It was going to be so easy. I was chatting with Meat Loaf. He had a new album to talk about, sure, and we would do that.
But surely we’d also get to Bat Out Of Hell - love it or hate it, the album is huge. And then there’s the acting work, quirky roles in such classics as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Fight Club…Roadie…
Meat Loaf was in New Zealand for two days, early in March. He was playing his new album, Hang Cool Teddy Bear, to selected media folk in Auckland. And doing a few interviews. One TV crew presented him with a meatloaf. The man born Marvin Lee Aday is a vegetarian.
And then there was my phone interview. (You’re reading it now.)
Meat Loaf had the only copy of his album in the country at that time. So he knew I hadn’t heard it. It’s not an ideal way to start an interview – but it often happens. Sometimes the album is not available but you can hear some snippets of tracks online. Often you get a copy of the album – in some form – the night before. But with Meat Loaf I was flying blind. As someone who purchased Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell and who owns Dead Ringer and Midnight at the Lost and Found on vinyl (hey, you don’t grow up in Hawke’s Bay without an uncle who loves Meat Loaf; I’ve even read his autobiography) I figured I was equal to the task.
But I was wrong. And I gave you a teaser – click here for a reminder.
It wasn’t me getting off track and holding the interview up with stalling comments about his cameos in films or his epic signature musical work that sent the interview into a spiral. I didn’t even get to mention the name Todd Rundgren (although I did whisper Jim Steinman once).
No, I thought it was smart to open up, after the pleasantries (Me: Hi, Meat – Meat: “Hello Simon, nice to be speaking with you!”) with a rather open question. I was legitimately curious to know how a Meat Loaf album comes about – particularly these days. Particularly this new one. Bat Out Of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose wasn’t that long ago. So it’ll be a wee while yet before we get Bat Out Of Hell IV: There’s More At The Door!
But it was silly of me to ask. So silly…
How, I wondered, did a Meat Loaf record come about? Did Meat write some songs (he’s not known as much of a composer) or did he at least write some ideas for songs; titles even? Did people come to Meat with songs already written, offered as gifts? Did the record company tell him it was time? Was it a combination?
“No – No – NO! All wrong. You couldn’t be more wrong. It is none of those things.”
This was going to be fun.
“This album is like no other record I’ve been involved with – it’s like no other Meat Loaf album.” There’s a pause – then another pause. I wasn’t ready for a Meat Loaf that didn’t want to talk. It came as a bit of a surprise. Soon revealed as a surprise to both of us.
“This is so hard – and it makes it very hard for me with you not hearing the record. Ah, bear with me. Lemme see…I’ll have to go back…” This time the pause leads somewhere…
“My last album was awful. Just awful. The whole experience was very unhappy for me…”
I cut in to clarify that he’s talking about Bat Out Of Hell’s second sequel.
“Yes, Bat Out Of Hell III was not good. And I’m talking about EVERY FACTOR – the tour was horrible, the response to the album, the feeling from the band and crew, it was just…” he then spits out the next word, “NEGATIVE! Really negative on every level. And then – to make matters much worse – I developed a cyst on my vocal folds – it was just so bad. So I had a month of doing nothing at all. And then my response was to just fire everyone.”
I laugh. Then clarify that he means the behind the scenes people.
“I’m talking lawyers, managers, agents – yeah – not the band! But everyone else – gone. It was all just so negative and I needed to get rid of the negativity.”
That was the last album. What is different with the new one apart from some new people on board?
“Well you see now we’re going to run into some trouble because you’re asking me about the album and this is just so hard because you haven’t heard it. And that bothers me.”
I suggest Meat soldiers on and tells me about the album. For a start can we compare it to any of his other albums?
“No! Absolutely not. This is a very different album – and it is absolutely the best thing I have done. I’m singing completely differently, I’m using a different voice, or different voices on this album. I’m actually doing things I could not have done before. It is the best thing I have done.”
Meat Loaf met with Rob Cavallo, producer of many hugely successful and often hideous acts (Green Day, Dave Matthews Band, Kid Rock, Alanis Morissette, Avril Lavigne, Paramore, Jawbreaker, Jewel, My Chemical Romance). He says Cavallo is “an albums man; an artist and his involvement only makes the record 100,000 times better than you can imagine it!”
Meat’s new singing comes from working with a vocal coach and working on acting over the last 15 years. He says, if anything, he’s done more acting than singing across the last decade and a half and that has been helpful in moving him away from what he feels is now a cliché in terms of the “typical Meat Loaf record”.
Meat Loaf’s belief in the new record has him taking this new approach to promotion.
“I’m travelling around the world because I believe so much in this album. It is the best thing I have done. And so I’m taking it with me around the world and I’m meeting people. And playing the album to them. I sit in the room with small groups of people. And I play the album. And sit with them. And then I get their honest feedback.”
This is where I suggest that it might not be honest feedback if he is sitting in the room with the media groups. This is where I start to hear a breathless quality in Meat Loaf’s voice. His tone changes. He sounds very agitated.
I wasn’t even meaning Meat Loaf as intimidating, just the concept of the artist sitting with the journalists…it wouldn’t matter who it was. But it’s too late for that.
“I sit with my eyes closed and listen to the whole thing and people get to ask me about the album when it’s over.”
Meat Loaf seems very receptive to journalists. He seems to actually read his own press and react to the reviews. I was fascinated, during the documentary, Meat Loaf: In Search of Paradise, to see him changing aspects of the show to suit the comments by reviewers.
Basically, the song Paradise by the Dashboard Light suffers during many reviews with journalists pointing out that Meat Loaf, nearing 60 at the time of the shows, looked ridiculous acting out the “make out scene” with his much younger backing singer. They end up using the original Bat Out Of Hell concert footage on a big screen with Meat and his backing vocalist on the stage, backs turned to the crowd, watching that part of the show as if part of the audience.
“FIRST OF ALL – I CHANGED THAT BECAUSE I WAS UNHAPPY WITH BEING CALLED A PERVERT. SICK PEOPLE WERE SUGGESTING THAT I WAS A PERVERT. I AM NOT A PAEDOPHILE!”
So I guess we’ll go back to discussing Hang Cool Teddy Bear. It has a few famous guest stars: Jack Black, Brian May, Justin Hawkins of The Darkness (who wrote some of the material) and House star Hugh Laurie even plays piano on a track…
“Yeah – well to you they’re all famous. WHEREAS I CALL THEM FRIENDS!”
Told that the interview must come to an end – I have to shoot for some question about Bat Out Of Hell. I start with a line about the enduring appeal of the album, but I’m cut off.
“COME ON SIMON, YOU’RE SMARTER THAN THIS! ASK A BETTER QUESTION.”
I am stuck inside an episode of a pro-wrestling TV show. Meat Loaf is cutting a promo on me – he is effectively telling me that I’m a pencil-neck geek; that he is about to wipe the mat with my face; asking me, essentially, what are you going to do when the Meat Loaf runs wild on you?!
Persevering with the Bat Out Of Hell line, given that 40 years on, the majority of that album’s songs are still the backbone of Meat Loaf’s live set, I am eventually rewarded with the answer: “yeah, yeah of course we knew it would be famous. And successful. And go on to sell 20 million, 40 million copies or whatever it’s sold. Of course we knew that. Good one!”
It’s not much of a reward. But then it also is, if you know what I mean.
Meat tells me it’s a shame that I hadn’t heard the album – “because then you’d know how great it is”. And says “it’s just so hard to talk to you about it when you don’t know but you need to hear it and then you’ll just see that it’s nothing like my other albums”.
I suggest that we speak again when I have heard it.
“Yeah, sure. Fine.”
And then it’s time for goodbyes. They are brief. I hang up the phone. The fire alarm is sounded in the building where I am working. I feel like its warning is about 20 minutes late.
The reason I posted the teaser and had to wait until now to write up this interview is because the record company (and Meat Loaf, judging by his comments) wanted me to hear the album.
Hang Cool Teddy Bear is available in stores today.
It is recognisable instantly as a Meat Loaf album – overcharged guitars revving up like a 15-year-old first driving a car. Meat’s voice bursting out of the blocks; silly lyrical epigrams that don’t really mean anything (“If I can’t have you/I don’t want to be me”; “Next time you stab me in the back/Do it to my face”) and absurd metaphors that suggest the writer stopped thinking after the obvious comparison was made (“She’s kinda like a rose/She’ll cut you on your thumb/She’ll kick you when you’re low/And f**k you when she’s done”).
But – it is easily better than Bat Out Of Hell III, or the two albums between that and 1993’s Bat Out Of Hell II. It is in fact one of Meat’s best albums. That still might mean it’s one of his worst.
I’ll see if I can meet with Meat again; see if we can be reconnected to discuss this…
Meanwhile, what do you think? Are you a fan? Have you heard the album? Will you buy it or at least sample it? What do you think of the first single? And do the guest stars, sorry FRIENDS, make you want to listen to it? Steve Vai also appears and Jon Bon Jovi co-wrote one of the songs.
About a month ago I chatted on the phone with Meat Loaf. He wasn’t particularly happy – he was frustrated that I had not heard his new album, Hang Cool Teddy Bear. It wasn’t actually available at that time – but he was in New Zealand to promote the album. It was a car-crash of an interview. And I loved it. I was yelled at. Being yelled at by Meat Loaf is pretty cool.
And near the end of that blog post I talked about the idea of getting a second interview with Meat Loaf. I asked him a few times during our chat. He seemed to dismiss it the first time, saying “yeah, sure” – but it didn’t feel like he really wanted to talk again. But he did eventually say that he would talk to me when I’d heard the album.
The thrill was going to be in the chase and I asked the record company to set it up. I didn’t expect to get beyond email-tag.
Guess what? They came through. Last week I chatted to Meat Loaf again. A second Meating. This time the 10-20-minute time rolled out towards the hour mark. And Meat Loaf, sounding very happy down the line from London, was pleased to hear I had heard the album. It meant we could actually acknowledge the rest of his career.
“Hello Simon, how are you?” he said.
Hi Meat. I spoke with you about a month ago, I started. Figuring he’d tell me he remembered – even if he didn’t. I certainly wanted to remind him of how our conversation went last time.
But Meat Loaf beat me to it.
“I know! I read your article!” And there was a very small chuckle.
I joined the laughter, easing myself into the interview…good stuff, so what did Meat Loaf think?
“You made me sound MEAN!” He is now an eight-year-old, unhappy at being told to do the dishes.
Here we go agai…
But huge laughs stop me in my tracks. This is a happy Meat Loaf.
I tell Happy Meat Loaf that he was kinda mean.
“I wasn’t mean! I was just…” he searches…
“YES!” It almost sounds like that bit from the start of Hot Summer Night.
“Yes! That’s it! I WAS frustrated. But not at you! A little bit at myself. And a little bit at my record company. It had been a long day of interviews and I just really wanted to talk to someone that had heard my album.” He still sounds like the dishes-kid; except now you could substitute just wanted to ride my bike for the bit where he said talk to someone that had heard my album.
He’s still laughing though. There’s an awareness. This – finally – is going to be good.
So, we’re five minutes in and all seems fine. Meat is in London, still promoting the album because it is not released in countries outside of New Zealand and Australia until May. So there’s still work to be done.
“There are so many preconceived notions with this album. I mean, I get it – I know – I’m an easy target. But you know this album really is so different – and I guess, to go back to when we talked before, I really just needed to put that across to you; I just wanted you to know that this album is different. And the only way to really get people to know that is to have a listen to it. And it was just a shame you hadn’t heard it.”
So I’ve heard it now – and Meat is right. Kinda. But it also does sound like Meat Loaf. A lot like Meat Loaf.
“Yes, it does sound like me. It is me. It’s me singing – so, you know, there’s that! But that really is the one constant; that’s the one consistent point. But I’m singing so differently. I’m in better voice and I worked hard over the last few years with a vocal coach. And you know – on this whole album it’s me singing. It’s really me! It’s not a manipulated vocal. It’s me – live. That’s my voice.”
He seems very pleased to be pointing this out. And then heads back to one of the favourite rants from our previous phone exchange. His last album, Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose.
“I know I have already told you this – I’m telling everyone this – but that last album was just so horrible. It wasn’t me. And it was a problem, well, from when Jim Steinman’s lawyers came into the picture in 2005 – from then until the end of that tour was – I’m not exaggerating – the worst time of my life. And I say that as someone who was sued for $100 million in the 1980s so, there you go, BEAT THAT!”
There’s more laughter – more than there probably should be.
“I don’t know, I think we really should have just scrapped that project. When Jim walked away we should not have continued. And it was a sticking point – it just did not work. Too many people got involved and everyone began twisting and pulling in different directions and it was just horrible. I mean listen to that song The Monster Is Loose – it is just horrible.” Meat is laughing as he is saying this. He’s almost hysterical. I’ve never heard an artist sound so sure that something they did was so bad.
“Dude, listen to it! It’s just horrible. I don’t know what Desmond Child thought he was trying to do. But it was just not good. And I should have walked away.”
I suggest that the problem with Bat Out of Hell III was the decision to create, by committee, a version of what was supposed to be a Steinman/Meat Loaf collaboration.
“Absolutely. I mean these guys they got in – just horrible – it’s like trying to get away with a knockoff of a Prada purse. I mean Steinman is a $10,000 Rolex and these others guys, they’re $5 copies.”
And with barely a breath Meat is back into what makes Hang Cool Teddy Bear so good.
“With Hang Cool every song is finalised. The only song that is not finalised is Love Is Not Real – but that’s intentional. That is about a dream. And so it cannot be finalised. For me to sing a song, I have to get inside the character. I have to know what to sing about. Many people have said of me that I’m not a singer so much as an actor. And to me there’s no dispute; there’s no contest. I am an actor – an actor who sings. I act out songs. And again, people know Meat Loaf as a story-song guy but with Bat III the songs were not finalised. It was this loose project that just fell apart. Hang Cool is all there. The songs are from different points of view, from characters looking forward to the future. But they all make sense. They are all finalised.”
I’m lost. But Meat Loaf is not yelling at me. This is good.
“The reviews have been pretty positive so far,” Meat informs me. So we go back to this topic – because I’m interested in how interested he is in the press.
“There was one woman in New Zealand, one of your Kiwi mates, she bugged me because she told me that she just wanted to download something and listen to it while she was cooking. I said ‘you don’t listen to my album while you’re cooking’. You know what I mean?”
“Well, you know, I never really care what is being said, people can say what they want about me. But I don’t like it when they make stuff up that is personal – or when they try to tell me how I am. Some writers will paint me a certain way, or they will suggest things I have done that I have not. That’s when I don’t like it. But I am interested in how people perceive the albums – I have a sense of humour. I can handle what people say, so long as they are putting across a valid opinion. But I do not read the live reviews – I don’t have any interest in them.
“There was one tour in the late 1990s where I read about five reviews where I can honestly tell you there’s no way that person was at my show. No way. One time I even called the paper – and this was a pretty major paper. I called up the editor of this big paper and told him that his critic had printed stuff that was incorrect. They had simply not been to the show. The editor is all, ‘listen, let me assure you, my critic was at the show’ but, you know what,” here Meat breaks into laughter, “that’s just not true. So that to me is the end of reading gig reviews.”
I ask about Hang Cool’s many guest stars. Last time we tried this topic I said you have a lot of famous guest stars on the album and Meat replied, “yeah, well to you they’re all famous. WHEREAS I CALL THEM FRIENDS!”
He cackles at this. “Did I say that? Ha – well, it’s true, but, yeah, let me see now; I probably shouldn’t have said it like that.” We’re both laughing.
So if, like me, you have a picture of Meat Loaf and Jack Black and Hugh Laurie trading stories about acting and playing music – and the similarities and differences within those twin roles – well you’d be right. Meat says that “common bond” is vital. It is absolutely the glue.
“We are all people that act and play music. And so, yeah, we talk about that. Sure. But you know what – I’ve always been, if anything, more in tune with actors than musicians. Like I say, I see myself as an actor. And this is nothing new, I mean my whole background is musical theatre, is stage work, is acting. And so, yeah, that’s absolutely what we’d be talking about between takes in the studio. And it was just great, with Hugh, who is a great musician, to have someone arrive without an entourage. In fact he drove himself up to the studio and strolled in – he was excited to be there because it’s not something he does every day; appear on albums.
“But there are so many great people on this album, you know – and where this album is different is that it’s a very guitar-based album. Meat Loaf albums have all been very piano-driven. With Steinman. But this is a different feel…”
I’m curious to know if Meat Loaf is still in touch with Jim Steinman. And if they’ll work together again.
“Oh yeah. I owe him an email actually. He dropped me a line recently and we keep in touch. But it’s definitely my turn – I owe him a reply. We’re…” – long pause – “like brothers. Jim and I are like siblings. And we’re closer than that, even. And like siblings – even when you have a huge fight, when you’re at your worst and you don’t even know what the fight is or who started it you still love one another dearly. We’re like that. Jim is” – another pause – “he is one of the four most important people in my life. And the other three are my wife and my two kids. So what does that tell ya?”
Jim Steinman is also a smart cookie, according to Meat.
“Steinman really is a genius. No question. He’s one of the two smartest people in the world – as far as I’m concerned. And the other is my daughter. Different types of intelligence – but they’re both geniuses.”
And – since we’re well over our allocated time and Meat is happily creating his own segues, he goes on to discuss other smart people he knows…
“Oh yeah, Brian is a genius too. He’s a smart man. A ridiculously smart man.”
The kind you just avoid conversation with?
“No, no way, Brian’s not like that at all. I’ve known Brian for years and he’s the most down to earth person you could know. I mean, I knew he was smart. But I didn’t realise he was quite so smart until one day – and I’ve known him 25 years at this point – we’re both on a talk show. And I’ve got an album out and I see Brian there, so I go, ‘oh, Brian, I didn’t know you had an album out too?’ And he says ‘well, no, actually, I’ve got a book I’ve written’. So I say, ‘Wow, right, is it about Queen and Freddie?’ And he says, ‘no, it’s about astrophysics’.”
So that is Brian May, Meat tells me, after the kind of laughter that seems like it will never stop.
“But Brian,” he picks up straight away, “was great on the album. Of course. And then there’s Steve Vai. Steve was just – well – Steve was great, as he is. And my producer, Rob Cavallo, was just floored by him. Which is understandable, right? But I gotta tell you – the guy that really is a star, guitar-wise, there are a couple of ‘em, but the guy is Tim Pierce. Now this guy is just phenomenal. I would love to think we could get him to go on the tour if we do one but then he’s just so in-demand. It’s impossible to get him out of the studio. But to me he just is truly one of the great, great guitar players. But Vai, too, was just amazing in his style. And Brian too. Of course.”
And then we’re back to Jim Steinman – and his influence. (Does anyone else reading this sense that a Meat Loaf/Steinman reunion might be on the cards?)
“Without Steinman, I’m not talking to you. You know what I mean? It’s that simple. Really. And without Meat Loaf there’s no Steinman either. But we’re not talking today – I’m not talking to you if there was no Jim Steinman. I am so close to him – I am attached to him!”
Meat Loaf believes Hang Cool Teddy Bear is the best thing he’s done since Bat Out of Hell.
“I’d love to say it’s better – I guess I really do think that it is. But at the same time of course Bat Out of Hell is something to be proud of. It’s a very complete album – a classic; an album that people love. And the songs have stuck around – so I’m not about to dismiss it. But next to that – and standing with that – is Hang Cool Teddy Bear. I really do believe that.”
Again, Meat praises the work of Cavallo as producer. “He said to me, ‘I’m making a Meat Loaf record. I’m not making a Rob Cavallo record.’ The man mended the fences and he let me run. Ego was in place. And I just have Cavallo to thank – he’s a very creative guy and a very easy guy to work with; so song-focused. He just let me get into the zone of the characters, let me act out my roles.”
“Dead Ringer has some great songs I think – but bad vocals. So I’m sure that Hang Cool is certainly the one that I can stand toe to toe with Bat Out Of Hell.”
Meat Loaf then tells me that he’s pleased we had the chance to chat again.
“I saw your name on the list just last night and then I remembered. And I’d seen your article. And I remember how that all was. It wasn’t that good. And I remember just saying ‘oh I gotta talk to that guy again!’ And, you know, here we are man, here we are.”
Yes, there we were. And there we go. Fences mended, it seems. Time to let Meat Loaf run.
Between late 2007 and early 2016 I wrote a daily music blog at Stuff.co.nz called Blog On The Tracks. I’m reposting some of the entries here because the discussion is still valid or entertaining or because you might have missed them the first time.