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Catch Nordic Thunder live in Milwaukee on Friday, Sept. 2, with Grand Funk Railroad. (PHOTO: NordicThunder.com)

Nordic Thunder brings air guitar to new heights

Surely, you all know about Grand Funk Railroad, the favorite band of the inimitable Homer Simpson.

But you know what really gets Homer's head nodding like he's saying yes to every beat?

The incredible air guitar stylings of Nordic Thunder (known to his family and the vital statistics bureau of his home state of Wyoming as Justin Howard). Mr. Thunder is not only a champion air guitarist, his skills are so respected that he's often tapped as a judge – sometimes even as a spectator – at air guitar contests.

He is the Oscar Moore – heck, the Scotty Moore – even the Gary Moore of air guitar ... and more.

Nordic Thunder opens for Grand Funk Railroad, Friday, Sept. 2 at the House of Harley-Davidson, 6221 W. Layton Ave., as part of the Milwaukee Rally, which runs from Sept. 1 through 4. Admission ranges from $25 to $50, and the event is open to all ages.

As he prepares to roar into the Milwaukee Rally at the House of Harley this weekend, we caught up with Nordic Thunder – and that ain't easy, my friends – to ask him about his skills and how wannabe air guitarists can hone their chops.

First, please take a moment to watch this intro video:

OnMilwaukee: Let's start at the beginning. When did you first pick up the air guitar and are you self-taught or did you take lessons?

Nordic Thunder: Playing the air guitar is an instinctual act among human beings. We're all born with the ability to feel music, and it's in that feeling of music that the act of playing an air guitar comes to fruition. Lessons aren't necessary, but what is necessary is allowing yourself to lose yourself in the music. There's nothing more freer than playing an air guitar.

If I wanted to learn the air guitar, is it a problem that I'm left-handed? Because my there guitar teacher made me flip it over and learn to play right-handed.

There's no right or wrong way to play an air guitar. Much like your "there guitar" teacher taught you to adapt to a learning style that he was able to teach you, one can adapt said methods to playing the air variety.

What would you say are some of the skills that are unique to playing air guitar; skills that even wood, or even fiberglass, guitarists might not possess?

I think one of the most unique skills to playing an air guitar that separates air guitarists from "there guitarists" is air guitarists generally throw shame and embarrassment to the wind (note: he's clearly not heard my there guitar playing). There's nothing more freeing than recognizing that pit in your stomach of acting like a fool in front of hundreds of people, harnessing that fear and releasing it through the act of playing an invisible instrument.

This is very unique to air guitarists, as I believe this form of expression is hidden behind "there guitars," and it's when the physical mass of a solid instrument is stripped away, something very real happens.

I watched the video, which I really enjoyed, but I wondered why air guitars require three-dimensional guitar stands and amps. Please educate this neophyte on the basics.

Why thank you, sir. I had to look up the definition to neophyte – I'm an air head after all. At any rate, when one goes to an air guitar show, in some ways, it's like attending a "real concert." Like the air guitarist, the spectator must use his or her imagination to fully immerse oneself in the performance. In creating an atmosphere of a live rock and roll show, amps, mic stands, guitar stands, roadies, groupies, lights, smoke, lasers and farts all add to the overall experience. If the spectator is willing to fully submerge him or herself and suspend disbelief, one can have a really great time. Maybe even more fun than one would have at a "real concert."

Every musician is influenced by musicians who came before and maybe even some contemporaries. Who are your air guitar influences – the folks whose styles and approaches and attitudes really informed your playing?

There are so many great air guitarists all over the world. Each brings their own flavor to the sport, much like the characters in professional wrestling do. However, my biggest air guitar influence comes from the first U.S. World Champion. His name is C. Diddy, and in my opinion, he's the greatest air guitarist that has ever lived. His commitment to his performance, facial expressions and technical ability project ones mind into a state of pure rock and roll bliss. I still get goosebumps to this day when I go back and watch the tapes of his early performances.

Any advice for aspiring air guitarists?

If it feels good, do it. There's nothing more freeing than playing an air guitar. If you believe what you're doing, those around you will have no choice but to believe you as well. It's a beautiful thing when this happens, because you are able to connect with human beings on a very unique level. It's a very real thing, these connections with people.

What can Milwaukee expect when you take the stage here on Sept. 2? Should we be expected to be, ahem, blown away?

That was a total dad joke, and I love it. I plan to break wind on Lake Michigan's western shore line in the fine city of Milwaukee. I'll be making a fool of myself with lots of crotch thrusting, head banging and invisible shredding. I'm going to enjoy every second of it and in turn hope the audience does, as well. I'm really looking forward to it!


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