Meat Loaf doesn’t sound quite as full-on as usual. Then again, he has good reason to feel a little debilitated: there’s his irregular heartbeat, asthma, back, knee and throat issues, not to mention the numerous incidences of concussion he’s suffered. Oh, and the bout of “severe dehydration” that led to him collapsing on stage in Edmonton, Canada back in June. But at 68 the Fight Club and Rocky Horror Picture Show actor and force of nature behind Bat Out Of Hell – the fifth-biggest-selling album of all time – is still in belligerent form. So now might not be the ideal moment to enquire about his fraught relationship with songwriter Jim Steinman, or his views on Donald Trump…
How are you feeling now?
I’m okay. Weak. I’ve got to go to physical therapy. I had back surgery and knee surgery within the last two years, and the knee surgery failed so I haven’t been able to work out on tour. I’m going to acupuncture, physical therapy and a trainer for four days a week, an hour and a half each session.
Has your doctor told you to take things more easily from now on?
No! Nobody can tell me that. The only thing that can tell me that is my body.
Can you remember falling to the stage in Edmonton earlier this year?
I knew I was about to go. I was getting really dizzy, and I’m going: “Oh my God, I think I’m gonna faint.” But I didn’t want to stand there until I just fainted and cracked my skull open. So I just said: “Okay, I’m going to kinda go down.” But about halfway down I went completely out and I didn’t wake up till I got to the hospital.
Your new album, Braver Than We Are, is great.
Yeah. I wanna apologise to ya. We only found this out about eight days ago that there was a flaw in the mastering. I started listening to it and I’m going: “What happened?” Somehow they lost all the high end.
It sounds alright to my ears.
Well it doesn’t to my ears! My vocal sounds really dull. But now it’s been redone. You just didn’t get your copy.
Your voice sounds a little deeper this time.
Because they squeezed so much music on to Bat Out Of Hell they had to speed it up. That version of me that you hear on that album has been sped up over a minute and a half. I could never listen to the album when it came on the radio, especially Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad, cos I thought I sounded like Alvin from Alvin And The Chipmunks.
It’s extraordinary that there are only four albums in history that have sold more copies than Bat Out Of Hell.
That depends if you want to believe Wikipedia or not. I don’t care. Top five is fine. Records these days don’t do what they did. And they never will.
It’s great to see you working with Jim Steinman again on the new album, because you’ve had your ups and downs.
[Crossly] Okay, I’m gonna clarify that. Jim Steinman and I have never had “ups and downs”. When you get managers and lawyers involved, that’s when they tell you that you can’t talk to someone. That’s why we made this record under cover.
So nobody could stick their oar in?
Exactly. When Bat Out Of Hell came out it was so different. Now it doesn’t seem so different. But in 1977, when it first came out, we were like from another planet. This [new] album – and Jimmy [Steinman] feels the same way – is really the second Bat Out Of Hell. I listened to it yesterday, seven times in a row – and I have never listened to one of my records seven times in a row, ever. I get emails from Jim almost every day, saying: “I just listened to the record again. I’m in tears.” I don’t think he’s ever said that. It is truly mind-boggling.
How would you describe it? Operatic rock?
I don’t agree with that at all. Anybody that would say that knows nothing about opera. And they know nothing about rock’n’roll.
How about Wagnerian metal?
Ha! Richard Wagner and I have one thing in common: he wrote a piece of music in 1845 that ends in two high Cs and Bat Out Of Hell ends in four high Cs.
Is it strange to recall that Bat Out Of Hell was initially a hard sell?
Well, it wasn’t what they considered rock’n’roll. But it’s actually more rock’n’roll than ninety-eight per cent of records that claim to be rock’n’roll.
You’re pretty rock’n’roll, what with your alcoholic dad trying to kill you and several near-death experiences, including being hit on the head by a shot-put. How have you survived? Luck?
Nah, people make their own luck. What it comes down to is work ethic. And discipline. I read all the time about how I did so many drugs, and drank, and all this stuff. I never did. Except in the sixties when I did acid. I hate alcohol. I hate beer. Champagne makes me sick to my stomach if I even smell it.
Didn’t you have a worse reaction to marijuana than you did to acid?
Oh yes. Marijuana – I think there’s leprechauns in my coffee.
Is it true you met Elvis Presley and John Lennon but were too star-struck to speak?
I couldn’t say anything to John Lennon – he was my idol. My total conversation with him was [meek, submissive voice]: “Uh, excuse me, can you pass the Sweet ’N Low?” I had three people that really influenced me more than anyone: [Janis]Joplin, Elvis and Lennon. I actually spoke to Janis. Elvis asked me questions and I said a couple of yes and no’s, but mostly I just shook my head.
If you had the chance to meet him again, what would you say?
“Can I borrow your gun to shoot the TV?”
Talking of TV, in 2011 you appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice with the possible next President of the USA.
I don’t really want to talk about that. It’s like, I didn’t know I was doing it. I got trapped.
Still, in 2012 you seemed to endorse Republican nominee Mitt Romney and talked ominously about “storm clouds” over the US and “thunder storms over Europe”.
Oh, I’m not gonna talk politics at all.
Why? Have you got into trouble for it before?
Yeah. You have to stay out of it.
But don’t people see you as an elder statesman and want your pronouncement on the state of the world?
Well, my pronouncement on the state of the world is, people are far too politically correct. The younger generation is all about ‘me, me, me’. It’s about self-indulgence. It’s like I just said: very few artists have discipline any more. When I’m on the road I don’t go anywhere. The minute the show’s over, I stop talking. I don’t talk again until the next time I do a show. I stay in my room by myself constantly. My assistant will come in at four o’clock and see if I’m okay, and because I don’t talk, she will order dinner. And then I’ll eat it.
So no bad behaviour or on-the-road antics?
No. Have you ever seen anything written about me as far as on-the-road antics?
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Good point. Are people intimidated by you?
Oh no. Not even close. Once you’re around me for two minutes… We just did all arenas in Canada. And every security guard, I’d introduce myself to, and as the local crews were loading out I would go to the majority of them and introduce myself and say: “Thank you very much for your help.” And I really mean it – it’s not put on.
Do people want you to be the mythical Meat Loaf, and you have to distance yourself from them because it gets to be an obligation?
I have a phrase: “I see dumb people.” And I distance myself from them. Because they continue to grow.
On the plus side, you’re influential. Have you heard of German band Avantasia? Their track Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose is incredibly Meat Loaf…
No, I haven’t. But I know for a fact an article was written – in Rolling Stone, I think – where they asked Kurt Cobain who his biggest musical influence was and he said: “Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman.”
How did that make you feel?
It exonerated me. Because Kurt Cobain was the ‘it’ guy at that moment. Jimmy got inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall Of Fame, and I inducted him, and that was great. My greatest honour is being inducted into the Texas Film Hall Of Fame.
Did Cobain’s acknowledgement make up for years of negative critical regard? Has that been a thorn in your side?
People don’t like to admit when they’re wrong. And there were an awful lot of people that were wrong. There was one person who came to me and apologised for being wrong, and that was [former CBS Records president] Clive Davis. I have more respect for him than almost anyone for that.
In the early days, audiences were more likely to boo than cheer you.
When we first went out [supporting Cheap Trick in 1977] they didn’t want to know anything about us. They just told us to get off the fuckin’ stage and gave us the finger… We were scheduled to play forty-five minutes, and the guitar player was freaking out, saying: “Meat, we’ve got to get off the stage.” And I turned to him and said: “We’re supposed to be up here for forty-five minutes, and we will be here for forty-five minutes.” When the show was over they were no longer booing and there was some applause.
Around the same time, you recorded lead vocals for Ted Nugent’s album Free-For-All. Didn’t he want you to go on tour with him?
Yeah. I did sixty per cent of Free-For-All and they wanted me to go out on the road with him. I’ve known Ted for going on fifty years, but I told him: “Ted, there’s not enough room on stage for both of us.” And he said: “You’re right.”
Is that you: larger than life, and too big for anyone to share a stage with?
It’s not just the stage. See, I have a rule, and the rule is: you need to learn something new every day. I try to learn something new about science, or math, or what creates certain kinds of weather. I also like to learn something new about my craft every day. I was awake at three-fifteen this morning working on lighting and how we were gonna move from song to song, trying to figure out different ways that people have never seen before.
You’ve acted in The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Fight Club, you’ve made history with your music, your son-in-law is Scott Ian of Anthrax. But are you really just a regular guy? You once said you lead “a boring life” and have “social anxiety”.
I’ll tell you who I am. You will never find, in an advertisement for a show or a record or anything, three words: ‘legend’, ‘star’ or ‘superstar’.
Because I don’t think of myself in those terms. I think of myself as a plumber. You have a leak in your kitchen, you need a plumber. You go to the book, find somebody, he comes, fits your pipe, does it quickly and well, and gives you a fair price. And if something else happens in your house, you will call that plumber back.
There aren’t many plumbers who have acted opposite Brad Pitt while wearing man-boobs.
There’s not many of us [laughs]. People say: “You’ve got to feel the song.” They’re wrong. You don’t feel the song, you live the song. You don’t take control of the stage, you take control of the room, no matter what size it is. When I played at the [London] O2 for those two nights in 2013 I controlled those 22,000 people.
Is Meat Loaf as much of a character as Ziggy Stardust was?
Oh, David was like me! David was much more like me than he was any other rock person around. Iggy’s quite like me as well.
It’s been an incredible fifty-odd-year career. Have you changed in that time?
Yeah. I’m probably a much kinder, gentler person than I was.
Do you still get angry?
It goes back to “I see dumb people”. I want a person to take pride in his job. I give anything that I tackle – an interview, a movie, a play, going on stage, a record, whatever – everything I have to give at that moment. I will never be lazy a day in my life. And I’m prepared to tell someone to their face if they are.
So you’re still the fearsome Meat Loaf?
Ha! Yeah. I’m not afraid of anybody.
“This album is really the second Bat Out Of Hell”
Meat Loaf on the storyline of his new album Braver Than We Are.
“The whole album is a storyline. It’s about one person who becomes very, very, very angry, which explains [opening track] Who Needs The Young. He’s also sick – which is me – of political correctness; he absolutely wants to throw up at anybody who starts on political correctness. And there’s gonna be a lot of people, when they hear Who Needs The Young, that are gonna find it demeaning, offensive… It’s because they will only listen to it how they want to hear it. Which is fair, I guess. But they need to listen to it from the point of view of what happened to that particular person.
“What happened? I’m not gonna tell you! I will tell you this: I had, on that song, a beautiful, beautifully sung track. Everything was perfect about it – and I hated it. I walked in the studio and they played it back and Paul [Crook, producer], goes: ‘Oh, this is great.’ And I go: ‘No, we’re doing it over. I hate it.’
“But I said that about I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) [on Bat Out Of Hell II], too! That’s exactly what I did for that. I walked into the studio and everybody was going crazy, including Steinman, and I said: ‘No. I don’t like this. I’m redoing it [laughs].’ And everybody thought I was nuts.
“Braver Than We Are – and Jimmy feels the same way – is really the second Bat Out Of Hell.”