When did you start singing and exploring music? I know you were young, but was it always something that interested you?
Well there’s like two answers to that. The number one answer is that it was probably around like, twelve years old or something. Number two, is that I never had any ambition or any goal to get into the music business. I didn’t even think about it. It just happened that I was lucky enough to have a youth club that I went to after school, and there were a lot of theater and music things- more for the sake of enjoyment, especially since I’m from Denmark, there were none of the leaders there wanting you to go into it in a commercial way. They just wanted all the children in the youth club to be equal. So I was just active in that way, and that club had these yearly theaters where we would be singing in musicals and stuff. In ’74 they decided to record one of those things, and we went in live and recorded an album of one of those plays. A guy who ran a teen magazine lived in my apartment building, and he used to see me and my younger brother go over to the youth club everyday- two decent looking young kids, sometimes with a guitar. His antennas came up while he was sitting there writing about The Osmonds and David Cassidy and all the teen stuff that was in the 70’s. He asked us if we were interested in trying to do a record, and imagine a fifteen year old being told that- who’s just thinking about hanging out in the park with his friends or kicking the ball around and stuff like that. But one thing led to another and we recorded two songs, English songs, by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons and then after school I started working for him at the magazine. One band in Denmark had lost their lead singer and they came to this guy because he had like, the network, and making a long story short he managed to get me in there for an audition. From that day on, I stayed at the bands house. They were ten years older than me. And the rest is registered history. From when I joined the band called Mabel in 1976, I became a public figure. And we already recorded our first record in the first six months.
How old were you? Like sixteen?
Fifteen and a half.
I did read that you were in a pop band, so that was the band! Tell me about it! How was it overall?
That was the band! But how was it when you have nothing to compare it to? This is not somebody getting into it on The Voice or X-Factor or American Idol. Look at what young people are sitting there watching today. By the time they hit the show, they already know all the moves and all this stuff- what did I know? Nothing. I came straight off the street into a band with nothing to mirror myself against. So all I could do was look at them. Once you get going, you start learning something every day and you start voicing your opinion and one day you fucking find yourself sitting there writing a song. I think it just becomes a natural thing that once you’re in there, and if you have any form of natural talent, it’ll show itself naturally at some time or another. If you don’t have it, fucking forget about it.
At what point does that end? Does this come to America?
So that band lasted from ’76 to 1982 and by the time the band goes on with albums and albums and we move away from Denmark and live for a couple years in Spain- I now start taking over the band. I’m ten years younger than them. But I am just the energizer bunny, I’m the one with all the ideas and I just want to sound American- all this inspiration I get from American bands like Journey and Cheap Trick and this sound that I’m hearing. We meet this guy in Spain that says ‘hey, you guys are pretty cool. I’ll be your manager and you guys can live in my house in New York’, and that’s all I needed to hear. For the next three months we saved up everything we had, we sold the furniture in the apartment we had- it wasn’t even our furniture. We arrived in New York in 1982, the summer of ’82, when the 80’s had just started- MTV had just started and David Letterman had just started. You could imagine the amount of energy in the business, like there was Def Leppard ‘Pyromania’- things were exploding. You get into a place where any rock club in New York has an average of 300-700 people, no matter who plays. The fans are getting to a place where they can dress the way they want to dress and stuff like that, it’s just alive and kicking. There’s just so much energy, positive energy, and the business is just…I mean, you could stand still and watch it grow. We’re playing around with all the bands and stuff and in November we’re playing this club in Brooklyn-
L’Amour’s. We’re playing with this band called Dreamer and they’re a tribute band- they’re playing Maiden and Van Halen, stuff like that. I meet Vito Bratta in the dressing room and I go okay, this is a whole different league. I saw something that I hadn’t seen before. And then the year ends and we go back to Denmark, the guys are tired. Two weeks after we come to New York we had spent all the money we had. We’re basically broke for five or six months, we’re living on water and rice and love- stuff like that. When we come back to Denmark the band breaks up, and you know, I’m fucking restless. I just tasted blood. So my mom helps me get a little bank loan for a ticket, a one way ticket, and in March of ’83 I returned to New York. I called Vito the first night I was there, and we decide to start a project together. And we start bit by bit, and after a couple months where we were only playing my songs because he’d never written a song. I bring all this stuff; we call the band Lion because you know, that was the name of my band. We finally sit down and try to write our first song, and that becomes “Broken Heart” which is the opening of ‘Fight to Survive’. That was the foundation of White Lion and from there on we go through different line-ups and stuff like that, but Vito and I write these songs and stay focused on it. We have difficulties finding the other two guys we want and it takes a bit of time before we actually get the lineup that’s on the back of that album- with Greg and James. So on the first album there’s a different rhythm section.
And how successful was ‘Fight to Survive’ for you guys? Because we all know ‘Pride’ was really the album that did it for you guys.
Yes, ‘Fight to Survive’ is one of those very interesting stories. Just look at the title. We had gone to Germany to record this album because our manager had a friend with a studio there and he said we were doing something called a spec deal- if we didn’t get a record deal we wouldn’t have to pay, but if we did get a record deal this is how much he wanted. We went over to Germany and we came back with a kick ass record that our manager signed a massive record deal two weeks after with Elektra Records. Two months later after we got signed and had taken the pictures for the album and stuff like that we get a call from our management saying they decided not to release the album. They dropped the band. And we’re like, first of all this is our first record deal and now we don’t have a record deal and we don’t know how to react. They’ve given us a big amount of money- that we kept. Three quarters of the year go by and we don’t understand this concept but they get the album licensed in Japan. We sign a record deal there and they release they album over there. It gets great reviews and gets imported now- back then imports were big, or exports, whatever. The band breaks first in Europe, Kerrang and all these magazines helped. And then the album started getting imported to stores in New York, you know, these were the days that record stores were active. This all happened and the movements are starting, the band starts pulling a bigger crowd and the fans start buying the album and start writing about it and stuff like that. This whole ‘Fight to Survive’ thing was when the band started getting a big following, and then in ’86 we get Atlantic Records interested. In January of ’87 we fly out to California with Michael Wagner and record the ‘Pride’ album. And one of the things about that album, and I tell these stories live too, that that’s our live set. When we went into the studio and record the songs that we had played live for two years, and we’re so secure in that album. We’re so secure in those songs, we’ve played them for so long, we’ve changed them a little and we know them inside and out. It’s almost a matter of press record. And that’s why this album is the purity of the band, and that would never be repeated.
I love asking this question because the answers are always so interesting- if there was a way and you could go back to the 80’s and change anything, would you?
Well yeah of course because now we have all the answers. But see, it’s almost tough to change it because ‘Pride’ comes out in the summer of ’87 and we tour for a year and a half around the world and play probably about three to four hundred shows on that album, and the album becomes double platinum and so on. That’s the world we live, we live the live set and we live the ‘Pride’ album. In 1988, almost 18 months later, we get the call from management saying that the record company needs a new album. And we’re fuckin’ burned out. We just wanna get away from each other and we wanna take a long break. And here is the classic statement that you get your entire life to write the first album, now we’re talking about ‘Pride’, and then you’ll get two weeks to write the next one. This is just two days after we finished our tour with Stryper, Vito and I are sitting in a hotel room in Palm Springs, California writing the ‘Big Game’ album completely spaced out.
But it is a good album, like it doesn’t feel like it was rushed or anything.
Yes! There are some great written songs but imagine…you asked me if I could change anything. Give us another half a year. Give us another half a year to play these songs so we can have enough time to play them so we can change them. Try one or two live and get the band back in and play. Before Christmas we’re already in the studio doing the pre-production, and then we take a break and then we’re in the studio. The album is released in like, June or something of ’89. And we’re back on tour, supporting Ozzy Osbourne. And when we release this album, ‘Pride’, is still on Top 40 on Billboard. It’s just one of those things, just as you get used to your iPhone, they come out with a fucking new one. And this is when it’s not smart, and this is when the business doesn’t work. Almost by the time we release this album, the 80’s has shown its first sign…
You’re on it! You know it! Because what is happening right there is that the 80’s had been cloned and cloned so many times. I joke about this on stage, that basically the concept of an 80’s band is a blonde lead singer and then three guys with black hair. And if you sit far away and see a big screen playing an 80’s video- it all fucking looks the same. My ex-wife and my son’s mother was one of the biggest costume designers of the 80’s and the 70’s- from Van Halen to Kiss, Whitesnake and the Scorpions. All that I wore, Ozzy Osbourne and the major big bands, I wasn’t just part of the 80’s- the 80’s was in my fucking house. My bedding was fucking spandex. There was so much.
You were surrounded by it.
I was surrounded by it. I sat and helped her do some of these other band’s clothes. This is one of the things where, and you know what, I can’t blame any band. I can’t blame ourselves, we all jumped on the train and it went really fucking fast. No one was going against the grain.
It’s what worked.
Exactly. Who the fuck would stand up and say ‘I’m gonna create grunge’. Look where that came from! Total opposite. There was such a contrast because you basically, at the end, felt like throwing up. And I hate to say it, the last bands didn’t have anything to give. It was the stage moves, it was the guitar riff- they were copying everything. There’s no bands that came in those last years that had anything to deliver.
Okay, so you’ve got ‘Pride’ which goes double platinum and then ‘Big Game’ which goes gold. And your last studio record is ‘Mane Attraction’, do you stop there because you know the industry is basically dead or was it internal?
It’s a combination of things. It’s like a marriage or a relationship- if there’s a spark; you can keep the fire going. If there’s no spark, you can fucking do anything and it ain’t gonna go. First of all, ‘Mane Attraction’ is what ‘Big Game’ should have been. Vito and I really prepared, it’s a great written album and it’s a great performed album. But, it’s a band that is not together. We have a big budget and we’re sort of separated in the production, Vito and I are running it with the new producer and stuff like that. Obviously Vito and I have written every single song, so you have from the beginning a team that doesn’t really…
Exactly. I mean they work together when they play the songs, but there’s no love. Then you release an album to a market…I mean the fans were out there. But the industry and the radio stations and MTV had almost turned the heat down from twelve to one and a half. So maybe they would still play the video, but it would be once in a blue moon. It was different in Europe because the band was huge in Europe, when we went over there, there was no demise. It was still very strong. We went over there and did a big headliner tour and when we came back to America Greg and James left the band. And then we got a new rhythm section and we did like, a three week club tour just to test out the band again. And it’s during those three weeks that I come to terms with that first of all, my songwriting partner is somebody that I cannot even call my friend. It’s somebody I have nothing in common with, and I mean nothing.
Is that because you just like, overworked the friendship so much?
It was like that from the beginning. It just wasn’t noticeable in the beginning because there was excitement because we were building a band. Now that we’re going against the current, against the grain, against the traffic- it’s more clear that when you want to lean on someone or stuff like that, it’s really separated. Like we had nothing in common. We’d never been to a dinner together, we’ve never gone out to dinner to discuss ‘oh are we gonna do this?’ or whatever. We’d never been to the fucking movies together. Damn, it’s like, just look at the songs we’ve written together. So that on top of me noticing how the record company is basically disappearing from being active with the band, and then me being the personality that I am, having money in the bank and feeling secure as a human being and saying you know, I don’t wanna fucking do this. We’re doing this three week tour and were out here in New York playing, and I was talking to these fans that saw this show- we were playing at one of these amusement parks- I can’t remember, it was somewhere in New York. Something goes wrong with the electricity so we’re standing back there and out of my mouth comes, and I say this to Vito- ‘when we play Boston tomorrow, it’s gonna be the final show’. And he just goes to me, ‘okay’. And for the next fifteen years, we never spoke about that. So after the Boston show we said goodbye at the airport, I flew to California, he flew to New York and I had already started my next band. That’s because that’s who I was, opposite to Vito Bratta.
I was going to ask about that because White Lion ends and Freak of Nature happens and it’s a lot heavier than White Lion is obviously- like rhythmically and musically and everything. Was that because of the fact that grunge was in or was it a personal direction you chose to go in.
It’s a couple different reasons. The number one thing I wanted to do with the band, once I got it together because it took a while to find the right members, was that this band was going to write the songs together. That’s the number one reason on how a band stays together. And we actually stood in a circle in the rehearsal room and everyone could see each other and stuff like that. Each individual musician in the band were gonna add their own spice to the dish. So that guys guitar sound and that guys guitar sound- that’s what they do. They don’t play drums, those two guitarists are different. And the drummer had his own style and then we had our own passion of 70’s classic rock. Anything from Zeppelin to Rainbow, Thin Lizzy and stuff like that. At the same time without a doubt we were listening to Pearl Jam, we were listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers- we were listening to some of that stuff. And every little thing became part of where we are.
So all of those influences came together and helped create it.
Including what I brought to the band. And that’s why Freak of Nature sounds like Freak of Nature.
I was going to ask you to explain to me the differences between White Lion and that but like you just said, the creative differences were huge.
Yes because you have five guys creating a sound together, not four guys playing two guys’ songs and being told what to play.
Now you’re probably going to hate me for asking this-
Not at all!
I mentioned that I was interviewing you and everyone wants to know- is there a chance of a White Lion reunion.
No. Not at all, not at all.
Have you and Vito spoken or anything?
No, me and Vito haven’t spoken in the last two years. I have no wish to ever even speak to Vito Bratta again.
I’m sure people ask you that a lot and it’s because they don’t know the actual internal problems between you guys.
It’s not so much, and if there’s a way you can relate this, it’s not so much that there is internal problems. We have had a couple lawsuits where Vito has sued me and stuff like that, and you know, I could really give a fuck even though I was the one who had to pay the money. The issue from my side is that he is non-existing on the face of this earth. For 25 years I have carried the name of White Lion across the world and kept it alive, regardless of what I did. I’ve got ten solo albums but no matter what I do the name White Lion is mentioned. My disappointment in him as a human being, as a friend, is beyond anything. It’s beyond anything. That’s where my grievances are. There’s no human being on the face of this earth that I have less contact with than Vito Bratta. There is no human being on the face of this earth that has achieved such a high status as Vito Bratta. You see what I’m saying?
I do understand what you’re saying, I really do.
If I never ever saw him or spoke his name again in my life…
You wouldn’t be affected?
Exactly. And one of the other reasons is I have a really good relationship with Greg and James. I just saw Greg two weeks ago when I was in California. And we never had anything…in that I didn’t take their side when they left the band- that’s a different issue. It’s just the way that Vito’s interest is just beyond anything. And at the same time also, and a lot of people don’t face up to this- there are a lot of people from the 80’s bands, and that’s almost 25 years ago, that don’t sound, look and are the same as they were in 1987. In 1987 I was 26 years old. I’m 55 years old now. I’m in much better shape now than most of those guys. I have chosen wanting to sound like who I am today.
You don’t want to live in the 80’s, basically.
I do still perform the songs, but I perform them as a mature person who comes in and tells a story about something that once happened. And that’s the difference; White Lion would not sound like White Lion. Journey came out and found a singer from the Philippines that fucking not just sounds like Steve Perry, but he god damn looks like Steve Perry and that’s one in a fucking blue moon. And that’s not a reunion. There is no voice that’s more recognizable than Steve Perry’s. All these bands reuniting with two guys in the band…
And you wouldn’t want to do that I’d imagine.
No and this might be one of the questions that I’m going to jump ahead and answer it, I made the mistake, and I’m the first one to say it, to create a new version of White Lion somewhere in the middle of the 2000’s. And I regretted it tremendously. I just got pulled into it because I wasn’t strong in the way that I didn’t believe in my solo career enough at that moment. I noticed that as soon as I started putting this band together and wanting to change the sound of the band, I realized hey dude, you already did that when you did Freak of Nature, you already said goodbye to that way of singing. So to defend myself in what I say, I have already admitted that I should not have done that and I couldn’t get out of it quick enough.
And you won’t do it again. Off limits.
Not a chance.
I just had to ask because all these 80’s festivals are popping up like 80’s In The Park and M3 in Maryland which is huge and I know people are dying for a White Lion reunion.
I do the Monsters of Rock Cruise and I play a lot of these 80’s things but it’s just Mike Tramp. And there’s not one person walking away from my shows not being completely fulfilled, because they get surprised by what they get.
You’ve got solo records, obviously-
I’ve got ten solo albums!
Yes you do! Why did you do those?
After Freak of Nature, there was no way I was going to form another band.
So you just wanted to do you.
It wasn’t so much that I wanted to do me, it’s just when I started writing songs and I heard them back I said- that’s me. When I play the White Lion songs tonight in a little bar, a lot of them are the foundation of the songs on that album. That’s how they started. I come from a background of folk music, that’s how I was raised. Dylan, Neil Young, Springsteen and stuff but by the time I was really influenced by Springsteen I was six albums into my career. But that’s who I am. That’s what my sound is. So a lot of that stuff is what we’ve been talking about from the beginning- this is who I am. This is who I am. And people walked away in awe yesterday, I’ve never had a bad solo show.
And I’m so excited to see it because it’s different. It’s acoustic, it’s unique.
It’s even more than that, this is a journey. This is therapy. It’s a little bit of comedy, but the songs themselves stand the test of time. There’s a lot of people who go out and play a song and if they don’t have the explosions or the big drum riser and the fireworks and stuff like that or the makeup on- they don’t think it’s a band. They can’t feel it. When you hear me play the songs, you’ll know the songs.
My last question for you is what’s next? You going to keep doing these Mike Tramp solo shows?
Hopefully, hopefully we won’t have to say ‘Mike Tramp solo’ anymore because you don’t really have to say ‘Bruce Springsteen solo’ , there’s not gonna be anything else. I mean I’m touring right now on the ‘Nomad’ album which came out September 15th. And right before I came to the USA I just started recording a new album, and it’s only because of time that it will be finished as soon as I get back in October. It’s being released February 24th and I start the new European tour. Unfortunately there’s no music business left, but the quality of my music is prime.
Is it some of the best stuff you’ve done?
Without a doubt. Each album gets better and better, but each album is a chapter in itself. I couldn’t get to this new album without the first solo album, and when you see the fans stand there with those albums it makes me proud that they understand what it is.
And I like you because you’re doing stuff now, and you’re not burnt out in the sense that there are some bands who push too hard and they’re not really in their prime anymore.
You will hear me tonight, and I’m not out there singing tits and ass songs. I’m out there singing about life. There are some out there at 65 years old singing lyrics that you’d be singing when you’re 19 and you’re out drinking beer. It doesn’t fit together. You know, there’s a fine line. That’s a fine line. There’s one thing if you play a classic old song that was from that time, but don’t fucking come in here and write an 80’s album when you’re 65.
Especially when it comes to White Lion, the songs are still relevant! “When the Children Cry” and those songs, it’s not like you guys ever had a “Cherry Pie” or a song like that.
Exactly, exactly. White Lion is interestingly one of the few New York bands, and if you listen from the start you can see it. Like ‘Fight to Survive’- that’s a dark fucking album. There’s no sex on that album. And then you get “Little Fighter” and “Cry for Freedom” and “If My Mind is Evil”, and you move on and you get “Lights and Thunder”. I want you to look into my eyes from behind the microphone and hear the words and just be like wow, that’s coming from here. It’s just one of those things.