Meat Loaf is a man who needs little introduction. With more than three decades in the limelight, no one embodies the spirit of rock n’ roll quite like him. This jack-of-all-trades has run the gamut from iconic rocker, to Hollywood actor, to television gameshow host and back again. He exploded onto the music scene 1977 with his legendary album Bat out of Hell, an epic album that captured the hearts a generation and went on to sell more than 40 million copies. Outlasting most of his peers and continuing to expand his musical legacy, Meat Loaf shows no signs of slowing down. Paired with producer Rob Cavallo, who has produced artists such as Green Day, Goo Goo Dolls and My Chemical Romance, this rock legend has just unleashed a powerful new album and stands ready to take the world by storm. At it’s core, Hang Cool Teddy Bear (a title taken from a line in Russ Meyer’s cult classic Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls) is a concept album that brings all the elements of the classic Meat Loaf sound that we know and love into the 21st century. The album features cameos from House star Hugh Laurie, Queen guitarist Brian May, actor/singer Jack Black and American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Meat Loaf to discuss his longevity, how he almost walked away from his music career after ‘Bat Out of Hell III, what made him change his mind and the process of creating his personal masterpiece!
You have been in the music game for well over three decades now. You have made some incredible albums and impacted so many people along the way. To what do you attribute your longevity?
I didn’t want to do anything else! [laughs] It really doesn’t seem like it has been that long. I just keep doing different things. I think truly it is the fact that I started out as an actor, way back, in high school. I decided that I wanted to go into acting class when I was in high school. Because I played football and I was in Texas, I was put down. I was teased and you can imagine in 1965 in Texas and being a football player in acting class, I don’t even need to tell you what they said! [laughs] And being in the musicals! Oh boy, oh boy! That was even worse! Then I went to college and started doing radio and was a DJ in college radio for a while. It was all about doing different things and wanting to vary. I definitely didn’t want to be just one thing. I love experimenting! For example, I hosted those Direct 101 game shows or I went on WWE recently. I absolutely love the experimentation. I don’t want to say that anything is ever to weird! [laughs] I just go! I don’t think of myself as a celebrity, so I don’t play that game. I think that is the other thing that has kept me around. I don’t play the game, it doesn’t interest me.
After you released ‘Bat Out of Hell III’ you almost walked away from music. Can you tell us a little bit about that and what changed your mind.
I am a fighter. ‘Bat Out of Hell III’, when I was promoting it, was something that I had to go out and talk about in a positive way but it was really difficult to talk about that record in a positive way. I will give you a good example and I guarantee you it happens all the time. You go out and start trying to promote a record and talk about it in a positive way, but in the back of your mind you sit here and you are saying “Ok, I have to forget about that song or this song and just deal with this particular group of songs…” and people can tell that your heart isn’t in it. That was a tough sell. It was even tougher on the road. The band wanted to play a particular song and I hated it! I eventually had to take it out of the show. I didn’t want it on the record and I didn’t want any part of it. They just pushed me to far and I eventually got a cyst on my vocal chords. The whole thing was negative and I was ready to call it a day but I couldn’t go out on that record. If I have to go out and I go out with the new album, ‘Hang Cool Teddy Bear’, then so be it. This record is phenomenal! If you were going to call something ‘Bat Out of Hell IV’, this would be it. I wouldn’t do it but if this was “it”, this would be it. There is not a single moment on this record that I don’t cherish.
For those who may not yet be familiar with ‘Hang Cool Teddy Bear’, what can you tell us about the concept of the record?
The concept came from a screenplay from Killian Kerwin. It was originally about a guy who was dying and his life was flashing forward. It was that simple. It’s not that far removed from the TV show ‘Fringe’, ya know, what this guys life could be. So, we adapted it to be a solider in a non-specific war because of the time structure element. He is 24 years old in the short story and we know that nine years before that he had left home to see Elvis, so obviously you do the math and realize that there wasn’t a whole lot going on then, so it is a non-specific war. He sees the same girl everywhere he goes but she is really ten different women with the same face. Really, it is what keeps him alive. Every song is sung from that characters perspective, Patrick, who is 24. That was a really different exercise in character development than I would say most actors have ever had to go through. When you play younger, it is more difficult than playing your same age or even older. I was playing younger and I didn’t want to give it away that anything involved me, because I just don’t do that.
So, was that the biggest challenge in making this record?
Yes. That was definitely the biggest challenge. Finding that character who is 24 and not knowing anything that I know. I had to go back to that place where I was that age and didn’t know anything else. The other challenge was projecting him into those scenarios and situations. His character is a bit of a scoundrel. Not nesscarily a “Natural Born Killer”, like the Woody Harrelson film, but they will steal Twinkies from the 7-Eleven! [laughs] And he will do it with his pretty girlfriend! That type of scoundrel! They would steal more than Twinkies but he isn’t a bank robber or a killer. They are outlaws or gypsies, more or less. That is where he came from. Now, the next hardest thing was creating this story without telling anyone what the story was about. That is exactly what we did. Everyone that we got together was part of the “Rob Cavallo/Meatloaf Camp’. It was our equivalent of summer camp! There was basketball and food. In fact, the only thing that we didn’t do was roast marshmallows! [laughs]
Where is the “Hang Cool Teddy Bear” title come from?
Well, the title came to me in an interesting way. Each day in the studio, they put movies on as wallpaper and the closed captioning is on. Jamie Muhoberac [Keyboardist] has the most unique movie collection, to say the least. One day he had Russ Meyers’ Beyond the Valley of the Dolls’ playing, which I’ve never seen in my life. Actually, I still don’t know what it’s about! At one point, I looked up and there’s a party scene. All of a sudden the girl gets mad and starts to leave the room. A guy grabs her, starts to spin her around and says, “Just hang cool teddy bear.” Immediately I said, “That’s it! That’s the name of the record!”
You worked with producer Rob Cavallo on the album. What sets him apart from the big name producers that you worked with in the past?
The other producers all want to put their ego in! I am not talking about Jim Steinman. Steinman and I, that was a collaboration. If we every work together again, that is what it would be. There is give and take, it is a relationship. The great thing about when I work with Steinman is that we basically agree, I would say, 90 percent of the time artistically. It is that 10 percent, where someone has to give and take. So, I am not referring to him because that is the dynamic of that relationship. Every other producer always says “My name is on this record too.” To me, Rob Cavallo is the best because he says “I’m not making a Rob Cavallo record. I’m making a Meat Loaf record!” I have heard from all kinds of people that Dave Matthews and the guys from Green Day have said the same thing about Rob. The artists that he has worked with all say the same thing. He makes the record for that artist. There is a Rob Cavallo trademark to it. He is a rock n’ roll producer but that is it. It’s not like Phil Spector, who had that Spector sound where it was interjecting his ego. The only other producer that I have worked with that I didn’t see interject his ego was George Martin, who worked with the Beatles. For me, George Martin and Rob Cavallo are the two best producers that ever lived.
In addition to the great production. The album features some stellar guest appearances such as Brian May and Steve Vai…
Yeah, but they are my friends! [laughs] Brian May called up one day and wanted to see what we were doing and he wanted to bring his daughter out. It is that simple. We don’t call up people’s agents and say “We want to know if so and so can do this.” These people are friends. We send them emails and say “Jack (Black), I’ve got this song that I think you and I will sound great on. I’ll send it to you and you can tell me what you think.” I will get an email back that says “Yeah! I am doing a movie right now but we can do it when I get back.” And then you wait. It is all emails between acquaintances and friends. It’s that easy! It goes back to what I said earlier. Celebrity, I don’t play that game. It’s not about a celebrity. If you know me and review my history, you will see that on “Anything For Love”, we used a complete unknown out of New Castle, England of all places, when the record company was screaming at us “We have this person to do it. We have this person lined up. We need these names on here!” Meanwhile, I am going “No! No, no, no, no no! This girl is the definitive one! This is who we are going to use, so everyone just back off!” So again, I don’t play that game.
You have referred to this album as “your most important”. Can you tell us about that and what does this album mean to you?
Why I say that is because like Rob Cavallo said “I am making a Meat Loaf record.” No one has ever said that before. What you see is how I think. Anyone that might write that the songs aren’t there — they haven’t listened to the album and they know nothing about character development. If you went to real writers and said to Bruce Springsteen, Sting or Don Henley “break these songs down”. They are going to comeback and say “Yeah, we get it! These are very well crafted pieces.” I am emotionally tied to this record, more than any other record. That is what makes it the most important to me.
It is exciting to see that your fire and passion for music has been renewed.
Thank you! First of all, I think that it is an important record for the time period. It is a real album, it had a lot of thought go into it, it is well crafted, it is well played, it is unbelievably produced and it is unbelievably mixed by Chris Lord-Alge. Every word on this album was scrutinized as far as “Is it the right way to make the character talk or speak?” The lines of the songs are so precise. Ya know what? If some of these “critic darling” bands had done this record, it would have been the second coming!
What do you have in store for your fans when you hit the road on the upcoming tour?
You’re not going to ask me that! [laughs] What, I ‘m going to tell ya that we live camels and I’m going to do a disappearing act and I will be eaten by a lion?! [laughs] Anybody that knows the Meat Loaf knows that you are going to get an energetic, fast-paced, high energy performance by some of the best musicians ever to walk on the stage! I am not kidding! We put in a twenty six year old piano player named Justin Avery and have never seen anything like him. He has left musicians of incredible caliber with their mouths hanging open. He is going to leave people in awe of what he does. So you can expect a full show and we won’t be coming out doing a mellow ballad acoustic set, I can tell ya that! [laughs]
It seems safe to say that you won’t be going anywhere, anytime soon and we can even expect more music from you in the future. Anything that you would like to tell your fans before we let you go?
Yes. There isn’t a single thing that I would change on ‘Hang Cool Teddy Bear’. If you are a rock n’ roll fan, you owe yourself a listen to this record!
Thanks for your time. We love the album and will be spreading the word!
For all the latest news and tour dates for Meat Loaf, be sure to swing by his official website located at www.meatloaf.net.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.