Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Twisted Sister - Live At the Astoria Interview

We’re Not Gonna Fake It
Like a fine whine, Twisted Sister gets better with age!

What do you think of when you hear the name Twisted Sister? Does it take you back to the glory days of MTV (when the M stood for Music)? Does it remind you of great times, cruising on a Saturday night and playing their Stay Hungry cassette over and over again? Does it make you long for some straight forward, honest melodic Rock? Well, get ready, friends, because Twisted Sister have just released a scorching live package that will bring back great memories and create new ones at the same time.
Twisted Sister has always been about Rock 'N' Roll. Their image caught the attention of the public but beneath the Extreme Glam look was a band with substance and style. They knew how to Rock, they knew their way around a good tune and they knew how to package it up and make it fun for everyone. The band may have hit big in the early '80s, but not many folks know that they were rocking since 1973!
When the band came to an end in the late '80s, the members pursued their own career paths. Fortunately, a little over a decade later, those paths reconnected and Twisted Sister has been kicking butt ever since! They re-recorded their classic Stay Hungry album (retitled Still Hungry) and released an extremely entertaining Christmas album amongst other projects, but the most exciting release thus far is this new live CD/DVD, recorded in the UK in 2004. And 30+ years into their career, to be able to perform with such fire and conviction is testament to their combined talents.
Super D's Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to catch up with guitarist Jay Jay French (the only original member since their '73 formation) and talk about the past, present and future of a one-of-a-kind band: Twisted Sister!

SPAZ: When Twisted Sister played their first gig in New Jersey back in '73, did you ever imagine that, 35 years later, you'd still be here rocking?
JAY JAY FRENCH: When I walked on stage at the first show, besides being so nervous that I was throwing up, I thought that we’d be lucky to have a five-year run.

SPAZ: The band's line-up today is the same as the line-up that recorded your debut album, Under The Blade in 1982. How have you managed to keep it all together, on and off, all of these years?
JAY JAY: The better question would be: how did I keep it together since 1973? By 1982, the band had already undergone eleven lineup changes. Most of the lineup changes occurred due to the firing of ex-members for drug and/or alcohol abuse. It was a constant challenge to shift band members while also trying to expand our local popularity, record demos and hopefully land a record deal. While it may be easy for others to characterize my input in this matter (as I am the only original member, and manager), my guess is that it ultimately stayed together because I kept my eye on the prize at all times and dedicated my life to proving that I could become a successful rock and roll star.

SPAZ: I've often seen the band labeled under Heavy Metal, Pop Metal and Hair Metal, yet when I listen to Twisted Sister, I hear a classic Hard Rock band. How do you prefer to be classified?
JAY JAY: That’s a good question. Amidst the Bowie-glam explosion, Twisted Sister evolved from its original blueprint as a New Jersey version of The New York Dolls. We wound up exemplifying the 1970’s hard-rock-bar-band mentality that created such legendary musicians and bands as Bruce Springsteen, Ted Nugent and J Giles. We are a 70’s hard rock band that was discovered in the 80’s, and had very little to do with the hair metal phenomenon of the West Coast, which I always felt was a fraud. As far as I was concerned, the Hair Metal scene of Southern California had all the credibility of the World Wrestling Federation. All style and no substance.

SPAZ: If you were to choose only one, which artist had the most profound influence on the band...and why?
JAY JAY: It’s impossible to answer with only one artist. In equal measure, the band’s evolution can be attributed to the following: Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Slade, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, AC/DC.

SPAZ: You already had a dedicated fan base, but during the height of your success, did you find it was hard to convince your 'new' audience that there was more to Twisted Sister than the make up and MTV videos? Or did your live shows do the trick?
JAY JAY: Unfortunately, MTV locked up our image so tightly that it ultimately suffocated the band. As legendary as the live shows were, we were encapsulated by a cartoon image that managed to define us. The best thing we ever did was stop performing in 1988 and go into hibernation for fourteen years. Ever since our return, we have reinvented ourselves in such a way that we are actually happy about who we are and what we do. To all the fans that followed us through the years and kept the faith, you will never know how much your loyalty has meant to us. Very few bands are ever given a second lease on life.

SPAZ: Looking back, do you think that the success of Stay Hungry and “We're Not Gonna Take It” was a blessing or a curse?
JAY JAY: A blessing at first, a curse for a long time, and a blessing once again.

SPAZ: After playing together for so long, the band came to a halt in '87? And was it an official break up or a very long hiatus?
JAY JAY: There was never an official breakup. AJ resigned at the end of ’86. Dee resigned in early ’88. Animal and I effectively took over after sending Eddie a letter that said his services were no longer needed. From that point onward, Animal and I kept the spirit alive by releasing product through various record labels around the world. Even though Animal would never admit that he expected the band to reform, I always held out hope that common sense would eventually prevail.

SPAZ: What sparked the reunion in the early years of the millennium?
JAY JAY: The chronology of the reunion is as follows: In 1998, a product known as Comtrex Nasal Spray requested the use of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” for a commercial. Two years later, Dee produced and starred in the film Strangeland, and we all agreed to record a song for the soundtrack. At this point, however, we still had not all been together in a room since 1986. That recording was actually done in pieces, where band members recorded their parts separately. We still did not come together as a whole. A couple of months after that, the five band members agreed to perform at a music industry function for our former A&R man, Jason Flom, who was being honored by the UJA (United Jewish Appeal). This reunion capped off a night in which Sugar Ray, Matchbox 20, Kid Rock and The Blue Man Group all performed. In the summer of 2001, VH1 produced a one-hour “Behind The Scenes” special on Twisted Sister. The show was broadcast at the end of August 2001, and was edited in such a way as to make us look like we were the most hateful, spiteful people on planet earth. After watching it, I was convinced that not only would the band never play again, but that we would ever speak to one another again. As we all know, just a couple of weeks later, 9/11 occurred. This changed the lives of millions of people, and caused the band members, as New Yorkers, to reunite at a benefit to help raise money for various causes related to 9/11. When word of the reunion spread to Europe, a number of offers were made to headline major festivals, and so began this phase of Twisted Sister’s existence.

SPAZ: In 2006, you released a Christmas album. Do you find it more rewarding to go against the grain and do things that the music industry might not expect you to do?
JAY JAY: When you have nothing to lose, you can really have a lot of fun. We hit upon a formula and executed it perfectly. It has become truly successful beyond our wildest dreams, causing just about every Heavy Metal band on the planet to want to be involved in Christmas music. All it took was a couple of Jews from New York. Go figure.

SPAZ: Your new release is a live performance recorded and filmed in London back in 2004. The liner notes talk about how special this show was. Now that it is ready for release, what is it that makes the show that much more special than any of the shows before or since?
JAY JAY: It is quite simply the greatest example of what Twisted Sister has always been: the heaviest, most intense metal steamroller that has ever walked this earth, period. If you own nothing else we have ever done, this new DVD is what you should own. Twisted Sister was bred to annihilate everything in it’s’ path on stage. This is how we survived in the bars for ten years, three hundred nights a year, playing multiple shows each night. There is no substitute for the brutal reality of night-to-night combat against every band thrown in your path, in which the winner makes more money than the loser. That spirit of entertainment and sheer human determination makes us one of the greatest live bands in the world. Having been signed in England and discovered while playing the old Marquee club, the vibe in London has always been amongst the most intense we’ve ever felt. I wasn’t quite sure that playing The Astoria would bring back the emotional flood of our past famous performances, but it ultimately surpassed all others before it.

SPAZ: Is there any TS tune (or tunes) that the band refuses to play live anymore?
JAY JAY: I can tell you that we will never play “Leader Of The Pack” again.

SPAZ: It's certainly not common for a band to be performing at their peak 30 years into their career, but Twisted Sister isn't your common band. Do you still feel like you have something to prove or is this just for yourselves and your audience?
JAY JAY: We absolutely have something to prove, and the day we cannot play better than the night before is the day we hang it up.

SPAZ: What's next for Twisted Sister?
JAY JAY: We are brining the Christmas show to Broadway this year, and 2009 will see many more surprises. We will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Stay Hungry album with a stage show that involves playing the entire album chronologically from start to finish, and even having the pink fences set up just like the original Stay Hungry tour. We look forward to headlining the biggest Rock festivals around the world.

SPAZ: What do you have currently spinning in your CD and DVD players?
JAY JAY: I’m too busy watching the presidential elections and laughing my ass off over Sarah Palin to listen to music. I’ll answer that question after November 4th.

Thanks to Jay Jay French.
Text by Stephen SPAZ Schnee

1 comment:

Dubliner's Daughter columnist & Facebook said...

Twisted Sister rocks after all these years! Thanks Steve for giving us the latest news! Lita Ford is in their Xmas video & she is one to watch for 2009!