Jon Mikl Thor (Thor to you mere mortals) is the real most interesting man in the world. From champion bodybuilder to Vegas entertainer, early adapter metal maven, actor and business owner, he’s been so many things that it simply boggles the mind. Yet he remains one of the most approachable and amiable people you’ll ever meet. After making metal music since the 70s, he’s still excited to be writing and releasing new music and getting back on stage to flex his creative muscles. With a new album on the shelves and an award winning documentary shining light on his travels and trials, Thor is enjoying a late career renaissance few would have expected. Despite a hectic schedule, the man behind the myth was gracious enough to discuss his incredible life story with me and opine on where the Fates have taken him.
After a series of albums in the 1980s, you completely dropped out of sight for about twelve years. Were you still involved in music in any way?
Thor: At that time I just wanted to get out of music. I had pretty much been in show business, movies and rock since I was a kid, if you include bodybuilding, getting on the stage from a young age, 11 years old posing in bodybuilding championships and things. So I just wanted to get out of being on the stage and show business completely. So I built a house with my wife with the money I made from show business and I just wanted to lead a quiet kind of life. Then I was entering into other businesses, I had various other companies I built up and they were very successful for me.
So what made you decide to give your music career another shot?
Thor: I don’t know, it’s something that doesn’t go away so easily. I’d be in the super market with my wife and I’d be writing songs. She’s want me to go get some Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and I’d walk right by them because I was thinking about writing songs. She’d always say “be where you are” but that’s where I wanted to be – writing songs again. I didn’t want to just live a normal life.
So it really gets the hooks into you, I guess?
Thor: Yeah! Its something you do for most of your life and it doesn’t go away. I’m in my 60s now and I’m still writing songs. I just wrote the songs for the new Metal Avenger album and I’ve got more songs I’ve been writing. I’m a very creative person so normal kinds of jobs or businesses, it doesn’t work with me for me because I’ve got to have an avenue to let out this creativity. I’m always writing a screenplay or coming up with a concept because that’s just the way I’m structured.
Can you tell me about the invitation to join The Misfits?
Thor: Yeah, I always liked The Misfits a lot. I tell you, they’re a great band. But at that time when the offer came in I was working hard on getting my own thing going so I was concentrating on that. I think it was the time when Danzig had left The Misfits so they were looking for another sort of muscle man.
It would have been amazing to see Thor on stage with The Misfits. That would have been a “can’t miss” show!
Thor: Yeah, that would have been neat. Maybe we could have collaborated or wrote some songs with them. It could have been an interesting thing.
Is it true Stan Lee wanted you to play Thor on the big screen?
Thor: That’s right, absolutely! In fact we had a meeting in 1977 in NYC. Stan Lee wanted to make a Thor movie so my management company set up a meeting and I entered Stan Lee’s office at Marvel Productions in NYC blowing up a hot water bottle. Then the bottle exploded, knocking all these books and comics off his shelves and then he shouted out “Exceslior! You are more Thor than Thor himself!” We got along really well, we’d see each other numerous times over the years at comic book conventions in the Tri-State area.
But the thing is for Thor, at the time in 77, you didn’t have the technology you do now that you needed to make Thor come off the screen. If you look at some of the 70s super hero movies, they’re kind of schmaltzy, right? Because you didn’t have the technology for it. So now in this era, it’s the best time for super heroes and super hero movies are exploding. It doesn’t stop, it just keeps getting bigger.
Are you a fan of the recent Thor movies or is he a false god?
Thor: Well, at times I kinda feel like George Reeves in the 50s adventures of Superman, and now you have the new Superman. I respect what he’s done, but I guess I lived and breathed Thor for so long, but it’s still my character of Thor. I never tried to be the Marvel comic book character, it was my character. If you look at my comics like The Rock Warrior, that’s that it was, like Thor the Rock Warrior, Thor the Metal Avenger. That character came from the comics, my comics, he came from Atlantis and he had the solid sword instead of a hammer. I incorporated various elements of Norse mythology and put my own twist on it, my own ideas.
Taking that away and without competition, I think the Marvel Thor movies are great. I love super hero movies. I’m glad my movie [I Am Thor] came out during this period of super hero movies. I think people understand me more watching this movie than they did back in the 1970s. When I came up in 1973 people were scratching their heads. They didn’t know what to make of me. I’m up there trying to be this super hero bending steel. They were entertained but they were like “how does this work with music?” To me music and muscle melded very well.
On a related note, where do you get all those awesome hammers you wield on stage?
Thor: I used to have a lot of hammers made back in the 80s, I had some very expensive ones made. Back for the shows in 1977 I had one that shot lasers out of it. That was a pretty cool hammer. We had a show where we gave out foam rubber hammers to everybody in the audience and they would hold up their hammers when I held up my hammer. It’s part of the thunderous music.
Coming from a 70s rock background, how do you see Thor fitting in with today’s metal scene?
Thor: The interesting thing is there’s a whole new generation, I really found this out on this tour, out there that loves our music. The houses were packed. Packed houses of people going berserk, singing along with our songs. They knew our songs, “Let the Blood Run Red,” “Thunder on the Tundra.” There’s a lot of young fans out there, metal fans, skateboarders, and they’re listening to Keep the Dogs Away, they’re listening to Only the Strong. I think the strength is in the music, not in my strength feats. We have strong music.
Your new album, Metal Avenger is pretty diverse musically. Were you going for a sort of career retrospective?
Thor: I just think it’s a really hard driving album. We performed some cuts on the tour and people really like it and we’re getting a very good response from it. It’s whatever you want to read into it. Maybe there’s some 70s influence. I’ve got four decades of rock behind me, so my writing is going to reflect that. Maybe some of the elements that come into my writing are from the 70s, the 80, the 90s. And going back to my influences in the 60s, I loved The Beatles and the melodic choruses, and I think I’ve got a lot of melodic choruses in there that are sing alongs. That’s part of my trademark. Even the ballad “Stars Upon Stars” I think is very Beatles-esque. And do I always have to have heavy riffs through every song and hard driving songs? Sometimes it’s fun to have a ballad in there and I feel good about the ballad I did. Kiss had “Beth” and Zeppelin had “Stairway to Heaven” and that’s kind of my ballad I put on there.
Is the song “Laws of the Universe” a reflection on your career?
Thor: Absolutely! It’s about trying to survive, trying to win, trying to move it on to the next level. If you hear at the end of it there are steps going into the snow, wherever that may be. That’s to let people know there will be a continuation. There’s going to be another album.
From watching the documentary, it looks like touring takes a much bigger toll on you nowadays. How do you get through a long tour?
Thor: Well when that film was shot I had just suffered a stroke not long before and I had a nervous breakdown before that. So I was pretty sick at that time so the touring was very hard on me. I was taking a lot of medication and I wasn’t feeling well at all.
Now this recent tour, I trained very hard for this tour. The years have passed a little bit and I’m starting to feel a little better. I’m taking new medication and doing new training aspects in my life. This was a grueling tour, don’t get me wrong. It was two weeks going from one city to the next and in 14 days and I was on 11 planes. There was no rest, there was no sleeping. You can do a three month tour and feel better if you’re on a luxury bus and not going so far than going on a two week tour when your going up and down on planes all over the place and not getting any rest. But I fared very well. My energy level was pretty incredible throughout the whole tour. I got some offers to go play Australia, New Zealand, and I feel I can handle any of these.
Are you happy with the way the documentary depicted you?
Thor: In some things maybe I don’t agree with it completely. I left it up to the producers to do it the way they wanted, how they saw it, thru their lens with their editing. It’s interesting to see how other people have a perspective of you but I don’t think it tells the whole story. There are hundreds of hundreds of hours of footage shot and there was some stuff I felt could have been left in there. Does it tell the whole story? Well how can you tell the whole story in an hour and a half. There’s so much more that happened in the 70s, in the 80s. so much more that could have gone into the film career. My film career was quite extensive.
I’ve been a lot of things. I’ve gone onto other businesses where I owned hockey teams and owned sports apparel companies, and not everything can go in there. It is what it is. The thing is that people are entertained by this movie and people enjoy this movie. Everyplace I’ve gone to people tell me they were very entertained by this film.
I don’t like the fact I seemed so ill in the movie, but I was, right? I was giving everything I had, but I wasn’t feeling well at times, especially at the end part in Europe. Coming back from a stroke is a tough thing to do, especially when the doctors are telling you you aren’t going to make it, that you’re not going to be the same guy anymore.
And that’s one of the things that impressed me so much about the documentary – how dedicated you were. Here you were sick and going thru all these hardships but you were going out there trying to give the fans a real show. It’s hard to watch that and not come way impressed.
Thor: I appreciate that. And I’ve been healing over the years and actually enjoying things more in life, so it’s not so painful. I enjoy writing the songs and I enjoy recording, and the last tour was a lot of fun. It was great going to all the cities and meeting all the fans. I’m just having a good time in my life which is a great thing.
A recurring theme through the documentary was wanting to make a lasting mark and be remembered. How is it you want to be remembered when all this is said and done and you hang up your hammer?
Thor: I’d like to think I’ll be remember as an inspiration guy. When I was on tour I’d have people crying coming up to me and saying “I’m a photographer and I’ve been criticized and told to give up” and people telling me they learned from me not to give up their dreams. If anything I’d like to be a guy remembered for telling people to believe in yourself. Don’t give up your dreams. If you believe in yourself you can do something with it. There are obstacles in life. There are a lot of them and you have to overcome them. You have to knock down those walls. Whether it’s your family who criticizes you or other people telling you “hey, you can’t do that,” don’t give up on your dreams. Just go for it. Give it a shot in life and believe in yourself.
After we reviewed your album, there were some comments from Canadian fans about how the Canadian content laws hurt the music industry there. As a Canadian artist, do you have any thoughts on that?
Thor: I know about MAPL, which says you have to the writer of 100% of the lyrical content or at least have a part in the singing or performing. And CanCon, being Canadian I have that going for me too as far as playing videos. The good thing about it is it gives Canadian artists a chance to be heard on the radio. and if MAPL wasn’t in place they wouldn’t get the same shot. Every country has to look after their artists. The USA, Canada, they have to give their artists a chance to make a noise internationally
Anvil always claimed being from Canada prevented them from gaining more fame in the US. Do you think coming from Canada makes it harder to catch on in the US?
Thor: No, not at all, everybody has their chance. Bachman Turner Overdrive was huge in the United States. Guess Who was from Canada and hit it huge in the US. On the acting side, William Shatner made it huge and people think he’s from California, but he’s a Canadian guy. Whether you’re from Britain or from Canada, the U.S. is the land of opportunity. You can’t say because you’re a Canuck that you wont make it. If anything I think you get more opportunity. I have so many great friends in the United States and the American people are so warm and receptive. There’s that much more energy than Canadians when they’re in the audience.
The opportunity is there and it’s not about being Canadian. There are other elements that go into it. There are numerous elements that go into it. You have to have a whole team. The record label, the promos guys, the management team, and if any of those things falter in any way it can bring down an album or a tour.
How long do you foresee yourself doing all this?
Thor: Well, I have a song called “We Live to Rock” so maybe I’m living to rock. I seem to be getting more energy as time goes on. I’m feeling really good and the last tour was phenomenal. I’m just a kid at heart really. They always said rock n roll was a young man’s game and The Who said “I wanna die before I get old” right? But its not like that anymore. Most of the highest earners right now are the older guys because that’s what the kids want to see. They’re tired of the pop stuff that’s on the radio right now. You got your Justin Bieber, he’s the one Canadian they shouldn’t have given a shot to in the USA. There are so many young fans that want to hear the rock. You need to get the rock back out there. We’ve got to get the heavy metal back in the mainstream.
What do you consider the defining moment of your career?
Thor: It could be this movie actually. But there are so many things I did in my life. For example, I was the first heavy metal act to play in Las Vegas at the Riviera. I performed in front of Robert Goulet, Sammy Davis Jr., Liberace, they were all in the audience. I thought that was really something that they would stand up and applaud and give me a standing ovation. This was back in 79. Then in 84 when I came over and played the Marque and Jimmy Page was in the audience. The famous Marque where The Yardbirds and David Bowie played. That was a pinnacle for me. But this movie somehow changed things a lot. All of sudden there are all these younger fans around that know the songs so well. It’s mind-boggling to me.
In closing, is there any wisdom you’ve learned over time you’d like to impart to the metal masses?
Thor: I believe in being a well-rounded guy and not just being focused on one thing. It’s the old cliche, you’ve got to stop and smell the roses. You have to appreciate life and you can’t just be focused into one thing all the time. You got to open up your mind and appreciate nature, walks on the beach and just enjoying life. You can get caught up in overworking, training too much, going to the gym too much. Just be a well rounded person and enjoy life.
Postscript: I’d like to personally thank Thor for taking the time to discuss many things and more importantly, for his unwavering commitment to metal music and the fans. Long may you keep on rocking and inspiring!