Interview: Mark Mendoza of Twisted Sister

There\’s no denying the legend that is Twisted Sister. Some of the greatest anthems of all time have come courtesy of the band, as well as some of the most under-rated songs as well. Last year, tragedy hit the band when drummer AJ Pero unexpectedly passed away. The band was already looking at hanging things up at the end of 2016 and this all but set the plans in stone. Not long after, the band played the first show without Pero- in Las Vegas and filmed the show for a later release. To go hand-in-hand with the concert DVD was a new documentary- titled Metal Meltdown- which delves deep into the band\’s career and past. When the opportunity was presented to us to interview one of bassist Mark Mendoza via phone to talk about the release, we were more than happy to accept. Nothing can replace Pero behind the kit- it just can\’t be done. Not only that, but there is no way to replace Pero as an individual either. His legacy will live forever and we can do nothing but thank Pero and the rest of Twisted Sister for all of the memories and for being such a huge part of our lives for so long. FRR: With Metal Madness, I feel like the documentary does a great job encompassing what Twisted Sister is all about but it starts at the very beginning and it focuses on two very special venues- Speaks and Emmett’s Inn. Can you talk a little about what it was about those two venues that you wanted to include those specific ones? Mark Mendoza: Well, first you have to understand that the DVD had a director and, whenever you see DVD, it’s the director’s version and what information they got is what they go with. Not that he’s wrong at all- he’s very good at doing his job. Speaks was a mega-important room for us. It was Twisted Sister’s home on Long Island, theoretically. It really was- Speaks and Hammerhead’s. Emmett’s- it was an important room, I’m not playing it down at all- was nowhere near in size or popularity what Speaks was. Speaks was a room that held 2,000-2,200 people and Emmett’s was a lot smaller- maybe a third of the size. It was a whole different feel- Speaks had the feel of a small concert hall and Emmett’s had the feel of a club. So those are the mega differences and I’m trying to play Emmett’s down at all– I don’t know why he honed in on Emmett’s so much- I guess maybe because Bob Garvey was one of the few club owners left alive that he could talk to. FRR: I guess that makes sense! Were there any venues you wish they would have included that, maybe for you personally, were important? Mark Mendoza: Well, ya know, there’s personal and there’s band. The band view is important. Hammerhead’s on Long Island was another home of ours. We played the final night in the original Hammerhead’s and the fans literally tore it apart. They took the bathrooms, they took the stalls; they took the air conditioning out of the ceiling. There was water, there was pipes that were burst and we had to stop the show about three quarters of the way through because water was pouring out of the ceiling. So it was a riotous situation at Hammerhead’s in Levittown the last night the band played there. It was insane but they were closing the room and gutting it to turn it into a restaurant or something and then Hammerhead’s– the name was used at another big club, which again, was roughly the size of Speaks- it was kind of a concert hall-feeling club. FRR: One thing they touch on in the documentary that I wanted to ask you about was The Dictators- your band before Twisted Sister and the success you had with them- touring the world, opening for some bigger bands. How did that experience prepare you for what came later with Twisted Sister? Mark Mendoza: It brought the experience of touring and not being a club band anymore. I was able to teach the guys in the band and give them what I had about touring because up until the time that Twisted actually got signed and we started doing Under The Blade, doing big shows and touring, we never really went very far from home. We spent our lives within 100 mile radius of New York City so getting on a tour bus and sometimes flying to a place was a whole new experience for the guys in the band. I brought that experience to the band and told them about it and gave the warnings and the pluses and minuses of being away from home for weeks- if not months- on end. FRR: So going into it, were there some nerves with the rest of the guys in the band with it and when success happened or were you able to help calm some of those nerves? Mark Mendoza: I can’t speak for the other guys. I don’t believe AJ was nervous. I don’t think Dee was, Dee might have been for another reason but I never knew him to be nervous. I never knew Jay to be nervous either. I pretty much helped the guys with the information I gave them about touring. Ya know, it’s really funny- when we finally got a tour bus, it was the first time the band had gone west of the Mississippi River. The first time we crossed it, everyone was looking out the windows of the tour bus and now we’re on the west side of the Mississippi and I look at everyone and go “You guys feel any different?” and they go “No,” and I go “there we go, we’re west of the Mississippi, where you guys have never been before and you feel the same. You don’t have to show people a passport to cross the Mississippi so don’t worry about it.” FRR: I wanted to talk about the concert itself because it’s a very special concert. It was the first show after AJ’s passing and you had Mike Portnoy sitting in. Can you take me into the mindset of getting ready to take the stage for the specific show? Was it any different than other shows? Mark Mendoza: It was quite different. Mike Portnoy didn’t replace AJ, he had to come and play because we had no choice with AJ. What a tremendous and horrible loss for us because…let me backpedal a little about some history with AJ: When AJ finally joined the band, it finally clicked. It was gears in a fine watch meshing, it really was. He was just the other part of the rhythm section that made it work. Not only that but you can replace the drummer, you can replace the musician but you can’t replace the person. AJ was a family member, he was a brother, you could rely on him- as much as you have to pay your taxes, you could rely on AJ. Not only as a person, but as a musician and a drummer in the band. AJ was quite possibly one of the funniest guys in the band. So, when you take all of that away, you\’re worried about replacing it. Well, you can\’t replace the person, without a doubt. So we had to find – with AJ\’s help, believe it or not, because as he said to us, if anything ever happens to me, Mike Portnoy is a good friend. He\’s a good replacement. So, Mike Portnoy was the first one we called. You know, I spoke to him, so did JJ, a bunch of times on the phone. We sent him all of the information on the live shows and all the recordings. At our first rehearsal, he came in at 98%. We had to fine tune him so little bit. He really emulated AJ\’s playing. He really did. He got up there and did it, and hence the DVD you\’re watching, or you watched, Mike Portnoy did a great job. He did a stupendous job. And he\’s a great guy. He\’s a lot of fun. He\’s a character in his own right and a lot of fun. So, although the transition was tough because somebody passed away and you\’ve gotta find a replacement, Mike Portnoy made it as smooth and easy as possible. I don\’t think it could have been any better with someone else. FRR: Yeah, it looks the show went went off very beautifully. I mean, you talked in the movie about him, it only took three or four rehearsals I think and it was just “go.” Mark Mendoza: Yeah, I think we did three rehearsals in studio rehearsals and then we did a couple in Vegas before the show. I think we did two the day before the show. And we did one obviously during the day of the show. Soundcheck, and we rehearsed anything that we thought needed help. Mike Portnoy did his homework. He did his studying. And he came in and kicked ass. He really did. FRR: That\’s for sure. When you\’re doing a show, just doing a show, and then you\’re in a show recording it for a DVD release, is there any difference between the two experiences, or are they pretty similar for you? Do you have to do anything different on air or on stage or anything? Mark Mendoza: Well, I don\’t know if you know if I produce the band. I do all the studio. If you look on the albums, my name is producer on everything since we got back together. And some of the things before that. So me, I have to go there and work in the remote truck and help them set up everything and let them know where all the cues are. Of course, my engineer George Marshall assists, but I spent the whole day there before the show assisting with sounds and cues, and especially light cues, also. Lighting also because I know where all the light cues are, so I have to help the whole stage lighting plot and things like that. So I spend the whole day there whereas the other guys show up later for the regular stuff and maybe interviews and some pre-show stuff. But I\’m there all day. All day. Yeah, I\’m like a crew member at that point. You know, I\’m working with sound and lights here because it\’s being recorded. As far as on stage, we go out there and we do our show. We have to give our visual show to the audience. Not only that, sonically also. You know, so that\’s great. We do what we do because it\’s also being videotaped, so we get out there and do our show. But there\’s a lot of production that I\’m involved with to make these things happen. FRR: Does that add a little bit of extra stress to your day, making sure [everything is on-point]. Mark Mendoza: I\’ve been doing this stuff for 40 years. It\’s no stress. I don\’t stress out about any of these things. I don\’t get stage fright. I don\’t get nervous. I\’ve been doing this for a long time. I know exactly what to do to make it happen. And I don\’t seem to be one of those people that doesn\’t get nervous about anything. FRR: I feel like in your position if you get nervous it can effect the whole show. If you get nervous even a little. Mark Mendoza: Well it could, but I never did, even in my early days, before The Dictators when I was in a club band, a local club band, I never got nervous. I love what I do. I love what I do. It\’s in my blood. It never makes me nervous. I never came from that angle. I do know, I do understand that other people in various bands and stuff get nervous and they gotta have a shot of whisky or a sip of wine or a beer or something. That\’s not me. I\’ve never been like that. FRR: There\’s two moments in the show that really struck me. One of them is during \”The Price\” when you guys take all of the house lights down, all of the stage lights down and there\’s lighters and phones. The other one is an experience which I have never seen in a Twisted Sister\’s show unfortunately, but with \”I Wanna Rock\”, everyone\’s just screaming \”Rock! Rock!\” Those two moments really hit me. Being on stage for those moments during the show – can you put that into words what it\’s like for you, that adrenaline running through your veins when those moments hit? Mark Mendoza: Well let\’s – yeah, we can reflect upon that very easily. Let\’s go the easy one, \”I Wanna Rock,\” that\’s every night at every show. And just think about us like we did it at grass pop for 110,000 people. Can you imagine what that\’s like? That\’s louder than the music. I don\’t wanna go from the Vegas show because that\’s really what the interview is about. But, so, the \”Rock!\” part, that\’s every night. But can you imagine 110,000 people screaming \”Rock!\”? It\’s louder than the music. So the adrenaline, the rush you get from that is incredible. Even in Vegas, when we were there, the size of the show, it\’s still an amazing rush. The other part, \”The Price\”, when the lights go down and Dee dedicated it to AJ, right, that\’s basically what he did. I mean, we all started to cry. I mean, big tough guy that I am, I got welled up, I got misty eyed, I got a lump in my throat, and I\’m like, \”Damn. This is incredible.\” But you know, it\’s one of the parts in the night that always gets you. It always does because he always dedicates it to AJ and the people in the music industry that were lost recently. So it always gets you, it\’s always something, you always think of AJ. The other part of the night, if I can add this to you, to me, if you remember when we did the song \”Burn in Hell\” and we went in to the drum solo. Ok, AJ up on the screen. You remember that? That got to me. Watching AJ play that drum solo. FRR: That got to me a little bit, too. Mark Mendoza: Oh yeah, without a doubt. And it was amazing that we had that footage of a show that was only from the Faroe Islands I think two summers before that. It was an amazing drum solo. It was incredibly shot. The sound was great. And Mike Portnoy, an amazing drummer in his own right, said, \”Would you mind if we have AJ do the drum solo?\” And he goes, \”What, are you kidding? This is about him. I\’ll start it and you can fade into it.\” And you know, that got me. I felt my heart palpitate watching AJ up on that screen. FRR: That moment was almost as powerful if now more powerful than when the lights go down because you\’re watching AJ play. Mark Mendoza: What people couldn\’t see, I don\’t think they could because the stage was dark, Dee and I are on stage left and JJ and Eddie on the other side. We\’re standing there and Dee put his arm around me and leaned on me, you know, watching AJ. FRR: Wow. I don\’t know what to say. That\’s…that\’s emotional. Mark Mendoza: Yeah. Incredibly. FRR: One of the things I wanted to talk about is it\’s obviously 40 years of Twisted Sister, this being the last tour of Twisted Sister, what have the last 40 years, if you can encompass it, what stands out to you about Twisted Sister\’s career in the last 40 years? I mean, it\’s been a hell of a ride for the last 40 years. Mark Mendoza: We were broken up for about 13 years in the middle of it all. You know that. What stands out? I have to say, and I\’ll put it in different terms, instead of music and rock and roll, what I want to say about this. I would say Dee is the best quarterback in the business. Hands down, he is the best quarterback, and he has the best linemen in the business, don\’t want to forget them. And I\’ll be egotistical about it, and I\’m not egotistical, I\’m not that type of person, we take apart every audience and we take apart every band that we play with. It\’s the combination of those people and that name, and the fact that we\’re a well-oiled machine that has been doing this for a long time. No circumstances, no anything, even AJ passing, can stop us from doing what we love to do and getting the job done. And we get it done, obviously, every single night that we play. You can\’t be liked or loved by everybody, every music fan. It\’s whatever floats your boat. I mean, it\’s whatever you like, and there\’s people that don\’t like rock music who want to hear jazz or they want to hear country, you know, they want to hear rap. You know, music is very subjective. It\’s whatever floats your boat. It\’s whatever makes your heart beat. Whatever kind of music it is, so can you claim to be the best band in the world? Well, you can if you\’re in the band, but does it really mean you\’re the best? We go by what all the reviews around the world say, and what every promoter and what every other band says on the bill with us. At the end of the show we get, \”Holy crap! You guys turned this audience into fanatics.\” So there isn\’t a single night that we don\’t conquer whatever situation we\’re in as a band. FRR: You guys have written some of the best anthems of all time- Mark Mendoza: Yes, of course. FRR: And then you\’ve got a song like \”The Price\” which I feel is one of the best ballads of our time. Honestly, it\’s a very well-written, well-played song. Mark Mendoza: It\’s a song that lyrically, especially lyrically that fits many positions. I\’ll never forget in the eighties when the Challenger, the space shuttle, crashed. We went on stage that night and Dee dedicated it to the people on board the Challenger, the astronauts who died, you know, for this country. It was very fitting. You know, it worked: The lyrics, the feel, what the song is about works for all of this stuff, whether it\’s AJ\’s passing, or the Challenger, or a terrorist attack around the world. We\’re dedicating it to the people who died and got hurt in it. It all works, but that\’s what the song is about. You know, it\’s the price. FRR: Another thing I wanted to talk about is in the movie even you guys mention that you guys when you split for everything with like grunge and whatnot hit. Do you feel like the splitting up when you guys did helped you for when you came back? It helped with maybe some success when you came back? Mark Mendoza: That\’s a tough thing to say. There are so many angles being in the music industry and being right in the middle and being ground zero in this stuff. It\’s a really tough thing to say. You look at bands like Poison and Motley Crue and Ozzy and Judas Priest and Motorhead. They never stopped playing. They never stopped making records, CDs. And they never stopped playing, you know? And their careers went on. Sometimes it was a little slower. Sometimes it was a little bigger. But when we came back, we were 100 times bigger than we were in the eighties. You know, our success now live is tremendous. And so how do you do that? You don\’t have a crystal ball. Does it say you did the right thing? You did the wrong thing? You know, grunge, that whole grunge scene, when it came out, it certainly hurt the heavy metal, the hard rock bands. There\’s no doubt about it. But being the size of these certain bands, they persevered and went right through it and are still around today. And so, how do you really know? You don\’t. You really don\’t know. Everyone gives their own synopsis and opinions on it, but I don\’t know. I really don\’t. I mean, for Twisted Sister, it was the right time because it was melting down internally. It was the right time for us to break up. Not grunge coming out or any of that stuff. We broke up because the band couldn\’t stay together any longer. So it didn\’t have anything to do with grunge. It was just the timing. FRR: Finally, the last thing I have for you is with this being the last, final tour for you guys, are there any plans – I know you guys are playing a lot of the European fests and mainly the European festivals are the main things that you guys have right now, and there\’s a show, a couple US shows, do you guys maybe foresee one final US trek coming up maybe in the fall or winter to say goodbye, or do you feel that maybe the shows are scheduled – Mark Mendoza: Well, right now, October 1st in New Jersey, the big festival there is our final show. Right now. Might there be one or two after it in other places, not only in this country, other places in the world – yeah there is talk of maybe a couple of shows. No tour. There\’s no anything. You know, the guys in the band are so busy doing so many other things we can\’t just decide, OK, we\’re going to go out for four months and tour. Ever since we got back together we agreed that we\’re not going to kill ourselves touring. And destroy our lives, what we\’ve built over many years. So we tour, a lot of the reasons that we don\’t tour, and we pick various shows to play is because everybody is so busy in their personal lives. We decided to make it easy on ourselves and not make a touring schedule and tearing us away from our businesses and families. FRR: Gotcha. Well, that makes sense. Mark Mendoza: Essentially, we\’re the biggest part-time band in the world. We\’re headlining all these shows about bands that play 100, 150, 200 nights a year. Well, what do we play? 20? 20 shows a year? Yeah, that\’s it. So we\’re the biggest, oh, half- part-time band in the world. FRR: If it ain\’t broke, don\’t fix it! Mark, I want to thank you for taking time to talk to me today. And I want to thank you for being such a huge part of my life for so long. Your music will live forever and I hope we can catch each other somewhere down the line. Mark Mendoza: Thank you, Reggie, and thank you for being a great interviewer. If you ever need anything in the future, just reach out to [our people] and we\’ll get you taken care of. -Reggie Edwards