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13 Jul 2012

Twisted Sister Featured

I’ll never forget the interview with Twisted Sister, a few hours before their incredible show in Athens on the summer of 2011. What was more impressive was their reception that was identical with Mark Metclaf’s speeches on “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, and “I Wanna Rock” music videos. Cocky and proud, they would tell us off for every question we were addressing to them, making comments, laughing, but answering everything in detail and in length. Just imagine that although the interview lasted for more than 45 minutes, we didn’t manage to ask more than 6 questions, while I am sure that Dimitris Sirinakis’ back is still bruised from Mark “The Animal” Mendoza’s friendly pat!


Images&Words: Yiannis Dolas Today, you will be playing in a club, which is much a smaller venue than where you played last time when you visited Athens. Does this take you to your first years in the band? When you were playing in clubs?

Mark Mendoza: No, not even close! When we were a club band we used to do four, or five shows a week, we did three or four shows a night… that’s work! I mean you get up on stage and do a 2-hour show now, and it’s more fun! We have more fun on stage as a band. Not only we perform for the audience, but there is comedy between us, it’s a whole different thing. Don’t get me wrong, I loved our club days, we had great time doing it, it beats a regular job, so it was great, but to move past that it was a great milestone for us.

Jay Jay French: We learned how to do what we do in the bars, but it has so little to do with what to do now… because, we used to play 150 nights a year, we played more than a show per night, so that might be more than a thousand performances a year! We play 15 shows a year right now!

Mark Mendoza: Did you see what happened at Download? You’ve seen us before right? It’s intense, right? I don’t know if it would have been that intense with all that kind of playing all that time… That sure and that tight. We were a well-oiled machine before we played big shows, we did so much, so often.

Jay Jay French: The band is like an iceberg, you only see the tip. But, underneath the ocean is this experience. That gives us the confidence to go out on stage and be the best we can possibly be!

Mark Mendoza: We could have played a tiny little place, and then go out and do Download. Most bands can’t switch back and forth.

Jay Jay French:  Also, we can play to different crowds. From death metal fans, to rock metal fans, or families… Because, we are entertainers. I don’t know too many bands that can do that! It’s really versatile; we learned our craft from the bars. Most bands of the ‘80s they wouldn’t play in front of those fans. They’d be blown off the stage. I’ll give you an example: Wacken in Germany is a very very heavy black metal, death metal, Slayer headline. We were brought in to replace a very heavy band called Iced Earth, who canceled many years ago. There were some doubts... “Why would Twisted Sister headline over Slayer?” because, Slayer is Slayer. We whipped the floor… we won every one of them! Reviews the next day were like: “Twisted Sister stole the Festival”… people went crazy. And there are two reasons for that… reason no.1: we know which songs to play to which audiences, and no.2: we know how to make ‘em like us. We can change their mind set and take them with us on a journey, so at the end of the show they walk away. When Ronnie Dio died we were the headlining position to replace him at Bloodstock, and there was some very cynical people going “wow, why would Twisted Sister replace Dio”, the same thing. After the show  was over you get the reviews: “Best band to ever play Bloodstock”. The promoter said in his life he would never see another band. We did Hellfest last year in France. I got the official Hellfest magazine and I am looking for our review and everybody’s got a good review and they give a double page to KISS. And it was like the legendary KISS came over and did a great job, so I thought that they kicked our ass, and then I get to the end to another double page and it says “in the history of Hellfest, there will never be a performance like Twisted Sister, and we don’t think that any band will ever be able to play like this”… so, this happens over and over and over… it never ends! Like this is what we do for a living. Well, we can’t do that and walk away… OK, a cliché question, but I have to ask, maybe you’ve changed your minds: Is there a chance for a new album of new material?

Mark Mendoza: No…

Jay Jay French: You know why? For a few reasons… because people just don’t buy new cd’s anymore… That’s true…
Jay Jay French: So, why do you ask that question?

Mark Mendoza: You know, we say never, but we don’t know anything more than we are telling you right now. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. Maybe a song or two… maybe nothing! I don’t know… We have no plans of whatsoever. Because people wanna know what they remember from the’80s, they want all the hits, they want all the songs that they remember: “Under The Blade”, “You Can’t Stop Rock’n’Roll”, “Shoot’em Down”… that’s what they wanna hear. They don’t want something new! That goes for a lot of bands that don’t do any new songs…

Jay Jay French: Yeah, you assume… that’s part of the problem with that question… you assume by asking that question that we have a deep artistic desire to make something new… that’s an assumption! That’s not necessarily a true assumption! I can say this: what define a great band is great music, and a great live performance, right? There comes a time in every band’s history for certain things to happen. We have a body of really great music. It’s about 100 songs on various different albums. Maybe, more than a 100, if you add the Christmas album, if you add the new recordings for “Stay Hungry”, let’s say we have 100 songs, not 10 songs, not 20 songs… we have 100, 110 songs that have been released. We have 4 DVD’s, and actually at the end of the summer we will have 7 DVD’s… it’s a lot of material! We only play 15 shows a year, and when we play those shows the fans that come out to see us they wanna hear 17 of those songs, because they are their favourite songs. So, when you say “this is from our new record” two things happen: no.1 most people don’t know it, no.2: you take a good song out, that someone wants to hear and you don’t play it. So, it really doesn’t make sense… if we actually toured, maybe making a record would matter, maybe… but, we don’t tour. So, when Twisted Sister comes you are telling your friend “Hey man, you’ve gotta see this amazing show, where they play this song, this song, this song…” if we don’t play one of those songs you’re going to be very very upset. You’re gonna go “why the hell did I come here for?” So, for us this is…

Mark Mendoza: … not likely!

Jay Jay French: When I go to hear a band that I love, I never wanna hear a new song! The minute they go “this is from our new record…” I throw up! We did “30”and nobody bothered! We released t on iTunes, figured OK you love us, can’t wait to buy it, here it is… What about new bands, that they start now, do you think that they have a chance to be classic and stand the test of time, for let’s say the next 20 years?

Jay Jay French: You want the answer to this question? When a 20-year old kid comes to me and say “Jay Jay what’s the secret?” I say, No.1- I didn’t have that luxury when I was 20 years old. Nobody gave me the answer, so why should I give you the answer? And No.2 – and this is a practical reality- when Twisted Sister started in the United States gasoline was 30 cents a gallon, a hotel room was 19$ a night, a truck rental was 25$ a month, and you made 100$ a night! Now, gas in the US is 4$ a gallon, you truck rental is 400$ a week, your hotel room is 200 a night, and not only you don’t get that 100, but you have to pay 100, and there is no record deal, so the bottom line is “DON’T GET INTO THE MUSIC BUISNESS”! Go become a lawyer, a doctor… you’re not going to make money! The rockstar dream is over! It’s gone!

Mark Mendoza: The new bands will have to re-invent the system. It’s up to new bands to figure out a way to make this work without the record company’s distribution.

Jay Jay French: If I was 20 years old today, and I desperately wanted to do this, I would say “OK these are the rules now, I’ll give it a shot”. Because the rules are pretty different.  We don’t have to worry about those rules, they don’t apply to us, because we’ve got 35 gold and platinum albums on our walls, and we’ve got a history, and we’ve got a name that’s worldwide, so we’ve done our work. We’ve busted our ass, but those 20 year-olds they cannot even work 259 nights a year that we did, because the bar scene is gone! And then, on top of that, if you look in the charts no one buys rock music in America! There is one rock band in the TOP 40, the Foo Fighters, the rest is country, hip-hop, pop, dance, rap, so… - not knocking them, everybody’s got the right to listen to whatever music they want, but when you’re an 11-year old kid and you are looking in the mirror with a guitar and thinking you’re Jimi Hendrix, or Eddie Van Halen, or Yngwie Malmsteen, or you are DJ-ing, or rap-ing, you are not doing this… ‘cause they don’t do it anymore. So, the point is the whole thing has changed, the world we are part of is a world that is still massive and can entertain people, but it’s moving and in ten years I don’t know… because, all of these groups we know, and all the festivals… the Motörheads, the Whitesnakes, and the Def Leppards , they are not going to be here… unless Alice In Chains decide to come back with 20 grunge bands… I don’t know what’s going to happen… Let’s hope they don’t decide that!

Mark Mendoza: Hahaha!

Jay Jay French: But, it will happen! Motörhead are not going to be here in the next ten years… Priest is ending, Scorpions are ending…

Mark Mendoza: There’s no development in the scene, so the new bands will have to re-invent a way to record CD’s, or record music, get it out there, sell it, and somehow get on the road and play some shows… there is no mechanism anymore, especially in the States, it’s a little bit better in Europe, but the States with such dense population that we’ve got, there’s no machine…

Jay Jay French: When I ask a new band, what’s their goal now they’d be clever enough to answer “we’re just want to make enough money to play our music”, while our dream was to make millions of dollars and become rockstars! They just now wanna play, make enough money so that their girlfriend doesn’t tell them to take a bath, and get new clothes! So, that’s the reality! If you think you are running around in a Hummer with a cigar, with platinum albums, that’s over! 

I’ve only seen one band that I think will carry on which is Avenged Sevenfold. I saw them a couple of years ago in New York city, somebody told me “you’d better come down and catch them”, and I went… they learned from our generation, they know how to put on a show, they were athletic, extremely energetic, I got it, people got it, I bought one of their cd’s… If you don’t put on a good show, I don’t care what kind of music you play! I’d go to see a country artist if it’s good! I want to be entertained…

(…and at that point Mark remembers a band that really gave him a very good impression, but there was a misunderstanding with their name a little later…)

Mark Mendoza: …1976, I was in a Dictators’ tour, my first time, early ’76 in LA… we have been there before, five nights in a row… Whiskey-A-Go-Go… sold it out. We got there three days early. The promoter said to us they’ve got some bands playing if we wanted to check them out… I walk in with the guys from the Dictators, and I look up the stage –I’ll tell you who was up there in a minute- and my jaw hits the floor, with what I was watching! Never heard of them, never saw them before, they were brand new, and I was sitting there watching this band playing and I was blown away! It was like seeing Cream, or the Beatles… this band on stage… and they started playing songs, and they did a  couple of “copy songs”, and I remember it well, and the band was called Mammoth… you know who Mammoth was? Van Halen! I saw Van Halen before Gene Simmons found them, and I will never forget this! I watched them for an hour and I was blown away! And I am saying to the guys from the Dictators, who are turned off by now, they say “oh, this is a cliché”, this is going to be the biggest thing in the world! I still didn’t know Twisted Sister by then, I’ve seen them but I still didn’t know them. But, I am watching Van Halen… ’75 I think it was actually, and it was amazing… we left LA, we did our five nights, never heard about them again…
In 1978 before I worked with Twisted Sister, I was driving in Detroit, Michigan with a friend of mine in winter. We’re pulling into Annover, Michigan at 8’o clock in the morning, on a Wednesday morning… It’s rush hour, everybody is going to work, and the DJ on the radio is saying about this band, who’s just released an album, and he says “listen to the song and if you can name the band, you can win the album”. Their first album was out back then, and they were playing “Eruption” and then it got to “You Really Got Me” and I’m telling my friend “I’ve heard these guys before!”, he was a music fanatic too, not a musician, and he goes like “how could you’ve heard them if they are brand new?”, and I say “I’ve heard this version some place! This is a band called Mammoth! I can tell by this guy’s voice” and my friend says “you’ve got to call the radio station, you could win!”, so we pull over, no cell phones back then, to a pay phone, me and Billy Kelly, I dial the phone number, three rings, “hey, this is WBA what band are we playing?” “Mammoth” I reply, “No, it’s not! You didn’t win!” click… and I am like… I recognized the guitar playing… so, I am right down the street and the DJ comes on and says: “one guy called and said the band’s name was Mammoth” he goes “it’s not even close!”. So, we drive down a little further, and he says something and then he plays “Running With The Devil”, and I remember the song, and I am like “pull over again man!” and I call and I go “I don’t know where you got your information from, the band is called Mammoth!”, and he goes “listen, I checked a little further, and that’s what they used to be called! What are they called now?”, I said “I have no idea”, “so, how do you know that” he asked me, I said “I saw these guys three years ago in LA, when I was playing there”! I told him who I was, the Dictators, and he asked me to go to the radio station. So, we drive to the radio station it’s 8:30 in the morning, snow is falling… We walk in there. He asks again “how do you know this?” and I tell him that I was playing with the Dictators in LA and these guys were playing a night before us. He goes “the band is called Van Halen, but you win because you had an idea who they were”, so they gave me the album, and that’s how I got their first album! Nobody knew the name, but I knew how they used to be called! You weren’t always been a happy family, were you?

Jay Jay French: Any band that’s been around for more than 30 years, and they don’t have each other’s guts… they ain’t shit! So, we go through a lot, we have our ups and downs… when we broke up for about 12 years some guy says to me “man, why don’t guys get back together? How much is that?” I told him that it has nothing to do with money, and he goes “oh, bullshit man!”, and I replied “how much money would you ask for to get back with your ex wife, for a month in the bus?... I rest my fucking case!”

So, the bottom line is that we have been through a lot. The fact that we are here today, the fact we’ve been nine years into the reunion… I am still amazed! Everytime we finish our summer shows we say goodbye, and then come January, February the agent goes “you know I don’t think anyone is going to call anymore, everyone has seen it, everybody is happy”…. And then all of the sudden, there is this festival, and the other, and the other and so on… you have to understand one thing: we were never headliners in the ‘80s! When we were most famous we were seventh on the bill, or maybe eighth, tenth… now, we are headlining everywhere in the world! Don’t ask me why… I think it’s the reputation of the band show has carried itself all around the world, so people know that if you hire Twisted Sister you get one of the best shows you’ve ever seen in your life, so shut the fuck up and book this band! I think that’s what happened. That’s why we can replace Dio… that’s why you bring us in if you need a headliner because, how many bands are there in the world where the promoter can feel comfortable putting in front of 50,000 people knowing they are going to walk away happy? The answer to that… very few bands!  Ok, this is a weird question… imagine that you can get on a time machine and you can travel back in time and you go and meet yourself in the ‘70s at the beginning of the band. What advice would you give yourself back then?

Jay Jay French: All right, I don’t want to be cynical, or over… let me tell you… everything that ever happened to this band is the reason why we are here today! So, I don’t know if I would ever change anything. There were times that they were miserable. You have to understand before Mark, Eddie and Dee joined there was three years that I had four fucking assholes, lunatic, alcoholic, drug addict, fucking idiots, and I don’t mind saying this. The two years that I spent with those fucking idiots taught me what not to do in rock’n’roll! So, if you really want to ask me this question I wouldn’t have traded my experience of the two first years when Twisted Sister started in ’73 and ’74, because in those two years I learned what to do, and what not to do. I learned that drugs and alcohol have no fucking place in business. I learned that discipline is the way you succeed, I learned that hard work and rehearsal is how you make it. We were all 20 year old kids right? And I wasn’t getting high. I joined the band with full blown, fucking drugies, and mostly alcohol abusers. When that band broke up, it broke up because the lead singer took a loaded gun and aimed it at the drummer and threatened to kill him. I walked in on that scene… they were both drunk… and that moment in time that I witnessed that attempted murder I was not 22 yet, I said that if I was going to keep that going, I am going to build a band that’s straight, and one by one I got rid of all the fucking low-lifes and looked at all the band members that went through. This version of the band is the eleventh lineup change, and this eleventh lineup change has been together for 28 years. AJ (Perro) is the most recent member. But, I don’t know if I would change that, because that was the discipline, and that was the rules Mark…

Mark Mendoza: Exactly as he says… I was in the Dictators and in several bands before them, club bands… had no discipline, drugs and alcohol, couldn’t get out of bed to make a gig, we played a lot, and finally I joined the Dictators… the Dictators were a great band. By no means am I saying anything bad about it, the band had no direction. Despite the fact that everybody is a fan, I bet you like the band, I love the Dictators, no direction. I felt like a member of nothing! We were just guys playing instruments, and it got tiring after a while and that’s why I left the Dictators. They had no direction, there was no solid stuff, there was no foundation, there was no group of guys like “we’re here for the same reason”, there was none of that. Then I joined Twisted. I’ve known them before I joined the band, they have been around. This was a real team, a bunch of guys, hence why we always wear Twisted Sister colors, the colors on our back. We are a group, we are members of an elite group, that’s what we are! And it was always a vision “this is what we are working at” and everybody supported that goal. We all saw it, and this is the road we are going on, and this is where is going to happen. And nothing before, or after that was ever the same. You can’t change that experience, you can’t buy it, and you can’t learn it! Nobody can teach it to you, you have to live it, it is on the job training!

Jay Jay French: The week that the first lineup of Twisted Sister broke up, which was December ’74 when that gun was pulled against the drummer, my mother died that week and my girlfriend left me on that week. All happened, and that week I’ve fallen into depression that lasted nine months. And in that depression I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, I didn’t know I even had depression… I was in a lot of pain, and I started writing a diary on the day of my mother’s funeral, which was December 8th 1974, and I kept that diary for the entire 15 years of the band until 1989. And I kept my writing constant, so I have 15 years-worth of diaries, and I go back to my mental state and what I went through, and all those lessons I’ve learned. It was really painful and it redefined who I am and what I did. Dee (Snider) is the leading singer, he’s got his own messed up problem, he’s been in million bands, and lead singers do this and that, and all this their bullshit… we carry with us certain amount of baggage, but what I have to say about the band, the reason why we are sitting here 40 years later, is that we were able to figure out how to keep it together, after all the shit that came down to us. So, if you took Judas Priest, and you took AC/DC, all these bands and have been together for 30, or 40 years, the stories will be different, but are the same, you know what I mean?

Mark Mendoza: The details are different, but the stories are the same! 
Jay Jay French: And that’s why some make it, and some not! Some figure it out, and most don’t. 99% don’t… As Mark said we are in an elite group of people, so you know it takes a lot of guts to be in that business, it takes a lot of sweat, you have to believe in yourself, you have to be not afraid to fall on your face. So many bad things happen. All these bands have horrible stories to tell you, everybody has been bankrupt, everybody has lost money, had bad record deals, were victimized, fucked over, all of us… KISS, I could fuck around say shit about KISS, but they survived 40 years, so God bless them! It’s a tough fucking business man…

Mark Mendoza: If you wanna be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a counter, you go to school, and you have something that you can hang on the wall that says “I studied, passed the tests, did this”. For this, there is nowhere to study… Oh, there is now, I mean there are “rock’n’roll schools”. When we were doing this it was like I said “on the job training”, you learned as you went along, as we all did, no one trained us, no one came to us, no other bands helped us…

Jay Jay French: Lemmy was the closest guy who ever gave us a little bit, he said “ladies and gentlemen, they are cool”, but no one ever kissed my ass, no one took my by the hand…

Mark Mendoza: …we clawed, and we dragged every ounce, every inch, every meter that we took,  that we gained! We fought for it! It was a long way…

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