Power of Metal.dk Interview

Interview with Mike Tramp, September 2014

Mike Tramp (real name Michael Trempenau, b. Jan.1961) has come a long way from the fledgling days of his early career with Pop Rock band Mabel (later renamed Studs). In the 1980s, fronting White Lion, he earned himself fame, chart success and enduring admiration. Following the lamented end of White Lion, Mike went on to front Freak Of Nature, with whom he released 2 studio albums (plus a rarities retrospective). 

During the last 5 years Mike Tramp has devoted all his energies to his solo career and a few weeks ago he released his 9th solo album: “Museum”. A tour throughout Europe promoting the album followed. With memories of the London date still fresh in my mind, I approached Mike with a few questions.

Last week I saw you perform your solo acoustic set. Are you really doing everything yourself during the tour? No crew, no merchandise seller, no stage tech, no tour manager……just Mike Tramp? 

MT: This all started in 2012 when I went into the studio in need of hearing some new music come out of speakers and also seeing where I was musically. A week later I walked out with Cobblestone Street (finished album) under my arms and a new way of looking at things. At the same time it was me coming back to my roots, me coming home. A few weeks later, I asked myself, What would happened if I just went out there with my guitar and voice and played the songs I love and my fans love. Three years later I have played almost 400 shows and yes done it all alone. I don't know, but it feels like the most natural thing to me.

To what extent was “Museum” written with these acoustic shows in mind?

MT: When recording Museum all I was thinking about was just writing and recording a great album, the kind of album that takes you through a lot of changes, but still guided by the same singer and songwriter. I didn't consider my live shows or even let them dictate what I could or couldn't do. Once again with this album - like Cobblestone Street - I experienced total freedom in creating my music.

In “Museum” you’ve got a song called ‘Mother’. This is not the first time you’ve made reference to this person in your songs. How important have family values been in your musical career?

MT: I have a very little family, with my dad taking no part in it at all. So my mom was always the rock that held it together, and word for word the song describes her life. I left my home at age 15&1/2 and moved in with a band 10 years older than me. My mom gave me the freedom but also the trust and faith in that I would do right, and make the right choices. In reality she didn't have a choice cause it was a hard life raising three boys on her own, working as a waitress all night. This song will always stand as a reminder of who raised me, how I was raised and the freedom I was given. Today I only have my two brothers and my younger brother and I are like one.

You seem to have developed a solid working relationship with producer/guitarist Søren Andersen – what is it like working with him?

MT: I would have had that with many, if they weren't fuck ups and their priority wasn't girls, party and booze.

Søren is a multi-talented guy, no doubt, but most importantly he see and knows who Mike Tramp is. So he just takes what I give him and adds the right amount of salt and pepper and never doing the wrong thing. So why would I not keep working with him!

I’d like to ask a few questions related to the early period of your career….before White Lion you had taken a number of life-changing decisions, relocating first to Spain and then to U.S.A.. Are you still prepared to take whatever risks necessary to forward your music career?

MT: Today I spoke with a friend about my journey, which has taken me from Denmark to Spain to USA to Australia to Indonesia and back to Denmark, and in every place I have left a bit of my heart and soul, so it is heavy on your health. I don't need to make anymore moves because of my career. My music is at home and no matter where I go, I am me and myself and nothing is going to change that. Now could I just have my children with me, then I'd consider myself being happy.

Going from Studs to White Lion must have involved a significant change of mentality with regards to doing music. When putting together the first White Lion songs, how much did your singing and songwriting change in comparison to what you had done before?

MT: I think it is all one answer and it's called growing into what you want to be. I wasn't mature or fully developed in either Studs or White Lion, but my love for a certain sound and my own way of writing melodic memorable songs, has never changed. I know I have a style that is me; it has just taken a long time to be totally comfortable, convincing and truthful in what I am doing. Now I am here and you can't move me, I am solid rock.

What circumstances gave rise Freak Of Nature’s demise?

MT: There is only one way to be a real band and that is that the band is equal in all parts. Still the weakness lies in everyone and when i saw it show up in individual members, I closed down the factory and left a great legacy of a killer band.

Your first solo album (“Capricorn” of 1997) featured members of Freak Of Nature. Was there any thought of doing another Freak Of Nature album immediately after the release of “Capricorn”?

MT: Capricorn happened because I had ended Freak of Nature due to the reasons above. Still outside the old band we were still all great friends and still are.

Jerry [Best – bass player] and Kenny [Korade – guitarist] played on the album because they understood what I was going for and their own roots were in that kind of sound and songwriting.

Speaking of which…..I noticed “Capricorn” has some lyrics which appear to be quite dark (‘Better Off’…‘Running Out Of Life’…). What were you going through at the time that spurned you to write such songs?

MT: I am actually a very dark person, without confusing me with King Diamond. I prefer to write from the dark corners of my soul, and since the day I went solo. The word "I" represents me in all songs. I am always dealing with pain, anger and much sadness and it doesn't go away.

Is it more challenging to write and record songs by yourself or to channel your creative energies with other musicians?

MT: It all depends on what you are going for. I did two solo albums under the name Mike Tramp & The Rock'n'Roll Circuz. The band had so much influence on the arrangement and the performance, and it was like a band, it felt like a band. So even though they were all my songs, I wanted to point out that this was the sound of a band playing, and not studio musicians behind me. Both albums were also done with Søren Andersen.

Do you miss performing in large arenas?

MT: No not at all, there are many who confuses the dream about being a rockstar with getting the reward from writing great songs and seeing them come alive. I come from a background of very little, and actually found many parts of succeeding difficult. I have never enjoyed the image of being a rockstar, but I know I had to go through a lot to get to who i am today, and today I am happy as an artist, even if I play in clubs for a 100 people, still my music is pure and I don't do one single thing that i don't want to.

You have toured with several bands over the years but I’m particularly interested in the time Freak Of Nature toured with Dio. What are your memories of that tour and how much did you try to emulate Dio?

MT: It was possible the smallest support tour I have done, but it was always great to hear Ronnie sing the old Rainbow and Sabbath songs and he was a true gentleman. I or we never tried to emulate Ronnie one tiny bit. We were Freak of Nature and we believed in ourselves and in what we were doing.

From a distance I think I recognised tattoos of Jimi Hendrix and Phil Lynott on your arms…could you talk to me about the characters tattooed on you?

MT: They are Lynott, Springsteen and Dylan. They're my heroes because I identify with their way of song writing and their songs have always spoken to me.

Some questions about White Lion…..why had White Lion re-recorded the band’s debut album “Fight To Survive” before it was actually released? Were the songs in version 2 significantly different from version 1?

MT: You are talking about Pride, not Fight to Survive. We didn't have a record deal when we recorded FTS in Frankfurt, Germany 1984. So in 1986 when we also did not have a deal, we went back to the same studio to do the same with Pride, but when we returned to New York and sat down and listened to the final mix, together with our manager. We knew it wasn't good enough and we knew we needed to do it in a better environment. Vito and I re-wrote a lot of the songs and the band changed a lot of the original arrangements, and then in early 1987 we went to Los Angeles and recorded Pride with Michael Wagener.

Were you aware of the issues concerning Vito’s health and family when you first attempted to get White Lion back together?

MT: I have never been aware of any health issues and I think it's just a wild fire started by someone, because people find it hard to understand why one of the most talented guitar players and songwriters, would no record and play or even talk his fans for over 20 years and more. At the same time my attempt at creating a second run with White Lion never included any original members. Today I regret that I even tried to do it, ‘cause I didn't enjoy it one bit and it was a mistake.

[Around the turn of the millennium, Mike Tramp tried to resurrect White Lion without the classic line-up of Vito Bratta (guitar), James Lo Menzo (bass) and Greg D’Angelo (drums). This led to a series of wranglings with Vito’s legal representatives. Eventually Tramp released a handful of live and studio albums under various permutations of the name White Lion.]

Do you feel bitter about the legal disputes with Vito following your resurrection of White Lion without him?

MT: Not bitter but irritated...

When writing “Mane Attraction”, was there a feeling that it might be the band’s last album?

MT: No not at all, Vito and I felt like we were on a rescue mission after we had mixed feeling about how we were rushed into doing Big Game, when we needed a long break to evaluate what had just happened with the huge success of Pride and 2 years on a world tour. At the same time we both felt we knew what we wanted to do and that we had great songs. Mane attraction is a very strong album.

James LoMenzo and Greg D’Angelo went on to play with bands and musicians such as Zakk Wylde, Megadeth and Ace Frehley. How would you describe their contribution to White Lion? Are you still in contact with them?

MT: I have had almost zero contact with Greg D'Angelo since the split in 1991. James and I are great friends and are in contact all the time.

White Lion with Greg and James was White Lion, without them it was not White Lion. Even though I can't put a name on their contribution, I will say that they did their part as we did ours and they are each a 1/4 of the sound and what White Lion is and was. There is only one White Lion and James and Greg are part of that.

When I saw you performing in London last week, you mentioned an interesting analogy where you compared your music to a hidden pub. Could you please share that with our readers?

MT: It seems that some reviewers or even fans have a hard time understanding when an artist moves onward. At the same time I am also describing that the road and choice I have taken, might not be every rock-fan's cup of tea or pint of ale. But there comes a time when I am that flavour, taste or craving and then I am the one who delivers just that. I am happy living in the dark corners, and not the limelight. I trust in myself and I trust in music...

What 5 albums should no-one be without (excluding White Lion/Freak Of Nature/your solo albums)?

High Voltage : AC/DC

A Night at the Opera : Queen
Born to Run : Springsteen
Led Zeppelin 2 : Led Zeppelin
Jailbreak : Thin Lizzy

Do you plan to keep releasing solo albums for the foreseeable future or are you open to opportunities to work in band scenarios?

MT: Yes I do plan to write, record and release more solo albums, and at the same time I am also open to interesting ideas that come my way. Now building a band the old fashion way, that just isn't an option these days, so it would be more like a recording project where each musician goes back to his own after.

See the video of ‘Trust In Yourself’ taken from “Museum”:

© 2014 - Chris Galea

Mike Tramp - Museum

Label: Target Records

- www.youtube.com/user/trampofficialtube
- www.facebook.com/MikeTrampOfficial
- www.myspace.com/miketramp


2014              Museum
2013              Cobblestone Street
2011              Stand Your Ground
2009              The Rock 'N' Roll Circuz
2004              Songs I Left Behind
2003              Rock ‘N’ Roll Alive
2003              More to Life Than This     
2002              Recovering the Wasted Years                 
1997              Capricorn 

Freak of Nature
1994              Gathering of Freaks
1993              Freak of Nature  

White Lion
2008              Return of the Pride
1991              Mane Attraction
1989              Big Game
1987              Pride
1985              Fight to Survive  

1981              Studs (Spain)  

1981              Extraños
1979              We Are The 80's
1978              Mabel 4-Ever
1978              Message From My Heart
1977              Another Fine Mess!


Interviewed by Chris Galea