By Brian Ives
It’s a strange time — even stranger than usual — to be Dee Snider. The band that made him an icon, Twisted Sister, will soon play their final show. Meanwhile, he’s launched a new album as a solo artist, We Are the Ones, which sees him returning to hard rock, after dabbling over the years in country (on CMT’s Gone Country), show tunes (on his last solo album, Dee Does Broadway) and reality TV as a cast member on Celebrity Wife Swap and Celebrity Apprentice.
Of course, it was on the latter show that he met up with the Republican Party’s nominee for President, which has led to some uncomfortable moments; namely, when Snider had to ask Donald Trump to stop using Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
Snider was very candid about his conversation with “The Donald” in this Radio.com interview, and also about his reasons why he felt he couldn’t allow the song to be used in Trump’s campaign. He also addressed the end of Twisted Sister, and why he decided to stop now.
It’s strange that you are launching a new project at the same time that you’re closing the door on Twisted Sister.
It is bizarre. It is unexpected; it was not my plan. I didn’t end the Twisted years to move on to do a new record. I planned on the end of Twisted Sister as being the end of my musical career in the traditional sense.
And then I crossed paths with my producer/co-songwriter Damon Ranger, who challenged me to make new music. And I was prompted by my wife. When I actually tried my hand at writing some new songs for the first time in 30 years, she was unimpressed. And I said, “You don’t like it?” And she said, “No, it’s the same old thing.” And I said, “Well, I’m the same old guy.”
And she goes, “Isn’t there somebody who can help you write something new?” And I said, “Well, I did meet this guy.” She said, “Well, frickin’ call him.” And literally that was the impetus.
And I called Damon up. He said, “I can help you create the songs that you need for today’s audience.” And so it was a challenge. So I wasn’t expecting this chapter of my life at all, but it’s very exciting.
You’ve been with your wife forever, congratulations on that..
She’s become legendary; we’ve been together 40 years, and she does the makeup and hair and the bone logo. She did all that stuff. Someone said to me that “It seems like throughout your history she’s sort of pushed you at key moments or pointed you in the right direction.” And it’s true. We have an amazing relationship.
Twisted Sister tends to get lumped in with ’80s rock like Poison and Warrant; but you guys embodied a sense of rebellion that those bands lacked.
Well, thanks for that. A lot of the message of the ’80s bands was sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll; that was pretty much the common theme. Twisted never sang about any of that. Twisted’s thing was about fighting back, standing up, believing in yourself, “The Kids are Back,” “I Am, I’m Me,” “You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll,” “I Wanna Rock,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” these powerful, reinforcing statements.
This is the empowerment that Damon says we need now more than ever. He says, “You’re the voice of what they used to call the ‘Unwashed masses,’ the voices of the average Jane and Joe. The voice of the majority of people living day to day and being pushed around by the extreme left and extreme right. And you’ve always stood up for these people and screamed for them.”
So We Are the Ones is the title of the album, and songs like “Rule the World” and “Superhero” [embody that], and even the cover of “Head Like a Hole” by Nine Inch Nails, that’s an anthem from the late ’80s-early ’90s that in its own way is “We’re Not Gonna Take It”; it’s railing against the corporate machine.
That song was a surprising choice.
Once I started singing it, I said, “Oh, man, I feel the anger in this song. I feel the ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ in this song,” and I was able to deliver it.
I’m sure Trent Reznor was a fan at one point, whether he’d admit it or not.
Well, lemme say this: yes, he is. I did a show in the ’90s, before Twisted got back together. Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson were playing Madison Square Garden. Robin Finck from Nine Inch Nails and Twiggy Ramirez from Marilyn Manson approached me and said, “Hey, man, what do you think of doing a club set of Twisted material?” They had a night off between shows.
I hadn’t done Twisted in a long time. I’m like, “Yeah, okay. That’d be kind of cool.” And we went out as ‘The SMF,’ nobody knew what it was, but the word got out. It was packed, and Trent was there, and Manson was there, and all these guys were there, and they were rockin’.
So yeah, it’s strange where you find your fans, and you realize these bands that sort of rejected the ’80s hair metal ethos, were into it at some point in their lives.
At that time, you were working at a toy company, right?
Oh, man, that was a dark time. Getting that call, I hadn’t played music in a while, and the whole bottom had fallen out of the market, and nobody was buying what I was selling. And I was exploring new things, getting into radio. When I was started radio on Tuesdays I would answer the phone! I would do all the ads for the metal radio shows and stuff.
When these guys called me from out of left field, and it was like, “Wow, you care about Twisted Sister?” “Hell yeah, we love you guys!” How cool is that?
So that was the beginning of realizing the music still had value, and it wasn’t gonna disappear forever; it just had a little bit of a dark period there in the ’90s.
“Metal” was a dirty word. That was the alternative era, and that was the period when people were fearful of even saying the word. Except for Pantera, God love those guys. They were so proud to be metal, they were defiant. It was great.
Talk about the decision to do the piano version of “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” You made a video help raise awareness for Criss Angel’s HELP (Heal Every Life Possible) pediatric cancer charity.
Well, the idea for the song came before there was any affiliation with pediatric cancer. Damon and I were talking, and he wanted to do some songs for the record that really featured my voice.
We talked about doing some kind of song with just a piano and vocal, and a discussion about “We’re Not Gonna Take It” came up. And the conversation was that this song that was so dangerous in the ’80s, was on the “Filthy 15” list, parents felt threatened by the video, which had become internationally popular. It’s almost a folk song; it’s a karaoke favorite, a rockin’ jock favorite. I mean, hell, it’s been used on a commercial for a women’s premenopausal medication. And while I’m totally against vaginal dryness, somehow I do think the message has been lost.
When the song first came out, a very smug Rolling Stone review was three words. It said, “What, from whom?” That was it. Ha ha, that’s the point, you idiots. I’m not gonna sit there and sing, [sings] “I’m not gonna take it from my father, I’m not gonna take it from my teachers.” I deliberately said, you write a song like this, you gotta let people see their situation in the lyrics.
So to me, any important cause can use this as a battle cry, and it will work. I’ve been reached out to by other things; other cancer organizations are reaching out. And I’m certainly happy to help because, boy, at a time where it seems the world is at each other’s throats, this is a subject that everybody can agree on, everybody can be unified on, left, right, center, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, whatever you are, everybody can agree cancer sucks and kids get a raw deal. It’s great to see people say, “Yeah, this we can all agree on.” And there’s no degree of separation with regard to cancer. Everybody’s got either a family member, a friend, or they know somebody that has had a brush with it in some capacity. It’s rampant; it’s terrible.
Some politicians have asked to use it as well, correct?
Multiple have used it. Only two have asked permission. Arnold [Schwarzenegger] was one, and Donald Trump was the other, and I granted permission to both of them.
I’m a big Arnold fan; as a matter of fact, Stay Hungry was dedicated to Arnold Schwarzenegger, and inspired by his words. “Stay hungry” is his phrase. And after reading a book about his sort of philosophy on life and everything, I was fired up, and I wrote the Stay Hungry album.
He didn’t even know that. So it was like a full circle thing when a hero of mine came and said, “Hey, I wanna use ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ as my battle cry.” I’m like, “Dude, you inspired me to write it.” And he’s like, “What?” And he had no idea.
Donald, on the other hand, is a friend. He called me, and the class act that he is, he asked permission to use it, and I granted it to him. But honestly, after finding out his political stance on a number of subjects, I called him up and said, “Listen, man, you gotta stop using the song,” and to his credit, he stopped that night. He said “Okay.” He’s a friend, and that’s the kind of respect he showed me, and I still respect him, even though we do not see eye-to-eye on some major topics.
That’s got to be an uncomfortable conversation. “I know you really want to win this thing, but I don’t want you to win, and I don’t want you to use my song.” How does that conversation go?
It was tough. It was tough. But he respected the fact that, where other artists were going to the press and trashing him [I didn’t do that]. He was gentlemanly enough to me and ask to use it, and as a friend I was gentlemanly enough to call him and ask that he stop.
It wasn’t easy.
The three subjects you don’t talk about is sports, religion and politics. I’ve got great friends who I know I disagree with on some of those subjects, and I know if we ever talk about them, that will be the end of our friendship. And we’re great friends, great friends.
And so I didn’t know some of his stances. My ancestors who were granted asylum here in America, they were immigrants. And if they hadn’t been allowed in and granted asylum, I would not be here.
Post Author: brian.ives.