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Man out of hell
By Zul Othman, TODAY | Posted: 26 October 2006 1108 hrs

 
 
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He may be a pioneering rock star, but Meat Loaf has nothing but contempt for the music industry.

"I don't consider myself a singer", the 59-year-old American told TODAY earnestly during an exclusive interview last month at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Hong Kong, where he was promoting Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose.

"I learned a long time ago that the entertainment business is full of snakes and that people may love you when your record sells, but then they will also try to take over your boat."

Meat Loaf's scorn for the music industry might seem puzzling considering it helped him sell boatloads of records, but here is a man who is not shy about speaking his mind.

Also known as Michael Lee Aday, the Texas-born singer is best known as the man behind the 1977 pop-rock classic Bat Out of Hell, which sold more than 34 million copies to rank as an even more profitable outing than Michael Jackson's blockbuster 1983 album Thriller.

Despite his remarkable success, Meat Loaf spent much of the 1980s languishing in obscurity until 1993's Bat Out of Hell II returned him to the top of the charts, selling more than 15 million copies and even scoring the singer a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance for the hit single I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That).

Not every rock icon wants to bask in their former glories, but Meat Loaf had no problems releasing yet another instalment in the Bat Out Of Hell franchise.

The new effort -- which is out now � is as stubbornly ambitious as its predecessors, never mind that the producer of the earlier efforts, Jim Steinman, is noticeably absent.

But no matter, Meat Loaf told this reporter.

With renowned rock producer Desmond Child at the helm and aided by a cast that includes Queen's Brian May, guitar legend Steve Vai and Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue, Meat Loaf is confident the Monster Is Loose "pushes the limits of what a Bat Out Of Hell album can sound like".

Cynics may baulk at the hyperbole but Meat Loaf was also adamant that the record was decidedly not a case of him flogging a dead horse for cash and renewed stardom.

In fact, the singer confessed that he could have taken the easy route but instead ventured out of his comfort zone � through a combination of his own openness to change and Child's cajoling.

"Sure, some of the changes got frustrating from time to time, but I was open to it and I'm very glad I was," he said. "There were a lot of different things going on here which I liked, but it also holds true to a Bat Out of Hell record, which was very important to me."

Not that having done the two previous records proved to be much of a help.

"I thought Jim Steinman was tough and he wants everything perfect," Meat loaf said with a chuckle. "Well, Desmond wants it even more perfect and I didn't think that was possible. I'll tell you the truth, I've never worked this hard."

The trouble with Jim Steinman

Still, there is no question the noticeable absence of Steinman, the main creative force behind the two earlier efforts and owner of the Bat Out of Hell name, remains a sore point for Meat Loaf.

According to reports, Steinman had sought to block the release of the new album over Meat Loaf's reputed unwillingness to work with him.

In turn, Meat Loaf had taken Steinman to court to force him to let Bat Out of Hell III come out as planned.

When asked to comment on the reports, the usually animated singer suddenly turned sombre.

Apparently, the topic was something Meat Loaf wasn't too keen on addressing, after flying halfway around the world to promote his latest rock epic.

"Let me tell you something about Jim Steinman," he said with a sigh. "I consider him to be one of my best friends but the real thing is about managers: I think Steinman's manager is the devil and Steinman feels the same way about my manager.

"So, we had to communicate through managers and he refused to sign some papers that would have allowed for the recording of Bat Out of Hell III without a hitch. So, really, I didn't sue Jim Steinman. I sued his manager."

The matter, Meat Loaf was quick to point out, was over in three weeks and the legal action taken purely for the sake of business.

"Was I hurt that Jim Steinman didn't want to do Bat Out of Hell III? Initially, I was," Meat Loaf said. "I promised Jim that we'd always do any Bat Out of Hell albums together."

What stood in the way of their reunion, however, was the fact that Steinman � who suffers from heart problems � had to go into therapy for six months at the same time as Meat Loaf had hoped to assemble the album.

What's more, doctors said, he would be out of commission for another year while he recovered.

"I'm not getting any younger. So, I couldn't wait," said Meat Loaf. "I had to make a decision: Did I have five years to wait until Jim Steinman got healthy enough to do this record � especially since Bat Out of Hell albums are very physically demanding?"

The answer � as the singer freely, if a bit sheepishly, admitted � was "No".

"I made a selfish decision to carry on without him," he said. "It was very difficult working without him and up until April, I wasn't convinced I'd be calling this album Bat Out of Hell III."

While it was clear the issue continues to gnaw at Meat Loaf, in what seemed to be an effort to prove that the worst was behind them, he pointed out that Steinman had contributed seven songs to the project.

In fact, the album's first single is the Steinman-penned It's All Coming Back To Me, a duet with Norwegian singer Marion Raven.

Although it was originally a hit for Canadian singer Celine Dion in 1996, Meat Loaf insisted his version is more than a mere cover version.

"It was my song before she made it big," Meat Loaf said with a tinge of resentment. "It was originally going to be on Bat Out of Hell II in 1993 but we already had what we felt was the strongest hit in I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)."

So, when Meat Loaf passed on recording that Jim Steinman track, Dion got it. Still, Meat Loaf feels that the song was destined to be on Bat Out of Hell III.

"I believe that the version that Marion Raven and myself did on this album is the definitive version. It was always meant to be a duet, anyway."

'I much prefer the film industry'

With what looks like another monster hit on his hands, one might think that Meat Loaf would see Bat Out of Hell III as his crowning achievement.

Oddly enough, however, it's his low-profile career as an actor � Meat Loaf has more than 50 movie roles under his belt � that he seems proudest of.

"Every thing to me is a scene study," he said with a laugh of his experience in Hollywood. "Somebody's always trying to get something out of a scene. So, my passion is about the work. And, when it comes to film, I will try to take a cliched character and make his screws loose.

"I live for making obscure characters work but that opportunity is very hard to come by."

Although he might not always get the parts he craves, Meat Loaf views his role in the 1999 Brad Pitt-Edward Norton cult flick Fight Club as his finest performance.

In it, he plays a cancer survivor support group member whose steroid abuse has caused him to grow breasts.

"I much prefer dealing with the film industry," Meat Loaf said when asked to compare his experiences in music and movies. "Even though everything in Hollywood is swimming in a river of snakes, at least I have a boat."

By way of an explanation for this cryptic remark, he added with a chuckle: "I've been in this business long enough to know how to swerve through that river and pat those snakes on the head."

That said, Meat Loaf was recently heartened to see that the rock music climate isn't as bad as it was, saying a rare appearance on a British awards show showed him that there's less "competitive aggressiveness" in the music business than there used to be.

"I usually avoid awards shows, but I had a good time in England," he said. "Though I did yell at some of the kids who acted too cool. This is rock 'n' roll and not a six-year-old's birthday party. So, have some fun, damn it!

"Actually, I didn't use those exact words. There were a few expletives thrown in. But the kids these days should really stop being so serious!" -
TODAY/rose

 

 



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