» Joel Hoekstra - Whitesnake/13
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Interview conducted November 12 2015
Interview published November 23 2015

"People always have some negative spin to try and put on it."

American guitarist Joel Hoekstra recently released, under the epithet of Joel Hoekstra's 13, his new album Dying To Live. This busy man is currently out on a European tour with Whitesnake and therefore Metal Covenant, one day prior to the band's show in Stockholm, had a chance to get to know him a little bit more and to talk about his new material, his past projects and bands, and of course about his current involvement with Whitesnake and David Coverdale.

"I mean, who wouldn't wanna write an album with David Coverdale?"

Tobbe: Obviously we're gonna talk about your new album, your solo album, which was released quite recently, so my first question is; Why did you use 2 singers instead of just 1?

Joel: It was really just kind of a 'take it as it comes' type of project. I mean, I didn't know if I was setting out to do a band thing, a solo album, a project album, which technically I consider it to be; a side project, not a solo album. So really, a lot of that just came down to scheduling. Russell [Allen] was really busy, and he sang on the front half.

Initially I even thought I was gonna find a singer and co-write with him and Russell was too busy to do that. It was even more of a hold up, in terms of just having him finishing the album and Jeff [Scott Soto] sounded so great on the backgrounds, and by that point it was clear as a project album and I knew there were some songs coming that were better for Jeff's voice anyway, so it kind of made sense to do it that way.

Tobbe: So what is your primary goal with this album?

Joel: Well, I released 3 solo albums years ago, that were instrumental guitar albums. Basically, a lot of fans have gotten to know me over the last 7-8 years, from playing with Night Ranger, Rock Of Ages, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and now Whitesnake, and those fans have been asking for a side project, or a solo album, more along the lines of what I'm known for, which is playing melodic hard rock.

So that's really the only purpose of this album and it was great for me to get an opportunity to do all the writing and producing and not just play guitar on something, for a change. That was a lot of fun for me and it was a great learning experience just to really have a much heavier workload on this album than simply playing guitar on it.

Tobbe: So if you look in the long term, what is your then primary goal with the whole project, 13?

Joel: Well, I think that's the nice part about calling it Joel Hoekstra's 13. It's open to interpretation. I mean, I could do another album with this same lineup and have everybody write together, or I could do a lineup with totally different musicians of this style of music and call it that. Really, there's an endless amount of possibilities in terms of where I could go with it. Or just never do anything again with it. There is always that.

Tobbe: How many people did you actually have to ask before you could finalize the lineup on this album?

Joel: Everybody that I asked said yes. [Laughs] Yeah, I never had anybody say no. I didn't really intend to do an all-star lineup for my thing. I just wanted to make an album of straight ahead melodic hard rock. That's it. So I didn't think "Oh, I'm gonna get the coolest lineup ever!". I just asked Tony Franklin [bass] 'cause we had finished doing the VHF project [Vinciguerra (Tony), Hoekstra, Franklin] together. He said yes and I said "Who would you wanna use on drums?" and he recommended Vinny Appice. And from there, Russell Allen had just signed up to do the Trans-Siberian Orchestra tour that I do, so I was like "Ah, this is the singer for it.".

You know, we've got this Dio on steroids rhythm section with Vinny Appice and Tony Franklin, and I thought Russell can sing that style. So initially it started out kind of in a heavier direction; some of the earlier songs written for it. Then Jeff, as a favor to me, sang backgrounds on Russell's tracks, and as I said earlier, when it became clear it was gonna be a project album, I wanted Jeff to sing lead as well. There were some, I suppose, more melodic, AOR-ish type songs that were gonna be in the second half, that I thought were better for him. And after I got done doing my guitars, I felt like there was room for keyboards and I asked Derek Sherinian and he was willing, so all of a sudden I had this amazing lineup. But honestly, just all I wanted to do was to make a cool album of hard rock; melodic hard rock.

Tobbe: But I guess people, when they look at the lineup, they will probably see this as an, like you said, an all-star band.

Joel: Yeah. People always have some negative spin to try and put on it. There is people saying "Oh, he's riding on the coattails now of joining Whitesnake.", but I actually began making this album long before I even auditioned for Whitesnake, so that's bullshit. And, you know, people say "Oh, it's another Frontiers manufactured product." and that's bullshit too, because I wrote all the music on it. I mean, if somebody else did the writing for me, then fine, but I did all of the writing, and the music on it all means something to me. So everybody's gonna try and put their own negative spin on it, and it's not necessarily factual.

Tobbe: But is it actually possible to not jump on the wagon or kind of ride the wave of being the new guitarist in Whitesnake, now when you release this album?

Joel: I don't know what that even necessarily means. I just try to stay productive every day and I've been that way for a really long time, in terms of playing guitar, in terms of trying to stay busy, build up my musical skills and build a career. So, I mean, I always try to stay active working, period. And the whole time I was playing in Night Ranger, I was playing in the show Rock Of Ages and playing in Trans-Siberian Orchestra and, you know, so I've always been trying to stay very busy, and I don't think that's gonna change.

Tobbe: And that's the word in the rock 'n' roll world, that you're actually a busy man. So for how long can you go on in this pace before you, like, get tired of it?

Joel: Well, it's not any more difficult than people working extremely hard at their day jobs. I mean, what's so hard about that? Everybody else in their professions goes to work every day and musicians shouldn't be any different, you know. I don't understand why we're supposed to take 9 months off and do absolutely nothing, right? So, I mean, I just try to stay productive every day. I don't think I work any harder than the majority of the population.

I just like to make sure I'm doing that and not take it for granted. There is, I think, maybe a lot of musicians that take it for granted. Guys that got the success years ago and they get jaded and they think they deserve it. I don't think I deserve shit. I'm just trying to stay productive and do the best I can at it all, because I don't know how to do anything else. I'd be screwed if I had to find another profession.

Tobbe: All right. Let's get back to the album a little bit. Why did you decide to call it Dying To Live?

Joel: Well, it's not a concept album, but the lyrics on the album all have a theme. Basically it's just trying to overcome the obstacles to get where we wanna be in life. I think all of us are kind of struggling with demons or vices inside ourselves to be the person that we wanna be and the album is basically about that struggle.

Tobbe: On how big part of the recordings were you actually present, so that you could correct things instantly to suit your own vision?

Joel: The only time anybody was together on this project was when I was with Russell when he sang his tracks, hence we ended up kind of co-writing on Changes. But really, in the end my production style with all of these guys was to go with whatever they played. The singers got it the worst of me, in terms of me suggesting things, but in terms of what Vinny Appice or Tony or Derek played, I pretty much just let them do whatever they wanted, and that's when you get the best results out of people.

I also think you get the best results out of people when they record on their own, 'cause they're, I guess, less self conscious to do multiple takes and try different things. I mean, I know, 'cause I do a ton of sessions for people and the best guitar tracks I do for people are the ones where I work all alone.

Tobbe: If you're gonna convince people to buy this album, what do you think are the album's main qualities?

Joel: I mean, like I said, it's straight ahead melodic hard rock, that's very song oriented. Despite the fact I'm a guitar player I didn't get overly indulgent with the long guitar solos or trying to write for musicians only. All these songs, I tried to think like a fan and write the way I would have liked to listen to it as a kid, if that makes sense. I'd describe the album as Dio-ish at its heaviest and Foreigner-ish at its lightest. But there are other elements to it. You know, you can hear the influences on it, but that doesn't necessarily make it bad to me. It's a project, it's not a band, so for me that's even more fun. I can just write and tip my cap to my influences on there.

Tobbe: But did you at some point tried to write music in a certain style to fit a certain audience or was this like the most natural to you?

Joel: Yeah, it was exactly what I wanted to write, within reason. I mean, the album is diverse, but I was able to find a flow to it. The reason that the Japanese bonus track, Never Want, and the digital download track, Kill Or Be Killed, became bonus tracks was that the album really started to sounding a little bit scattered in my opinion. Kill Or Be Killed was the heaviest. That was heavier than Dio. Never Want was kind of almost blues based.

So with those on there, it started to get a little too diverse to have a flow. I mean, I wanted the album to have a sound and a style, but that being said, I really don't like albums where all 11 tracks sound identical. I never see the point in that. I like albums like when you listen to Led Zeppelin and when there's different styles on an album. I just tried to look at it that way, but I didn't wanna lose people and go too far with that.

Tobbe: It must be a tremendous difference between recording an album with Whitesnake and recording this one? Your own album, where you have the final call.

Joel: Well, so far, absolutely. Especially 'cause the first one I did with Whitesnake was The Purple Album, which obviously didn't require any writing. So yeah, they're quite a bit different. I mean, I had way more responsibility on me with this. So I mean, I'm proud of what I did on The Purple Album and it was more of a creative process, I think, than people realize, but there's no question that I had way more responsibility with this album.

Tobbe: You're involved with a lot of different projects and bands as well, so tell us a little about your time in Rock Of Ages, the musical.

Joel: Yeah, that was great for me to have at home [New York], because I could take off whenever I wanted. So it was 8 shows a week, but I could sub out whenever I wanted to, to tour. At that time with Night Ranger and with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, so basically it just allowed me to have a gig really every day for 6 years. I mean, every time I come off a tour, the next day I was back playing at Rock Of Ages. So I think in that time period I was playing about 375 shows a year between all the stuff I was doing. That was what Rock Of Ages was best for.

I mean, nobody sets out when they're young, practicing guitar, and says "Some day I'm gonna be in a Broadway show.", but that being said, it allowed me to get lots of great stage experience, make some good money, get to know all the guys from the bands whose music was in the show. They all came down and one of the things that came out of that was me subbing for Mick Jones in Foreigner, because if Foreigner's manager and Mick Jones hadn't come to see me in Rock Of Ages and getting to know me there, I wouldn't have been asked to sub for Mick when he was sick in 2011.

Tobbe: So it actually was kind of a great gig when you look back at it?

Joel: Yeah, I mean, the show itself was what it was. It's not as cool as being in a band and playing a real concert, but there was lots of great stuff that came from it, for sure.

Tobbe: And Trans-Siberian Orchestra. How do you look upon your role in that band?

Joel: I mean, I love being a part of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I'm unable to do the Winter Tour this year, just because of the schedule with Whitesnake, but as far as TSO goes, I'd love to still be around for years to come. It's a great band to be a part of. Paul O'Neill really lays it on the line for the fans, to give them their hard earned money's worth and that's something I totally respect, 100 percent.

Tobbe: So if you look back at your time with Night Ranger, what do you see, at this point, when you now have some distance to it?

Joel: I had a great time with them. I mean, that was a great learning experience for me. 2 great studio albums, a fun live acoustic CD/DVD and gigs all over the place. Hundreds of gigs. I think I had a good run with them and I still keep in touch with Brad Gillis. We talk all the time, so for the most part we're on good terms.

Tobbe: You're obviously on tour with Whitesnake now at the moment, with The Purple Album, and do you notice any difference in the response from the crowd whether you play a Whitesnake song or a Purple song?

Joel: Um, yeah, I think the Whitesnake hits probably still get a little bit more love. But I think that's not every reason to play the music that you play. Like when we play You Keep On Moving for example, or The Gypsy, some of the people at the show haven't even heard those songs, but you can see them getting into it.

I think that part of the beauty of this tour is it's really the only time that people are gonna hear this set, from Whitesnake, and it's really the only band performing the Deep Purple Mark III and Mark IV era stuff right now. Deep Purple doesn't play that music, so it's a unique tour because of that and we're certainly having a great time with it. The set is awesome. To be able to mix the Whitesnake hits with the Deep Purple stuff that lends itself to live performances is really a treat.

I mean, obviously Still Of The Night and Here I Go Again are gonna go over bigger than The Gypsy. [Laughs] I don't think I'm going out on a limen saying that, but we love playing all of it actually, truth be told. And I think for some of the guys that have been around in the band for a while, like Tommy Aldridge [drums] and Reb Beach [guitar], this is really fun, because it's a new set this year. We're not just playing the hits that everybody is so used to hearing.

Tobbe: Is there a possibility that you will return in the summer time for festivals with this set as well?

Joel: Well, I mean, that's gonna be up to David to fill everybody in on. I do think David's really excited about this lineup of the band and is looking to have a really active next year too.

Tobbe: Whitesnake doesn't release that very often, which means that you will have some time off from the band between tours, recordings and other commitments to do things on your own. Is this something that you welcome, to have some time in between?

Joel: I don't know. I mean, I'm constantly busy still. Even after the North American run, I went out and worked with David. He has a couple projects that he's moving forward on. Again, I gotta kind of let David fill everybody in on specifics, but I did spend 10 days with him, on our break. I mean, right now we're out until Christmas and then I think we're gonna get together again and work on some more stuff, coming the top of 2016. And I have a project lined up, that I was supposed to do with Michael Sweet from Stryper. So, yeah, just staying busy.

Tobbe: How will you be able to put your own personal mark on a forthcoming Whitesnake album? If that's a necessary thing.

Joel: Well, I'll put my personal mark on whatever level I'm allowed to do that. I mean, if I'm only playing guitar on it, I'm still playing my guitar parts and coming up with my guitar parts and solos. But again, I have to let David speak to what level of involvement I'll have on any of it, but of course I'd love to be creative and write an album with him. That's kind of a no-brainer, right? I mean, who wouldn't wanna write an album with David Coverdale?

Tobbe: Back to the live environment. How do you try to play those old songs? The Whitesnake, and the Deep Purple songs. Like they were recorded, or do you, again, try to set your own mark to the songs?

Joel: Well, I think we tried to make the songs our own on The Purple Album. We definitely had more of the 2 guitar sound and I think that we really feel like live it's going to another level, honestly. We had just kind of learned the songs when we recorded them for The Purple Album and now we're playing them every night live and they really take on a new life. And there's just something about playing it cranked through a PA. That's just a hell of a lot more fun, right?

Tobbe: Besides your guitar playing, what did actually qualify you for the job as one of the guitarists in Whitesnake?

Joel: I don't know. Gosh. That's hard without sounding like I'm complimenting myself. I think, with David, he wants people that treat him with respect. That are on the ball. You know, don't do drugs, don't drink too much. All that stuff. Treat it like a job and have fun. I mean, you have to have that personality of being able to blend the fun and the work, and make sure that you're doing both properly.

But David is fantastic to work for. He really is. I've never had anybody pump me up the way he does. I mean, he tells everybody how great I play guitar, and he tells me how great I play guitar. I've never had that in my whole career. And that just inspires me to do the best I can for him. As far as I'm concerned, working for him has been a great experience to date and hopefully it will continue that way.

Tobbe: Is there a plan for how long Whitesnake might exist in the future?

Joel: I don't think there's anything set with that, honestly. There's nothing set, but I don't think anybody's imagining it's 20 years at this point. Unless we're gonna look like a hospital work and I think everybody would be going around in their wheelchairs. Obviously there is gonna be limited shelf life, but in the meantime; Well, let's fucking rock!

Tobbe: But still, it's an extensive tour and David's actually getting older now and you've been out since late May on and off. [David is 64 years old.]

Joel: I think David shows a lot of determination and discipline out here on the road. You know, he doesn't enjoy a glass of wine after the show at all. He doesn't speak on days off. He's always resting and taking care of himself. That might sound like not a whole lot to the average person, but considering that David could probably retire tomorrow and be just fine. He's not out here for the money. He's out here for the love of it. And that's, I think, very impressive.

I think, to really take care of yourself and discipline yourself would be hard if you were David Coverdale, in my opinion, because he's a legend, you know. He's rock royalty, but he's really doing his best to do everything he can for the fans and I think that's, again, something that I respect a whole lot.

Tobbe: What do you think, or rather hope, that people will remember or kind of reflect upon when they eventually look back at your time with Whitesnake?

Joel: Oh, just that it was a good era. That's all you can control and chances are nobody's ever gonna reflect and say "He was the best guitar player Whitesnake ever had.", because the glory years of selling millions of albums and being around for prolong periods of time is, you know, not likely. But if people can say it was a good era… You know, kind of like what I achieved with Night Ranger.

I mean, I love Jeff Watson and respect Jeff Watson so much, and the glory years of Night Ranger, even though we had studio albums in my time that were well received, will always be the early years in the 80's, with Jeff, and rightfully so. But at least no one is looking at my time with Night Ranger and saying "They sucked when he was in the band!". So I guess I'd hope for more of the same with Whitesnake; that people look back, at whatever time I spent with them, and they say "That was a good era. He brought something to the table and did a good job.". That's all you can hope for.

Tobbe: The reason to why I asked those 2 last questions is that you still have a future when Whitesnake will eventually call it quits.

Joel: Well yeah, but that's understood. I'm a guitar player at the end of the day, so for me it's about being who I am as a person. But when it comes to playing in Whitesnake; I mean, obviously it's artistics, so you feel your spirit and your heart are into it. It's not like I don't look at it with any emotion, but you have to treat it like a job, because it is a job.

See also: review of the album Dying To Live

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