White Lion's Mike Tramp
By Jay Oakley
How was the trip in?
It's very rewarding. I'm here by myself doing forty-five thousand miles across the USA in a rental car. Taking care of my own show, selling my own merchandise after the show and dealing with any issue I'd have to face by myself. Never calling anyone crying or anything like that. It's been a bit of a challenge but this is the third year in a row so obviously I've got it down to an art.
Going back to the first tour, it's cementing that this is the person I am. The feedback that I'm getting from going around is that there are people who knew it and there's people who are getting it. I've made a bit of a statement and something that will come along with the new album release and it basically says that I've completed the trilogy of these three albums. It's really to tell people and show people with three albums that I haven't diverted.
The three albums have grown, the first two being Cobblestone Street and Museum and the new one coming out soon which is a full band album, but there in no question that when you hear the three albums that this is similar to Lord of the Rings. They belong together and it completely shows who Mike Tramp is. This is my eleventh solo album. I went solo in '96, the first album, Capricorn, came out in early '98 in the U.S. and it came out in '97 in Europe.
Meanwhile, I carried the backpack of White Lion and it was important for me to make a statement that the band will not reunite, under no circumstances, and you can probably find several reasons for that. I can easily say that the number one reason for that is Mike Tramp doesn't want it. Mike Tramp doesn't want to try to be Mike Tramp from 1988. Mike Tramp can't be Mike Tramp from 1988. That Vito (Bratta, White Lion guitarist) has decided not to play since the band broke up is a different story. Even though I had a small run with Tramp's White Lion in 2005 and 2007, maybe in reality I can't even come up with a legit excuse but I had to follow some pressure and questions in my own head if it was the right decision I was making. So when you go out and start doing stuff like that and it doesn't necessarily work for you, and I don't mean success-wise, I just meant the struggle I had with myself, it just tells you to do what it is you do. It told me to do what I had started in '96.
After White Lion, I had Freak Of Nature with three albums and I wasn't going to form another band and when you just have Mike Tramp, there is that sound. It's simply like that and it's never been confusing to me because the song writing has never changed for me, even in White Lion. When I brought ideas to Vito or when we were writing songs together it just started. And even when I play those White Lion songs tonight you hear them brought down to this level.
This might be a cheesy description but I probably play eighty songs in a much more honest way then other bands that try to do an acoustic set but try to emulate the electric riffs. I'm taking them down to a strumming, (Bruce) Springsteen and (Bob) Dylan way and that's where I come from. But you never had that chance to tell that story in 1987 and '88, nobody wanted to hear that kind of story. Metal Edge and stuff like that, it was a La-La-La world at that time, there was no time for deep backgrounds and stuff like that. You had to live that the life first before you could do the documentary.
When you do these stripped down shows where it's just you, do you get more of a connection and fulfillment with the people that allows you to show them exactly what your background is?
Yes and no, of course I do. Like yesterday when you go on stage and you don't really plan on anything but there's instant feedback. It ended up being a two and a half hour show just talking to the audience and telling stories and the comments after the show from the people it was like they witnessed something new. Now, I'm not doing anything new but they felt it.
I had a guy come up to me on the street and he asked me to play Mother that night because he lost his mother a week ago. Mother is a song off my latest album and I told him of course I would. He was a big guy in a Mötley Crüe tshirt and he was singing the songs and talking and he said, "I came to listen to the music but I before I left I found a friend." That's what I shine from the stage and that's my strength and helping people understand that sometimes I also wake up on the wrong side of the bed I want you guys to understand.
One thing is I expose myself by telling my stories but the thing that doesn't go down is the quality of the music. That's because I've followed my voice and I've followed what I can do and I will not attempt to do something that I can't. I also want to evolve and I want to be where I am in my soul and not try to keep holding on to a different attitude like the one you had at twenty-eight. It's just impossible.
Listen, I do see someone out there and to me they're almost becoming a joke. There are very few that can get away with things like that and it's almost like when you see your parents, even though I've only had my mom, but it's like when kids see their parents acting too young.
Even when I look back at the times in White Lion, we were young, we had a direction and at times we didn't know what we were doing. There were a lot of things we didn't know because we, together with a lot of other bands, were jumping on a train that went really fast and nobody knew where it was going. We were part of an evolution at that moment that hadn't finished so you go along, you look at the masses, you compare yourself to others and bit by bit you measure where things are and at times divide and divert off as you try to build your own world that sort of belongs to you.
Of course looking back now I have all the answers to that but at the same time I have all the answers to why things sometimes were confusing and why sometimes we made a wrong move which resulted in where the band ended up.
Do you get a love and satisfaction in what you have chosen to do now professionally that maybe you couldn't have in White Lion or do you look at it more as a progression?
Yes, that was one of the major battles I was fighting in many ways. On one hand, I was measuring myself up to David Lee Roth (Van Halen) and that's sort of what brought me to America. He was the epitome of the right front man. As a singer, a songwriter we're not even close, we're two different worlds and philosophies we're even further away. So that was one side that I wanted. That was the 80s and what that represented.
But, one of the dilemmas that Vito and I were facing, with him not being aware of it in reality, is I come from a background and a neighborhood of lots of friends. All of my friends in my life, anywhere in the world are still there and we're very close and it's how I exist. And here I was with this guy (Vito) writing Top 40, Top 10 songs, platinum albums and we could not even go out to lunch or the movie theater or spend a day off going to a museum or something like that. We had zero existence together except for writing songs, rehearsing and on stage. It's not due to friction, it was just something I didn't understand because I was a kid coming from Denmark and now I was in New York, living with my manager. I helped build his house and helped build his big rock club L'Amour in Brooklyn, New York.
So I've always been a hands-on guy. I wasn't really made for the 80s, I wasn't made for the Hollywood, Sunset Strip, Poison, Ratt thing. I wasn't made for hiding behind sunglasses, I wasn't made for sitting in limousines, I was uncomfortable to my true nature. Which is why when I did Freak Of Nature that was an underground band. We were out in the audience before the show, we stayed at fan's houses.
I built Freak Of Nature in the last week of White Lion and the vision in my head was to get back the feeling of opening the door to the rehearsal room and seeing four guys that I wanted to spend the time with. Not that I was coming to rehearsal to learn a song but that there were for guys that not only did I want to play with them, I wanted to hang out with them, we wanted to go out after and the next morning we started all over again. Three of the guys lived in my house and more of that then anything else, that is what reflected in the music and you can hear that. For the short time that that band existed that was the true essence of what it was.
We had it for a time in White Lion but more when we were playing live and rehearsing. We never had it socially. We had it building up to the Pride album. We had it the two years before and the heard work and the touring and the clubs and playing in Baltimore at Hammerjacks and stuff like that. This was when the band was a unit, we knew we had to go out there and kill and the second we started getting towards the big time it was separate dressing rooms and it was just one of those things that came.
You said that when it came to White Lion you and Vito could work together when it came to business but outside of that you had nothing in common outside of the band. Was it that way with the other guys?
No, no, no, no. James (LoMenzo) and I used to paint houses together and stuff like that. Greg (D'Angelo) and I would get together and change the oil in my car but Vito and I were White Lion.
I wouldn't say that it hurt me tremendously but obviously it did in many ways. There's nobody that understands it. There's nobody that understands why this man has not given a sound. In twenty-five years he's done one interview with Ed Trunk which was pro-Vito. Ed Trunk, myself and Vito grew up together. Eddie was with White Lion from the beginning, I lived at Eddie's house so he was the closest to us. So when Vito did the interview with Eddie it was all in favor of Vito and not very controversial.
I respect Vito for his choice but it's a gigantic fucking burden for me to carry the whole White Lion thing on my shoulders. Because at times I just end up telling you a joke about it. I just get tired so I have to say something funny about Vito. "But Vito, you fucking owe it to your fans bro. This is 2015, everybody has a Facebook and stuff like that. Make a fucking statement, if you don't want to open one yourself, make a statement and we'll put it on mine."
Do you have any contact with him?
We talk. We talk like once a year but it will never be him calling me.
When people come to see you performing now, what do you want to come across to them?
It's a great question because in the past there was anticipation before going on stage. It was like the racehorse at the gate and the thing about me is I'm adjusting but more I'm adapting to the circumstances that I'm in. I'm gonna come in and I'm going to go up onstage, most likely through the audience, then I get up there, I get my guitar and the second you hit the song you're capturing the people. But knowing that I'm that relaxed gives me so much confidence in delivering that people can see it in my eyes and you can see how comfortable they are. And now they absorb.
So it is a necessity that has turned into a benefit in the way that it was necessary for me to say, "I can't go out with any demands." Again, I'm traveling by myself so my whole concept is I come in through the front door and I leave through the front door and "through the front door" is going through the crowd and right after the show I go out and I sell my t shirts and take pictures with the people and it just works.
Can I do that with five hundred people? It might just need to be a little more controlled but we'll deal with that when that time comes.
When you're performing, what kind of feelings and vibes do you get from the crowd?
There definitely is because you can still hear a couple silly girls who are getting a little to drunk and still think they're at a Poison show and you can also look at a guy who maybe standing there and thinking through his life, when he was at that concert, a broken heart, losing a parent but that's the kind of feeling that I'm getting in looking at the crowd and the people listening. But people listening and feeling it because I am touching on some songs with some deep lyrics and stuff like that.
This is always what I've been and the word "I" in every single song has always represented Mike Tramp. It's never been fictional it's always been that. So it's nice when you know that people just stand there because you don't want people jumping around at this kind of stuff but you want people to laugh at the right time when I say something to bring them in and then you want people to absorb it because it is bringing back a lot of memories for people.
White Lion is not one of those bands that has been around like L.A. Guns playing five million shows since the 80s or something like that. And of course there are the ones who have followed me through everything I've done. I never would take advantage of anyone. I'm about inviting someone in who is the real deal and that's the kind of person that I am. I can use every dollar that I make but the gratitude and the reward that I get from small things that happens are replaceable. I didn't necessarily know that in 1988 but I knew I was going towards it.
When it comes to your writing style, have you always written your songs the same way?
Yeah. But there's no doubt that as I started White Lion there was a lot of searching. I had to find the rhythm of writing my first songs in English and stuff like that. I've always written in English but this was the first time that I stood behind it and was myself.
There's some trial and error and you move on from one thing because if you really want to get deep down into it and you go back to the first White Lion album, Fight To Survive, which is so, in many ways, not 80s. It's very, very dark and we are probably influenced by (Ronnie James) Dio and (Iron) Maiden then by anything else and that had a lot to do with the reflection of New York and doing this album in Frankfurt, Germany. When we got over that and started finding the image and the right clothes and James and Greg completed the band and then one thing led to another.
That album is definitely much more metal-ish. It's got a very New Wave of British Heavy Metal thing going.
Totally, Totally. I don't think we ever thought about that, Vito and I. We were just following what we were doing. For a long time I kind of didn't pay attention to that album and then you go back and besides Broken Heart there's no songs about love or anything it's all war and hell (laughs).
What would your ideal legacy be?
Like I've said and the statement I think I'm making with the new album.
I'm even calling it my best album. I can take it bigger production-wise. I can come with a band, I can make a big show and I can do it in a different way but I don't think I can get any more real of a person that I am. I am the complete butterfly now. Now it's just a matter of how you manage yourself and how you want to go in to the next chapter of your life. So from what people said yesterday when they came up to me and the comments people make from the show, that is my legacy right now. I don't want to be remembered for anything but that I was real. I don't have any goals anymore except for if I could have that wish of having twenty more of those years. I don't want to be twenty-six. Now I know everything, now I'm happy.
But a lot of my fans know I've written about my personal life, my wife and my children in my lyrics and that's a matter in itself but the thing about knowing yourself and not having to many questions anymore about all these different things and just accepting it and not fighting where you're going and being stubborn about it. The fact is we become one year older and it would be dreadful to wake up every morning trying to stop that because it would be impossible. So learning how to adapt to it and overcome the whole situation to me is the true gift. If I can do that year by year and my goal musically would be to draw the people so close to this feeling of what it's like to express your soul through music and things like that. And when it's not a job, but an extension of everything you are.
I've never sat down and wrote a song because I needed to do an album. Songs to me are simply something that comes to me the second I put my guitar on. I don't really rehearse, when I'm getting ready for a tour I go over the songs, but they're always there. The way I write songs is nothing needs to happen it's just the way I'm feeling. It's from the first chord I play and I will never take a guitar and start playing one of my songs. I'll play something and either it'll go to a song and I'll record a little or I'll just be jingling.
Mike, that's so much.
My pleasure, my pleasure.