How the UK changed Twisted Sister
Dee Snider reflects on Twisted Sister's relationship with the UK and why the band called it a day back in 1989
Not content with headlining Bloodstock Open Air, the always mighty Twisted Sister have released a very special live DVD, commemorating the special show they played at the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas on May 30, 2015 in honour of drummer AJ Pero, who sadly passed away two months earlier.
Fittingly titled Metal Meltdown Live! A Concert To Honour AJ Pero, it’s a generous gift to the fans that have cheered Dee Snider and the boys along over the last 40 years of rowdy active service, replete with 5.1 Surround Sound, a special documentary detailing the band’s history and tons of extra fan-friendly gubbins. In truth, Twisted Sister’s lengthy career and enduring popularity has always hinged on their ability to blow people’s heads off as a live band. We spoke to Dee about some of the most significant moments in the band’s history and, with Bloodstock approaching, how he feels about the band’s strong relationship with the UK…
You will play your last ever UK show at Bloodstock, but can you remember when you first ventured across the Atlantic?
“You know, my first memories of the UK are great. While we were hugely popular regionally in the States, it was great to see that we were having a similar effect someplace else in the world. It wasn’t a ‘New York phenomenon’, as the record companies liked to write us off as. We were a ‘New York phenomenon’ and then we were a ‘tri-state phenomenon’ and then a ‘regional phenomenon’. It was like they were looking for reasons to not recognise our band. The joke was that eventually we’d make our way to the West Coast and then we were a ‘national phenomenon’ but they still wouldn’t sign the band! So to come over to the UK and see this underground response and this awareness, and it came from the magazines giving us coverage, and the whole passion of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal fans and the acceptance of us, the Americans. You accepted a few bands readily, like Metallica and Slayer and Twisted Sister. It was just amazing to see and much appreciated.”
Do you remember the first ever show you played here?
“Yes, of course! The first show was in Wrexham! It was Wrexham Football Stadium, of all things. That show was incredible. It was like being shot out of a cannon, to be at an British festival, on the bill with Motörhead headlining, and to come out there with make-up and costumes, knowing that the bands Girl and Anvil had been bottled off the stage at the Reading Festival – Girl for wearing make-up and Anvil because Lipps wore a fishnet sleeveless and people thought that was gay ha ha! We’d never performed in the daylight before either. It was one of the most life-changing experiences we’ve ever had. The response was amazing. I credit Lemmy with that, by offering to introduce the band and win us a moment where the audience would hold back from throwing the bottles and cans! That ovation after that show is one of the greatest we’ve ever had. I remember being in the locker room ten minutes after we’d finished playing and the audience were still chanting ‘Twisted Sister!’ I felt like ‘Alright! This is gonna work, and we can do this anywhere!’”
Metal journalists of a certain age have a vivid memory of seeing you for the first time on British pop TV institution Top Of The Pops, performing I Am (I’m Me)…
“Oh man, it was bizarre to walk in there, at the BBC, and see Boy George and Dexys Midnight Runners and all these bands that we hated! Ha ha ha! I used to use Boy George as an example of what was wrong with rock ’n’ roll and I used to talk about wanting to kick his ass and all that. But then we found out that we were going to be on Top Of The Pops with Culture Club, and as we walked in I saw Boy George in the hallway. I was ready to be all mean and ‘Get out of my way!’ you know? Ha ha! But then he starts gushing and he’s a fan! This is from the Under The Blade days. He said ‘I have all your tapes!’ It was unbelievable. That really threw me off, ha ha! But going out there, the people running the show didn’t know what to do. They had the Top Of The Pops dancers trying to dance to us, and the audience didn’t know what to make of us either. I remember, after the show, they said that the phones blew up with people complaining about us being on the show! I said ‘Seriously? They have Culture Club prancing around and they’re complaining about us?’ It was unbelievable, getting that reaction, but doing the show gave us the opportunity to reach a lot of people, people that were hungry for something heavier and edgier, something that wasn’t Duran Duran and the Eurythmics!”
The videos you made for We’re Not Gonna Take It and I Wanna Rock turned you into megastars when they got heavy rotation on the newly-founded MTV. Do you remember how that felt at the time?
“Well, you know, there are so many older headbangers who say that Twisted Sister was their introduction to heavy metal and brought them over, whether it was through the videos or getting onto something like Top Of The Pops. The videos became staples of rock video shows and changed the face of videos for rock music in general. It’s an accepted fact. I remember the president of MTV, when he received the We’re Not Gonna Take It video, he hated it! He said ‘This isn’t rock ’n’ roll video, this is method acting!’ That’s what he said! He didn’t even allow the video out of medium rotation, but then I Wanna Rock came out, and remember it was the sequel to We’re Not Gonna Take It, and his comment was ‘Ah, now this is a rock video!’ He had no choice but to go with the way the style of video was changing. Twisted had already done the groundwork. A lot of people say the videos made the band, but way before that we had radio stations all over the States playing We’re Not Gonna Take It, so really the videos just gave the song an injection of fuel, like rocket boosters.”
Do you feel quite smug that you anticipated the way mainstream music was heading?
“With a band that has such a strong image, it just gave us the opportunity to offer a visual representation to support what we were doing musically. But videos also killed careers and shortened careers. You could never actually see what bands did without going to see them in concert, because back then there were no videos or DVDs. You had to see them live. But with the birth of rock video, the whole concert would get broadcast and that led to early burn-out for a lot of bands.”
There was a significant subcultural divide between the hair metal and thrash scenes in the mid-80s, but somehow Twisted Sister always seemed to bridge the gap and appeal to both sides. Were you aware of that at the time?
“Twisted was a band that confused people a bit. When we first played at the Marquee in London, it was a really mixed crowd. There were metalheads and punks and skinheads, and everyone was looking around ‘Wait a minute? What are we about to see here?’ At the beginning there was no hair metal or glam movement. We were just a weird metal band at that point! But then we started to break through and we were pulling in people from all areas.”
Was there a downside to being embraced by the mainstream?
“It ended up being to our detriment, because as time went on, I started getting letters saying ‘My favourite bands are Duran Duran, Kajagoogoo and Twisted Sister!’ I remember thinking ‘Uh-oh! This isn’t good!’ No self-respecting headbanger, including me, wants to share their favourite band with Kajagoogoo fans, you know? Ha ha! Crossover appeal isn’t all good. When we started to bring in fans of pop music, it actually started to hurt a band. No one was more surprised than us! I never thought that we’d have commercial appeal. I never thought we’d have hit records or Top Of The Pops or hit videos. I figured we’d the band that went from city to city and then after the show people would run out and buy the records. It was about performing and selling records, but I didn’t expect to get airplay. To get commercial success was genuinely shocking to us.”
With hindsight, your decision to split the band in 1989 was probably a smart move. A lot of metal bands struggled in the ‘90s…
“Honestly, I have major regrets about the whole thing! I don’t like to live with regret and I do believe that everything happens for a reason, but if I’d continued on the path I was on I would not be a happy individual now. I was so self-absorbed. I was a megalomaniac! My marriage was headed for divorce, too. I would never have had the kids I’ve had, so I’m glad things happened the way they did and I’m a better person for it, but career-wise there were many mistakes and things I would like to have done differently for Twisted Sister’s benefit. The biggest regret is that for a band that came on so ferociously, when we broke up it was almost a non-event. Our record sales had petered out. People would ask me ‘What’s going on with Twisted?’ and I’d say ‘We broke up three years ago!’ People didn’t know! We should have been like Spinal Tap and spontaneously combusted or something. That would’ve been more appropriate. So all of that really bothered me. Twisted reuniting and coming back and doing the festival circuit, playing for massive crowds and getting a huge response around the world, and now saying goodbye, it’s all a much more appropriate way to go out than we did first time round.”
Do you think your decision not to make new music has been an important factor in making the reunion work?
“I think it was just a realistic part of it. It was understanding the marketplace, understanding the fans and what they were looking for, and not subjecting ourselves to the hurt of spending time on new music and then not have it played on the radio or have the videos shown. We don’t want to play a new song live and then watch the audience take a bathroom break! I just saw an interview with Elton John and he said the same thing. He said he was playing something from his new album and he was terrified, because when you play a new song the audience glaze over and the energy gets sucked out of the room. He said ‘You can see them getting up to go to the bathroom!’ I was screaming at the TV, going ‘Yes! Yes! They think you can’t see them leaving!’ It’s like fuckin’ Pavlov’s Dog, man. Say ‘Here’s one from the new album!’ and suddenly people have to go to the bathroom. It actually affects their bowels. Two things happen – some people’s bowels release and other people suddenly develop a thirst. New songs cause thirst and a desire to urinate! It’s unbelievable. But I have no regrets about not making new music. I’ve seen bands do it and it’s self-indulgent. A new Twisted Sister album wouldn’t stand a chance, so we stick to being a great live band.”
TeamRock are also hosting a screening of the movie We Are Twisted Fucking Sister including a live fan Q&A with Dee Snider guitarist Jay Jay French. It takes place in London on August 10 and tickets are available now.
Their live DVD Metal Meltdown: A Concert To Honor A.J. Pero is available now, produced by Rock Fuel Media and in association with Loud & Proud Records.