you could appeal to a whole new audience." I was like, "Really?" And he said, "Really. You're iconic. Your message is eternal. It's needed now more than ever. The recognition of you far exceeds your music. You do reality TV. You do radio. You do movies. You've been on Broadway. People know you, yet you're servicing just a small portion of the musical audience out there. So take your message and inject it in contemporary music and you'll reach a whole new crowd."
So I actually said, "That's interesting. You're out of your mind." And I left. MONTHS later I tried my hand in literally decades at doing some new music and recorded a song called "To Hell And Back". I played it for my wife, Suzette --- she's been with me for 40 years and is my biggest fan and my harshest critic and she does NOT Yes me to death. (laughs) To my chagrin a lot of times. But I played it for her and she was putting on her makeup, I remember very clearly. There was no response, didn't look, nothing.
I said, "What? You don't like it?" And she said, "Nah, it's fine. It's the same 'ol thing." I said, "Well I'm the same 'ol guy." She said, "Well, isn't there somebody who could help you do something new? I said, "Well, I met some guy a few months back who said he wanted to do something." She said, "Well f***ing call him!" (laughs.) "F***ING CALL HIM." So I literally had to call Mancow and say, "Who was that guy?" And he connected us and it went from there.
antiMusic: So how did the writing go because from what I've heard about him, he's kind of a hands-on guy?
Dee: Well, you know, I don't surround myself with yes men. Managers and people that I work with are people who are honest with me whether I like to hear it or not, because that was a mistake I made back in the '80s when we crashed and burned, was that I got to that point where everybody was kissing my ass and I didn't want to hear the word NO. So I just surrounded myself with people who tell you YES. But you're not always right.
Nobody's always right. Neither was Steve Jobs. So Damon's got very strong opinions and he fights for them. He doesn't cave easily. You know a lot of people wither when Dee pushes back because they get intimidated. But he doesn't. Ultimately he said, "Dee, it's your record. It's your call. but he would say, "I think you're making a mistake here and this is why." So for the record itself, he was one of my Sherpa guides. This is a new world. Where my contribution is lyrical, his, and the people he works with, is musical.
Because I really didn't know how to write a new song, a new sounding song without it sounding dated. Not that I'm not a fan of new stuff, but I haven't immersed myself like I did when I was a kid, where you studied it and understood it. I just enjoyed Foo Fighters and 30 Seconds to Mars and a lot of these new bands, contemporary bands, rock bands without breaking them down.
So we did it step by step. I said, well, "I'm not just handing you the keys man. Whatta ya got in mind? and "We Are The Ones" came out of it. It was like, "Alright, I get this. What else you got?" So we started working and "Close to You" and I believe, "Over and Over" was another song. and with those 3 songs we approached record companies and within, well, almost immediately I had international deals. I was like, so these people believe it too --- the idea Dee Snider could make a contemporary album and have a contemporary feel.
So as people started to get more and more behind the project, we started to fill in the blanks and Damon is very much, very thought out and wanted to have a variety of tones and styles and sounds on the record. He'd come to me and say, "I'm thinking you should do a cover" and I said, "Yeah, really? What do you got in mind?" And he goes, "What about "Head Like a Hole" from Nine Inch Nails? I said, "What? Are you f***ing nuts? (laughs) I f***ing love that song but that's iconic. It's industrial. It's synth driven. And he goes "And it's exactly the Dee Snider attitude. It is Dee in its own way. It's an anthem for its time and it's the same message as "We're Not Gonna Take it". It's raging against the machine. It's fighting back."
I thought about it and said, "How are we going to do it?" And it went from there. Once I was in the studio recording, I was going, "F*** Yeah. This works." And people reacted very strongly, positively to it. So each step along the way, it would be another song. We got to a song like "Superhero", which I rejected. I was, "NO, that's too poppy, blah, blah blah."
And he goes, give me some of your favourite albums. So I started laying them on him and he would go, "You're a big Queen fan?" And I said, "I'm an original Queen fan." He says, you like Sheer Heart Attack? Yeah. And he says, how'd you feel about "Bring Back that Leroy Brown?" I said, "Well, at first I was kind of thrown, and like what the f*** is this song doing on here?" He goes, "Exactly. What about Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" on Led Zeppelin III?" And I'm like, "Well it was kind of cool but that was Zeppelin. He pointed out that on my favourite Sabbath album, you get a song like "Orchid", you know?
So an acoustic, madrigal style song, like in the middle of the darkest, heaviest stuff. He goes, "This is where you come from. Albums that gave you different flavours and surprised you at times. So what's wrong with doing a song that's pretty much left of centre for your own record? Do you think it's a good song?" I said, "I think it's a GREAT song." He said, "Well, lets f***ing try it." (laughs). So I went and did it and I'm going, "Yeah. Alright. I'm down." So the album was assembled rather than sort of presented in its entirety. It was done piece by piece.
antiMusic: So how weird did it feel from your end to put together a record with someone else. I mean, because from day one, with Twisted, it's been you from bottom to end?
Dee: Yeah, you know what? I gradually matured on that and very slowly and painfully. (laughs) In Desperado with Bernie Tormé, he said, "Hey man, could you NOT give me the guitar parts? Could you just let me try to write my own guitar parts because I think I can give you more?" (laughs) And I said, "Alright. lets try it." Whoa! Here's an idea, let the guitar player play the guitar. (laughs) So then when I moved to Widowmaker and worked with Al Pitrelli, I continued there. But it was very strange.
This is going to be a strange place to get a life lesson and grow from, but my experience on Celebrity Apprentice, I really learned about a major shortcoming of mine on that show, which is ultimately why I failed. That lesson is you are forced to work in a group and you're in a room with everyone's sitting there and you're forced to exchange ideas openly and come up with ideas in that forum. I never worked like that. Even with Bernie and Al. I would take an idea they had and I would go off on my own in my closet with my tape recorder and I'd work and I'd come back and present.
On Apprentice I was like, "Okay, can I leave this room for awhile? I need to work on something and (laughs) the producers are, "No, you can't leave the room to work on something. It's a show. That's why it's called reality TV. We SEE what's happening. So it made me start right there to say, "I've got to work more comfortably in that environment of creativity." And that is reflected in this record.
antiMusic: "We Are The Ones", an absolute adrenalin rush if I've ever heard one, is the first single. You've already sort of touched on it but what's the overall message you're trying to convey with this song?
Dee: "We Are the Ones" is my message in its totality. The majority of the record, it all feeds into that Dee Snider belief system. but now more than ever it's very inspired by my belief that the VAST majority of people are ones working the war jobs, paying the taxes, fighting the wars. The average Janes and Joes are in the middle, just trying to figure it out as best we can. We're being pushed around and being lead by extremists on the left and the right. They are a minority and they are the loudest f***ing voice in the room. They influence everything and they push everything and get their way a lot of times. In the middle, we tend to sit back and we think, "Oh, it'll work out. The climate will be fine. (laughs)
And my message from "We're Not Gonna Take It", to "We Are the Ones" is the same: STAND the F*** UP. Make your voice heard. let people know what you feel. Don't accept what they tell you. Don't accept what they want you to do. If you don't agree, let them know you don't agree. I am one of those people, as forthright and as out front as I seem to be, I have to push myself to be that way. I have to MAKE myself to be that way because I don't think we want to be constantly fighting. The average person says, "Can't we just work this out?" We're just kind of laid back a little bit, but we shouldn't be. We must be vigilant. Especially right now.
I started working on this album --- on "We Are the Ones", the first song, right at the beginning of this presidential election cycle and it's definitely been inspired by it. It's a mess and we've allowed this mess to happen. if you don't like the choices that we've been given here in the United States? We've allowed that to happen. We allowed it. This is being complacent and it has put us in this position where our choices are Hillary and Donald Trump. Good God. The two most disliked people in the history are our choices for President. How f***ing wonderful is that?
antiMusic: Far and away my favourite song on the record is "Crazy For Nothing". Is it just me or do I get sort of a Slade connection on this one...do they have a place in your musical roots at all?
Dee: Slade is one of my biggest influences...and there would be no Twisted Sister without Slade. They taught me to write anthems. They taught me to write big hooks, but also to rock while you're doing it. Oh my god, Slade, Slade, Slade. Such an underrated band and so influential on KISS and Cheap Trick and Twisted and so many of the bands...and Quiet Riot, of course. So many of the bands out there will cite Slade as being a huge influence. So do they seep in? No doubt. I mean, there is no doubt. Can I say it was foremost in my mind? No it wasn't but it's one of my favourite tracks on the record too, but it's interesting. there's a tendency to hyper analyze when it's your life and we're right now in hyper analysis mode. and coming out of the box we're looking at, okay, what are the downloads? What songs are people reacting to? And Crazy For Nothing" is down at the bottom.
antiMusic: Wow. That's nuts!
Dee: But I think it is one of the strongest songs. I think it reflects also that for a lot of people, a lot of the older people are the first to check it out. So they're connecting more with the stuff that they can relate to better. And songs like "Superhero", "Believe", "Crazy For Nothing", and even "Close to You" which is, you know, another monster song I think, are down like at the bottom of the downloads.
But I think, hopefully, as people become more aware of the album and people who are not Dee Snider fans and not Twisted fans become exposed and go, "Oh, I'm going to check this thing out," I think you're going to see the download thing slip and some of those songs on the bottom...because the record is so deep. I mean track after track, I think they stand on their own as great songs and great tracks, I think that they're going to start getting more love from a more mainstream rock audience than from the Twisted Sister fans.
antiMusic: Yeah. "Rule the World" is a really great anthemic musical pledge. Would it be safe to say that this was one of the ones that came out the easiest from start to finish because it sounds like it was?
Dee: Yeah. As a matter of fact, that was one of the first three songs, "We Are the Ones", "Close to You" and "Rule the World", not "Over and Over" which were part of Damon saying, "What is Dee Snider? Dee Snider is anthems, stadiums, big songs." And again the message of "Rule the World". Of course if everything goes as planned, ---the unplanned in this record is massive --- the unplanned aspect will be that 20 years from now the absolutely wrong political party will seize that song and say, "Yeah! We're going to rule the world!" And I'm going to be screaming NO. That wasn't the message A-hole. (laughs) It wasn't world domination! It's the same way I get these politicians who want to use, "We're Not Gonna Take It". I go, "What about "We've got the right to choose". Didn't you understand? You're anti-choice on every level and you're out there with your people singing, (sings) "We've got the right to choose and..." so anyway, it'll probably ultimately be one of the most misunderstood songs.
antiMusic: I love the vocal lines and the verses in "Superhero". It's really kind of different for you. Was that the way they were written or did you try signing it a few different ways?
Dee: Oh no, no, no. That one, lyrically, on message, vocally, groove, everything, I was BAFFLED. I was just baffled. When he brought that one in, I was just, "No. What are you kidding? No, I can't do that!" And Damon being the stubborn guy that he is was, "I think you can. I think you can. I think you can." I'm in the studio and said, "You better not be filming this because I'm trying to figure out how to groove to this song." (laughs)
It was just SO different, rhythmically, the pattern of it, on every level...but everything in my life at this point comes down to, am I challenged by it? Do I feel like I want to go in there and fight the fight and give it a try. Whether it's going to Broadway and definitely Broadway was totally out of left field. They asked if I would be interested, and I said, Sure. Then TWO YEARS LATER, they call me, and I'd forgotten I'd even said sure. And I was like, holy sh*t. I was kind of kidding when I first said it, when they wanted me in the show. Then I actually had to do it. So for me, it's always been, "Is it challenging?" So the idea of saying I can't do it, you know.... Damon knows how to push my buttons with, "Well, if you want to give up.." (laughs). I'm like, "What? and he goes, "If you want to give up on the song.." I'm like, "F*** you, I'll go back in and try it again."
antiMusic: To my ears "Close To You" and "So What" are sort of related in that creepy minor key vein. "So What" is tremendous and just a perfect way to close the record. I love the sparse production. Tell us what pulled you into this song.
Dee: I don't know what you know about recording but in the process of mixing and recording your solo tracks, meaning you mute everything else and you check the guitar and you check the bass to make sure it sounds right. So of course you mute and solo the voice. He came to me one day and he goes, "Man your voice is so f***ing powerful...still. But beyond that, you've got some miles on that sh*t man. You HEAR what you've been through when you strip it down, when you put your voice out there. It's tortured. You've been through some sh*t."
So I said, "Well, yeah? And your point is?" And he goes, "I want to feature it. I want to do some stuff on this record that's going to let people hear that raw quality of your voice. " So that led to "So What". "So What" is "We're Not Gonna Take It" stripped down, with that same attitude, the same message, that same righteous anger, that same righteous indignation that I want to impress upon the listener. Be f***ing mad. Be angry. It's having that middle finger factor and that's the line in the song, Middle fingers in the air, you know? Nothing's changed here. We're still f***ing pissed.
antiMusic: I'm looking at the clock and man I could talk to you forever but I know you're on a tight schedule...
Dee: It's a pleasure talking to you, man. It's always a pleasure talking to someone who likes what you do (laughs) as opposed to being grilled on the witness stand, "Why did you do that?" (in hushed menacing voice) Keep going.
antiMusic: Cool. I've always heard that the definition of a good song is one that you could strip down to its barest essentials and still have a winner. and that's certainly the case with "We're Not Gonna Take It." Most of the other reviews and interviews I've seen, you've centred on the Criss Angel Cancer angle, but I'm also interested in the other honor given to the song recently, namely the Recording Academy's efforts. Can you tell us a little about that.
Dee: Well first I'll tell you that the song predates Criss Angel or the Grammy award involvement and it was again Damon wanting to show my voice and feature my voice and the process, the creative process. The message of "We're Not Gonna Take It", of "We Are the Ones", and the album in general is that the song had became such a karaoke favourite, that people had kind of forgotten that it was once dangerous and rebellious and threatening and part of the whole Filthy 15. Damon wanted to show how timely the message is.
But the idea of Damon saying "What about just you and the piano?" Again...."Are you f***ing insane?" (laughs) I almost wanted to punch him for that one. But then he came in....because he does not stop. He's like a puppy with a chew toy. He came in with the piano part, and he goes, 'Listen, this is what I think you should be singing to." And when he played it, the simplicity, the drama...just again the minor-ness --- he removed certain chords. I said, "Let me go in and try singing to that." And what you hear on that record is essentially one take.
Dee: I was just feeling it and letting it rip. I did it and was like, "You want another one?" And Damon was like, "No, I think we got it man." It was genuine and so, to have this song which I wrote about my parents and my teachers, and my boss and and peers, to have it work so well for children fighting cancer, to work so well for artists' rights, that's the way it was originally designed to be that song. And you're right, I was told a long time ago, a great song is a great song is a great song. How you dress it up decides who it's going be aimed at. You can make a country version of it, a disco version, a rock version, a folk version, but it all starts with a great melody and a great message.
antiMusic: I just have the download and not the album credits. Who played on the record?
Dee: You know this record was such...it takes a village... I mean even the songwriting credits which are on the CD, the album...there's multiple songwriters on a lot of these albums. Damon and I are the constant but we work with other people. Damon does a lot of writing for a lot of top artists out there and he brought in a lot of people. It was very much a community and even multiple guitar players and multiple bass players, and drummers and keyboard players so I can't even give you a list.
There was a lot of session people --- these were the best of the best. You know, I didn't have a band. I didn't have a team like I had with Twisted. And that was alien to me too, being solo. It's a nice word but you can't do it by yourself. (laughs) Otherwise you just get an album with vocals on it. (laughs) It requires a group of people. And Damon for each thing. I call him a mad scientist. He'd be like, "Who'd be perfect on this? I want to use this guitar player. I want to use this keyboard player. I want to use this guy, he's the best."
He was in Chicago and I'm travelling around doing Farewell Twisted shows. I'm doing my radio shows and I'd come into Chicago and he'd go, "Check out this track" and I'd go, "F***, this sounds f***ing great." Then I'd go in and rock the vocals. So Damon was the guy in the kitchen all the time, putting in all the ingredients and making it great.
And I thank him on a daily basis. because no matter what happens I feel accomplished. I feel that I've done something vital, whether the people get it or not. It was like when I did Dee Does Broadway. it wasn't going to matter if people didn't buy it, and they didn't. It mattered that at the end of the day I said, yes, I wanted to do that and I did it well.
I did Widowmaker. I did Desperado...so many ill-fated projects that I'm so proud of because I set out to do something I executed well. Record sales obviously, that's the dream, but it doesn't make your effort any less good. It doesn't mean your music is bad. It just means it didn't find its audience. It didn't connect. I'm 61 years old and I feel that I've done something that has value today and is not living 30 years ago.
antiMusic: Absolutely. Any plans to bring this record to the stage?
Dee: Absolutely. I'm in rehearsals right now with the band because we have a one-off show in December. We did Riot Fest but plans are to go forward and go out perform, and play in the new year so we're gearing up for that. We're shooting a new video for "Rule the World" very soon so we're doing all those things right now. I'm just looking for corners of light, you know? So my manager said "Are you looking for millions?" I said, "No, I'm just looking for people to connect with."
Just like with Twisted. when we first went out, it was...believe me...the whole crowd wasn't embracing us. (laughs) It was like raw hatred, but there would be an element of the audience, a portion of the audience who got it and were passionate about it. And that kept us going. That's all I need. I don't need to rule the world, literally. I just need to find my audience with my music.
And I need to see if there's an audience there that is going to want to go out to see Dee Snider do Dee Snider music. Don't come out and see me thinking it's going to be a Twisted Sister show with a couple of new songs. It's going to be a Dee Snider show with a couple of Twisted songs. I never want to deny my past and how could I not do a couple in the encore but I'm standing on my own two feet. I'm not insulting my band by leaving Twisted and doing Twisted shows without them. I'm doing my own thing. So yeah, we're gearing up, and we're planning on bringing it out there.
Morley and antiMusic thank Dee for taking the time to do this interview.
Visit the official website here
Preview and purchase Dee's new record here