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."
Ilaugh. 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 AM NOT INTIMIDATING!"
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.
And what do you think of the name Hang Cool Teddy Bear?
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