interviews

The Big Interview: SoundCloud's Raoul Chatterjee

Raoul Chatterjee doesn’t look like a man under pressure. Music Week meets him at MIDEM, where he cuts a rare cool, calm, deal-making figure amidst the hot and flustered Britpack coping with the searing Cannes heat. But surely even Chatterjee’s ...

The long road out of hell: How Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell became a rock phenomenon

Rock‘n’roll had never seen anything like Bat Out Of Hell. Scrap that, the music business had never seen anything like it. Nor has it seen anything like it since. In the October of 1977, Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman – one the possessor of a huge voice, the other huge songs – unveiled their rock odyssey to an unsuspecting public. It cost $75,000 to record, comprised just seven songs... and it went on to become one of the biggest selling albums of all time. In the UK alone, Bat Out Of Hell is the 18th biggest selling album ever, with sales of 3.31 million according to Official Charts Company data. What’s more, it’s never stopped selling. If you look at the yearly breakdown of eligible sales from 1994, when OCC records began, it is still a monster. In 2015, it sold 70,699 copies. Last year, it sold 43,915. In 2017, it currently stands at 15,823 copies. This year, too, the album that initially started out life as a futuristic musical based on the story of Peter Pan has finally come full-circle. Directed by Jay Scheib, Jim Steinman’s Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical officially premieres at London’s Coliseum this week, having debuted in Manchester earlier this year to rave reviews. Yet the longevity of Bat’s success camouflages its torturous beginnings. As David Sonenberg – a manager/lawyer who has worked with Steinman and Meat Loaf from the start, and also one of the show’s producers – is quick to point out, at first everyone hated it. Speaking from his Long Island home, Sonenberg is a revelatory verbal blizzard of zingers as he relays how, initially, Bat didn’t so much go against the grain as self-destruct on it. “When we showed up, rock’n’roll wasn’t happening,” he begins. “Theatre wasn’t happening, big fat boys weren’t happening, and the name Meat Loaf wasn’t happening! The industry couldn’t see it for what it was, they couldn’t see that it was different and exciting.” That it was. Steinman – who Sonenberg describes as “the only genius I’ve ever met” – was making songs like no-one else, the title track alone was a near 10-minute piano rock extravaganza. But while these brilliant songs existed, they didn’t on record. This wasn’t for lack of trying. On the contrary, Sonenberg, Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman would actually go to labels and live demo the songs to stunned presidents to procure a deal. “Steinman would play the piano, Meat would sing and drink beers, Ellen Foley and Rory Dodd would sing background vocals,” recalls Sonenberg. “Meat would do the whole theatrical thing, and kiss her. It was wild, it was exciting... And then people would stare at us like nothing had happened!” Clive Davis, in particular, lectured Steinman on song structure, noting that while most songs had verses, choruses and bridges, his compositions appeared to have tunnels, too. As a result, Sonenberg took matters into his own hands and loaned money to get the pair in the studio. Next, Bat producer Todd Rundgren’s manager, Albert Grossman – manager to the likes of Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin/owner of Bearsville Records – agreed to front the studio cost. “I came up with $37,500 from my father’s friend, and the other $37,500 [Grossman] fronted,” remembers Sonenberg. “He then had the right to own the record, but he never exercised that right. Even with the finished record we would play it to people and it just didn’t move them. It was bizarre! “It’s not like some people in the industry liked it,” he continues. “I mean, nobody liked it! I joked that people were setting up record companies just to pass on Bat Out Of Hell. And in those days there were a lot of labels, so you could be very rejected. It never crossed my mind that I was wrong. I knew it was extraordinary!” Ultimately, a higher power intervened. “I think it was kind of God,” laughs Sonenberg. ”Either God feeling sorry for Meat Loaf, or for Steinman, or for me.” In this case, God actually went by the name of Steve Popovich at the new label Cleveland International. Popovich had actually passed on Bat while he worked at CBS, but when he approached Sonenberg saying he needed a breaking act, the laywer chanced his luck and sent the exec the same tape he had already passed on. This time around, Popovich thought it contained, “The greatest fucking opening to any song in the fucking history of the music business!” And so, on October 21, 1977, Bat Out Of Hell was released. It sold sluggishly at first, but crucial apperances on BBC2’s The Old Grey Whistle Test, plus a show at Canada’s El Mocambo venue being broadcast on CHUM-FM changed everything. Sonenberg still marvels at their success in The Land Of Maple Syrup, “We sold a million albums in Canada, in a country that only had 20 million people!” Even when Don Kirshner’s US TV show only gave the eight-minute Bat Out Of Hell video a five-minute segment (before cutting prematurely to a dog food ad), the momentum couldn’t be derailed. “The good news was that the next day, in the US, we sold 25,000 records and [prior] we had sold 30,000 in, like, three months,” beams Sonenberg. “By spring [1978] we were selling a quarter of a million albums a week just in the States, and the same amount internationally. We were 500,000 records a week for a very long time. I think we’ve sold 60 million records. I think this is the second best-selling record of all time.” The success was huge, and so was its fallout. Aside from the protracted legal battle between Cleveland International and its distributor, Sony, over unpaid royalties, its creators were also much aggrieved. Last year, Meat Loaf told your correspondent that he and Steinman earned, “Almost 19 cents” from Bat. “We ran into all sorts of difficulties very early on in midst of all of that success, that’s why things kind of fell apart and Meat and Jim never did another record together for 17 years,” says Sonenberg citing financial issues, poor health and jealousy among other things. When the duo did reunite, they changed Bat Out Of Hell’s legacy, making it have more in common with a blockbuster film franchise. To that end, 1993’s Bat Out Of Hell 2 was a sequel to rival The Godfather II. “Nobody was terribly excited,” recalls Sonenberg of the pervading mood outside of the Bat camp. “We went straight back into Hell, it came out and it was wildly successful – that sold almost 30 million records. Who gets that kind of hit after being away for 17 years!? ” Indeed, even 2006’s Bat Out Of Hell 3 – which Steinman refused to take part in – has sold 373,734 copies to date. The next Bat manifestation is set to take place at London’s Coliseum theatres, with the musical timed to coincide with Bat Out Of Hell’s 40th anniversary. Which was, of course, the plan all along, right? “The truth is it was probably planned to coincide with the 35th anniversary!” laughs Bat producer Michael Cohl. “Although we’ll all take credit for coinciding with the 40th as if it was supposed to happen, it’s not true!” Naturally, translating the album to the stage was a daunting prospect. “These are tough songs to sing,” says Bat producer Tony Smith. “Getting a cast that’s able to perform this properly, and at the same time carry the narrative, theatricality, and acting, is tough.” Indeed, Meat Loaf’s inimitable delivery of these songs is a tough act to follow. Sonenberg recalls a Philadelphia show when Meat’s mic cut out in front of 3,000 people: he simply boomed on without it. Fortunately, the producers are ecstatic about the cast they have assembled, especially Andrew Polec, who plays the lead character, Strat. “For him to handle these songs…” exhales Sonenberg. “You can’t sing this eight days a week and survive. Jim’s stuff is designed to kill you. It almost killed Meat, and he was performing maybe four times a week at the height.” The question of translation is not just from record to stage, either. “It’s great to have a young cast because it puts a whole different feeling on the show,” says Cohl. “As soon as people hear it’s young people, they take a different view of it. I think it will help introduce younger people to the music.” This would only be the latest feat in Bat Out Of Hell’s legacy: a record that still offers instructive lessons to the biz. “It was a type and length of song people said couldn’t happen,” surmises Smith. “People said, You can’t have seven-minute songs and have radio play them. It was revolutionary in showing what people will and won’t grab on to. It definitely changed radio.” As for what happens next? In 2016, the duo re-reunited for Meat Loaf’s Braver Than We Are, the singer once again channelling Steinman’s songs. It was not, however, a collaborative studio effort. Sonenberg is hoping they’ll step up to Bat one last time. “The last five years they have been unbelievably supportive of each other,” he concludes. “What I would like them to do is make one more record together and call it Bat Out Of Hell: The Final At Bat. I think that they could do a record that could resonate, that could still be fun and youthful, but also be wise and retrospective. I know Jim’s still got what it takes to write more music. I’d love to see them do one more record together.”

How Goldie got his groove back

It’s a fucking journalist’s job to write the fucking truth. There’s something to write about here, get your fucking pencil sharp for a change. This is that kind of album.” And there, like a hand grenade on the soft white tablecloth between us is Clifford Joseph Price MBE’s introduction to The Journey Man, the first proper Goldie album since Saturnz Return in 1998. His ringed fingers rap the table and plinking dining room piano is audible again, but not for long. During a lengthy conversation at The Landmark hotel in central London - where he would meet David Bowie while planning their 1998 collaboration, Truth - Goldie gobbles fish and chips with his hands, demonstrates a magic trick, sings, screeches and does a mean impression of his beloved Bowie. Not to mention the endless tangents, heavy use of the word ‘bam’ or the ferocious grip of his greyish brown eyes. But let’s get back to that album. Released via Goldie’s own Metalheadz label (“The greatest example of the rock’n’roll swindle turned good”) and Cooking Vinyl (“I haven’t seen passion like it”), The Journey Man is a 16-track opus that tells the story of Goldie’s life - from breakdance and graffiti in his West Midlands adolescence, through to seminal LP Timeless, his ‘90s pomp, excess, and his current set-up in Thailand with his family. “I said to myself, I’m ready for this album,” Goldie says. “I’m getting up at 5am, I’m on the beach, I swim, I do my Qigong, Tai Chi, yoga, bam… and I’m thinking, James Bond has this fucking life!” Closing with an updated version of Truth sung by José James, this is more film than album, an all-consuming odyssey of soul and drum’n’bass hinging on 18-minute techno-flavoured centrepiece Redemption. He’s relishing the chance to combine “raving and mindfulness” while treating Glastonbury to three DJ sets this weekend, but when he hits the road in November, Goldie will do so with The Heritage Orchestra. He describes members Matt and John Calvert as “unbelievable”. “People won’t be able to handle that one Goldie has done all this,” he continues, explaining that he conjured every note, lyric and arrangement on a record that was five years in gestation. “I couldn’t have fucking done this any other time, it’s my fucking Eno! Bam! Nine drum’n’bass songs and seven musical projects, there’s the illusion. I know magic, mate, I do it in music. Maybe it’s time for people to hear and not just listen, this album can’t be stopped. It’s the greatest work I’ve ever done.” Goldie believes the “gift” of being unable to read or write music allows him to channel emotion more directly, looking over engineers’ shoulders as they converted his ideas, usually recorded on an iPhone, into tracks he’d spend months working on. “The process is unique,” he says. “We spent three days making 97 drum parts, then I moved to Thailand and left them for two years. It’s weird, but they matured like wine.” He whittled 97 down to 20, and they became the drums for the album. “I see it like a painting,” he says. “I know no one else is doing it like that and I need to give myself a little credit. It’s fucking weird, but I get off on it. I learned from the best, Pat Metheny, Nellee Hooper, Miles Davis, Art Blakey…” Kate Bush is just as important to Goldie, and he pays tribute in the lyrics of Run, Run, Run. “I sat with her in Fortnum & Mason having cakes, I asked if she wanted to sing on the album but she didn’t.” Goldie doesn’t seem fussed, and he needn’t be: vocalist Tyler Lee Daly is compelling over plaintive jazz piano from Jon Dixon. More than who sings where, for Goldie, The Journey Man is about art. “Electronic music gets away with fucking murder. DJs get paid a lot to push buttons - no, monkeys push buttons! Just put a bit of soul into it. Making music is not business to me, it’s passion.” He leaves the business side to his team, crediting a “refit of the Goldie brand” and a deal with Believe Digital with Metalheadz’s recent resurgence. His manager and business partner Karl Neilson, a friend for over 20 years, says it’s his job to “help people recognise that there’s not many like Goldie on the planet and to keep him on top of his creative game”. Meanwhile, Cooking Vinyl’s head of marketing & product management, Chris Farrow says hook-ups with Spotify and Apple and placements across radio will help the label educate old fans and show potential new ones that “Goldie is multi-faceted and this is a long-term project. He’s influential, there’d be no Sub Focus, Netsky or Chase & Status without him”. Goldie, whose new friendship with Skepta has led to an upcoming collaboration, wants to continue to be influential too, with sage advice as much as music. “Don’t make the mistakes I did,” he says, “The ‘90s were fucking mental. I became a complete parody of myself.” Sozzled memories flow as we finish lunch, at which point Goldie’s fidget levels max out and he departs for a yoga class. “Sometimes I feel like a ghost, like I don’t exist,” he says, getting up. “I’m 52 this year, to come back at this age and do an electronic album is fucking weird! How did I survive?” He doesn’t hang around for an answer, but you get the feeling he already knows it: graft, madness and maverick talent.

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