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Monday, July 19, 2021

“Screaming for Those Who Cannot Scream”: Dee Snider Keeps on Rocking With New Album ‘Leave a Scar’ [Interview]

Dee Snider.

Any metal enthusiast worth their salt knows the name of Twisted Sister’s legendary frontman, surely. And yet, the celebrated musician’s work in radio, television and film (to say nothing of his appearance on the Senate floor to battle the PMRC’s crusade against “obscene” music) has seen to it that he’s become a pop culture icon with crossover appeal to various strata of fans.

On July 30th, Napalm Records releases Leave a Scar, Snider’s fifth solo album. From the anthemic “I Gotta Rock (Again)” to the muscular “In For the Kill” to the ferocious “Time to Choose”, Leave a Scar is an asskicker of an album, destined to appeal to longtime fans while providing a perfect jumping-on point for uninitiated listeners who may know the man’s name, but not necessarily his music.

It’s fun, furious, frightening, and metal as all hell, presenting the sound that perfectly melds both classic and modern that the artist previously exhibited only three years ago with his album For the Love of Metal. With this well-practiced approach and the underlying themes on display with each track, Leave a Scar stands not as a return to form so much as an existential statement: Dee Snider is still here, he’s still rockin’, and he ain’t goin’ anywhere.

In advance of his new album’s release, Mr. Snider was kind enough to chat with Bloody Disgusting about Leave a Scar’s origins, the anger that drives it, and why horror fans should pay attention to this newest effort.

Bloody Disgusting: What inspired this album’s fusion of a more modern sound with that more classically metal bite that we know and love you for?

Dee Snider: Well, you gotta go back to the mid-90s when I had a band called Widowmaker that put out a couple of albums. It didn’t react, and I started to feel like my time in the contemporary scene was done. I just saw bands from the 80s who were trying to continue doing the 80s thing. They were in a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation. If they tried to grow and change with the times, they were mocked for trying to act like they were a new band. And if they stayed where they were, they were mocked for being the same band. Which is why I never did any additional Twisted records except for the Christmas stuff, which was really more of a novelty than anything else. I just said, “Well, okay, I guess my time’s done.”

I didn’t want to be one of those guys who overstayed his welcome. So I moved down into radio and TV and movies and things like that, but I’ve always stayed a fan of metal. My kids were all metalheads, taking me to concerts, taking me to shows, playing music for me, giving me playlists, always keep me abreast. And I love it – Day One metal fan from when it first started as hard rock in 1969, and I still love what’s going on in metal. All the changes and the growth. But I didn’t feel that there was a place for me. And then I meet Jamey Jasta, and he challenges me to do a contemporary metal record and says he’ll produce it.

I said, “Alright, I’ll take the challenge. I would love to, I’m just not sure how to fit in.” How does this sixty-something-year-old dude fit in? And he said, “Dee. Your voice is your entry. That’s your pass, your voice. You just need to have the right music.”

So a group of people out of everywhere, from Lamb of God, Killswitch Engage, Disturbed, and all these great bands, they all contributed to the album and helped me find my sound. This was For the Love of Metal. It went to Top 20 in the U.S. charts, it was one of the number one metal albums around the world in 2018 when it came out. And suddenly, I said “Jamey’s right. There is a place for me.”

So I knew what I needed to do, I knew what I wanted to do. And when the world just took a shit in 2020, I said “Alright, it’s time.” Not only for me to do another record, but to contribute and be a participant in the creative process, not just the singer. And so Jamey, me and Charlie Bellmore started writing.

BD: “I Gotta Rock (Again)” is Leave a Scar’s first single, and there’s a great music video to accompany it. Listening to the song, it feels like it has the same charge and drive as your early work, but there also seems to be something of a mission statement in the lyrics regarding your career at this point, and that feeling is sort of carried throughout the full album. What does this album mean to you?

DS: I’m really glad that what I’m trying to communicate, people are hearing. Whether it’s how I write my lyrics, or the passion. I’m hearing this from everybody, and they’re really getting it. And I actually, in 2019, told everybody I was done. I had made a comeback of sorts with For the Love of Metal and I felt, “You know what? I’m ready to move on to doing other things.” I told my family, I told my management, I told the band, “That’s it. I’m not gonna make a formal announcement publicly, there’s no reason for that, but I’m done.”

I went so far as … I have this fan in Canada. Number One fan, travels all over the world with his family [to see me], and I sent him my stage boots that I’ve been wearing for the last twenty years. I signed them, boxed them. I mailed them to him, and I said “Keith, put them in your man cave. I’m done.” Well Keith, if you’re listening…could I have my boots back? Apparently, I wasn’t done. [laughs]

But then, COVID. Then the world shit the bed, as I said. And this phrase popped into my head. In the past, I always wrote all my songs to titles. I would always have a list of titles, and they would inspire the songs. Well, I had stopped writing songs in the 90s, and I didn’t bother carrying a list with me anymore. And that’s a long time ago. That’s twenty-five years ago. I hadn’t written a song! So all of a sudden, a little voice says “I gotta rock again.”

I actually chuckled to myself and said “Boy. That’s it. If I ever heard a Dee Snider song title, that’s a Dee Snider song title right there.” I’m the guy who, everything’s “rock”! “Bad Boys of Rock”, “I Wanna Rock”, “You Can’t Stop Rock”, “I Believe in Rock”. I once was hanging out with a bunch of jam band guys at dinner, and I said “I notice that you guys use the word ‘rock’. Is that because I used them all up in the 80s?” So, I wrote down the title and I said, “You know, I can’t be the only one who’s feeling this.”

It’s a feeling of the time. A frustration, an anger. “I gotta rock again.” “Rock” being actually performing, or going to a show, or just living! You know, rocking.

There’s one more thing, that really just set the whole thing. I was very active on social media during the election time, speaking out about what’s going on in the world. You know, anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers, non-believers. And I was just railing at the middle, saying “You are letting the extremists on the extreme left and right, these bullies, the loudest voices in the room – you’re letting them call the shots. These are people who think because they have a Facebook group of ten thousand people in it, they’re a movement. It’s not a movement, it’s a fuckin’ parade! Okay? That’s a parade! Ten thousand…there’s seven billion people in the world! That’s not a movement!

And you middle people who lean left, lean right, but try to make sense of it … you sit there saying, “I’m sure it will be okay. Things will work out for the best. I hope all will be good.” In the immortal words of Dr. Phil, “How’s that worked out for you so far?” It’s not working! The world’s taken a shit because we’ve just sat back and gone, “I’m sure it’ll be okay.”

No! Fight back! And someone texted me and said “Dee. We don’t all have your voice or your platform. What are we supposed to do?” And that’s when it hit me. “This is my job. It’s not something I choose, it’s what I gotta do.”

I said, “Jamey. I gotta do another album, because I’ve been designated to be the voice. The ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ guy, to go to bat and scream for those who cannot scream.”

It was a combination of those things, and you’re hearing it on the record. Exactly what you’re hearing is those exact feelings. I’m so glad you said all those words, because it means I’ve communicated those feelings.

BD: As you mentioned, we’ve just gone through an unbelievably tumultuous time in our history. It sounds like this impacted Leave a Scar on a conceptual level, but did it have affect the practicalities in even just recording and producing the album?

DS: I’ve been saying that there was one little bit of luck with this pandemic, and that is – it happened now instead of twenty years ago. Because twenty years ago, technology was not up to speed. The technology was there that we could record at different places in the world effectively. I had to record some vocals in LA. Well, the technology is such that Jamey and Nicky were in my headphones and hearing my voice in real time, as it was going to tape. Not like a tinny version, but the real tone and everything.

And then speaking to me as if they were in the next room. Jamey always says, “Put some mustard on it! Can put some stank on it, put a little mustard on at this time?”

I said, “You want my lid off? Is that what you were saying?! Motherfucker, I was being kind, now I’m gonna blow you outta the booth! Transcontinentally, I’m going to blow you right out of the fucking booth!”

So, the technology was there. A lot of the guys recorded in Connecticut, and that was important. As far as my vocals go, I was able to record effectively thousands of miles away.

BD: You very famously went to the Senate to stand up for musicians’ rights in the face of censorship from the likes of the Parents Music Resource Center, and Al and Tipper Gore (and as somebody who grew up in the 80s – thank you). Over three decades later, what is the landscape like for you today as an artist in this country crafting an album, compared to that period in the 80s?

DS: It’s a really good question. It’s an important question. It’s something I get asked all the time, because of my fight in the 80s. And thank you for appreciating and respecting it.

There was a time period there where it was realized that it was not the smartest move to make at the time, in many ways, but I’d still do it again. You know what I mean? I thought I was leading the charge, and everybody just sort of laid down and just stayed out of it. The record industry did, the artists did, most fans were kind of apathetic. They didn’t really get the significance of what was going on at the time. But with the passage of time, it’s become a very significant event.

So what’s happened, we had a very right wing, conservative, puritanically-inspired censorship going on in the 80s. And that really was the tradition of censorship through the ages. It was always based in the church. “Puritanical” is the best word for it. Well, over the years, the pendulum has swung, and the real censorship is now coming from the left in a PC, “That is offensive” kind of movement. It’s a very different kind of movement, but it’s still censorship at the end of the day.

As I was writing this record – remember I told you, I haven’t written since the 90s – I caught myself thinking if some of the lyrics might upset people. And the other voice in my head, the louder one, said, “What the fuck are you doing?! This is metaphor. This is in your window. These are tools of the craft of writing. You can’t let them strip metaphor from a writer’s arsenal.”

And the fact that I was even aware of it, that I thought about it … and I didn’t change it. The particular song was “In For the Kill”. “In for the kill, fire at will.” You know – murder, a death metaphor, a gun metaphor in there. But I shouldn’t even be thinking about that. Creators should create, and number pushers – record companies and lawyers – they should be the ones saying, “Listen, you can’t say that.” But the fact that I found myself for a moment self-censoring, that is a bad thing. That’s a bad thing for creativity that there’s so much pressure on us now that we’re actually questioning our own creativity.

BD: For your final word on Leave a Scar: there is definitely a lot of crossover between horror fans and metal fans, but not all horror fans are into metal, and vice versa. Throughout your career, you’ve used horror imagery in your work. You even made a great horror film with Strangeland! So for the casual horror fan reading Bloody Disgusting who runs across this interview, how would you sell this album to them?

DS: Well, I’d say – first of all, start with the cover.

I mean, those hooks in the heart, that was an homage to Strangeland. Blood pouring down the stairway, the gothic windows. I mean, I am linked to the horror world, the horror community. I see them going hand in hand. I believe it’s the viscerality of the two forms that has that crossover appeal. They’re both very visceral by nature. Heavy metal, the aggression, intense feelings come out. Horror? Different intense feelings, but still intense all the same. So I believe that’s where the connection lies.

A little side thing, just in a broader discussion about horror, is that some comedy writers have been very great horror writers, as you well know. Danny McBride, who’s writing Halloween. William Peter Blatty wrote Pink Panther movies. He was billed as a comedy writer [before he wrote The Exorcist].

Again, visceral reactions. Laughter is a visceral reaction. Fear, screaming – that’s a visceral reaction as well. That’s why there’s a crossover there. So I’ve always felt a connection to the community.

Strangeland, the soundtrack, that was so popular because it was a contemporary metal record. People loved it because it was metal with horror. So I think those go hand in hand, and more often than not.

So to the horror fans – it’s Dee, baby. I am horror-inspired, and my music is intensely horrifying. Look, I got George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher singing a duet with me on this record. And there’s no one more horrific than Corpsegrinder!

Very Special Thanks to Dee Snider for his time!


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