Mike Tramp is one of the most recognizable voices of the 80s. His band White Lion released a string of memorable recordings and is one of the few bands of the era that have never reunited. Mike has now released an album of rerecorded versions of those classic songs and is taking it on tour. He recently sat down with me to talk about the unique history of this band.
Please press the PLAY icon below for the MisplacedStraws Conversation with Mike Tramp –
On what led him to rerecord these classic songs – So the thing is, this has been a long journey. I ended White Lion in 91, my own band, I closed the door on that. Once I made that decision, it was about that I was ready to move on. There’s many different reasons why it happened, but at the end, it has also a lot to do with that in reality, the 80s were done and record companies were looking for the new step. It was like, you were in a room and suddenly you felt uninvited. I took a lot of that upon myself as almost a personal insult, I’m not gonna get that sensitive. Then you added that the band had basically split in half recently before that, when James LoMenzo and Greg D’Angelo, the rhythm section had left the band, and even though Vito (Bratta) and I didn’t necessarily feel hurt about it, we found two new guys, we felt a burst of energy and we were ready to do that. Things like that leave a big impact. We had done a little bit of an American tour to try out the new guys, and when we came in to play New York City at, the end of August 91, none of the record company showed up for the sold out show. This is a place where everything started for us, this is a hometown, so all that stuff putting in. Once I then went solo, at first I had a band called Freak of Nature with three albums, and then after that, I went solo. Everywhere I went in the world, the White Lion sticker got slapped on my back. I was under the impression that ending something, meant ending something. The new musical journeys that I did with both Freak of Nature and then my solo career that now, which is up to date, have done thirteen solo albums, it was clear to me, I’m on to something new. But it just seemed like someone, and it wasn’t the world, but so much as simply didn’t want me to just move on as a songwriter and an artist and stuff like that. Obviously, I thought that. But my solo career never really took off. I kept writing the songs and written and recorded 13 consistent solo albums, which clearly shows who Mike Tramp is as a solo artist. Then I’ve been cut and pushed into this White Lion adventure once before from 2005 to 2009 I even went out at the end to record an album, which I did under the White Lion banner called Return of the Pride. But at the same time, it had nothing to do with White Lion. It was just a big bowl of confusion. Then I’ll let go of that, then it was back on the solo career, album after album, tour after tour just playing the clubs or small theaters and stuff like that. Then I started introducing some Wide Lion songs that the request of promoters, but the thing is that my solo band is like a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, they’re not an 80s band. I don’t want that sound, that way of thinking, that way of playing into that band. So I was never comfortable whenever we did a new interpretation of a White Lion song. I always felt that White Lion had its own place, and it belonged in those four albums and it belonged in the memories from 83 to 91. I couldn’t take it anymore, I had to explore it, maximum, how I could do this if I was going to do that. I’m not 26 anymore, I’m actually the opposite, I’m 62 years old, so I wanted to see if the guitar player I was working with, if he could interpret Vito Bratta’s guitar parts, which are as important as my vocal and my melody to the sound of White Lion in a different key, which I would have to say for me to fit into today’s world and my age and everything, the whole persona. After a while, he came back and says, “You know what, the songs you have chosen, I think I got them down”, and we started to record them. Once I started singing them, I really felt joy, I really, really feel the joy of singing them for the first time since I was in White Lion. That had a lot to do with I had a long enough period for them to rest, but also that I found that I could represent the songs in 2023 because I couldn’t go out and do an album which sounded like the last breath of a dying artist. Ity had to be something that, you kinda introduced it in a nice way, both refreshing, and modern, but at the same time keeping as much of the original versions as possible, because I don’t wanna change songs like “Wait”, and “Little Fighter”, and “Tell Me”, but I wanted them to sound like they were fresh and new, and the combination of the key that I’m singing in and obviously just the band playing songs, which are legendary and sort of etched in stone gave a nice combination that even I said, “Wow, I’m actually excited about this”. :45
On the band playing on Songs of White Lion – Besides Marcus Nand, the guitar player who is in LA, I used two of my friends in Denmark where I am, trusted guys who have been out with me playing some of these White Lion songs. So I wanted to create a familiar, friendly barbeque in the studio. I wanted all that stuff to get into the groove of this production that it oozed of comfortable surroundings and everything like that. You mentioned before you have been along for the ride since the beginning and stuff like that, so you could easily say to me, “I don’t need another version of Pride, I already got the original one”, but I’m almost positive unless you’re somebody on Facebook who simply just have to make a comment, that most people will feel that this trip back in a different car is actually okay. 7:25
On the grown-up feel to the arrangements – I really, really appreciate you saying that it’s genuine what you say, and of course, also because, not just the praise of my albums, but also that I completely connect to what you just said, because that is the overall thing. A lot of fans who have come to my solo shows over the last 10 years, when it toured the US with an acoustic guitar, have said similar things. “We came because we saw you in White Lion, and that’s when we became fans, but growing with your solo albums has made the journey worth it. Now, I come here with my wife who met when you supported AC/DC in Omaha, “we do “Wait” is our song, and then when we started hearing you as an artist with the solo albums, it was almost like the journey continued.” It’s like once Captain Kirk left Star Trek, the journey still continued. It was different, but it was still the Enterprise, there were still all those familiar things that had to be along. Because I am 35 years older, and I wanted it to sound like I was 35 years older, probably more in the experience and the understanding of the journey that the White Lion songs have taken with me as both a passenger, but also as a driver. 9:02
On how he first met Vito Bratta – It’s kind of like love at first sight. You simply will not be able to find the words. I had met Vito at a final show with the Danish Band, which was called Lion, when we came to New York and Vito’s band Dreamer was playing there, and we met in the dressing room. Once I started seeing him play, I was completely in awe. I thought my band was great, and suddenly I saw someone like, “Wow, you gotta be kidding. This is a guy, I need to play with”. Shortly after we’d gone back to Denmark and I came back to America and New York, and Vito was the first one I contacted. He had a band at that time, but he brought over the rhythm section and we bullshitted each other and stuff like that, and we started then forming a sort of like an early version of the band, which we took on the name Lion, from me, and we started playing all my songs. After a very short time, it fell apart, but Vito and I stayed together, and then he says, “I’m gonna come over to you”, to where I was living in Queens, and he was living in Staten Island, he says, “I’m gonna come over”. And we set up that night and wrote “Broken Heart” and “The Road to Valhalla”, and it became the night when White Lion was born. Not a lot of words were spoken, it was just really two guitars that met in the room and the music did all the talking. From that moment on, Vito and I never spoke about music. We just wrote songs. We are so one person, when it came to writing the music and what White Lion was, there were never, ever a debate or question about what the band was. On the outside, in our private life, we were heaven and hell, black and white. We had two different philosophies. Vito always said, “Well, what does that matter as a band, as a songwriting team, we work and there are no questions”, and I can only agree with him. He never became the friend that I wanted him to be outside that we could do a lot of stuff together, and maybe in reality, because we were like that, maybe that also became the magic when we wrote the music together. Being apart in the waking hours of the day and stuff like that, and only at night when we got together for writing the songs, we also wrote songs in the daylight, but it’s just a sort of a metaphor in that when we got together, it was electricity, and we didn’t need to explain stuff, we just wrote. We wrote the songs very quickly, we instantly got to the point. I never said, “Well, I don’t like where you’re going there”, I just started singing. 11:07
On if the lack of personal connection ultimately drove the band apart – Well, there are also a lot of bands that grew up as kids together and end up in court. I have had this conversation with Vito many times, and obviously, we have had to go through some legal papers at times, the friendship that I have with James LoMenzo the bass player, a true brother friendship, and only for a short time, after they departed White Lion did that sort of just fade away. But we very quickly rekindled that because James was exactly what Vito wasn’t to me. He was the friend and him and I were painting houses and just vibing and stuff, and he’s 100% like me, and through his career with Megadeth and John Fogerty, any time he’s come to where I played, we have always been together and stuff like that. But there are more than one factor involved in how a band breaks up. Obviously, Vito and I are the songwriters, and Vito in reality, was not really interested in writing any songs with the rest of the band. Now without any offending anyone, Vito said to me, probably within the last two months when we talked, “They always used to complain about they never got to write any songs. Now, 35 years later, where are their songs?” I didn’t engage in that conversation, but I know where he came from, and he seemed to just (wonder), “What’s wrong with this machine? This machine is putting gas in the car, this machine is bringing us to the big stage and stuff like that.” At the end, there needed to be some financial negotiations and stuff like that, and even though I don’t know the true story at that moment, even though I’m 50% of what White Lion was, it just ended up, well, then we’re gonna leave the band. I guess in reality, Vito felt quite comfortable or cocky, and of course, at that moment, I stood by my songwriting partner and so on. “Alright, we’ll show with them”, and then you get two new guys and stuff like that. It’s similar to every other band and stuff like that. Then shortly after you start realizing that a band has a moment and that you can’t create that even if you get two players that are sort of technically better or have better hair or whatever, there’s only one original band. 15:04
On upcoming plans – Show the money. Do you know what, the thing is that prior to doing the Songs of White Lion album, I’m always sort of floating around. But here are the facts, and I say that both with pride and just reality. Songwriting comes very easily to me, but there also has to be a reason why you go in and record an album. Sales of physical albums, which is what I do, I’m not necessarily a big streaming artist, my fans are people that buy vinyl and CDs, and stuff. The Songs of White Lion is a chapter where I see that being a live concert. To me, the album is probably to me more a concert poster, a business card for live performance, than it really is for me, an album. So it basically says, “Mike Tramp, Songs of White Lion, well, that’s what he’s going to be playing”. It eventually could evolve with a larger setlist, which doesn’t just include the songs from the album. Putting an all-star band together, or even finding those guys, there’s no budget for a record, there’s no budget for a tour going out there. I have for the last 10 years toured America seven times by myself when an acoustic guitar in a rental car, because nothing else is possible. Now, I’ve moved it up that on the May tour, I’m torn together with Marcus Nand, the guitar player, we’re both playing electric guitars and we have a bass and drum loop behind us, so you’re basically going to get the feeling of Songs of White Lion, and we couldn’t do this with a full band. I’m doing 22 shows in the month of May. There are no bands from my time besides Motley Crue, that are doing more than one show a week and stuff like that. So it has been all about adapting, adjusting, improvising to the changing situation because the finances aren’t there in the venues and stuff like that, and the competition is hot. Kiss has drained rock and roll for its money, and now the rest of us have to pay for a six-pack of beer or something like that. 18:47