Interview: Meat Loaf
Published on April 16th, 2010 | Jonny Abrams
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Everyone in the world knows who Meat Loaf is. Just as everyone in the world has at some point asked: what is the one thing he wouldn’t do for love? Perhaps you have bellowed the chorus of a Meat Loaf classic while drunk on a night out, sincerely to a loved one or even sincerely to a loved one while drunk on a night out. Perhaps you are one of the 50 gazillion people who have purchased a copy of the Bat Out of Hell album. Perhaps you’ve enjoyed watching him acting in The Rocky Horror Show, Fight Club, Wayne’s World, Tenacious D: Pick of Destiny or even Spiceworld: The Movie (hey, we’re not here to judge you).
Well, Meat Loaf is back with Hang Cool Teddy Bear, his eleventh studio album which features guests such as Justin Hawkins, Jon Bon Jovi, Brian May, Steve Vai, Patti Russo, Hugh Laurie, Jack Black and Pearl Aday. Naturally it’s an epic, being as it is a grandiose song cycle based on a short story by Kilian Kerwin about a young soldier who sees his future(s) flash before his eyes. While he was gracing our side of the Atlantic, I met up with the great man to discuss the record, fantasy sports, his music, a devious British tabloid, appearing on South Park and Hugh Laurie’s car breaking down…
So, how does Meat Loaf ‘hang cool’ in his spare time?
I play fantasy sports. I have a team for English football but I have no idea what I’m doing – I just look at the guy and think, “Oh, he got 17 points in his last game. He’s good.” Then the next game they’ll get minus two points. But I’m really good with [American] football. Last year I had 52 fantasy football teams and won 34 championships. 46 went into the playoffs, which means they finished in the top three. That should tell you how good I am. Don’t mess with me in fantasy football.
How do you manage to upkeep 52 teams?
Football doesn’t take up that much time. You can’t have that many basketball or baseball teams ’cause that’s an everyday thing. Football is basically one game a week which comes on Sunday, but you can get screwed if the NFL decides they want to put a game on Thursday to show it on television.
What do you call your teams?
Spin Cycle Agitators…In the Mood for Love…I don’t know, I’ve got 52 different names. Uncle Joe and his Achey Knees is another one. Just weird names. My baseball teams have names like Big Red Balls. They all have something to do with balls. My basketball teams have names like Happy Slammers, Basket Masters…whatever I think of. I didn’t do too good in basketball this year because we were working and basketball’s really a day-to-day thing. I don’t know if I’ll play it again next year because they changed the rules and I don’t like it. I’ve got pretty good baseball teams.
Plus I play another game online called Battle Knight. I don’t know what they call those kind of games…you don’t really see anything go on, you just do it. It’s a narrative game. You get points, your knights get stronger, you get magic potions for doing things. Battle Knight is very aggressive. This is what I’ll do at night to shut my brain off after hearing “we gotta talk about this, we gotta talk about that, we gotta do this, we gotta do that” all day – I’ll either go into fantasy sports or I’ll go into Battle Knight. I’ll just go battle the dragon or go on a mission. Last night I decided to fight everyone. I just went from knight to knight, whacking away. I fought 75 knights last night on Battle Knight.
So tell us about the writing process behind your songs. How do they come together? From what small seeds do they grow?
I don’t write. People try to get me in a room to write a song with them and I explain to them: if I come into a room to write a song with you, I will never record it because I will hate it. If you get a song started and have about 65-70% of it, then I can come into a room and adapt it, change it, and then we can record it. I do that a lot and I’ve been stupid enough over the years to never ask for writer’s credit. I’ve figured that out now, so on a couple of songs I did ask and I received. Thou shalt receive. My participation wasn’t that great but it’s definitely got my signature on it.
So I go in and I adapt [the song]. I adapted a lot on this record because, after the third song, the songs start echoing back to each other. They start speaking to each other. I had to change some lyrics here and there to keep them referencing back to other songs. It’s about a guy’s life and it’s his dream so there’s no reason that these people wouldn’t reference back to each other. It’s like a simplified version of Lost. You ever watch Lost?
Go back to the start and watch Lost from the beginning. It’s the coolest TV show ever. You have to start from the beginning – it’ll take you a while. Maybe a month.
It could be my ‘Lost Month’.
Yep, just take it one episode at a time. But once you start you won’t wanna stop. You’ll be awake all night watching it. If you get the DVDs then you can just go from one episode to another, no commercials. Anyway, the story of the new album is about a soldier who’s dying on a battlefield and instead of seeing his life flashing backwards before his eyes, he sees it flashing forwards. And every scenario he runs into features the same girl, but with a different attitude, a different hairstyle, a different dress, different makeup each time. The only thing that stays the same is her face.
Then you get to a song where he’s had enough of her so he goes to a bar and starts stalking a hooker. Suddenly he falls madly in love with this hooker who has no idea of his existence. Then he comes out of that and sings the song ‘Running Away From Me’ – the second verse of that relates to every song that has come before it. You’ll completely get it when you hear it. For people who think Meat Loaf is a clown – yes, but Meat Loaf is an intellectual clown. (Laughs)
So far, I’ve only heard the single ‘Los Angeloser’…
Well that’s just too bad for you and, if I’d have known that, I would have spanked you right here and now.
…is that your Hey Ya!? A spoken section to “all the ladies”, etc.
See now, that was a tricky one because I sing this entire album through the eyes of a 24 year-old soldier. It was a real fight to take it away from me because that [the spoken section] is the perfect speech for Meat Loaf to give. But it would have been ever so slightly different if it had come from who I am as opposed to who Patrick [the soldier] is. That bit – “I wanna thank all the women blah blah blah” – was the one hardest thing for me to do on the entire record, that little tiny speech, because the line was so thin, almost invisible, between Meat Loaf and Patrick and I had to make sure I didn’t cross it. It took me a while – I kept listening to it back and thinking “…no” while everyone else was saying, “What’s wrong with it? It sounds right.” But that’s been the story of my whole career.
When we did ‘I’d Do Anything For Love’, we had it mixed and I listened to it and thought “…no”. I had to sing the whole thing over. We’d lost the thread – they were trying to take bits of different takes and put them together.
But the problem with me is, when I do a film, I’ve never had a director who has not come up to me after the third take and said, “Do you ever do anything the same way twice?” I think this even started with Jim Sharman on my first film, Rocky Horror. I go, “I don’t know because I couldn’t tell you what we just did – and if I knew what we just did then I wouldn’t have done a good job for you.”
I will stop a take in the middle. I feel bad for the other actor. I did it to Brad Pitt, Glen Close, some of the biggest stars in the world. We’ll be doing this thing and I’ll go, “Wait! Hang on! I gotta stop.” Everyone’ll be looking at me going, “What? What?” and I’ll say, “I’m sorry, I’ve got a cramp in my foot.” I never tell them why, I just give them some lame excuse like I’m injured.
But I do it all the time because I know that if I’m aware of what’s going on in a scene then we’re not doing it right, we’re not in the moment, we’re not living it.
So that’s what happens during vocals. They’re always slightly changing in their intent so when people start trying to edit takes together, I hate it. I mean I really despise it. Some of the stuff you can get away with but with ‘…Anything For Love’ I had to go back after it was mixed and re-sing it.
It was pretty much a continuous piece and that’s the great thing on this new album – Rob Cavallo allowed me that freedom. With a lot of singers, if they’ve got the notes right and the tone’s right and the rhythm’s right then it’s a great vocal. To me, that’s not a great vocal.
I mean, we could take four people off the street and take them in the studio right now and get them to sing in tune and in time, even though they don’t, with that electronic hip hop sound on their voice that everyone uses. I was watching some Virgin video thing the other day for an hour and every song that came on had that mechanical melody sound on their voice (he attempts to impersonate it). I’m watching Will.i.am and I’m going, “Why are you doing that?” It’s Britney Spears’ fault.
I’ll spend around four days recording a vocal. For those first four hours, I’ll either tell people to completely leave the room and we put it on loop so it just goes over and over and over again or, if they’re gonna sit in there, remove their razor blades so they don’t commit suicide during this process.
What I’m doing then would make no sense to anyone. You’d be going “…what’s wrong with him?” I found out later that, at first, Rob Cavallo called up my manager and said, “There’s something wrong with him.” My manager says, “Just give him some time”. Then Rod calls again and says, “He’s still doing it.” So about two hours and 45 minutes into it, I go, “Well, is this guy [Patrick] left-handed? Ok, he’s left-handed.” Then I had to figure out how to do everything left-handed. I’m going into the head of the character.
Wow. Good answer. But what was with that strange article in The Sun the other day about you getting served meat loaf at the Brit Awards and rejecting it…
I don’t eat red meat! I’ll give you the story. You can print this. I was sat at the ITV table with Frances, who works for me – we got there early and got the perfect seats. All of a sudden, they served red meat which I don’t eat. I didn’t say anything but Frances stood up and very politely – she’s a polite young lady – asked if it was ok if we traded it for a vegetarian meal. He said, “Of course,” and went and got one for me.
We weren’t bossy, we didn’t throw our toys out of the pram. So we were sitting there eating and all of a sudden I get a tap on the shoulder and it’s one of the two heads of ITV. He said, “The guy from The Sun was sitting back there and he saw that you sent back your meat and got a vegetarian meal. Is it ok if he writes a story about Meat Loaf not wanting his meat, or something like that?”
I said, “Yeah, I don’t care.” I thought The Sun was going to make a funny joke out of it but I should have known better ’cause all they did was make me sound like a…what’s the English word – prick? (Frances proffers “Diva? Pain in the arse?”) Yeah, a pain in the ass. But I never opened my mouth about it! If Frances hadn’t said anything then that plate would have sat in front of me and I would have scraped around for a vegetable or eaten a roll. They made me out to be some sort of stormtrooping diva and I was really upset with that. The little pricks. Are they coming to interview me? I should poke them in the eye. (Frances informs him that they’re scheduled for Monday)
For my money, the most offensive part of the article was this quote attributed to a supposed ‘source': “I suppose you could say he would do anything for grub, but he won’t do that.” Does that make you angry? It made me angry.
Nah. It’s just stupid. There’s a phrase, and feel free to use this: “I see dumb people”. Let’s leave it right there.
What was it like being on South Park?
That was fun. That’s when I was Cous Cous. Well they came to me and said, “We’d love you to be on South Park,” and I said, yeah, they could do me on South Park but they had to draw me really skinny because the only way in my life I was going to be skinny was in a cartoon. They said, “Yeah, we can do that” so they did and my stage name was Cous Cous.
I played this place where nobody showed up so Chef came out and said, “You’re doing this all wrong.” He fattened me up and changed my name to Meatloaf and the fans came. I became really good friends with Isaac Hayes. We sang a song on South Park; I got a gold record for it but I can’t remember it. It was produced by Rick Rubin too.
When Isaac died, I got a phone call asking if I could get to Memphis – I couldn’t but I said to let me know if they were doing anything else. I didn’t know he was a Scientologist. No clue. He did really great work in Africa, using the Scientology money for the good of the communities there in Africa and he did really good work for a lot of children. They called again and said they were having a memorial service for him and I said I’d love to go, I’ll be there.
When I got there, there was a line of people waiting to go in and all of a sudden this guy came out and said to me, “Excuse me, you should come with me.” So we go down through this secret door and into this garden and he tells me it’s a private reception and I should be here. But there was no-one else there. I was like, is this a private reception just for me where I sit and think about Isaac? He would have laughed. This guy said, “Some people like to be alone.”
Then I go inside and the room fills up with all these Scientologists with medals on and they’re all looking at me ’cause I was the only one without a medal. I should have brought my medal! Finally someone talks to me and asks if I knew Isaac and I said, “Yeah, pretty well”.
But I made the mistake of saying that we did South Park together; that was a bad thing to say and I didn’t know that (*Isaac Hayes fell out with South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker when they made an episode of the show which mocked Scientology*). They went, “Uh huh…I see” and said they’d show me to my seat, which was right in the front row! Nobody else was there. I thought, “Oh my”.
So I’m sitting there and all of a sudden this woman comes up to me and says, “Excuse me sir, I believe you’re in the wrong side”. I told her that I didn’t know but someone had told me that this was where I was supposed to sit. She told me it was reserved for family members only and that she could tell just by looking at me that I wasn’t a family member. She moved me to the third row but I told her that was fine as I was nervous sitting in the front row anyway.
I sat in that seat for two minutes before the woman came back and said, “I am so terribly sorry, please forgive me.” I’m going, “What? It’s ok, I don’t know what you did!” and she said, “That was your seat.”
So I was moved back and I was sitting at Isaac Hayes’ memorial with Isaac Hayes’ family. At his request. His sister came to me and said, “Isaac considered you part of his family”. I didn’t have a clue. I didn’t even know he was a Scientologist. We jammed together and had fun, that was it. I looked around and saw all these major stars like Tom Cruise and John Travolta. I don’t know Tom very well but I went up and said “how’s it going?” It turns out his sister is a big Bat Out of Hell fan.
Hugh Laurie features on one of the tracks on your new album. What was it like working with him?
It was great. Hugh Laurie’s a real guy. He plays the same game I do: we’re here to work so let’s do it. I don’t play the star game and Hugh doesn’t either. A perfect example of Hugh is when he was in a car going to the Golden Globes and the car was stuck. He said to heck with this and walked like three blocks to get to the Golden Globes.
Hugh Laurie just trudging down the street! When he got there, security stopped him and said, “Excuse me sir, where do you think you’re going?” He’d left his invitation in the car by mistake and it took some journalist or photographer to say to the security guy, “That’s Hugh Laurie, he’s nominated for a Golden Globe”. The security guy said, “Well, I don’t know that”. He got in eventually. But Hugh’s like that.
One of my favourite Meat Loaf moments is your off-the-cuff singing match with Avid Merrion…
Yeah. He’s famous for, you know, really topping people so I said, “I got you, dude – I topped your ass! I beat you at your own f***ing game!” I’m good at games.
I also wanted to talk about your role in Fight Club…
No. That’s the first rule of Fight Club. You don’t talk about Fight Club.
Meat Loaf, thank you.