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From Bat Out of Hell to Hang Cool Teddy Bear Meat Loaf consistently proves his musicality and his ability to create great albums. His newest album, Hell in a Handbasket, features a raw, eclectic Meat Loaf taking on everything from country to rap and even includes a fantastic rendition of the Mama’s and the Papa’s, “California Dreamin’.” TheCelebrityCafe.com had the opportunity to speak to Meat Loaf about his new album and his upcoming Mad, Mad World Tour.
TheCelebrityCafe: “Hell in a Handbasket” is a very raw, emotional journey that contains everything from rock and roll to country music, what made you want to make such an eclectic album?
Meat Loaf: I make all of my albums eclectic. If you went back to first one I ever did on Motown, Stoney and Meatloaf, that thing’s eclectic. Bat Out of Hell is definitely eclectic, starts to bat then it goes to this pop song took the words with specters then it goes to this ballad-this kind of ballad that is straight out of, I don’t know what! And “Two out of Three” is, well, people go, “Why did you do country?”
Well, “Two out of Three” is very country. Then you’ve got this huge ballad at the end, and you’ve got “Paradise” which is, it’s one of those songs that you could never-there’s some of those songs that bar-none, I don’t care how long Springsteen is writing he’ll never write another one. Jimmy Steinman and part of that is based on a girl I went out with in Dallas. I won’t go out with her again! They’re all eclectic because that is how I see… they run a theme. They’re very thematic. They may sound eclectic, but it’s very thematic and, there’s a thread that runs through it that connects everything.
I know you’re talking about “Live and Die” being country but, it’s really rock, but… what I did is, I added, I call them “Taylor Swifts” and I can’t remember her name, but it’s Taylor Swift’s fiddle player (Caitlin Evanson) and she was so excited. She went, “Are you kidding? Send it to me!” and we did and in about four hours later we got it back over the internet. We were going to call her and give her a few notes and we get it back and we just called her up and said, “Thanks, it’s fantastic.” And that’s how it went down with[her].
I did that with Chuck D from Public Enemy. I sent him one thing and I got back something else, and I went, I’m not touching this. Good God’s a woman and she doesn’t like ugly - that’s my theme. They’re just eclectic, but there’s a running theme and a running thread through the whole thing. It’s a little bit of a journey and the one song that people have talked about I think more than any, well two really, “Stand in the Storm” and “California Dreamin.” Some people love it, some people go, “This is horrifying, how could he take that song and do that to it…” I didn’t take the song and do anything to it. I did the song the way that John Phillips envisioned it and the reason I know that is because I got a quote… actually we got the first review from the Seattle Post yesterday for the single, and they called it a “Rock Masterpiece,” so I’m sticking with that term.
The “California Dreamin,” I always heard it as a happy little pop-song myself, I don’t know if it was at the end of a movie where I heard it, I don’t know where I heard it but all of a sudden the lyrics struck me. I went, “This isn’t a happy pop song…” It starts with, “All the leaves are brown” and “the sky is grey”… “I went for a walk on a winters day…” Oh my God, wait a second! There’s nothing happy about that! And he wants to leave, fear is holding him…fear is the enemy of the world. It truly is. Fear will hold anybody back from doing anything. People dream all of the time of doing something else, but they’re afraid. They’re afraid to go attempt it. And then there’s people like me who are just crazy and I throw caution to the wind and go hey, they may tell me I’m crazy but I’m going for it.
I don’t have that kind of fear. A lot of people want to do business and it’s pure failure. I know a lot of musical artists that have fear of failure so they haven’t - I could name some but I’m not - but they haven’t lived up to their potential because of fear of failure. They try it, but they really didn’t want to step out on the plank on the ship. Because they didn’t want to be in the water. “California Dreamin” is about fear, actually, I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when they were recording it because John Philips probably was going, “This is wrong!” I got quote from Lou Adler who produced the record, who his quote was, “Meat Loaf has finally given ‘California Dreamin’ the dramatic interpretation that it deserved.” And he owns it. From that, it helps my theory from all along that Phillips wanted a more dramatic interpretation of it, and he didn’t get it. I think that quote from Lou just kind of cemented it for me. We gave it that dramatic interpretation, of course everyday I’m dramatic getting up in the morning. I’m over the top drama just getting out of bed.
TCC: Fans are curious if Hell in a Handbasket is any sort of continuation to your Bat Out Of Hell collection. The feel, the sound and the message are obviously different, so how do you respond to that?
ML: Bat Out Of Hell, other than performing the songs, I’ve turned down songs and not done songs that have been given to me… I read a review and they said, “I don’t know how this could be so personal, because he didn’t write it.” I always find that kind of idiotic, because that’s like telling Marlon Brando that he can’t, you know, in A Streetcar Named Desire, there’s no way he can’t play Stanley and be real because he didn’t write it. He can’t possibly feel it. What they don’t know, because, I have a saying, and the saying is, “It doesn’t make any difference who gets the credit as long as the job gets done.” And on every record, my input has been there, in the writing, in one or another; either I have actually re-written things and never take credit for it. If I really go for something like Hang Cool Teddy Bear my names on a couple of those songs because I really said, ‘OK, I really did enough on this, I want this.’ Most of the time when I work on a song, and I rewrite something I’ll say give me some publishing, and let the writers, they were there the whole time I just came in and changed the words a little bit. I don’t consider that writing, an actor might do that on a set, but he’s not going to get credit for writing, let me tell you that! We might flip around when we’re working on a scene, and all of a sudden you flip around and change a word here and there between the actors because it’s not flowing exactly right. [Not] because it was written well, but you’ve got two different things going on between actors, so we have to make it work and if the writer is not there - usually between the director and two actors they’ll make it work in changing a line or two, so, I write all the time. When you’re doing film or an album, but I don’t get credit for them - especially not in TV or film. I just did a Barely Legal and I was changing stuff like crazy and I don’t have a writing credit and that doesn’t mean I can’t portray the guy or how he feels about it.
I find that in music that the simplistic attitude that if you don’t write it you can’t possibly feel it, or believe it or live it. They know nothing about the reality of acting. Acting is about real. Acting is about truth. Doing this album is about truth. It’s about conveying the truth about these songs. You know, Rob Cavallo finally put it best with me, “Meat Loaf is an actor who acts like he can sing.” So it’s very personal, another things I do is I go with writers, people don’t send me songs… I go meet with people that I know and that I like and I know that I can mold a little bit. I can tell them I need ‘this,’ and I want to deal with ‘this’ subject matter, and I need to deal with it on ‘this’ level, and I need to say ‘this’ about it, and they go OK I’ll get with so-and-so, and I say, yeah, that’s a good idea and I suggest this and I say oh he’s good too. We’ll start and he’ll say so you’ll come over with us tomorrow and I say ‘no-no-no, you don’t get it, you don’t want me there when I start a song.’ Because if you do, I’ll never record it. Now they might work a couple of days, I might come in on the third day and start flipping things around and changing some of the arrangements and go OK I need a pre-course, I need another bridge or I need this and then the bridge to talk about this and then I’ll leave. So, I have my hands in the dirt, trust me. Just because my name is not on as a writer, doesn’t mean that my hands aren’t dirty.
TCC: “Stand in the Storm” features the likes of Lil Jon, Trace Atkins and Mark McGrath - how did this type of collaboration come about?
ML: How I start making a record is I know what I want to talk about, so it’s like, I create films, I go at it like you would do a film. I want to make a film, what do I want this film to be about? So, I will sit and take my notebook and write notes, the same way that a writer would, only there’s too many people that can turn a phrase better than me. How many horrible songs have been on most records that have sold a lot because some guy wanted to get paid for writers? Those songs aren’t worth anything, they’re like nothing. It’s stupid. And, I never want that on my record. I’ve written songs. I’ve written a couple, they were hits for other people, I wrote with John Parr and I wrote with another person, I had a top 20 song in America in the 80’s and I had a number one song in the U.K in the 80’s that I wrote but I would never record them. No way. I don’t find them very good, but somebody did. It’s like, Steinman is in a world all his own, only, this is true; you cannot compare Jim Steinman to any other writer in the entire history of the world, except for Samuel Beckett. And that’s the honest to goodness truth. He is different than any song writer. Samuel Beckett, in most polls, is the second greatest writer, next to Shakespeare. Steinman, that’s the closest you can get is Samuel Beckett so after that there’s people that are ‘great’ writers, but they’re not Jim so I have to – I’ve worked with Jim so long that I have to kind of put that spin in there.
Now, you asked me about Bat Out Of Hell, I would always have that spin, but I will never attempt to re-create Bat Out Of Hell. People try and send me songs and, it’s the kind of people that try to write like Springsteen, it’s a joke, or other people try to write like Billy Joel, gimme a break, Jim or Henley any of the good ones. I mean, try and re-create a Led Zeppelin record, yeah right! It’s not going to happen. So I got to people that that’s what they do and I’ve had a lot of hits and a lot of people record their music and I turn them into Meat Loaf music! Get them away from whoever they’ve been working with and become Meat Loaf-clay.
There’s always that element because Bat Out Of Hell is me emotionally no matter how Jim wrote it, it’s me that added things on Bat Out Of Hell that he would play and I would say, ‘Jim that’s great, where’s the rest of the song?’ I mean, that was my exact quote to him. I told him to finish the story and he went, “Oh, I see what you mean,” and he went away and finished the story. Then he would come back and I would say, ‘Now let’s repeat that because I want to go up the octave.’ That’s when I was young and wanted to sing high all of the time. I said, let’s go up the octave, and he’d say, ‘really?’ ‘Yeah.’ So we added that extra piece on Bat, but other than that I don’t have any other writing, but emotionally all of that is me on Bat, so that carries through on everything I’ve ever done except for one record that was demos. But, it carries through.
The great thing about the last two records I’ve done with Hang Cool Teddy Bear and Hell In a Handbasket, which have been very different for me. Since Jim, since Bat, there are only three other records that have been worked on the same way. Bat Out Of Hell is the same way we worked on Hang Cool Teddy Bear, and the same way we worked on Hell In A Handbasket. I didn’t have a producer in there, but with his ego, trying to determine what’s good and what’s bad, ‘oh we should do it.’ I didn’t have a record company for a new song saying, ‘Oh, we want you to record this,’ and then the manager steps in and says, ‘Oh we really think you should record this because we want them to promote it,’ but the song doesn’t work on the record and it sucks! And they say, “Yeah, well, just record it I can get more dollars for promotion for the stuff you do like.”
I’m one of those people - I have a guilt complex, so, immediately I go, OK I better, and I immediately feel really guilty. But those three records, Bat Out Of Hell, nobody cared what we were doing. They thought we were nuts, so they really didn’t care. And the last two, Rob Cavallo was producing and he just threw everybody out. They came in and he wouldn’t say anything, other than, he said to me “off record, we’re doing what you want,” and I about fell out of my chair because a producer of that stature said that. He said, “that’s how I work with all my artists.” I went, OK, great. Working with Paul Crook, we just disappeared; nobody even knew the record was coming. Management didn’t even know it was coming. We just started working on that on the road because I determined what I wanted it to be about and I went from there. Those three records compare in that regard. That nobody’s bothered me.
TCC: You’ve said before that performing on stage isn’t about laser lights and dancers, that when fans go to a Meat Loaf concert, they’re there for the experience, tell me about the kinds of experience you plan to give fans on your Mad, Mad World tour.
ML: Well, we start practicing in about a week. Now, it’s all on paper and it’s a very different kind of show that I’ve ever done before. I mean, we do the same songs, but we’re always updating the songs we’re always making them. We play the cords and we sing the words and the melodies. We’re always modernizing what’s going on underneath it. We might change a base line or the bars change a little bit, or what the piano is doing might change or throw a loop underneath something. And, we’re doing that a lot on this tour, there’s a lot of loops going on and a lot of Segway’s. But when you go to a concert the song is done the crowd applauses, the guy goes back, he takes a drink of water then comes to the microphone and then goes and does a song about my car running over my cat… And, I never do that. But this one, it’s actually more dramatic than the previous shows we’ve done. There’s sections of it that are cohesive in the segue’s and how they segue and in fact there’s always been spots in the tour for me to talk. Now, I have no spot for me to even say anything and it’s a very different feeling.
In fact, I can tell you, we start, and what you hear when the lights go down is the Beatles singing “When I’m 64.” Then it goes into this loop and it’s like an updated Bo Diddley loop and it lasts, in the dark, for about 4 minutes, and it’s meant to drive people crazy. It’s meant to get them going, ‘OK, come on, let’s go.’ You know, it’s meant to make them nervous. The band comes out and I’ll walk out point to them and start singing. We were setting it up, and I’ve done it before, and it worked great. I did it about two or three years ago, and it started with this thing and the audience - I love that when we do that kind of thing because you play like four minutes. This one is different from anything, it’s just this constant loop/Bo Diddley kind of thing over and over again for about four minutes and it will make people nuts. It will make them so when it stops they’re like “YES!” And, then I go into a song, which we’ve never done live, off of Welcome to the Neighborhood called “Runnin’ For The Red Light” by Malcolm.
This is how my life works: It was written originally by Malcolm Young, Angus Young’s brother, and I didn’t like all of the lyrics so Patti and I rewrote, Patti Russo, we re-wrote a lot of the lyrics but we left their names on it and their publishing, we didn’t ask for publishing or writers, we didn’t ask for anything. And, the album comes out, and they sue us! So my lawyer responds, ‘What are you suing for?’ We didn’t take anything it says your names on it we didn’t take any of the publishing, what are you possibly suing us for? Then basically, we got back a letter that said, ‘never mind.’
[The song] kept repeating. There’s a pre-chorus, so Patti and I, I don’t like repeating pre- chorus’ I like to change the lyrics every time. And, we changed the lyrics on the pre-chorus every time it came around and then it just kept saying the same line in the chorus, so we changed the lines in the chorus so they didn’t repeat, because I hate things - in experience sometimes it’s subtle. But if you listen to the record I’m always changing an “and” a “the” something in there or I’ll change the whole line but you wouldn‘t know it because you don’t know the original version. So, that’s another example of how I change what I do. This is the only time I’ve ever been sued for it! It’s crazy! On Couldn’t Have Said It Better, I re-wrote a whole song, I mean I re-wrote every lyric! But I still gave them the writers and the publishing and nobody said a word. I suppose, I could have gone and said, well I changed all of this. I just didn’t feel it was appropriate even though I re-wrote every lyric. I have a weird sense of value that I have a real, it comes back to working in public theater with Joe Pat, a real emotional tie to writers and what they go through. I never want to take anything away from them. Play writers or songwriters, it’s like this real kind of honorary decreed to writers.
The show in my head, the way it’s working right now, it’s very original, I mean it’s still Meat Loaf because I’m dramatic. I’m dramatic drinking coffee, I spill it on myself, I can’t - it still has this whole other sense of tension and drama in to it. But it’s fun at the same time. With Hang Cool Teddy Bear and with “Dead Ringer” that’s in the show, “Running For the Red Light,” that’s a fun song; of course we do the “Paradise” and took the words and we do “Los Angeloser” from Hang Cool Teddy Bear which is a fun song. So, there’s those real moments of real rock-drama like “Break it” and “Bat” and “Anything For Love” but then there’s also these fun moments. But some of the new songs, there’s a real sense of urgency and drama that the others don’t have.