When Twisted Sis- ter burst onto the national scene in 1984, thanks in large part to the ubiquitous MTV videos for the infectious an- thems, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock,” many people thought the Long Island-based band was a new group that had achieved overnight success.
That, however, was far from the case. In reality, Twisted Sister struggled for 10 years on the New Jersey and New York bar and club scene before receiv- ing their first record deal and record- ing their debut album, 1982’s “Under the Blade.”
Now there’s a great new documentary, “We Are Twisted [expletive] Sister,” that tells the story of the band’s remarkable persever- ance through frustration and record company rejection, and how they fought and clawed their way to finally get signed.
The captivating film, now available on DVD, Blue-ray and Video on Demand, tells the story of the band’s early days through engaging inter- views with band members, fans, record label executives and archival live footage.
The early concert material is a real treat. Viewers can see how Twisted Sister held the audience in the palm of their hands through energetic performances and visual
and musical mastery. It’s amazing it took so long for record labels to realize what the public long knew: Twisted Sister was a wrecking ball of a band with great songs that took no prisoners.
Fun fact: Twisted Sister’s first band house was located in Ho-Ho-Kus, when the band was known as Silver Star!
We recently spoke with guitarist Jay Jay French, who was there from the be- ginning in late 1972. French also pens a column for Inc., a business publication focused on growing companies. You can read his column at www.inc.com.
How did the film come about?
The filmmaker, Andrew Horn, was interviewing me about another docu- mentary he was making about a per- formance artist named Klaus Nomi, and we were discussing the time he opened for Twisted Sister at the Soap Factory in Palisades Park. It turned out to be a pivotal night. Our fans were relentless in booing and jeering him. It crushed him. Andrew became interested in Twisted Sister and I took the opportunity to school him about us. That’s how it started.
“We Are Twisted [expletive] Sister” is pretty unique. You don’t see many rock documentaries that end just as the band is getting big.
It’s important that the film was very objective. It’s not Jay Jay French’s story or Dee Snider’s story. It’s the filmmaker trying to make sense of the uniqueness and insanity of the world we came out of. The decision to end the film with us getting our first record deal was Andrew’s cre- ative decision. He felt that the story of the early part of our career was so compelling that it could stand on its own. We wanted you to feel the length of time and the day-to-day frustrations and it would’ve been hard to do that in a half-hour as part of a documentary on the band’s entire career.
The movie will be an eye-opener for fans who don’t realize the struggles the band experienced in the early days.
Despite your selling out every club in the area and financing a sold- out show at New York City’s famed Palladium, record label executives
were turned off by your look, thought your music was noise and wouldn’t give you a chance.
It took us 10 years to get a record deal, and that’s only the beginning of the struggle. It took 10 years just to get to the base of Mount McKinley. Any successful company is like an iceberg. The public sees the shiny surface on top, not the gravitas below.
How did you deal with the constant rejection from record labels passing on Twisted Sister in the 1970s?
The saving grace was that we were enormously popular and able to go right back to packing clubs, which gave us enough energy to keep going. With every rejection you pay attention to why that happened. When I do keynote speeches or motivational speaking about the art of over- coming rejection, I tell people you have to reflect, retool and reapply.
You finally got signed in the early 1980s by a label in England. Why do you think Europe took a shot on you?
They came to it with a different perspective. They just ac- cepted us. We were old news here but we weren’t old news in England. Bands often have to leave their homeland to make it. Led Zeppelin couldn’t get arrested in England and came here and became huge. The Stray Cats, who are also from Long Island, and Jimi Hendrix first hit big in Eng- land.
Do you have any material in the vaults that you plan to release soon?
We’re coming out this year with a DVD of the concert we did in Las Vegas last year as a memorial to A.J. Pero [the band’s longtime drummer died of a heart attack last March]. We have plans to release a 3-CD set of stuff from the bars and a vinyl box set.