Joel Hoekstra (Whitesnake, solo) - interview

*** JOEL HOEKSTRA (Whitesnake, solo) - "The product of the lessons I’ve learned over the years..."***

Although many Melodic Rock fans associate him primarily with his tenure in Night Ranger and now Whitesnake, Joel Hoekstra is a seasoned musician with many recordings and interesting collaborations under his belt. 2015 brought him the first Whitesnake album he ever participated on - The Purple Album built around Deep Purple MK III and IV songs re-recorded by the current 'Snake line-up. However, the last months were also fruitful as far as Joel's solo career is concerned. His side project Joel Hoekstra's 13 developed with certain super-group quality to it (Jeff Scott Soto and Russell Allen on vocals, Vinny Appice on drums, Tony Franklin on bass, Derek Sherinian on keyboards...) Their album Dying To Live - the fourth in Joel's solo discography - sees the light of day in mid-October. Hard Rock Service caught up with the busy musician between the two legs of Whitesnake's The Purple Tour to discuss the album as well as the big names Joel Hoekstra's 13 comprises. However, we couldn't have possibly skipped the topic of playing alongside the mighty David Coverdale or Joel's future plans as well...

HARD ROCK SERVICE: With more and more reviews on your recent solo effort Dying To Live, are you happy with the feedback you receive?

JOEL HOEKSTRA: I am blown away by the response so far. Many reviews are "album of the year" types. Hopefully it will translate into people giving it a listen. It’s an uphill battle for sure. Every little bit of support and promotion matters to me.

Joel Hoekstra HARD ROCK SERVICE: Are the opinions formulated by listeners and reviewers parallel to the vision you had in your mind while creating the album?

JOEL HOEKSTRA: I think so, yes. People are saying that it’s about the songs. That’s exactly what I set out to do. I didn’t want to be self-indulgent and take 3-minute guitar solos, or write progressive music that would only interest musicians. I really just wanted a cool album of melodic, hard rock songs tastefully played by great players.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: Your previous solo albums were guitar-oriented and largely a showcase of your instrumental skill. What’s prompted your shift to Melodic Hard Rock? Was it your tenure in bands like Night Ranger and Whitesnake?

JOEL HOEKSTRA: Absolutely. For the last 7-8 years I’ve been earning new fans with Night Ranger, the show Rock of Ages, Trans Siberian Orchestra and now of course Whitesnake. Many of them had been requesting an album from me that they could relate to a bit easier.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: Was Dying To Live the first title that came to your mind? What does this phrase stand for in relation to the album’s content?

JOEL HOEKSTRA: It was the one and only title. Yes. All of us have our struggles in life to become the person that we want to be. This album is about that struggle.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: Dying To Live ranges from uptempo tracks with a somewhat Dio-esque vibe to them (Say Goodbye To The Sun) to AOR, mellow pieces (Until I Left You). Was it an attempt to show different dimensions to your songwriting and playing, or perhaps an attempt to reflect a multitude of inspirations on the album?

JOEL HOEKSTRA: I’ve always enjoyed albums with some diversity. I describe this album as Dio-ish at its heaviest and Foreigner-ish at it’s lightest. Despite the variety the album definitely has a "sound" to it and a good flow as well.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: Speaking of inspirations, you often referred to particular songs on Dying To Live as being built around the real life stories. Do you happen to write about general topics or is it always a reflection of your personal experience?

JOEL HOEKSTRA: Some of it is fantasy-based and some is reality-based, but ultimately it’s better if the listener can relate to it all in their own way. There’s really no point in getting too specific and making it ALL about me.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: What did the songwriting process for the album look like?

JOEL HOEKSTRA: In general these songs were written chorus first and built out from there. I sent guitar riffs and guitars playing the vocal melodies to Vinny Appice and then it would go to Tony Franklin. Most of the time the verse/pre-chorus/bridge lyrics were the last things written.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: You’ve named the assemble of musicians behind Dying To Live Joel Hoekstra’s 13. Why – is the number widely thought of as unlucky holding any special meaning to you?

JOEL HOEKSTRA: I was born on the 13th and it’s always been a lucky number of sorts for me. I also liked the idea of something that could mean different things to different people.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: The aforesaid assemble has a clear super-group quality to it. Weren’t you afraid of the possible clash of egos or all these terrible clichés associated with the infamous combination of well-known musicians?

JOEL HOEKSTRA: Well, in this case everyone was just playing on my songs, so that made the collaboration a little easier. It was tricky working with everyone’s schedules. I really didn’t intend to do a "super-group" album, it just so happened that everyone I asked said yes! (Laughs)

Joel Hoekstra (Zdjęcie: Mark Weiss) HARD ROCK SERVICE: Please tell us about the input of all the people engaged in the process of making an album, from the regular line-up to the guest musicians.

JOEL HOEKSTRA: I had just finished the VHF [Vinciguerra Hoekstra Franklin] project with Tony Franklin and asked him first. Then I asked him who he would want to use as a drummer. He recommended Vinny Appice. What a cool rhythm section! Then Russell Allen signed on to do the Trans Siberian Orchestra tour that I do right as I was looking for a singer. After Russell sang on the first 7 songs, I asked my friend Jeff Scott Soto if he’d be willing to sing background vocals on it, even though he was over-qualified. He sounded so great, that once it became clear that this was going to be a project album, I really wanted him to sing lead as well. It was just bringing more to the party in my opinion. Now I have TWO of the best singers in rock today singing on this record. After I laid down all of my guitars, I still felt like there was room for keyboards. I started at the top and asked Derek Sherinian and he did a fantastic job of playing exactly what was needed to finish these songs off. Really tasteful playing. Then there’s Chloe Lowery who sang on What We Believe with Jeff Scott Soto. She’s amazing…a superstar in waiting. [Editor's note: The album features also Toby Hitchcock (Pride of Lions) on additional backing vocals, Charlie Zeleny (Joe Lynn Turner) on percussion and Dave Eggar (Amy Lee/Coldplay) on cello].

HARD ROCK SERVICE: Did you all met in person, or was it technology that took a part in the recording process?

JOEL HOEKSTRA: Except for me being with Russell when he sang his parts, everyone did this on their own. That process gets a bit of a bad rap. I’ve done a gazillion sessions and can tell you, people get their best work done like that. They feel less self-conscious about trying things and are able to do more takes without feeling like they’re holding up the process.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: You’re an experienced musician, playing in a vast number of bands and collaborating with multitude of different musicians, producers and songwriters. Did you find your knowledge and experience useful while recording Dying To Live? In what ways?

JOEL HOEKSTRA: The entire album is the product of the lessons I’ve learned over the years. Absolutely. It’s very hard to pinpoint one or two examples.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: Do you plan Joel Hoekstra’s 13 to continue, or is it a one-off project only?

JOEL HOEKSTRA: I’d love to continue making more records like this. The name provides a lot of future possibilities.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: What about concerts? Is it possible to bring the project to the live stage?

JOEL HOEKSTRA: I’d certainly like to try to provide some live support. The first step is getting the album out and seeing what situations would make sense. I’m already hearing from promoters which is very exciting.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: Another thing that was largely emphasised by the press was that David Coverdale himself gave the project his blessing. Whitesnake’s being perceived as a one-man band by some, is it ran by the proverbial ‘iron fist’ in reality?

JOEL HOEKSTRA: Well, it’s certainly David’s band, but 'iron fist' has negative connotations. David is wonderful to work for. He’s very supportive of me as a musician and as a person.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: In what circumstances did you join Whitesnake?

JOEL HOEKSTRA: It was a combination of me putting out feelers and some well-respected people recommending me to David that led to us meeting at the end of May, 2014 for an audition. That went well and here we are.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: What is it like to work alongside one of the biggest names in rock? How’s The Purple Tour going and how valuable do you think the Whitesnake experience is to your further career?

JOEL HOEKSTRA: David is rock royalty. One minute he’s cracking me up and the next he’s telling me stories about working with Jimmy Page and Ritchie Blackmore. The first leg of the Purple Tour was 3 months here in the U.S. and it exceeded all expectations. David was singing great and to be in a line-up with the likes of Tommy Aldridge and Reb Beach is an awesome experience for me.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: This year saw the release of Whitesnake’s The Purple Album, a compilation of Deep Purple Mark III and IV era tracks re-recorded. Having played on that, what was the experience of reworking and/or reproducing some of the most iconic guitar licks and harmonies in rock music?

JOEL HOEKSTRA: It was a fantastic opportunity for me to get acclimated to working with the band. Also, it was bit more of a creative process than some people would realize. We were going to lean less heavily on keyboards than the original version, so for me that meant creating 2nd guitar parts and we always did our own thing with solo’s etc. David also turned the acoustic arrangements for Sail Away and Soldier of Fortune over to me, so despite the fact the songs were pre-existing, I had my work cut out for me.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: The Purple Album turned out to be a bit controversial move – kind of 'love it or loathe it'. What are your personal thoughts on the album?

JOEL HOEKSTRA: I think it brought attention to music that wasn’t being played live by anyone these days and gives people another version of some great proven songs that they can either listen to, or not listen to. It was all done with respect.

Joel Hoekstra i Reb Beach, w tle David Coverdale, Whitesnake (Zdjęcie: Ash Newell Photography) HARD ROCK SERVICE: As you've mentioned a couple of times, you were also a guitar player for Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Is your participation in it put on hold now that you’re busy with Whitesnake and your solo project?

JOEL HOEKSTRA: Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts with Whitesnake, I will not be able to participate in the upcoming Trans Siberian Orchestra tour. It makes me sad, as it’s always an amazing experience for me. I still value my position in TSO and hope to remain a part of it moving forward.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: What are your current plans?

JOEL HOEKSTRA: I’m leaving Oct. 16 for the 2nd leg of The Purple Tour. We’re touring Japan, Europe and then finishing up for the year with Def Leppard in Ireland and the U.K. During that time, I’m going to keep getting the word out on Joel Hoekstra’s 13Dying to Live! I really hope people will give it a listen.

HARD ROCK SERVICE: Is there anything you’d like to add in the end?

JOEL HOEKSTRA: I appreciate any and all support. I come from a very modest upbringing and still feel very much like theunderdog. I’m honoured to have the opportunity to make a living playing guitar and enjoy giving the fans their hard earned money’s worth whether it’s making an album, or playing live!

Interviewer: Aleksandra Mrozowska

(All pictures are taken from the artist's official website and are used with their permission. Photo credits: 02 - Mark Weiss, 03 - Ash Newell Photography)

Autor: Aleksandra Mrozowska

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