Interview with Thor
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: July 13, 2018
Canadian heavyweights Thor, originally starting as a concept band called Centaur in 1973, are no laughing matter. They know what it takes to be around for a long time, to play around the globe, record new albums and make new friends. At best, and even at worst, Heavy Metal is about being cheesy (in a good way) and sticking to your guns and enjoying what you do while entertaining people. Thor does just that, hands down. Nowadays, seeing a Thor live show is simply pure magic. To some, they may perhaps look a little bit corny with some of the theatrical elements they have always included in their show, but for the true fans of Thor, they are essential.
Over the past years, Thor has established a strong following all over the world, but countries like Sweden and Finland have treated Thor especially well, offering the band many opportunities to play live.
Thor arrived in Tampere, Finland, to play at South Park festival on June 8, 2018, at which this lucky journalist from The Metal Crypt had the chance to enjoy Thor's kind hospitality after the band's very well-received performance on the main stage.
After dinner with the band, it was time to find out what Thor has been up to lately, plus what's expected from them in the future.
HEAVY METAL IS A WAY OF LIFE
Luxi: First off, welcome to Finland once again. You were here at Sauna Open Air, in Tampere in 2009 then you played in Helsinki in 2011 and at Porispere Festival last year. What kind of memories do you have from your previous visits to Finland?
Mr. Thor: It seems that people get our show here, they understand our show. Every time we come, we say, "We're going to go see friends." They are our friends, same as in Sweden. We went to Sweden and we have friends there, and friends here in Finland. I just think people understand the Norse mythology, and superheroes combined, and music, Heavy Metal.
Heavy Metal is a way of life here, much more than North America. North America, Heavy Metal's sort of underground. Here, it's more mainstream. It's like going to a sporting event. There's lots of people and everybody is cheering for the team, and we're like a team.
Luxi: You also played at Muskelrock in Sweden just recently, which had a pretty interesting, may I say, "old school" line-up of bands on the bill; everything from Cirith Ungol to Ashbury to Count Raven to Thor and everything in between really. How was this festival for you? Did you feel at home with all of these old school, semi-legendary bands playing at the same festival?
Mr. Thor: Oh, yes. When I first started in 1973, it was called "Muscle Rock." The first Thor album was called Muscle Rock, and Jacob Hector, the promoter, adopted that title from our genre of Muscle Rock and wanted to invite us over, and we played, this was the 10th anniversary. We played the first Muscle Rock in 2009. It was very successful. Now, it's one of the most prestigious festivals in the world for Heavy Metal.
Luxi: You were bestowed with a "Lifetime Achieve Award" in Sweden. How did this recognition make you feel?
Mr. Thor: I was honored. You know what? Back at home, sometimes you're a stranger in your homeland. Canada doesn't always appreciate what I've done. I'm kind of a rebel. The Juno Awards, they've never given me a Juno award and I'm not in the hall of fame in Toronto, for Canada, but yet I've done many things for Canada. I feel honored, that I can come to Scandinavia and be given an award. Somewhere in the world, I'm appreciated.
Luxi: How does this year look for Thor gigging-wise? I only know that you have a tour in Texas coming up in August this year, but what else?
Mr. Thor: After those shows, we're going to be releasing the movie Return of the Thunderhawk, on DVD. We've already started writing the new album. We're probably going to go off the road for a little bit and keep working on the new album, and it's going to be released in 2019.
RETURN TO SCANDINAVIA - DOCUMENTARY TALK
Luxi: Speaking of the Thor documentary, Return of the Thunderhawk, where are you with it at the moment? Do you have all material ready?
Mr. Thor: Actually, some of the material was filmed tonight, right?
Ted: We're filming right now.
John: We're adding stuff from this last Scandinavian run. The shows that we did in Sweden and the show we just did here in Finland are being added to the DVD.
Ted: These are such big shows for us that we couldn't leave them out of the DVD. You have to show that Thor still has a huge following in Sweden and Finland.
Luxi: Yes, we do and that's very cool that you'll add some footage from Sweden and Finland to that DVD.
Mr. Thor: Yes. It's like, I first took these guys to Finland for Porispere Festival last year, and this is sort of like the return to Finland, again. Even though we're returning to the Thunder Hawk, there's another return; a return to Finland. Maybe we'll change the title.
Mr. Thor: Return to Finland. Seriously.
John: Or, Return to Scandinavia.
Ted: It was really fun for me to look out in the audience and go, "Oh, there's Jussi (Lehtisalo, mostly known from his band called Circle - Luxi adds). There's that guy who caught the shield, last time. Oh, there's the woman who helped us out backstage at Porispere, and there's this person, there's this person." I even recognized you. And I'm like, "I've seen you before," You know, it's amazing.
Mr. Thor: Yes, we make friends, and you want to come to see them again. It's wonderful.
Luxi: Last year you released two albums, Beyond the Pain Barrier, which had all new songs on it and then you also released Electric Eyes, which is Thor's unreleased album from 1979. Why wasn't Electric Eyes released earlier?
Mr. Thor: Well, Keep the Dogs Away came out in 1977, '78. We went into Mushroom Studios, and they said, "Okay, I could produce the album." What was happening at the time was more of a raw and organic sound, if you remember. It was like Punk Rock, or Garage Punk, at that time. We went into the studio in '79. I made the album rougher. And Heavy Metal was starting to get more known, then. The music was getting a little heavier, like in "Gladiator Stomp", and "The Door" and "Now Comes the Storm", that kind of stuff. We made the album at Mushroom Studios where Heart recorded their hit album, Dreamboat Annie, and Bachman Turner Overdrive recorded there. Even Led Zeppelin at one time laid some tracks down there. It's a famous studio in Vancouver. The record company said, "It's not like Keep the Dogs Away. It's too raw and organic."
And I said, "Yes, because that's what's happening now, raw organic." They said, "We don't want to distribute this." Basically, it got lost for a while because I just kind of stored it away, in my mother's basement. It got flooded. It was damp. I just forgot about it. I had to bake it, when I found it again, just a couple years ago. I found it, I had to bake it and oxidize it. Anyhow, the label heard a couple of tracks. They said, "Wow, I love this stuff. Can we hear it? Do you have any more?" I said, yes, I got a whole album full. That's how it happened. It was a forgotten album, forgotten treasure. The reviews on it are astounding.
Luxi: Yes, I've seen some of those reviews myself. I was wondering if you have more unreleased stuff lying around waiting to get published?
Mr. Thor: Yes. There's a lot of stuff around. Because I did lots and lots of recording as a young man and some stuff was never released.
Luxi: Are you planning to release some of that stuff later, maybe next year?
Mr. Thor: Possible. The label likes that, right? To release some older material with a new album. We put out Beyond the Pain Barrier, as you already mentioned, and then they put out Electric Eyes.
Luxi: Los Angeles-based label Cleopatra Records has been re-releasing quite a lot of Thor's early stuff as deluxe editions, like the Unchained and Only the Strong albums. How did your cooperation with them start?
John: We did a tour in California, back in February and when we played the Viper Room, Cleopatra Records actually came out to that. It was nice to meet those guys. It was a good show. They've been wanting to work with us. They're putting out the DVD. They're going to be putting out this next album. Yes, we work with them.
Luxi: The owner of the record label is a guy named Brian Perera, right?
Mr. Thor: Yes, very nice guy.
Luxi: He is obviously a big Thor fan?
Mr. Thor: Yes, very much so. That's how it started. He was a fan of Motörhead years ago, and he put out a Motörhead record from his garage, and made the company or bigger and bigger and bigger. It's quite a success story with Cleopatra Records.
GIANT SWISS CHEESE ROLL
Luxi: Some people consider Thor's music cheesed-out 80s Metal. But then again, real 80s Metal music is all about being cheesy, looking cheesy and basically everything centers around this cheesiness factor if you want to entertain people by playing 80s-tinged Metal. Anyway, what's your point of view about this cheesiness thing in Heavy Metal music? Can you ever overdo cheesiness in Heavy Metal music?
John: Oh, yes, did you see our show?
Ted: I think putting on a show is more than just getting out there and playing. We had Valkyries, we had a sorceress, we had a Loki, and we had Thor from 1984, and we're doing some choreographed moves. I think the fans really enjoy watching it.
Tom: You mean that wasn't real?
Mr. Thor: The next thing we're going to have on stage is a giant Swiss cheese roll out and I will fight against it!
Luxi: Is that a promise? ;o)
Ted: Swiss cheese is quite cheesy.
Mr. Thor: Many times, trying to be epic and heroic gets confused with cheese. I mean, some of the superhero movies could be called cheesy, but it's all just trying to be epic. The grandiose.
Luxi: But then again, you are all entertainers and you are supposed to entertain people, not just by music but offering a visual show for your audience as well.
John: If there wasn't a full show, they could just stay at home and listen to the record. We have to make sure that we provide a visual aspect to the show, so that way, it's worth watching. Otherwise, they're just going to sit at home and listen to a record. We want people to come out and see us. We want to meet these new people. We want to make new friends.
Ted: We dress up and our drummer, Tom here, is great at doing our face paint, and it just adds an extra element. "Who are these guys wearing this crazy Viking paint?"
Mr. Thor: We want you to cheer. We want you to laugh. We want you to cry. We want you to hurl.
Mr. Thor: ... and let's have a good time, yeah. Hurl the hammer, that is.
ABOUT SUPERHEROES, NORDIC MYTHOLOGY AND BIG MUSCLES
Luxi: As for this whole Thor character, it's your own creation and obviously a sum of a few things from the past. Did you have some superheroes in your childhood that you looked up to for what they represented?
Mr. Thor: My very favourite is Superman. I was so crazy about Superman when I was a young kid, at eight years old, that I went to school with a Superman costume underneath my clothes, and at recess, I would change into Superman, and go around the schoolyard. One time, someone hid my clothes and the bell rang, and I couldn't get back to class on time. I still had my Superman costume on. The teacher was very angry and wrote a note to my parents because I used to draw the Superman insignia all over my school books. I was fanatical about Superman.
Ted: It's been fun since I joined Thor. I've really got into Norse mythology and gone back and looked at the stories. You know Thor, you know Odin, you know Loki, and you know the movies, but the movies from Marvel's point of view are different than the actual legends. Going back and looking at those, and seeing, and hearing the songs and he's talking about Jötunheimr, and the giants, and the dwarves, moulded Mjölnir, and all this great mythology that is included in these songs.
Luxi: As for the current line-up, how did you guys end up playing in Thor?
John: All right, so let me field that one. When Thor came to town, which was Minneapolis, Minnesota, back in 2016, my band at the time, Dawn of Valor, was opening the show. Impaler, our drummer Tom's old band, was also on the bill. It was my job to be in charge of putting together Thor's backing band. I put together a line-up and got to meet Jon, we rehearsed, we did the gig. Apparently, I left a good impression on him, because he asked me to come down to Chicago and play with them two weeks later. After that, we started talking about doing an album, and he said, "Well, I'm going to need a full-time line-up of guys."
I called up Ted. I called up Tom, and I was like, "Let's get this going," and then Colin, it was actually his fourth show with us. He's the new guy. Basically, my job is to make sure that he's got a solid backing band to play with. I always make sure I get that. I get the guys lined up. When it comes to writing albums, I make sure that we can get something that's really solid put out, which I think we did with Beyond the Pain Barrier.
Luxi: How pleased are you with the mob around you, Jon?
Mr. Thor: It's great to have a new generation injecting new blood into what I'm doing. I have to make it exciting for me, too. The energy they bring in, the new ideas, and stuff, it all melds together. I was telling John, we're going to do a number where he comes out with an acoustic guitar and start singing "Old man, look at my life."
Mr. Thor: I thought it'd be a great part of the show, play a little acoustic. I don't feel like an old man. I feel like I'm in my 40s, anyway. I see these guys. I'm ready to rock like today, I was ready to rock, out there. I challenge anyone to have the energy to go out there and rock like we did.
Ted: I challenge anyone at Thor's age to go out and rock like he does. He brings the energy every time he performs. It's amazing, the show he puts on.
John: He's like the energizer bunny. He keeps going, and going, and going. It's unreal.
Luxi: When talking about the past a little bit more, what was the ground-breaking thing that started your transition from winning bodybuilding awards to a musician and entertainer?
Mr. Thor: As a child, I was very interested in The Avengers, Superman with George Reeves, Hercules with Steve Reeves. Later on, I started playing guitar and when I got into my teens, played heavier and got into bands and also bodybuilding. Then I saw Alice Cooper and Bowie, very theatrical shows, so I thought, "I want to do a theatrical show. I want to be the front man, not just the bass player." Right? I was a frontman. I took my bodybuilding to another level by singing and doing theatrics, strength feats, and different things. I wanted to excite the crowds.
Luxi: And the transition from bodybuilder to musician felt natural for you?
Mr. Thor: It felt very natural. Music and muscle melded together. The strength is in the music.
Luxi: Talking about big muscles and Heavy Metal, what do you think of a band like Manowar? They take these things very seriously.
Mr. Thor: I think Manowar are great, a great band. I always liked their concept. Yes.
Luxi: Singing about going to Valhalla, slaving women and stuff?
Mr. Thor: Yes. That's the kind of stuff going on with other bands, right? Like with Amon Amarth. They have tales of Valhalla, and now Asgard, and Odin. I like it. Theatrical bands with concepts.
Luxi: Thor is definitely a band that unites many of Heavy Metal fans. How does it make you feel to know there are so many Thor fans around these days, both young and old, some that weren't even born when the band released some of their earliest albums?
Mr. Thor: The power of music, not just by Thor, but music itself, is powerful. It's like a time machine. When you think of a song, you go back in time, it brings people together. Fathers and sons. Father introduces the music of his time to his son, and the son likes it. Or, young kids discover it in the record shops. "Listen to this. Wow, look at this band. That's pretty cool from back in the 80s." I think it's wonderful that music is that strong and that people like our music so much.
HELPFUL ADVANCED MODERN TECHNOLOGY
Luxi: Making music and the technology, has changed a lot since you made albums back in the eighties. Do you feel like you are still an analogue man in a digital world or do you like all the aspects of making music the modern way these days?
Mr. Thor: Personally, I like technology, I go with the advancement. It's adapt or die. I don't want to live in the past. I want to go forward. I want to reflect on the past, all the fun stuff from the past, but I like moving forward. I like when I'm in bed, and I can do deals on my cell phone, at 3:00 clock in the morning when I wake up. I couldn't do that years ago or roll out of bed and lay down some tracks.
John: And Beyond the Pain Barrier wouldn't have been possible without modern day technology because Thor lives up in Vancouver, I'm in St Paul, Minnesota, he's in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and then Ted and Colin are both in Denver, Colorado.
Tom: It was a Dropbox album.
John: ...and we recorded remotely. I flew out to Denver to do the demos. Thor already had some ideas up in Canada and we did the majority of the hard tracking in Minneapolis. The mixing and mastering in Minneapolis, with Ted flying his tracks in from Denver, Thor flying his vocals in from Canada.
Ted: We had guest musicians in Texas, Wisconsin and all the way out in Sweden. I mean, modern technology is just amazing for musical projects. It opens doors.
John: We had George Call on the album and he lives in Texas. He's with Aska and Cloven Hoof. He did some backing vocals on Beyond the Pain Barrier. We had Fang Vonwrathenstein from Lords of the Trident, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin. These guys were sending their stuff so we could put it onto the album, but they were nowhere near where we were physically recording.
And we also had a couple of Minneapolis guys, as well. We had Mark (Ehlers) from Deep Sleep Operator. We had Matt Hodsdon from Chaos Frame, doing some guitar stuff. Being able to get all these guys on one album, from all over the world was pretty great.
Luxi: I suppose you are going to keep this line-up together as long as possible?
Ted: As long as they'll keep us around.
Tom: It'll be great, now that the restraining order is over.
John: We're allowed within 50' of Thor, it's all great.
NEW THOR ALBUM IN THE WORKS
Luxi: Is there something that you'd like to tell about this next Thor album? Have you started the songwriting process already?
Mr. Thor: What we started doing in Sweden was we laid down some tracks, just demos. Ideas.
Ted: I have some ideas. It's a combination of classic Thor, with some more modern elements. You're going to see everything.
Luxi: Do you believe it's going to be a concept album of some sort?
Mr. Thor: Yes. A concept album, but if a radio station took a song, it doesn't necessarily mean people would be confused. They can relate to it. It's a love song, or whatever they want to relate to it. It's not just attached to a concept album. You can take songs individually that could be relatable to a mainstream audience.
John: Let's put it this way. We have a Speed Metal drummer in the band now, and we're doing a song called "War Five Thousand." You do the math.
Mr. Thor: You just gave one of the titles.
John: It's a spoiler.
Mr. Thor: First exclusive. "War Five Thousand" is one of the songs. That's obviously a very fast song.
Luxi: Have you discussed the optimal amount of songs to record for this new Thor album?
Mr. Thor: Maybe 10 or 11?
Luxi: And Cleopatra Records will release it?
M Thor: Yes...
Luxi: Obviously you have made a long-term contract with them, which is none of my business, but I get a feeling you are happy to be on their roster?
Mr. Thor: It's amazing. I signed with them in 2013 and they've already put out about like - if you include new albums, revised albums, greatest hits, the live stuff - around 15 albums, I think.
Luxi: Does that include digital albums, too?
John: Yes. They're still willing to work with us. I don't know the exact details like the length of the contract, but basically when Thor calls them up and says, "I got some new stuff for you," they get fired up about it, and that's what counts.
Ted: They seem to want to release a lot of things from Thor. They're always excited about it.
John: The fact that they are willing to put out something from 1979, that means that they're invested in Thor. They care about Thor as an act.
Ted: Thor really has a worldwide fan base.
Tom: A Thornacopia, if you will.
Ted: A Thornacopia.
Luxi: Okay, this is getting long, but I still have one last question for each of you up in my sleeve. What do you would like to achieve personally with Thor...
Tom: Absolute world conquest.
Luxi: Now that sounds pretty modest and badass, haha!
Tom: Thoroughly Metal.
John: Well, he stole my answer, but obviously keep touring, keep writing. For me, it's so cool because I was such a big fan of Thor before he gave me a spot to join his band, so to be able to write music with someone that I've looked up to for so long, it's just been, "Wow...!" Then doing these awesome festivals, going on tour. I want to keep that going. Just more and more and more of that.
Tom: I actually saw him on Radio 1990, in '84, '85, with Cheech & Chong. I remember watching it when it was new. It's cool to be in the band.
Ted: I think my favorite part is just getting to meet all of these Thor fans, and them appreciating the fact that I have the privilege of getting to play with Thor. They come up to me and say, "That was so amazing," and I'm just up there, being a part of Thor. I'm amazed that I get to be a part of this, and that people are, just so respectful. I love meeting all these fans. They are so wonderful.
Matt: I have to agree with Ted on this one. I really think that the coolest part is meeting all these fans that have been fans for years. They come up to us and they're like, "Oh my God, you guys kicked ass. That was so cool." It's, like, "Well, thank you. He's the guy, he's the dude." It's a cool feeling to get to meet these people who just love the music and love all of us, even though they don't know who we are, but they don't really care. Now, it's just about the music and what we just did up on that stage.
John: I would have never had the chance to sign an autograph in a grocery store in Sweden if I wasn't playing with Thor. Seriously, it happened. We were just out getting groceries and Thor's standing right next to me, and the guys from Boulder standing right next to me and they're like, "Hey, I want your autograph." I'm like, "Me? But these are the famous ones, not me." They're like, "No, I want your autograph." That was mind-blowing, you know.
Luxi: ... and the last answer to wrap up this cool conversation together goes rightfully to the mastermind, Mr. Thor himself...
Mr. Thor: Well, when we were coming to Finland, we were at the airport and I talked to Colin here, quite frankly. I said, "You're 22 years old. When you get to my age of 65, do you think you will be on stage performing?" He wasn't quite sure. He hoped so. When I was started with Thor in '73, I just thought maybe I'd do three years and that would be it. I never thought I was going to be here in 2018, still being Thor. My feeling is if I can bring happiness, or people enjoy the show, they like our music, then it's worthwhile to continue and doing shows.
I would like to keep recording and filming and doing live shows. Who knows? Maybe I'll still be rocking at 100 years old. I'm not opposed to modern technology. I'm always excited to see what's next in music, with modern technology. That's excitement for me. What we can utilize with that, and maybe, I'll go out there as a hologram, or I can watch myself on stage, doing the show. Like Thor 1984, we brought him out here. It was kind of fun for me to see him onstage. Would you guys go out with a hologram?
John: We never thought about it.
Ted: We'd consider anything.
Tom: I already am a hologram.
John: Our drummer is.
Luxi: Okay. I think this sums up this conversation perfectly. Thanks again for your time.
Mr. Thor: Cheers. Thank to you for having us, too.
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