MIKE TRAMP – New Solo Album Stray From The Flock Is “TOM PETTY Meets ANGUS YOUNG”
February 26, 2019, a year ago
Former White Lion frontman Mike Tramp will release his 11th solo album, Stray From The Flock, on March 1st via Target Records. What’s in a title? Plenty! Stray From The Flock refers to Mike Tramp doing his own thing; unlike many of White Lion’s hair metal contemporaries who currently cling to past glories from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
“Without being pompous, I’ve done 11 solo albums that have nothing to do with my past,” confirms Tramp. “What it really means is, when I put the solo boots, jacket, and guitar on; at that moment I represent Mike Tramp, as how he sounds when he is by himself; even though I was the main songwriter in the two bands I’ve been in. In White Lion I still represented a band; I wrote the songs with Vito (Bratta, guitarist), also the lyrics. In Freak Of Nature, I still represented the band, even though I financed the band and put the band together, I was still part of it musically. When I went solo in ‘96 and had my first album (Capricorn) released in ’97, it was not just to do a solo album. I want to sound how I sound every time I sit down with a guitar and write a song or play a song. I sound 100% one way and one way only; and that way has been captured on 11 solo albums.”
Stray From The Flock begins in an unusual manner, with “No End To War’ being the longest song at just over eight and a half minutes. Furthermore, it’s a pretty bold statement lyrically. “You know when they put investigative teams around something like how a dinosaur died, or a criminal – there’s always links that can be traced back to other things. Many of my die-hard fans like what I stand for, little hints I put between the different songs that almost connects them together like a Stephen King story. Even though I don’t necessarily plan it, it does happen. ‘No End To War’ connects to ‘When The Children Cry’; that song is 35 years old, and of course musically has nothing to do with ‘No End To War’. But 35 years ago, I wrote a song where I apologized in many ways to the children of the world for what we have left them. Now 35 years later, we’ve left them an even bigger job to clean up; almost an impossible job because nobody listened to the fucking lyrics of ‘When The Children Cry’,” chuckles Tramp oh so devilishly.
It’s not only lyrical traits that carry over in the vein of Stephen King’s writing, because visually, Mike Tramp’s solo albums possess a recurring theme, that being the love of motorcycles. A bike appeared on the cover of Museum (2014), Nomad (2015), Maybe Tomorrow (2017), and now Stray From The Flock (2019). “I appreciate you saying that. A lot of people who interview me wouldn’t even know those last albums, so I appreciate your knowledge, Aaron. I want people, when they reach for a Mike Tramp album to know what they’re getting. I feel at times that my songs and my music are like your Grandmother’s spice rack. It’s been there for such a long time, but when you reach for one specific spice, it could be cinnamon or it could be cardamom, there’s no doubt that you know what that spice is. You don’t get confused because it maybe has the color of curry; you know when you add cinnamon and when you add cardamom, so I want people to know that when they reach for a Mike Tramp album, they know what they’re going to get. It’s not going to be a little bit of this and a little bit of that; it’s exactly what it is. With the motorcycle, even though it’s a visual look, it’s also a metaphor that to me… since the motorcycle was created, it’s the modern form of complete freedom. You don’t get that in a car, even though it’s also a form of transportation. Motorcycles represent the Western Mustang Horse, that total thing, the wind in the hair. There’s something about people who own a motorcycle, a lot of them don’t just look at it as being a form of transportation; it’s something else that gives them that sense of I am in control here.”
Delving back into the songs that comprise Stray From The Flock, “Homesick” really debunks the myth that touring is all glitz and glamour; so many people still have that misconception. “Yea… a friend of mine said, ‘You must be so excited to get back on the road, you’re so fucking lucky.’ Another friend said, ‘I sold this idea to a magazine, that I’m going to come along and write a diary.’ What? What about every other morning when I wake up in a fucking dark world and it takes me three or four chapters of a historical audio book for me just to get through that I want to live the rest of the day. Just sitting there in the car in my own dark world; I need to get to that point, it could be two or three hundred miles down the road before I soften up. The last thing I want to see is you sitting next to me asking me stupid fucking questions about America. That’s what it comes down to. There’s no pussy or alcohol out there on the road for me; I’m a married man with children. I don’t even look for that. There’s only one point that I focus on; from the second I wake up, until the time I stand on stage and I still have a voice that can guide me through two hours of performance for the audience. That’s the only thing I think about all fucking day long. Since 2013, I’ve toured the world basically solo. Even though I’ve had my son with me on two U.S. tours, it’s been me behind the steering wheel on a rental car doing 40,000 miles across North America.”
“Homesick” contains an ear-catching line in the form of “Another cover band pretending to be KISS, there’s just no way to run from Gene and Paul.” “Isn’t it brilliant? You thought there was no more poetry in rock ‘n roll lyrics, there you have it. I like where you’re coming from, and I do respect highly that you know what you’re talking about; how do you feel about that?” As the roles are reversed and Mike Tramp asks me a question, I reply, “Initially, I was surprised to hear those words, but on subsequent listens, you realize it’s true. Every weekend there’s another KISS tribute band playing in another bar; you can’t escape it.” Tramp clearly feels the same way. “Exactly! It doesn’t matter how bad they get. It doesn’t matter if the rumor goes around that Paul Stanley has to lip-sync in certain songs on this tour; they’re still selling fucking concert tickets! Doesn’t matter how much my buddy (Sirius XM host) Eddie Trunk, every second week talks about KISS. He even admits it, it seems to be like a fucking plague! A band that came out with KISS Alive! (in 1975), that was such a fucking breaking album! When they open with ‘Deuce’ and you hear the explosions in the background. Regardless of the myth about this album, that it was done at soundcheck and stuff like that. A band that broke so many barriers and created so much cool stuff. Even though I’ve never really been a legit KISS fan, probably because I’m European; I never got into the comical things, I always saw KISS as a rock band. But as I followed them through the different decades, up until when they took the makeup off (in 1983), it is like (the soap opera) General Hospital; it doesn’t want to die! It only gets worse. And my last comment is, when you have that much power, when you don’t have to worry about the issue of finance, why shouldn’t you finish doing the best, on your highest level? I’m not talking about having fire in every song, I’m talking about musically. It did bring out a lot of anger on my 2016 tour. My 23-year old son was with me and he said, ‘I’m blown away by how much you manage to get KISS into every story you tell from the stage.’ I know, I can’t escape it!”
Putting The Demon and The Starchild aside, one song on Stray From The Flock that has the very real potential of bringing the listener to tears is “No Closure”. It’s a very sad and personal track. “Thank you very much for going through those songs, because after all I do write these songs with the point that I have with all my solo songs, and also White Lion, that I’m grateful when I come to a show and someone says to me, ‘Without “Little Fighter” I wouldn’t have been able to get through life.’ Fuck, man, that is better than a Platinum Album! Of course, I don’t write the instruction underneath the lyrics… but ‘No Closure’ came to me… in 2017, I and my two brothers lost our father. He had never really been a big part of our life, but especially through the last two years when dementia set in. We took him closer to us; we had him at a safe place where we could visit him every second day. We chose, and we wanted to have closure in a great way where all things were sort of settled. Then last year, I lost my older brother. This is a song where I take the voice of my older brother, and he sings to my father. Because those two never closed the door, never got anything settled. They were so scared and so shy of facing each other to deal with the issues; issues that I knew existed from very early on. I chose that this would be another way, this song just came to me, the second I sang that first line (What is there to say when it’s too late), I knew where I wanted to go with this song. So, I called my older brother, he was sitting in a bar; he had lived a life like – not putting Lemmy (from Motorhead) down, but as hard core as any other rock ‘n roller – except he was never on stage. He lived full out from day one. I called him, he was sitting in the bar, and I said, ‘I just want to let you know that our father passed away.’ He said, ‘Aw man, that’s not good news, that’s really going to spoil my day.’ I said, ‘Fuck, you lived away from your father your entire life, never wanted to confront him in any way.’ So, I took his voice, and I sang that to my father.”
Musically, Stray From The Flock is a little unusual in the fact that a total of six guitarists, including Mike Tramp, play on the album. Yet, if you didn’t read the liner notes, you’d have no idea because the sound is so cohesive throughout. The six-stringers involved are: Henrik Berger, Marcus Nand, Oliver Steffensen, Soren Andersen, and Kenny Korade. “That’s interesting that you actually say that because this is the point that I’ve been trying to make. Every time I start a band, I get a lot of young kids from America wanting to play with me. But they always send a clip where they’re sitting with a polka dot Flying V, doing ‘Over The Mountain’ (by Ozzy Osbourne). It’s almost like, did you pick up one of my solo albums and see what it is that I do? Do you understand that most video clips on YouTube are me standing there just singing like Willie Nelson? I have a specific style, basically middle of the road highway rock ‘n roll. Most of these guitar players that are within the band are brothers, family. I can’t chain anybody down; they’re too busy with their own life, etc. But they know, when they come in and play with Tramp, it’s sort of a highway intersection where Tom Petty meets Angus Young; that’s where we are in the world. In a lot of songs, there won’t be any guitar solos. On the past solo albums, the last four you mentioned, I only had one guitar player and that has been Soren Andersen, because he’s been co-producing the album with me, and also engineering the album. That didn’t fit on this new album. It was also my point that I wanted to break out a little. I had written, arranged, and recorded the album almost 100% to where it is now before I replaced the programmed drums, the thin space - and gave space to everybody else; then they sort of played to that. I knew I could not give it to one guitar player specifically to be able to create the main guitar role for nine songs. I knew they would not be able to focus on that many songs. So, I split them up in the way I know how these different guitar players play. Then I gave them those specific songs to come up with the basic ideas, then we sat down and recorded the parts together.”
The first video from Stray From The Flock, which can be seen below, is for the song “Dead End Ride”. “We chose the song, number one, based on standard issues that as I wrote the song, it felt like it would be the classic Mike Tramp first track to introduce the album. We’re basically dealing with YouTube and Facebook, so you pick a song that’s within four minutes that sort of represents a lot of the ingredients that is a classic Mike Tramp song. There’s no barriers broken in the video, there’s nothing you haven’t seen before. I tried to keep the video very, very simple in representing the song so that the music does not get disturbed. You can focus on the video so much that you forget about the song. Mike Tramp’s music comes before the visual. This is a video that, together with the guy who’s done the last four videos for me, we walked into a little studio and did the video in four or five hours; that was always important. I think the video fits the song really well – this is Mike Tramp, bread and butter, straight to the point.”
One more song on Stray From The Flock that deserves mention is “Best Days Of My Life”. It’s so easy to identify with, especially given the lyric ‘I have been around the world and nothing’s like it was, I can say for sure I miss those days.’ Personally, the prime example is the record store; it’s long gone and sorely missed. “Dude, man, I really appreciate the points you put up. It’s exactly what you’re saying, it’s a time. People always think that the ‘80s were just a couple of Bon Jovi videos; the entire world was a different place! I’d go to the record store on Friday when I’m coming home from work; it was something we used to do. Who the fuck said we didn’t want to do this anymore?” It’s the same as renting VHS movies from the video store. “I know! And now you just fucking sit there with your laptop and Netflix. Maybe it’s because I put my standard higher, I sat the other day for two hours – and I’m not fucking kidding you – two hours and went through Netflix over and over; I could not find anything. I closed the laptop and picked up a book. It’s just getting out of control. As a side story… I am collecting, I am really rebuilding my vinyl collection. I ended up losing my vinyl collection when I went to America in 1982. Of course, a couple years later and CDs came. But over the past couple years I’ve been building up my vinyl collection, and most of them are still sitting in the cellophane. I was saying to myself, I wonder when I’m going to have the time… Now, on the other hand, I’m also building up a gin collection of really high-quality gins. As soon as I get a little more settled, I will choose one to two hours every day – of course it’s not going to be every day – where I will prepare this double gin and tonic to the max, and I will sit down, undisturbed, in my music room and listen to an album. I will make a big fucking deal out of it! I’m going to listen to an album on vinyl and I’m going to enjoy it like I did in the old days.”
Speaking of gin… booze seems to be a significant source of revenue for an increasing number of bands these days – In Flames has their own gin, Motorhead has signature beer, whisky, vodka, rum, and wine. Metallica is currently promoting their Blackened brand, AC/DC and Iron Maiden both have their own brews, Megadeth has a beer; the list continues to grow. But don’t expect Mike Tramp to start selling his own suds or spirits. “Nah, because I think a lot of them are just putting a label on a shitty piece of alcohol. I don’t think anybody actually… let’s say I produced a pair of denim jeans. I would make sure they are the ultimate fucking quality and fit in every way. When you put a label on a beer, which is basically a side product of another beer somewhere else and buy 5000 bottles, you’re just putting your label on alcohol. I don’t honestly believe that AC/DC went down and tasted wine. First of all, I’m a major AC/DC fan, and I’ve never seen them with a glass of fucking wine. This is where I sort of draw the line. When you connect yourself with something that doesn’t represent yourself, I wonder… it’s always the ones that already have enough money! If I made the kind of money that the big football player Cristiano Ronaldo does, I can tell you one thing – I would not be doing underwear commercials! Underwear commercials is something you do when you can’t do anything else.”