With a career spanning nearly five decades and combined album sales well in excess of over 100 million worldwide, the artist known as Meat Loaf really does need no introductions. Born Marvin Lee Aday sixty-four years ago in the Dallas region of Texas, Meat Loaf's career has seen him embrace and outlive every genre from rock and roll's embryonic surge into heavier pastures and beyond. 'Bat Out Of Hell', 'Dead Ringer For Love', '2 Out Of 3 Ain't Bad', 'Not A Dry Eye In The House', 'Modern Girl' - the list of his most well known songs is almost endless. Of course the one song he's perhaps best associated with in this part of the world would be 'I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)', which topped the UK charts during the summer of 1992 for an incredible seven weeks.
His career in film and television is almost as illustrious, having first attained recognition as Eddie in The Rocky Horror Picture Show and since played memorable roles in the likes of Wayne's World, Fight Club and The 51st State. Most recently he reached the semi-final of the US celebrity version of 'The Apprentice', being narrowly pipped at the interview stage by Marlee Matlin and John Rich, who went on to win the contest.
Last year he released his twelfth studio album 'Hell In A Handbasket' in Australia, New Zealand and Germany, preferring to test the water in other territories before consenting to a worldwide release. This week (Monday 27th February) the record will finally see the light of day in both the UK and US, arguably his two most lucrative markets. Lyrically his most personal collection of songs to date, it's a diverse record that sees him collaborate with rappers Public Enemy's Chuck D and Lil Jon as well as long-term foil Patti Russo.
When Contactmusic were offered an audience with the man himself, we quite literally jumped through several hoops to make it happen. Armed with a batch of questions covering his entire forty-six year career, what we didn't quite expect was for Meat Loaf to barely pause for breath in what effectively turned out to be pretty much a one-way conversation.
Here's how it went.
How are things and what are you up to at this present moment in time?
Meat Loaf: I just came back from Vancouver where we'd been playing a television show. They shoot it in Canada but show it in America. I can't even remember the name of the damn show but that kinda thing happens a lot.
You've been in the music business over forty years, released twelve albums and sold an incredible amount of records in the process. What is it that inspires you to continue making music?
Meat Loaf: You never stop learning. Just last week, I worked with a film director by the name of Michael Watkins, and I consider him to be possibly the best one I've ever worked with, which after having done fifty-five films and countless TV shows, is no mean feat. I'd say there are maybe six directors out of all that who I'd consider to be good, and I take that as how they work with their actors. Are they able to tell an actor what they want in a short amount of time that the actor understands? This guy was unbelievable; I've worked with people like David Fincher and Antonio Banderas and they've been great, simply because they're also actors themselves so they know how to talk to other actors. Working with Michael Watkins was a really great experience too, so from doing that I learned so much, and it's the same when it comes to making records. I learned so much from working with Jim Steinman way back when. He got me singing in a style that I didn't think it possible to sing. Some people have no idea; they have no conception of what goes into making a record. With 'Bat Out Of Hell' that was the only song in history up to that point where the vocals hit three high "C"'s apart from an operatic piece or something like that. No one had tried anything like that before. All these other people sing pub songs for Christ's sake! They really do. I mean, their melodies don't go through a whole octave. Its all blues based and blues based songs don't really express themselves that much unless you're somebody like Etta James. Even if you listen to someone like Paul McCartney - and you know I can't figure him out - that guy hasn't changed a bit in thirty years. I just want to hit him, I really do! You know, just sock him really hard on the arm. I've met all of The Beatles except for him and you know, I just want to meet him and punch him! But no, you're constantly learning. It's like when I was working with Rob Cavallo on 'Hang Cool Teddy Bear' three years ago. He was a great director for vocals, and then on the new record Paul Crook was really good, and I had no clue. I see the whole process as one continuous, evolving learning cycle, and when I stop learning then it really is time for me to go away.
Listening to 'Hell In A Handbasket', it seems a very personal record, particularly songs like 'All Of Me' which opens with the line, "I caught a glimpse of myself today, it wasn't a pretty picture."
Meat Loaf: They all are, and it's the first time I've ever sung an album through my eyes. Every song is about me rather than in the third person. 'Hang Cool Teddy Bear' was written through the eyes of this fictional character named Patrick, and it was meant to be a double album, and we took the songs to the label and they turned round and said people don't buy double albums any more. And was like, "Well yeah, but it's meant to be a concept record and it has to be in two parts." It's like The Who's 'Tommy'. That was two discs. So basically, we had to cut it down and it ended up being a tough album to finish. Some of the fans didn't like the swearwords used in some of the songs, which I found a bit hard to stomach. I mean, these people watch television and they watch movies and the leading characters swear. We didn't do it for shock value, it was a portrayal of the album's central character and that's what he was doing. I remember doing a movie once with Samuel L Jackson and I had to say the word "Fuck" seventy-eight times! Nobody wrote me a nasty letter saying, "I can't believe you said that seventy-eight times!" It happens because its part of the script for the movie, and so was the character in 'Hang Cool Teddy Bear'. I had mugs made up that we still drink coffee out of every morning that say on them "I see dumb people", and its amazing to me how some people just can't separate things between what's real and what's fictional or character based. That's why the new album's called 'Hell In A Handbasket'. I don't know if the English have that phrase but in the deep south of America where I was growing up we sure did. You'd hear it all the time; The world's gone to hell in a handbasket. About five years ago, everything was going on that summed up that statement. The lack of compassion, the lack of humanity, the advent of this Internet. I don't care who you are, if you're a writer, or an artist, or a politician, you're still just another human being. So when I see some other illiterate human being with low self esteem that just sits in his house writing hate mail to everybody its beyond any kind of damning. I was visibly upset at the death of Whitney Houston. I knew her, I watched her perform several times, the first being in London back in 1984. I remember talking to her for a good thirty to forty minutes after that show, and her mum was there with Dionne Warwick and they were so friendly. We were both so in awe of each other as singers, albeit coming from very different genres. The last time I saw her would be two years ago; we were actually both staying in the same hotel in Detroit, and I only spoke to her very briefly on that occasion because she was with Bobby (Brown). We had this connection, so as you can imagine I was very upset at her death, and I'm on the Internet reading these different stories and then below people are writing some of the most obscene, insensitive comments you could imagine, and I wanted to go into the Internet, into their houses and put my hands around their necks and strangle them. These people have no humanity or compassion. The journalists that run these sites need to stop encouraging people to post their comments, they really do. It can ruin lives, it stirs up hatred. I people have a live TV or radio show where viewers can call in and speak to the guests then great.
But surely that lies with the editors to either ensure the content being posted is suitable for public consumption before it goes live, or maybe to even employ a full-time moderator? That's certainly the case with Contactmusic and the other publications I write for.
Meat Loaf: Some of the things people were writing I don't want to repeat. They're not human beings. They have no ties to humans. If they were then I'd expect them to be sympathetic to people in trouble, not brutal. It's like if I watch a live TV show where someone's performing and I see them struggling with pitch or whatever. My first reaction is always, "Oh, poor thing, they probably can't hear through their monitors properly or something," and I empathise with them. I end up shouting at the television screen, "SOMEBODY FLICK THE SWITCH ON THE MONITORS!" I certainly don't condemn them because there are valid reasons behind things happening and it may not be obvious to everyone watching but trust me, as someone who's been on TV many times things do go wrong at times.
But anyway, back to 'Hell In A Handbasket'. 'All Of Me' is about me, but it's really about everybody. I get very emotional singing that song. You can tell with the vocal.
It does sound very fragile, almost as if you're about to burst into floods of tears at one point.
Meat Loaf: You know what, I did, so I sang it again where that didn't happen and we decided to use the first vocal performance instead. That was a conscious decision. I remember playing it to my wife, and she didn't like it to start with. She's the pickiest person in town, probably my biggest critic, but also usually right. I played her three vocal takes for that song and she hated the first one the most and left the room! So I went back to the studios with Paul (Crook) and asked if we could do it again. So we did it again and played it to her and she said, "It's better but I still don't like it." So we went back and did it again; all in all, I did nine vocals in ten days for that one song. I'd never done anything like it in my life, and do you know what she said after the final one? She said, "You know what, I think I liked the one you did before better!" The version that appears on the record is a combination of about four of the vocals mixed together, so when she heard the final mix she was like, "Oh, I really like that!"
You've recorded a version of 'California Dreamin' by The Mamas & The Papas on 'Hell In A Handbasket'. What made you cover that song?
Meat Loaf: Why? Because I wanted to change 'California Dreamin' to what I think it should have been about. The first note is wrong for starters. On our version, the first note is higher than on the original melody. I'm as guilty as anybody in thinking 'California Dreamin' was this nice, bright, sunny pop song. I never bought the record. I don't own anything by The Mamas & The Papas to be perfectly honest. They were a pop band, I'm a rocker. I don't buy pop stuff. I didn't like disco but I'm not going to put it down, and I don't like pop records but I won't put them down either. It's great in its own way. It's an art form. It's like going to a museum to look at art. You might not like all of the paintings but you'll still appreciate why other people do. It's all about opinion and personal taste, but even if something isn't to my liking I won't make a point of criticising the artist. With 'California Dreamin', I heard it somewhere one time - maybe in a movie? - and it made me start to examine the words. All of a sudden, the first two lines caught my attention. "All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey." That's not a happy song. Now here's where the Internet's good, because I went on there and started reading the lyrics and thought to myself, "Wow! This is completely different to how I heard it." I kept reading them over and over again like a poem and I wanted to distract the meaning out of it. John Phillips who wrote the song is an old acquaintance of mine; I wouldn't say I know him particularly well, but he's kind of like an old friend of mine, so I managed to track him down and he told me he wrote the song based on fear on the premise that someone won't follow their dreams. The whole world does that. Every single human being has a dream that they're afraid to go for because they're comfortable in their lifestyle. But inside, there's a loneliness about them, and that's what I took from that track and made it very dark. I took from the perspective of being on tour, because when I'm on the road I'm very disciplined and tend to spend so much time alone. I'll just sit in my room and I often become depressed. The rest of the guys will go out for a beer or to a party and they always ask me if I want to come, but I can't. I have to protect my voice. I can't go out and get a cold because people when they come to the shows want perfection every night. And it's understandable because they've bought tickets, they've paid for transport and parking, they've bought beer. I guess there should be some compassion but they don't care that you've left your family, you've gone on an aeroplane, you've stayed in your room alone every night for them. They have no idea what I do for them. When I'm on tour my audience is everything. They're absolutely the reason I live. They're the reason I take a breath.
You came in for a lot of criticism after your live performance prior to last year's Australian Football League grand final in September, some of which seemed unnecessarily harsh to be perfectly honest.
Meat Loaf: Was it great? No, but there were a lot of reasons why it wasn't. I'm not going to make a load of excuses, but the main criticism was that I was supposedly off key. Yet 'Hot Patootie' was not off key, 'You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth' was not off key - there may have been a flat note, the beginning of 'Bat Out Of Hell' there was a reason it went bad. The rest of it though was pitch perfect. I hit the high notes towards the end perfect. I did a thirty-minute interview in Perth shortly after and the editor moved some of the lines around. He misquoted me and turned a thirty-minute interview into a very small paragraph. It was taken out of context and plastered everywhere. It's like what I always tell my daughters; don't be in a herd, be an individual, always think for yourself, because those that stick to the herd are butt-smellers. Now I did say that about the cyber bullies, in that one person posts something and the rest just go along with it. That's what the world needs to do. Be individuals and think for themselves. They don't call this the me generation for nothing. Going back to that performance, all I will say is that at eight o'clock that same morning, I was with a vocal doctor about my left vocal chord and he advised me not to sing. He offered to write a letter to the organisers and I said, "Don't. It will cause nothing but trouble." On that Australian tour there were some really good shows and maybe some that weren't so good, or certainly not to the standard that we'd set ourselves from July 2010 when the whole world tour started. You have to remember, we'd been on the road fourteen months by the time we got to Australia. When we did the UK leg for example every single night was spot on, as perfect as you can get singing live without any kind of backing tape. Almost every artist that I know of operating on a similar level as me sings to tape; there's maybe about two or three bands that don't. You know, older bands that are still playing arenas who have to play to tape because they can't hit the notes in certain spots any more. Every UK show was perfect except Belfast. All of the American shows were really good. It was just one of those things that by the time we hit Australia the shows weren't as consistently great as everywhere else. I put that down to the fact Australia is drier than Las Vegas.
Meat Loaf: Yeah. Every time I've gone there my vocals have become scratchy to the point where I'm thinking, "What's going on?" and believe me as you get older you get drier. When I got over there I did ninety interviews in eight days, which was a huge mistake. I still think I'm nineteen years old and thought I could do it and I believe that's where the trouble started but it was so dry. I'm in Sydney and the ocean's there and I'm saying, "Why am I so dry?" My guitarist and producer Paul Crook lives in Vegas and we were rehearsing in his studio the week before we flew out to Australia and I remember him saying at the time, "Oh man, it's unbelievable!" He comes from Vegas, which is dry so if he's feeling it over in Australia then it must be really dry. Vegas is the driest place in America that I know of. If you're going to do shows in Vegas you really have to go and live there like Celine Dion did for six months. When you play a venue like Caesars Palace they have humidifiers built into the ceiling.
You were recently quoted as saying there may be a possibility of you working with Jim Steinman again in the future. Have there been any developments on that front?
Meat Loaf: I think Jim's new musical is his priority at the minute. It's meant to be coming out soon. He sent me an email over a year ago asking if I'd be interested in playing the character of Hook in the musical, and I was looking forward to doing it because the part has one of the best songs that Jim Steinman has ever wrote. You've got to have a real sense of humour for it. It's called 'Who Needs The Young?' and I've tried to record it on numerous occasions. I wanted to put it on 'Hell In A Handbasket' but decided not to in the end. I'm going to do something with it, whether I record it live or in the studio. I don't know yet. People will be in a total state of shock when they hear it. It's one of the funniest songs I've ever heard in my entire life.
'Hell In A Handbasket' is out in the UK on Monday 27th February 2012
Holding On ft. Gregory Porter
Alla Turca (From Piano Sonata in A, K.331)