Interview/s by Devorah Ostrov
If things had gone as planned, you would have been reading this interview with White Lion's Mike Tramp in two separate issues. The older one would have been printed some time ago, when White Lion were a relatively obscure band with one import album. The newer one would've been a nice little follow-up feature on the band after they'd signed to a major label and become relatively famous.
However, because of Rave-Up's charmingly unpredictable publishing schedule, the first interview hadn't been printed by the time of the second. So, I've seamlessly mashed the two together as if I meant to do it this way.
RAVE-UP: Hi Mike. This is Devorah from Rave-Up magazine.
MIKE: Well, how are you?
RAVE-UP: Just fine. It's good to talk to you again. You must be pretty happy now. White Lion is signed to a great label [Atlantic Records] and you're on the road with AC/DC!
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
RAVE-UP: So, how has it been playing with AC/DC?
MIKE: Well, we've only done one show so far. But taken from that show, it looks like it's going to be a major, massive tour.
MIKE: Yeah... We finished two days before with Aerosmith and just went right on to AC/DC. Tonight, we're doing a second sold-out show in Cleveland.
RAVE-UP: Well, I'm really happy that things are going so well for you guys. I know you've been through a lot, and you really deserve some good luck.
RAVE-UP: I promised your manager that I would keep this short. I know you're not feeling well...
RAVE-UP: Well, it'll be great to see you guys again when you get to the Bay Area. It'll be so different from the last time I saw you.
Fight to Survive CD - back cover photo
Grand Slamm Records (1986)
MIKE (very humbly, actually): Yeah...
RAVE-UP: Well, get some rest. I hope you feel better soon. I'll see ya later!
MIKE: Take care!
* * *
But things weren't always this much fun for White Lion. The first time I spoke to Mike, before their signing to Atlantic Records, all was not so cheery.
RAVE-UP: I've just acquired an import copy of your album Fight to Survive, which I was surprised to find had actually been recorded in 1984.
Fight to Survive
Grand Slamm Records (1986)
MIKE: Yeah, it was a long time ago.
RAVE-UP: I understand that Elektra Records had signed the band, agreed to release Fight to Survive, and then changed their minds and shelved the album. What's the story behind all that?
MIKE: Well... After me and Vito Bratta [guitarist] put White Lion together, we went over to Germany. We figured that instead of waiting for two years to get a record deal, that we would finish an album by ourselves and sell it to a record company as a finished product. We had the studio time through the producer in Germany, we recorded what we wanted to, and when everything was ready we came back to America. This was the end of April . We shopped it around and within a month we had a deal with Elektra for $200,000. They promised us everything... The tour was ready. They'd spent $70,000 for a one-song video. The album was supposed to be released in October. When October came around they informed our management that they weren't going to release the album and that they were dropping us from the label. That's all we ever heard.
RAVE-UP: They never gave you an explanation?
MIKE: They never said why. They still haven't told us why. I just can't understand why someone who pays for something doesn't want to release it. It isn't like they got their money back. They paid us, and they own the [U.S. rights to] the album.
|White Lion - publicity photo|
RAVE-UP: I know that eventually you were able to release Fight to Survive through a Japanese label. How did that come about?
MIKE: Our manager got a hold of them somehow and they offered to buy the album from Elektra. Even at that point Elektra gave them a hard time, but eventually it did work out — and the album sold 30,000 copies in Japan. From there it was imported to the rest of the world. In France it was the #1 "Heavy Metal" album for three weeks in a row. And in England it was #1 on the import charts for three months!
RAVE-UP: It's quite impressive that White Lion achieved so much early success as basically an "independent" band with no major label backing.
MIKE: What's funny about this band, now that you've mentioned independent labels, is that we did actually come out of the underground scene, although we're not really that kind of band. A lot of people thought we'd be put out on a major label and become an overnight success — because that's the kind of image we had. But we didn't go that way, and I think we have a very different crowd following us because of that.
RAVE-UP: It seems to me that several of the songs on Fight to Survive are very politically minded. "El Salvador" is obvious, and there's also "All the Fallen Men" which refers to Vietnam, and "Cherokee"...
MIKE: Without a doubt! It's funny how these things come about. I come from Denmark, which is a tiny country, but you follow what's going on around the world from wherever you are. You can't escape from what's going on.
Pride - back cover photo
Atlantic Records (1987)
MIKE: No... I just felt we needed this song. It was on my mind.
RAVE-UP: I do think it's good that you're doing these songs, as well as the more standard rock songs. Maybe the kids who listen to White Lion will come away with ideas which they normally wouldn't think about.
MIKE: I like to do both types of songs because you have different moods on different days. One day you're happy, but another day you might look around and say, "Hey, what's going on?" I'm a very emotional person. I write that way — very dramatically and realistically. And the more I feel, the more I put into the song.
RAVE-UP: Well, I was very impressed with your lyrics on Fight to Survive. Do you have any influences as far as song writers?
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
MIKE: One of my main influences — my only influence lyric wise — is Phil Lynott [Thin Lizzy]. That guy could put words into a line that sounded so good spoken and had so much meaning... It was like reading a book or listening to someone reading for you.
RAVE-UP: Living over in Denmark, were you very influenced by "American culture"?
MIKE: Well, I was living in Spain for two years before I came to America. That's actually where I came into contact with the American way of life — everything from McDonalds to Van Halen. I'm very fascinated by all that! But I came over here because of the music. I was always influenced by American music — the heavy sound, but with good vocals.
RAVE-UP: As well as the American influences on your music, songs like "Valhalla" also show obvious Danish influences.
MIKE: Oh yeah! I'm Danish born; my ancestors were Vikings. I'm definitely influenced by the survival techniques and the wildness of the Vikings! I love my country. I'm proud of it as a country. But there's absolutely no scene there.
RAVE-UP: Are you living in New York now?
MIKE: No, I moved to New Jersey just south of Jersey City, where there's green trees and the air is fresh. I hate New York. I can't stand it! Eventually, I want to move out to the country and have my own ranch. I like to get away from rock 'n' roll when I'm not playing. Onstage, I give myself 100%, but when I come home I like a quiet place.
|White Lion - publicity photo|
MIKE: I know we were taken the wrong way with our first photos. We were really just getting together and finding out what our strong points were. It's always hard, at the start, to get a band together and look the way the band really is. Of course, we're a flashy rock 'n' roll band, but we can also present top quality music and put on an energetic live show that can compete with the best of 'em. I feel that as long as the music is good, you can always change the other things slightly.
RAVE-UP: That's true. Even though I wasn't thrilled by those early photos, I was interested in your music.
MIKE: You know, we just do what we feel like. I would never do something just to please a record company. Sure, we write melodic, heavy metal music which has potential for radio airplay. But that's the only music I can write. I can't write Black Sabbath-type music. Some people say we're trying to be "commercial," but we're not. That's just the way we are!