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Exclusive! Interview With Vocalist Dee Snider

By Krishta Abruzzini, Pacific Northwest Writer
Tuesday, November 11, 2003 @ 1:30 PM

Vocalist Dee Snider of Twisted

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Ah, Halloween. The time for Ghosts, goblins, pumpkins, witches and… Dee Snider. Or at least that’s the general goal for Dee’s latest release, Van Helsing’s Curse Oculus Infernum. Similar to that of what the Tran Siberian Orchestra is during Christmastime, it is Dee’s intention to make this album a touring extravaganza, which will become a part of October’s sinister piece of Americana tradition.

The release offers some of music’s darkest tunes in history, that have been transformed into even darker and heavier pieces, ala Snider and his 18-piece cast. From Snider’s rendition titled “Tubular Hell,” which features pieces of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” and “In The Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg, to the exquisitely haunting and moving track titled “The Tortured Soul,” which are pieces from the “Funeral March” by Fredric Chopin and “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven, this release is surprisingly incredible. Snider and group even pull off the task of recreating Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath” making the original seem like a lullaby.

I spoke to Dee about his new project… and all things that go bump in the night—okay, maybe not all things… ‘cause that would just be wrong. But we do uncover the mystery of what this project is about…

SNIDER: I’m Dee Snider, how are you?

KNAC.COM: Hi Dee Snider. I’m well, and you?
SNIDER: I’m doing good.

KNAC.COM: Well, I have to say, unless you’ve been up all night, 8:30a.m.is hardly an hour for a rock star to be doing an interview.
SNIDER: I am not your traditional rock star by any means. If you know me, you’ll know I’ve been clean and sober my whole life, I’ve been with the same woman for 27 years and when I wasn’t out playing, the first thing I did was get up early. I just got sick of the nightlife and never partied or hung-out. I’m bizarre. I’m an alien amongst my peers. I always get up around six-thirty. And when I was doing morning radio for three years, I was going to bed at nine, and getting up at 4am everyday. That was a real bitch.

KNAC.COM: In an industry that’s known to be influenced by drugs and debauchery, it must have been interesting along the way for you to be around it. I mean, there’s very few of you who haven’t at least at one time fallen into that lifestyle.
SNIDER: I’ve never pointed fingers at people who are out there enjoying the lifestyle, but for me it just makes a lot more sense. When you’re spending twenty-two-and-a-half hours of travel and preparation for an hour-and-a-half show, then partying and enjoying the local talent, so to speak, it’s really the only joy you’re getting when you’re not on the stage. So for me having been married, and had already had a kid, and being faithful and not a partier, it was a very miserable experience touring the world endlessly. When I wasn’t on stage, I was just sitting in my room and doing nothing.

KNAC.COM: Did you ever bring your family out with you?
SNIDER: No, I didn’t, because my wife hated going out with me. She said I was a miserable bastard. And I was. It sucked. I was a very angry, chip on my shoulder guy. And I became this very recognizable public figure, and I still am, but it was kind of insane back in those days. I would go places, and literally be mobbed. It was intense.

KNAC.COM: But you’ve lightened up now, yes?
SNIDER: [Laughs] No. Yes I have.

KNAC.COM: So tell me about this new Halloween project of yours.
SNIDER: Van Helsing’s Curse.

KNAC.COM: I was just listening to it, and I’ve got to tell you, it’s really heavy. I mean, you’ve taken some of the most frightening music, at least to me, and made it even scarier.
SNIDER: My sixteen-year-old son was just like, “Dad, this is really creepy.”

KNAC.COM: It is.
SNIDER: We tried to create something for people from seven to seventy. Mixing dark themes, from Beethoven to Black Sabbath. And then I narrate a haunting little story line to go with it, and it’s really the start of a much bigger deal. We knew everything started with the music. Everything else we planned to do, from this point out with Van Helsing’s Curse depended on making a really great record. And when we said, “This is the soundtrack for Halloween,” we were really like laying claim. A lot of the horror web-sites, because those are your real fans, they’re going to be the quickest to praise, but the most critical. And most of them were like, “That’s a hell of a statement to make, but you’ve done it. Five Skulls!” So Widowmaker productions is really proud of it. And we really think this is the start of a long-term project. You’re going to see Van Helsing’s Curse for many years to come.

KNAC.COM: So, you’re planning on touring this?
SNIDER: Well, this year we can’t. It’s an awareness issue. It’s not the kind of thing you can hook-up to another tour, and you can’t send it out on its own. This year, we’re just trying to make people aware of what Van Helsing’s Curse is about. And then next year, you’re going to start to see touring entities out there. We’re the production company, so we won’t perform, but we plan on having multiple entities out there, during the month of October.

KNAC.COM: Kind of like the Tran Siberian Orchestra.
SNIDER: Exactly. We’ll have three or more companies out performing around the country, so we can cover a lot of ground. Visually, it will be very exciting. We have an 18-piece rock orchestra now, ready to perform one song, if we get a television performance. The string section is dressed like Anne Rice, classic Goth. The electric section looks like Hellraiser meets ‘Manson.’ And then the choir are dressed as druids; hooded robes, faceless beings. But already, Six Flags out here on the East Coast have licensed Van Helsing’s Curse for their Fright Nights. They have a fireworks display set to the music of Van Helsing’s Curse. So it’s very cool. There’s an animated special being explored where the story of Van Helsing’s Curse is told, with the music being the score. So this is something that is going to expand in years to come, with subsequent Van Helsing’s Curse records being released in a couple of years. But it all starts with the music. As Joe Perry says, “Let the music do the talking.”

KNAC.COM: Will you personally be going out on any of the tours?
SNIDER: I wouldn’t. One of the reasons I was hesitant to do the narration was because I wanted to be faceless. I don’t want people taken away from the experience of the show, by saying, “That’s so and so.” Looking at who’s in Van Helsing’s Curse, as much as just experiencing the lights and the looks and the sounds. It was The Who doing Tommy, versus Pink Floyd doing The Wall. I mean, as far as Pink Floyd, the core know it’s David Gilmore, but the masses, as long as the lights are flashing and the music is playing, they don’t even know that Roger Waters, the guy who wrote the songs and sang them, isn’t even there anymore. Do you know how frustrated he must be? To realize that who he was did not matter to what Pink Floyd is? I mean Pink Floyd is still out playing stadiums without him. How insane is that? But that’s what I mean for Van Helsing’s Curse. I don’t know if it will be taped narrations, or 3-D video screen stuff, or choosing different celebrity narrations. That’ll be decided as it expands. But we’ll explore that as it need be. Personally, I’d love to see a hologram of me. My head, in a box. [Laughs].

KNAC.COM: And you’re expecting audience participation as well. Kind of a live Rocky Horror experience? I mean, I’m assuming you’re not going to have a lot people showing up dressed as clowns or ballerinas though.
SNIDER: Actually, the audience can do whatever they want. But we’re going to really encourage the audience to come in costume. I think the music speaks to a different kind of vibe, but we’re not going to stop anyone from coming in because they’re dressed like a clown. It’s not going to be like Studio 54: “Hey, headless horseman, you’re in, clown-boy, you’re out.” We want it to become an event that is part of people’s Halloween experience. You know, they’ve got their trick or treating, they’ve got their Halloween party, and haunted house visit, and we’re hoping that by going to Van Helsing’s Curse, it will be a part of it. It will be an event not only to see, but to be seen. Can you hold on just a sec?

SNIDER: Sorry about that. My son just walked in. He’s my oldest son, Jesse, who’s a VJ on MTV2. He does the Rock show everyday from six to seven, and then he does the rock countdown on the weekends.

KNAC.COM: Proud daddy.
SNIDER: Actually, he just corrected me. He’s says it’s on five times a day, the Rock show. So, check your local listings. Or you can check-out his website at www.jesseblaze.com.

KNAC.COM: He’s plugged [laughing]. Any chances for this becoming a movie, such as you did with Strangeland?
SNIDER: That’s one thing that we have not explored yet. Certainly the story and the music plays to that. We’ll explore it as it goes though. One thing we don’t want it to be is a year-round thing. Although the record company would prefer it to be. They say, “You know, this doesn’t have to be just for Halloween. It’s great. There are people that can be fans of this all year round.” But to me, that would take away its specialness. We want it to show up October 1st, and then it disappears on Midnight, October 31st, and you won’t see it again until next year. Could a movie play into that? Yeah, well, it could. But it’s definitely designed as a much bigger thing.

KNAC.COM: Would you design this as a musical if you were to put it in film?
SNIDER: I couldn’t see it being a musical. I think the music itself is very score-like. Especially since it doesn’t have any lead vocals. Which really shocked everybody, even the guys I work with. Joe Franco, my producer, even asked why I didn’t want to have vocals. He couldn’t understand it because I’m a singer. I personally think it would take away from it. Just because I’m a singer doesn’t mean that I have to sing on everything. The only vocals I wanted on this were Gregorian chants, Latin, and the whole choral type thing. I think the minute you have a front person singing, and this is where I think the Tran Siberian Orchestra fails on, is it just all of a sudden becomes a band. And I don’t want to have that. Again, it’s very score-like.

KNAC.COM: It is, but it has a heavier ring to it. Like “Tubular Hell,” which is taken from “Tubular Bells,” and some of the other songs you’ve used, are basically the fabric of most of our upbringings in films, that at least at one time were so frightening. Like with The Exorcist, and the theme to The Omen, “Ave Satani.”
SNIDER: People do have a dark connection to the music. Oddly, much the way Van Helsing’s was created, and I know this for a fact because part of Widowmaker Productions is a manager, Phil Carson, who did the first signing for Mike Oldfield. And he said that The Exorcist was scored and finished, and the album from Mike Oldfield and “Tubular Bells” was already out. But somebody played it for the director, and the director was like, “Oh my God,” and he went in and laid it into his movie. He said, “Throw away the score, I don’t care how much we spent, this music speaks to my story.” And that’s the way we did Van Helsing’s. I would write a segment of the story, and we would sit and say, “Okay, what speaks to our story?” And “Tubular Hell,” we call it that because it’s also “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” and some original pieces, but still centered around “Tubular Bells.” Mike Oldfield gets his royalties [laughs].

KNAC.COM: So how did you choose all of the music?
SNIDER: It was really an ass backwards experience for us. When I came in with the idea, and I said to the guys, “Tran Siberian, for Halloween,” the Widowmaker guys immediately said, “I get it!” So they wanted the story, and I really hadn’t written it yet. They asked if I could give them a little feel on how I would approach it. And I said, alright, without a story in mind, I wrote “Patience,” with a vision of this entity lying in wait. And I gave it to the guys and they all got it. And we went from there and found music that we felt expressed the sentiment. So then they wanted to know what happened next with the story, and at the time, I said, “I don’t know. I’m going to go back home and write it.” So, I would write a section, and we would find or create music that expressed musically what I had just stated. The full story is about ten pages of writing, actually. And you can find it at www.vanhelsingscurse.com. Ultimately, the original concept was music for your Halloween party, music for your Halloween experience. And yeah, you should put your headphones on, put a couple of candles on, dim the lights, because the production is amazing, the performances are amazing. There are some battles, that’s how I saw them, between the old school and the new school, with electric violin and electric guitar that are just chilling. And “Moonlight Sonata”…

KNAC.COM: Oh my God. Track six, “The Tortured Soul.”
SNIDER: Ooooh. It gives me chills.

KNAC.COM: I was just going to say that. It is gorgeous.
SNIDER: It’s so creepy in that way, and then the violins play and the guitar kicks in, and oh my God, they both come in together, and I’m just like practically in tears.

KNAC.COM: That’s absolutely my favorite track on the CD.
SNIDER: I have to say, it’s one of mine, too. You don’t expect it.

KNAC.COM: It could be a classic. The emotion that comes out in it is unbelievable.
SNIDER: Yeah, one of my favorite moments. Although the end of “Let me Prey,” “Carmina Burana”… it’s just… aaaaahhhh. You can see the fireworks. It’s just awesome. Like the big finale going off. The music just really speaks for itself.

KNAC.COM: Have you had any feedback from the Black Sabbath boys regarding their song, “Black Sabbath”?
SNIDER: No. I’d be interested to hear what Ozzy, and Tony and Geezer think though. To me, when you do a cover, there’s two ways to do it. One, you do it true to the original, because the original is the original, and you don’t want to fuck with perfection. Or the other is, you make it your own. If you can make something your own, and do it well, which I think we did [with “Black Sabbath”], I think that is really exciting. To me, when I’ve heard people cover my stuff, I’m most excited when people have done their own thing with it. Yeah, it’s flattering when you hear an exact reproduction of what you did, but when somebody like Chuck D. did “Wake-up the Sleeping Giant” on the Twisted Forever Tribute CD, and some people were really offended, like, “What do you mean, rap?” But it was so cool, he made it his own, yet the spirit of the song was still there. And I think that was great. As far as the Black Sabbath song we did, and those who are paying close attention will notice that the guitar solo at the end, note for note, quiver for quiver, is Tony Iommi’s exact guitar solo. To the point where you would think we actually recorded Tony’s, and just laid it in there. Our guitar player, Jake Richards is Berklee trained, who does all of the guitar work, and well, he’s a God. Tony Iommi is not a guitar God in the traditional sense. But, Jake said that this solo is like an icon of heavy metal guitar soloing. He said, “I can’t touch this thing. All I will do is play his exact notes, and I will do it the way he did it, because it is perfection.” Not because it’s technically such a great solo, but it’s inspired. It was Sabbath, they were working in a factory, recording the album, and Tony’s cut-off fingers, plastic tips… I mean it deserves to be exact. We flipped this song completely around, and in the end we should pay homage to Iommi.

KNAC.COM: How did you find the cast?
SNIDER: Well, we’re in New York. And this was truly a labor of love. We recorded this entire record ourselves, out of our own pockets. And we found a label to put it out. Because we wanted it to be our baby, and we didn’t want anybody’s opinion, quite honestly. It was like, this is what we’re doing, do you want to do it? And Koch records, well, they got it. Koch is also great with special products; their biggest records have been with ‘WWF’ and ‘Pokemon’ records. They get that this is not a traditional record. And we just went to our pals. The first call I made was to Joe Franco, and Phil Carson and we formed a partnership. Then we went around New York and found people like Greg Smith and Mark Wood who do the violin work and a lot of the players are from Billy Joel’s, ‘Movin’ Out’ show. So it’s just people that we knew. Joe Franco’s wife sings on it, Joe’s daughter did the little girls voices. It was a family thing. Most people worked for nothing, for spec, for minimal fees. Most people thought it was cool, different, and they wanted to see it succeed. And we had a great time doing it.

KNAC.COM: Almost like beatniks making art.
SNIDER: Yeah. It was communal. Joe Franco has his own studio, and we were all smiling the whole time. It wasn’t the same old thing. People were having fun doing it. And a lot of these guys are session musicians, so they’re used to playing like, Pepsi commercials, but here it was like they were being hired, but they were doing things from Paganini to Black Sabbath. I mean, what kind of bizarro combination is that? And it excited people.

KNAC.COM: So, we gotta talk about Arnold. Are you going to do the Inaugural Ball with Twisted Sister?
SNIDER: If asked, we will. At least that’s what the guys say. For the rally, I went out myself. We’re not doing Twisted full-time because some people have jobs, people quit doing it. But I was like, “Arnold, I can get out there.” So for the rally, on two hours sleep, I flew out there and sang “We’re Not Going to Take It” for like eight minutes. They told me to keep it going until he left the stage, and he wouldn’t leave the stage! I kept looking over, and they kept telling me to ‘keep going, keep going,’ and Arnold was like hugging babies and shaking hands. But eventually, he did leave the stage [laughing]. But we told him, if called, we would go. We talked a little, me and him about maybe doing some USO stuff. Twisted playing for the USO, he had done some stuff for them, and he asked me what I thought about going over together. And I told him, ”You lead, and I will follow.”

KNAC.COM: So, you’ve come a long way, baby. Here’s a man who at one point filed his teeth down to points and was truly at the forefront of rebellion, who is now the voice of MSNBC and following Republican politicians around… would you have ever thought twenty years ago that you would be where you are now?
SNIDER: You know what? I didn’t plan much past thirty. I knew I would be married and have kids, and I was going to make it. I was going to be a rock star. But you know, and I tell this to a lot of young musicians, it’s not a finish line. You don’t cross the goal lines, spike the ball put your hands in the air and say, “Yeah, I’m done.” You wake up and you’ve got fifty more years to live. And maybe you’ve got a couple of million made, which is always a lot of money, but with the way you’re spending it, it ain’t lasting another five. And you’re ill-prepared to do anything else. So my life has been interesting, it’s been surprising and exciting. And for that, I’ve loved everything that’s been happening to me. A lot of it’s been by my own design, but who’d have thought I’d be singing, “We’re Not Going to Take It” on the same stage with Arnold Schwarzenegger? At a Republican rally, no less. I mean, in the eighties, I was being investigated. My phones were tapped, for God’s sake. I was being investigated by the Federal Government, and now I’m a guest of the Federal Government at army bases.

KNAC.COM: Funny how it turns around. I mean, Tipper must be spitting chunks of blood with the lyrics that are accepted by society today.
SNIDER: Yeah, I was talking to Marilyn Manson, and I told him, “Enjoy your badass celebrity status now, because whether you like it or not, twenty years from now, you’re going to be easy listening!” I mean, there’s no avoiding it. “Oooh. Play that fun ‘Beautiful People’ song [musing].”

KNAC.COM: Yeah, well you look back at the time, and what innovative music Twisted had, and you were stirring up the parents. And now you are a parent, and you wonder, how much worse can it get?
SNIDER: I am the parent with kids playing music [laughing].

KNAC.COM: Did you ever censor the music they listened to?
SNIDER: Yes. Certainly, I paid attention to what they were listening to. But, I like the music they listen to. I like Manson and Eminem and Green Day. But, I always tell parents they’re missing an opportunity to have a nice, open discussion with their kids by talking about the music. Censor? We’re all fans of Tenacious D, but my seven year old is simply not ready for “Fuck Her Gently.” She gets a tape that Daddy made, songs that she can deal with. And then my twelve year old, he didn’t get “Fuck her Gently” either. But my sixteen year old and my twenty one year old, hell, we sing together. So it’s not really censorship, but intelligent control.

KNAC.COM: So listen, my friend Clyde Lewis here in Portland, from the program Ground Zero, wants me to ask you if you have any conspiracy theories that you follow?
SNIDER: Oh yeah, Clyde! He did my morning show. Well, I’m not really a conspiracy theorist; I’m pretty willing to accept things.

KNAC.COM: Did we land on the moon?
SNIDER: Oh yeah. We did. But I would say the JFK one would be mine. Not that I ever doubted the government. I mean, why would they lie to me about something like that? But there’s so many conflicting stories. Just some unsubstantiated evidence that there was this magic bullet, and so many things. There’s way more to this than we know about, and eventually, the truth will all come out. It’s probably somewhere in the middle though. There’s definitely plenty that we’re not being told, but that’s my favorite one.

KNAC.COM: Well, Thanks so much for your time. Looking forward to hearing you at the Ball. By the way, your teeth look amazing now [laughing].
SNIDER: Yeah, my wife did not enjoy them the way they were. Ow, ow, ow, ow!

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