Dee Snider Talks Twisted Sister Doco and Splitting Up: 'I've Been Wanting to Call it a Day for a Long Time'

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The world knows all about the triple-platinum status of Stay Hungry, the enduring histories of "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock," the testimony for the congressional PMRC hearings. But there's much more to the Twisted Sister story than those high-water marks, and it's being told in We Are Twisted F***ing Sister!, the unvarnished new documentary by Andrew Horn, which debuts Friday in theaters and comes out Feb. 23 on home video.

"(Horn) was not a Twisted Sister fan. He didn't know much about us," frontman Dee Snider tells Billboard. Horn actually met the group while working on a documentary about German experimental artist Klaus Nomi, who Twisted Sister had crossed paths with during the 80s. "In talking to us he was, 'What do you mean you existed for 10 years before I heard about you?!' He was really taken with the Rocky-esque nature of our story and he approached us about doing a documentary and we said, 'Man, we would love for that story to be told!'"

Guitarist Jay Jay French, meanwhile, feels Twisted Sister's pre-fame years, building a substantial audience without the benefit of a label deal -- though not for lack of trying -- is even more interesting than the band's success.

"The story is the 10-year struggle," French notes. "It's funny and it's sad and it's informative and it's completely unique compared to any other band. If you look at the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, Zep, Floyd, Queen, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, all these bands were signed within probably six months of their inception -- except maybe for the Beatles, who had their famous two, three years of forging their roots in the ratskellars of Germany. But guess what, Beatles -- we did it three times longer than you did it! It was a trial by fire, and what the movie shows is how we handled it, how we dealt with it." There's some sex and drugs along with the rock 'n' roll, but We Are Twisted F***ing Sister also shows the moxie that kept the group alive through those trying times.

"I think the takeaway is how much business went into it, how much business thinking there was," says French, who served as the group's manager and now writes a business column for Ink magazine. "It wasn't just, 'Hey man, that sucked. We got rejected man. What are we gonna do now?' We sat back and we did the same thing every time. We mourned the rejections. We reflected on the rejections, we retooled and re-applied. It's like wash, rinse and repeat. We were in the business."

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Twisted Sister full cooperated with Horn on the 134-minute movie, sitting for interviews and providing video and other materials. But the group did not exercise any editorial control over project. "The one thing we agreed on was we would not influence his hand," Snider says. "We let him tell the story. He was about as objective as we were ever going to get, and we figured the story that he told would be his truth based on what he saw and he heard and experienced. I'm happy about that." The film does, however, show that success, when it finally arrived, was a bit of an empty experience for some of the band members. 

"It took the fun out of it to just have to work that hard and to sacrifice that much," acknowledges Snider, who vented his feelings in a song called "The Price" on Stay Hungry. "It soured me. I watch these things, the (documentary) and 'Behind The Music,' and I can see me transformed from being this kid who was like, 'Hey! I'm in a band!' to a really angry person who got uglier and nastier as we went through it."

French, too, acknowledges becoming "disgusted with the culture of celebrity" and was careful to maintain a separate identity as John Segall when he returned home to Manhattan. "How I handled it was getting back to my apartment, putting my bags down, picking up a baseball bat and going to the schoolyard around the corner from my home and hitting the ball against the wall, like I've done since I was 10 years old," he says. "I completely separated the two identities 'cause I never wanted to be caught up in the illusion that (celebrity) life was real, 'cause it's 100 percent bullshit."

We Are Twisted F***ing Sister! is the first salvo in what's been dubbed the group's Forty and Fuck It farewell year. (More information about the film, including theatrical showings, can be found at www.musicboxfilms.com/twistedsister.) Also on the docket is a DVD from the group's May 30 memorial concert in Las Vegas for drummer AJ Pero, who died in March of 2015. A vinyl box set is due out, as well as some vintage live recordings. The group, with Mike Portnoy on drums, also has a pair of festival shows announced for the summer -- the Sweden Rock Festival in Solvesborg and Hellfest in France -- with a few others still to be announced, and nothing planned for the U.S. 

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"The best way I can describe it is it's the last five minutes of the Twisted Sister fireworks display," says French, who's planning to publish a memoir as well. "This is the end, and I know people are skeptical because all bands say they're retiring and then they don't. We never did, although (Snider) has retired many times. This is the first time I've said, 'Yeah, this is it.' It's been a long time. It's been over 9,000 shows, and it is time to call it a day."

He's not getting any argument from Snider, who has several projects in the works including a sequel to his 1998 horror film Strangeland. "I've been wanting to call it a day for a long time, and after AJ passed everybody agreed it was the five of us from the beginning to the end so now it's really time," Snider says. "We're gonna do a limited number of shows and they're gonna be (big) paydays so everybody can put some money away and we'll go out on a high note. I don't want to have that 'I've fallen and I can't get up' moment on stage. If someone came along and offered us a shitload of money for a full-blown tour, I'd still say no."

The most gratifying part for the four surviving Sisters, however, is that they'll be finishing on the good terms established by a reunion in 2003 after an acrimonious breakup in 1989. "It had just haunted me to end on such a bad note, 'cause we had achieved so much together and worked so hard together," Snider says. "Even though publicly I would say 'I don't give a shit,' I really hoped secretly that we would be able to fix it, and we have. Now I love these guys. There's no hatred. I love the moment. And love that the story has a happy ending."

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