Meat Loaf's Braver Than We Are Interview: Why he embraces musical method acting for new album
“I bet you haven’t listened to my new album as much as I have,” says Meat Loaf. Just a few short months after collapsing on stage in Edmonton, Canada, the 68 year-old singer is as excited and full of energy as he’s been in years as he prepares for a coming year of heavy touring and promotion to coincide with the release of Braver Than We Are.
The album, which was released last Friday, is Meat Loaf’s first collection of songs written with famed Bat Out of Hell collaborator and songwriter Jim Steinman in over 20 years.
Steinman and Meat Loaf’s new material has even reignited a spark from the notoriously enigmatic “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” songwriter. “I get emails from Jim Steinman all the time now that say, ‘Meat, I just listened to the record again, and I’m in tears,'” he says.
This summer, EW caught up with Meat Loaf to discuss his new album, musical method-acting, and why Bruno Mars is his favorite popstar.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I’ve been listening to your record a bunch this past week.
MEAT LOAF: To tell you the truth, myself or Jim [Steinman] have never listened to a record more than I’ve listened to this. I woke up at 3:15 the other morning and listened to it seven times in a row.
I’ve always done characters with the albums, but this particular character is more alive and has more truth in his moments than any other character I’ve ever done.
Why is that?
I’ll give you a perfect example. We were doing the song “Souvenirs,” and the producer, Paul [Crook], who’s my really good friend, he just stopped recording and said, “Why are you acting this way? Why are you treating me this way?” I was taken aback and I went and I sit down and I go, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” And he goes, “You were being the meanest, and the rudest…The vibe is so heavy in this room that it’s actually making me ill, it’s making me sick at my stomach.”
So you’re basically method-acting in the studio, treating people like the narrator in “Souvenirs” is treating the girl who’s leaving.
Yes. I get very intense. I get to the show five hours early. If we’re on at 8 p.m., I’m there at 3 in the afternoon. I’m leaving the dressing room at like three minutes to 8 from just getting everything put together about what we’re getting ready to do. You hear actors all the time say, “Oh I can’t watch myself in a film.” Do you know why?
Because that’s exactly what they’re doing, they’re watching themselves. I can look at every film I’ve ever done, and there is only one moment in one film that I did in the ’80s, and it was the last shot of the day. There was no dialogue, all I had to do was open the door, cross the room, open another door, and leave. I did it as Meat Loaf, and to this day, it drives me insane.
What movie was that?
Does this new album feel more hopeful than your last album, Hell in a Handbasket?
They live in such different worlds, I have no idea. Hell in a Handbasket was the first record that anybody’s ever heard where I’m talking to you, it’s me. This record, there’s not a single moment on this record that is Meat Loaf. That’s why I can listen to this record more than any other record And the rock and roll people will go, in a very condescending way, well then it can’t be real. My line to that has always been, okay, let’s go find Brando and tell him that he wasn’t a real character on On The Waterfront or in A Streetcar Named Desire, or let’s go tell De Niro that he wasn’t real in The Godfather, let’s go tell Rod Steiger in In the Heat of the Night that they weren’t real. When rock and roll people start writing that kind of stuff, it is very unintelligent. Just because I didn’t write the song, doesn’t mean that I can’t live in the truth of that moment.
When you were working with Jim Steinman on this album, what were those conversations like? What were the reference points?
Well, between Jim and I the discussions were more thematic. Between Paul and Jim, they were musical. People, they come to the show and they go, “He was out of tune and out of time,” and it drives me insane because I do what’s called back-phrasing, where the background singers might come in on one and I might come in on one-and. If I feel like it, I might hold a note so they finish singing and I end on bar number two. So I do total back-phrasing, and they equate tone of voice to tune. Bat Out of Hellwas sped up over a minute and a half to get it on a record. People come and expect me to sound like I did when I was 27, and I’m headed for 69. That age, 69, that’s a good year [laughs].
Did making this album feel like a return to the old days with Jim or did it feel totally new?
This was a whole new process. It would be like doing a film, if you just went to your old process of doing a film, it would be wrong because every character is different. Meisner has a technique, basically his theory is that what’s on the page is the truth and it’s the actor’s responsibility to deliver exactly what’s on that page and the truth of that page. So the Meisner process of finding the truth of the moment that’s on the page, that’s the same. But finding out the character’s truth of the page, that process is always different.
How are you feeling after your collapse earlier this summer?
That was my own fault, because we had been doing runs of 17-18 shows, then taking three weeks off, then going out for another 17. I was just worn out. I’m not 32 anymore.
Do you ever think about your legacy and your influence? I was just reading that Keith Urban was saying his latest single is influenced by “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”
Keith said that? My guitar player’s brother plays for Keith, so I’ve got to call Randy and talk to Keith and say hi. I’ve read a few things like that, but the most impressed I ever was when Kurt Cobain said that one of his favorite influences was Meat Loaf.
Were you a big Nirvana fan?
I was after that.
Do you listen to any contemporary pop music these days?
Well, I really like Bruno Mars.
What do you like about him?
I love that he also changes characters as well. He’s doing costumes and hair and stuff, to change characters that way. Whether he knows that he’s actually changing characters inside the song, I don’t know. But I like the fact that he’s constantly revolving and moving and getting us to a different truth.
He reminds you of a young Meat Loaf.
Yeah, I really, really, really like him.