Mike Tramp has been in the music business since the late-70s. He started out in his homeland with the band Mabel before moving to Spain and transforming the band's sound into a heavier force while taking on a new moniker, Studs. By the time the band moved to New York City in 1982, they had once again changed their name, this time to Lion. When the rest of the guys in the band decided to return to Denmark, Tramp decided to stay in NYC. He met Dreamer guitarist Vito Bratta in Brooklyn, and the two decided to form a band together: White Lion. After releasing their debut Fight to Survive, White Lion put out their seminal album Pride in 1987, which spawned several hits such as "Wait" and "When the Children Cry," both of which made it to the Billboard Top 10. The multi-platinum selling disc was followed by 1989's Big Game and 1991's Mane Attraction. White Lion played their last show in Boston, and Tramp and Bratta decided to go their own ways. While Vito Bratta would only play on one disc, CPR in 1992, and disappear from the scene completely, Mike Tramp would form a new band, Freak of Nature. In this interview, Sea of Tranquility Staff Writer Murat Batmaz talked to Mike Tramp specifically about Freak of Nature and his solo albums. One of his most detailed interviews, Tramp discusses his post-White Lion career in great detail touching on topics such as the formation and break-up of Freak of Nature, his solo works, and his more recent semi-acoustic discs, Cobblestone Street, for which he has played more than a hundred shows, as well as his upcoming album Museum. Tramp is now getting ready for a long European tour. Just him and his guitar, and perhaps better than ever.
Read on for the full interview.
SoT: In the 1991 Escape from Brooklyn video, you said you never wrote from personal experience. When did that change? Did it start with the song "92" on the first Freak of Nature disc or the song "Have You Ever" on your first solo album, Capricorn?
MT: It's a valid question and also true. I never felt I could write personal lyrics in White Lion. For one, it wasn't the right time and it was so much about image in the 80s, but that's not to say that I didn't get a good amount of important songs on the four White Lion albums. They all speak for themselves and stand the test of time. With Freak of Nature, it was different. I felt I had much better canvas to paint my lyrics on and also the music and sound allowed me to dig deep into social issues. There were many other personal songs than just "92." Songs like "Rescue Me," "Need," "What Am I," and many others. The thing is that at many times I chose a metaphor to tell the story of my own issues; it is for the true Mike Tramp expert to discover. At the same time, it leaves the door open to interpretation, and I welcome fans to make it their own battlefield.
SoT: You also wrote the amazing "Can't Find My Way," which was released on the Outcasts disc. In the CD booklet, you're saying that you enjoyed singing that one the most at live shows. Why didn't it make it onto the studio discs?
MT: There really ain't no great reason other than a band sitting down and selecting the 10 songs for the album and leaving two off it. Was I to make that choice today, then "Can't Find My Way" would have replaced "Where Can I Go," and the funny thing is that "Can't Find My Way" became a strong live song while "Where Can I Go" never made it.
SoT: I suppose "I Regret" would be another personal song?
MT: Yes, it is. I wrote that song, imagining my father would have the guts and decency to tell me those words, but it never happened. My own son and firstborn was still half a year away from being born, but still I felt that strong about these issues.
SoT: "If I Leave" is possibly your most powerful song on the debut disc, lyrically and vocally. Would you consider playing it live as a solo artist or do you not think it would lend itself to that format?
MT: I would love to be able to play all Freak of Nature songs live and same goes for White Lion. But it isn't possible for me to take on songs with just an acoustic guitar when they are so much band songs and depend on a full band laying down a groove where the melody can surf upon.
SoT: Getting back to the topic of lyrics, how did the change happen? Did you purposely avoid writing autobiographical songs in White Lion or was writing on your own a different experience for you?
MT: I think it is much simpler than that. Both critics and some stubborn fans forget that, as time goes by and I grow older and wiser, I change with that. I understand there are many 80s rockers out there who try to look and be exactly the way they were when they arrived on MTV in 1985. That ain't me; I am still evolving. I am also not 26 anymore.
SoT: How does writing as a solo artist differ from writing as the singer of a band?
MT: It really doesn't differ that much. Many White Lion songs were started by me in the same way as I have always written, and many White Lion songs were started by Vito and some by both of us. In Freak of Nature, we were five guys placed in a circle facing each other and we wrote that way. Each member knew their role or territory and never trespassed on someone else's. It was perfect, and it will never happen that way again.
SoT: Your work with Freak of Nature certainly sounds more like a band effort indeed. While writing the songs, did you inform the other members what the songs would deal with lyrically or were you just jamming out to come up with the ideas?
MT: Freak of Nature is a band effort, and Mike Tramp's position is to make the melody and the lyrics. No, I never informed the band about what I was going to write, except when we wrote "The Tree," which came from an idea I had about telling the story from the tree's side. That is being cut down illegally only to end up being made into the electric chair, and the person who cut down the tree ends up in it, after committing other crimes. So once the band had that story in their heads, we started with Jerry's haunting bass line and all followed. It is one of my own favorite Freak songs.
SoT: I think "The Tree" is the most 'complete' song you have ever written be it with Freak of Nature, White Lion, or solo. The backing harmonies are also awesome and the lyrical development is fantastic indeed. I also love the idea of "The Gathering" and "The Parting," which open and close the album respectively. They set the tone for the record and give the whole album a cohesive feel.
MT: "The Tree" is a big song and it's a great journey for a songwriter to be able to take your song all the way to where it can go, and even more special when the rest of the band feels the same. "The Gathering" and "The Parting" are just one of those things that work perfectly with a band like Freak of nature and on a sort of concept album that Gathering of Freaks now is.
SoT: When writing, does the music come first or the lyrics and vocal melodies?
MT: In 9 out of 10, I write the music and the vocal melody at the same time. Sometimes, there are words that instantly attach themselves to the song and it then becomes the subject I will write about. In other cases, I will record the song with a scratch vocal and make up some words when I sing. Then I will listen to the song and feel where or what the lyrics should be about, the feel and vibe of the music will guide me through my books of ideas and one-liners.
SoT: And sometimes I assume you may just write the chorus or main melody of a piece but not have the rest of the song, right?
MT: Because I have never sat down to write a song, but instead just picked up the guitar to play a little and then a song happens. I just go with how it feels. Many times I'll have the song in 10 minutes. Other times, I'll record what I have, and maybe 10 years later it appears again and becomes Cobblestone Street.
SoT: Were there many songs on Cobblestone Street that were spawned so long ago?
MT: No, there weren't, but for sure some go back a few years. I never write for an album; I just write when I have the guitar in my hands and it feels right.
SoT: I would like to talk a bit more about Freak of Nature. When White Lion played its last show in Boston in September 1991, did you already know you were going to form a new band?
MT: Yes, I did. It had been brewing in my head for a long time and I just wanted to get together with guys who also wanted to spend the entire day together, a real band. I love Vito and our time together, but the only thing we did was write some songs, rehearse, take photos, and play shows. We had no friendship or joint interest, and it was incredibly hard. I come from a background of till-death-do-us-part friendships and I almost demand that of people I choose to be my close friends because I am prepared and ready to do the same for them. I got that in Freak of Nature as they all ended up living in my house. And I especially have that with Soren Andersen, who I have recorded and produced the last four albums together with.
SoT: Did you know all the members before you formed the band or did you make friends with some of them during audition?
MT: No, I didn't. I wanted fresh unknown blood. I didn't want this band to be featuring members of so and so bands. I wanted it be a fresh start and was looking for guys who had not recorded albums before. I know Dennis and Jerry had done it, but it was insignificant at that moment and no European press ever brought up that Chick and Best had been in House of Lords or Lion.
SoT: When putting Freak of Nature together, who was the first member you met and brought in the band? Was it just you or was Oliver Steffensen with you?
MT: Oliver came over from Denmark only two weeks after White Lion played its final shows. In those early days, we wrote "Possessed," "Disturbing the Peace," "Are You Ready," "Blame It on the Fool," "One Love" and "Back Where You Belong" (which were later released on the Outcasts disc after the band disbanded). All before anyone else came into the band. It was an interesting time.
SoT: Was the plan to have two guitarists from the beginning?
MT: Yes, it was, especially to get away from the Van Halen world, and also no one could ever have replaced Vito.
SoT: The band rarely wrote extended solo sections for the songs, but the overall guitar presence was much thicker and had more weight to it, which made it very different from White Lion.
MT: The guitars were a part of the band like drums and bass, we wanted it to feel like everything was equal.
SoT: How did you pick the rhythm section? Did they audition for the band or was it just a matter of clicking as friends?
MT: Jerry joined Oliver and I after a while and then came Kenny. We played with a different drummer, but it didn't groove or feel right. I almost gave up. Then, Jerry said, "I know this guy," and Johnny showed up and changed everything. He was the engine the band needed and his personality had so much to do with where the band ended up. He had not been part of the 80s and he sort of set us straight and made it real.
SoT: Johnny Haro's drum tone sounded so organic, unlike Greg D'Angelo from White Lion. His playing had a tribal feel to it but he could groove relentlessly. I love his work on "Rescue Me," "If I Leave," or "The Tree."
MT: White Lion was part of the 80s and everyone had been so into that artificial Def Leppard drum sound; it destroyed so many grooves when mixing that snare drum so loud. But that was then and it was the 80s and almost everyone did it. When Freak of Nature came around, I had learned my lesson and Johnny already had his own sound and feel, thank God for that.
SoT: How long did it take for you to realize every member in the band was right and ready to record the debut?
MT: Everybody was right from the second they walked into the room. It was just a matter of waiting to find each member; that is what took the time.
SoT: Jerry Best said in an interview you guys had known each other for a few years before Freak of Nature.
MT: Yeah, Jerry and I knew of each other more than we knew each other. But when we hooked up, it was like we'd always been friends. I hold Jerry very close to my heart.
SoT: Did you have a certain sound in mind when forming Freak of Nature or did the sound evolve as you got together and started jamming?
MT: Not really, but I wanted to break free from the chains of the 80s and go back to some looser and more 70s rock-inspired guitar work, especially British bands like Bad Company, UFO, Thin Lizzy, and of course Zeppelin. It took a while, but bit by bit we took what we could use and made it our own and became Freak of Nature.
SoT: When picking Kenny and Dennis, did you intentionally choose players that sounded different to Vito's playing?
MT: Yes, but it was so much about Vito as it was that I did not want to get close to any kind of 80s style players with Floyd Rose locked in that guitar world. This was about going back to Page and Blackmore, Lizzy, and UFO.
SoT: Dennis Chick was such an amazing guitarist. It's a shame he no longer plays. Were you familiar with him through his work with House of Lords?
MT: Dennis has gotten back to play again, but it's not like the business is easy, and no I have never heard Dennis play in House of Lords or any songs. When I met Chick, that's where both of our stories started and we didn't look back from there.
SoT: As far as I know Johnny Haro is the only member still active in music, right?
MT: Yes and no. Everybody is involved with music, but Johnny is more out in the open where you can find him, but Kenny Korade and Jerry Best have been playing since Freak of Nature.
SoT: Way back in the 90s, I remember buying their demo released under the name of Zero*G. It sounded very different from Freak of Nature and featured Kenny on vocals.
MT: Because someone has once been in another band does not mean they will sound that way in a new project. A lot of work and discipline was put into Freak of Nature to find the band. It didn't just happen. I gave my life and soul for that band and protected it with all I had.
SoT: Do you think the other members also regret breaking up the band? Have you ever discussed this with any of them?
MT: For sure. Now that we have all matured and gone full circle, we understand more about it than we did then. Yes, we have talked about it many times and recently when we got together to play for the first time since 1995. It was very, very special and also heartbreaking. The door isn't closed, the book still has another chapter, but what it will be remains to be seen.
SoT: The original guitarist of Freak of Nature was Oliver Steffensen, who co-wrote several songs on the first disc. Why did he abruptly leave the band?
MT: Oliver is my brother in many ways. He had and has his own issues and it just the way it is. There isn't really a way to describe him. I just know that he can't commit to anything but himself, and I am fine with that. We have a strong friendship based on knowing each other for a long time.
SoT: One of the songs Oliver co-wrote with you, "Possessed," is vastly different to other songs with so many movements and haunting vocals. You seemed to have so much fun doing this song live.
MT: Fun was not the word. We went into another dimension to write this song; it was like making a movie or writing a script. It was a very special time for Oliver and I; the chase was better than the catch.
SoT: Apart from the bands you've already mentioned, were there any bands you feel that might have inspired Freak of Nature?
MT: We all have a similar love for classic rock bands and we wanted to get back to a more unpolished sound than what had happened in the 80s: more grooving between bass and drums, and no Van Halen or Vito-inspired solos.
SoT: What about the bands that were around then? Were you fans of bands like Soundgarden and Alice In Chains?
MT: Those were bands that broke as we started the band, so obviously we listened to and observed them, including Pearl Jam, and yes we took some inspiration from all of them, but at the end of the day, we wrote different songs and it speaks for itself on the albums and live.
SoT: When I play Freak of Nature to friends, the first thing some of them remark is how your singing is in the vein of Chris Cornell and Layne Staley. What do you think of these singers?
MT: It would be impossible to deny that. You can't help being influenced in one way or another when something new comes into your house. It is just a fact that those two singers were making an impact on me, which Brett Michaels and Vince Neil hadn't. I very much like the unique sound of both Layne Staley and Alice In Chains; it was fresh and new. At the same time, I was not into Soundgarden at all, but I love Cornell, especially on Temple of the Dog and his later work as solo artist and with Audioslave.
SoT: I will never understand how some people lumped in White Lion with bands like Poison and Motley Crue. They never wrote songs like "Lady of the Valley," "Cry for Freedom," "Lights & Thunder," or "Warsong." Your lyrics went much deeper.
MT: Well, this is a matter of personal taste and not for me to judge. But one thing for sure is that White Lion stood aside from a lot of those bands. The only comparison was the 80s look and that fooled a lot of people, or I should say confused a lot. Who is the wolf? Who is the sheep?
SoT: How about Nirvana? Somehow I never saw the similarity.
MT: Nirvana was too big to ignore; they made a massive impact on everything and everyone. It was like cold water in the face. I don't think we ever wanted to copy them in their sound and style of playing, as we were still more into Zeppelin and Lizzy, but they broke down the walls of the 80s and squashed that polished image that MTV and the industry had created and bands followed, that is if you can put it in that order.
SoT: I remember back in those days a lot of magazines drew comparisons between Freak of Nature and all these Seattle bands.
MT: Yes because most journalists really don't want to put any effort into writing, so they just say a silly thing like, "Well, it's almost like milk, but it's not milk, but then again it has the colour of milk, well I guess it's milk then."
SoT: With Freak of Nature, you signed with Music For Nations and played most of your shows in Europe. Did Freak of Nature ever do any shows or tours in the USA?
MT: Besides some local shows in Los Angeles as we were building the band, we only played three shows prior to going to Japan and then Europe.
SoT: Do you remember what the reaction was like to those warm-up shows in Los Angeles?
MT: The time of building Freak of Nature was just so much fun. We were always together. The band lived in my house. We were brothers. We were a real band. It was great.
SoT: I think a US tour with one of these bands might have helped. Was that not an option?
MT: At that moment, the USA music business was turning their back on anything to do with 80s regardless of if it had made tens of millions of dollars. The plan was to build this band from the underground and up, and Europe gave us that with open arms. They listened to the music, they saw the band do their stuff live, and they approved.
SoT: How was the market for that type of music at the time?
MT: No doubt that the European fans and press were much more open to check out the band and both found the band refreshing and they were very supportive. After all, we put the money where our mouth is and we delivered with two strong albums and a killer live band.
SoT: I still consider your vocals in Freak of Nature the peak of your career. You left your style in White Lion behind and adopted a totally different approach. How did that happen?
MT: This is possibly the most important factor in the change and evolution of Mike Tramp. As Vito and I started to write for Mane Attraction, I noticed that, in some cases, I didn't want to sing that high and went for a different vocal approach. And as time went by and we got deeper into it, I also knew that the girl in me who sang up in the clouds on Fight to Survive had become a man and didn't want to sing or try to sing in that range anymore. With Freak of Nature, I started fresh and followed what felt right and of course sounded right; I felt closer to my real voice than before and today I just am me and don't try or want to be anything but me. Actually I can't stand singers who sing that high 80s voice. It is so distant from me.
SoT: That's interesting, so I assume between someone like Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson you'd pick Dickinson?
MT: Well, assuming is where most go wrong. First of all, I would never put Halford or Dickenson in that category. They are both individual singers that few sound like. I think I am referring to a certain 80s kind of singer that when recorded almost sounds like a little girl singing.
SoT: Amazing. I won't ask you to mention any names, but even with Mane Attraction you started to sound totally different. I actually think that album was as good as Pride and demonstrated how both you and Vito had matured and grown as musicians.
MT: Well, I am not sure what names you would mention. But both Vito and I were growing and we were taking the band further away from all the rest, and it would have been very clear if we had made it to one more album.
SoT: Looking back, how do you view the two Freak of Nature discs you put out?
MT: When the machine works it works, and for Freak of Nature it worked. Even though it was just a short time, it was the happiest time in my musical career.
SoT: Gathering of Freaks is easily the darkest, meanest, and heaviest album you've ever done. Was it a conscious effort after the more melodic debut or did it just turn out that way?
MT: We wrote a lot of those songs on days off or short breaks while on tour in Europe in 1993. I think it was that each band member found themselves and was able to express it through Freak of Nature, the band that Mike Tramp started but now was theirs too. Every time I listen to this album, I am amazed by it. The first album has great memorable songs, no doubt. But Gathering of Freaks is a band album and it stands with the greatest hard rock albums, no question.
SoT: In one sentence, how would you compare White Lion to Freak of Nature?
MT: White Lion made me famous, Freak of Nature made me proud.
SoT: Wow, I love how you've described it. You also re-recorded White Lion songs on your own in 1999. How do you like the Remembering White Lion disc after all these years? You sing the older tunes like "El Salvador" and "Fight to Survive" with much more conviction compared to the original versions. Is that due to you no longer going for the higher registers?
MT: That album is one of those things one looks back on and say, "Why did I do that?" There is no doubt that in the two songs you mention I am much more in the groove of the song and don't blow my load on the first note. But a lot of that you can easily say was simply because I have lived with the songs that long and in between I had Freak of Nature. And also, I wasn't trying so hard as I was when I stood in a studio in Frankfurt, Germany in 1984 recording my first hard rock album as a member of an American band.
SoT: You think Remembering White Lion was a misstep in your career? How about The Return of the Pride? I personally consider the former a solo album and love it.
MT: Mistake might not be the word, but it sort of slowed me down or I lost focus on what I started with Capricorn, and the same could be said of trying to do a new version of White Lion. I never wanted to do it but was just so confused about what wasn't happening with my solo albums. Return of the Pride is a great album as long as you don't call it White Lion or expect White Lion, which you obviously do when there's a White Lion logo on the cover. In 1995, I ended the best thing I had ever done. And when I started my solo career, it was clear to me that I didn't have any more heart or soul to give to a band.
SoT: Back to Freak of Nature. If Kenny Korade hadn't left the band, what do you think the following Freak of Nature discs would have sounded like?
MT: I am sure we would have continued. The most important factor of the band was that we all understood the mission we were on and what it was going to take to get there. When I saw doubts along the way and with Kenny Korade leaving, I shut down the band so that the memories would remain 100% positive.
SoT: Did Vito ever hear any of the Freak of Nature songs as you were writing them or after they were released?
MT: Yes I sent him the first album.
SoT: What was his reaction upon seeing the great change both musically and lyrically?
MT: This is one of the very, very few funny moments I have had with Vito since ending White Lion. He called me up and said he really liked it and hoped one of the guitar players would break their hand so he could come play with me. I was kind of shocked cause to me it sounded like Vito and I weren't done working together and I was surprised that he never put up a fight when I said "No more White Lion." It was that he just lay down and gave up. I am not saying that White Lion would have continued if he and I had put up a fight. But I am sure that if we had sat down and talked and really looked at the picture and sorted out what had gone wrong and how much was our fault and how much was Kurt Cobain's, then there could possibly be a mature and musically serious band existing today, called White Lion.
SoT: I read an interview once where you told Vito the Boston show would be your last and he just said yes. Do you think he was waiting for you to take the first step?
MT: No, I don't think Vito was. I don't think Vito really thought about it much and just accepted it. I think we both felt we could walk on water and start something successful again, but we both found out it wouldn't be that easy. So much had changed. Everyone knows my story from here on. Vito's is another.
SoT: Were you pleased with Jimmy DeGrasso and Tommy Caradona, who had replaced the original rhythm section?
MT: Jimmy and Tommy were great, but it wasn't White Lion anymore. But we didn't think about that; we just wanted to get back on the race track. Looking back now, it is clear that we should have done everything to keep the band together. There always is only one version of a band: the original one. Anything else, and no matter if someone plays better or have longer hair, it doesn't matter. The band is the band and White Lion was Vito, James, Greg, and I.
SoT: They didn't have anything to do with the break-up then?
MT: No, they didn't.
SoT: Vito didn't give up music right away, though. He played on the CPR record and also did a project with Jon Levesque around the time you did Freak of Nature. Did he play you any of his songs?
MT: No, Vito never showed me anything or sent me anything, or even talked about it.
SoT: You actually replaced Kenny with Marcus Nand for the Gathering of Freaks tour. Did it not work out?
MT: Marcus is another one of my brothers and very close friends. It wasn't the band, but a few things happening at the same time. I give myself a good amount of blame, and I should possibly have taken time to think it through before I pushed the button and all was gone. The manager and record company had drastically changed over that short period and we fell victim to it and followed fools, hence "recovering the wasted years" (the title of Tramp's second solo album from 2002).
SoT: In Freak of Nature, you produced the demos that made it onto Outcasts with White Lion producer Michael Wagener but chose to work with Phil Kaffel when cutting the real album? What caused this change? Is it because you wanted to break away from that 80s sound?
MT: Michael Wagner is my close friend and friend for life and a true warrior who never changed when the business around him changed. Michael helped the band for free and was just a great support. I am not sure why we ended up doing it with Phil who's also a very close friend of mine. But I am sure that Michael would just have let the band be the band; that was what he did with White Lion. He got the best out of the band without changing the band. Michael Wagener is a band member before he is a producer or engineer, he always takes the band's side, and I love him for that. The two Freak of Nature albums were not produced; Phil Kaffel recorded a live band in the studio, did a few vocal overdubs, and mixed it great. There was no mystery to it. I have both albums, song by song that I recorded in our rehearsals studio when we wrote and rehearsed for the album. Besides the quality, as it is an 8-track recording, the songs and performances are identical.
SoT: I think Phil Kaffel captured the band's raw energy perfectly on those two Freak of Nature discs.
MT: "Captured" is the right word because that is exactly what the band was: "captured live in the studio," nothing else.
SoT: Is it true that the band was so tight when they entered the studio they finished the album in less than a week?
MT: We were that tight because it was how we wrote the songs. We didn't have to learn them or rehearse; it was part of the writing process. We only had a week to record both albums. After that, Phil Mixed it.
SoT: That is truly amazing. Only a super rehearsed band could pull it off.
MT: It's not that special. A lot of the old classic bands did it that way. But when the 80s came around, it was suddenly all about separating everything and almost undoing what a band is. The worst thing you can do as a rock band is go into the studio and change your way of playing or thinking. Then, you get stale and lifeless music and a lot of 80s rock has no soul, so thank God there were videos with hair and girls.
SoT: Couldn't agree more with you. If you sat down to write another Freak of Nature type of record, would you be able to pull it off on your own or would you need the guys to co-write with you?
MT: I know you say Freak of Nature "type" of band and don't necessarily mean Freak of Nature. But I will still reply: with that Freak of Nature is a band and that band made that sound, and with that I have already climbed that mountain and would only ever do it again with Johnny, Dennis, Kenny, and Jerry. This is sacred territory.
SoT: Let's talk a little about your recent solo albums. Your previous album Cobblestone Street marked a stylistic shift from your previous effort? What made you go for the semi-acoustic songs?
MT: You know what. To me there ain't no difference cause I know it's me singing "What Am I" in Freak of Nature and it's me singing "More to Life than This." All I did, or what Soren and I did, was leave the songs raw and in its pure and written form. I know it's drastic to those who sit and wait for White Lion or something else. But for all the artists that I personally love and follow, I welcome change every time they release a new album, as I already have the previous one and I don't want to buy that twice. If you want to hear Pride or Fight to Survive, then just play put it on your player cause I won't do the same album again.
SoT: Do you ever sit and listen to any of the White Lion albums in their entirety or are you fed up with them as you do them live quite frequently?
MT: No, I am not fed up with it. I listen from time to time, like I look at old photos of my mom and my childhood. It is everything that I am and have become; it is my foundation and steps on the ladder of my life that I am still climbing. I wouldn't have been able to climb this high if it wasn't for the steps below, and that includes a pop band called Mabel which I joined at age 15 ½ of age and knew nothing, but it is where and how I started.
SoT: You wrote some of your most personal and finest pieces on Cobblestone Street. What was the story behind songs like "Cobblestone Street" and "Ain't the Life I Asked for"?
MT: I think these two songs are quite obvious, but still "Cobblestone Street," where I use my childhood as a metaphor for not being a fan of how most things that I love change, and that they change in a way I don't like. "Ain't the Life I Asked for" is about setting out on a journey hoping and wishing for something but getting something else. The statement I make is real and honest.
SoT: You've written about your love for your mother since Capricorn, but it is a lot more evident on your last two albums.
MT: It really isn't that big of a mystery. It's just giving thanks to the one who made it all possible and the one who raised me as a free child, a child free to choose his own way, no rules or judgement but lots of trust that I would find my calling.
SoT: The song "Mother" is the standout of Museum. How did you put it together?
MT: Yes, I am very proud of this song, and at the same time it is so simple. When you speak the truth and hide nothing, people will trust your words. I have no doubt that this is a song each fan will take to heart and make it their own, which is something I welcome.
SoT: You have also written about your children and relationship with your wife. Was writing these songs a kind of therapy for you?
MT: Therapy, but not just that. It was the truth and lots of anger, hate, sadness, more sadness, and still no solution.
SoT: Do you get to see your children as often as you'd like? It must be hard being away from them. I realize this is a difficult issue to talk about.
MT: It is a difficult issue or subject cause so much is involved, and, even though I don't want to hide it, it's too much and deep for this interview. This is a matter of big cultural and religious differences, and I am not about to let go of the free man I was born. I am not about to live in a place I don't want to live, no matter how much I miss my children and the war I have to fight. I am free; that's me and that's the way it's gonna be.
SoT: Let's change the subject to your earlier solo discs. I think More to Life than This is one of your best. How do you like it after all these years?
MT: It is a great album and great songs, but I wish I had done it with Soren Andersen.
SoT: How did you hook up with Eric Johnson for the lead solo on "The Good the Sad the Ugly"?
MT: My label in Germany was close friends with Eric and asked if he would play the solo. Once he said yes, I made the arrangement so Eric could solo for a long time.
SoT: That song is perhaps my favourite on that disc and one of the most emotional you have ever written.
MT: It is a very special song with three individual stories and three different choruses.
SoT: I've always been curious about that. Would you care to explain who the stories are about, especially the last one? Is that "brother" a real person from your life or a fictional character?
MT: The first verse is for my son Dylan. The second verse is about myself, and the third is about a friend who did something that wasn't right.
SoT: Your new album Museum is coming out this month and seems to pick up where Cobblestone Street left off.
MT: I know. I had to progress and rise from where Cobblestone Street ended. I knew I wanted a fuller sound and have more production within the sound that I am going for.
SoT: How long does recording and mixing an album like Museum take? Is it vastly different from an album like, say, Capricorn or Pride?
MT: There is a big difference; both technology and experience plas a part in that, and so do 25 years apart. Recording and creating both Cobblestone Street and Museum together with Soren Andersen has been very liberating as we have thrown all rules and regulations out the window and just followed where the song took us. And as we go along the process, which is usually one song a day from birth to finish, we mix along the way. Pride took about six weeks to do, and there was a lot of discovering and creating drums and guitar tones. After all, it was the 80s and a new sound was being created and recorded. Today, we have everything in a sound library just a click away, and I am not sure if it is right or wrong or good and bad. I could live and exist fine without a cell phone, but the rest of the world has made it almost a tool of survival, so who am I to say anything!
SoT: You've again worked with Soren Andersen on this album. Was the creative process similar to the previous disc?
MT: Yes, it was. We didn't think about what we were doing cause what we were doing was just being us and following where the song should go, not giving ourselves any rules or limits.
SoT: You also have some hard-rocking songs on Museum such as "Down South" and "Slave."
MT: Well hard-rocking might be stretching it. But those two songs were written and started from the two guitar riffs I had written for my previous album Stand Your Ground. I built these two songs up from the riffs also to make sure that they broke free from the standard way I write on the acoustic guitar, in that way it gave the album much more variety.
SoT: "Slave" actually has a great live feel to it. Was it recorded in one sitting?
MT: The basic structure of songs always is, but there are a lot of add-ons, as, for most cases, it's only the two of us.
SoT: What is the story behind "Trust in Yourself"? It seems to address corrupt politicians and people who use religion to manipulate others.
MT: Yes it does. Also, it's about my life in Indonesia. I wrote the song without offending anyone because over-religious people are so sensitive and righteous, and I just don't get it. What I believe in I keep to myself; it is that simple. We all came into this world as free people. Some chose to stay that way were others were forced to follow like sheep, but I trust in myself and that goes for government and religious issues all around the world.
SoT: Is it easier to tour and play these songs as a solo artist rather than as a band?
MT: Yes and no. I do what I am capable of, and I also do this because it is simply not possible economically to take three other guys with me. At the same time, and this is important for all to know and keep in mind when they judge, Mike Tramp as solo artist is not White Lion or Freak of Nature, even though I pay homage to both bands by playing the songs live. I am developing my own sound and place which is my own sound and place, and it has nothing to do with all the other 80s rockers who travel around with an acoustic guitar and perform while they wait for their old band to reunite. This is where I stand and this is where I will remain. Only being part of a new band a project will change that, but Mike Tramp by himself is Mike Tramp by himself.
SoT: Do you find playing the guitar and singing at the same time difficult?
MT: I would hope not. I have done it since I was 10 years old, but of course most of my songs are written and played at the same time, and I couldn't play anything that Vito or the Freak boys play. That's why I say this again: I am what I am and what I am I am good at.
SoT: Will you continue writing and releasing albums in this vein or can fans expect you to go back to writing heavier songs in the future?
MT: I would imagine I will continue making music. And as I have already clarified, Mike Tramp as a solo artist has his own place and sound. Now what I would do if I put a band or project together is another story, but don't put heavy music and Mike Tramp solo in the same box.
Murat Batmaz-August 2014
(Click here to read our review of Museum)
(Click here to read our review of Cobblestone Street)
(Click here to read our review of Freak of Nature)
(Click here to read our review of Gathering of Freaks)
(Click here to read our review of Outcasts)
(Click here to read our review of More To Life Than This)