I first had the opportunity to talk to Jon Mikl Thor back in 2005, while he was in the midst of a gruelling tour and had recently suffered an onstage accident in which he was nearly electrocuted. Despite that, he was very upbeat about his music career and made for a great interview. The only kicker was, I was interviewing him for Lögberg-Heimskringla, an Icelandic ethnic newspaper, and in the course of the interview learned he was not of Icelandic background at all.
I may have been abusing my editorial privilege at the time, but I felt it was so unusual that someone would take on the persona of the Norse god of thunder and storm and actually have his name legally changed to that effect that it would still make a good story. That, and the fact that Icelandic is a mindset as much as anything else, and his determination to keep making music and coming up with new stage stunts and feats of strength struck me as fitting that stubborn mould.
Thor is still going strong, recording and touring in 2012. You can visit his official site here.
Heavy metal thunder
Jon Mikl Thor weighs the perils of his music career
Sometimes it’s not easy being the God of Thunder. Just ask Jon Mikl Thor, a.k.a. Thor, the Rock Warrior.
Thor hit the road this year to support his latest album, Thor Against the World, in the United States and Canada. He had performed in 40 cities and towns in as many days when at a September show in Portland, OR, he was figuratively struck by lightning — but the shock was real enough.
To understand how this could happen, it takes a bit of context. Thor, who was born and raised in Vancouver, BC, pioneered many of the theatrical aspects of heavy rock, which were later picked up by bands such as GWAR, Armored Saint, and others. The stage shows feature larger-than-life medieval-style costumes and weaponry, mock battles, and in Thor’s case, feats of strength.
Thor’s career in music was parallelled by his career in bodybuilding. He came to international attention alongside the likes of Lou Ferrigno and Arnold Schwarzenegger. One of his memorable performances was on the Merv Griffin Show in 1976, during which he performed his rock music (clad very scantily), with violins and horns as backup.
In terms of putting on a rock concert, Thor built upon what glam rockers such as Alice Cooper and Kiss did, using sheer muscle. He bent steel bars, twisted mic stands, and using his lungs blew up hot water bottles until they burst.
The recent accidental electric shock was the second he’s experienced onstage, the first having been in the seventies.
Of the recent Portland show, he says, “I have a metal axe onstage, and I do a part where I’m going to chop off the head of my opponent — I eventually don’t chop his head off, I wrap the microphone stand around his neck. I chipped a piece of the wire, and I didn’t know that it was chipped. So I actually got an electric shock when I was bending the steel bar and the wire was touching the microphone stand.”
He had to stop the show and cancel the remainder of the tour. “It was a very complicated, stupid accident,” he says. ‘Tm very angry about that — I could have been killed.”
Thor came by his stage persona through a fascination with Norse and Greek mythology, as well as the Marvel Comics interpretation of “The Mighty Thor.” (Incidentally, the “Mikl” in his name is an Austrian spelling of “Michael” — though he was intrigued to learn that it is very similar to the Icelandic/Old Norse word for “mighty.” Marvel has copyrighted “The Mighty Thor” but with an Old Norse reading, perhaps Jon Mikl has his own version of it.)
The appeal of the thunder god, he says, went with his love of loud, thunderous music, which he enjoyed listening to as he worked out, as well as performing. “My music was thunderous, so I wanted to have that persona. So I just called the whole band Thor, and for a nickname, myself Thor.” He adds that “Thor” is now legally part of his name.
“Of course, when I played Minneapolis, it was one of the only cities where there were more Thors than myself in the venue,” he laughs, referring to the Icelandic and Scandinavian population there.
His heavy metal rock performances are a far cry from his first musical instrument — the accordion, which he took up at his parents’ urging. After seeing the Beatles on television, he quickly moved on to guitar and fell under the influence of heavier bands, such as Iron Butterfly.
It seems as though having an over-the-top stage persona has helped him keep his career and his private life separate. “When I go onstage, I become a different person,” he says. “I psyche myself up into a frenzy.” He describes is as a kind of euphoric, “berserker” state, wherein he can pull off his live-action stunts.
He does admit that as he gets older, it gets more difficult. He pushes himself to exhaustion every night, and does occasionally wonder if might not be time to hang up his hammer. As the “Evel Knievel of Rock,” as he puts it, at some point he will have to call it a day.
Maybe then he’ll have time to delve into his family history; he speculates that amongst his Austrian heritage there may be some Norwegian or Icelandic blood. Iceland, he says, is a place he’d like to visit one day — “It’s a fascinating place to me.
“I’m a big fan of things that are going on in Iceland,” he says, mentioning a recent United Nations survey that ranks Iceland near the top in its Human Development Index. “Like Icelanders, I believe in myself.”
Originally published in Lögberg-Heimskringla, October 21, 2005.