Mike Tramp released his 11th studio album Stray from the flock earlier this year. He also kicked off the world tour that will keep him busy and on the road. I had the opportunity to catch up with Mike Tramp on one of his tour stops at Hopewell Theater in Hopewell, NJ to talk about the new album, tour, and his career which is still going strong after all of these years. He has had a long career, he is still enjoying playing the music, meeting the fans which he did before the show, and making records.
Angel Alamo: Just want to say congratulations on the new record.
Mike Tramp: Thank you much.
AA: Is the song No Closure, is that an auto-
MT: Oh you starting with that?
AA: Yeah. That’s a great song.
MT: Yeah. Yeah. Seriously, let’s dive deep into it.
AA: Is that song (No closure) a biography or a story?
MT: Yeah. In many ways yes, I’ll get deeper into it but the thing is I made the final decision in ’96 whenever I started writing and recording my first solo album Capricorn that the word I, me, myself would always represent me from that day on. When I was in White Lion, I represented a band regardless of if I was lyricist and melodist. The same thing happened in Freak of Nature but especially when I started writing my solo albums, those albums, it’s my life. It’s my journey, it’s my view of the world. It’s my take on politics. It’s me. You’re getting the songwriter and the singer singing about himself and his heart and the whole world.
MT: And now, 11 albums, later on, most people are aware of that. This song is very special in many ways because I’m taking my brother’s voice. I lost my brother last year and the year before, I lost my father. I got closure with my dad before he passed away. My older brother didn’t and I just knew how important it had been to me to close that down that I would not, for a second, think back, or say “I should have done this. I should have said this and this and this.” But the last year of my brother’s life was like that.
MT: I came up with this. I say I’m gonna take his voice and I’m gonna sing this song to my dad. Both are gone in that time but that’s what that song is. So this is my older brother singing to my father. Both equally stubborn. They couldn’t face each other. They didn’t have the balls enough to deal with these issues.
AA: As I said, it’s an amazing song.
MT: It is and I’m looking forward to the time when I can get to play it and talk about how important it is. This is a little more serious issue but I remember the thing about closure and about not leaving something lingering is, even in the early White Lion days, you know leaving rehearsal always in turmoil and going home. Calling my manager, my manager calling Vito. I was just standing next to the guitar player, I was just standing next to Vito, not saying “Come on, let’s work it out.” But instead, you go home in anger. And it was something I took on, later on, I knew it was so important for me that I would never leave an argument unresolved. Once I started doing that, I’ve had incredible success with my own stability because I finish it on the spot. I don’t have to wake up the next day as if it’s unresolved. That’s no closure.
MT: There’s closure to everything I do.
AA: How long did it take you to record Straight From the Flock?
MT: It doesn’t really take very long to record these days. The preparation for the album had been a good eight months. When Vito and I wrote the songs in White Lion, we would write them, him and I and the next day or day after, the band would be together and we would start rehearsing and working the song out with the full band. That’s also how we would go into the studio. We would, of course, rehearse the album before we go to the studio. Then we would go in and we would sometimes record and listen back.
MT: These things don’t exist anymore. There’s no big record deal. There’s not the money for it anymore. So all the pre-production, all the experimenting, I do in my own studio. I’ll set a program to drums and play the guitars and the bass and the keyboard and test out the song, because I will not have the time with the band, and the way everything is today.
MT: But once we hit the studio, the basic tracks are recorded in two days and things like that. Then you know, I do some of the guitars at home. I did all the vocals in my own studio and things like that. You just do it in a different way because there ain’t the budgets anymore and we all have our own little studios at home. It’s not the way I would prefer it but it’s the way it is.
AA: Is it true that for each record, you only write a short batch of songs instead of writing 30-40 songs for a record?
MT: Yep. I take a long break now. After this album. I mean, okay obviously it’s been almost a year since I finished writing the songs. I have not even attempted to write anything else. It’s very important that I get hungry again there’s a point between it. I said it in the most simple way. I’m writing a book here. And each is a chapter, a moment in time, of my time, of my life.
MT: Of course some of the songs can reflect other times but it’s where I am at the moment. It’s what I’m thinking about. It’s how I’m feeling. Each chapter is like that. We actually wrote in a similar way, Vito and I with the Pride album, that we wrote song after song and were able to look back, we had written that kind of song, we’re not going to repeat that kind of song.
MT: Once I started writing my solo albums, I wrote and in many cases, the opening track of the album is the first track I write for the album and it kind of sets me off and starts me on the journey of where I’m going with this thing. It would catapult myself onto the next track. It comes like that. After salt, you want something sweet. It’s one of those things. I’m comfortable with that and now it’s become a method that I follow.
MT:To me, it’s also a commitment and a personal belief, because if I’m in the middle of writing something and I don’t feel it does, I’ll just throw it away. I won’t finish it, you know. And then I’ll just start fresh. It’s almost like a painting and I’ll just scratch it, you know? I want to get really deeply involved. It doesn’t take me very long to write the song. I know it within two or three minutes as I’m starting to write to a song, I know how it got from here.
AA: Okay so you know right away.
MT: Yeah. It’s just … because I don’t sit and force it but the second I pick up the guitar, besides for soundcheck, I’ll start playing something without really knowing it. I don’t ever sit and repeat something. I never pick up a guitar and play Walk This Way or Stairway to Heaven. I’m always just playing in my own original work. I stay there and I’m not interested in going outside it.
AA: Dead End Ride is the first single from the album, how did that song come about?
MT: I would probably say that Dead End Ride is the DNA of Mike Tramp. It has those ingredients where I sort of, you could say if there was going to be a song on that album that would represent me, then that song would probably represent more than most of the other songs. It’s one of those songs that it probably didn’t take me more than 10-15 minutes to write the structure of the song, the melody of the verse and the chorus. Once I’m secure with that, I will then write the lyrics. The lyrics could be written you know, two months later. But once I know I have the song, melody-wise and I sing it, I might sing something else, there might be some words that stick in there that when I open it up to sit and write the words.
MT: Many different songwriters probably do, but I want the words to fit the music and the phrases as an example, like Eddie Vedder, I know sits and writes and pokes some outside melody and things like that. And then suddenly the band has some music and he’ll pick it up and he’ll starting singing but now you have to phrase yourself in a different way. I want the music in a very traditional to really flow with the song. And not that have I have to stretch a syllable or something like that because I’ve written a syllable outside the music. So, I write the words to fit the music.
MT: But also the vibe of the song inspired me to what I’m going to write about. I don’t come here and say how does this song, it’s a really sad song and throws into a really happy song musically.
AA: Has the way you approach songwriting changed from when you first started until now?
MT: Not really but of course, we’re in a whole different game, sitting and writing for White Lion with Vito across from me, I’ve always been the same. I’ve always been sitting there with the guitar and strumming and doing the folk background that I come from. Then we have, at that moment we understood and I understood what decade we were in, and how we wanted the band to sound. But the core of the melody, which when I play some of the White Lion songs tonight, they’re down to their purest and rawest form where you will hear that the melody stands by itself.
MT: Then we put the big guitars and the Vito did these great solos and the band is kicking in and they’re great rock songs, but they’re also great songs with just an acoustic guitar, playing them very simple and that’s where the songs come from.
AA: Have you decided on the next single for the album?
MT: Yes and no. I was actually very lucky that American Rock Radio really favored Dead End Ride and gave it a lot of airplay which is basically the first time any of my solo albums have been played on those stations so because there are different territories in the world and it’s not so grand anymore that there’s just this worldwide. I can have a single on Danish radio that’s not going to matter anywhere else.
MT: It might be Homesick (as next single) which would be the next song that maybe we’ll do a video for. But intentions will probably be more than I started in my home country. We might with a different song for American radio, who knows?
AA: Til Death Do Us Part, that’s one of your most underrated songs. How did you write that song?
MT: I sang that yesterday because there was a guy who had come to the show and he said that he was going to propose to his girlfriend so I brought them in the first row and he proposed and I played the song.
AA: What’s the inspiration for that song? It’s such a beautiful song. It’s timeless.
MT: Obviously, it’s proven the test of time and a lot of people, obviously it’s the ultimate commitment.
AA: Right. I posted that song on my Facebook page because I loved the song and people are like, who wrote that song and a lot of them don’t know it is you.
MT: Yeah. You know what? Here is just something, of course, everything is always like, you know, as prepared as we were for Main Attraction because Vito and I had taken a long time to write this album, we wanted to have the time, we didn’t have the time to write Big Game. Big Game was written very short because we had been on a two-year tour with the Pride album, and the record company wanted an album quickly. We’re happy with the songs we wrote but we needed more time to live with the songs and us where we wanted to go ourselves. Main Attraction had come out in the summer of ’89, where Big Game had come out and Til Death Do Us Part had become a third single classic on MTV, it would have been very, very big. We came two years too late with that.
AA: What was it like making your first solo record Capricorn without having a band is that it was your solo record would be just your name on it? How was that experience?
MT: It was a fine experience. A lot of the fan doesn’t know the chapters that are called ’92-’95 which is the years I had a band called Freak of Nature and I recorded three albums. When we ended with that, I was very clear in my head that I couldn’t give my heart to a band anymore. But two of the guys on that band played on my solo album and I had that whole half of ’95 and half of ’96 to sit and write songs.
MT: Actually for that album, I wrote a lot of songs. It’s on my box set, the Capricorn that was probably written a good, about 40 songs. This is just really a time where I’m searching or maybe not searching but seeing as I write where I sort of end up and keep coming back to the same and the same and the same. No matter what you do, you will keep returning back home to who you are and that’s what you need to be doing. When you come out of a band, you know, where do I need to do. It shouldn’t really be a question you should ask yourself, you should basically go where you’re going and that’s following the natural way. So I had my little studio set up and started writing songs and demoing them and all these different kinds of things. It was great. It was a nice experience of seeing it and a lot of people will say that about once you do your solo album is that you don’t really have to ask anyone else.
MT: When Vito and I are dealing with it, you know, we have to be in agreement of where we’re going with the song. But once you’re in the solo, you just go wherever. It’s not really ego, but there’s an incredible amount of relief that you don’t have to turn around and ask someone else what they’re thinking.
MT: Even though when we’re rehearsing with the band before we do the album, because this band compared others is, sort of, I think almost recorded live with the full band, you know, me on guitar and the other guitar with bass and drums, you know doing this, and then just me patching up some vocals, which is what I was looking for. Getting something that just felt like energetic, fresh, things like that, you know?
AA: Which album, if there’s one album that you will want everybody to hear from your career, which album would that be?
MT: Yeah, that’s, you know. I, of course would say one of my solo albums, because it is where, I keep using the word journey, make it a trip or whatever, it’s when you return with the experience of your life and you know it all and you see it clear and you don’t really have any more about why it happened. It’s like you’ve gone out there and you tested yourself and you’ve tried things you were unprepared for and all those different kinds of things. Now, when I came back home and it’s always when I call them and I return back home and recorded the solo album that’s called Cobblestone Street, that’s where I am back at the start.
MT: Cobblestone Street is a song about the street I grew up and the neighborhood I come from and so on and so, but it’s also where I come from musically, and raised in the late ’60s, early 70’s on folk, Johnny Cash, Bob Dillon, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and a lot of Danish folks, it is my true origins. No matter what band I am and no matter what I do, it’s where I start everything from. Being able to record that album in 2012, and making that decision to become that simple on the album and that sort of raw, and pure and honest is something a lot of people don’t really like to do.
MT: I left myself very open and I wanted to come in and feel the pain and hear the stories of the journey. So even though I’m very proud of all the albums, that album still means, probably the most to me because it is a true representation of the strip down, the rawer form, the purer form of Mike Tramp, before you put anything else on it.
AA: What was your experience like in 2012 when you just did an acoustic tour where you were just doing everything by yourself?
MT: It’s one of those things where, let’s not maybe use the word, lost, but when you’re lost, there’s this old saying about go back to where you come from and see if you find the answers there. It could be manual or putting a cabinet together that you bought in a store, and you started all the way and then you go back to scratch, and you just say “Okay. This is how I started out.” There is just this thing about going out with acoustic guitar by yourself which was the first tour and now, the end result of the many tours I’ve done.
MT: It is really to see who am I? What am I made of? If I can do it in this simple form, then there’s nothing I can’t do because this is where … I mean yesterday I just stood under fluorescent light in a ballroom in a hotel on just two pieces of plywood. You couldn’t get a rawer and more stripped down. I delivered a great show and people are sitting there for another hour and a half and meeting me afterward and that’s because, there’s no façade, that is the purest, it is the real deal. You can’t hide. Either you got it or you ain’t got it.
MT: It’s just the way it is and it’s strengthened me that I’m not looking for anything. I’m very, very secure in what I want to do. I don’t try to do anything but Mike Tramp. I don’t have any big goals or anything like this. I’m just doing me.
AA: It’s easy, you can tell because, as I said, you’re 20 years in a solo career with 11 albums where a lot of your peers are not making records anymore.
AA: Writing songs the way they used to.
MT: No. No. No. because it’s their choice but they haven’t made the decision. They’d rather continue with what they’re still doing even though that thing is dying and there’s nobody in that style of music that write a great album. The great albums were written the 80’s where they were known from. I do make that comment many times without slagging anyone. I am the only one that has done 11 consistent, the style is clear through all the albums.
AA: Fans don’t have to wait four or five years for a new record or anything.
MT: You know it’s more me that decides they should wait because I don’t want to release and listen to No End to War and then turn the music off, and then start writing a song. I want it to pour out of me. It will tell me. It will knock on the inside and say “Okay, the planets have to be in the right place.” The problem is not writing it if I got an assignment to write a soundtrack for a movie, because let’s just saying somebody heard my songs and said: “I like where you are going and this is the story of the album.” I would be 100% confident that I could write that album in a couple of weeks. But why should I write an album right now? This album’s just coming out and who knows where I want to be going next? Who knows? Maybe the next one is not going to be something new, maybe it’s going to be an acoustic album for the fans of all the shows, it’s not going to be live but where I do a double album of the best version of these songs for people to enjoy. Because I feel that maybe there’s not a need for new music right away again.
AA: With so many songs, how do you put a set list together?
MT: It is a dilemma because I must admit I am a little bit of a sucker for the fans. I know a lot about them. You have two kinds of people, some that really look forward. If was going out and seeing somebody that’s in, I would like to hear what they representing them today. You know the fans are, I don’t like the word fans but they start feeling good when they recognize something. Not everybody’s got the solo albums and stuff like that so it’s a combination of the different things.
AA: The song takes them to memory.
MT: I usually try to go old song, new song, old song, new song, so it’s a cross between that.
AA: If you could collaborate with anybody, who would it be to write songs?
MT: I don’t really want to collaborate with anyone but it certainly would not be anybody of my peer. That’s a lot of people At the same time, I don’t write songs for other people. It’s not that I couldn’t, it’s just that, again, I don’t have that draw for other people’s songs. What would I gain by writing a song together with one of my heroes, Bruce Springsteen? He’s telling his story, I’m telling my story would be very difficult lyrical wise.
MT: If it was I would rather choose a really good piano player that would come in from another side and add some different things, not just talking about a piano player playing on a record but when you’re writing, the piano has so many more places you can go. I’ve written a few songs on the piano, and it’s the thing I keep promising myself that I want to get better at the piano because I know it will open a completely new world to songwriting because there are so many more chord progressions you can do on a piano that’s impossible on a guitar.
MT: A guitar instantly becomes strumming a rhythm but a piano can do a lot of different things. You can also switch the sound and just have a hammer or strong that doesn’t have a rhythm, but you just hear it. So there are many things but at the same time, you’re limited to how much time is left and you know. As I said, I probably would jump on the chance, on maybe collaborating with someone in writing music for a film where we wouldn’t be limited to this mental thing that a song ends within four minutes. It’s like of programmed in me, I don’t know what it is, but most songs are around that.
MT: In the old days it was because of radio but now it’s programmed. After a while, you just know the song is over but the second you write a film, they’re just going to fade it up and fade it down and you can go with it. You also are free to tell a story or whatever. Many great things.
AA: What album or artist made you want to be an artist?
MT: The thing is I never planned, I never had any wish of getting into music. It sort of happened. I had an acoustic guitar and we were playing in my youth. I used to sit and play around the campfire and this why I always just believed that the simple form of strumming would gather the most people. Nobody’s interested in hearing a guitar solo or drum solo, they just want to have a song they can sing along with.
MT: Once I fell into the music business at age 15 and shortly after, once I knew I was in there, I took it seriously and shortly after I knew, I’m going to go forward with this. This is before I was thinking about America or anything, this is just back in Denmark. Once I got to that point, I knew that was the thing. From that time, there’s been no surrender, no quitting, no returning, no giving up. After the ten first years, it got taken over that it’s not, now it’s a way of life. It’s not something you do, it’s your life, it’s what you do, it’s what you are, it’s who you are. Everything I do, it’s the center of it, even my family. The center, my soul is my music. It becomes that. It’s not in the way I wanted to be but it’s just become because I’ve done it for so long. It is what I am.
MT: Every decision is made in my life around that. It doesn’t matter if I ever reach a higher level. It’s just whatever I do will have its foundation in my music and my music is a representation of who I am as a human being. How I feel, how I think, how I’m unhappy, how I’m happy, how I’m a political view, anything. It’s what it is. I don’t have to put a KISS makeup on. I am myself. When I walk out on stage and you see out there, it will be the same person you saw here.
MT: That’s probably the greatest I’ve been given is that I could just trust in myself and be that. That’s the most important thing you can do somehow.
Angel Alamo is an official contributor to both BallBuster Music & Metal Sludge!