A Chat with Dee Snider, Dee Snider interview, Twisted Sister, "Gone Country"

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It's easy to pigeonhole Dee Snider as "that guy from Twisted Sister," but if you've actually been paying attention, you'll already be aware that Snider has spent the better part of the last decade keeping himself pretty darned busy outside of the recording studio. He's made a movie ("Strangeland"), hosted two different radio shows ( the syndicated "House of Hair" and Sirius's "Fangoria Radio") – and done this and that for various programs on VH-1. Most recently, though, Snider has found himself participating in CMT's new reality series, "Gone Country" (airing Fridays at 8 PM ET/PT), where he and several other disparate musical personalities go through a rigorous process which Bullz-Eye editor David Medsker cleverly referred to as "Country Eye for the Rock Guy." We chatted with Snider about sharing such an experience with everyone from Bobby Brown to the former Marcia Brady (Maureen McCormick) as well as his days with Twisted Sister, his aborted attempts to produce a sequel to "Strangeland," and why he hasn't written a new song in – gasp! – more than a decade.

Bullz-Eye: Hey, Dee.

Dee Snider: Hey, Will!

BE: Good to talk to you.

DS: Good to talk to you, too. What's going on?

BE: Not a lot. Just sitting here, waiting to talk to you. So do you have reality shows regularly coming trolling for you, or was "Gone Country" a rarity?

DS: You know what? I get a lot of trolling. But nine times out of 10…so I guess that means I've had at least 10 trollings, right?…they really don't get me or know me, or they miss the mark. I keep kidding myself and thinking that people get what I'm about, and then I'll still get somebody who'll, y'know, go (adopts Southern accent and raises voice) "We're doing a show about a drinkin', partyin', hard-lovin' rocker who trashes dressing rooms and spreads his semen all over the country!" And, um, I never did that, y'know? "But aren't you in Twisted Sister?" And that kind of thing. But, anyway, "Gone Country," they got it.

BE: Now, since you tell John (Rich, host of "Gone Country") outright in the first episode that you're not a country fan, did you do it strictly for the challenge?

DS: Uh…I didn't see any episodes, so I don't know… (hesitates) I've seen some commercials, and I've heard from some of the interviews about some of the content, so I may tell you something that you've already seen or whatever, but I believe that, in that same sitting, I told John that everything after 30 has been a surprise to me.

BE: Yeah, actually, you did.

DS: Okay, well, similarly, that means I never planned my life past 30. Basically, I just wanted to be a rock star and live happily ever after; I never really thought beyond the actual…I viewed it like a finish line, and that's a rude awakening when you realize that there ain't a finish line. Everything after being a rock star has been a complete surprise to me, and I learned a few years ago to just start saying "yes" to the various opportunities that come my way, because they're so interesting. And here's something that…I never would've foresaw being asked to do a show like this back when I was saying, "Hey, I'm gonna be a rock 'n' roll star!" So I just make it happen. If the conditions are all right, I'll say, "Yeah, I'll do that." So that was pretty much it. And…wow, who'd have ever thought I'd be in frigging Nashville, learning how to be a country singer, when I hate country music? I should say I hated country music. I've discovered a lot.

BE: My wife and I were watching the first episode, and as we're watching Maureen McCormick bouncing off the walls…

DS: (laughs)

BE: …my wife said, "I don't know if she actually is or not, but she certainly acts like she's drunk." Is she just that naturally enthusiastic?

DS: Wow. (takes a deep breath) Um…in that first episode, do I say the line, "Maureen needs to be medicated?"

BE: Yes. Yes, you do. (laughs)

DS: Yeah, I thought I saw that in the commercial. Um…we were really taken aback – the cast – because when I first walked on the bus, Maureen was, like, "AAAAAAAAA!" And I'm, like, oh, she knows who I am…"I LOVE YOU!"…and, okay, she knows something about me. And then the driver got on the bus, and she saw him and went, "AAAAAAAAA! I LOVE YOU!" And gave him the exact same greeting that she gave me! And I've told people that, dude, this is not an exaggeration, but people would be walking down the street and say, "Oh, Marcia!" And, again, she'd be, like, "AAAAAAAAA! I LOVE YOU!" That's her opening. She starts there, at 10, and works her way backwards. She likes caffeine -- a lot. I don't know if they showed that on the air, but she told us she had eight shots of espresso in her coffee before she got on the bus.

BE: It shows.

DS: Yeah, so she likes the caffeine. And I'm a fan of the caffeine…

"I keep kidding myself and thinking that people get what I'm about, and then I'll still get somebody who'll go, 'We're doing a show about a drinkin', partyin', hard-lovin' rocker who trashes dressing rooms and spreads his semen all over the country!' And, um, I never did that."

BE: I was actually going to ask you if you'd sought help for your caffeine addiction yet.

DS: No, 'cause it's my only addiction! I've always said, I don't do drugs, I don't really drink, I don't party. I like coffee. But it has no effect on me, as you may have noticed. (laughs) But, yeah, Maureen, at first, we thought she was, uh, off? But then we realized that she's just this really open, generous person. And you'll see that in future episodes, and you come to understand that. I really respect her for this, because it's really difficult to do, but I think that we live in a guarded society, and if you were to put us on a report card grading system, when we meet new people, we kind of start people off at a "C" and then, depending on their behavior, we move them up or down. Y'know, like, "Okay, he's a pretty cool guy, I'll give him a 'B,'" and then, after awhile, you go, 'Wow, I really like him, he's actually an 'A,' and I'd like to hang out with him." Yeah, well, Maureen starts everybody out at an A+, and "I love you" is her starting point, and then you've got to fuck it up to lose it with her. And if you think about it, it's kind of an "innocent 'til proven guilty" thing, as opposed to the way people usually are, where you're guilty 'til proven innocent.

BE: Not to given anything away, but did anyone manage to fuck it up before the show was over?

DS: On the cast? No. I mean, the cast got along really well, and I think Maureen had something to do with that. I really think that she sort of…she made us all drop our guard, because you couldn't really have one with her. I even asked the producers, off-camera, "Does this usually happen, the way this cast has bonded?" Because the people who did this show do "The Surreal Life." And they said that most casts bond like this, but this one bonded faster than any other. They said, "Usually, we do some games that are designed to force the people to interact and become closer, but we just admitted that…when you guys got off the bus, we said, 'Throw the games out. They're done. They're already hanging out, they're friends, they're having a good time.'"

BE: Who did you walk out of the show with the most changed opinion of?

DS: (hesitates) Good question! Very good questions! Um…okay, who did I walk out of the show with the most changed opinion of? Uh…

BE: And I realize that you probably didn't have opinions about everybody, since you probably didn't even know everybody when you first walked in.

DS: Well, I knew everybody by sight, but since I really don't care about much music beyond heavy metal (laughs) I don't really invest much time in anyone else's world, whether it's soul or pop or hip-hop or whatever. But I guess Bobby (Brown). I guess Bobby. But you know what? I gotta say, it was pretty much fucking everybody.

BE: (laughs)

"One of the engineers on the session called me one day and goes, 'Dude, are you sitting down? Celine Dion wants to record your Christmas song.' I said, 'Does she know who wrote it?' 'No.' 'Well, don't fucking tell her!'"

DS: Dude, no, no, I mean that. Because, y'know, you asked me a good question, and I haven't even really thought about it, but, I mean, I changed my opinions on "American Idol" contestants, which I thought was the lamest, most fucked up, stupid thing in the world. And I came to realize that, in its own way, it's its own trial by fire…and one that I would not like to go through. I mean, I did my own playing the bars, suffering for years, trying to make my name, and these people, they're put under a magnifying glass and just abused. The shit they go through is ridiculous. And, y'know, Maureen, Carnie (Wilson), Bobby, everybody. Sis'Qo…like everybody else, I thought Sis'Qo was a hip-hop guy. And he says he's the only black guy who doesn't know how to rap! And Julio Iglesias, Jr., y'know, he's a frigging pretty boy…and I hate pretty boys, because I'm not one, and I always hated those guys, but you can't hate him. He's funny, he's just this cool guy with no attitude. I said, "Julio, I wanna hate you, but I can't…and it sucks!"

BE: Okay, now I've got a few rapid-fire about other stuff from your career. What do you think was the most underrated Twisted Sister album?

DS: Most underrated Twisted Sister album. (laughs) Of the many underrated Twisted Sister albums, right? Let me think…

BE: Okay, how about your favorite Twisted Sister album that didn't get enough commercial love?

DS: Come Out and Play. I mean, I made some big mistakes with that record, and I blame no-one but myself, but at the same time, it was quickly judged as a sell-out record, or people said that we were burned out, so it didn't get as much attention as maybe it should have.

BE: Do you still feel like you got away with something by having Celine Dion record one of your songs - "The Magic of Christmas Day (God Bless Us Everyone)" – for her Christmas album?

DS: Oh, dude, you gotta love that. (laughs) And it's the gift that keeps on giving: it's the second biggest selling Christmas album in history! At our house, we call her Saint Celine. Her recording of that song came at a really great time for us, when we really needed some economic boosting, so when I got that phone call? I don't know if you know the history of it, but I'd written it…my wife had asked me to write her a Christmas song, and I told her she was insane, but as a Christmas present, I wrote her that song. And I couldn't even sing it; I hired someone to sing it. But it was a Christmas gift. I never shopped the song. I never intended to shop the song. But one of the engineers on the session asked, "Can I have a copy of this?" And I said, "Sure, man." And he ended up becoming this really big record producer, and he called me one day and goes, "Dude, are you sitting down?" And I said, "Yeah, all right, what's up?" He says, "Celine Dion wants to record your Christmas song." And first I said, "Does she know who wrote it?" "No." "Well, don't fucking tell her! All she'd do is go, 'Hey, Satan wrote a Christmas song! GET OUT OF HERE!'"

"Maybe I should just let 'Strangeland 2' go. I'll put a sign on my website that says, 'Y'got $10 million? Give me a call. I've got the script ready to go, Robert Englund's attached, I'm attached. If somebody's serious and wants to make it, call me. But don't call me 'til you're ready to hand the check over.'"

BE: What's the status of "Strangeland 2?" I know it's been high priority for you, but have you heard any rumblings from any studios who are ready to do it yet?

DS: No. I'm really in a bad place with "Strangeland 2." I've run into so many obstacles. I'm at that point now where I'm going, "Can I even take a hint? Am I capable of taking a hint?" It was green-lit back in…1998? Well, right after the first one came out, anyway. But we started working on the script, we started looking for directors, and then the company that did it – The Shooting Gallery – they were indicted by the federal government for an Enron-like situation. Their CFO was arrested.

BE: Nice.

DS: All properties were seized, and I spent seven years in the courts, just getting my creative properties, because the government just takes everything, and they dissolve everything. And during that time, everybody and their mother was going, "Oh, man, if you ever get that back, we'd love to do it, we'd love to do it, we'd love to do it!" And, then, it was like all the girls who want to date you when you're going out with someone else. "Hey, I'm available!" "Uh, not a good time. Yeah, we're not doing that anymore. Torture films are out." And, then, after that, I had a deal for an extended DVD release of the first "Strangeland" with Lionsgate, and then the frigging director who fucked it up the first time (John Pieplow) wielded his Director's Guild right to first re-edit. We wanted to do an extended DVD and call it the Dee-rector's cut, but I won't let the guy near it, and it scared off Lionsgate, because they don't wanna get fucking involved with the Director's Guild. So I'm right at this point right now where I'm, like, y'know what? (Sighs) Maybe I should just let it go. I'll put a sign on my website that says, "Y'got $10 million? Give me a call. I've got the script ready to go, Robert Englund's attached, I'm attached. If somebody's serious and wants to make it, call me. But don't call me 'til you're ready to hand the check over."

BE: You're still hosting the syndicated radio show, "House of Hair," and, in fact, I believe your tribute to the late Kevin DuBrow (of Quiet Riot) is running this weekend.

DS: Um…is that right?

BE: I think so.

DS: I record those a couple of weeks in advance, so I don't know the exact dates. I never pay attention to the dates they're running. But, yeah, Kevin is a significant person, especially in hair metal and the metal community. I've said in…well, they're not eulogies, but they're tributes that I've written on websites and stuff…but they deserve a lot more respect than they get. They were one of those bands who were really key and really instrumental, but they wound up – like Twisted, in their own way – getting overexposed and burned themselves out and didn't have ongoing success. And, then, unlike Twisted, they stayed together, playing every podunk little frigging club and everyplace they could, basically just running it into the ground. But that shouldn't take away the importance of what they accomplished. Like I said, I feel that people don't get how important Quiet Riot was. I mean, I don't even know that you get it, but…

BE: Oh, I do. I mean, I lived through the '80s, so I saw them on MTV and heard them on the radio, but I also saw them a few years ago when they were on a package tour with Poison, Warrant and Enuff Z'nuff, and I remember them coming out after they played and sitting down to sign autographs for fans…and without making them have to buy something first, even!

DS: Yeah, well, that was…was that the original line-up?

BE: I think so.

DS: That was when they got back together, when Rudy (Sarzo) was in the band? I saw that, and I'm not particularly a Quiet Riot fan…because, y'know, it's tough to be fans of your peers…but I was so impressed with that tour. I mean, it was shirts off, sweating and rocking and kicking ass. I said, "Fuck, yeah, that's how you do it!" Y'know? But it goes beyond that, because they formed in 1973 – which, oddly, is when Twisted Sister formed – and they were that band out in L.A. that refused to play disco and refused to play new wave and…well, not that there's anything wrong with punk, but Quiet Riot didn't change what they do, as so many bands do who tend to go with the trends. They just stuck to their guns. And they were the band that everybody opened up for in L.A. Everybody. Van Halen opened for them. Everybody went to see Quiet Riot. Everybody went to see Randy play guitar. They were the archetype out on the west coast, and Twisted was that same band on the east coast. And they were the band that literally smashed down the walls. They had the first number one metal album in history, sold 10 million records, and helped break that new hair metal…well, it wasn't called hair metal then, but they helped break that wall down, and everybody followed through the hole. They went through the opening. So they deserve respect for that.

BE: Okay, and last question…

DS: Oh, by the way, if you're looking for "yes" or "no" answers, I'm not the right guy. (laughs)

BE: No, no, you're cool! But, uh, since Never Let the Bastards Wear You Down (in 2000), I might be wrong, but have we seen any new original material from you? Because, I mean, Twisted Sister's back together, you guys have done the live album, you did the re-recording of Stay Hungry, and you even did that great Christmas album, but…

"My last new song – and that was a one-off – was in '97. It's like you spend your life getting a doctorate in a certain form of medicine, and they cure the disease that you specialize in…which is great, except that you've got no job!"

DS: You're not wrong. I haven't written a new thing since (hesitates) My last new song – and that was a one-off – was in '97, when I co-wrote "In Conclusion" for the "Strangeland" soundtrack. Everything else was written before that. And I just stopped writing. I'll tell you, truthfully, that…well, a couple of things happened. One, they found a cure for the type of music I specialize in. (laughs) That's how I describe it. It's like you spend your life getting a doctorate in a certain form of medicine, and they cure the disease that you specialize in…which is great, except that you've got no job! And, y'know, the way I perform, the way I sing, the way I write, everything I do is designed for one thing, and, now, it's, "Yeah, we don't do that anymore." So it's, like, oh, shit, now what? For a while there, I tried to hang on, because I wanted to prove to people that my success wasn't accidental, and one of my brothers wisely asked, "Does it have to be in music?" And I said, "What do you mean?" "Well, if you do other things and you're successful, does that still prove your point?" And I realized that, heyyyyyyy, you know what? He's right! So I stopped banging my head against the wall and got into TV, radio, writing, and stuff like that, and I've had success after rock 'n' roll. So that was sage advice from a younger brother…which you rarely get, by the way. So, anyway, yeah, there's been no new material. And, y'know, I haven't really been interested. I can write for days, but my writing style is archaic, and nobody really gives a shit about it, anyway. Most people don't care about new music from old bands. Like, you're at a concert, the guy in the band goes, "This one's from our new album!" And you look around, and tell me you don't see literally hundreds of people standing up and starting to leave for the bathroom.

BE: You're right. Sadly, you're absolutely right.

DS: It's like a wave! And they're, like, "It's not a bathroom break, it's from our new album!" But that's how it's gonna be regarded, and you don't sell shit on it, so, really, I'm not going to put the time into it. But it's okay, though. I do a lot of creative things, and I feel pretty good.

BE: Well, it's been a pleasure speaking with you.

DS: Well, you obviously know what I do, man, and I appreciate that, but, y'know, I just tried to pull up Bullseye.com, and…what'd I do wrong?

BE: What do you mean?

DS: I got a different…I got some weird website. There are certainly no chicks on it!

BE: There are a lot of chicks on it!

DS: Well, the Bullseye.com that I got…

BE: It's Bullz-Eye.

DS: Oh, with a Z!

BE: And with a dash between the Bullz and the Eye. But if you go to Bulls-Eye, I think you can find yourself a real nice Russian mail-order bride.

DS: Well, Bullseye.com is some sort of industrial computer site, some corporate thing. But (enters the correct URL for the site) oh, okay! Here we go! So were you the one who reviewed "Cloverfield?"

BE: Well, I didn't write our review, but I did get to see it.

DS: Don't give it away! I'm gonna see it today!

BE: I'll just say that it's as nausea-inducing as "The Blair Witch Project," as far as the complete and total lack of a steady-cam goes.

DS: (laughs) Geez! Okay, that's a good heads-up to have. I'll be sure my family takes their seasick pills. Okay, man, well, it's been good talking to you, Will!

BE: You, too. And I'll be sure to send the link over to your management when the piece goes live.

DS: That's great, man. Thanks!

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