INTERVIEW AND LIVE PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA
Mike Tramp is a Danish singer and songwriter, best known for his work on a very successful 80’s hard rock band, White Lion. Later, Tramp founded the band Freak of Nature, which released three albums before breaking up in the late 90s. Since then, Tramp has been a solo artist, and he has released eight albums, including the newest MUSEM, which came out earlier this year. People change over the years, and Mike Tramp is no exception here. Hard rocker days are long gone, and his last two albums have been totally acoustic, grown man albums that draw their inspiration from the ’60s and ’70s, where it all began. Tramp made his solo debut in Finland last October. Before the show, I sat down with Mike, and we discussed a variety of topics, such as Mike Tramp’s new musical direction, changes in life, the craziness of the ’80s, and the future of Mike Tramp. Read on!
MIKE TRAMP’S MUSEUM
Metal-Rules.com: Let’s start this interview about your latest album, MUSEUM. The album presents a very different Mike Tramp than what we are accustomed to in the past, or how you see it?
Mike Tramp: We are kind of talking about the DNA and stuff like that, and to me, my career looking back it has been an evolution. It’s something that started but something that didn’t stop there but kept growing and growing. In other terms, keep moving on and never just saying… Freak of Nature happened after White Lion because mentally, we were done with that kind of sound and that kind of way, and that kind of way of being in a band and what the ’80s had become and stuff like that. Freak of Nature happens because of that, and the sound of all that becomes five guys wanting all to break free of that, and after Freak of Nature, the solo career takes over, and I follow just what I am as a solo artist. Or what Mike Tramp is when he’s by himself and just sits with the guitar. I never for once went in there and just, “What should I do? Let me try to do something smart.” I simply just did what I am, and everything has just followed where I am mentally, and for a very short time, I got called back into trying to do a new version of White Lion, and I really regretted it. I did it, but it never felt right. The first thing that I wanted to do was change the band’s sound, and it completely defeats the purpose of going back and using the name, it’s only complete, and the second I woke up, it says no, no.
Metal-Rules.com: I saw the new version of White Lion in Sweden Rock. Was it in 2007? It was a good show, in my opinion.
Mike Tramp: Yeah. It was great and stuff like that, but when you are not there mentally, and you don’t believe in that anymore and things like that. It’s just the way it is.
Metal-Rules.com: With MUSEUM and its predecessor COBBLESTONE STREET, you’re back to where it all began. In a way, you have now made a full circle musically, right?
Mike Tramp: Yeah. Because I have gone back, I had come back to Denmark both mentally and also in music-wise because when I grew up in the early ’70s, with Kim Larsen and Bob Dylan and stuff like that. Because that’s what my mom was playing, and that was like freedom, a hippy movement that was very strong in Denmark. I didn’t know it, but later on, even in White Lion, I started understanding that I am where I come from. For a while, I wanted to be like the new David Lee Roth or something like that and all that kind of stuff. I couldn’t run away from my background that the way David Lee Roth had grown up and the way that I’d grown up are two completely different things. Mike Tramp had grown up in Denmark. All the social awareness of the world being a Dane – very similar, very aware. And America, Hollywood, just, what do they…it’s all just a party. Bit by bit, it began attaching itself to me with “you can’t write these silly lyrics anymore. It’s not who you are”. That’s where a song like “When The Children Cry,” “Little Fighter,” “Crying For Freedom,” “If Our Mind Is Evil,” and all those songs that the fans today who have grown with it understand that this is where White Lion and Mike Tramp is different from some of the other ones even though we all had the same long hair and the same kind of bands.
Metal-Rules.com: What makes the difference between Mike Tramp and all those other ones you’re talking about?
Mike Tramp: A lot of them don’t know what else to do. The difference between Tony Harnell and me, Michael Sweet, and Don Dokken is that their heart is what they are doing. That’s not Mike Tramp. Mike Tramp came from a different background, and then suddenly, one day, I discovered David Lee Roth and said, “that’s where we are going.” At the same time, my songwriting had come a lot from the more….you know because Van Halen is a party band, but I like more of the songs from like Journey and Reo Speedwagon, Kansas and of course Phil Lynott and stuff like that, and his lyrics. But in my collection is Springsteen, there’s Neil Young, Brian Adams, and other stuff. When I sit down and start playing Kim Larson, and that’s your mother’s milk. That’s just white rebellion when I started listening to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. And you know, Saxon, and all that because I was going through my rock and roll puberty. Bit by bit, they all slid off, and I returned to the “Yellow Brick Road” and things like that. I am a songwriter. When you see me perform Freak of Nature songs and White Lion songs, you will see that the songwriting could have been almost Kim Larsen. Because the simplicity is about the melody, it is things like that.
Metal-Rules.com: You just mentioned Phil Lynott, and it is no secret that you are a big fan of his and Thin Lizzy. I think that his influence is strongly present, especially on your newer albums?
Mike Tramp: This is what people will always go, “Yeah, yeah.” But I’m a fan of Phil Lynott when it comes to his songwriting, all the songs like “Romeo” and “Lonely Girl” or “Fight or Fall.” All his kind of country inspires songs, for his strumming guitar. This is where…. I think that THUNDER AND LIGHTNING have “Holy War” and it has “The Sun Goes Down,” the two songs I really like. But the sounds of THUNDER AND LIGHTNING had nothing to do with Thin Lizzy. Thin Lizzy is JOHNNY THE FOX and JAILBREAK and BAD REPUTATION; that sound of those two guitars and bass sounds like they should be in Allman Brothers. It was never big metal power chords stuff like that, and that’s where Lizzy always stood by himself, but then, later on, he got drowned. I wrote that in a seven-page article in a French magazine a long time ago says; even though I respect this like the second giant but Phil was lost there. Phil wanted that America sound and all that kind of thing like that, so when John Sykes came in and did then, Phil went with that stuff like that. He wanted that, but he had lost the path at that time.
Metal-Rules.com: As you said earlier, you’re kind of lucky because many of your fans have followed you in the ’80s, and they have now grown up with you. So they will probably understand your point and that people change.
Mike Tramp: In many ways, a lot of fans have been a similar mentality to me that they are moving on with their life; they get married, they got kids, but they want to hold onto Rock N Roll in some way. It’s a very difficult topic to talk about because you listen to something new, but it sounds like it’s old. It’s like the ’80s, and this is where we started talking about; of course, KISS and Alice Cooper is not the ’80s, but they have reinvented the sound of the ’80s. They come from a different time, but a lot of the ’80s bands, and you don’t need to name a spoon a name. But how do you carry on and bring something new and interesting? I can’t find a goddamn rock record that I liked listening to, and then you go back and listen to the ’70s, and you feel that “Wow! It’s so much alive there.”
Metal-Rules.com: So you always go back to the old stuff?
Mike Tramp Always “Laughs”
Metal-Rules.com: As you know, you can’t please always please everybody, and some fans don’t like your new direction. So, what do you want to say to them?
Mike Tramp: Then they are not fans. Those are the ones that haven’t moved on with their lives and don’t understand the whole thing of an artist. It’s like looking at an actress, an artist, and stuff like that and thinking that he’s going to play 10 movies, like Police Academy. Every time he’s done with a movie, he feels like, “I need to do this again,” Or a painter; he’s just painting the same thing again and again. I love AC/DC; I’m like a massive AC/DC fan. But of course, my passion is Bon Scott, and since BACK IN BLACK until now, it’s been the same album basically in many ways, and stuff like that. I’m not going to find a new one because I’m a Malcolm Young fanatic.
Metal-Rules.com: You are not going to give it even a chance?
Mike Tramp: Not like this, it’s just somebody going in and saying, “What would Malcolm do?” But to me, Malcolm is a foundation of AC/DC and stuff like that, and you know that. I talk with Ace Frehley; I became good friends with Ace. People keep forgetting how much of Ace is in KISS; it’s not just playing his role. He was the opposite of Gene and Paul in the vibe, in everything. The way he was and stuff like that, Space Ace. In fact, we did a tour with Ace’s band in the ’80s
Metal-Rules.com: In what year did it happen?
Mike Tramp: In 1986. It was Ace, Tod Howarth, John Regan, and Anton Fig on drums. Ace was really cool with Vito, they really got along well, and stuff like that, and Ace liked Vito a lot and brought him up on stage and played a lot of times too. Funny enough that later James ended up playing with Ace.
Metal-Rules.com: Another former White Lion member Greg (D’Angelo), also played briefly with Ace.
Mike Tramp: That I did not know.
Metal-Rules.com: Yeah. It was the early 90’s side. Greg and James are both played with Ace at the time.
GOING BACK TO THE ROOTS
Metal-Rules.com: You moved to the States in the early ’80s, and now after many phases, you have returned to live in Denmark. How does it feel to be back “home”?
Mike Tramp: I’m still a bit of a new mate in that way because I moved to Australia in 2000 and I was there with my x-wife and son at that time, and then I moved to Indonesia after that. I remarried, and I have my two children there, and then bit by bit, they started calling me back to Denmark, not because of anything but maybe just because of where you are. Every time when I go back, and I have my American place in LA, I go back, I go, “Holy shit! Is this where you still live?” I don’t recognize it anymore. I don’t recognize this way of no commitment, everybody is moving on so fast, but nobody is going anywhere. I’m a farmer by nature, I have lived together with my brother, and we have a farm in Denmark. We’ve got cattle and pigs and chickens and stuff like that, and it’s a great step away. So, when I go back into the music, I really love it. Yesterday I was building on the firm, and you know, so it makes me… I remember, and it started a long time ago. I remember coming off the stage with Freak of Nature; we played long shows and loud, and everybody is getting in the bed on the bus, and just before I get my headphones, I hear the drummer go… I say, “Holy shit! We just played loud rock n roll for two hours, and he’s going to start listening to Led Zeppelin, and I’m putting shut-eye just to get away from it. So when I wake up tomorrow, I go, “I love this.” I know a lot of people that I’m just an L.A. Guns 24 hours a day, and it’s like all I know. You know, sitting and drinking behind sunglasses, but I also feel like I am responsible to the audience who come see me. In every review that I read, even though it’s very, very simple what I do, people see what it is. There is no mystery.
Metal-Rules.com: Now, when you make these intimate acoustic shows, it certainly gives you a different perspective on things compared to the crazy times in the ’80s?
Mike Tramp: Yes, it has. Sure. It has. Now when I go back and look at it all, I know that this whole thing was meant to be somehow because I am the person I am. I remember when we toured with KISS; for example, it was our first arena tour, and we came on a bus, and there was a limousine to take us to the radio station. My God! I realize I was hanging out with the top riders and the roadies, and I said to the guys, “I’m going to drive in this big truck to the next show. I want to see America.” Even though I know I was a good frontman, and I looked the part, and I do the part, and Gene Simmons came up to me at the first show and said, “Mike Tramp! Coolest name in rock n roll.” I went, “Holy shit!” I just realized that I couldn’t escape in many ways, where I came from two fits down on the ground of Copenhagen, a little apartment. I never had a car, never had a dad. Just my mom and two brothers, and the closer I got… Freak of Nature, I think, brought me back to a band, back on the street. It was tough again, and I kept going back and back and back. Now I’m the person who goes up on stage, and after that, I go out and hang with the fans and talk to them, and I tell the stories, and I’m honest on stage, and you will see I invite them into who I am. I mean, what if you come to a show and you find out there is no back entrance? I have to go. So I have made myself as I come through the front door and I leave through the front door. It’s kind of just, “I cannot perform on stage if it’s not at least a meter and a half high.” Then you come into every space of the stage, and you go, “Well, then I can’t play.” So I go in and say, “Find me a corner, and I’ll play.” Of course, I’m always working and doing the best, but there is no situation that I cannot go in on.
Metal-Rules.com: But isn’t it funny that there are still a few of the 80’s bands and artists who still live in that time, such as Blackie Lawless, who do not want to face their fans under any circumstances?
Mike Tramp: Exactly. I see some people on the Monsters of Rock Cruise; still, I would say on the last two I was with my son, and I says, “We are here to be part of everything.” So, we ate with everybody; we walked around, everything like that. Half the bands I couldn’t find, and everybody is hiding in the cabin, and so I was just like, “What the fuck is the point of going on this without.”
REUNION BAND TALK
Metal-Rules.com: It sounds that you are not very convinced about any of the “reunion bands”?
Mike Tramp: No, not at all
Metal-Rules.com: You didn’t like even Van Halen when they did return with David Lee Roth a few years ago?
Mike Tramp: I can see with Dave, but Van Halen is a different caliber. They are one of the pillars of that.
Metal-Rules.com: How did you like A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH?
Mike Tramp: I don’t take anything Van Halen does seriously because DLR says one thing… I think what everybody likes is just the comfort of him, Eddie’s guitar, Alex’s snare drum, and Dave’s voice. But because Eddie had gone out and said all this shit about Michael Anthony…and Michael Anthony is the nicest guy in rock and roll, he balanced it in Van Halen, always there with a smile, I totally lost all of that thing again.
Metal-Rules.com: So you lost your respect to the band after they fired Michael?
Mike Tramp: Well, I lost respect for Van Halen when they put Gary Cherone in the fucking band and did the worst album I’ve ever heard on the face of this earth. I’ve heard this album one time… And I will never again get even close to anything VAN HALEN III… “Laughs.”
Metal-Rules.com: But was it really Gary’s fault if the album tanked?
Mike Tramp: Yes, it was because if they’d called me, I’d of said: “I’m not good enough for this.”
Metal-Rules.com: But maybe he was just after fame and money?
Mike Tramp: I don’t think he was after fame and money. I know that he came in because someone within the family thought it was a great idea. C’MON! You can’t just go in and replace [the singer]… No way!
Metal-Rules.com: In a way, it is the same type of thing KISS does when they put Tommy Thayer dress-up as Ace Frehley on stage?
Mike Tramp: Yeah. To Ace Frehley, it would be, to all the other crowds who go to see KISS like they go to see a circus or a show that doesn’t have any… You go to see the history. Today you’ve got fans bringing their kids just to see the fire and explosions and not understand. They don’t even know or care that Paul Stanley can’t sing anymore. It’s a different thing, but you can’t fight. Even though I try to do it, I can’t fight the KISS machine. It is what it is, and it’s something that, you know, Gene opens restaurants. I’ve had conversations with Gene, and I sat there, and to me, he’s just the epitome of everything, and it works, and if you’re in the game for the business, and you have a brand like KISS, there are no other brands like that. Then you have, following KISS, you have Alice Cooper, who again is an image who again doesn’t require necessarily a lot of vocal, you know…and you could put any band behind him, and you could do the Alice show, and you could make it work. Then you got Motley Crue and stuff like that that just brings all the trash into the band, but the band itself doesn’t work anymore. But when you bring all the chaos and drama into it, you just ***** it; you can’t do that with Bon Jovi. You can go out there and see Bon Jovi, and yes, he’s still out there playing stadiums, but this ain’t a great fucking band. And his five last albums have been nothing but SHIT, and he’s got more money in the world than anything, and he still manages to do shit albums. And his show is not at that level anymore. It’s just really the reality of saying, ok, the thing in sports, like when players in hockey or whatever…they retire when they can’t play on this level.
Metal-Rules.com: But if you think of bands and/or musicians who started this whole thing, such as The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, etc. If they are not dead, the fact is that none of these guys has been fully retired. But they continue to the end. Is that you think it a good thing or a bad thing?
Mike Tramp: To a certain degree, it’s not. Unless you do it, which is why like a person like Robert Plant and I’m not trying to put myself in the same league, but you follow where you want to bring your music. The ’80s is not a good decade to be playing at when you are 65. Mike Tramp is not going to sit and say forbid people to do it, and it’s just because it was so image-minded and those pants and that hair. Doing work well when you don’t have the hair. At the highest respect. Why should Robert Plant go out with Led Zeppelin and feel, “I can’t sing these songs the way I sang when I was 21 years old”?
Metal-Rules.com: Let’s talk a little bit about your future plans. You have now done these acoustic shows for a couple of years?
Mike Tramp: Three years, yeah.
Metal-Rules.com: Do you feel that this is now a thing you want to do in the future?
Mike Tramp: Yeah. It is what I’m going to do. I’ve also said to the fans that if they want it to be a rock album, a full band album it would have to be a project. I’m not going to start a band today when there is no future for a band. You spend half a year bringing the band back together or put a band together, and then you find out you have no money to tour because you can’t tour under a new band’s name. I’m not going to tour with a new band and call it White Lion; that’s different when Mike Tramp was up by himself.
Metal-Rules.com: How about putting together Freak of Nature or built a new version of it?
Mike Tramp: I met with the guys back after my last American tour, and we just got together in a rehearsal room and said, “That’s how we are going to meet.” We played in the evening. But everybody has a life, and nobody wants to go out and play in a van and tour some clubs. I wouldn’t do a new version of Freak of Nature because there is only one Freak of Nature. There is not enough money in it to bring a band together when each individual has a family. It’s different if you were 21 years old.
Metal-Rules.com: But what if you do just a few selected gigs, for example, some festivals?
Mike Tramp: I’m open to anything… But White Lion would never happen. Because White Lion without Vito would not happen will not happen, it’s as simple as that. The door is closed, and Vito is not someone that’s going to come back after 30 years and go, “Now we are putting the band back together.” I can’t sing like I did when I was 26 years old.
Metal-Rules.com: Have you ever thought of working again with James Lomenzo because he seems to be really active in the music business?
Mike Tramp: The thing is, I love James, and I thought that the best thing James had done was Pride and Glory, that first album. I was a huge fan of it, and it is still one of my favorite rock albums, and then it fell apart, and James has been in 50 bands since then. As much as I love James, James will never be in a band that has… It’s safe for work, he will not start a band, and they go to the studio. The last I heard was he was part of this Sweet Lynch, which is like a Michael Sweet, George Lynch and Brian Tichy, and James LoMenzo. I hear a demo and go, “Holy shit, man! You guys are doing ’80s music.” Then before I’ve turned the next page, James is already on tour with somebody else, and Brian Tichy is on tour with two other projects. So I don’t take any of that stuff seriously. But each on his, they are free to do whatever they want.
Metal-Rules.com: Now, when you mentioned Sweet Lynch, that’s another project put together by Frontiers. Have they been in contact and asked if you would like to do similar projects like Sweet Lynch with them?
Mike Tramp: You know, they call me every week “Laughs.” Serafino sent me a message saying something like, “Mike! I want to make your career big again.” I’m going, “I’m happy with my career.” Then he sends me songs from some guy; I say, “I have already done FIGHT TO SURVIVE; it was 30 years ago. Why would I want to do an album like that again?” I did a legendary rock album, that’s the way that is like football; premier league especially, English teams owned by Russian buying players and saying, “Okay! Now I have got the best players in the world, and I’ll play good football.” Understanding that there is a reason why a band is like that. The difference between John Lennon and Paul and Ringo Starr is what makes The Beatles, even though John and Paul wrote all the songs. Balance; you can’t have 10 Ronaldo’s on a team; it doesn’t balance. That’s why you can’t put super bands together, and they are not super bands together, but these new bands with Doug Aldrich, Jack Blades, and the drummer of Journey and Doug is a friend of mine. But would you please tell me what great song did Doug Aldrich ever play or write? Just tell me one, because there isn’t any. This is what it is because you’ve got cool-looking hair and a great thing with guitar, and they don’t have “Lady of the Valley,” they don’t have “Little Fighter.” I’m going to be playing 10 hits tonight, and it’s just one of those things. You are spoiling it.
Metal-Rules.com: But is it an entirely impossible idea that you would join some “supergroup” and make some “easy money” with that?
Mike Tramp: Nothing is out of the question. But the thing is, I’ve been talking to people about it, and they think that it is that easy. Then you go, “ok, now we put a band together.” And you guys all want to go out now and taste a bit of rock stars, you talk about Danes now, the second you get to Hamburg, you always get “Ohhh… it’s so tough in here, and it’s not as comfortable as back in Denmark, where we have a set of freebies. What is this going to sound like? You want Mike Tramp more for the name than for what I will do because I will only sing what I can and how it should sound. So the thing is that you go over to the guitarist, and he’s [imitates guitar playing] “dunn diga diga….” and I say, “No, I’m not going to sing “Crazy Train,” you know. You put Mike Tramp with Toni Iommi, and it won’t sound like Dio. I’m too strong in my own ways of singing and writing songs. I already tried to go across America twice with a new version of White Lion, and there really wasn’t a market. Maybe there are a couple of good gigs like Monster of Rock cruises and stuff like that. Like I said to you, I personally don’t think there’s any reunion bands of those bands I’ve played with that are great. I did a show with Y&T; of course, it’s only Dave Meniketti. Now Dave still has the identical voice, he still sings just as great, and he plays a great guitar, so when you’re staying out there, and of course, the other guys (from Y&T) were never really well known, you feel like you are watching Y&T. Ok, so that’s an example like that. Journey got a new singer that sounded closer to Steve Perry than Steve Perry. They were always a great band. Then you got this….. W.A.S.P. has not gotten better. Queensryche has not gotten better. Dokken has not gotten any better. And who is in L.A. Guns?! That’s simply just the way it is. But you know, if the fans love that kind of stuff, I don’t know who loves going and seeing Paul Di’Anno doing like a 10th farewell tour and not remembering the lyrics and stuff like that. I am NOT going to go out like that.
Metal-Rules.com: Okay, Mike. I think this is enough by now. See you later on the show.
Mike Tramp: Thank you and see you on the show.