Prevailing as a preeminent force of the heavy metal phenomenon, the infamous band Twisted Sister is among rock’s biggest paradoxes. In one respect, the group’s diabolically roguish (and humorous) image, sheer exploitation of volume, and pandemonious live and video performances have contributed, in part, to their worldwide popularity. But transcending the devastating wattage and wild debauchery so indigenous to Twisted Sister’s surface appeal is the group: five high-caliber, truly legitimate musicians, deploying some of the hottest hardcore power rock of any current metal faction.
Elevating these self-proclaimed “Bad Boys of Rock ‘n’ Roll” above their metal counterparts is the hybrid drumming style of A.J. Pero. A.J. has a unique ability to achieve equilibrium between wild abandon and impeccable precision, while his tonal sounds are so distinctive that, at just 26, he’s become a role model for many young drummers.
Before Twisted Sister acquired Pero in 1982, the band—born out of the New York area club circuit back in the mid-’70s—didn’t have such good fortune with their choice of drummers. In fact, they recruited four drummers previous to A.J., all of whom never seemed to provide the necessary power to counteract the volume emanating from double lead guitarists Jay Jay French and Eddie Ojeda. Pero’s presence satisfied the band’s need for a strong and very capable timekeeper, and since he’s been part of the group, Twisted Sister has metamorphosed into one of the most celebrated bands of the mid-’80s.
How did A.J. come to join the group? “I had spent about a year out in California with a band that I was in back then,” A.J. recalls. “Nothing was really happening for us in Staten Island, so we had moved to the West Coast to try our luck there, but things didn’t improve for us in California either. I had been living in poverty in a roach-infested warehouse in East L.A., so I decided to head back to New York with my wife, JoAnne, who was my girlfriend at the time.
“A friend of ours invited us to see Twisted Sister at a club after we got back to New York. This was February of 1982, and since I had been a fan of the band for a long time, I was really into seeing them again. I remembered seeing Twisted Sister on my 17th birthday at a club. There were only about 50 people there that night, but the band played as if there were 1,000 people in the audience, which was amazing to me. Anyway, the girl who invited us to the show had also told me that the band was looking for a new drummer. I had a connection with Twisted’s roadie, Mike Altini, so I gave him a sample tape of my playing at the show. He passed my tape along to the road manager, Joe Gerber, who then turned it over to Dee Snider.
“Meanwhile, Joe had accidentally removed my tape—which only had my name written on it—from its cassette cover, which had my name, address, and telephone number printed on the insert, and he stuck another drummer’s tape in my cassette holder. From what Dee told me, the next day when he was listening to all the tapes at his dentist’s office, he put mine in his Walkman, and while he was sitting in the chair getting his teeth drilled, he suddenly jumped up and yelled, ‘Wait a minute! Stop!’ He had only listened to half of a song I was playing on, but he had been impressed with what he heard. So he ran to the phone, called the tour manager, and said, ‘I just listened to a drummer called Tony Pero on a tape. He’s the one I want. Whoever this guy is, find him.’ The road manager didn’t know how to find me because, like I said, my phone number and address had been mixed up with somebody else’s tape, so he had to investigate the situation. After a couple of weeks, they discovered that Mike Altini knew who I was, and he finally contacted me.
“By that time,” A.J. continues, “I had put the whole thing out of my mind thinking that, if they had wanted me to come down for an audition, they would have called me by then. Anyway, Mike explained that the delay was caused by the mix-up with my tape. He invited me down to the Soap Factory [a New Jersey club] to meet Dee and the rest of the band, since they were playing there that night. After the show, I met everyone, talked with Dee for a while, and told him that I’d been into their music for years and that I thought I’d really fit into the group. Then Dee asked if I played double bass drums. ‘Yeah sure. No problem,’ I told him. Mean- while,” he laughs, “I didn’t play double bass drums. I was a single-bass drummer back then. So the next day, I borrowed a bass drum from a friend. I gave myself a crash course in double bass drum playing over the next week, in addition to learning a lot of their material for the audition.
“Dee asked me to join the group about a week after my second audition. They had a band rule that all drummers had to be auditioned twice, because they wanted to be sure about their choice, since they had been burned a few time in the past by drummers with bad attitudes. So when I officially joined, I rehearsed with them for three weeks and learned about 40 songs—copies and originals. I played my first gig with Twisted Sister—I’ll never forget it—at L’Amour in Brooklyn, on April 1, 1982.”
The band continued to make headway that year, scoring their first European record deal that summer, and subsequently releasing the LP Under The Blade. Unfortunately, their record company at that time filed for bankruptcy shortly after the ink dried on the contracts and right after Under The Blade hit the record stores, which contributed to the LP’s disappointing sales due to lack of promotion. Undaunted, the band raised enough money to fly themselves to London—the land of promise for many American rock artists encountering difficulty in obtaining record deals in the States. “We got on an English TV show over there called The Tube around Christmastime,” A.J. explains. “Phil Carson, now a manager, who worked for Atlantic Records back then, was at the TV studio watching us that night, and was blown away by our performance. He signed us to a European deal with Atlantic, and they released our next album, You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’Roll, in ’83. We headlined a sold-out tour in Europe, and then we came back to America.
“We were supposed to go out on tour with Judas Priest, who canceled out at the last minute. Then, we planned to tour with Kiss, who also changed their minds right before the tour, the reason for both cancellations being that those bands didn’t want a band like us, who had caused so much excitement over in Europe, opening for them.”
Twisted Sister eventually toured on a bill backing two other bands, which was quite a switch from that earlier European tour. Nevertheless, that experience proved to be a major turning point for the band, because for the first time, they were playing shows all over the U.S. They generated such overwhelming interest from audiences that they were finally signed to an international record deal. Recorded in 1984, Stay Hungry was Twisted Sister’s breakthrough album, eventually turning platinum with the help of two videos from the singles “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock.”
“Yeah, 1984 was a great year for the band,” A.J. comments. “We played the Nassau Coliseum in New York just as the album was going gold. The night of the show, we received our gold records on stage, which was great because some of our fans got to share that with us. But that time was also really rough for me, because that was when I found out my father was suffering from lung cancer. During a three-week break from touring that October, I went home and spent some time with him. That Christmas I gave him the platinum album that I had just received for Stay Hungry. I had my parents’ names engraved on it as a Christmas gift. When I gave it to him, he just cried. He died soon after that. It was almost like he had waited until I made it in music, before he could rest. I got the phone call about his death when we were on the road in Cleveland. Since I couldn’t get a flight out until the following day, my mother called me and said, ‘I want you to play tonight, and I want you to do really well.’ On stage that night, we dedicated the show to my father’s memory, and when I took a solo, it felt really good.”
A.J.’s father had bought his son a kit when A.J. was just three years old, but unlike most kids at that young age, “Little Anthony,” as he was called, had discriminating tastes as far as equipment was concerned. “I remember coming downstairs on Christmas morning,” he recalls, “and my father—God bless his soul—had gotten me one of those cardboard drumsets that you could buy at a toy store. I said to him, ‘What’s that?’ and he said, ‘Merry Christmas, son.’ I told him, ‘I don’t want that. I want a real drumset.’ My father started to flip out. He yelled, ‘I’ll give you a real drumset!’ Then, he smashed the kit and threw it down the stairs.
“When I turned four, we moved from Brooklyn to Staten Island, and I still wanted to play. I would bang on everything inside and outside the house, but I still didn’t have a kit of my own. My Uncle Carmine, who was a drummer, asked my father if he could store his drumset at our house while his apartment was being painted. My uncle knew that I wanted to play, so he set the kit up in a spare room, and from then on, I was constantly in there playing. My father, who had agreed to this arrangement, hadn’t known that my uncle had reported the drums stolen so that he could collect the insurance money. So four months later, Uncle Carmine came back and took his drums away, and I was left without the kit I had been playing on all that time.
“My father finally got me my first Ludwig kit when I was six, and later that year, when my family went down to the Bahamas, I had my first gig. It was with the band at our hotel. I had begged my parents to let me sit in with the group one night, and I ended up playing with them every night of the week we were down there. This band was called the Buddy Russell Trio, and they eventually started to fly me out to do weekend gigs with them all over the country when I was seven. They paid me union scale—although I was too young to join the union—plus all our expenses because my parents would come along with me. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. I really did it.”
A.J. was something of a prodigy. At age 11, he was playing both symphonic and jazz drums as well as percussion with the Boroughwide Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, and he also won awards for individual drumming at the Paris Jazz Festival, where his competitors were musicians twice his age. It wasn’t until he returned from playing in Europe that year with a college band that A.J. got to jam with kids his own age and on his own playing level. “I got into a jazz trio, which was a great experience for me,” he says. “We were all about the same age—11—and we all had similar playing abilities, so for the first time in my life I didn’t feel like some kind of freak. Before that, I had always played with adults because I was pretty advanced for my age. When I was playing in that hotel band, people would often come up to me after a show and say, ‘He’s probably just a midget. He can’t be a kid.’ So, playing with other kids was a good opportunity for me. We did the Jerry Lewis Telethon, and we also played resorts up in the Catskills like The Concord. We even cut a record of our own. The piano player played classical music incredibly well, and the bass player was as good as a Steve Harris or a Jack Bruce—just unbelievable.”
One might take it for granted that, because A.J. is a member of a band known for playing heavy, straightforward rock ‘n’ roll, he probably listened to rock for most of his life. Yet surprisingly, A.J. had limited exposure to rock throughout most of his childhood, and his primary influences were big band and jazz drummers, who he claims helped to shape his style. “When I was a kid, my father wouldn’t let me play rock,” he reflects. “In fact, he wouldn’t even let me listen to it. When The Beatles came on in our house, he would take the record and throw it out. My sister, who’s seven years older than me, was a Beatles fanatic. She could listen to them, but my father felt that I was too young, and he thought The Beatles represented rebellion. That’s totally ironic, because years later, he became a big Twisted Sister fan. But it wasn’t until I got to be about 14, when I started to hang out on street corners, that I began listening to rock bands like The Who, Led Zeppelin, Yes, and ELP.
“I wasn’t listening to a lot of drummers when I was young, just Krupa, Rich, and Sonny Payne. Krupa was a great guy. I met him through my Uncle Carmine. Krupa taught me how to twirl my sticks, plus he gave me tips on my overall playing. He sent me Christmas cards every year until he died. On the other hand, my other idol—Buddy Rich—turned out to be a disappointment as a person. When I was 12, I approached him and said, ‘Mr. Rich, I’ve always wanted to meet you. Can I take your picture?’ ‘Not now, kid,’ he said. I’ll never forget how bad I felt.
“Sonny Payne, like I said, was a big favorite of mine. He was a fantastic drummer who played with Count Basie and Harry James. There are people today who can twirl their sticks really well, but Sonny was the best. He would do a fill, and he would twirl the sticks as he was doing the fill! To this day, that’s something I’ve never seen anybody else do. I’ve been working on that, but I still drop my sticks. I won’t do it until I perfect it, and I will, someday. It looks great because you see the sticks flying around unbelievably fast. You’re hitting a drum, then twirling, then hitting a drum, then twirling—back and forth—like lightning. Payne was really great—very cool.
“I really didn’t draw my influences from rock drummers, and I think what most rock drummers have been playing over the last 20 years has been taken from what our forefathers— Krupa, Rich, Morello, Shaughnessy—have always done. Basically, rock drummers have transferred what these drummers did back then by adapting it to their playing methods today.”
While he played with different rock bands during the years following high school, A. J. opted to take on as many as three jobs at once to make a living. And often, these jobs had nothing to do with music. Because he was unwilling to compromise his standards, A.J. stopped playing in “wedding bands” at one point because he often felt unchallenged, restrained, and just plain bored. “It probably would have been easier just to do those kinds of gigs to get by,” he says, “but instead, I worked a few jobs at once, plus I kept up with my music. When I was about 18, I was working in a hardware store, pumping gas on weekends and delivering pizzas at night. I needed the money because I always wanted to buy equipment. I always needed cymbals and sticks, and as everybody knows, equipment can be really expensive.
“If I wanted a new snare drum that cost $400, I’d bust my ass and work around the clock to buy it. If there was a new cymbal that I needed, I’d make sure that I’d get the cash together for it. That’s why I respect what I have today. I know what it’s like to be without, because I’ve been there. Nobody can say to me, ‘Oh, you had it easy all your life.’ That’s bullshit. I’ve worked hard to get to where I am.
“Sometimes when I was working all those jobs, things could get pretty bad, and it was hard to keep everything going. It got really depressing at times. I mean, I never contemplated suicide, but it got to be a real drag for a while. I never took hard drugs, but my form of escape from all the pressure was playing drums. That was my way of dealing with all the bullshit that was going on around me. So instead of going to a bar and getting wasted when I needed a release, I’d sit down and play for five hours. That always made me feel better.”
One recent pressure that Twisted Sister has been forced to deal with is the public criticism targeted at the band by reactionary groups who accuse them of presenting violent images in their videos and lyrics. Does A.J. find it difficult to be taken seriously as a musician in a band where the issue of image is often the main focus? “Well, I always try to judge people for their value as individuals, not their surface images,” he comments. “I’ve met guys like Rod Morgenstein and Michael Shrieve who I had certain expectations about, but after I talked with them, my expectations weren’t even close to what they were like as people. They were great—just down-to-earth guys. I’ve learned not to prejudge people, because the image that most of us see portrayed is usually false.
“I’m acknowledged by a lot of fans for my capabilities as a musician, but I’m still being ridiculed by people because I’m in a band that allegedly promotes violence. When people first meet me, they often say, ‘Wow, you seem so different than the way you appear in those videos and on stage.’ Well, my answer to that is that I’m very much aware that kids are paying $15 to come to see me act like a madman as well as play the music, so I’m going to give them their money’s worth. We’re not going to cheat them.
“But,” he continues, “I think it’s really unfair that people blame bands like Twisted Sister for promoting violence amongst teenagers. What these people don’t realize is that kids today are not violent because of our videos or records. If they’re violent, it’s because of the violence that’s out there on the streets—the violence that’s a reality. These kids watch TV, which constantly portrays violence—murders, rapes, beatings—or they see it for themselves out in the streets or on the news. So, Twisted Sister comes out with a video like ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It,’ and all of a sudden, we’re the ones supposedly getting the youth of America to rebel against their fathers. No way! That video is a rebellion against one father—the guy in the video—not every father. I loved my father to the day he died, and I never thought about throwing him out of a window [as demonstrated in the video}. That video, just like the one for ‘I Wanna Rock,’ was meant to be a joke.
“Some of these people involved in those groups like the P.M.R.C. [Parents Music Resource Center] don’t have the control amongst themselves or over their own kids, so they blame us. It’s unfair because we’ve worked all our lives to get a certain acclaim for what we do, and people refuse to recognize us because of our image. Kids come up to me at the clinics that I do and tell me that, when they come home with a Twisted Sister record or poster, their parents destroy it, because they think our music is satanic or that we’re into drugs, which is totally untrue for this band. At least the kids appreciate us for being genuine musicians, but I can’t deal with being knocked down by people who don’t really understand us or our music.”
Through the drum clinics that he participates in, A.J. has the opportunity to let fans know what he’s like outside the parameters of Twisted Sister. “The drums clinics allow me to show a different side of myself,” he says. “I walk out on stage just dressed in dungarees and a T-shirt, and everybody’s expecting me to come out with raised fists, yelling and cursing. Instead, I just say, ‘Hey, how’s everybody doing out there?’ I tell them what’s going on with Twisted Sister, and then I say to them, ‘Now I’d like to show you a different side of my playing,’ and I sit down and play jazz. Later, I play rock and then I play heavy metal. That way, they can differentiate three separate styles coming from one drummer. I love the band I’m in, but it’s important for people to know that what I do with Twisted Sister is just a part of what I am as a drummer and as a person.”
It’s interesting to note that Pero was the first drummer with Twisted Sister to ever take a drum solo with the band, and it’s rather apparent that A. J.’s solos are a facet of his playing on which he spends a lot of forethought and planning. “I’ve always been big on audience participation during my drum solos,” he remarks. “I try to get them involved with what I’m doing, like having them cheer along while I play. But I’m aware that, for a lot of people, when a drummer does a solo, that’s often the time they go out in the hall to buy a pretzel and a coke, or to have a cigarette. So by getting people involved—maybe it’s playing a riff and pointing to the audience to give a cheer—I find it’s the best way to keep them interested. It’s great when you hear 12,000 people responding to what you’re doing during a solo, and that’s important to me because I always try to put 100% of my energy into what I’m doing. So it’s great to have an equally enthusiastic response from the audience.
“As for what I actually play during my solo, it’s basically the same concept all the time. I break my solo down into three parts: First, I start out with something everyone can identify with like structured fills. Then, usually I’ll go for some double bass drum patterning. Then, I’ll work that into the audience participation section of my solo—starting out slow, working up fast, and then going all out.
“For the ’86 tour, I’ll probably break it down again, but I might start out with some fast, heavy metal playing, working into a slow, syncopated section with my left foot playing one pattern, my right foot doing something completely different, and with my arms doing something different as well. I’d like to see if the audience would grasp something like that at our shows. I’ve always tried to play things for the average headbanger as well as the drummers in the audience. Plus I try to put on a show—you know, twirling sticks and that kind of thing—for people who want to see that, too. You just have to try to keep the whole audience happy by having something for everybody.”
Planning and preparation are certainly crucial to any performing musician, whether playing live or in the studio. But how does improvisation—surely another very important element of performing—manifest itself in A.J.’s playing? “I’m always doing things spontaneously,” he responds. “For instance, if you listen to the Stay Hungry album, and then you listen to the live footage on the Stay Hungry video, you won’t hear the same fill in the same place, unless it’s an opening fill or a specific cue fill. I never do anything the same way twice, and it always varies depending on the mood I’m in that night. Improvisation is a mirror of my mood at that moment, and since I’m never in the exact same mood twice, I’ll never play a song exactly the same way twice.
“Everything is a learning process,” he continues, “especially going into the studio every year. You’ve got to keep on doing different things, taking chances from the time before, because the day you stop doing that is the day people will stop buying your records. I think our audience demands something different from us, and with our next record, Come Out And Play, we’re trying to meet that challenge.
“With the new record, I went into the studio in a much different frame of mind than I did when we recorded Stay Hungry in 1984. The last time I went into the studio, we had gotten an ultimatum from Atlantic Records that if we blew it with that album—Stay Hungry—then that would be it for us. We wouldn’t be getting another chance. So I had gone into the studio thinking, ‘Wow, this is our last stop.’ The pressure was really on. This year, I know that we’ve been on the road together a lot, and we have a good feeling about ourselves and what our direction is. This new album can only be better than the last one. So, overall, my approach in the studio is different, and so far, it’s been a lot more challenging.”
Another reason A.J. is faring better in the studio on the new album, as compared to his experience on Stay Hungry, is because, this time around, the band has chosen a producer who’s in touch with the needs of a drummer. “On Stay Hungry, we were produced by Tom Werman,” explains A.J. “He tore me apart in the studio as far as my drumming was concerned. He criticized everything I played, and he actually told me exactly how he wanted everything to sound, with no regard for my playing abilities. I said, ‘What the hell am I going to be playing for if he’s telling me what I have to play? We might as well have hired Mutt Lange, and let him program the LinnDrum like he does on Def Leppard albums.’ I really feel for drummers who have to put up with producers in those kinds of situations. Finally, Dee said to him, ‘Look man, he’s our drummer. He plays. He knows what has to be done.’
“For this album, we have Dieter Dierks producing [Scorpions, Accept], and the situation is totally different. Dieter knows what I’m capable of and he encourages me to play what I want, but at the same time, he makes suggestions on what works, what comes across in the studio, and what doesn’t.
“One thing he absolutely insists on is that the drum sound be nothing short of monstrous. That’s why we’ve been working in the studio for the last five days to get a great sound. I’ve been beating out single notes on each drum to get the right sound. It took three days just to get a bass drum sound and another two days to get the right snare drum sound. But that’s not my biggest priority. It’s the producer’s. I’m not much of a fanatic in the studio. I’m definitely not the kind of drummer who says, ‘I’ve got to have the perfect drum sound in the studio or else I’m not playing.’ I’m the type who knows that, if the sound is good in the studio, it’s going to be tremendous live.
“Like I said, rather than being in the studio trying to get every little sound down flawlessly with the producer saying, ‘Can you put a little ting in after the guitar solo? I didn’t like what you did there before,’ I’d rather put my energies into playing live. I know that, if you leave a mistake on a track, it’s going to be there forever, but I also think that, if you, let’s say, accidentally hit a stick during a roll and that’s left in, you should realize that it’s part of the human element. When you come down to it, that’s what music is all about.
“But getting back to what kind of drum sound we’re shooting for on this album, I’d have to say that I’m definitely playing a lot more than just simple beats. I’m doing a lot more fills, more offbeats—just a lot of things that I wanted to do on Stay Hungry but wasn’t allowed to. In my opinion, Stay Hungry had nothing really intricate on it from a drumming standpoint. It just had a straightforward approach. On Come Out And Play, we’re using different types of drum sounds throughout the album, and it’s being digitally recorded. I’m actually playing a lot more on this one.”
Like many other bands, Twisted Sister is a group best appreciated live. Since it’s unavoidable that the band has to work in the studio in order to make records, do they attempt to duplicate the excitement and big sound of a live performance within the limitations of a studio? “That’s pretty difficult,” A.J. replies. “Some bands sound great on record, but when you see them live, it can be disappointing. With us, we’ve always been much better as a live entity versus a recording band. When you hear us on record, it’s good, but when you come to see us live you’re going to walk out of there dripping with sweat, because we put so much into it that the audience can’t help but get caught up in what’s going on. We’re walking offstage completely drained ourselves.
“The hardest part, of course, is getting that excitement across on vinyl, because soundwise, you just can’t duplicate that in the studio. For instance, Mark Mendoza’s [bass] amps are so loud that he shakes the whole arena on his own, and you can’t reproduce that in the studio. Also, because our adrenaline is pumping so high when we’re on stage, everything is played at a much faster pace. We are definitely a live band, no doubt about it.”
Anyone who has ever attended a Twisted Sister concert is aware that the band relies on both the overwhelming audible and visual components that make a Twisted Sister show unforgettable. Through their stage design, the group has tried to create the atmosphere of a city street, using props such as chain-link fences on stage. Now A. J. has taken that idea one step further by helping to design a drumkit that looks remarkably like garbage cans. “The story behind that goes back to a year ago, when Dee and I were sitting around talking about our stage motif. Dee said, ‘Imagine if you could make drums out of garbage cans? They’d probably sound tremendous.’ I said, ‘That would be pretty wild. You’d definitely get some great overtones.’ But instead of actually making drums from garbage cans, I came up with the idea of having drums made to look just like them. Of course Dee liked the idea, because they would fit in perfectly with our stage setup. So I spoke with Bill Ludwig III, who contacted Patrick Foley on the West Coast. He helps to commission artwork on musical instruments.
The two designers—Eloy Torrez and Jim Itkin—sent me a rough sketch of how it would look, and when I saw it, I knew it was going to come out great. When the kit was finished, I was really blown away because it looks exactly like I dreamed it would, even down to the cymbal stands, which are made to look like plumbing pipes. They used a mask and spraying process to get an airbrushed look, and when you sit about 50 rows away from the stage, you’re almost convinced that they are made from real garbage cans.
“It took me four days to put the whole kit together, because they sent me the shells and the heads, and I had to put everything—all the rims and the lugs—on myself. The May-EA mic’s are built right into the side of the drums. They’re modified Shures, so all you’ve got to do is plug a wire into the side of the drum—a regular three-prong cannon jack—which plugs right into the board.”
The new kit also features four bass drums, which is a pretty unusual setup for a rock drummer. But that’s just another example of how A. J. strives to be as unique as possible. In the case of his four bass drums though, he contends that he implements them for the sound they produce, not the visual effect. “Well, the whole concept behind my kit is really to get a sound that’s individualized,” he explains, “and hitting two 26″ and two 24″ bass drums at the same time produces a different type of sound. The drums are connected to each other by a special pedal designed by Drum Workshop. It’s built so that each foot will hit the 26″ drum and the 24″ drum at the same time. I tried using that all the time, but the pedal gives a slight flamming effect, so I only use it for my solo. For the main part of the show, I’m only using my 26” drums. Then, right before my solo, my roadie switches on the other two beaters. It’s definitely twice the punch as double bass drums.
“Being a rock drummer with four bass drums is a little different. Maybe people will remember me 20 years from now and say, ‘There used to be this maniac who played four bass drums on stage . . . .’ I’m constantly thinking of new ways to approach drumming. I always write my ideas down, so that when I get some free time one of these days, maybe I’ll have the chance to work these things out. Someday I’d like to get into the position where, when I’m off the road, I’ll be able to work with a big equipment manufacturing company that has the facilities to do research and design. That dimension of music really interests me.
“As for my actual kit, I have those two 26″ bass drums connected to two 24″ bass drums on each side. For tom-toms, I’ve got two 8″, a 10″, a 12″, and two 14″ toms on my left. I’ve also got 15″ and 16″ mounted toms, plus 16″, 18″, and 20″ floor toms, which are double-headed while the rest of the kit is single-headed. In the middle of my setup, I’ve got a 12 x 14 snare, which is my main snare, and on the left of that, I’ve got a 6 1/2” hammered-bronze snare, which is a great-sounding drum—a higher, crisper, jazzier-sounding snare compared to my other one, which has more of a fat-bottomed sound to it. All my acoustic drums are by Ludwig.
“I have five electronic drums. They’re called ddrums by Guild, and they’re great for special effects. I have the pistol shot, explosion, and timpani sound in the cartridges, which you slip in back of the brain. I use Duraline skins on my middle snare and my bass drums because they seem to hold up the best, and I use Ludwig Rockers on all my toms because they sound more live to me.
“The cymbals I use are a combination of the new Platinum series by Zildjian, the new Z series, and the Zildjian Impulse series. I have two sets of hi-hats: a pair of 15″ Impulse and a pair of 13″ Z series. The Z hi-hats are on my left, and are always closed. My main hi-hats are the 15’s; I have them mounted on a Drum Workshop remote hi-hat, so that I can play them with my hand on the right, but still control them with my left foot. Then I have an 18″ Platinum, an 18″ Z, and an 18″ Impulse; a 16″ Platinum, a 16″ Z, and 16″ Impulse; 22″ Platinum, 22″ Z, and 22″ Impulse; 22″ Platinum China Boy high and 20″ Platinum China Boy low; 20″ Impulse China Boy high, 20″ Impulse, and 20″ Z Power Smash; 22″ Platinum swish with rivets, 24″ Platinum crash, and 24″ Z ride; and an 8″ Platinum splash, 12″ Platinum splash, and 12″ Z splash.”
A. J. was one of the first drummers to try out the new Z cymbals. What does he like about them? “I always wanted a loud cymbal with quick decay,” he explains. “The Impulse cymbals are loud, but they have enormous sustain. Sometimes I need that live, but it can be a problem in the studio. So now I’ve got the Impulse cymbals for when I want a lot of sustain, the Z cymbals for when I want fast decay, and the Platinums, which are right in between. The other thing about the Z cymbals is that they are hammered with four different designs, and each design gives a slightly different sound. That’s great for the type of music I’m playing right now, because I need different things at different times.”
Although his setup can surely be described as “massive,” A.J. recommends that drummers just starting out should start small as far as equipment goes. “I think you should always start out with just the bare essentials, because if you begin with too many drums, you’ll just get confused about what to do with them. I started out with four cymbals and five drums, and now, after about 23 years of playing, I have a 22-piece drumkit and 24 cymbals. But I’m not saying that having more equipment makes you a better drummer.
That’s not my philosophy. I use a big kit because of the options and colors it gives me. There are plenty of great drummers who have small kits, but what makes them so incredible is that they know how to utilize the few drums they have. Leonard Haze [Y & T] only has about six drums on stage, but he’s great with those six drums.”
It’s not by chance that many of Twisted Sister’s most outstanding songs, such as the high-speed “Stay Hungry,” the ferocious “Burn In Hell,” and the upbeat rhythms of “I’ve Had Enough,” are also the tracks that feature some of Pero’s most notable drum- ming. That’s partly due to Dee Snider’s collaboration with A.J. in constructing the songs on the strength of the drums. “Dee is able to write songs rhythmically, melodically, and lyrically, which is a rarity in music these days,” A.J. comments. “He writes the basic rhythms and the melodies first. Then I write my drum parts around the song, depending on what I think that song requires. For instance, a song like ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ is played simple and tastefully, but ‘Burn In Hell’ and ‘The Beast’ are played more intricately. Those two songs require more technical-type playing. For each song we do, my approach is different. Since we all have the capacity to play a wide range of rock styles, Dee can write a group of songs for a record and none of them will sound the same. Yet, every song will sound like a Twisted Sister song, because we definitely have our own exclusive style.
“It’s an advantage for me to have someone like Dee writing our music, because he’s sort of a frustrated drummer, so he loves the drums. He knows what he wants, but he usually just makes suggestions to me. He usually gives me a tape of a song and says, ‘This is the chord pattern. I want you to write a drumbeat doing this or that.’ I go home and listen to it. Then I come back to the studio a week later with all my drum parts down, ready to record. A song like ‘I’ve Had Enough’ was a situation where Dee wanted me to dominate the track. That song was built on Bad Company’s ‘Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love,’ which is a track where the drums really dominate throughout the entire song.”
It’s often the little things that make the biggest impression on a track. A.J. frequently adds unexpected touches on songs that make them stand out. A case in point is the drum coda he attaches to “I’ll Take You Alive.” “That came about when Dee suggested that I take the spotlight at the end of the song. He told me to come up with something that would remind people of a train. I thought about how I would go about doing it, walked into the studio a little while after that, and I did it on the first take. I had an idea of what I was going to play, but it was pretty spontaneous. I started out on that with double bass drums, then I went into a triplet, and then I went all the way around into a single stroke, which I carried into a double bass with a flam type of snare to the end. It was just an opportunity for me to lend my input to our music.
“It’s a great feeling to know that you’ve contributed to a band that’s become as successful as Twisted Sister. I feel like I’ve accomplished something by being a part of this band and that my style of playing has changed the sound of the music. The music has changed from being primarily a guitar-oriented band to a guitar- and drum-oriented band. I want people to realize that not only are there two great guitar players, a very solid bass player, and an excellent singer in Twisted Sister, but there’s also a drummer in the band! That’s something that I know I’ve helped to bring out. As far as the band goes, we all have respect for each other, and since the other band members are aware of what I’m capable of, they know I’ll come through. They can depend on me. I’ll put out my best on every track, and if something goes wrong in the studio, they know I’ll be back the next day to take care of it. I won’t say, ‘I don’t need this’ and then disappear for five days, which some people might do. Who would I be hurting if I did that? The kids— that’s who. So giving 100% of myself to the music means everything to me, because our fans deserve the best that we can give them. The fans—all the kids who come to our shows and buy the records—are the ones behind us, so we do it for them.”