Latest album: Cobblestone Street
Cover your eyes, dear reader. Mike Tramp has a terrible truth to impart.
“What a lot of people forget is that what was then will never, ever come again. There will never be another classic rock album,” the former White Lion frontman tells Loud, a few hours before a show in London. “That ended in 1991. From any band – there will be no great, big albums that will live on. It just doesn’t exist. There’ll never be classic rock. Classic rock belongs to the sixties, seventies and eighties.
“So in reality, you’re keeping the dinosaurs alive even though their skin is peeling and they’ve got arthritis and so on.
“What is coming in the future will be here today, gone later today.”
Later that night, Tramp will tell a transfixed audience during his acoustic set at the Star Of Kings that grunge didn’t kill commercial metal. Rather, it’s his belief that commercial metal committed harakiri by copying itself so much that there was nothing original left.
Here at Loud, of course, we believe rock lives. But Mike Tramp knows this stuff better than us – he lived it. White Lion were at the forefront of the hair metal movement. Dane Tramp and American Vito Bratta formed the band in New York in 1983 and their 1987 album Pride spawned #8 (“Wait”) and #3 (“When the Children Cry”) US hits.
Pride sold two million copies. The pressure to follow it up, common with successful bands in the eighties, resulted in what Tramp now believes was a flawed Big Game platter and begun the band’s decline.
Asked for a chat only the day before we met, Tramp is businesslike but thoughtful as he discusses one of the most important bands of the era, the end of his partnership and friendship with Bratta and a return to Australia – his former domicile – for Sydney and Melbourne shows in February.
He also reveals his new solo album will be called Cobblestone Street and will be released in April.
“I don’t know if it was record company pressure but you’ve got to realise that, like somebody said, you’ve got your entire life to write your first album and you’ve got a week to write your next,” he muses. “That’s sort of the situation with Big Game and Pride. We’d played Pride for three years in the clubs before we’d even recorded it. Then we went on tour for two years on the Pride tour and we just kept going and going and the album kept selling and selling.
“Then the time came to do the Big Game album and… even though we had some ideas floating around, we basically wrote that album in three or four days.
“Obviously, that’s not the way it should be. We didn’t have the guidance from the record company or management to say ‘hey, let’s do this the proper way, let’s really set this up’. Instead, it was rushed, we were told we had to get back out there and support the new album.
“The album was released half a year after we had just finished a two-year tour and we were back on the road. There were a lot of great songs on the Big Game album but it’s an unfinished album.”
When the next offering, Mane Attraction, failed to make an impact on the charts, White Lion folded. It happened like this, according to the 51-year-old frontman:
“I don’t know where you’ve read the band went bankrupt – it was quite the opposite. We were doing quite well.
“It had nothing to do with anything other than me looking over at Vito backstage, when a technical problem happened, and we stood behind the amps and said ‘Vito, when we play Boston next week, it’s gonna be the final show’.
“He just said to me ‘yes, OK’
“And no words were ever spoken for the next 15 years about it.
“It was just the feeling that the record company had abandoned us in (comparison to) the way it had been in the past. I saw the changes happening in the business. I didn’t feel right anymore.
“James (Lomenzo) and Greg (D’Angelo) had been replaced by two other guys and Vito and I’s friendship – if we ever had a friendship besides writing songs together – was not existing.
“It was two people living in two sides of the house. It’s not the reason I got involved in rock’n’roll.”
As I said earlier, Tramp explains his theory about the death of Big Rock as part of his acoustic show, which takes in White Lion, Freak Of Nature and solo material “The eighties killed the eighties,” he tells me. “In the end, every band cloned each other and copied each other so many times.
“You’re from Australia. You know how surfers count the waves and by the time it comes to the 12th wave, it’s safe to put your kid down at the beach. There’s nothing but a splash of water.
“By the time the eighties had been copied to the 12th wave, it was just fucking peroxide and black leather pants but no songs. It was just a copy after a copy so there was no originality left at the end of the eighties and people just wanted an alternative.
“Any band today calling themselves an eighties band and coming out with the look – it’s only going to go so far. Please go ahead and do it but the eighties bands are from the eighties.”
Bratta has since completely disappeared from public view, aside from a radio interview and subsequent gig in 2007. But whenever Tramp attempts to reform White Lion – as he did for the 2008 album Return of the Pride – he says he hears from Bratta’s lawyers.
“I don’t think he’s a multi-millionaire by any means,” Tramp says when I ask if he knows how his long-time foil supports himself. “The man has not stood on a stage, written a song, recorded a song or done any interviews since … ’91.
“I really cannot speak about his behaviour. He chooses to do what he does, I choose to live.”
Tramp seems to have even more regrets about Return of the Pride – despite its warm reception from fans and critics – than he does about Big Game. “I really love the album but it’s just not the sound of White Lion,” he says. “I never really wanted to record under the name of White Lion again because so much of the sound and the songwriting came between Vito and I.
“It’s a different thing being up there, playing the old songs note-for-note. But writing new material in 2012, keeping in mind that the band came from 1983/84 … the band has not grown, the band ended in ’91.
“I just really think it’s important you reflect how you feel. This is not making a new Star Wars movie where there’s already a concept and you know the actors and the characters have to be within certain parameters.
“Writing a new album is not sitting there and baking bread. The idea has to come to you. That works well when it’s Mike Tramp writing new songs.
“But White Lion has restrictions. It’s know for an image, for a sound and so-on. You’re limited already and that’s tough when you go in to do that. I don’t want to be that as a songwriter. Then it becomes a pre-fabricated product, then you get KISS.
“That’s not what I want to do in this case.”
Upcoming Australian shows, at Sydney’s Vanguard on February 17 and Melbourne’s Northcote Social Club on February 14, will adopt the same acoustic format as the shows recently played in Europe.
Tramp, of course, is a former Tasmanian resident. “I moved there with my ex-wife and my child in 1991, to start a kind of new life. It was a great time when it lasted and I had a great relationship with Australia.”
He played shows while living in Oz, explaining: “It wasn’t like I expected a lot in Australia. I just took it on to do some shows while I was there. I knew it was going to be a longshot to have a career that would really get bigger and bigger and become national.
“It was really just to say hi to the old mates.”
Tramp hasn’t permanently unplugged the guitar, though. But he’s giving little detail about his future full touring line-up or what it will be called. “When I move out with a band, I’ll be doing the White Lion or Freak Of Nature stuff – with a full band.
“When I go out with a band, it’s about playing classic songs, songs that people already know.
“When I do ‘Mike Tramp’, it’s about writing new stuff, it’s about evolving, it’s about growing, it’s about moving on with writing new songs. On the band level, there’s no space to write a new rock album. There’s just no space in the world for that.
“I’m not recording any new material under the name White Lion or Freak Of Nature. That’s only going and playing the classic songs.
“There’s a big difference between going up and playing classic White Lion songs and presenting new White Lion songs. White Lion isn’t there. The sound of White Lion when it came to songwriting was Vito Bratta and Mike Tramp.
“That can’t be changed and that will never happen again.”
OK, it’s safe to look again.