Contributor’s Note: Recently ex White Lion and Freak Of Nature singer MIKE TRAMP released his new solo album, “Second Time Around”. With a career in his own name worthy of his rich past, Tramp is living one of the most creative moments of his life.
“I often listen to my many previous solo albums and say to myself I should have sung it this way or changed the melody that way. At the same time, I accept that it was the best I could do at that moment! I worked with what I had and knew.”, Tramp comments. “This life doesn’t often give you a Second Time Around, but if it does – consider yourself lucky and grab it. The songs on “Second Time Around” have been with me for a long, long time. I remember writing the first song “When She Cries”, October 2, 2005 the day after my daughter Isabel had been born. It was like a whole new door opened and all these songs came out over the next few months along with a whole other bunch of songs, which have all ended up on different albums. You can say it was the most creative time in my 44 years in the rock’n’roll uniform“.
Also, recently Cherry Red Records have brought out a five CD box set featuring the four White Lion Atlantic Records albums plus a fifth CD of live tracks. I recently had the opportunity to discuss both releases and his own musical legacy with Mike Tramp for Madness To Creation. Fans can find Mike Tramp at the following locations:
Mark Dean: How are you?
Mike Tramp: I’m good. I’m good. Real good.
Mark Dean: How are you coping with what’s going on in the world at the moment?
Mike Tramp: It’s fucked up.
Mark Dean: Yeah. How are you spending the time?
Mike Tramp: Well, I mean, the problem is not spending the time. I’ve got plenty of time. I have a big farm here in Denmark and in the middle of rebuilding it. And so I have plenty of things to do, but no money is coming in.
Mark Dean: Yeah, it’s difficult. Do you feel that it fuels or stifles your creativity? I mean, does it inspire you to write more songs or does it just bring you down?
Mike Tramp: No, not at all. I mean, I’m already in the process of writing from time to time. But right now there’s nothing from this that inspires me to do anything but surviving.
Mark Dean: Your recent album that you just brought out Second Time Around is a reworking, a revisiting of some old songs from your musical history. I just wondered what prompted your decision to go down that road rather than releasing an album of entirely new material?
Mike Tramp: Well, basically to everybody outside Denmark it is new material. This album saw the day of light in 2010. But never ever gotten any further. And from time to time, I try to see if there was a way that I could take over the album, but it never worked out. And I moved on with my life, my career, and started working on some other albums.
And then not too long ago I was compiling a few hard drives that I have where all my music and my recordings and stuff end up, kind of like making a little bit of a library. And suddenly this album and the songs and the session shows up. And I spent a whole day going in there and revisiting it and stuff like that. And I just …
So many memories came back because these songs are very important in my life. They were recorded at a very important time in my life. And I says, you know what, I can’t let these songs just lie like that. I don’t feel they’ve been given the right chance and the right way to get out into the world.
So the thing is that prior to even recording that album in 2009, I had already gone into the studio in 2006 and 2007, whenever I had breaks from doing the White Lion mark two thing that I was doing. And I was … I’ve basically been saying to everyone, I was lost in that. I was lost in that. And I never should have done it. And I never felt at home, even though I made the decision to do it. But in between I was writing new songs. And obviously the songs speak for themselves because they really show where Mike Tramp is.
So I had, like I said, gone into the studio from time to time and done the demos. And some of these demos became the final tracks and stuff like that. So I went all the way back to the original demos when I revisited this album and started working and reworking them.
Mark Dean: I read a couple of pieces on the internet recently. You announced, obviously it’s on hold at the moment, a North American tour paying homage to all the White Lion hits. Is that not something that you’ve been doing over the years, you’ve been dipping into your past? I just wonder what is going to be different on this set of dates when they actually happen of course.
Mike Tramp: Of course. I mean, but that, it’s sort of a little bit like tongue in cheek. Because from the second I went out and did solo, already from 1997, I’ve always had a good amount of White Lion songs in my set. Even though already from the beginning I never played them as White Lion. I always played them as a continuation of Mike Tramp solo. And reworked the songs to fit into how my band was sounding and how my band were playing, which was nothing like an ’80’s band.
And it was always the standard question. Hey man, is he playing any White Lion? And every poster would say Mike Tramp, the voice from White Lion. And still 20 years later, they were still asking the same fucking question. So I actually decided to go out and release a new album, but make the tour the songs of White Lion. Do you know what, I’m going to do a full set of White Lion songs. All reworked, bringing out from some songs that I never even played with White Lion and doing all that kind of stuff. And making it, you know what I mean.
But even though the poster says, Mike Tramp, the songs of White Lion, I am positive that there are people that will ask, is he playing any White Lion?
Mark Dean: Are you aware then that there’s been a recently released five CD box set of your early White Lion albums?
Mike Tramp: Well, only about a month ago did this arrive. And I spoke to Vito not too long ago after that. And he was as confused as I was. Because number one, our old record company, Atlantic Records, never informed us. It’s not necessarily that they have to inform us, but they didn’t inform us letting us know that they have sold the White Lion catalog to Cherry Records .
And then suddenly you find out that they have sold everything that sort of was White Lion. Something that we never in reality didn’t have access to, like for example, the only live recording that exists, which is the audio from the MTV concert in 1987 at the Ritz New York, which also became an MTV concert. But obviously there’s a separate live audio recording of it, which obviously is owned by Atlantic Records. So all these things suddenly appear. And I sometimes wonder why this label that is now releasing it wouldn’t be interested to kind of like have the main part of the original band maybe sort of involved and saying, hey, would you be interested in doing some interviews, whatever.
Mark Dean: So you weren’t involved at all? You weren’t asked to … It was just something that was-
Mike Tramp: No, no, not before. You know how you find out these things, one of your fans sends a message on Facebook, and then that’s how you discover it.
Mark Dean: Okay. I wonder if then, I mean, talking about that box set, if you’re okay just going briefly through those four albums and maybe tell me a standard memory of creating the album, would that be possible?
Mike Tramp: Well, yeah, I mean, the thing is the story behind those four albums is also the story of course about the band. How the band gets built. How the band succeeds. And then how the band starts going the other way. And then each album is kind of like a chapter in this four episodes mini series. With of course, Fight To Survive, 1984, Vito and I are forming a band, but it doesn’t become the band that eventually will do the other three albums.
We go to Germany, record Fight To Survive, we come back and, again, are introduced to the good and bad sides of the record industry. Get signed. And then before the album comes out, the record company decides not to release it. And then it’s back to the drawing board. The band sort of like doesn’t break up, but Vito and I basically fire the bass player and the drummer. And for a while, Vito and I are looking for other members.
And then suddenly we find Greg and we find James and we start working on the songs, which Vito and I had been writing. And out comes Pride two years later and things like that. And obviously it becomes the album that breaks the band, take the band around the world, tours with Aerosmith, AC/DC, brings the band three sold out shows at the Marquee in London. A big European tour and we become a headliner in Europe, already from the first album. And so on.
And then we tour for two years on the Pride album. And then just as we were about to really, really, really take a break. So we could just gather our thoughts, fall back in love with playing rock and roll and stuff like that. We’re never given that break, instantly we’re kind of like almost forced to write a new album because Vito and I have really not been writing while we’ve been touring on the Pride album.
But suddenly here we are after 18 months of touring. A couple of days later after the final show, we’re in a motel somewhere in California writing these songs. Where, when you look at how long we had, which is obviously always sort of, even though Pride is not our first album, in many ways we look more at the process of Pride as being our first album, because the songs on Pride was sort of our live set for two years. And that’s a classic story like those classic first albums for most bands always represents in many ways the live show of the band. And that is why Pride always is a true representation of the band.
When it came to Big Game, those songs were written in two weeks. Vito and I still feel though there are some great songs. But now as we look back, we feel it’s an unfinished album. Hence that main attraction becomes sort of like raising the Titanic, or like a rescue mission, that we really spent a lot of time, Vito and I, writing and demoing the songs we’re writing for that album. And not before we feel we have everything we want, do we say to our managers and our record company we are ready to go into the studio now. Because Vito and I have always been writing the songs for each album like a book. We’ve never just been writing a lot of songs and then choosing and picking and choosing. We have always been writing song after song. And then we get to the point where we feel we have completed what we need.
Mark Dean: You mentioned there that you’ve been in touch with Vito recently. Is he still involved in music? Can you see a day where you’re going to work together musically?
Mike Tramp: I wouldn’t … He’s not involved in music. But he has started playing guitar again. I mean, in the way that he’s telling me he’s playing guitar.
Obviously both him and I have made a unanimous statement, I don’t know how far that statement has gotten, but under no circumstances will we be going out and doing anything under the name of White Lion.
I would not rule out that we couldn’t do a song together one day for a special occasion. But it would be a special occasion because we would not want it, even though it’s very hard not to make the connection, we would not want it to be anything that had to do with White Lion. Because we honestly feel that White Lion were the years we were White Lion. And it was a chapter of our lives, a period of our life that we sort of are okay with does not come back. And we understand that. And we accept it.
Mark Dean: Just moving on then, coming from Ireland I saw several times that you’ve always referenced Phil Lynott as an influence. I just wondered what was your first introduction to the music of Thin Lizzy? I mean, did you ever get to see the band live?
Mike Tramp: Yeah, I have. Yeah. And it’s a pretty sad story in reality for someone who became such a big fan of the band. But it was always Phil Lynott as a songwriter before anything else. But interesting enough, Johnny The Fox is the introduction of Thin Lizzy to me. At age 15 and a half, when this album appears in the band’s house, I’m living … I joined a band, I’m only 15 and a half years old, they’re seven, eight, nine years older than me, big album collection and stuff like that.
So, everything from the sixties until the mid seventies is in that album collection. So I’m on a daily level introduced to the bands I was too young to listen to as they were appearing, from Zeppelin to Jethro Tull to Deep Purple, etc, etc, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, everything like that.
And our record company in Denmark was Polydor Phonogram. And I think that one day we visited the record company and the bass player ended up getting Johnny The Fox. And we sort of listened to that album at home. And I just from the opening track of Johnny, it just hit me. And I think it’s always been that Phil’s voice was like a voice that spoke to you sort of, I mean, he was never straining or screaming. It was just something that lured you in, you paid attention to it.
And to answer the second question. Unfortunately the only time I saw Thin Lizzy was on the Chinatown tour in Madrid, Spain, where I was living. And that night, at that show, Scott Gorham was flown to London for a surgery and stuff like that. So it was just with Snowy White on stage like that. And you know what, I almost don’t remember that concert. It’s quite sad.
Mark Dean: Okay. Just moving on, I’ve attended several of your shows in recent years. I’ve only just moved over from Northern Ireland pretty recently. I did see you live over there at The Diamond Rock Club. , I just wondered after seeing those shows and hearing you recount the stories behind the songs, if you’ve ever had the inclination to put all those memories and stories in a book?
Mike Tramp: Well, yes and no. I mean, there was a book written about me, sort of like an autobiography, but it was only for Denmark. Later on there was a fan … It’s an interesting little story. There was a fan in England that over, I think, a period of four to six years decided to translate this book via Google Translate.
And then she started rewriting it with her partner, Alan. And then I started looking a little into it. And then and so on so. And then last year I gave it to a friend of mine. One of the journalists I know from the old days of Kerrang. And says, “Listen, here is the book. We have gone through it many, many times. Can you write the first chapter the way you feel it reads to you and correct it. And let me read and see how it all comes out.” And when it came back to me, and he had sort of edited and stuff like that, I realized that the book was and had been …
I mean, first of all, the book is written by one of my biggest friends. Which I gave access to my life and my family for many, many years. So it took a long time. But the book is written so much for the Danish people. Everything is always with a reference to how the country was in ’76. When I started dying my hair blonde or something like that. Who was the mayor, how much did a litre of milk cost, things like that.
Even though when the chapter of America, Freak Of Nature, stuff like that, it’s always sort of referenced to how the Danes looked upon that. And you know the term, too tall poppy, because Denmark is a lot like England, they really cut their stars down and stuff like that. So everything was always about this kid from Denmark, escaping from Denmark basically. And it just didn’t translate well.
The question now is how many people would still read a book and stuff like that, would it be worth more to do some sort of documentary. There wouldn’t be that much footage, but maybe a documentary in a different way where the story really is told.
Mark Dean: Of course, just again moving on, prior to your career as a rock singer, you achieved pop success. I just wondered how you found that success coming to you, it must have been at a pretty young age?
Mike Tramp: Well, I mean, well, yeah, it was. It was because I got sort of thrown into this grown up band right in the middle of the teenybopper seventies. Where Bay City Rollers and David Cassidy and The Osmonds and stuff like that. And this band wanted a young singer and stuff like that. But I wasn’t part of any circuit. I wasn’t part of any band.
I was playing campfire, Bob Dylan, and acoustic guitar in my youth club. But my goal was always to become a football player, never become anything in music. I just loved music. But through some people I ended up in this band. And before I got a chance to think about it, I was already in the middle of recording our second album.
So, I put it this way. I made all my learning steps and all my mistakes in front of the camera on stage, on record, where maybe a lot of my competitors later on had more chance to grow up and test out things like that. But I became a sensation in Denmark already from the first album. And never had any time to, ah, that doesn’t work, let me try this way. But because everything, the camera was pointed at me everywhere I went and so on, etc, etc.
So by the time I took my band, we had been living a couple of years in Spain, by the time I took the band to America in ’82 … And by that time, six albums to our name. I had now taken over the band. I was writing all the songs. And I was now on my way to make this band playing like a top band , even though we were so far from anything like it. But I was driven by that energy.
And I had a lot of knowledge. But I was still green and I still needed to be primed. But the second I started working and meeting Vito and I broke up the band. It was a whole different world. I realized even though Vito, as a musician was, of course, was a phenomenal guitar player from the beginning. He didn’t know anything about the business. But he had grown up with a different rock and roll world. He had grown up with a sort of rock and roll that was just part of the American way, even when in school and stuff like that.
To me, dreaming about being a rock and roll star, even though I wasn’t necessarily dreaming about it as a kid, was almost frowned upon in Denmark, I mean. So all those things always became like a travel companion that I always would look at or read up in my notes whenever I would go into something big. Because it would always warn me, hey, you’ve been here before, remember what happened, think twice before you do this and this and this. So I used all that experience in making decisions.
Which is also why when I broke up White Lion, it was based upon that it felt like that we couldn’t go any further with the band. And now as issues were approaching us from left and right. And the music scene was changing, grunge and alternative was coming in. MTV didn’t want the big hair bands anymore and stuff like that. It just felt natural for me to start Freak Of Nature.
And Freak Of Nature was started with all the experience of what didn’t work in White Lion and all the experience that I had in my first band. And why the band became a collaboration from the beginning. It became a democracy, even though it had a dictator, that we wrote the songs together, we stood in a circle facing each other. It was everything. The only way that band would work, if we did it all together. And everybody felt they were equal. And everybody respected each member. And the drummer played the drums and the guitar player did not interfere with that. And vice versa.
Mark Dean: Just a couple of general ones then to finish. What in your professional life are you most proud of?
Mike Tramp: Well, I mean, I think that I’m most proud of my solo career in that way, because when I look back now, 12 albums. And I see the consistency. Because my solo career was all about coming home to me. I mean, I was me in White Lion and I was also me in Freak Of Nature. But Mike Tramp by himself is every solo album that he’s made. That represents the part that Mike Tramp brings to the bands. As in to the songwriting team. Vito and I wrote the songs together. Freak Of Nature, we wrote as five guys. But my part that I bring to the picture is who I am. The final product then becomes either White Lion or Freak Of Nature. But when it’s just Mike Tramp by himself, the final product becomes my solo albums, which represents me 100%.
Mark Dean: What would be the pros and cons of being a professional musician in 2020?
Mike Tramp: Well, let’s start by saying that you can almost not find a record store. And when I mean a record store, it could also be called a music store, but you know. Sort of in the old days it was all about I’m going to make a record and it would be out in the stores. And later on in White Lion, we would be doing in stores, before sound check. And there’ll be 500 to 600 kids lining up down the road and stuff like that.
Everything of doing the album would always end up, the final step of making an album would be when it arrived in the stores. These days you make an album and you don’t … it’s out, but is it out? It’s just shipped direct from the warehouse to whoever orders the album. And the other 50% of the other product I sell at the shows, after the show.
So I think that it’s really difficult to answer what’s a pro and con of the music business. But the thing is, there almost isn’t a business anymore. It’s just turned around. And now people are sitting at home making music on, I’m not going to say on computers, because we all use that. We all use the digital way of doing it, because we don’t have the money to go into studios anymore and use 200 rolls of tape.
I think that sometimes I have to remind myself that even though I’m a seventies’ child, the rest of the world is not living in the seventies anymore.
Mark Dean: Do you not prefer the more hands on and direct involvement that artists have these days?
Mike Tramp: Well, 100%. But at the same time, it’s great to say, man, I control my music 100%. Matter of fact, when I turn around, I see 10 cardboard boxes with my CDs and the vinyls. But those boxes should be out in the store so people could get them. So, it’s a give and take situation.
I mean, I compromised many times in White Lion and Freak Of Nature. And the compromises were okay, they were part of life. So many other bands compromise and stuff like that. Now it’s just a whole different world. And now it’s really just a matter of how you survive.
The thing is though, I will not do anything except for if it’s 100% me. I mean, I don’t do anything to try to sell more records or to get played on the radio. My music is 100% the way that I’ve written it. And the way I am- . I almost do not think that I’m doing an album when I’m doing it. It’s just that I’m sitting in my studio and I’m writing these songs. And I’ve finished them.
But at the end of the day, I’m in my own little world. And I guess, once it becomes official, I guess, then it’s an official album. But before that, it’s my product that I’m just creating because it’s inside me. It’s not because I have a big record company that’s calling me every day. Hey, man, we need you to get finished, you finish the album, so and so. It just happens that I write the songs when I feel the songs are inside me.
Mark Dean: Just a final one then Mike, you have done many, many interviews over the years, but what personal hero or inspiration would you personally like to sit down and interview? If you could ask the questions of somebody, who would that person be?
Mike Tramp: I mean, it would definitely be Bob Dylan, because as the world turns, and as the music business goes on, and he just turned 79. My mom died when she was 79. And his last release is, maybe not, of course, he’s not vocally sounding the same as he did when he was 19, that’s of course, but that a man can find the will and the energy and the interest to still wanting to sit down and still prove the point or wanting to tell the world how he feels about something is really, really incredible.
Mark Dean: That’s my last question. Thank you very much, Mike. Hopefully we’ll get through this current situation in the world. I’ll get to see you live again, back out where you belong.
Mike Tramp: Let’s hope so. Let’s hope so. I was actually supposed to tour the UK in September, but obviously we know what happened.
Mark Dean: As I said, thank you very much for chatting.
Mike Tramp: You got it, mate.
And there you have it! Fans can find Mark Dean at the following locations: