Dee Snider on His New Album: ‘My Glory Days Are Now’
"I don't know how the rules go," Dee Snider says, while discussing the state of contemporary metal. It takes wisdom to recognize what you don't know, and on his new album, 'For the Love of Metal' (which is out today, July 27 order it here), he worked with producer Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed, who does know how the rules go, and who is introducing him to a new breed of metal fan.
Snider discussed the album and much more -- including how Twisted Sister lost their metal cred in the '80s, how his new album addresses bullying and his take on his friend, President Trump -- in this wide-ranging interview.
I love the fact that, just a few years ago, you did a Broadway album with people like Patti LuPone and Cyndi Lauper, and now you're doing a legit metal album with Jamey Jasta. You never worry about credibility...
Well, it’s easy to not care when you've lost your credibility. I lost my credibility in the late ’80s for being who I always was, and I was stunned when that happened. It was really right about the time of the Senate hearings. Even though I was always open about being clean, sober, married and not being that "sex, drugs, and rock and roll guy"... [when I testified to the Senate], the world heard me very loudly and proudly make that statement, but a lot of people rejected me in the community. It was really hurtful to me because I thought rock and roll was the Burger King of music -- “Have it your way” -- and I found out people were going, “That’s not rock ’n’ roll. That’s not metal.” I’m going, “Wait a minute. So I’ve got rules to follow in order to be considered 'metal' by you?”
So at that point, I had lost credibility with the community, and I just, well, I don’t really give a shit. So it was easy to not care when you’ve already lost it, but I’ve always done whatever I felt like doing.
You once told me that when you realized that Twisted Sister shared fans with Cyndi Lauper and Culture Club in the '80s, that that was a problem, credibility-wise.
Oh, yeah. When we suddenly realized that we had now crossed over and were being accepted by the pop music fans, I realized that we had damaged ourselves, and it turned out to be beyond repair.
I remember people being upset about "Be Chrool to Your Scuel," and the guests on the song.
Well, when we did “Be Chrool to Your Scuel” we had a sax solo, so who was the premiere down-and-dirty sax player? Clarence Clemons [of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band]. It was a ’50s-like song, so who was the greatest contemporary ’50s guitar player? It was Brian Setzer [of the Stray Cats]. Mind you, he's a Long Island guy, it was that connection too, and then Billy Joel was a neighbor, a Long Island guy. We now lived near each other, and when I called Billy up, it was a great conversation. “Billy,” I said, “listen. I know metal’s not your cup of tea, but”-- and he cuts me off, and he goes, “Metal’s not my cup of tea?” He goes, “I was playing metal when you were in diapers!” He goes, “My first band was called Attila. I was on the cover in a meat locker.” And he was, in a suit of armor; it doesn’t get more metal than that. and it was him screaming through Marshall stacks with a drummer, and playing metal. So he got actually pissed at me that I would say, “You’re not metal.” So I’m like, “OK, OK, dude. OK.”
One of his favorite songs he plays live is AC/DC's “Highway to Hell.” Billy Joel absolutely appreciates hard rock, and that’s what it was originally called back then, hard rock, not metal.
Alice Cooper and I duetted on “Be Chrool to Your Scuel” and secretly, on my Dee Does Broadway record. It started out the idea was "Dee and Alice Do Broadway," and he and I demoed “Luck Be a Lady Tonight.” I am the upper octave of Alice['s range]. So I’m like a high Alice. He’s my major inspiration, and he’s [sings] “Luck be a lady,” and I’m like, “Luck be a lady!” So it was a really nice contrast, the two of us, but he just -- he pulled out. He was doing Broadway, and he pulled out! It’ll never see the light of day. Unfortunately. It was pretty amazing. I wound up replacing him with Clay Aiken.
So this album, For the Love of Metal, produced by Jamey Jasta, came about when you were a guest on his podcast?
On the show, he says, “I’ve got a challenge for you. I challenge you to make a true contemporary metal record.” He says, “Think Halford's [2000 album] Resurrection.” So the minute he said that I knew where he was going and I have nothing but incredible respect for Rob Halford, and I always thought that was great.
So I just threw it back at Jamey. I said, “Who’s producing?” He said, “I am.” I said, “All right, let’s go.” So now Jamey says, “Wow. I’ve challenged a few people, and they’ve never accepted the challenge.”
It’s a Field of Dreams record. It really is. If you make it, somebody will want to put it out, and then people will wanna hear it, and you go from there. Because we had no recording budget. We had no record deal. We just went in out of pocket. We started with a song or two, and suddenly it’s like, "Wow."
It's funny that Jasta referenced the Halford record. I thought of it more like Fight; when Rob was working in a more contemporary version of metal. He was still Rob Halford, but it was clear that he was working with younger guys to get a more modern sound.
Comparing it to the Fight record is a great compliment because that was my frame of reference. When he mentioned Resurrection, I was like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah," but I just thought about Fight. The way Halford just ... he was playing clubs, and he was just saying, “I’m not going anywhere.” That was what I felt like Rob Halford’s statement was.
In all honesty, mentally, I had gone from the metal scene. I didn’t think there was a place for me. Twisted Sister is a heritage thing, and I’m not saying that in a derogatory way. I’m loud and I’m proud, but as far as contemporary stuff, I didn’t think there was a place for me, and Jamey said, “No. Dude, there’s a place for you, and I’m gonna help you find that place.”
My wife, she sees me just grinning from ear to ear. She goes, “I haven’t seen you this happy about something in a long time.” I go, “A: it comes out of left field, but B: this is where I belong. This is home.”
A cool thing about this is that Jasta is introducing you to younger fans.
It was with the release of the second Widowmaker record [1994's Stand By For Pain] that I abandoned songwriting, and I abandoned creating new metal. One review said, “It sounds like Dee’s trying"... like trying to fit in, and they called me on it. Because with the first Widowmaker record, I was coming out of the ’80s, but now the music scene had changed, so I was listening, and I really loved Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, and I loved a lot of the grunge bands, the metallic grunge bands, but I was studying them and trying to sound like them. I got called on my shit.
With Twisted Sister I was at the forefront leading the way. I wasn’t, like, studying and listening to other people’s stuff, I was just doing it, and it became part of the sound of an era. Now I was following.
Another review said, “Young people don’t want their brother’s heroes, they want their own,” and I was like, "Fair enough. Maybe it’s time for me to step away." At that point I did, and I went into TV and radio and movies and writing and all the things that I’ve done, acting, and I just walked away from that.
Jamey said, “First of all, while you were away, you became iconic.” I’m like, "Well, that’s weird. You couldn’t even say my name in the early ‘90s, and now I’m iconic. All right, cool." Then Jamey says, “Let me show you your place, where you can be you.”
I’ll tell you an interesting studio moment. So I’m in the studio with Jamey, and at one moment I go into a full-blown Max Cavalera-Jamey Jasta no-melody thing, and I’m roaring. Jamey’s like, “Cut! Stop! Don’t do that.” He goes, “No, no, no. You did it great, but that’s me, and that’s Max. You’ve always been the guy with melody. You shouldn’t lose that. You roar with melody.” I said, “That’s what Marie Osmond said when I did Celebrity Duets. She said, 'When Dee screams it has a note.'" She said it to Hal Sparks, because he was trying to sing “I Wanna Rock.”
So I said, “All right, dude, I get it.” So he said, “You just do the Dee thing, and the music will make it contemporary."
How much contemporary metal do you listen to?
Well, I’m very in touch with the contemporary metal scene, courtesy of my kids. We’re all metalheads. So I’m very exposed and enjoy and appreciate the no-melody metal vocal. Now, I prefer a melody, personally, because that’s where I come from. But I get it, I get the screaming vocal, and I have an appreciation for it. So I was just getting caught up in the moment and just started “Rrraaaauugggghhhh!” I was just going with it. It’s not a matter of "Can you do it" or "Do you appreciate it." It’s a matter of, "Dee Snider is this, and let me bring Dee Snider to a contemporary audience because what you do, there’s a place for it." So I said, “I’m happy to sing.”
The song "Tomorrow's No Concern" seems like a good mantra for you these days.
Jamey and I, we really talked a lot about where I’m at, what I wanna say, what I need to say at this point and my belief system. A lot of my concern is I’m much more interested in showing you what I’m working on now than talking about the past. I’m proud of the past, but the past is past. So even though what I’m working on now hasn’t sold anything, I’m excited about this. That was then and this is now, and I’m not looking at the next day afterward, I’m right here in the moment. That’s how I live my life.
So that’s why tomorrow’s no concern. I gave you yesterday, tomorrow’s no concern. I gave you yesterday, you can keep it because today is mine. It’s also a mantra that I try to share with people: glory days are great, but I say to people, “My glory days are now.” They’re like, “Dude, you’re like 63.” Yeah, now. I got a new record. I’ve got a new album coming out that I’m excited about. It hasn’t sold shit [yet], but I’m excited, it’s now, and it makes me get up in the morning and just wanna do something.
When you have a history like you do, it's hard to play too many new songs when you tour.
It’s very tough to go out and play new stuff. I saw Elton John, of all people, talking about his trepidation -- this was a couple years ago -- about going out on tour. I said, why would Elton John be nervous? “Well, I’m playing new material.” Even Paul McCartney, it’s like the audience just goes blank when a new song plays. I remember seeing Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden before Physical Graffiti came out. They played “Kashmir.” Half the people left to go to the bathroom. “Bob, you want a beer? It’s a new song.”
I call new songs “the bathroom songs,” but I’m playing so many new songs in my set now, they can’t go to the bathroom that many times. They’re gonna have to stay and listen to at least one.
The path of least resistance is to just keep doing -- you’re fortunate enough to have hit records and hit songs and just give the people what they want. That’s the path of least resistance. It is challenging to try and make new music when people really don’t wanna hear it.
You sing with Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy on "Dead Hearts (Love Thy Enemy.)" People might be surprised by what a great voice she has.
When we were looking for someone to sing with me on “Love Thy Enemy,” we knew we wanted a contrast of my aggressive vocal versus a sweet feminine vocal. Jamey Jasta says, “How about Alissa White-Gluz?" I’m like, “Dude. She’s beautiful and sings like a dude. She’s like ‘Auggghhhhh!’” He’s like, “No, no, she’s got another voice,” and when I heard her sing, it was stunning. I think people would be shocked at the performance.
"Love Thy Enemy" is a strong statement these days. You've always been very politically independent, but I just read a poll saying that 30% of the country thinks we are heading towards a civil war.
Well, the official title of the song, it was “Love Thy Enemy,” and then I told Jamey, “I can’t live with that.” So it’s “Dead Hearts (Love Thy Enemy).” Because it’s a song about bullying, and there’s a lot of levels of bullying, there’s political bullying too. There’s all kinds of bullying going on out there, and the inspiration for “Love Thy Enemy,” was actually the phrase “love thy enemy,” was that -- and bullying has come to the forefront for me as causes that I need to champion and I need to speak on.
Oddly to me, so many suicide notes, because of bullying, end with “...and I forgive you” from the person who just killed themselves, which is just so strange that a person’s driven to take such a drastic action by people who are so cruel and so horrible to them, and yet, that's one of the last thoughts they have.
When Jamey and I approached Alissa White-Gluz from Arch Enemy about singing “Dead Hearts (Love Thy Enemy)” with us, she jumped at the chance, partially I think to sing with me, which is flattering, but also, she said, “My mom’s a teacher,” and teachers are at the frontlines of this issue because so much of it happens in school. So she felt very, very connected to this cause and was up for making a statement.
I want to talk about the song "American Made," and your take on the current political climate. You're someone who actually knows the President, so you may have a different perspective than most.
My take on the current political situation in the United States is multi-faceted. One: I think that Trump supporters’ extreme aggressive support, seemingly blind support, is partially a reaction to the lashing out toward him, of the fact that he’s not given a chance. It used to be this spoken rule that, OK, we had an election, my guy won, or this guy won, and that guy lost. That’s our president, like it or not, for the next four years. This is the guy, and we need to stand behind him or at least give him a chance. I’ve taken that approach. We need to give him a chance. It’s a different game, he’s a different guy, it’s a different world, all those things, and yes, I know the man.
By the way, I don’t have one friend who I’d want to be President of the United States. Can you think of one of your friends -- I’m asking everyone -- that you would want to be President of the United States? None, because we know our friends too well, and they know us too well. Say to somebody, “Oh, I want Bobby to be president.” No way!
Anyway, so I think we need to take a breath and say, “This is our guy. He was elected fairly. Gotta give him a chance.” I notice that just by saying those words, I’ve seen the ardent supporters go, “Thank you for that, that’s cool” and just sort of relax a little bit. I think that’s part of the problem.
The other statement that I made with this record is in the song “American Made.” That was inspired from the Olympics. I was watching the Olympics, and I couldn’t help but notice there was no Republican and Democrat section during the United States song. Matter of fact, I noticed in the English section there wasn't Brexit/no Brexit sections. Everybody was unified cheering for our team. I said, at the end of the day we are united. When it’s us against them, we’re united.
I said, this is kind of like my family because we nearly threw down at Christmas over this whole political -- I have a big family, and it got ugly at Christmas. At Christmas, it nearly turned into a fistfight, but I know if anybody were to walk in that room at that moment and go after one of the brothers or siblings or members of the family, the entire family would’ve turned as one and said, “What?”
So the point is, “American Made” was not about nationalism. It’s about patriotism and unity and [to] remind people that at the end of the day we are a big dysfunctional family, and I don’t think there’s gonna be a civil war.
Trump's insulting of his political rivals doesn't do him any favors, though. His tweeting doesn't help him.
Yeah. I’m not a fan of Trump’s style, but again, this is the hand that we were dealt. A large part of the election going the way it did is because a lot of young people became apathetic after their guy didn’t get the nomination. I remember being 21 and stupid too. Black and white: I can’t have my guy, I’m having nobody. I’m gonna write something stupid in the margin on the ballot or whatever. Now you have to live with those decisions. At the end of the day, this is how the game’s played. So next time don’t fuck up. Get out and vote. You can’t complain unless you voted.
You've just got a few shows scheduled at the moment. Is there a plan for a tour?
This record, For the Love of Metal, was a Field of Dreams project, as I said. We plan on working this record as we’re moving forward and sort of planning on the fly, so more shows are being booked, so we’re kind of just trying to figure it out.
I guess you also want to plan it around Jamey's schedule.
Well, Jamey Jasta is a one-man army. It’s just crazy. Our guitar player, Charlie Bellmore from Toxic Holocaust, who did most of the guitars and bass on the record, he said when they rehearsed with Jasta, Jamey’s singing vocals, and he’s texting with the other hand, because he’s doing so many projects. He’s got so much going on. He’s that kind of guy. So he’s my Sherpa guy. I call him my Sherpa, and I won’t make a move, basically, without Jamey. It’s like, “All right, how do you like the video?” “Send it to Jamey. If Jamey says it’s OK, it’s OK. If Jamey says it’s not OK, it’s not OK.” It’s not that I don’t have a mind of my own. This is a different world, it’s a different time. I don’t know how the rules go.
I’m being asked questions about, “What do you think about a $5,000 rock video?” We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on videos! It was like movies. So I don’t know what -- there’s a guy with a Canon XLR, and someone’s holding a light on me, and I’m going, “I don’t know what’s acceptable. It seems way too small.” That’s the game now. So I don’t get the game, but we are continuing to move forward, excited about it. Napalm’s already said, “We’re exercising our option for album two,” and I know there will be a For the Love of Metal II. We’re not rushing it, but we’re enjoying it and moving forward with it, and it’s starting to come together. So this record, yes, I’ll be supporting this record moving forward.
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