Jon-Mikl Thor is a legend. His music and films have been a part of my life for well over twenty five years. The documentary is bowing on November 20th and it seriously deserves to explode. When the opportunity arose for me to speak with him, I was overwhelmed with excitement. I wasn’t sure what to expect from him but found him to be very easy to talk to. Last month he released his latest album on Cleopatra Records and now he’s currently touring the United States with the film before its release. We talked for well over an hour, touching on his past, the documentary, clinical depression, and the cult classic ROCK AND ROLL NIGHTMARE. Read on to learn more about the original Metal Avenger.
Corey Danna: I must have been 13 or 14 and there was a show on the USA Network called UP ALL NIGHT.
Jon Mikl Thor: Ah yes, UP ALL NIGHT, they played a lot of our movies on there. I know they played RECRUITS and I think ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE on there.
CD: They also played ROCK ‘N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE on there.
JMT: Really? I knew they played the other ones but wasn’t aware they showed it. That’s cool!
CD: That was my first introduction to you and the film.
JMT: It’s really amazing how ROCK ‘N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE has transcended time. It’s a movie that my friend John Fasano and I produced together years ago and we were just hoping we would get some sort of VHS distribution. Now it’s years later and we are still getting e-mails and when I tour the fans are always talking about it. It’s interesting.
CD: I’m a nut when it comes to the rock and roll horror films. ROCK ‘N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE was one of the first but there’s so many out there now.
JMT: There is, one of my favorites is PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE.
CD: YES!! That’s one of my all-time favorite films.
JMT: Me too! There’s a character in there called Beef, I liked him a lot.
CD: He had some of the best moments.
JMT: Of course there’s THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW from the 70’s that was a huge cult hit all the way through the 80’s When I was up in Toronto, there would be lines wrapped around the building to get into the midnight shows. In New York, they would have ROCKY HORROR FRIDAY. Everyone was dressed up and they all knew the songs. I’ve been a horror fan all my life and I have my favorite actors, guys I was always impressed by. One was Lon Chaney, he was absolutely incredible. I was just always impressed by the history of horror.
CD: I’m curious, when you first met Ryan Wise (director) and Al Higbee (producer), how did they approach you about doing a documentary on your career?
JMT: At that time I had just broken up with my wife and left North Carolina behind and wanted to start new. I went out to the west coast and we had a mutual friend, Karl, and he knew I wanted to get back into film. He was working on a snow board movie called NO MORE HEROES and he told me I needed to meet these two guys who were just out of film school. When we met, we talked, and I asked them if they would come see me when I started playing shows again. I played a show and they came to see it. They seemed to like it.
CD: Now that you’ve seen the film, what are your thoughts on how 15 years of filming came together?
JMT: There was a lot of impact for me when I saw it. It was actually an emotional roller coaster ride for me. I laughed, I cried, I raised the hammer and I was really impressed with what Ryan and Al did. There’s hundreds and hundreds of hours of footage and I went through a lot when they were following me. We went on some tours from hell. There were some great times but it was just grueling. We played coliseums, little tiny places, just up and down. When you try and make a comeback, things don’t go as smooth as you want it to. We went through a lot of great times and dark times together. When I saw it with the audience at the sold out premiere in Park City, I was impressed and really emotional. It has a lot of impact, it as that ROCKY feel, rooting for the underdog. Right now, life is really amazing for me. I’ve signed a major record deal, I’m involved in all kinds of projects, it’s phenomenal what’s going on right now.
CD: Well I’m happy to hear that, well deserved.
JMT: I just finished the new album, it’s at the mastering house now. Eddie Clarke from Motorhead is on it, Jay Jay French from Twisted Sister, Henry Rollins, it’s a really exciting album. We’re tying in the movie with live performances and the new album. Cleopatra Records re-released UNCHAINED in a Super Deluxe edition and on vinyl. Back in the day we used to sell an album called LIGHTNING STRIKES which was the original UNCHAINED in 82 right off the stage. They’re fixing that up and it will be in the super deluxe edition as well as the original #1 ROCK WARRIOR comic book. The competition is so great these days you have to put together these special editions and box sets. People want to touch things, hold things, and listen to the music. I’m happy to be a part of a label you can see that. They really like the movie too. To answer your question about the movie, I loved it. I tried to take myself out of it in order to be more judgmental. I was quite entertained and taken aback by it.
CD: I first read about the documentary on your Facebook page and I was excited to hear about it. I think I posted something to the page. Do you run your page or does someone else?
JMT: I have an administrator. Sometimes I will go on there but I have someone run it for me.
CD: Whoever it was put me in contact with Al (Higbee) and next thing I knew, when they had the finished cut they sent me a link to watch it. This was like at midnight or something and I stayed up half the night to watch it. I thought it was terrific.
JMT: Thank you so much. Right now it’s running the festival circuit and we have put together the Thor Experience. We are taking things up a notch by showing the film and doing live performances.
CD: I hope you bring the experience to Detroit.
JMT: Detroit, for sure. Cleopatra Records is doing a re-release of the Live in Detroit album and my goal is to show the movie, have the record launch, and a live show where we play the same set list we did at Harpo’s in 1985.
CD: I’d be there for sure!
JMT: No excuses! (laughs)
CD: In the film, during the first part of your comeback, there’s mention of you playing in front of an audience of six people. How did you keep stuff like that from breaking your spirit? How did you handle it?
JMT: Popularity is fickle and in some towns they just don’t know who you are. Some places we played, we packed them in and other times there was no one. Some towns people just weren’t in to metal or didn’t know us. There were times when the promoter didn’t do their job. It was a little rough at the start but if you bought a ticket, I’m going to give you the best possible show I can. I’ll give you everything I have and the kitchen sink, that’s just the way I’ve always been. Now, we know we can pack them in and demand quite a substantial sum. Its a lot of work but you have to believe in what you do, right?
JMT: You just have to work that much harder if you love and believe in what you do.
CD: The movie itself is actually really inspiring. I recently found myself pursing writing again. I work a 9 to 5 type job because writing just doesn’t pay the bills. So seeing a film like this where the odds are stacked against you and knowing that if you want something bad enough, you just have to keep at it and your dreams can come true and it helped to keep me going.
JMT: It’s all about the human spirit. I can help you, you can help others. Just never stop moving forward, if you give up, you could end up on the streets, but if you just keep moving forward anything is possible. I’m an advocate for preventing things like depression. I know that in the music business, there’s a lot of depression. People have a number one hit then always try to recreate that but can’t. They get that feeling they’re unloved when their fans move on to a new artist. We had a hit in England with “Thunder on the Tundra” then WASP surpassed us with “Fuck Like a Beast”. I felt the same way. Things like that will mess with your head and you have to combat that and overcome those things. There’s more and more of that in life as well. You have to keep positive and get out of that rut. Working out at the gym or going for walks in the park help me to relax and I can try to solve problems in my mind while I do those. I’ve seen too many people in the music business commit suicide and it’s a shame to see talented people give in to things like that. I’ve seen some really ugly things being in the thick of the business. There’s so many great opportunities in life, stay positive, stay healthy, and look forward to it.
CD: During the filming of the documentary, not only did you have to overcome professional challenges, you went through some physical challenges as well. How difficult for you was it to deal with those?
JMT: There were times I went to some really dark places, like when I thought I was dropped by my label or when things just weren’t going my way. When you start losing it and freaking out, you have to realize there’s always another time, things will eventually go right again. If you go to that dark place and get too depressed, dangerous things can happen. Psychologically, I really understand myself more than I did back in the 80’s when it happened to me the first time. I didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. My wife was freaking out and I was alone in Manhattan. If you walk the streets in Manhattan, you need to walk them like you’re a lion. If you walk them like an injured animal, they can taste the blood, and they won’t hesitate to attack you. You always have to be positive and keep the strength up. The nervous breakdown I had then, in 86, will never happen again because I know myself better, I’m in a better place.
CD: What was it like seeing all the familiar faces from your past when you saw the movie?
JMT: It was really wonderful, uh, but I cringed a little seeing the ex-wife (laughs). We went through a lot together and didn’t like how it ended between us. It was a blessing in disguise, if we were never divorced, this movie never would have happened. It’s because I moved out to the west coast and met Al and Ryan. Out there I met my new wife and she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s all in the movie where one door closes, another one opens that could lead you to another dimension of greatness. If one door closes, don’t get depressed, there are other opportunities in life, you just have to go out and find them.
CD: One constant you’ve had in your career is Steve Price and Mike Favata. What is it about working with these guys has always clicked for you musically?
JMT: I started THOR back in 1973 and they first came around in the “Only the Strong” era. My concepts for “muscle rock” came around long before Man-O-War or any of the others. Until the early eighties, I was the only muscle guy on the scene and I had won championships, held titles. I had my bands, Thor and the Imps, a couple others, but in the early 80’s, in New York, I met Steve Price and Mike Favata. They were great musicians so they joined my band and I took them to England with me. That’s where we had a great deal of success and we recorded “Only the Strong”. After that, during my comeback, I did record quite a few albums without them. The great thing is we do always get back together and you see that in the movie. Those guys really mean a lot to me and they’re great musicians. At that time, we had quite a life in Europe and North America.
CD: Do they appear on your latest, “Metal Avenger”?
JMT: I actually have two projects going on.”Metal Avenger” is more of a Jon-Mikl Thor album and that’s the one with all the special guests. I’m working on a second project which will feature Steve and Mike.
CD: I’ll be talking with Mike soon as well.
JMT. That’s great! Mike has been through a lot in his life too, he’s a real fighter.
CD: What’s your favorite album you’ve done or do you feel the best is yet to come?
JMT: I think “Metal Avenger” is going to blow people away. But I really like “Thor against the World”. I like doing concept stuff, I like “Triumphant” a lot. Also, “Beastwomen from the Center of the Earth”, it’s like my “Sgt. Pepper”. Those are three of my favorites, those may not be yours but for me, those are the ones. If you don’t mind me asking, what are your three favorites?
CD: Not at all. I would say “Triumphant” is my all-time favorite.
JMT: Wow, that’s really cool. I wasn’t expecting you to say that one.
CD: I think every song on there is great but when I heard “Call of the Triumphant” and “Everybody Needs a Hero” back to back, it inspired a story, a script I’ve been working at on and off since I first heard it. The album really inspired me and that’s why it’s my favorite.
JMT: That’s really great to hear.
CD: Second, I would go with “Only the Strong”.
JMT: That one I expected. But it’s not a Thor album.
CD: The Tritonz.
JMT: (laughing) Yeah, The Tritonz. It’s actually a Thor album but I wanted the band in the movie to be just that. In the script, we were called The Tritonz. We actually recorded that album at Triton Studios in Toronto. It’s been a really great and incredible career for me and love being involved in those films. I was involved in another film called FUBAR.
CD: I was going to ask you about that film.
JMT: I love the title song, “Fubar is a Super Rocker”.
CD: The video is great!
JMT: That did really well for us, we’re still getting royalties. There’s a lot of royalties coming in from film and songs. Artists who have done both movies and music realize that it can be a really successful thing when you are multimedia.
CD: You wrote the script for ROCK AND ROLL NIGHTMARE, didn’t you?
JMT: I did, I wrote the script and wrote all the songs. I sang, acted, I did everything. I even played bass and some guitar. Some people called it my vanity project but it wasn’t. It was just a project and we had no idea what was going to happen. We shot on 35mm and to save money we went to Kodak and would purchase the ends. There were so many films being shot in Toronto at the time so we would buy and use those. We just spliced them together. One thing we were really proud of was the fact we were one of the first films to ever edit on digital. John Fasano and I did a lot of projects together over the years and I’m still really sad he passed away, he had so much more to give.
CD: I was really upset myself to hear of his passing. I’ve been a long-time fan of his as well. I never met the man but the films he helped to create have been a part of my life for decades. What are your thoughts on the films’ longevity and how, to this day, people are still discovering and falling in love with it?
JMT: It’s great, I still get requests to appear at screenings. I had a request from a theater in Austin, Texas to show a 35mm print of ROCK AND ROLL NIGHTMARE and they wanted to know if I had one. My former sales agent had all those stored in a warehouse somewhere and he passed away. No one knows what happened to or where they might be. It’s a movie that keeps on giving, that’s for sure.
CD: Now that the cat is out of the bag, are you going to retire Steve Scott (his fictional tour manager he uses to handle his tour affairs)?
JMT: The thing about Steve Scott is that he can easily morph into someone else. A lot of kooky things happened when I had managers, you saw some of that in the film. Steve Scott did a pretty good job, some great things are happening right now. It didn’t seem right for me to try and book a show and say, “I’m great!”. It works better to say, “He’s great!”. To answer your question, Steve Scott will always be with me in spirit.
CD: With the movie coming out, it’s almost like you’re entering a new phase in your career.
JMT: Yeah, it’s exciting! Slam Dance was just crazy and I couldn’t believe how much attention people were giving the film. Now there are all these possibilities, the tour and screenings, it’s amazing. It’s all coming soon and I think it’s going to be pretty big. I’m looking forward to getting myself out there on the tour so I can meet the fans and thank them for supporting Thor. I want to thank you for supporting Thor, very much.
CD: You’re welcome, and thank you for all you’ve given me over the years.
JMT: Hey, onward and upwards, man.
Catch I AM THOR in theaters and VOD on November 20. If you want to experience the whole package, see the film and watch Thor perform live, the tour stops in Los Angeles tonight. If you’re in Michigan, be sure to catch him perform on November 18 at Small’s. Tickets are still available and you can order them here. Don’t forget about his latest album METAL AVENGER which is currently available on Amazon.
11.12.15 LOS ANGELES, CA at Whisky A Go-Go – 8901 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069
11.14.15 SAN ANTONIO, TX at Housecore Horror Film Festival
11.16.15 CHICAGO, IL at Reggie’s Rock Club 2109 S State St, Chicago, IL 60616
11.18.15 DETROIT, MI at Small’s Bar 10339 Conant, Hamtramck, MI 48212
11.20.15 PHILADELPHIA, PA at PhillaMOCA 531 North 12th Street Philadelphia, PA 19123
11.22.15 BROOKLYN, NY at Saint Vitus Bar 1120 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222