Hang Cool Teddy Bear: A Meat Loaf Interview

Dr Rock interviews the original Bat Out Of Hell, Mr Meat Loaf about his new album

This week I am thrilled to be chatting with the ‘original fighter’ and rock-opera powerhouse that is Meat Loaf. A man whose career can best be likened to a rollercoaster ride, and a wobbly one at that, Michael Lee Aday – aka Meat Loaf – has lived through the highest highs. One peak would be the release one of the best selling albums of all time Bat Out Of Hell. He has also endured the lowest lows becoming bankrupt and drug incapacitated in the 80s… only to re-emerge with one of the greatest come-back stories in the history of popular music. In 1993 he released Bat Out Of Hell II, which sold a monstrous 15 million units worldwide. And then of course there’s the screen appearances ranging from the legendary Eddie in The Rocky Horror Picture Show to the judge in From Popstar To Operastar.

Today however, it’s all elaborate chatter about Meat’s latest and arguably finest release in some time, Hang Cool Teddy Bear, which includes guest appearances by artists as far ranging as Jack Black, Hugh Laurie, Steve Vai and Justin Hawkins. All hail!

You’re about to release your new concept album, Hang Cool Teddy Bear, which I think is excellent, by the way…

Meat Loaf: Thank you very much, so do I. Right away we have something in common.

What’s it about?

ML: It’s a story of a non-specific soldier in a non-specific war who has been wounded on the battle field. He’s with his friend and his friend has been killed. It’s all very edgy and very graphic. He sees his own blood across the dirt. He’s sitting there seeing his friend dying, he’s been hit with shrapnel.

The opening line talks about how much it hurts. It hurts in a way he never imagined. He sees his own immortality so he thinks he is going to die. And at that moment, instead of his life flashing backwards, which is what he has always been told is going to happen when you die, his life flashes forward. So initially he’s back in his hometown and he’s back with his girlfriend only his girlfriend is a different girl. And – this is not really written in there, I’m giving you my back story – he thinks because of his wounds that he’s just confused. She has the same name, Jenny, and everything’s the same except she’s married some guy and he says to her “Take the ring off your finger, let’s get out of here where we belong” and he goes “We belong where we’ve always belonged, living on the outside”, which is the name of the song.

He keeps coming back to himself on the ground and thinks he’s dying and the story goes forward again into some other weird scenario. He keeps changing scenarios and it’s the same girl every time, only with different hair and different clothes and different make-up. And this keeps happening to him. It’s like The Twilight Zone or Outer Limits and then eventually in the end, his life does flash backwards to when he ran away from home when he was 15 to see Elvis Presley in Las Vegas. And that’s his actual life. Instead of travelling straight across he actually had to travel through Memphis, he had to get the whole experience. And in the story there’s a code red. He dies, but they bring him back. I wanted him to die to resolve the story but Killian Kerwin who wrote the story is a Hollywood screenwriter so he couldn’t do it! So he comes back to life. [laughs]

How did you find out about the script? Is the writer a friend of yours?

ML: There’s a writer/ actor card game that goes on once a month. And one night at the card game, Killian’d had a couple of tequilas, we were playing cards and he just blurted out “I got a story about a guy dying who’s life flashes forward instead of backwards." That was all and I remembered. And I wrote a song called ‘Peace On Earth’ and where that came from I’ll never know.

So I put two and two together. Because the first line on ‘Peace On Earth’ is “Goodbye my friends, it was good to know you” and I went “Oh”. Now, a lot of people might have gotten something else out of that. I got out of it that he was dying. In fact the writer, I never asked him but I have a feeling that he was going to war, said that he wasn’t dying. And that crossed my mind and I caught Killian and said “Did you ever do anything with that story-line?” “What story-line”? It took him minute to know what I was talking about and I went “How about we make him a soldier and have him leaning up against the wall?” And Killian went, “Yeah and his best friend’s sitting next to him and his best friend’s dead. And he’s seen his own immortality.” And I said that he tried to get up and Killian goes “But he can’t get up” and we talked for an hour and I said “Ok, you’re all over this". So I said I’ll see you in a month because now I’m gonna go put things together based on this. And he goes “Yeah.” He started writing and when he came out, I played him some stuff and he said “I know where you’re going, don’t go back on me we’re going that way.” So we were doing it kind of together – he was writing the story and I was living the character. That’s how it went.

How does the album title relate to the story?

ML: My slogan is “You can eat a Big Mac in two seconds and with Hang Cool Teddy Bear I have your brain for three." Which in this day and age means a lot, to have your brain for an extra second. Really it’s nothing more than a head turner. And it does make you think it’s the stupidest title, it’s really silly. People who say “I don’t like Meat Loaf music and this goes to show here’s just another dumb Meat Loaf title”, well, those are the people I challenge on this record. If you didn’t like me before, I challenge you to come and see if you don’t like this thing. A lot of people go “I don’t like him”. They’re like a herd of sheep. They just follow each other and don’t really know what the front sheep is seeing or what the front sheep really thinks. It’s like this front sheep goes “I’m heading for the fence” and they all go “Oh the fence must be great!” [laughs]

If somebody tells me I don’t like the colour purple I go “I love purple” even if I don’t know what purple is. It’s like if somebody tells me "no" I’m immediately "yes". And if somebody says "yes" I’m immediately "no". It’s like in school. When The Beatles first came out everybody loved The Beatles. I’d go “Well, I hate The Beatles. I like The Stones” “You like The Stones?” ”Yeah, I love the fucking Stones. The Beatles suck, the Stones rule, dude." I’m that way. I’m rebellious. So it goes with my music, I obviously would go against the flow. I’m always against the flow. It’s the obvious choice for me.

I was watching the video channels yesterday and everything that came on had this… I don’t even know what it was… this kind of echoey voice thing going on. [Autotune, Technology Ed] I was going “Why on earth?” And they had it on Will-I-Am and Fergie, and she can sing. I went “Why did they do that?” I remember Zeppelin, Robert Plant had something on his voice on a song, I don’t remember which one now, it’s a long time ago. But you didn’t hear anybody else do it. Because everybody said well if Robert Plant’s doing it I’m not going to do that. It’s like if you saw somebody wear certain clothes on stage, everybody looked at them and went “Oh they’re wearing that, I’m not going to do that.” “Oh no, they painted their amps blue, let’s paint them striped. Here’s a stripe, there’s a blue let’s go. Ok look, let’s keep the colour but change the grill cloth, let’s take the sign off.”

Know what I mean? You’d do anything you could to be different. ANYTHING. Clothes, guitars, shoes, guitar chords, microphones, sunglasses, anything. Go out and paint it blue.

You always had the individuals. Of course you had the followers too but you always had the individuals. Now I’m missing the individuals. Even Ke$ha. I thought she was going to be different. At least she’s dressed a little different but she still has that same thing on her voice. Why?

On this record I went as far away from anything to do with Pro-Tools as you could get. We went with all natural voices. This is more natural than anyone has ever let me be on a record before. They’ve got all my little sounds, they’ve got my "Ow"s, they’ve got my "Ooom"s. It’s really organic. In fact that is the word for the whole record, it’s organic. Yeah, I mean they used Pro-Tools and Beat Matrix. I don’t know what the hell that is and what it does, they’ve run a whole track through it, I don’t know. But it’s still an organic record.

How does Rob Cavallo compare to some of the other big name producers you’ve used over the years like Todd Rundgren and Desmond Child, for example?

ML: Ok. Every other producer I’ve ever worked with has put his ego into it. So you had my ego, you had Steinman’s ego and you had Todd’s ego on Bat Out Of Hell. That was a good combination. It worked, everybody was willing to go “Ok, I’ll do that.” “But wait I’ll do this.” “Ok, I’ll give you that and I’ll take this." That was a good combination, we worked really well together on that record.

Desmond Child’s ego is really strong, he doesn’t play well with others. Rob Cavallo has an ego as a producer but it never comes into play. With him it’s about the artist. It’s about making Meat Loaf’s album Meat Loaf’s album. You have all these other people around you, these incredible musicians and engineers. And you know I didn’t know this about myself, believe me, basically what I did is my vision, how I wanted it to sound. What I wanted to sing, and how I wanted to move it forward. So that’s the thing, nobody messed with it, for the first time ever. So Rob Cavallo… he’s the best producer in the world. Because of that one statement – he makes the artist better than the artist is.

You go to Rob Cavallo saying, “This is the sound I want, please help me get it.” So he knows how to get it. I know nothing, I couldn’t tell you how get that sound to save my life. So Rob Cavallo, he got the sound but when he got it I’m going “Yeah, that’s it, only it’s… Wow!, way much better than what you could imagine.” I love that, way much better. That’s like musicians speech – “It’s way much better, dude, it’s much rocker.”

He never interfered with anything. He would correct a technical thing and tell me, "Look, if you do it this way it’s going to sound better." Which is what a producer is supposed to do. I’d be doing ‘Elvis In Vegas’ and he’d go, “Look, that’s fine but I think you’re too loud. Bring it down to a three quarter level. Or a half level." Or “Let’s get rid of the vibrato.” “How do you do that?” “Stick your chin out and just sing it and you’ll lose the vibrato." “Oh, I didn’t know that.” If he gave you a note, he told you how. As opposed to every other producer I’ve ever worked who said, “Well, can you do this instead?” “How do you do that?” “I don’t know, just figure it out.”

You must’ve been quite relieved, I would imagine, for the Bat Trilogy to be out of the way and to have focused on fresh material again?

ML: The Bat III record really upset me. Jim (Steinman) and I were supposed to do it, then there were conflicts between managers and lawyers and it was just… I hate to ever say things like this but it became as much about Desmond Child as it became about me. I’d come in the studio and there’d be people there doing stuff that I don’t even know what they were doing. And I’d go “Why are they here?” “Oh well, I’ve got them working on this.” “I don’t know if I like that.” “Oh, but it’s great.” “But I don’t know if that’s the right thing to be doing here.” You know what I’m saying? Things were happening and things were going on the record. And on this new record, nothing happened like that. Rob gets this energy and they might work until 2.30am at night and I have to go home at eleven because I’d turn into a pumpkin. And I’d come in the next day and Rob goes “Play Meat what we did last night. What do you think?” And I’d either go “Oh, I really like that.” Or “I don’t like that at all.” And Rob goes “Well, lets get rid of that, we won’t hear that again.” And I’d say “But I like that.” And he’d say, “Good”. And so I’d say, “Now that you’ve done that, could we add that?” “Yeah, good idea." That’s how it went. And there was nothing ever put on the record that I didn’t know about and that I didn’t say yes to and if I said no to something Rob went “Ok, Meat didn’t like it, let’s move on.” So that’s the difference in that.

But I was disappointed in that the management and record company over in the States had me playing songs on Bat III that I didn’t care for, they weren’t Bat Out Of Hell type songs, they were too literal. And Bat Out Of Hell had never been about literal songs. This album is a lot more literal than a Bat record.

Also on this new record, all the songs start talking back to each other. What happened was, we had this big group of writers together and at one point we were working on a song called ‘Love Is Not Real’. Justin Hawkins and Eric Nelle started it, Justin then finished it and Rob changed the chorus, then I changed stuff. And so it was on that song and Rob’s idea on arrangements, which I really liked, to start cross-talking.

It’s a story album but each song, you can pull it out and play it all by itself without ever knowing that it’s part of a story. And then you put it in and if you listen to the record for about 20 times you’ll start hearing them cross-talk. And I added something to the end of the line “to say it’s love is not that simple” and you go into the breakdown (sings) “it’s just not that simple”, and you go into the breakdown “it’s just not that simple now, love or hate, love or hate” it’s referencing back to ‘If I Can’t Have You” and it just keeps going. So every song keeps referencing back.

And what was really weird was the guy that’s in a band called Switchfoot wrote this song called ‘Running Away From Me’ and I said “We need to re-write the second verse.” And it’s as if the guy had heard the record. When he re-wrote it it was as if he had telepathically communicated with me in my head and found out what I was doing. Because he really wrote and talked about the previous song and also referenced several songs from the new album. He just kept it going and going and there’s one line that repeats “there’s no yesterdays or tomorrows” through the whole song because the guy is dying. He’s in limbo, he has no yesterday and he has no tomorrow. What he’s seeing are things that are keeping him alive.

So, that’s what’s going on inside the story. It’s a very intellectual record, from a Meat Loaf standpoint. But we don’t tell people that, we don’t want to let that image of me get out. [laughs]

Your previous tour in 2007 ended on a bad note and you were thinking of packing it all in. So what made you come back?

ML: Because I’m a fighter. I am the original fighter. I’ve been in this business for 40-years. And you know, some people get lucky. Some people just walk this golden path. I’ve walked the dirt road with a lot of rocks on it and with a lot of rabbit holes. [laughs]

Hang Cool Teddy Bear is out now on Mercury Records

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