Joel Hoekstra talks about his upcoming album Dying To Live and Whitesnake plans.
On Thursday the 3rd of September Rockgig had the pleasure to chat with Joel Hoekstra by phone to New York City about Whitesnake, Night Ranger and all the details of his new project Joel Hoekstra's 13 titled Dying To Live which is due out on Frontiers Records Srl on October the 16th.
Rockgig: What originally led you to a career in the music business?
Joel: My parents were classical musicians and had me playing cello and piano from a very young age but like most little boys I played but wasn't that enamoured by it and then heard AC/DC at the age of 11 and that changed everything.I started guitar and I haven't looked back since.
R: Apart from Angus what guitar players initially influenced you and who do you appreciate today?
J: I started out very much into hard rock stuff AC/DC. Black Sabbath,Ozzy, Iron Maiden,The Scorpions.Then as I got older I also appreciated more melodic bands like Journey, Foreigner, Boston and progressive bands like Rush and Yes were big influences on me. Also classic bands like Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and The Doors were all stuff that I liked.
Of course I grew up in the guitar era albums with albums by Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen. As far as players today I am more influenced by people I work with and for mutual concepts.I am often inspired by coming up with different concepts and frameworks to put myself in and playing it and discovering new stuff that way.
R: What do you think you bring to the table and what is your own stamp of originality?
J: I can't answer that I would have to leave that up to the listener.I am not a self publicist talking about myself.I am happy making a living playing rock guitar in particular.There are a lot of players out there who are struggling I very much appreciate the opportunity and for me success is defined by having a life doing this and I can't do anything else.I give it my all and as far as what I bring in terms of being an original guitar player that is what it is.
R: You have just finished your first 3 months in America with Whitesnake how did it go and where there any highlights?
J: The whole thing was a highlight.The first run of the tour surpassed all expectations.There wasn't a single bad review and David is singing great and the band is playing great and getting along so well.
The line up of David Coverdale,Tommy Aldridge, Michael Devin and I love working on the guitar team with Reb Beach. He is such a great player I didn't realise coming in what a great singer Reb is and our keyboard player Michaelli Luppi from Italy is phenomenal and what a voice on background vocals. It has such a great line up of guys that are getting along on stage and off.
R: Have you got a favourite song to play either off the Purple album or one of the older songs?
J: I get asked that question quite a bit.I am just really grateful to be there for all of it.It might sound hokey or cheesy but I appreciate the opportunity I really do to be up there playing all of that stuff.I love playing all the Whitesnake hits that are in the set I grew up with that stuff and the Deep Purple stuff that is in the live set it just lends itself to live performance for all of us. We wish we could capture it live right now as we are playing it better than when we recorded it and feel as a band that we have taken a step forward with the material.
R: You could record it at Wembley later in the year when we see you?
J: That is up to David but it would certainly be fun to do.
R: I read that your initial Whitesnake audition was on Lady Double Dealer any chance of adding that to set list for Wembley?
J: There has been talk of that I think the trouble is there are only so many songs in our set list and that is the amazing thing pulling from the Whitesnake catalogue and also the Deep Purple catalogue.You get a cool strong set and a lot of it lends itself to the jam aspect live and we don't want to lose that entirely and just playing the commercially driven stuff and there are times the band opens up a little bit and jam.I do love Lady Double Dealer and that was the first thing I played on when I auditioned for Whitesnake.David put up the pre production of Lady Double Dealer and let me have a stab at playing the solo on that and pretty much what you hear on the Purple album is what played on my audition.
R: As a huge Night Ranger fan I would like to thank you for giving the band a real impetus with the 2 new studio albums and the 2 Islington shows in the UK were insane. How do you look back at your 7 year stretch with the band?
J: Very fondly I love those guys I am very proud of the 2 new studio albums that we made together and the live acoustic record that we made together.I think it was great time for me and leaving the band was more about me wanting to join Whitesnake than leaving Night Ranger.They are still my brothers and I just got off the phone to Brad Gillis a short while ago.I will be very happy to remain friends and work with those guys on the road or whatever but at the moment I am very happy where I am at.
R: I believe Night Ranger supported Whitesnake recently in America how was that?
J: That's right 2 shows.
R: Now that you are back in New York before the Whitesnake dates in Japan in October does that mean time to rest or are you back doing Rock Of Ages on Broadway?
J: Rock Of Ages finished January 18th of this year.Basically right now I am into doing promo work for my solo project that is due out shortly Joel Hoekstra's 13 album and a couple of other projects including heading out to work with David a little bit on a couple of idea's he has.It is down time but I am very busy thankfully.
R: Moving onto the new project Joel Hoekstra's 13 how did the idea of a solo project come together?
J: I had released 3 solo albums years ago that were predominantly instrumental guitar albums.Two of them I would call rock fusion and one of them was more an easy listening finger style acoustic album.As the fans over the years had gotten to know me with Night Ranger and Trans Siberian Orchestra and Rock Of Ages and now of course Whitesnake I have had a lot of "Hey why don't you put out an album of just good rock stuff than say more of your jazz fusion styling." This is that record and it always sounded like a great idea and over the last year or two I have basically called in favours from a lot of my favourite musicians from the classic rock scene and made this album that is just straight ahead melodic hard rock that I would describe as Dio ish at it's heaviest and Foreigner ish at it's lightest.
R: I have been lucky enough to have the album for just over a week and I have to say it is fantastic I really really enjoy it.
J: Thank you so much I appreciate it.
R: With releasing the 3 previous instrumental cd's now that you have a higher profile as you said earlier did you feel any more pressure when Dying To Live was being put together?
J: Yes I do.I feel like nowadays everything is under a lot more scrutiny with the nature of everything being on line and you are subject to anybodies comments with it being out in the open a lot more so I would say yes it can be a bit of a bummer really when you put your heart and soul into something and it can be a real labour of love.It has been for me with this album I have lost money making it for sure and a lot of time and effort and it can be disheartening when somebody just summarises a period of hard work that you have put in with 5 seconds of evaluating.
R: Obviously having a fantastic band line up on the album helps how did the band come together?
J: Piece by piece.I had just finished a project called VHF with Tony Franklin who I think is the perfect bass player.So I asked Tony would he be interested in making a straight ahead rock album with vocals and he was like " Yes let's do it man" and I said who would you like to use on drums.He recommended Vinny Appice who of course I grew up listening to him play.He has such character in his drumming and he took a lot of these songs to different places that I would have first imagined but really that was the pleasure of working with Vinny on this.
So from there I needed a singer and Russell Allen had just signed up to the Trans Siberian Orchestra tour that I do and admittedly I had never checked out Symphony X and didn't realise how great Russell Allen is and I was totally blown away by him.He can really sing like all of the great singers in classic rock and he was such a natural fit for this.So Russell sang on the first half of this album and then I sang some back ground vocals and then thought it would be really cool to get a great singer doing this so called in a favour from Jeff Scott Soto who is a friend of mine who we had worked together on some other things on his material.He was over qualified in background vocals so I asked him and he said cool and Jeff is such a great guy and he helped me out.I realised this was going to be a project and it was going to be what I wanted it to be and then thought how about Jeff singing on the second half of the album and make it the more the merrier and have 2 of the greatest vocalists in rock today sing on the project.It seemed natural as a project like 13 that I could really do what I wanted with it.To have Jeff sing lead on the second half was great and after hearing all of my guitars on this record I just felt that there was room for more textures and maybe have a different instrument solo on a couple of songs so I decided on keyboards.
I asked Derek Sherinian as I started at the top and thankfully he was able to play on this as well so all of a sudden I had this amazing line up and I never really intended this whole super band thing.Hey it isn't a real super band I did all the writing on it with all the lyrics and melodies and all of these guys just helped me out.I think it would be interesting down the road should this album be received well to see what we would come up with if everybody did the writing together and collaborated but certainly it was great fun for me to put this out and I feel really honoured to have all of these great musicians on there with me.
R: And Chloe Lowery too?
J: I had written this "What We Believe" song that is a song about relationship's and basically it lended to having a female vocalist in there too.Chloe Lowery for those who don't know her is a superstar in waiting and she is amazing.Having her and Jeff Scott Soto on that track is just totally cool.
R: It is a great track.Was it a modern record with files being sent backwards and forwards or were you in a studio together?
J: It was very project like in fact the only time there were people together was on the first half of one the songs when Russell was doing his thing and I was with him at that time.That was how we ended co writing the song "Changes" and that is the only co write on the album.Russell kind of took the verse in a different direction and came up with the concept of the verse and chorus.I had it with something that was a little more Queensryche ish that was originally going on with that song and Russell took it in more of a Foreigner ish direction .
R: Were all the songs ready to go when you entered the studio?
J: The way it worked was I started with guitar riffs for the front half and I sent those to Vinny and Tony and before there was anything written.My original intention was to work with a vocalist first and co write but with Russell so busy with Adrenaline Mob and Symphony X it just wasn't a reality.It would have taken us 5 years to get the album out.I just thought I would go ahead and do all of the writing and he was cool with that so basically that is the way it went down.Started with guitar riffs and than on the second half we came up with the melodies and the lyrics to those riffs and constructed everything in advance.What I would send to Vinny and Tony were scratch guitar tracks to a click and then playing the vocal melodies on guitar and vocal harmony so they could get a sense of the song.
R: How long did it take to record in total?
J: I think from laying down the very first scratch track it took almost 2 years. A lot of it was waiting on people's schedules,and that included my own and with down time I have been incredibly active as you know with lots of gigs.It needed to be done when schedules were lighter.
R: Can you tell me what any of the new songs are about with any specific lyrics that are important to you?
J: It is all important to me but I definitely stop short in calling it a concept album but there is a theme to the album that is basically the struggles and overcoming the obstacles in our lives to become the person you want to be or arrive where we are finally meant to be.I think everybody has that going on in your own head trying to improve themselves.I had a period about 2 years ago where I just sat down and wrote down a laundry list of all the things in my life which I wish I was doing better at.I started to take realistic steps towards each one and those goals and tried to complete a little bit of it each month.
R: Going back to the 2 vocalists their voices work together so well and the backing vocals have blown me away.Jeff was originally only doing backing vocals so what changed your mind and was Russell originally doing all of the album?
J: It was a combination of Jeff's sounding great and Russell's having such a really busy schedule and it was going to take a really long time to get this out. I may have had to wait another year to release it or another 6 months and Jeff was sounding amazing and I wanted a cool album.I don't regret the decision it sounds awesome and it makes the album more fun to listen to and not listening to the same singer all the time and gives an extra dimension and bringing more to the party.
R: Any songs left for another album?
J: I could be up for it and it will be fun to see the reaction to this album and if there is some kind of demand I would love to try and have some sort of live support for it and moving forward I could definitely see me doing another album like this with my writing but I think it would be super fun to see what it would sound like if everybody was writing together.The sky would certainly be the limit with this line up there is no question of that.
R: What do you see as success in 2015?Critical acclaim,cd and ticket sales or more on a personal level?
J: (Laughing) I am just making a living.That is enough for me bro!! My definition of success is just getting through life doing this.This is it I don't need the mansion or sports cars and all that stuff like the other guys.Honestly I just want to get through this all and feel as an artist I can get through life and feel like I am doing what I was meant to do and I if I was put on this earth to play guitar I just want to get through life doing that.
R: The music industry has changed hugely over the last decade or so what are your thoughts on the current music industry?
J: It is tough out there but I think it is important that if it is something you love you don't get frustrated with that and focus too hard on that because it farms itself into an excuse to get out of it.It is much more important to look at what you can do realistically to be productive and to change or to give yourself an opportunity to make a living doing it.But again you can hear my level of definition of what success is and what it is to be a successful musician.
R: That is refreshing to hear.
J: Being able to be a musician is success.I hear a lot of how bad it is but simultaneously I have been on a run over the last 6 or 7 years doing 350 shows a year with Rock Of Ages,Night Ranger and Trans Siberian Orchestra and so now to get around the world with Whitesnake and the opportunity to work with David Coverdale and to have this album coming out and hopefully broaden my horizons and get me out to some new people and earn some new fans along the way and hopefully that will help me with what I am talking about and being able to make a living playing guitar.
R: So you are soon off to Japan and then Europe with Whitesnake what does the rest of the year hold for you?
J: David Coverdale has some ideas and a couple of recording projects that he wants me to work on with him.
R: Is that the acoustic album I have seen mentioned maybe?
J: I don't really want to divulge too much really and I will leave David to tell you guys exactly what it is and he has a couple of bits and ideas that I think we are going to get the ball rolling with sooner rather than later.There is also talk of more live support happening in 2016 and I will leave that to David fill you guys in with that one too.I think David believes in this line up of Whitesnake right now and the chemistry and so I think he is looking towards being really active which is a fantastic thing for all of us.
R: Any last thoughts for your fans about the new album?
J: I just hope people will give it a shot.I think there is a lot of people out there who don't know who I am yet and are just learning who I am but it is a good solid melodic hard rock album and if people like what I am describing as melodic hard rock which is Dio ish at it's heaviest and Foreigner ish at it's lightest I think they will really enjoy the album.I put my heart and soul into it for sure and it is a labour of love and the trick is just getting people to give it a shot I think.
R: My review will be up shortly and will be very positive.
J: Thanks for your support I appreciate it.
R Thanks your for your time and all the best with the new album.
With thanks to Peter Noble at Peter Noble PR For his help in setting up this interview.