There's been a shift from "bigger is better" to "less is more" in everything from technology to pop culture. Cell phones, portable music players, cameras and cars are all obviously smaller now than ever before, but even our cultural icons have scaled back in size though more in terms of behavior than stature. The giant laser-light shows have given way to stage sets that often include nothing more than a chair and a microphone stand. One performer, though, has staked his 30-year career on the idea that bigger is not only better, but biggest kicks ass. Jon Mikl Thor (stage name: The Mighty Thor) is a bodybuilder-slash-actor-slash musician who's been tearing up screen and stage since 1977. While he no longer inflates a hot water bottle with his mouth or smashes bricks on his chest with a sledgehammer, he still includes as much visual entertainment on stage as aural. On tour right now in support of his newest album, Devastation of Musculation, we caught up with 57-year-old Thor on the road just outside of Santa Cruz on his way to a show in L.A.
BW: Where did the title Devastation of Musculation come from?
JMT: "I was watching CNN and I was intrigued by a story about a bodybuilder who wanted to make his arms 50 inches wide. He injected himself with so many steroids that his biceps exploded. People want to be more handsome, more beautiful. "Devastation of musculation" is when you try to become so much better or greater that you actually self-destruct. Like Michael Jackson's nose. That's "devastation of musculation."
Did you coin that phrase?
It's all mine (laughs).
If you had children, would you encourage them to follow any of the same paths you have? Bodybuilder, actor, musician?
No (laughs). They should follow whatever they're interested in. As a kid, I had an interest in music. I played accordion and then bass and I had a fascination with movies. If I had a child and he or she were interested in getting into politics or being a scientist, I wouldn't say, "Hey, I want you to be in show business."
But if he or she did want to be in show business, would you encourage them to do something else?
I would warn them that it's a very tough business. It's quite high-risk and has a lot of ups and downs.
Have you had any recent movie offers?
Yes! I just did Murder at the Presidio with Jason Priestly and Lou Diamond Phillips. I wrote songs for that movie. I was involved in the production of Fubar, which a lot of people think is a great rock and roll movie. I've been doing some producing and have about three films I'm working on right now. I recently did Intercessor, the sequel to the Warner Bros. film Rock and Roll Nightmare.
You're quite the renaissance man . . .
I like that title!
You've been in the music business a long time. How has your music changed over those 30 years?
Mostly in the technology. We used to have big, clunky tapes and when you wanted to edit something, you actually had to cut and splice the tape back together. It was quite expensive to go into a studio back in the '60s and '70s and then put [the music] on vinyl records. Now, there are bands that can record in their bedrooms and then put [the music] on CD and on the Internet. It's a lot easier for bands to get more notice; however, there's a lot more competition, too. Even some of the big acts are hurting because of that.
Do you have a hand in the production of all of your music?
I do. Actually, me and Michael Kischnick produced the new album. In the previous album, Thor Against The World, I was working with Frank Meyer and Bruce Duff and they were in Los Angeles and I was in Vancouver [Canada] so we worked across the miles. We were e-mailing songs and ideas back and forth and Fed-Exing CDs and CDRs. It was a long distance project. But with Devastation of Musculation, Mike Kischnick has a studio in Kelowna which isn't far from Vancouver, so I would just drive up there through the mountains. It's an incredible drive that's enough for creativity itself when you see the mountains and the beauty. It gives you a lot of ideas. I get a lot of my song ideas when I drive.
Are your shows as theatrical as they used to be?
Actually, they're more theatrical than ever. There are costume changes, and onstage battles with an ogre creature and feats of strength. I really want to concentrate more on the music, but I still do strength feats. Last night I bent a steel bar. Other nights I'll snap a microphone stand in two. Sometimes I tear a license plate in half.
I try to make sure every show is.
What should people expect at one of your shows?
They should expect to have a good time. I look out in the audience and see people smiling with their fists raised singing along with us. Unlike some bands, like the Subhumans where there's a lot of violence at their shows, we're the opposite. Have a good time and we'll promise to give you a great show.
September 12, 9 p.m., $5, with glam rockers Zolar X, Neurolux, 111 N. 11th St.