Interview: Meat Loaf — "I really wear my heart on my sleeve…"
Mon, 10 May 2010 12:22:53
"How are you?" asks Meat Loaf with a warm and genuine smile.
This man is one of rock 'n' roll's most legendary figures, and he's got manners that'd impress even the most polite of politicians.
Then again, that's probably why Meat Loaf remains a crucial part of the collective pop culture consciousness. He's always thinking about someone else. That selflessness has translated in his music as well. Rather than following the standard of rock star self-indulgence in terms of lyrics and songwriting, Meat Loaf is a storyteller first and foremost.
Everything he's ever done has woven a tale of a larger than life figure—especially his brand new album for Roadrunner Records/ Loud and Proud, Hang Cool Teddy Bear. In fact, Hang Cool Teddy Bear is Meat Loaf's most fully realized concept record to date, telling the story of one soldier. Meat Loaf's got a bevy of talented friends along for the ride, including Jack Black, Steve Vai, Jon Bon Jovi, Hugh Laurie and Brian May. Plus, everyone's favorite super producer, Rob Cavallo [Green Day, My Chemical Romance], sat behind the board, making for a rock 'n' roll journey and a half!
Meat Loaf sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about Hang Cool Teddy Bear, his favorite film characters, scaring QVC and a special memory from the Bat Out of Hell days…
You've always told stories on your albums, but Hang Cool Teddy Bear really elevates that tradition to a new level. Is storytelling especially important for your songs?
It's always been that way! It's like B.C. and A.D. for me [Laughs]. People only know after JS—which is Jim Steinman [Producer, Composer]. That's my equivalent of A.D. If they knew before JS, the band I had in the '60s was all about storytelling. The songs we wrote weren't that great, but I wrote story songs like "I'm the Seventh Son." I wrote my first song, "Animal," when I was 13. "Animal" was also about a kid on the block. You didn't want to mess with him, if you did this is what was going to happen you. When I was in that band, any cover song we did was also a story song. The first time I ever sang a Jim Steinman song, it was a story song because that's what I do best. There are those out there who believe because Jimmy wrote in that style, that's when that all started for me, but it's not the case. I love Jim Steinman and everything about him [Laughs]. Sometimes, you get put in a box and they won't let you out of it though. You're in there forever. They punch holes in it so you can get air, but that's it. You're right though. I think Hang Cool Teddy Bear went ten steps more. If you look at Bat Out of Hell, it wasn't a concept record, but all of the songs were based on Steinman's musical, Neverland. Hang Cool Teddy Bear is a true concept record to the fact that every song is sung by the same character—24-year-old Patrick. If it were a musical, I wouldn't want to play that person [Laughs]. It'd be a bunch of work..
Did the music instantly grab you?
I'm going to go back to Rob Cavallo. He makes everybody better than they are. If you work with Rob, you become better than you actually are. He brings the best out of everyone, and he instills this incredible confidence. When you've got the caliber of players that we had on this record, you can feel the excitement coming from these tracks. The people that were playing the songs were getting into them because I'm so animated, and it's contagious. I really wear my heart on my sleeve, and I get truly excited. That's what it is live with the band. When I go out on stage, I'm excited to be there. I'm chomping at the bit and we're all screaming, yelling and carrying on. I'm animated in the studio—I'll get up and start jumping around. I'm 60-years-old and most people consider themselves far too cool ; I never have. Rob's confidence building added with me being me—the players got excited about the songs!
Is this album particularly connected to Los Angeles?
Yeah, it is connected to L.A. It's funny because the character Patrick is from Los Angeles.There's a song that's not on the record where he talks about the 101 Hollywood Freeway. His back story was definitely L.A. and most of the scenarios on the record when he's flashing forward all take place in L.A. too. "Like a Rose" takes place there. The images I was getting were in and around the Rainbow and the Whisky nowadays in modern times. "If I Can't Have You" was very much L.A. scene. "Losangeloser" was out in The Valley. The girl on the cover is a blonde-haired Sherry Lansing [Laughs]. That's what I called her! I said, "I want Sherry Lansing on the cover," because she was the queen of Hollywood. This story was before her, but I figured, "What the heck?!" The name of that piece of art is "Woman Is God." The Sherry Lansing resemblance is the sunglasses [Laughs].
What speaks to you about Steve Vai's playing? His shredding fits your songs.
Steve Vai was playing all of these little parts in "Love Is Not Real," but I set up a track for Steve to come in and just slash on and that was "Song of Madness." There's a breakdown where we cut the bar so Steve could walk in and go, "Whaaaaaaaerrrrr." [Laughs] He came in, I didn't say a word. We got to that part and he went, "Whaaaaaaaerrrrr." I know how Steve Vai plays. I became a huge fan when he did that movie, Crossroads. I've been on stage jamming with Steve. When I got on stage with him, I was yelling in his ear, "You call yourself a great?! You suck, dude! This is it? I'm leaving! Is this the best you got?" [Laughs] He was laughing. He knew what I meant. I had Steve Vai and Brian May and I'm screaming, "You guys suck!" [Laughs] That's my National Lampoon sense of humor. They didn't get it on QVC the other day. I told them I'm going to go to my "Southern Preacher." I don't think they anticipated what my "Southern Preacher" was. I scared them half to death. I have all of these characters, and I pull them out. I can do a straight, calm interview just fine. If all of a sudden I want to pull out one of my characters, it goes completely over the top and off the wall and I'm there! I have a lot of them. I have the "Metal Maniac," the "Southern Preacher" and "Jason" from Friday the 13th.
How different are the "Metal Maniac" and the "Southern Preacher"?
Oh, very different! The "Metal Maniac" is like, "Dude, dude, dude come on, dude!? What the hell, dude? We're rockin' dude!" The "Southern Preacher" is, "I want you to know that you're watching me right now! I want you to know, you've got grandkids out there. They like rock 'n' roll, they want this record! You like rock 'n' roll, you want this record! In fact, what you want to do is you get it for your kids and hide it for Christmas. Get eleven of them right now—right here on QVC!" I scared them half to death [Laughs].
Was working with Jack Black on "Like A Rose" fun?
I've known Jack for a long time. Jack was originally scheduled to play me in that VH1 movie of my life. I said, "You've got to get Jack Black! He understands. He's got the energy. He's an actor. He's got a rock 'n' roll band. He could be my son!" They waited like nine months, and Jack took off. Then Jack said, "I want Meat to play my father in Pick of Destiny." I did. When Jack was teaching me my song for the film, we were singing it together. While we were singing, everyone was like, "You guys sound great together!" I was trying to find someone to sing with me on "Like a Rose." Finally, I went, "I know, Jack!" We exchanged emails. He thought I was supposed to email him again though after the first exchange. This whole album is fate, and it's meant to be exactly what it is. I'm going to play my heavy metal guy now. He goes, "Dude, I thought we were going to jam, dude?" I said, "Jack, you're on!" He sang the song, and it was perfect. That track has more of a Tenacious D vibe. Everybody kept telling me it was Beastie Boys. It's got this chant thing. The voices are perfect, and that's why Jack's there. It's not because he's Jack Black. I would've gotten my ant's sister Sadie, if she could've done it [Laughs].
You dug into a dark and deep place with Jake from Masters of Horror. Is he one of your favorite characters?
Oh yeah, I did. I forget about a Jake. Thanks for bringing him up! People ask me about movies. I really like Jake though. I like Bob Paulson from Fight Club. Most of the character development was done by me. Bob really wasn't on paper so I had to push hard. I got David Fincher [Director] to give me shots and make that character come alive especially with the walk in the beginning of the movie. I said, "David, I've got this walk for him." He went, "Cool" and we shot that. There were other little pieces. There was a scene we added. 20th Century Fox said, "We want to have more Meat Loaf. He's really good!" They wrote this four page scene that was between me, Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, and it was absolutely brilliant. It would've just cemented the character! I was on tour, and I couldn't shoot it. We couldn't figure out how to get it done, and that was really upsetting. There was another movie called Focus that I did. Arthur Miller wrote the screenplay for it. It had Bill Mays and Laura Dern. That was a really great character! Another great character—if people could ever see this, I did a movie with Ally Sheedy called Citizen Jane. That character was very different. I really spun him, playing him in a unique way. You mentioned Jake, and those are some other characters that come to mind.
Were you a fan of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls—the flick "Hang Cool Teddy Bear" comes from?
No, that title was a complete accident. They put movies on in the studio every day as wallpaper with closed captioning. Jamie Muhoberac [Keyboardist] has the weirdest movie collection known to man. He had Russ Meyers' Beyond the Valley of the Dolls on. I've never seen the movie in my life, and I still don't know what it's about. I look up there's a party scene. The girl gets mad. She starts to leave the room. Guy grabs her, starts to spin her around and says, "Just hang cool teddy bear." I went, "That's it! That's the name of the record!"
Do you have a favorite show memory from the Bat Out of Hell days?
Actually, yeah! Believe it or not in Hamburg…it was the Congress Hall there, and it was the first time we played in a country with a foreign language. The Beatles played there, so why wouldn't they understand it? [Laughs] People would ask, "Why can't we break Japan?" They'd say, "You have too many lyrics." When you start having that many lyrics thrown at you that fast on "Bat Out of Hell" or "Two Out of Three," they can't keep up and translate it. That's a problem with Japan. When we got to Germany, I anticipated the audience just sitting there and staring at me. I was blown away though! They were standing up and singing every word. That was one of the most memorable shows! Then when we got down to Australia, it was crazy down there!
Will you be picking up Hang Cool Teddy Bear on May 11?