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Interview conducted June 08 2016
Interview published June 17 2016

"I can't be Mike Tramp, 27 years old, and I don't wanna go up there and be fat Elvis."

Metal Covenant met up with former White Lion and Freak Of Nature vocalist Mike Tramp after his solo show at this year's edition of Sweden Rock Festival. Mike was one of the first acts out on the entire festival and his set was just over 45 minutes and included 4 songs off his solo stuff and 5 songs off the old White Lion records. This Danish veteran is really a sincere guy, who's trying to stay true to what he does and he seems very excited about his music even to this very day.

"A lot of those bands I honestly don't believe. I think they're really just doing it to continue making money."

Tobbe: You guys seemed to have a great time up there on the stage today.

Mike: You know what? It's nice being a part of it. A lot of people think that this is just bands coming and playing, but this is all a celebration of rock 'n' roll. Let's just look at us. We're alive. We're alive and we ain't changing. So we had a great time and I'm not gonna go up on stage anymore in my life if I'm not gonna enjoy it.

I'm not out there like one of the biggest rock bands in the world, making millions of dollars, and not looking at the other guys. But, you know, I like being up there, feeling good, looking at people and saying "You know what? We're all the same. I'm just a little higher tonight.".

Tobbe: So, you have said that there won't be any more White Lion, of any kind, and why shut the door completely and not keeping it a little bit open?

Mike: I think that if you keep the door open, then you're not serious about sort of what you do. Maybe it's just that there are different ways of looking at what you do. What I do is my life. I'm not for sale for another football team when the season's out. I commit so much to what I do. My songs and my lyrics are about my life. So in many ways, you know, if you just feel that you can just jump left and right then I don't feel that I'm sincere enough. There is a reason why White Lion broke up in '91 and that was that I was ready to move on, OK?

A lot of people see it from the outside. They're not in the room and then you have to go and say "If you come from a divorced family, remember how it was when your mom and dad didn't like each other? That is how it feels to be in a band when it doesn't work anymore.". You know, when Greg [D'Angelo, drums] and James [LoMenzo, bass] left the band, even though they're not the songwriters of the band, already there the friendship is broken and the magic is broken. And once I started Freak Of Nature I could feel in myself that that's where I wanna be. So everything that I've done is I followed how I wanted to be.

And then of course came the time when I went back, on my word, and actually did a new incarnation of White Lion and first of all, I've said it many times, I regret doing it. I was here [Sweden Rock Festival] 10 years ago, doing a show, we filmed, we did a great show, but the first thing that I did, in putting a new version of White Lion together, was that I wanted to change the sound of the band and then I look back and "It doesn't make sense.". "Why do you try to do a new version of White Lion and then try to make it sound like UFO?". But what it really tells me is just that "You don't wanna do this!".

And I have followed my voice. I have followed where my voice wanted to be and I have followed where I wanted to be as an artist. In how I talk to you, in how I am on stage and stuff like that. It's like the logo is bigger than the people on stage 'cause nobody's original members anymore. If somebody else wanna be out there and do that, that's fine, but Mike Tramp is a man with both feet on the ground and somebody that when I write the lyrics, man, I invite you into my soul. And I can't do it any other way. I have to give you 100 percent of how I feel. I'm not gonna hide anything.

Tobbe: The demand for a White Lion reunion is not as big as it was 10 years ago, so has the train already left the station?

[Mike misinterprets my words and starts talking before I have even finished my question fully. Probably because he's so used to answer questions about when or where a reunion would take place.]

Mike: That's because there's somebody sitting somewhere thinking that if White Lion gets back together we're gonna sell a million records and play big places. And then you go out somewhere in America and you play for 25 people and then you go "That was then.". I do understand that there are a couple of people of older bands and musicians that still put on a great show and quality musicians. But it's only a few, in my opinion. And sometimes the legacy is better and sometimes I've had to come up with a really awkward explanation.

And this is what it is, so prepare yourself: It's like the parents that's getting a knock on the door, and there's a policeman, saying "Your son got killed on a motorcycle.". And then they go to the hospital and stuff like that and then the doctor comes out and he says "Mrs. Try to remember how he looked this morning. You don't wanna see what's in there.". And that's how drastic I see it. I can't be Mike Tramp, 27 years old, and I don't wanna go up there and be fat Elvis. I want people to remember me in White Lion, from that time, and remember how the albums sound. When I'm up there playing old White Lion songs today, as the way my band is, the songs sound like how I sound today, and that's what it's about.

Tobbe: I saw the gig today and you changed a couple of songs really, like When The Children Cry, and kind of the new version of Broken Heart.

Mike: I couldn't go up there and just go through the emotion, but I'm sure that you could feel that my new songs and the old songs…it's the same. It's the same songwriter and when I bring the songs down, lower the key a little, I want you to see that there's a 55 year old man up there who's lived a big life. I've taken care of myself, but I want you to feel that this is a man coming back from a big sailing trip around the world, a journey, and then telling the story. Not somebody going out there pretending they are, like, still the same.

Tobbe: Most musicians, besides the absolute huge artists, both in popularity and creativity, have like a time-span of 5-10 years like you had with White Lion. So when you started Freak Of Nature, was it tough to not be that celebrated star anymore?

Mike: I was actually running away from it. Freak Of Nature for me was about getting my sanity back. It was about that I wanted to show up to rehearsal and open the door and see 4 guys smiling and say "Yeah! We're gonna have fun!". I wanted to be with my brothers, and that's how that band was built. I mean, it's really hard to explain, that 2 people, Vito Bratta and myself, that wrote such big songs, never once in our life went to the movies together and never once in our life went out, only us 2, to have dinner. We had zero friendship.

Tobbe: So let's move on to your solo career for a little bit. Your latest album, Nomad, like summed up the last few years of your career, so how do you look at a forthcoming record? Is it like a fresh start or something else maybe?

Mike: It is a fresh start, but it's maybe just in reality being more true to the artist that I am. I've always written the songs the same way. A lot of the White Lion songs started the way I play them today, okay? Then Vito would take them, but the construction of the writing on the song has always been on an acoustic guitar, all right? And, you know, over the last 4 or 5 years I've been traveling around the world just with an acoustic guitar and playing a lot of songs from the White Lion era and a lot of the new ones and when I play them live, again, just myself, you will see that all the songs come from the same place.

So that to me is more about…just like this thing [Whatever he's eating.]. It's white, and I don't wanna do anymore with it. It's fine the way it is. You know, it's kind of like people baking a cake, with cream, and "More! More!". How about it if it was just the cake? That, of course, is a choice. There's people that see it in the opposite way, but this is the way Mike Tramp sees it. So I want people that identify with what I do, saying "When you go to see Mike Tramp, that's what you're gonna get.". Almost my only goal is just that you understand what I am as an artist and my last 3 solo albums clearly speak for themselves.

There might be some old rock fans that don't like that. And that's fine, but to me it's all about saying "That's Mike Tramp! That is how Mike Tramp sounds. That's how Mike Tramp writes.". The fans that have followed me and like what I do understand the journey that I'm on. They understand the world that I'm inviting them into.

Tobbe: Playing acoustically has always been a big part of your music, but a few years ago you went fully acoustic live, so why did you decide to put that direction to your live sets at that point?

Mike: It was all about just saying "Okay. Let's just go back and start here! And then build it.". So you go out there, maybe, with just an acoustic guitar and the songs, and you test and you see "Let's see how strong it is in its purity.". And then the first album, called Cobblestone Street [2013], was almost acoustic. And then the next one [Museum, 2014] just took one step and then the third one, Nomad [2015] too, and now there's a fourth one coming next year. It's great to just go back again. The journey starts over.

Tobbe: So what do your recent albums have, if people would just listen to them, that could actually attract your older fans to get back to Mike Tramp again?

Mike: But you know what? Either they like it or they don't. This might be a little difficult to say, but I feel that I might be one of all the people through the 80's, you know, just to take an example, that has been most honest to myself, and very few artists, that I've toured with, and played with, and competed against, and being in the same magazine with, have done what I've done and been so specific in how he is as himself as a solo artist. There's no tits and ass in my lyrics.

I sing and write and tour after tour those fans see themselves in my songs. And this is a total opposite of Whitesnake and this is a total opposite of a lot of other bands. A lot of those bands I honestly don't believe. I think they're really just doing it to continue making money. I need to make a living too, but I will never write a song or record an album as the point in making money. That is impossible for me and that's a tough choice.

Tobbe: About your back-up band, Lucer. Why exactly did you choose those guys to back you up and not someone your own age?

Mike: Oh, because they fucking complain and want all this money. [Laughs] It's nice that while you're starting your journey again, and you're traveling with people that's seeing it for their first time, you get a lot of energy, because you see how much they appreciate it and it rubs off on you. There's even bands in this festival that would show up and complain and think "It's not the old days. That's not like this.". Who the fuck wants to live like that?

You know what? It's fine that they're that way, but that's just not who Mike Tramp is. All I need to explain to you is: I am me and I'm not changing for anyone and if this is as far as I get or as big as I get, then that's the way, but I will just know that I have not compromised on anything. Everything that I do; everything that I sing is 100 percent. There is no boss in my life. I'm my own manager. Nobody decides anything. I just wanna do what I do.

Tobbe: So what will the next, or maybe the last, 15-20 of Mike Tramp's career look like?

Mike: I can actually imagine myself in 10-15 years, because I will design myself and my songs to the age and to the place that I am. I can't fucking be 56 years old and writing about 16 year old girls. I'm a father.

Tobbe: When you first started out, in the 70's, and even in the 80's, there wasn't so much competition as it is nowadays, so was it easier to be a musician back then than it is now?

Mike: That was a good rock'n'roll time. I was just so young and I didn't understand it. The world was different and the business was different. There was a lot of money. Record companies are about making money, but they were out there listening and looking at bands and people were taking changes and then of course MTV was playing rock videos. And rock'n'roll radio. With no internet there was not all that bullshit.

Tobbe: If you're looking at your last name today, when you're 55 years old, would you have taken the name Tramp as your stage name?

Mike: [Laughs] Well, it goes together with Nomad and the name of my book is Vagabond, so you know, overall it fits perfect. Who would have thought that, man? It's kind of like John Cougar Mellencamp and suddenly someday I might say, you know "Can you just call me Michael? That's how I was born.". It's a journey and you go through it and you do all this, like you color your hair and you cut your hair and then one day you just find "Now, I've come home. I'm comfortable and this is the way I'm gonna go out.".

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