Dee Snider: ‘I Was An A–hole Too': Exclusive Interview
Conversation with Dee Snider is always colorful. On the day we speak with the former Twisted Sister frontman, he's been on a social media tear — lighting up Twitter with a string of tweets firing back at detractors who are picking apart his take on the recent scandal involving former Megadeth bassist David Ellefson. "I was in a mood," he laughs, during an interview with UCR.
No doubt. Mood or no mood, you can always count on Dee having an opinion and sharing it with you. If he's not posting it online, he's filtered it into his latest project: Even social media itself found its way into the fabric of Leave a Scar, Snider's latest solo album and his second collaboration with Hatebreed's Jamey Jasta producing.
"When Jamey came up with the idea for 'Open Season,' he goes, 'Man, watching people come after you on social media, it’s like, 'Oh my God, they’re not going to do that, are they? Oh my God, he’s going to kill them!' He’s like, 'It’s open season.' And I’m like, 'Open Season, good title,” Snider recalls. "My first line was, 'Hey motherfucker, are you kidding me / This is a lesson I give for free!' That’s what that song is all about: the trolls! You know, who get slaughtered every time they try to take Dee Snider out."
In the same way that Rick Rubin was an important catalyst for the back half of Johnny Cash's career, Jasta has become Snider's own key producer, but with an important twist.
Jasta is conscious not to abandon the legendary past that gave Snider his name, even if the singer himself is keen to leave it further and further in the dust. "He’s the one trying to keep me still with one foot in where I come from," the singer shares.
Never let the bastards wear ya down, to paraphrase one of Snider's previous album titles. And Leave a Scar is proof positive that he's still got plenty of bark left in his bite.
I recently spoke with David Crosby, who’s been on an incredible run, creatively. He just put out his fifth album in the past few years. He was talking about how he’s been so creatively reenergized by working with a new set of collaborators. He notes that you have to be open to do that, to take that trip. It really seems like you’ve been on a very similar path with Jamey Jasta and these last two solo albums.
I get what Crosby is saying. It’s funny, I watched a documentary, Echo in the Canyon. I really didn’t care for him. Until one point where he goes, “No, the band broke up because I was an asshole.”
I said, “Well, you know what? We can agree on something!” I mean, I was an asshole too! That acknowledgement that it was you. No, it wasn’t them, it was you! All of the sudden, I’m like, I like David!
Were you really that same kind of guy?
Yeah. I made people miserable. I got worse and worse and worse. We auditioned drummers before A.J. [Pero], and we found a drummer. This was before we were signed. But I was already tyrannical and strict. The guy got the gig and was a huge fan of the band. We were popular regionally. I said, “Alright, no girls, nobody backstage, no partying.” I ran down this whole list of rules.
He listened, and he went, “Okay, listen, I’m going to pass on the opportunity.” He passed on being in the band. He said, “Can I just play one song with you guys, ‘I’ll Never Grow Up Now?’” It was a song we had played in the clubs. He goes, “Thanks very much, I appreciate the opportunity, but it’s not for me.” And he walked away.
I just got stricter as we got fame. I remember I would make them empty arenas of all personnel when we soundchecked and nobody could look at me or the band.
Wow, that’s a very Prince move of you.
Yeah, yeah, a dick move. I was just so impossible. I realized that in retrospect. I can apologize, and I’ve apologized endlessly to the guys because I’m better now. When we reunited, they were waiting for the other shoe to drop. I came back like a different guy because I had been really humbled after the fall.
It was about three years before I think they said, “Okay, he’s not that guy anymore! He’s not going to shock or surprise us and go, a-ha! The asshole is back!” I really had changed, but it took a while for them to not be gun-shy of my behavior.
But going back to what you were saying, yeah, this was unexpected. The Jamey Jasta challenge — and you mentioned We Are The Ones, [which] was a challenge. The producer of that record challenged me to do a mainstream rock record, and I had packed it in. I said, well, you know, that’s different. I’ll try it.
Listen to 'Over Again' from 'We Are The Ones'
It had some moments, and I’m proud of the record, execution-wise, but it didn’t resonate with anybody. It didn’t resonate with mainstream people, it didn’t resonate with rock people. It just sort of fell on deaf ears. Then, Jamey challenged me to go some place where I had wanted to go, but back in the mid-’90s, I felt like I had overstayed my welcome.
As I said to Jamey, “I love contemporary metal, I just don’t know where I fit in.” He said, “Well, I know where you fit in.” He helped me find the sweet spot. Then, I found the team, and then I found the band, and then I found my spot. We come to this record, and now I’m like, "Okay. Now, I know what we’re doing and I can join this party and participate in it fully and not be along for the ride," so to speak.
One of the things that you’ve been able to achieve with these Jasta records is that there’s a diversity in the material. It’s all metal at the core, but you’re not locked into any one style. It seems like Jamey could have very easily made a certain kind of record with you. He hasn’t done that, and you probably would have said no to a Dee Snider by the numbers type of record anyway.
Yeah, I would have said no. Jamey is a mad genius. "He really frets," is the only way I can describe it. He loses sleep over these things. I expect and admire how much thought and effort he puts in. He really wanted to create balance. One of the things that I would have it [be] known: I’m always the one who is pushing for it to be heavier. He’s the one, who as I imagine it [has] got reins on me, and he’s trying to pull me back.
He’s the one trying to keep me still with one foot in where I come from. It’s not that I don’t like my past and I’m not proud of it — I’m just so excited about new ideas and challenges and things that are different that I haven’t done before. Jamey’s like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, man. C’mon, let’s find that balance. Let’s not leave your legacy behind completely here.” I’m the one who wanted George on the record.
When I said [I wanted to work with Cannibal Corpse frontman] George Fisher, he said, “Corpsegrinder?” Like, you know, I must be referring to someone from the ‘80s or ‘70s that played bass for Free. You know, somebody I knew. I was like, “Yeah, Corpsegrinder!” He goes, “O.G. Dee. You’re always pushing me harder!”
I give you two a lot of credit. On paper, doing a song like “I Gotta Rock (Again),” from the guy who did “I Wanna Rock,” could have been really cheesy and lame.
There’s a lot of things I push for. And again, this record is different from the last one, because the last one, I didn’t feel that I understood the game so much and the parameters. But with this one, Jamey, he’s like, “I Gotta Rock (Again)?” I said, “Look, I know this could be a mistake.”
But that’s why I put “Again” in parentheses. I get it, I’m self-aware. When I said that phrase to myself, I wasn’t even thinking of writing that, it was just like, “Oh man, I gotta rock again.” Then, I laughed, I said, “Well, if there was ever a Dee Snider title, that’s one right there.” Mr. “I Believe in Rock,” “I Wanna Rock,” “You Can’t Stop Rock,” “Bad Boys of Rock,” you know, rock, rock, rock, rock, rock.
So, it was a self-aware title. I looked at it as I wrote it down and I said, everybody in the world is feeling that right now. I said, “Jamey, with the right delivery [it could work].” So we found that balance of aggressive intense rock. When we did one of the first takes, I did that opening, sort of roar/scream and I didn’t do it on any of the other ones.
When they mixed it, I said, “Oh, you like that scream?” He goes, “Dude, the song doesn’t work without it.” That opening roar, that opening Dee scream, that sets the tone. It’s like, “Oh shit, this isn’t ‘I Wanna Rock’; this is a metal song.” So there was a lot of that push and pull with this record.
Watch the video for 'I Gotta Rock (Again)' by Dee Snider
“All or Nothing More,” it has kind of a progressive rock feel to it. It’s heavier than that, obviously. But were you ever a prog rock guy?
You know, I was a Yes fan. Back when I was a really clean vocalist in my younger ages, it was all Jon Anderson and Robert Plant. I had no rasp at all until I sang with Twisted Sister for a while and burned my voice out. Then, I started to discover a whole new world. I remember Dream Theater, when they came out, I was doing metal radio and I added them right out of the box. “Pull Me Under,” so I can certainly enjoy prog, for sure. I don’t listen to it much, but I can enjoy it. No doubt.
I was talking to Sammy Hagar recently and he talked about how Dave Cobb had approached him and wanted to make a classic Sammy record. If we move the timeline back, with what you’re doing right now with Jamey and he wanted to make a classic Twisted Sister album, would that have been possible?
Oh, wow. So if you pulled the Rick Rubin, who’s notorious for taking these bands and making a great “them” record. I don’t know. It’s a really good question. My initial response is “No.” Because Jamey, when I said “Yes,” I go, “What is this going to be?” I only knew Jamey as a singer of Hatebreed. I like Hatebreed and I like contemporary metal, so I thought, “Okay, well, I’ll roll with this.”
Because, by the way, remember, we had no record deal. We just went in on our dime [to record the solo album]. We weren’t gambling anything but our own money at that point. So it was like, “Alright, let’s give it a shot.” I knew I liked contemporary metal and I wanted to do something new and more metal. With Twisted Sister, though, Jamey Jasta saying, “Let’s do the Twisted Sister album,” I don’t know. Maybe if Rick Rubin came and said, “I want to do a Twisted Sister album with you guys,” with his track record, I might have said, “Alright, let’s give that a shot and see what happens.”
There’s been a Widowmaker box set taking shape. What’s the current state on that?
I talk to the Widowmaker guys all of the time. By the second album, Widowmaker was very metallic. We were always metallic, but I just went back and listened to [the band's second album] Stand By for Pain and I mean, I was on the path to becoming a much more contemporary artist. I ran into resistance, not just record sales, but the press at that time in the ‘90s was giving me shit about overstaying my welcome.
You know, I usually don’t listen to that stuff, but I was doubting. I was having self-doubt, myself, at that point in my life, so that sort of reinforced how I was already feeling. But those records were really heavy, and the guys heard the stuff and were just raving about the new stuff.
Widowmaker, we’re still trying to sort out who controls the rights to the first album. No record label is willing to pull the trigger on an open-ended…we have no paperwork that says, alright, this person owns it or that person owns it. The chain of title, you know, it’s like the movie studios. You say, “I wonder why they never made a sequel to that movie?” It’s usually chain of title, that they can’t figure out who owns it. And nobody wants to take a chance to say, “Yeah, we’re going to roll the dice on this one” and open themselves up to a potential suit when some guy comes running out and goes, “Aha! I’ve got it!”
So we’re trying to get that first album sorted out. Because we’ve got some great stuff. We’ve got a whole live show, a lot of behind-the-scenes footage; we’ve got some videos, things like that. We could put together a nice box set, I think. We really would love to because there’s fans of that project. But right now, we’re still stuck on that one thing.
Listen to 'Ready to Fall' by Widowmaker