Striving for perfection
Besides being part of the most recent guitar tandem of Whitesnake, Joel Hoekstra is also a demanded session player and found the time to release a new album under the Joel Hoekstra’s 13 monnicker called ‘Dying To Live’. Time to contact the man who is in the middle of Whitesnake’s ‘Purple tour’. HeadBangers Lifestyle caught up with him at his day off in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Joel Hoekstra is a very busy guy and his resumé is almost endless. He was a member of Nightranger and Trans-Siberian Orchestra. He played in the Broadway show ‘Rock Of Ages’ and since last year he is a member of the legendary Whitesnake. Other than that, he worked with Foreigner, Jeff Scott Soto, Amy Lee (Evanescence), Sebastian Bach, Dee Snider, Michael Sweet (Stryper) to name but a few. Main reason for contacting him is the release of ‘Dying To Live’ from Joel Hoekstra’s 13 and of course the current Whitesnake Purple tour.
What do you normally do on a day-off?
,,I try guitar practising for a couple of hours, work out a bit and check out the scenery. I simply explore by walking around without a tour guide and sucking it all in.’’
Do you get inspiration from that?
,,I think so. I always enjoyed travelling and going to a lot of new places is fun. That was very appealing in joining Whitesnake because I didn’t tour Europe a lot with Night Ranger and TSO so this is exciting.’’
Was the touring aspect an important reason for you joining Whitesnake?
,,Yeah, it felt like it was a good opportunity that was too difficult to pass up. I mean, I love being a part of TSO and possibly that’ll work out still in future years but I’m not really sure. With Night Ranger I had a great time with these guys but with Whitesnake it’s such a fantastic catalogue, the songs are so great, the solo’s are so great and there is so much room to play. Working with David is fantastic, he is rock royalty and it is a great line up to be part of in general with Tommy Aldridge on drums and being in a guitar team with Reb Beach, man, it is a real treat for me.’’
Joel Hoekstra and Reb Beach (photo by Ash Newell)
Is it a new challenge?
,,To be honest it is the same. You learn the new material, you try to go about your day in a professional manner and try to give the fans their hard earned money worth and do your best job possible, so my approach is the same, I just do the best I can.’’
You came aboard pretty late. Did you have any second thoughts because every song on ‘The Purple Album’ is a classic?
,,I didn’t view it in any negative way. I felt it a great way to get acclimated in joining the band. It was a great opportunity to try to give our own spin on some proven classics and at the end of the day if people like it, it’s fantastic, if they don’t nobody is forcing them to listen to it, haha… I think those songs are not played now so I let the positives outweigh it. Deep Purple doesn’t play them so it gives people a unique Whitesnake tour with Purple Mark3 and Mark 4 material and proven Whitesnake hits and it is fun to be part of. In general with music and with gigs it is best to look at all the positives.’’
For a bit of history, you come from a musical family, was it clear that you would become a musician as well?
,,Not as early as they had me started, I was playing cello at the age of three and piano at the age of seven. At that point I wanted to be a baseball player so I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in it. I think being young and working on fundamentals, reading music, developed my sense of rhythm, my sense of pitch at a very early age which led to a quick jumpstart when I started playing the guitar. I don’t regret any time spending on the time doing it. I think music at any level is great either as a hobby or as a profession and in general playing music is a great influence in developing your mind.’’
You made three instrumental albums and now ‘Dying To Live’ is one with vocals. Was it time for it?
,,I view this more as a side project, the other three were released just under my own name. I earned a lot of fans over the last seven or eight years, either with Night Ranger, the show Rock Of Ages, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and now Whitesnake. I am known for playing melodic hardrock and fans kept asking ‘why are your solo albums so different styles’, two were kinda rock fusion and the other one fingerstyle acoustic so I received a lot of requests for a melodic hardrock album. I have been so busy that in downtime I was finally able to do it and so far it is amazing and exciting. The trick is getting people to give it a chance.’’
Did you have the songs ready with the singer in mind or did you have to find the singer first and started writing afterwards?
,,A little bit of both actually. It started by asking Tony Franklin if he wanted to play on a straight ahead rock album and he said yes and recommended Vinny Appice on drums. Now I had this great rhythm section. I started with the riffs of about seven songs, came up with music and when time came to find a singer Russell Allen signed up to do the TSO tour I always do and I realized he was amazing. Once I had him on there I asked Jeff to sing background vocals as a favour because Jeff and I done some co-writing in the past and I played on some of his songs. He is obviously overqualified to be a background singer but he did that as a favour to me. Really, at that point in time it kinda became clear it was gonna be a project album and I wanted Jeff to sing some lead as well and he did an awesome job. As from that time some of the songs were written with Jeff in mind. As I know the musicians, all of it was written knowing the rhythm section and the rest knowing the style of the singer. After I was done laying down all my guitars I felt there was room for some keyboards and that’s where Derek Sherinian came into play. He also did an amazing job giving the songs all the finishing touches to make it a finished product and suddenly I had one of the coolest line-ups. I didn’t necessarily wanted to have an all star band, I just wanted to write a cool, classic rock sounding album and it worked out that way. Everybody I asked said yes.’’
The album is all about the songs and not so much about the guitar hero thing.
,,Well, I didn’t know how it would go, that’s why I did give it a side project name. I didn’t wanted it to be a solo album. I see people who are saying for a solo album you should have showed off more but to be honest, that is not all that interesting to me anymore. I tried to avoid to being overly self indulgent, recording three minute solos or write too progressive to prove I can play difficult riffs, that’s not what the album is about. It was about writing some cool rock songs and having them laid down tastefully by great players. I tried the whole time to think as a fan like what would I like to hear and the answer to me as a fan is not necessarily three minute guitar solos, I just want to hear some cool songs, that’s all.’’
Lyrics are a big thing for you. Listening to this album, do you get some sort of insight in who Joel Hoekstra is?
,,I think so. In a way it’s cool for me how things worked out. When I started I wasn’t sure, when I found Russell I thought I’ll have a singer I can co-write with but Russell is really in demand, really busy and I kinda realized that if I wanted to move forward I had to write the vocal melodies and lyrics myself. That ended up a real blessing in a lot of ways because it made me feel really connected to the songs on the album, it really means something to me. It’s not just a Frontiers project album, to me at least. I’m very connected to obviously the theme that all the songs have. It’s just about the struggle to get where we want to go in life so yeah, there is a bit of insight. Some of it is fantasy based but a lot of it is reality based so I would say there is a good amount of insight. But it is also fun for me to let people find their own meaning in these songs so I try to avoid being too specific.’’
What does the 13 stand for?
,,It is just really been a lucky number for me. A lot of important life events fallen on the thirteenth for me, I was born on the thirteenth and also again I like the fact that the name could mean different things to different people.’’
Did the album turn out the way you had in mind?
,,Well, I didn’t visualize one hundred percent what the album would be like. There is definitely a take it as you come process for everybody who is making albums but I am happy with the way it came out yeah. I mean, I am a bit of a perfectionist, there’s a lot of musical things on it that still make me nuts but that’s stuff I don’t wanna tell people about because it would ruin the experience for them. Chances are, I’m the only one who cares about it, haha. The more you learn about music the more it takes away the magic of listening to it.’’
Is it still possible for you to enjoy music when you listen to music the way you do, as a musician, as a producer?
,,I think so, I enjoy it in a different way. I enjoy creating music more than I do listening to it. For me I feel that music is really infinite and I always feel that I have more than I can work on, composing, playing and bettering my skill at it. I have all the inspiration I need, a lot of people go to others for inspiration but I’m not really short on any of that. I feel that I could continuously create and get better with everything I heard in my life today.’’
Whitesnake 2015 (photo by Ash Newell)
Regarding playing live, are there any rituals before you go on stage?
,,Well, with Whitesnake we all sing together and then we do what is called the snake-thing or David gives a little motivational speech and we put our hands together in the center, very ritualistic. As far as me prepping for a show, I always kinda play through any sections of the show that are technically challenging for me because I think a lot of warming up is more productive when you do parts you are actually about to play. There is a level of every set that is very muscle memory or your hands can go there even if you are completely distracted by something. So definitely that and usually I’ll say a little prayer right before I go out on stage.’’
What item absolutely has to go on tour with you?
,,Usually I warm up with my Les Paul Goldtop that I used the whole time in Night Ranger so that has to come with me and I definitely need my carry-on bag, my luggage, because I know where everything goes in that bag. One piece of gear I couldn’t tour without and that’s it. I think if you gave me a different carry-on bag and everything was in a different place I’d be lost, haha.’’
Does that have to do with superstition or just being organized?
,,Just staying organized because on the road it is very easy to lose things. You’re out of sorts, you’re not at home with all your stuff there so it is easy to forget things and it always helps to know where everything goes.’’
Last question: how did the events that recently took place in France affect you?
,,I guess I enjoy the feeling that we can’t be stopped. The events are tragic but it just makes me wanna do it more. We are screwed when we let them stop us from what we like doing the most and the odds are very much against anything like that happening. However, if anything happens that is kinda the way I wanna go out, doing what I love to do.’’