I met Jesse Blaze Snider over ten years ago through a funny story. I had just interviewed Marvel big cheese, Joe Quesada, about something for The Pulse, and he mentioned at one of his earlier jobs a big time rock and roll star slammed the door in his face, and broke his nose. A day later, I got a telephone call from Dee Snider of Twisted Sister taking ownership for busting Quesada's schnoz. We talked for a while and he told me all about his son, a major comic book fan, Jesse Blaze Snider. It wasn't long before Jesse was writing for me at The Pulse.
I watched Jesse grow from a gifted writer to talented musician to wonderful dad. With his newest CD, 16, available now, I thought it would be the perfect time to catch up with my talented friend to talk about his colorful life in and out of music.
Sequential Tart: There's an elephant in the room when you say the name "Snider" in the entertainment circles, so let's just get it out of the way right off the bat. Your dad is pop culture icon, Dee Snider, known worldwide for Twisted Sister and his other works. What was it like for you growing up in his shadow?
Jesse Blaze Snider: It was hard. We form most of the patterns that we will use for the rest of our lives before the age of six. At that point I was convinced that I had no value, because everyone made such a big deal about my dad. It basically set me on a course to prove my value to the world. While this can lead to greatness, it's also a very sad way to live your life. I didn't value myself as a kid, I felt I needed the world to validate me before I could take pride in anything I did. This is all nonsense fortunately and I was able to get out of that cycle over time and rededicate myself to my passions, not because I had anything to prove, but because it was what I wanted to do, because I love writing and singing and performing. There was definitely a time though in the early days, where I wasn't sure why I was doing it, other than to prove that I could. Nowadays I am quite secure in my own artistic abilities and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my artistic endeavors are worthy of everyone's time and money.
ST: How old were you when you realized what your dad did for a living was not what everyone's dad did? My dad sold insurance, so I just thought all daddies sold insurance .... What was that realization like?
JBS: Hmm, it was early enough that I knew he was somehow special, but I didn't get the sense of things until I started going to school, and my friends would ask me about my dad, which was the weirdest thing, 'cause no one is asking about anyones dad casually in elementary school; it does not usually come up. I used to like to point out the unnatural nature of the question, by following up with a "How's your father?" Then they would realized they'd never asked anyone but me this question before.
They didn't know my father or me well enough to ask about him, but I'd get tons of questions, this tended to reinforce my feelings of inadequacy, and I would usually avoid anyone who knew who my father was, and, especially, anyone who would ask me about him. I wanted people to be my friend because they liked me, and the quickest way to get booted out of my sphere was finding out who my father was, and excitedly telling me they had found out. That would mark our last conversation as friends. My ego was too fragile to have my friends in love with the source of my inadequacy. Again, this isn't how I feel or react anymore, but as a child, that is definitely how I felt about it all.
ST: What is your favorite memory of being little and having Twisted Sister in your life?
JBS: The "Come Out And Play Tour"! The tour was largely cancelled, but a shitload of money was spent on their stage set for that tour, which was supposed to be a massively successful follow up to "Stay Hungry". It's really unfortunate that the album didn't do better and the band wasn't able to hold it all together, because this stage set and performance was the fucking coolest thing ever!
I couldn't have been older than three or four, but I remember clearly being on my mom's shoulders and watching the whole performance. The stage set was meant to look like a typical New York City street, and each member of the band came out onto the stage in their own unique entrance. Jay-Jay pulled up on the stage in a beat up car, and took his guitar out of the trunk. Eddie came out of a candy store, licking his guitar like a lollipop. Animal came out of a garbage dump, and the double doors of the tenement building opened up to reveal AJ's huge drum set. Finally, my dad crawls out from a manhole cover in the center of the stage!
It was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. Loved it so much. And I've loved every performance I've ever seen them do, but this one was so special and stuck with me. I have a really poor quality video of one of these performances with the NYC stage set. Such a shame more people didn't get to experience it and them. They are an incredible live band and are not held in as high regard as they should be.
ST: What lessons did the way you were raised, in this entertainment family, teach you that are coming in handy now as you are raising your own children?
JBS: None really, not on that level. My father's celebrity was too great. He was never A-list, but his face was so darn recognizable, he would be spotted anywhere he went and they had enough bad experiences to withdraw themselves from being particularly social. I had to kind of knock down those walls for myself, and teach myself how to build bridges and make yourself available. We were always slightly isolated. I've gone the other way with my own family.
ST: I know family is the most important to you, and your family is super supportive of all your artistic endeavors; but what would you have done if you were pushed to have a "normal" nine to five career? Do you think you would have become a creative force, if you weren't receiving support and encouragement?
JBS: I can't help being creative. Ideas don't stop hitting me. All the time. It doesn't matter what I do for money, I'd be writing and singing in my spare time. It's just in me. And no, I don't mean it's in me cause that's how I was raised, I mean it is inside me. I could have been born to any family, any father. I hear music. All day long. Hard to escape it, even if I wanted to. Far as other jobs go, I can honestly do anything, I worked construction as a teen. I was a florist. I worked at a comic book store. I worked at Blockbuster video …. Then blasted out of that, and went on TV, as a VJ, as myself, as a musician, had enough success there to move into voice over, and hounded the comic book gods until they let me write comic books for Marvel, DC and the Muppets.
Anything I have ever tried I have had reasonable success in. I went to college for Journalism and Advertising, with advertising always being my backup occupation, but I never really even looked in that direction, though knowing the advertising world a little bit has certainly helped me in all my other careers.
I only worked as a journalist for a minute, actually writing articles for you at "The Pulse". I decided ultimately, that, if I wanted to write comic books, I needed to spend less time writing about them, and more time actually trying to write them.
ST: A lot of people in your situation with a famous parent or tie to "something" would promote themselves as "son of Twisted Sister's Dee Snider" or something along those lines. But, as long as I have known you, you never have pushed for anything like that or rode on any coattails. Why is it so important for you to take a tougher, harder path, than, perhaps, use your lineage as an advantage?
JBS: I don't like the idea that things are easier for me because of who my father is, and I repeatedly shot myself in the foot in favor of doing everything the hard way. As I have finally gained confidence and grown beyond my father's shadow it all seems so silly not to use it on some level, but I wouldn't allow myself to. I have turned a bit of a corner with that though. I've been asked to sing my father's songs a million times over the years and I have always said, "no."
But I finally started saying, "yes" a few years ago and it's been quite rewarding. I genuinely love my father and his music, so I've transformed it for myself from "riding coattails" to honoring my roots. I suspect I will honor them loudly in the near future. To a degree I didn't use it out of fear. Really it's that I didn't want people to be right about me riding his coattails, but the thing that kept me there was fear of the direct comparison.
That's what I fought so hard against in my school days, I didn't want to have to compete with him for attention. But again as you live and learn and find your own strength and confidence it becomes an honorable challenge to pick up the torch and carry it in glory. I know I'm not embarrassing myself when I get up and sing "We're Not Gonna Take It" and it is a very simply gateway for people to notice my own value as a writer and performer.
ST: I've known you for about fifteen years, ever since your dad introduced us when I interviewed him at The Pulse. I know, especially since you wrote for me for a while, that you love comics. What was your gateway drug into comic books, and what made them so important to you?
JBS: Savage Dragon and Deadpool! Well, to be honest, it started with my dad, who was a comic book reader. He got me a subscription to Amazing Spider-Man in the '90s, but I only ever looked at the pictures. I had books and sometimes I would read some of the dialogue, but I really didn't read them.
I accidentally ended up reading a full issue of Savage Dragon when Rob Liefeld's character Badrock showed up in his book. I was a Youngblood fan, but again only read occasional dialogue at this point. The interaction between Badrock and the Savage Dragon was so awesome, that I fell in love with SD in an instant, and began reading that book, and only that book, religiously every month. I can't tell you how many times I re-read the comic. It was my favorite thing in the world, but I still wasn't a comic book reader, I was an SD reader.
I got my first job at 7-11 years later, and was intrigued by this new book called Deadpool written by Joe Kelly. Fell in love with that book, and then, all of a sudden, was inundated with advertisements inside Deadpool for all of the new comics that were coming out. I jumped on another Joe Kelly book, a relaunch of X-Men and four books coming out through a new "Marvel Knights" imprint. I didn't stop there. The rest, as they say, is history. I pretty much read at least 100 comic books per month for the next 10 years of my life.
ST: You've been working so hard in so many different creative venues: writing, voice acting, music, television, and more ....How do you balance so many jobs, especially with being a husband and father?
JBS: I don't. Ha, ha, I mean I do, but it's difficult. I just don't know any other way to work. I do something and while I'm waiting for it to work out, I get bored and then I get an idea and then I start doing that too. I like creating things. I've actually recently had to rededicate myself to my family a little bit, 'cause so many different things coming at you all the time can really split the mind.
Was feeling like I wasn't mentally present enough for my family. So far so good on the shift and it hasn't hurt my work at all. But also, I don't work if I don't know what to do. I don't spend any time staring at a blank screen, because there are so many things for me to do, I can always find something to shift to that my brain is ready to tackle, so it kind of helps me be productive, 'cause I fill all the empty space.
ST: Each and every new song you produce sounds just a little bit different from the last track. Artistically how important is it for you not to be pigeonholed into any one genre or style?
JBS: Well, I was out to prove that I could hang with the best songwriters on the planet, write any genre, for any artist and create a good vibe every time. As a rock guy I was sort of marginalized and I said, "F-that! I can write anything." I won some song writing awards and proved my point. I think I'll be spending the next few years exploring some of the things that most speak to my soul.
Lyrically and melodically I always do, but musically I'm more of a blues and soul writer and singer, with a healthy dose of hard rock/heavy metal. So, I may head back to my roots for my next project and definitely gonna keep exploring them blues in my own signature way. I don't like how limiting "genre" is. To me, there are no genres, just emotional subject. Different kinds of music are better at creating certain kinds of emotions. I personally like to be able to utilize all genres to feed the meaning of the songs I write.
ST: What were some of the biggest influences when you were working on your new collection, 16?
JBS: The state of the world. Things are all messed up. When I saw personally how screwed up the comic industry is and the music and film industry and then started to see the same kinds of problems in our health industry, I've just kept on reading and we are a planet of trusting idiots. We trust others to do things the right way and aren't empowered enough to get in there ourselves and show them how it is done. It's time for the whole planet to wake up and come together and steal the planet back from the selfish and greedy who are keeping us ignorant and poor. The truth is what interests me and the truth is we can and should be doing an awful lot better than we currently are. I'll keep singing and pointing to the problems until something gives.
ST: What is something that might not seem like a musical influence that played a big role in how you templated the direction this album would take?
JBS: I was a hardcore atheist from a young age, but that's only because of the limited scope we are taught in American schools: they pretty much convince you that everything there is to be known is known and nothing out of the ordinary exists.
Well, I was straight edge for the first 28 years of my life and didn't drink or smoke weed until I was an adult. When I got my first taste of weed, I realized quickly that I was suffering from crazy anxiety that was the driving force of my life. The weed calmed me down and helped me get a handle on myself, and who I was and who I wanted to be. That was the beginning; the chains really came off when I began to experiment with Magic Mushrooms. Steve Jobs claimed he would not have invented Apple Computers if not for an LSD trip he had. I decided as a teen when hearing that, that one day I would try it as well. I chose mushrooms because they were not synthetic. Long story short when that drug kicked in I realized all sorts of things, the least of which was that there was a lot more to this place, this existence than had been shared with me in school and decided I was gonna get to the bottom of it. It was really my "come to Jesus" moment, but without the religion, I could just tell that their were energetic fields governing everything and our current explanations really sucked at answering a lot of different questions I had. In the song, "Promised Land" I sing, "Oh, lord will you stay with me, even though I done you wrong? Something got ahold of me and now I sing this song. That ain't my party now, I'm here for so much more, hit me like a flash of light, I never knew before." The flash of light came when those mushrooms kicked in. And I tend to view "the lord" as sort of the cosmic fish tank that everything lives in, but I love using the christian metaphors when speaking about the pain of existence, nothing else seems as cathartic. Better to yell your worries to the invisible being in the sky than just complain to the wall.
ST: I think people don't realize how long the creative process can actually be to get just one song to the final version. Which song took the longest to gel for you and what was the process from inception to finished product like?
JBS: My stuff generally came together relatively quickly, but there are countless unfinished tunes in the atmosphere. I had some trouble with the opening track "Shut Up," and still don't feel it was ever perfected, though people love that one. My original vision was for it to be almost half as fast and filled up with double time guitar work, but my co-writer/producer didn't see eye to eye and had to work on it a bunch to arrive at our compromise. The art of the arrangement is lost these days due to the high stress and low pay of working in music. Tons of people want to do it, but no one has any money and if they do, it's only a little money. This means a lot of short cuts happen. Taking time to arrange songs almost never happens without me having to fight for it.
ST: Flip side, which song came together the fastest and just worked from the get-go? Why do you think that song was so easy to create?
JBS: "Promised Land" was written and recorded in two hours? I got the final production the next day. It was miraculous. "Promised Land" inspired the hell out of me when I heard it, because it all happened so fast I didn't even realize what we had created. That it was unique, that it allowed me the chance to demonstrate a lot of my vocal range, that it spoke to my blues influence and that it was ultimately about the way I decided I wanted to live my life, helping people, working towards a better world, one without suffering. That song was inside me just waiting to come out and when the time was right, out it came.
ST: When you are stuck creatively or have hit that roadblock, what do you do to gather the troops and refocus?
JBS: I switch gears. Go somewhere else, do something different. I used to try and force it, but it doesn't work that way really. Though I find if you can calm yourself and just move forward in any way, in any direction, you know if not page 1, what about the big fight in the middle of your book, skip ahead, write that. Spend your evening with the block in the back of your mind until a way out comes to you. Honestly though, nowadays, thank you to living in California, if I really had to get something done and wasn't feeling the juice I might take a puff of some weed to relax me. I find the biggest reason we get stuck is frustration, which creates tension in your body and then you lose that soft path to inspiration. I kinda believe inspiration comes from the same place animals get their instinct from and to hear it, it always seems to work better if you are relaxed.
ST: I know you've been performing your new songs in various places; what kind of response have you received to 16?
JBS: It's been incredible! So many possibilities and opportunities have sprung from it I am honestly still sorting out my options. Half the album has major accolades to its name, finalists in songwriting categories in all different genres, a winner or two and tons of TV and film placements. ESPN has continued to pull tracks from the album to backup pro and college football games, Nascar and a host of their shows, and I have begun to write for other artists as well. I wrote a hook for my friend Maureen Davis and her band "Maureen and the Mercury 5" and not only did it make her new album, it is the title track of the album and they close the show with it every night. I love writing songs, all kinds, I'm so glad to finally be in a position to help push other artists to greatness by writing to their strengths and filling in the gaps in their original material. And the big internet radio station have really gotten behind me; Rock Rage Radio has four songs from 16 in its rotation and they plan to add more. It feels really good. I've still be kinda staying away from the major labels however you may see a release this year through a big indie. Still deciding.
ST: I know it must be a great high feeling on stage with the lights and crowd cheering for you ....How do you decompress after a performance?
JBS: Well, I perform pretty strenuously. I usually need to sit down for a few after I've done my thing. But I wouldn't necessarily say I need to decompress from a performance; generally I'm just amped and ready to interact with my band, maybe get a drink with some friends. Honestly, as a kid who grew up with a lot of anxiety, when I do have to "decompress" these days a puff of weed has been the greatest gift for me. I used to be tense most of the time. Using weed recreationally has really calmed my nerves. So, there's less of a need for me to decompress.
ST: Who are some of the others making their own music that you think are underrated right now and our readers should check out?
JBS: Oh, there are so many. My friend Calico has an awesome kinda white trash meets White Zombie metal band that I am in love with! My friend Santino Noir has a cool new band he's started with two singers called Crash the Night; they could use your support. I tell ya, so many of my favorite unknown bands have already packed it in. It's really hard in the music world. We've lost some really talented musicians to the realities of a music business that can't support enough artists, and tends to support only one kind of artists: mainstream music that they know people already like, with attractive looking people that they think someone might like to look at. If you ain't that, it gets exponentially harder. All the executives I ever met want to turn me into Bon Jovi because it's guaranteed for them to sell. Unfortunately there are many more things in this world to write about besides relationships. It is what it is, but it is sad that a band like "The Mercurial" from Long Island are no longer making music.
ST: Your latest addition to the family came into the world with a bang ... on the freeway! What was it like when you were driving to the hospital, thinking you had plenty of time, then ….
JBS: It was the most surreal moment of my life. My wife didn't warn me what was going on. Sure, she said she didn't think she was gonna make it to the hospital before we left the house, but she's literally said that three other times before. So when I looked over while speeding and saw my baby's head in her lap I was definitely a bit surprised. But it was amazing and quickly turned into one of the greatest moments of my life, as my endorphins kicked in and our baby was healthy, cried for a moment and then calmed down on mommy's shoulder. It was the greatest thing, it wasn't supposed to happen like that, but it was okay. Everything was okay. I can rarely remember being so happy and I was so glad that I thought to make my little video at the traffic light, so I could share with with all my friends and family and eventually the whole world. I had an inkling that it might go viral, but never thought it would go as far as it did. It's still going around!
ST: I know that video has been shared all over the world. What does your wife think about having her blessed event become a viral sensation?
JBS: She was initially down on it, because she felt slightly embarrassed, but as she has seen how people are reacting to it she has come around to it being out there. I think we raised the bar as a couple. Every other news story about this kind of event, "Baby Born on the Freeway" has the darkest music underneath it, like "oh, no, what's gonna happen to this baby?!" Our video and news segments have like a circus vibe. "Woman Delivers Own Baby on the 405!" Something that people were always previously nervous about, we just proved didn't have to be the huge worry that everyone made it out to be. Woman are built to give birth; she didn't need a hospital, and honestly, neither do you. If she can do it, you can rise to the occasion in the same circumstance. Yeah, I look at her as an inspiring super-heroine helping women all over the world to take back their power as the bakers of our children.
ST: You've done a lot of voice work on commercials; what are some of your gigs that our readers might have heard on television or radio?
JBS: Well, if you watch Travel Channel then you probably hear me a lot. My show "Food Paradise" is a weekly marquee show, I am the narrator. I'm about to jump into a new big gig that I can't talk about yet, but I just wrapped up as the voice of Kia Motors at the end of last year and prior to that I was the voice of Pizza Hut, Game Stop, the Spike Video Game Awards and loads more. My favorite one to share is probably the Rooster from the Burger King Chicken Fries commercial, "Maybe I do wanna be a French fry!" That one was my first voice over gig ever, aired non-stop forever and is still funny to this day! I've also done a lot of animation and video games like Call of Duty and Final Fantasy, but never any key roles. I used to live in New York and there aren't any animation opportunities there and not as many video games, so I've only been in that world a few years.
ST: What other projects are you working on?
JBS: I just wrapped up work on a Mythic Legions comic book based on Four Horsemen Studios' massively successful action figure Kickstarter! They've raised over a million dollars now to bring this incredible fantasy action figure line to life and I want to empower them to keep making new toys for the rest of my life, so we got Greg Weisman of Gargoyles / Young Justice fame and asked him to help us produce the template for an animated series based on their amazing character/toy designs. The results are incredible and we are gonna be physically shipping out the books and other goodies to all our backers in the next few weeks! We're fast at work finding a publisher to take our initial book to the direct market and hopefully follow it up with some more.
But for me, if you are toy makers, you need an animated series or rather, an animated series needs good toy makers and the Horsemen are the best toy makers on the planet. I host the designer toy awards every year. These guys can't hope to do what the Horsemen do, because they can do so much more than just design an incredible toy. They can make it incredible to pose and play with as well. They are such a cut above the rest and I would love to see them with the power to keep creating what's in their hearts and minds. All I know is, I'm excited to see where it all goes and get my hands on all the future mind-blowing toys that I don't even know about yet.
That's being put out by my company KRCO, which also produced the critically acclaimed Image comic book / EP black light district: 6 issues but we have another creator owned project from Mark Poulton and I coming out, hopefully this year, called King of Kings. It's a farce, religious figures as rockstars in a battle of the bands to determine the next "king of kings" and drawn by a concert poster artist friend named David Witt, or Dwitt, as he is known. Something tells me this book is gonna turn some heads, possibly piss a lot of people off, but the rest…? Are gonna laugh their asses off.
Much respect, thank you for the interview. Feel free to visit my website, jesseblaze.com