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Interviews   

Mike Tramp: the hard rocker who wasn’t really one


With his new solo album, Cobblestone Street, Mike Tramp reveals us in the most sincere and authentic way what he’s always been: an acoustic artist. Even during White Lion’s golden age or Freak Of Nature’s sleazy and grungy era, Mike Tramp tells us, his compositions were born that way, before being transformed and played with distortion. That’s why he insists on breaking the falsest idea that people have concerning his personality: he’s no hard-rocker. But has this difference, this particularity, precisely, let all the bands he was into to allow themselves to stand out from others? Starting from this analysis, Mike Tramp reveals us in the following interview – or rather the following talk – his personality and his story. His sincere words will certainly interest his fans and will allow us to see his past works from a fresh perspective and therefore to understand them more.

Talking about past works, Mike Tramp did not skimp on confessions and revelations about White Lion, about the Return Of The Pride record, and about his ex-mate Vito Bratta, whom he’d want to act and answer to all the questions the fans have in mind.

Mike Tramp answered freely and wholeheartedly to our questions, and showed us how friendly and pleasant a man he is to talk to.

« This is not the singer from Slayer deciding to do an acoustic album. I’m an acoustic artist way before I’m a hard rocker. »

Mike Tramp: Philippe, how are you?

Radio Metal: I’m fine and you?

Yes, thank you very much!

So let’s start the interview! Are you ready?

Yes. Actually we’re not going to do an interview, we’re going to have a conversation… (Laughs)

Yes, that’s a good state of mind! The album is called Cobblestone Street and in the song of the same name you’re singing that this is where you were born. Not everybody remembers the street where he was born. What’s so special about it? Why did you dedicate the album to it?

Well, you know, I use it as a metaphore. There’s so much more depth in that song than just that sentence. Because, when I’m singing « Don’t fade away old Cobblestone Street », I’m really talking about a time period when I started discovering music, just at the end of the 60s, the end of The Beatles, with a whole new wave of music comming in. And those years were about to be going on for the next ten years. And everything that went on in that time period basically made me what I am today. And I remember the day when they came with the big machines and put asphalt over the Cobblestone Street, it also became the end of that time period in my life and I moved on. And here I am some many years later, in reallity with this album doing exactly everything that I absorbed back then when those days were happening.

Why did you choose an all-acoustic context for Cobblestone Street?

I know it’s going to sound like that to most people listening to that but the thing is that all through the career of Mike Tramp, that is the way I have written songs and shown up to the studio with the songs. Then we have just turned them into band songs and, of course, there you have White Lion, Freak Of Nature and then my first solo albums. But to me there isn’t really any difference between any of the songs that I’ve written through that time period, in term of how they were created or how they were written. For me it’s just a matter of saying: « You know what? Now I’m not going to do anything else except for just the vocals and the guitar. And let it be a really raw and personnal take at how Mike Tramp sounds when he’s almost just by himself. » So this is not an unplugged album from a rock artist. This is an honest album from the songwriter and artist that I am. I just happen to be known to be a rock singer for two rock bands. So that’s sort of the mountain that people have to get over to understand this. But then at the same time there’s many people who listen to the album and feel it’s the most natural thing for them and that this is who Mike Tramp is.

You’ve been on a solo career for sixteen years now, and I’m including the Rock n’ Roll Circuz in it. Your solo band seems to be your main act now. Is it because it’s easier to have control over your own name and band compared to the bands you had in the past?

Not really, there’s no form of ego involved in this choice. When I was finished with White Lion, I was also finished with the sound of what the 80s had become, and when Freak Of Nature broke up after a couple of albums, I didn’t have any more soul and energy to create a third band, and in that case it would have been my fourth band. It’s just like being married four times and just think it’s going to be beautiful everytime you start over. I felt that in 95 when I started writing Capricorn and decided that, here on, I would be a solo artist, that I didn’t have anymore to give to a band, it takes too much of my life. For example, in the case of the Rock n’ Roll Circuz, that was two solo albums that I went in to do in the studio, but the band had such an impact on that album I just couldn’t just call it a Mike Tramp solo album. It was more of a collaboration. Even though those were my songs, the band had too much influence in how the album ended up sounding.

« White Lion was over in ’91 and today it’s easy for me to say that it was a mistake to try to reform, or more precisely, do a new version of White Lion. »

Do you have the feeling that the White Lion and Freak Of Nature fans have followed you on your solo career?

Those who have followed are people that has an interest in following a musician’s evolution, just like you’re own life changes as you get older and suddenly there’s something else that you listen to. So those that have followed me and growned with my music, are in many ways people that sort of see life the same way as I do, the fact that you’re naturally guided as your changing and not fighting it. At the end of White Lion, it was a natural thing for me to move on the Freak Of Nature. In White Lion I already started singing a little differently at the end, my voice was changing, etc. So instead of trying to still be what I was in White Lion on the Pride album, I followed the natural change and did Freak Of Nature. And from Freak Of Nature, I was called back to where I started as a solo artist. When you listen to Cobblestone Street, especially when I listen to Cobblestone Street, this is Mike Tramp at the beginning but now coming a full circle 35 years later.

What you’re doing as a solo artist is more laid back than what you did in the past, although there are still a few hard rocking songs here and there. Is it the wisdom that comes with age that pushes you into that direction?

In lack of a better word yes. But it’s just a natural thing. I think that maybe sometimes people confuse me and think that I am really a hard rocker. That’s where some people go wrong. The thing is that, in White Lion I was one fourth of the band, even though, of course, I was a song writer, a vocalist and a frontman, and in Freak Of Nature I was a fifth. And I think that what made those two bands maybe a little different from other bands was the part that Mike Tramp brings. And in most situations, the fans or anybody listening doesn’t know that what I bring to Freak Of Nature and White Lion is Cobblestone Street. But when you take everything away and that Mike Tramp is left alone, that’s when you have Cobblestone Street and how I sound as a solo artist. So this is not the singer from Slayer deciding to do an acoustic album. I’m an acoustic artist way before I’m a hard rocker.

This is also pretty much the direction a band like Bon Jovi took, you just have to listen to his latest album which is very FM oriented and laid back. Do you somehow feel close to Bon Jovi and his evolution?

You know what, the only I have in common with Bon Jovi is that we both came out of the 80s. But I think you could say that for a lot of artits, maybe not Iron Maiden or Saxon or Motörhead, which sort of decides to sound the same on every single album and that’s just what they represent. But for an artist, it’s just a natural thing, to evolve and not keep on writing the same song and saying the same thing in every album. That’s just the sort of artist that I am. But for those that have followed Mike Tramp, they don’t feel any form of departure, and I don’t feel that there’s any form of departure, because it is the same person. It just happens to be that I stopped this album before too many instruments were added to the final mix.

« Every project that Mike Tramp has done since he started, and up until now, I had been the one starting it and I’ve been the one paying for it. And those days are over. »

You have reformed White Lion and released an album called Return Of The Pride in 2008. But since then we’re with no news of the band. Is White Lion over again or…

You know, White Lion was over in ’91 and today it’s easy for me to say that it was a mistake to try to reform, or more precisely, do a new version of White Lion so late in my career when I already said goodbye to White Lion in ’91. But unfortunately I had to go record Return Of The Pride to look back and see that it had nothing to do with White Lion in the sound and that the only thing that was White Lion was the vocals. Unfortunately you have sometime to go through with it to just realise one more time that you were done with that chapter of your life.

Does this mean that White Lion is over now?

White Lion was over in ’91 and there won’t be any reunion of any kind. Mike Tramp is out here now playing by himself and when I play the songs from White Lion, I play the songs that I wrote and I’m playing in the simple form that I wrote them. I’m not going out touring or aptempting to be White Lion again.

You said that it wasn’t White Lion, but what do you think of the music you did on Return Of The Pride?

You know, this is a great question. If you change the name of the band, it would be a great album! The thing is that, when you have a glass and it looks like orange juice and then you drink it but it doesn’t taste like orange juice. And here it’s the same: you have an album, it’s white and it looks like, on purpose, the Pride album in many ways, then you put the music on but it doesn’t sound anything like White Lion. You just sort of recognize maybe Mike Tramp from White Lion. That’s where the difference is. Now, if I had called the album just Tramp, it would have been different and then you would have listened to it differently. But the second you put the name White Lion on it, you expect to hear the guitar playing from Vito Bratta and the vocals of Mike Tramp. That equals the sound of White Lion and I’m not able to do that and I don’t want to try to attempt that.

Woud it be possible for you to do another album with those guys under another name?

Well, that’s another great question because that basicaly just leaves me to what I sort of said in part of my biography. If I have the love and the need to do a hard rock album, I think it would need to be a project where Mike Tramp is not the starter and not the leader in it. I want to come in and sing on top of another band that maybe already have formed the concept. Because, anytime I become the one that starts it, it sounds too much like Mike Tramp. In the case of Freak Of Nature where I let the band start the songs and I ended up coming up on top of the songs adding my trademark and melodies, that’s when you get that end result. If I need to feel those distorted guitars and some loud drums, it would have to be almost a project where I say to the guys : « You start these songs and then I’ll come in and start creating some melodies around that. I don’t want to be involved too soon in the project, to prevent it begin a continuation of Mike Tramp. »

About Vito Bratta (guitarist of White Lion): « (Laughs) Oh, shit! Did you ever see The Silence Of The Lamb? Have you ever met Hannibal Lecter? »

In 2007 Vito Bratta confessed that he had never ruled out a White Lion reunion and that this was simply not possible up to that point because of family and health issues. This gave many hopes for the future. But then nothing happened and Vito seems to have simply retired. What actually would make a Vito Bratta / Mike Tramp reunion not possible today?

Well, that’s the kind of answer a politician would give: he promises to the poor that they’ll sleep in a better bed and have more food but it never happens. So when Vito Bratta says that he has not « ruled out », he’s just basically saying, by not saying it, that he’s not closing but there’s no chance in hell that Vito Bratta would ever get up on stage and play lights and thunders with Mike Tramp.

Ok. Well…

…And to finish answering your question because you went a little further, only two years ago when I was speaking to Vito and we sort of talked about life and stuff like that, we started getting on music and he said: « Oh, you know, I’m still playing guitar! » I just said: « Come on Vito! I didn’t know that… », but he said: « Oh, no, I meant my classical guitar! », then I said: « Let me ask you this: would you have any space in your life or would you be able to see maybe a collaboration of us doing an album sourrounding the classical guitar? », and he said: « Oh, no, no, no, no! Don’t talk about that! » So, I was visualizing maybe Page / Plant when they didn’t want to do Led Zeppelin but did an album in Morocco that was a little different. The thing is, that’s typical of Vito Bratta. It’s really a pain for me that I always have to talk about him. I wish he would have the guts to do some interviews and just tell the truth. Because, for over twenty one years I had to explain everything about White Lion because he sits there and doesn’t talk about it.

Vito Bratta seems to be a complicated man or at least quite discreet, from what we hear from him in the media. How do you see his personality?

(Laughs) Oh, shit! Did you ever see The Silence Of The Lamb? Have you ever met Hannibal Lecter? You know what? Action speaks louder than words and Vito speaks a lot of words but do nothing about it. I really think that he owes his fans a great website and some real answers to the questions that they put. It might sound bitter or like I make fun of Vito or whatever but I’m just sick and tired of him not being able to just explain it. It’s just all excuses after excuses!

An other subject: are there no chances to see Freak Of Nature revived?

You know what? I was actually attempting something last year, because this year was going to be the 20th anniversery and I thought Freak Of Nature could have done some things. But I kind of placed it in their hands, because every project that Mike Tramp has done since he started, and up until now, I had been the one starting it and I’ve been the one paying for it. And those days are over. So, if Freak Of Nature wanted to get together, all they needed to do was just to tell me when we would meet. Because, I’m not going to be the bank anymore.

Ok, that’s it for me. Thank you very much Mike…

Philippe, It’s been a pleasure. Thank you very much for testing my memories and my integrity about what I believe in.

Interview conducted on February 25th 2013 by phone by Metal’O Phil
Questions sheet: Spaceman
Introduction: Spaceman
Transcription: Spaceman

Mike Tramp’s official website: miketramp.dk

Album Cobblestone Street, out since April 8th 2013 via Target Records



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