Meat Loaf Is Willing to Die for You on Stage

Clap your hands if you're Meat Loaf.
Clap your hands if you're Meat Loaf.
P.R. Brown

Rock opera maestro Marvin Michael Lee Aday, better suited by his stage name, Meat Loaf, finds his way to Phoenix as a headlining act for the opening weekend of the 2015 Arizona State Fair. The multi-platinum Bat Out of Hell entertainer will take the stage on Sunday, October 18, at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

With long-time songwriting partner Jim Steinman, Meat Loaf has made a career of taking listeners on long conceptual journeys through the art of storytelling in the rock ’n’ roll medium, with tracks like “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” and “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).” Now, teaming with Steinman once again, he is currently preparing for the release of his latest album, Braver than We Are.

“Something like they have never heard before,” Meat Loaf says, summing up his new record with this single sentence. He is not going to split hairs, however, on the notion that this experimental music may fall flat by offering. “The opening song most people are not going to understand where it came from, and they are either going to throw it against the wall and never want to listen to anything else on the record, or they’re going to go, ‘What is that? And what’s going to come?’”

Few people have strung together a legacy like Meat Loaf. On top of the international music success, he has carved out an impressive side career as a screen actor. Having appeared in more than 40 motion pictures, Meat Loaf has brought to life an array of unique and obscure characters for the pop culture landscape — including two films that each redefined cult followings, Rocky Horror Picture Show and Fight Club, where he played the scene-stealing roles of Eddie and Bob respectively.

With so many performing outlets to consider, and a relentless well of creativity to think about, it should come as no surprise that Meat Loaf will let his thoughts wander during a conversation. You can nearly pinpoint the moment when the seasoned center-stage entertainer inside of his brain takes control of his words; he will begin speaking in awkward over-the-top absolutes (“Listen, I never will walk on stage without being willing to die on that stage”), where he flaunts his reputation as a diva (“you don’t want to come into my dressing room 15 minutes before I go on, [because] I’m a serial killer. People just stay away from me”), or offer up a deep and complicated artistic mystical statement (“I would never tell you what I’m singing about, because once the record is in your hands it no longer belongs to me—it belongs to you”).

It is with that larger-than-life personality that Meat Loaf has been able to maintain fluidity in an ever-evolving entertainment industry. For decades he has endured both the rise and fall of his stardom, and when his career hits a lull, the Dallas, Texas, native cowboys up and puts his nose to the grindstone until the tide of fame returns to pick him up once again.

Today, Meat Loaf still casts himself in the same spotlight as a force to be reckoned with in career longevity and live performances. His wild-eyed enthusiasm of the ’70s seems to have given way to a slower pace and a softer tone of voice, but maybe that’s because Meat Loaf doesn’t have to talk for anyone. He’s proven his worth for more than 40 years, and until the morning comes, the bat out of Hell will keep rocking through the night.

New Times recently spoke with Meat Loaf to discuss his new album, how he prepares mentally for a live performance, and his upcoming trip to Phoenix, where he hopes things will go better on this visit since he got robbed the last time he came to our city.

What should fans expect with your new album, Braver than We Are?

Something like they have never heard before.

As in never heard from Meat Loaf before; or never heard in the history of music?

Well, the opening song, most people are not going to understand where it came from and they are either going to throw it against the wall and never want to listen to anything else on the record, or they’re going to go, “What is that? And what’s going to come?”

Then what follows it is even more bizarre, and what follows that gets even more bizarre. Usually when you sing a record you use your voice, right?

Sure.

Well I made the choice this time [that] I’m always using characters, and I change my voice on the songs that belong to the character and not just “Meat Loaf’s singing voice.”

There’s one song in particular—it’s not very long—that the guy’s life is so tortured that when you hear the vocal it’s like, “Oh, my God.” On that song I’m listening to myself singing and [I’m wondering] if I should redo the vocal and then I went, “No, I’m not going to, because that’s the character singing and he’s really tortured.”

He’s in so much pain, and it sounds like I’m in pain singing it so I want to leave it that way.

Very nice, and what is the name of this song?

I forgot [laughs]. I can’t remember—listen; I don’t even know what day of the week it is!

We’ve been locked [in the studio]. This record is a year late, because I had major back surgery and then I had more outpatient back surgery.

Your health has spent its fair share of time in the news over the years between accidents and surgeries. As you’ve gotten older as a performer, how serious of a matter is it to be mindful of your body while you’re touring now compared to 40 years ago?

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Um, it’s the same. I’m so disciplined — I learned my discipline from football and from acting — that when I hit the stage I feel no pain. You don’t want to come into my dressing room 15 minutes before I go on, I can tell you that.

Why is that?

I’m a serial killer. People just stay away from me.

Is that because you are trying to work through pain before performing, or because you’re trying to psych yourself up for the show? Explain why you refer to yourself as a serial killer?

Pro athletes would understand. If you’ve ever been on the field at a giant stadium, and the players are on the field before the game, before they head into the locker room, they’re talking and laughing. Then, when they come out of the locker room [at game time], they are completely different human beings.

Okay, you’re referring to getting into a mindset to be able to compete or perform at a high level.

Yeah, yes! If you ever met Michael Jordan before he would go take the floor to play a game, and then see Michael Jordan [when he was about to play], and it’d be like, “Oh my God, I’ve gotta run away out of the building.”

I don’t know how many people actually understand that. Athletes get it. Actors get it. I’ve worked with so many great actors, and they all understand going to the zone. They go to their character. When you work with an actor who doesn’t know what that is you’re really aware of it.

So you go into this character 15 minutes before the show to get in the zone, but tell me about the process to come back out of it? Can you describe that?

The process is this: When the show is over, and you run off stage, it’s like running into a brick wall. You hurt like hell. It’s really like lowering your head and running full speed into a brick wall.

To that same thought, this interview is for your upcoming concert at the Arizona State Fair, so can fans expect you to be in the zone during your performance for us on that night? Will you bring yourself to the mental state that you just described?

I never will walk on stage without being in the zone. Listen, I never will walk on stage without being willing to die on that stage.

Have you ever had to forfeit a show because of that? You couldn’t quite get to that extreme of a level.

Ah, I mean, you know, I’ve had to cancel a show because of the songs. People don’t realize how difficult these songs are. There are a few artists, like when Freddie Mercury was doing it and Queen’s songs would cover two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half octaves. [Also], Mick Jones—a lot of Foreigner stuff covers two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half octaves. Steinman’s stuff is that way, and people do not realize. They think that this is just another band coming to play, and they have no concept of how difficult it is to do [these songs].

When working on and recording a new album, do you tailor it with the fans in mind or go with what speaks to you and hope that they fall in line with it?

No, you can’t. You have to go where you have to go, and you hope that the fans like it, but really the first person who has to like it — not like it, but love it — is you. If you don’t love it then you can’t expect anybody else to.

Is that what helped the Bat Out of Hell trilogy to become so successful? Were there other elements at play like timing and cultural relevance?

I just think that Jim Steinman has a way of writing music that touches people. I’ve never asked Jim why he’s written a song or what he’s written it about, because I don’t want to know. And if anybody ever asked me, “What is that song about?” I would never tell you what I’m singing about, because once the record is in your hands it no longer belongs to me — it belongs to you.

It must drive you crazy then when people ask you what is the one thing you won’t do for love?

[Laughs] Well especially since it’s in the lyrics on [that song] nine times.

On top of your music career, you’ve had a lot of success in television and film. What do you find to be the glaring differences in the creative process for acting compared to the creative process for your music? Do you prefer one over the other?

Because of the way that I create characters, the process is actually very similar. The one thing that is different about this record is that instead of just using Meat Loaf’s voice all the time, I chose to use voices for the characters to sing. So, the voices change. They get really high, and on one song they said, “Good God, you sound like you’re 30 years old.” [Laughs]. Then on another one I sing in this big opera voice, which I’ve never put on record.

You’ve had a very long touring career to places all over the world, so are there any stories from your trips to Phoenix over the years that stand out to you?

Yeah, I have two stories. Not the last time that the Super Bowl was there, but the time before that, we played the Player’s Party, which was fantastic!

Then, Dave Winfield [MLB Hall of Fame baseball player], who had gone to the Yankees, had given me this commemorative shot glass — there were only 25 of them made — and the last time we were in Phoenix somebody stole it.

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