An Interview With Dee Snider

An Interview With Dee Snider

Dee Snider’s 2018 solo record was received so well by audiences and peers in the heavy metal community, the Twisted Sister frontman wasn’t even considering a follow-up. But, as far as he was concerned, “For The Love of Metal” was a fitting end to a stellar writing and performing career. “I was like, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fuck with it!’ ” Snider said. “Walk away. Drop the mic.”

“For The Love Of Metal” was No. 1 on the metal charts and made considerable noise with Billboard. “People were taking a second look at Dee Snider,” he said. “Even though it was technically my fourth solo album, I viewed it as my freshman record. And another record would be my sophomore, and there’s always the old sophomore jinx.” Fast forward to 2020. A global pandemic hits, and right on cue, Snider has something to say. Sophomore jinx? More like sophomore slaughter. “Leave A Scar” was released on July 30 via Napalm Records, and just like on his previous record, Snider teamed up with Hatebreed main man and producer Jamey Jasta to pen 12 more hard-hitting heavy metal tunes that picks things up where he left off.

“Inspiration hit,” Snider said. “This is very much a COVID and state of politics of the world album. Virtually all the songs are inspired by what was happening, and it was my motivation for going back into the studio.” Recently, Snider talked extensively about “Leave A Scar,” working with Jasta, tour plans, and how at 66 years old, he’s thrilled with his career’s second act.

Dee Snider, “I Gotta Rock (Again)”

WIJ: When you wrapped up the “Forty and Fuck It” tour with Twisted Sister, did you foresee this second act of your career?

Dee: No, I did not. I really thought that I was retiring along with the band. For my first two solo records, “Don’t Let the Bastards Wear You Down” was done before Twisted reunited. “Dee Does Broadway” was a fun romp for me that I didn’t even think about doing with Twisted Sister, and I’m sure they wouldn’t have done that with me. Nobody wanted to go down that road with me. My manager said, “Who’s gonna buy it?” I said, “Probably nobody.” But I really wanted to do it.

Then Twisted retires, and I think it’s pretty much done. But then I get challenged by this pop producer to do a mainstream rock record, “We Are The Ones.” I figured, and this is how I felt, “I’m not welcome in the metal community and not as a contemporary artist, so maybe if I do some more mainstream stuff, somebody will be interested in that.” And so we put together “We Are The Ones,” which didn’t resonate with anybody.

Dee Snider, “We Are The Ones”

WIJ: I liked it!

Dee: I’m proud of it, and it is a good record. But it was a half-breed. It certainly wasn’t hard or metal enough. It had moments like “Head Like A Hole” and “We Are The Ones.” There were some cool moments. And it didn’t connect with the mainstream rock community or pop community. So that experience didn’t work. So I was like, “OK. I’m done.” And then Jamey Jasta challenges me. I’m a sucker for a challenge. Don’t dare me to do something because I will jump off the bridge. And he challenged me to do a metal record. I said, “I’d freakin’ love to. I just don’t know what to do to fit in. Where do I fit?” And Jamey said, “I know where you fit.” And that started something I never expected. Another whole chapter of my life, for sure.

WIJ: “For The Love of Metal” was such a successful and collaborative record,” and “Leave A Scar” follows a similar path. How did the writing and recording of “Leave A Scar” compare with “For The Love Of Metal”?

Dee: So “For The Love Of Metal,” I did a trust fall. That’s what it required. I said to Jamey, “I love contemporary metal, but I don’t know how to create contemporary metal.” And Jamey said, “I do. And everybody I know is gonna want to help you on this journey.” So you’ve got people from Lamb of God and Disturbed and All That Remains and Killswitch Engage and all these great metal bands stepping up. And I have to remind people, we had no budget. So this was all out of our own pocket. When the album was done, we sold it to Napalm Records. But everybody stepped forward just because they were fans of mine and wanted to be a part of Dee Snider’s return. But I really just sort of said, “OK, I’m putting myself in your hands.” To the point where I still had to hear the stuff and scream the stuff. And when Jamey brought it in, the first songs were “American Made” and “Running Mazes,” and I was like, “Oh yeah. This fits. I feel it.” And Jamey said he read every lyric I ever wrote before trying to write words for me. He was writing words that spoke to me that I could — I don’t want to use the word “sell” because that cheapens it — but he wrote words that I could get behind and communicate to people and endorse. So there was that process.

Come to “Leave A Scar,” I told everybody in my camp, management, family, and Jamey that I was done after “For The Love of Metal.” Then COVID hit. I found myself feeling the urge to say something, and I hadn’t written a song since ’95. So I said, “Well, how can I say something? I can sit here on social media and rant and rave,” which I was doing. But I could also do the job that I seem to have been given, which is to write and create songs that communicate these feelings for myself and for others. And when I called Jamey, I said, “I want to do a new record. I need to be involved in the writing.” He said, “Welcome aboard.” I also felt like I understood now that this is where I fit. This is Dee Snider for the 2000s. So going into the process, it was me and (guitarist) Charlie Bellhmore, “the riff monster,” as I call him, who by the way, it should be noted that after I told everyone, “I’m done, that’s it,” the day I told Jamey I wanted to do a new record, that afternoon I had a file sent to me that I downloaded that said, “Dee riffs.” And it was filled with amazing riffs. I said, “Did you just put this together?” He said, “Oh no, I’ve been working on it since we stopped touring, just in case you decided to change your mind.” So he had a whole freakin’ file! That came across, and I was like, “Fuck yeah!” So the whole process began with me and Jamey and Charlie writing the songs.

WIJ: Is it challenging for you these days to work with so many other collaborators, given that you were pretty much the sole writer back in the heyday of Twisted Sister?

Dee: Fortunately, I had evolved since then. After Twisted Sister, I formed a band called Desperado, and I started writing with the late Berne Tormé, and that was a learning process. We co-wrote that ill-fated record. Then I was on to Widowmaker, and I saw that collaboration was better for it because I’m not a guitar player. So the guitar parts were much more imaginative, so I was able to focus my energy on melody and lyrics. So then, working with (guitarist) Al Pitrelli and the rest of the guys in Widowmaker, I had experienced collaboration at this point and was comfortable with it.

WIJ: What is Jamey Jasta like as a producer?

Dee: That was my exact thought when he challenged me, and I said, “Yes.” I said, “Well, what is this gonna be like?” I only knew him for Hatebreed, and I thought, “Is he gonna try to make me into Hatebreed 2?” There’s no melody in his songs, and yet here he was on “For The Love Of Metal,” coming up with great melodies. He’s really smart. He respects and appreciates all forms of metal, even though he’s from a hardcore world. He gets it. He took the time to study my lyrics and make sure that as an artist, I was singing words that would mean something to me. That’s where your producer hat comes in. You want to make sure your artist is comfortable with the songs that he’s doing. And there were a couple of songs I passed on “For The Love Of Metal.” But when that happened, he said, “OK, let’s find something else.” He was a great producer, and he has his team that he’s found in this little studio in Connecticut. Nick Bellmore, who is the drummer on my records and in my band, he’s the engineer and mixer. There’s that old thing about drummers being stupid, and there’s a shortlist of smart ones. Nick Bellmore is clearly on that list. He’s a brilliant engineer and mixer, and he co-produced this album as well. So Jamey knows his strengths, and he knows his weaknesses, and that’s really the sign of a good manager or producer or anybody like that, is they know when to hand off the job. It’s about bringing in the best people for the job and not doing it all yourself.

WIJ: Are there more extensive tour plans for “Leave A Scar” than there were “For The Love Of Metal?” It seemed like you lost some opportunities to keep promoting that record live once the pandemic hit.

Dee: The catchphrase there is “extensive.” I don’t see touring extensively as something that’s in my vocabulary right now. Over the years, I’ve developed so many other careers, and they all pull on me, and I like to cultivate them all. One of the things I’ve learned about extensive touring is that you go into this mode and put your world on hold. When you come back, nobody else got the memo that we were on hold, and they all have moved on. And all these projects that you were doing and developing, they found other projects to do. I finished my first novel, which I’m shopping. I’m directing my first movie, “My Enemy’s Enemy,” which comes out next spring. I’ve created a horror TV series that is in development right now. I created a children’s animated series that’s in development over at Peacock. So I can’t go and say, “Life on hold,” because they’ll just find other shows to produce and make and will find other people to direct movies. The world doesn’t stop because you hit the road. So those days are behind me. But I do plan on going out and doing shows in 2022 and supporting “Leave A Scar,” for sure.

WIJ: How do you think the material from your last two records fits in with your classic catalog?

Dee: I actually did quite a few shows and a lot of festivals around the world for “For The Love Of Metal.” I was in so many countries. It was nothing like the 100-date tours or anything like that, but I certainly felt like I got out there and visited a lot of countries and played music for people, probably more overseas than the United States, because I tend to be bigger overseas and South America. I like playing big shows. I’m not about the club show. I get club show offers for days in the United States, and I’m like, “pass.” God gave me a head this large for arenas and for festivals. People say, “I could see your expressions all the way in the back of 90,000 people.” I say, “Look at the size of my head! This is why I’m scaring people at a bar.” A festival is just the right size.

But what I discovered was picking the more metallic Twisted Sister stuff like “Burn In Hell,” “Under The Blade,” “Can’t Stop Rock ’n’ Roll,” “The Fire Still Burns,” “The Beast,” and then with D-tuning and my band modernizing it a little bit more, the stuff just flowed incredibly well, and it sort of connected the dots for people. “How is Dee this metal?” Well, I was always this metal. Twisted Sister was a glitter rock band formed trying to be the New York Dolls. And I joined that band, and I love that stuff. I knew I was joining a glitter band, and I loved Alice Cooper and Bowie and T-Rex, and I also loved Priest and AC/DC and metal, so I tried to combine those things as the songwriter in Twisted Sister. I became better known for the more poppy, anthemic, sing-a-long, glammy stuff that became our calling card. But we were always a metal band at our heart.

WIJ: I want to talk about some of the individual songs on “Leave A Scar,” and let’s start with the lead single, “I Gotta Rock (Again).” Definitely a statement piece for this album right out of the gate. How did that one come together?

Dee: 100% There’s certain flashpoints for this record, and that was one of them. I basically told everybody I was calling it a day recording and performance-wise at the end of 2019. Then somewhere in the middle of COVID, I said, “I gotta rock again.” And I laughed because if there was ever a Dee Snider song title, that’s it. “I Wanna Rock,” “I Believe in Rock,” “You Can’t Stop Rock ’n’ Roll,” rock, rock, rock, rock, rock. I always work off song titles, so I wrote it down, and I said, “I’ll bet you the whole world is feeling this right now.” That started the whole thing. That was the first song, and the whole album went from that idea.

Dee Snider, “Down But Never Out”

WIJ: Another one along that theme is another single, “Down But Never Out.” That sounds like a direct response to what everyone is going through with the pandemic as well, isn’t it?

Dee: I remember one of the other flashpoints for me is the politics of the world, and this shit is going on everywhere. I was just on social media railing telling people, “Wake the fuck up! Stop letting the extremes on both sides, left and right, steer the ship.” The loudest voice in the room, they are minorities. They think because they got 10,000 people in their Facebook group, they’re a movement. You’re not a movement, you’re a fucking parade, asshole! There’s 7 billion people! Do the math! So the majority are the center, leaning left or leaning right. I’m a classic example for that. I’m a concealed carrying feminist. I am a women’s rights, advocate. Vice called me a “gun-toting feminist.” And I am. That’s where most of us are, we’re kind of in the middle, but we don’t speak up enough. So I was railing on social media, and someone said, “Dee, we don’t have your platform or voice. What are we supposed to do?” And I responded, “Get behind me.” I’m that guy. I’ve become one of those guys that speaks the voice for many. So when you talk about “Down But Never Out,” yeah, purely a COVID song. And as a songwriter, I always like to think that I offer hope. Even though I rebel, and I push back, and I scream, at the same time, I’m not one of those nihilists that wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The song could’ve been easily called “Down” and been just about how we got the shit kicked out of us, but it’s “Down But Never Out.” We can come back. We will get through this.

WIJ: Another one with a super anthemic and catchy chorus is “Before I Go.” Speak to that song if you would.

Dee: It’s funny. We write songs when we’re kids. I wrote “The Price” in my 20s, and it’s very powerful. (Sings) “The price we gotta pay, the games we gotta play, makes me wonder is it worth it to carry on?” What did I fucking know when I was in my 20s? I thought I knew it all. What did Steven Tyler, who was 21, know when he wrote “Dream On”? It’s brilliant. (Sings) “Every time I look in the mirror, the lines on my face are getting clearer.” He was 21! Now I’m 66. And I can look and reflect more on life. This is sharing a lesson, that in my 50s, I got hip to the fact that it ain’t about all the stuff we got and the money we make. That’s all great, but it’s ultimately about what we did to make the world better and to help others, to lift other people up, and to just improve life for other people. Charity work comes to mind, but it’s your kids. That’s the true legacy. That is really what matters. So that song is an observation from an older dude sharing with younger people saying, “It took me a while to learn this one, but you can do yourself a favor if you learn it sooner.”

WIJ: One more I wanted to touch on was “Silent Battles.” There’s a bit of a classic metal feel to that one, but it’s modernized, and it tackles a tough subject.

Dee: “Silent Battles” is the only song on the record I didn’t write the lyrics for. Jamey came in and said, “We should do a song about depression. It’s a real problem, and it’s worse now than ever.” I said, “You are 100% right. I agree, but I have not suffered depression. I have kids who have. So I’ve seen it, but I feel disingenuous writing a song about something I can’t speak of from personal experience.” Jamey said, “Well, I have.” So I said, “You write it, and I’ll sing it, because it’s a song for the times, and it’s an important message to get out right now, and I’ll gladly sing your words.”

WIJ: And what about album closer, “Stand”?

Dee: “Stand” is the most important song on this record. There are 12 songs on the album. In the first 11 songs, I beat you about the head and face. All you can do is put your arms up and try to block. In the 12th song, I throw the brakes on, and I do a ballad. I call it a power anthem. I literally drop the octave on my voice, and I practically talk. The title, “Leave A Scar,” comes from this song. It’s basically what I was talking about to stop letting extremists on either side make the decisions. It’s time for the true majority to raise their voices and take back control and stop letting other people decide things for you.”

Dee Snider, “Time To Choose”
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