‘Museum’: Former White Lion Vocalist Mike Tramp Talks New Music, Guitars and Touring
For former White Lion vocalist Mike Tramp, it’s no longer about filling arenas, selling T-shirts or playing the old songs. Today, Tramp focuses on one main thing: following his heart.
It’s why he’s spent the better part of the past two years touring the world with just a guitar, playing everywhere from sports bars to small hunting lodges deep in the Pennsylvania wilderness, places where Tramp says he feels right at home.
And although there have been glimpses of Tramp’s inner-self in his White Lion past (“When the Children Cry” comes to mind), perhaps there's no better reflection of Tramp’s soul than his new album, Museum, which will be released August 18.
From the Seventies vibe of songs like “Down South” to his own frustration (“Trust in Yourself”) and personal healing (“Better”), Tramp’s pain, love and frustration are on full display. Listening to Museum, one quickly discovers the bloodline that is Mike Tramp. There’s no makeup or make believe. Just plenty of truth.
I recently spoke to Tramp about his new album, gear and the satisfaction he gets from his vagabond touring lifestyle.
GUITAR WORLD: How would you describe this new album as a whole?
It's a true reflection of me as a songwriter and about not being controlled by the “image” anymore. It’s knowing that the guidelines, doors and walls that surrounded White Lion back in the Eighties just don’t exist for me anymore. I’ve taken a step to try to create something that's recognizable and has connections to my past, but is still part of the future.
Why the title Museum?
I fell in love with music when I was growing up in the late Sixties and Seventies, back when so many bands would just record an album and not worry about whether or not it would fit in with the other songs they’ve done before. I remember being in the studio and saying, "This is like being inside of a museum in its own time." These are displays of songs that represent who I am.
How did you approach writing for this album?
Anytime I sit down with a guitar, I’ll write a song. I might not finish it, but it's always in my head and in my hands. I've left myself open and free to go into the studio and start the song and see where it's going to take me. There are no barriers anymore. For this album, there were songs I specifically wrote from a different point of view, one of them being “Down South."
It started as a guitar riff I had written years ago on electric. Originally, I was thinking it might be along the lines of an AC/DC riff. I remember I asked Soren Andersen (co-producer) to give me a beat loop for the song, and the second he did that, I wrote the rest of the song. I used that same formula for "Slave," another guitar-oriented track. Both songs started from the riff.
What can you tell me about the song “Trust in Yourself”?
I was raised a casual Christian. When I came to America in the Eighties and was introduced to some of ways people were using religion as a tool and watching how the government was able to get away with all kinds of things, it really turned me off. All of the things that control human beings; where bit by bit people started giving up their own judgment of life. If you can't find trust in yourself, then it doesn't feel right to my soul.
What was the recording process like?
When Soren and I get together, it's like two people at each other's houses, ordering pizza and watching movies. It's that kind of environment. We think so much alike and at the same time we think opposite, so we’re able to create these really great songs. It's a great process and I treasure every moment.
Will you be touring in support of the new album?
Yes, I'll be starting a European tour next month once the album is released and I'll be back in the U.S. sometime next March.
What are some of the differences between the way you tour now as opposed to the way you did when you were with White Lion?
With White Lion, I remember sitting on the tour bus while we were pulling in and I remember having to find the dressing rooms in the back of the arenas. Now I’ll pull up to the venue and walk in the front door. Sometimes it might be a sports bar or a dive out in the middle of the woods, but I'll go in and meet the club owner, have a beer, set up and play. It's a completely different world and feels like I'm visiting old friends.
Tell me a little about your setup.
I play Martin guitars exclusively. I've grown up with them and now have four great ones I use. I've also added just a little loop and a keyboard pad to my sound to help fill it out and give some of the old White Lion songs a little bit of a beat. I've found a happy medium and I'm excited to take this new music out there.
Over the course of your career, is there one memory that stands out above all others?
There would probably have to be one from each decade. Although I played Madison Square Garden with White Lion and AC/DC, the memories of that experience are hard for me to remember. But then I played a hunting cabin out in the hills of Pennsylvania and it's something I'll never forget. Lately, the highlights are musical because I'm so proud of these songs and the production. In the end, I think the overall highlight for me will be from being able to identify, adapt and change with the times.
A lot of artists have started to form “super group” side projects with other musicians for an album and tour. Do you ever see yourself taking part in something like that?
You can never say never. I do get offers from time to time, but right now I don't feel there's anything I could do better than what I'm doing right now. It certainly would have to be a collaboration with other people who feel the same as I do. It’s got to be for musical satisfaction. Some people think you only want to go back to that one and only place, but I already have those albums. When you want to hear a young Mike Tramp in his prime, you listen to Pride. To hear the next step, you listen to Freak of Nature. Now there are the solo albums where I'm dealing with the issues affecting me. They're all different chapters of my life.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.