With four decades in the ever-changing music industry under his belt, singer/songwriter Mike Tramp is the definition of integrity. As someone who has gambled his life and given his heart and soul to rock ‘n’ roll, Tramp is philosophical when pondering what genre has given him in return. “To me it is my lifestyle, a pair of glasses that I view life through, a pair of boots that take me to where I want to go and a religion that allows you freedom to follow your heart and do what you want.” Following his heart is what has led him to dedicate the last two decades to studiously carving out a unshakably solid body of work as a solo artist.
His latest album, “Stray From The Flock”, finds him staying true to both the timeless roots of rock ‘n’ roll, as well as his own as a songwriter. The powerful new album is the latest in a stellar collection of records written and released by Tramp since 1997. From the excellence of his solo debut “Capricorn” to “Maybe Tomorrow”, the Danish singer has been on a distinctive journey that has allowed him to reinvent himself. In this reinvention, Tramp has been able to reach a consistent look, feel, and sound that centers on some of the finest, acoustic-based-yet-hauntingly melodic songs you’ll ever hear. Recorded at Ark Studio in Denmark and mixed in Sweden by Peter Masson, “Stray From The Flock” essentially takes the template of the 2013 release “Cobblestone Street” one step further. It’s also an album that pretty much wrote itself. “I picked up the guitar and the songs just started flying out of me,” Tramp says. “I thought, ‘Fuck! There’s an album that wants to come out of here.” The album serves as the latest chapter in the musical saga he began with “Capricorn” in 1997 and is sure to captive fans of previous releases. “Stray From The Flock” is now available on CD, double gatefold LP on black 140-gram vinyl, limited double gatefold LP on orange color LP, 180-gram (500 copies only), digital and cassette (for those looking for an added fix of nostalgia).
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Mike Tramp as he took the road less traveled across the United States to bring his music to the people. The results offer a fascinating look at key moments in Tramp’s eclectic career, his evolution as an artist, and much more.
It goes without saying that music has played an incredible role in your life. How did the journey begin?
It’s always interesting because every artist has their own little story. I grew up in a house that loved music but I didn’t grow up in a musical home with musicians. First of all, I grew up in a divorced family with my two brothers. Very early on, my mother was working as a waitress in a bar. She came home one night with an acoustic guitar. That guitar was something that became a part of the living room in the corner. We are talking very late 60s here, going into the 70s. There was a big wave of folk music coming in from the U.S., but there was also a big movement in my home country of Denmark. It’s sort of what I grew up with but, at the same time, the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin are playing in the background, although I am way too young to understand that stuff. Sitting there strumming the acoustic guitar is something that always felt so natural to me. Here I am today and the songwriting procedure has never-ever changed. To me, that is so clear that I am what I am. It’s an extension of who I am. It’s self-expression. It’s not something that is forced or that I try to do. It is simply who I am and where I come from. Hence, when White Lion broke up, it’s why I am where I am today.
When we see you take the stage, you are always so cool, calm, and collected. I’m sure that is a product of years in the spotlight. When did you become comfortable in your own skin?
That’s a good question. I’m one of those cases where I did my learning and made my mistakes in front of the camera, on record and on TV, because I had already gotten into my first band at age 15. I remember asking my mom if I could drop out of school. Just that scenario right there speaks to it. “Hey, Mom? Can I drop out of school and join a band?” The guys in the band were 10 years older than me. I almost think that my mom might have thought that I would be better off doing that than from what she could provide. At the same time, I never had the plans or dreams of becoming anything within music. I liked sitting around the campfire and playing when the youth club went on trips and stuff like that. People would sing along to “Oh Donna” or some Elvis songs. That is my earliest memory of an audience responding to what I was doing. I took that approach to almost everything I have done since. A lot of it had to do with me basically doing what I could, and never tried to jump any higher than I could. I know I’m going to jump almost 40 years here, but I only write and sing what I can stand behind lyrically but also what I can perform as a songwriter.
What are some of the lessons you learned early on in your career that impacted you moving forward?
It’s really difficult to put it in perspective. When people stand there with pictures from 1988 when we were on tour with Aerosmith, AC/DC and these other giants of rock, those photos bring back memories. At that moment, you thought you knew it all. Of course, the end result, 25 or 35 years later, is that you didn’t know it all! Why should you know it all because there is no School of Rock. The School of Rock is the life you are living. Only falling on your ass will teach you, “Don’t do this the next time!” I make these comments from the stage that Steven Tyler gave me the advice to always have an attorney present when you sign something. However, by the time he gave me that lesson, I had already signed my life away without an attorney! [laughs] It’s just what it is. The chase has been better than the catch! It has been an unbelievable journey with a lot of valleys and a lot of hills. Together, they have made Mike Tramp!
What is that it keeps you so driven and what does it take to keep a career in music moving in the right direction?
I was 33 years old when my first child, my son, was born. At that time, I had almost dedicated 20 years into rock ‘n’ roll. The first 12 years I was just living in the gutter and I had nothing. Then I made it to the top with White Lion and the “Pride” album. I made a lot of money and I actually managed to lose it all again. Then, suddenly, on the way out of my long relationship with my wife at that time, she says, “I’m pregnant.” Here comes my son and I am 20 years into my career. I don’t live on a school/bus route. I don’t have a home. I don’t have any retirement fund or anything. What that tells me is that I have given my life to what I do. It’s not necessarily about being a star or a celebrity but living the life of a songwriter and a nomadic musician, even though I am not necessarily a music because I only do Mike Tramp and I don’t play for other people. It’s my life! It’s a way of life that suddenly just takes over and it’s what you do. Suddenly, you look back and say, “I have done this for 42 years! It’s not a hobby. It’s not a job. It is a life!”
What a journey it’s been! It’s truly inspiring to see someone so open and dedicated to their craft.
Trust me, you know I don’t hide anything. I throw it out in the open with my lyrics. I think that is one of my strengths — my honesty. Album after album, the audience embrace it because they see themselves within it. That is another great reward for me! When each individual person in the audience takes the song to heart and say, “I am the one he is singing about. That’s my life.” I am the real deal and there is no makeup. You know, one of my heroes is Bruce Springsteen. On his multi-million dollar Broadway show, he says, “I took my father’s voice and I sang about that. I never worked in a factory. I was never a blue-collar worker.” It is the same for me. I go in and sing about my life and the 15 years of hardship with my wife and how we are still together. I sing about the not planning for bringing two new children into the world where one of the people in the family is a traveling rock ‘n’ roller. I sing about the loss of my mom, the loss of my father and the loss of my brother, along with the way that I see life. There are also recurring themes like “Give it all you’ve got. Trust in yourself. One last mission.” Everything is about finding strength in yourself, believing in yourself and making whatever it is that you’ve got important. Sometimes it’s about not worrying about an unreachable goal, but making what you have the best it can be. That’s why Mike Tramp is the world’s best Mike Tramp, because he only does what he can. People come up to me and say, “Fuck, man! It’s so great! You are singing better than you ever did.” It’s not necessarily that I sing better than I sang before. Of course, I am more mature, but what I do is what I do, and it is exactly what I am good at. I don’t try to reproduce Mike Tramp 1988 with the long blonde hair, tight pants and jumping around on stage. That was then, this is now.
I definitely want to delve into your songwriting process. What goes into capturing your initial ideas?
I mean, there is no capturing of initial ideas. It’s either, the song comes or the song doesn’t come. I also never sit down and say, “Okay, today I am writing a song.” Whenever I pick a guitar up, even if it’s a soundcheck, can instantly lead to something I could continue with. Right now, after each album, I stop that process because I need the batteries to recharge. That’s not to say that I couldn’t sit and write a song today or a song tomorrow or if I got an email asking me to write a soundtrack to a movie. I know I have it in me! Right now, I have so much music in me but I want each album to have it’s time, so it can grow in people’s hearts. I like to make sure nothing comes in to interrupt or interfere with that. I don’t want to say, “I am already working on something…” No! This is the album and this is the moment in my time that it reflects. Each album reflects the last 2 years of my life in most cases. That’s what I want the listeners, who have followed the journey of this nomad with his motorcycle cruising down the endless highway, to hear. Each album is a chapter in this book that I am writing. Each album reflects that moment where that character, the hero or the villain, is at that moment. In my own little word, that is sort of what I am creating.
You mentioned giving each album room to breathe. How did you know when it’s was time to start on a new album and what got the ball rolling on “Stray From The Flock”?
That’s a good question because I almost said that after “Maybe Tomorrow,” which came in 2017, that I was going to take a break. I wasn’t going to take a break because I was tired. Maybe I was giving people a break. At the beginning of 2018, I partially lived in between Denmark and Jakarta, Indonesia. My wife and my two younger children, 10 and 13, were born in the U.S. but are living there. I was going to dedicate a lot of time to being home last year. Suddenly, I sat with a guitar and, believe it or not, the first song that gets written is “No End To War.” It’s not just any little song. This is an 8 1/2 minute epic, which is the opener of the new album. I knew instantly that the scenario, even though this song doesn’t reflect every song on the album, I saw the vision. I saw the big opening segment was down on the table and it poured out of me. I’ll tell you what, probably within the next three weeks, the entire album was written. I started working on the songs in my home studio. These days, as a solo artist, there ain’t the time anymore to go into the studio with a band, play around, knock the songs up against the wall and see what comes out. In my studio, I sit there with the technology of today, programming drums and trying to see where I can go with the different songs. I experiment with different versions of the songs, so when I find it and know I am completely clear on it, I take them and give them to the musicians who are going to play on the album. There is no mystery. If you heard my demos and compared it to the whole album, it’s a complete album but it’s a better guitar player and bass player playing on the songs.
I think the most important thing about this album for me, that in my own little world, that the saga continued and made sense from album to album. It’s a saga that actually started in 1997 with “Capricorn” and was followed up by “Recovering The Wasted Years” and “More To Life Than This.” It took a break in the middle where TRAMP got off the track and was derailed for a short period of time recreated White Lion Mark II with much regret. Coming back and finding where I was going to go with that was a challenge. I don’t know if you know my whole history, but basically what happened is that I come back and do the two “Rock N Roll Circuz” albums. First I did “Rock N Roll Circuz” and then “Stand Your Ground.” Those are probably the hardest I will ever get but it was also because coming out of the White Lion Mark II that I landed there. On “Stand Your Ground,” I realized the dilemma of it being too late in my life to form a band that would be loyal to me. Those are the kind of requirements and demand I set to my musicians. If you call it a band, then you don’t play with anyone else. For about a year, I am walking around saying, “Okay, what is going to happen here.” Then I walk in to my friend’s studio and say, “I have music in me. I want to hear how it comes out but I’m a little bit at a loss.” This was Soren Anderson, the guitar player on “Rock N Roll Circuz.” He said, “I’ve followed you for so long and I have done two albums with you.” I would ultimately work on the next 4 albums with him. He said, “You always come in here with your Dylan, Springsteen, Petty inspired acoustic songs. Then you say to me, let’s turn it into AC/DC. Why don’t you just go in there and play and sing the songs.” I went in there and I recorded “Cobblestone Street.” When I came out, he said, “And that’s what we do with the next nine songs!” “Cobblestone Street” became the point where I went in lost but went back to the beginning and start from scratch again. The beginning is what we talked about 20 minutes ago. It’s the acoustic guitar, my early band called Maybel, how I grew up, and my true background of songwriting. That is also what I brought to the table when Vito Bratta and I were writing for White Lion. I sat with the acoustic guitar and he sat with the electric guitar and it became White Lion. My songwriting has always come from the same place!
Which of the songs on “Stray From The Flock” was the most challenging for your to write?
There is a song on the album called “No Closure.” This is a decision I made after I lost my older brother last year and, the previous year, I had lost my father. These were two people who in one way or another been on the outskirts of my life. My father was asked by my mom to leave the home when I was 5 or 6 years old. I have no recollection of that but he came in and out. I ended up having a good relationship with it and I never felt like I carried any pain or questions about my childhood. My brother suffered for it. He became a drug addict and someone who lived the full, classic, hard rock life. He lived it to the fullest and was a great guy. In many ways, I lived the wild side of my rock ‘n’ roll life through him. I had him on tour many, many times. He never faced our father. He never came to terms with any of this stuff that he carried around from my dad’s departure or not being involved in our lives and was the cause of him being who he became. I remember the day when I called my brother and he was sitting in his usual bar. It was 3 PM and he was still coherent. I said, “I just wanted to let you know that our father has passed away.” He said, “Oh, that is terrible news.” At that moment, I had closure. I had taken care of my dad over the last year. It brought him closer to me and my younger brother. I was comfortable and at peace when he closed his eyes. I am so grateful for that, but I know that my older brother was not. His entire life, he had to carry that. So, with “No Closure,” I took my brother’s voice and it’s him singing to my dad. I had to paint that picture. Obviously, the words came very, very easy because I have lived with that my entire life. It felt good but it also felt heartbreaking singing it, but I felt good that I got it down on the canvas.
It is an important song. I’m very pleased that people who are reviewing the album are getting the point. Most people that the record company sends the album out to are people in the rock press. They are always a little lost when they get a Mike Tramp album because they still think it is White Lion coming. Everybody is responding to this song and they are getting the point of what I am saying. To make it even more clear, think of the gigantic spice rack in your mother or grandparent’s kitchen. I’m like the 3rd or 4th row where you reach in and get the Cardamom. It’s a spice if you add it to anything, there is no doubt that it’s in there, but you don’t add it to your daily food. I just want to be there when people want that. When people want that, I want them to reach for Mike Tramp. I’m so confident in my message that I don’t want to compete against my comrades from the 80s and stuff like that, hence the title of the album, “Stray From The Flock.” This is a journey that I started in 1996. I’m not a continuation of the 1980s. I’m just somebody who was also part of that.
Where do you see yourself headed in the future when it comes to your music?
I don’t see myself going anywhere else with my music. The next album could possibly be a full acoustic album, just as a departure. I haven’t planned anything yet, but I also don’t want to do the same thing over, over and over. I could come with a project if I felt a real need to something like a diversion, it would have to be something that Mike Tramp came into. Some of my old friends play on my albums and say, “Oh, do you want to write something.” I say, “No, I really don’t want to write something. If the time was there and the space for it was there in my life, then you write some guitar riffs and I’ll sing to it. If I start it, it becomes a Mike Tramp album.” If I am the captain with the wheel in my hands, I will steer it down my alley and I don’t need anyone to be part of that because that is my world. I know exactly what I am doing there, and I don’t need any influence or inspiration. The inspiration comes from what I carry inside of me — it’s my pain, my anger, my questions in life, my triumphs and disappointments. It’s all there. The is so much music that could come out, but the music business is only so big.
You’ve been touring the United States over the past few weeks. What has that experience been like for you this time around? Did you find any inspiration during your travels?
The inspiration has been meeting the fans after the show. A lot of them are close to my own age. Now, they are husband and wife, people with a life, people with a mortgage, people with children or people who have been suffering, etcetera, etcetera. I love that audience! I love that audience and I love connecting with them! I love seeing their expressions when you sing certain lines in songs and it’s not when I sing “Wait.” It’s when I sing the new songs from the solo albums. I love that! That’s what it’s about now. The greatest thing about touring is meeting people, getting out in smaller towns and driving the small country highways. I love it to death! I’m not a big fan of big cities. I love good old-fashioned America and American life. I love the way people speak when it’s the old way and that people are not afraid of saying how they feel. I hate everything about this new movement, which I don’t know who the hell is trying to create, but it has absolutely nothing to do with America. I’m not American but I know what America is!
You’re a career musician who is out there on the front lines fighting for their art. What is your view of the role of technology and its impact on your craft?
We are fighting a monster. The way technology and life are evolving, it’s at the speed of light. I will try to narrow it down to layman’s terms. It’s turning on the TV, the cellphones, Instagram. I don’t think that we are prepared for how quick it is coming and the effect. I am choosing to only go as far as an official Facebook page, which is a modern-day website with an update on the tour, the music, the shows and stuff like that. I stay away from commenting on anything else. When I talk from the stage about the new album and how it is also being released on cassette tape, it’s my own little desperate attempt to hold onto memories and a time where I remember a tremendous joy when people received new music. I can only recommend and try to advise to try to pull a little back from the social media and give a little more to yourself, your partner or your children to the real world, man. I’m facing it. My kids are sitting there with phones and my wife is driving me crazy! [laughs] I would just as soon end up in a cabin out in the woods! I’m not interested in the future. I don’t want any more technology. It’s not making anything better. I don’t even know how to change the oil in the car anymore!
You’ve taken us on an incredible journey through the years. What is the best lesson we can learn from Mike Tramp?
I think it’s that the best is yet to come! In many cases, things are better with time like wine or a tree will grow stronger. You sort of started saying it, that you are following this journey but what if the listener also saw himself as part of that journey and connected his own life to it? They might say, “It is a journey and Tramp has been through this, in and out of stuff. It’s all a part of life.” If you stay true to yourself, trust in yourself and are a good citizen. It’s like I wrote in my song, “I don’t need no holy book to tell me good from bad.” I know when the red light is there that it means “stop.” I know what it means when it’s green. I know not to commit a crime. I know to respect my neighbor. I follow the simple, logical things in life, and it rewards me just by being a good person and trusting in myself!
That’s a great outlook. Thank you so much for your time today, Mike. I can’t wait to see what the next chapter of your story brings! Thanks for all the great songs and the good times they have brought.
Thank you, Jason! Your comment there is better than a platinum album on my wall! It’s not about something physical anymore. It’s comments like that that tells me, “yes!” When you get that praise, and I’m not talking about the roar of 20,000 people as fire comes from the stage, but the praise of someone who is actually commenting on what you have done, that’s what it’s all about. So, I’m the one saying, “Thank You!”
Mike Tramp’s ‘Stray From The Flock’ is available now! All formats can be ordered directly from the source at the official Trampshop! Follow the continuing adventures of Mike Tramp online at www.miketramp.dk and www.facebook.com/MikeTrampOfficial.