God of Metal and Thunder
An Interview with Jon Mikl Thor
By Lucy Hall
The hammer and microphone-wielding God of metal and thunder, Thor, is celebrating an amazing fifty-year career. Along with his ability to make great music, having a larger-than-life persona has been the key components in Thor’s popularity and longevity. It was in the early 70s’ when he decided to develop his band concept of combining muscle, myth, and music. Thor has released the long-awaited 39th studio album. Fans can only expect the very best from the Metal Avenger and that is exactly what we get with the album “Alliance.” The album features that same signature sound of powerful anthem rock, cheeky catchy muscle rock, and epic power metal that is always delivered by Thor. The impressive group of guest performers is Raven’s John Gallagher, Soilwork’s Björn Strid, Danko Jones, Anthrax’s Neil Turbin, A Sound of Thunder’s Nina Osegueda, Lords of the Trident’s Fang Von Wrathenstein, Prism’s Al Harlow, Joecephus & The George Jonestown Massacre’s Joey Killingsworth, Thundermaker’s Martin Gummesson, Roadrash’s Joey Roads and Sheldon Byer, W.A.S.P’s Chris Holmes, Manowar’s Ross “The Boss” Friedman, Death Dealer’s Sean Peck, Striker’s Dan Cleary, Haunt’s Trevor William Church, Warrior Soul’s Dennis Post, The Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs’ Frank Meyer and The imps and former Thor guitarist Frank Soda. The band Thor is Jon-Mikl Thor on vocals, John Leibel lead guitar, Matt Hamilton rhythm guitar, Ted Jedlicki bass, and Tom Croxton drums. This massive album features seventeen tracks.
Twisted Pulp: What did you want to accomplish going into this record? How did you approach it? Did you initially intend on making an album of collaborations? When did the idea for a collaborative album first arise?
Jon Mikl Thor: I wanted an album that could be part of a bookend to a career, which has spanned fifty years.
Going back to the early years, the album, was more of a milestone record so many albums, and years later this album was my idea of a sort of final record or bookend record. I do not know where we are going from here and if we are going to keep on or not. I do still have a lot of plans and ideas but I wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. This album came about because when I was on tour to promote my album, Rising in early 2020 we were in the United States and we hit Los Angles then all of a sudden this word pandemic around March 12th came about. While in L.A. we played The Whiskey and then we hit Las Vegas on March 14th by that time it was time to send the band home from the tour so, due to the pandemic the remaining tour was canceled. We were unable to go to Arizona as we had planned.
I came back to Canada and so at that point, I was thinking what do I do next and that is the moment it occurred to me that since I was unable to promote
Rising we need to come up with a new album. I did not know what would be happening with the pandemic or what would occur in the future but I planned to reach out to all my great musician friends and see if they would assist me in making this album. I wanted to make a top-notch, cream of the crop so to speak album to top off my career.
Twisted Pulp: How was the songwriting handled?
Jon Mikl Thor: I did most of the songwriting but everyone came to the table in our core band, Kevin Stuart, John Leibel together to write songs. The idea was for a concept album and I like concept albums. I have done them many times in the past. To be able to put together an alliance or Justice League of metal that would unite to say some things that mean a lot.
Twisted Pulp: The title, Alliance appears to reference or hint at a collaborative project is that deliberate?
Alternatively, did you have that title in mind beforehand? You are Thor the Ultimate Avenger, you are a comic book fan and you came up with the Alliance is that kind of like Marvel’s individual superheroes coming together to assemble The
Avengers? Did you assemble this Alliance in the same manner?
Jon Mikl Thor: Actually, you could say it is very similar to Superman or Batman assembling the Justice League. It is definitely a legion of superheroes. I am really into comics. As a kid, I watched George Reeves as Superman on television and I remember purchasing the very first Justice League of America comic. I remember the feeling I had at that time and it made me think that during this challenging time with the pandemic that the world needs to come together. I know I am being grandiose but those were my thoughts that people really needed to come together for one common cause and move forward in life. Not like War of the Worlds you know, when nobody knew what was going to happen and things were getting crazy. So, I wanted to ease my mind and the way I was feeling at the time by putting together an alliance of musicians who I thought were the best in the world that would join my quest. I reached out to them; they took my call and came forth. The reality is that the timing was appropriate for this type of album because had it been another time, for example, Ross the Boss, Chris Holmes, or John Gallagher may have been unavailable due to touring and not have had the time to participate in the album. Because we were all on lockdown and everyone was at home they wanted to do a project. I was fortunate that they came forth and did it with me so maybe at another time, it would not happen like this.
Twisted Pulp: How did you think longtime fans would react to the album? Has the reaction been what you thought it would be?
Jon Mikl Thor: The reaction has been astounding! We put out three videos; the first two videos featured Ross the Boss and Chris Holmes. The second video featured Lou Ferrigno who is an old friend of mine. We competed against each other as teens in Mr. America and Mr. Universe. To have him in the video was amazing. Our next video will feature former Anthrax singer, Neil Tubin who is a tremendous talent that has so much to give. He has a big future ahead of him.
The videos have been well received and we have had great reviews from Belgium, Germany, and Britain. A recent review out of Greece gave it a nine out of ten ratings. One journalist said, “What can you say about titanium.” So, I would say our fans are just loving the record.
Twisted Pulp: What of the new material has gone over the best, and has gotten the biggest reaction?
Jon Mikl Thor: As far as songs go, it is interesting because there is such a various catalog. I mean obviously, various artists influenced me all through my life such as The Doors, Bowie, and Led Zeppelin so there is a lot of heavy riffs. But also, the album is very melodic and everyone says concerning the choruses that they are very melodic. Songs such as “Ultimate Alliance” and “We Need Musclerock” are going over very well. Spotify is getting a ton of streams on “We Need Musclerock.” Also, “Because We’re Strong” is really hitting the mark. We are selling a lot of records right now. It has been our best ever for Cleopatra Records and I think it is one of the best records I have done in my career and that is a lot of records, thirty- nine albums.
Twisted Pulp: How did it feel being back together again with Frank Soda?
Jon Mikl Thor: I think Frank Soda is one of the greatest guitarists in the world and definitely the best from Canada. He just has so much to give and he played very well on the album. He is just very tasteful and he reminds me of Mick Ronson from Bowie’s Spiders from Mars. We did a surprise concert recently and I said Frank let’s go into Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song”. When he played the guitar, he played just like Jimmy Page. I mean this guy is amazing.
Twisted Pulp: On this album, you covered every decade of hard rock with guest performers ranging from classic groups Raven, Anthrax, W.A.S.P., ‘90s groups and brought us into the 2000s with modern bands such as Death Dealer and Haunt. Such an impressive guest list but why so many diverse talents, who span so many decades? Did you have a wish list and go down checking them off. Do you feel that the diversity of hard rock musicians gave the album a unique sound?
Jon Mikl Thor: Absolutely, when we did the album Metal Avenger back in 2015 I really felt that we had quite a diverse group of people on that album. A lot of punk artists, as well as metal artists, were featured on this one. As well as some of my very favorite artists in the world. I was so fortunate when I reached out to them that they said yes and that it was the right time and right place for it to occur. I’ll call it a dropbox type of album because you know we are here in Canada and can’t cross the border or anything. Yet we were able to lay down the tracks here. While other artists such as John Gallagher were able to sing over in England and Chris Holmes was able to play his parts in France and Ross the Boss in New York recorded. Modern technology really helped out on this album.
Twisted Pulp: It is always exciting when musicians get together but Alliance is different because it has a cast of rock heroes led by the Metal God himself. Makes you feel like you are sitting right there with you all. It is definitely an album that you do not get sick of listening to. Like you are listening to great music again and there just is not a lot of that today. Are we witnessing a change in the making?
Jon Mikl Thor: I want to say that I think that metal never dies. Mainstream music consists of popular rap and pop but metal continues to live on regardless and I think it’s just getting stronger. There are quite a few young fans out there who are just really getting into metal but we also have the older generation that obviously will always love metal. We are getting a positive response from both the young generation and the long-time metal fans.
Twisted Pulp: What can you tell us about the making of the epic new video for the single, “The Ultimate Alliance”?
Jon Mikl Thor: That’s a great tune and it’s one I wrote with John Leibel. He came up with a concept of the ultimate alliance coming together and then I put my ideas on that as well. Since it is an alliance we were talking about I thought it was perfect to have a member of W.A.S.P., and Manowar with all that theatrical stuff we were into back in the 80s’. We have some great artists on it and I think it is very epic. I do feel very strongly about each and every video for the album but I think there is something special on “The Ultimate Alliance”. But then again, we have the very melodic anthem “Because We’re Strong” featuring Lou Ferrigno, although he does not sing on the album he is a visual icon and it also featured Ed Asner who recently passed away. I think it is really kicking some ass too. We are getting a lot of kudos for the recent video, which features pieces of Pact of Vengeance. We are currently working on an elaborate animation rock video, which should be ready soon. Since we are unable to tour then we are trying to do more videos.
Twisted Pulp: Can we talk about any of the individual songs as far as any inspiration or interesting stories about recording them? “We Need Muscle rock” comes to mind, was that a nod to your beginnings as the creator of Muscle Rock?
Jon Mikl Thor: Yeah, well I have albums that go back to that theme of muscle rock dating back to Thor and the Imps. I have muscle rock-themed various albums I did back in the early 70s’. At that time, I was involved with Peter Jacob over in Sweden. We put together the first Muscle Rock Festival that was back in 2009 and it became a huge success. Raven also played with us at the 2015 festival in Sweden. I really liked Raven and thought it would be really cool to have John Gallagher sing on the album. Of course, he is very athletic. We also played with Raven back in 1985 in L.A. It was the Raven and Thor concert at a place in L.A. I always thought they were fantastic, so it was an honor for me to have them in the song.
Twisted Pulp: You are the Godfather of Power Metal and clearly an influence on many bands in that subgenre of metal including Manowar. How did Ross “The Boss” Friedman become involved with the album? Does he admit to being a fan or was there mutual admiration for each other’s work?
Jon Mikl Thor: I think there is mutual admiration for each other’s work. I reached out to him and he is also a good friend of John Leibel, so we talked to him about doing this and he thought it was a great idea.
I also played with Ross the Boss in 2001 at CBGBs. John Holmstrom from PUNK Magazine was having a special event for all the bands he helped break. He had helped Thor break and he put us performing with numerous bands including The Dictators. We played at CBGBs before it closed and Ross the Boss was there and we talked.
Twisted Pulp: Did you personally choose Raven’s John Gallagher for the opening track “We Need Muscle rock” because he was known for “athletic rock” and his ability like your own to create great anthems? Did you handpick any of your guest performers?
Jon Mikl Thor: Yeah, we handpicked them and still had to ask if they wanted to do it. Of course, they each had to hear the demo and tracks. We would ask, for example, Ross the Boss or Chris would you like to be on the album and they would say let’s hear the song, what are we playing? Then we would have to send demos out. We did that with all the artists so we had particular songs I wanted them to play on but then I had to still set up the demos. That is where Ted from our band helped out a lot. He got the demos sent to the artist along with Kevin Stewart.
Twisted Pulp: Did you pick John Gallagher because he created Athletic Rock and you both write anthems?
Jon Mikl Thor: Yeah, I think it comes back to when we played together at the Muscle Rock Festival. We played right where we had lived I think in 2001 or 2019. I played a lot in Sweden and Finland. I was very impressed with Raven and their anthems. Also, I thought it was a good combo of his voice and mine and I thought it worked well together.
Twisted Pulp: This latest release marks Thor’s 39th studio album. Your later musical endeavors grew to be much heavier than your early work. What do you credit to that evolution of sound?
Jon Mikl Thor: I would say that over the years because I am a musician and creative person that I have tried different genres of music. Like, “Keep the Dogs Away” for example I think was more power-pop and was not a metal album. It has like a punk power-pop sound to it. “Only the Strong” is definitely an all-out metal album and strong power metal album. “Unchained” is a strong EP then you got Recruits Wild in the Streets, which was a very mainstream metal album in a similar style as Poison and other bands at that time. Following that album, our music started changing again. In 2000 or 2001, we came out with Dogs 2 and many people compared it to Nine Inch Nails meets Thor, it was more Nu-metal. I have tried all types of music. I have done psychedelic metal and psychedelic rock, pop- metal, and power metal throughout all the albums. I tried different sounds throughout my career and some were well received and some hated by the critics. I could do a song like “Mushroom World” which was on Beastwomen from the Center of the Earth, which is very psychedelic, or there is a “Strange Lantern” which is a heavy type song, which is from Tales from the Equinox. So, there are a lot of albums and a lot of different music but I do think we have gotten a lot heavier over the years. Especially with Beyond the Pain Barrier and some of the other albums like Hammer of Justice. However, I always keep that anthem course so people can sing along at stadiums, clubs, and arenas.
We can sing along together like Vikings unite!
Twisted Pulp: Why do you think you have been so fascinated by fantasy-based subject matter over the years and written so many songs about it?
Jon Mikl Thor: It goes back to that young guy in the 50s’ who wore the Superman costume under his regular clothes and the kid who went to school and changed into superman at recess. You know that is as fantasy as it gets! The young kid who watched Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, and Steve Reeves as Hercules. Fantasy has been all throughout my life. I have always kind of led in this heroic aspect or concept. I think that drove me in my regular life as well as my professional life. It is not like I would go to the bank and take my hammer in there and say, where is my money today? You cannot play the Thor concept all the time. You cannot be Thor all the time just as Jim Morrison should not have been Jim Morrison all the time. You have to understand that you have a private life and your professional life. What I am saying is to be positive in your life, feel strong and try to do great things. You need to say what you do and do what you say.
Twisted Pulp: Because you focus on fantasy, comics, and mythology, when you are writing does the music or words come first? Does it begin with an image or theme in mind?
Jon Mikl Thor: You just never know. I could be driving down the road and suddenly I will see a sign or start seeing something like cut the grass or corn for sale or whatever and that is all I need for a song to start out. But of course, with the lyrics, you will get the melody going and the other lyrics will come in and then the song starts forming. Or, one of the musicians like Kevin Stuart starts playing a riff or some chord structures and I will put my melody over it and you never know where it comes from. It can come at any time. Sometimes I have to shut it off actually. I will have a melody start coming in my head and I have to say look, I do not want to keep hearing it right now. I just shut it off!
Twisted Pulp: Along with the new record, you also have a new film, Pact of Vengeance. What can you tell us about that project?
Jon Mikl Thor: I have shot all my scenes in Vancouver. The filming is on location in Vancouver, Los Angles, and Pennsylvania. The film has a lot of hot cars, shooter-up scenes, and martial arts along the lines of Bruce Lee. In fact, Leo Fong who used to be in Bruce Lee movies is actually in this movie. It is a really exciting movie, it has tremendous metal music, and it’s going to be a very exciting movie for anyone who wants to get some thrills.
Twisted Pulp: Thor is prevalent in today’s media with the Marvel movies interpretation of Thor but there are other variations of the character such as American Gods and other outlets but how do you think your version of Thor stands the test of time compared to the others?
Jon Mikl Thor: The thing is we co-exist. You cannot really trademark or copyright something that is mythology. There are many Hercules movies, animations, and references to the character. It is a similar type of thing with Thor. That is unless you put a tag on there and trademark it as Marvel has done with The Mighty Thor. I have the trademark Thor the Metal Avenger or Thor the Rock Warrior both are trademarked. Concerning acting, I am a trademark personality known as Jon Mikl Thor. So, my Thor is geared toward a musical entity so to speak. I put out some comics also but that is a different story about the character Thor and a different costume whereas Marvel is more of a superhero and expands on Asgard and all that stuff. Whereas my Thor character, I can go anywhere. I have had stories where Thor is an Atlantean king and all this kind of stuff. I have fit that into albums. All kinds of different stories like in the album Triumph there is a whole concept there. So, a long story short is we coexist with each other. At one time Stan Lee even asked me to be in a Thor movie that he did. We were always friendly and this goes back to 1978 when Stan asked me to be in his movie. However, it never came to fruition because of Technology at that time could not withstand his ideas that he planned for it. Later on, they were able to create that vision in a film.
Twisted Pulp: What is next for you? What plans does Thor have to play live?
Jon Mikl Thor: As soon as the border opens. We just did a new contract with Atomic Music Group for touring. We were trying to get the restrictions for next year however, the borders are still closed to the United States and we cannot get in. There was a Canadian band that tried to come in recently for a tour called Unleash the Archers and they got stopped at the borders. So at this time, they are not allowing bands to come into the United States. So we are talking about next year 2022. If I am still not allowed to come in to cross the border then we will just keep making videos. It is quite possible that Neil Turbin ex Anthrax singer will be the lead singer of Thor for a certain number of shows. I think he is a great talent who has an incredible voice and great stage presence. He is willing to make his hair blonde and wield the hammer. I think he is a humble guy and we will see what happens that is of course if we can cross the border and if we are still having pandemic issues concerning travel restrictions.
Catch Jon Mikl Thor in the feature-length action movie “Pact Of Vengeance,” which will feature music from the new album. You can purchase the album from Cleopatra Records or Thor official sites.