Twisted Sister: rockin' Christmas in September!
Twisted Sister guitarist Jay Jay French explains what inspired ''Monster Ballads Xmas'' and a new metal holiday album he's exec-producing
What is it about heavy metal that always makes you think of Christmas? That’s right: absolutely nothing. So last year, when rouge-clad riffmeisters Twisted Sister released a Yuletide-themed CD, more than a few eyebrows were raised — not least among the band’s fans. ”We got a lot of negative comments on our message board: ‘How can you make that? It’s gonna suck,”’ recalls guitarist Jay Jay French. ”People should have trusted us a little bit.”
Indeed, A Twisted Christmas — on which the band performed ”Deck the Halls,” ”I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” and ”Let It Snow,” among other festive favorites — proved a big seller for the band. September 11 saw the release of its semi-sequel, Monster Ballads Xmas. Executive-produced by French, the album features more holiday chestnuts retooled in a metal-style, this time by an assortment of acts including Skid Row (”Jingle Bells”), Winger (”Happy Christmas [War Is Over]”), Queensryche (”White Christmas”), and the Sister themselves, who are joined by Lita Ford on ”I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” EW spoke with French about why Kenny G Christmas records should only be played to dead people, and whether Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider looks more like Bette Midler on acid or Sarah Jessica Parker dipped IN acid.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did Twisted Sister get into the Xmas album business?
JAY JAY FRENCH: The idea came about because my singer hasn’t written a new song in 20 years. And I was trying to get him — or anyone — excited about anything. And I thought, How about a Christmas album? And then Dee admitted that ”O Come All Ye Faithful” was the inspiration for ”We’re Not Gonna Take It.” Thank God the original writers are long dead and there’s no infringement.
Well, happy Xmas. Even though it’s still freakin’ September!
But every great Christmas record is written in July, right? Isn’t that the whole deal? ”The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” by Mel Tormé was written on the hottest day of that year in Los Angeles. Of course, Jews write the best Christmas records.
Speaking of which, as a Jewish person yourself, just how un-kosher is it to be making Xmas albums?
Well, my parents were so reformed they were Catholic [laughs]. I grew up with a Christmas tree and a menorah.
So, was your ambition to pry the Xmas album away from Kenny G?
Oh, I think it was pried away from the cold dead hands of Kenny G and his followers long ago. We thought it was about time that you could have a party Xmas album and really crank it up. And that’s what we did. And hopefully Kenny G’s music will play where it should — which is in mausoleums around the country. Actually, maybe we should have a battling Jewish Xmas project against Kenny G. Or we should invite him on stage!
He does have kind of Twister Sister-friendly hair.
And it’s probably his, which is good. Him and Dee don’t look that different. You know, a couple of years ago the British press said that Dee looked like Sarah Jessica Parker dipped in a vat of acid [laughs]. We always said he looked like Bette Midler on acid. But that was even funnier.
Did any of the artists you approached for Monster Ballads Xmas tell you stick your yuletide log where the sun doesn’t shine?
No, the most I got was, ”We’re in the studio making a record, we don’t have time for it, thank you very much.” I don’t think anybody would tell me to go shove it.
What’s next? A thrash-metal Thanksgiving?
Well, the joke was that we’re going to make a Hanukkah record. Look, nobody expected the Xmas record to be as successful as it was. And then that led to the label [Razor & Tie] asking me to oversee this other project. Frankly, if Twisted Sister had wanted to make a follow-up record this other compilation wouldn’t have been done. But it’s so hard to get Twisted Sister to do much of anything. I don’t know if you’ve looked at our touring schedule this year — but it consists of two shows [laughs]. And even then I get complaints that we’re overworking!
What’s the problem?
I don’t know if there’s a problem. But, as you know, the record business isn’t selling records. All these heritage acts — the Queensryches, the Priests — at best sell 10 percent of what they sold at their peak. So, at best they are selling 40-50,000 units, maybe 100,000 units. Touring is a lot of work to put in to NOT sell much product. It becomes an impracticality and kind of gets in the way of everything else you do… And then of course we embarrass our children by walking around on stage looking like a bunch of middle-aged transvestites.
Watch Twisted Sister’s video for ”O Come All Ye Faithful”: