An interview with Joel Hoekstra // 26.09.15
Joel Hoekstra is undeniably one of the quickest growing rising forces in rock music, and has a wealth of talent to back his success. His latest project 'Joel Hoekstra's 13' is already one of many pinnacles in Joel's career and is most definitely one of the strongest albums to be released during 2015.
Here's what was said:
SC: First of all, congratulations on making what a lot of press are considering to be one of THE albums of 2015!
Joel: Oh, thank you so much! I really appreciate your support on it. It's a really great feeling so far, with the amazing reviews it's getting. I think it's taken a lot of people by surprise. So, that’s fun!
SC: This new release is quite different from your previous solo records and you've said that 'Dying To Live' is more focused on a background of overcoming lifes obstacles and the sorts. Is this a reflection of your music career changes, maybe?
Joel: I don't know if I'd say career changes, probably just more in terms of, like, self improvement, personally. I've been on a bit of a kick in the last couple of years and when it was time to write the lyrics, most of them were written kind of melody first, or sometimes the chorus first, so I think because my head space has been focused on self improvement, that’s what most of the songs have been about.
SC: So did that self improvement theme dominate the whole theme of the album?
Joel: Basically, yeah. Some of the songs are done from the standpoint of those obstacles, like 'Say Goodbye To the Sun' or 'Scream', 'The Only Way To Go', basically the obstacles or vices that hold you back from being the person you want to be and some stuff is fantasy based and some is reality based. Some are a direct reflection of experiences in my life and others are a little more dramatic (laughs). It's just me taking the ball and running with it, I guess!
SC: I'm sure people will find that they can relate quite strongly to this record because of that background theme.
Joel: Yeah! Ultimately, I didn't want it to be too personal and be too much of me because that's too self indulgent. I want everyone to relate to it in their own way and hear what they want in the songs.
SC: It's quite a far cry away from your previous solo work, I.e '13 Acoustic Songs'. Do you see it as a natural progression following your changes from Night Ranger, Whitesnake etc?
Joel: Yeah! Those albums were put out years ago. The three instrumental albums I put out in 2000, 2003 and 2007, two of which were... I guess you'd describe them as Rock Fusion and the other one was finger-style acoustic, the one you referred to. So, basically, for the last eight years or so, fans have gotten to know me for playing with Night Ranger and the show Rock Of Ages and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and now of course, now with Whitesnake. I've had a lot of people buy my solo albums and say "Oh, you should put out a solo album that’s more like what we’re used to hearing with you and the bands you're in!" (laughs) Obviously it's completely different styles, throwing fans in a loop! So, this is finally that album! I basically got round to making it in down time over a year or two. It always sounded like a great idea for me to make an album like this, but I've just been incredibly busy. For the last seven or eight years I've been playing 350 shows a year!
SC: I was going to touch on that matter... How on earth do you find the time to put together a record like this and tour with Whitesnake and work on The Purple album, all at one time?
Joel: It was all just downtime, which is why it really took so long. It did take about two years to get it done with everybody's busy schedules. Obviously, I have a fantastic line-up, and that, I'm sure we'll touch on, but that was... Dealing with everyone else's schedule and my own, it took a bit of time to get this done.
SC: Why is it now you've come to do a solo project that takes more of a band format, rather than what people might expect from a guitar player?
Joel: I really wanted to make an album full of solid rock stuff, and actually I wasn't sure if this was going to be a band in the beginning. I really didn't know what I was setting out to do, I just knew I wanted a whole album of straight ahead rock stuff... Melodic hard rock (laughs) and really, honestly, I didn't know. I was like "Is this going to be a band, is this going to be a project, a solo album, I don't know, but I'm just going to keep working". Basically, I didn't set out to form a 'Superband' kind of line-up either. I just thought about who would be good and then everybody I asked said yes! (laughs) So I ended up with this completely amazing line-up on here, but you know, as you said, it sounds band like, but the reality is that I did all the writing, I wrote all the lyrics, all the vocal melodies and everything, so, I thought I can't really call this a band, it's not fair to the other guys that played on it, and I couldn't really call it a solo album because it doesn’t sound like a guitar player’s album. I wasn't playing guitar solos all over the place and um... well, things you'd expect on a quoteunquote' “guitar album”. I thought ultimately the project name was the most appropriate thing with 'Joel Hoekstra's 13' and 'Dying To Live' was most appropriate as the title because it summed up the lyrical theme we spoke about.
SC: So, you've mentioned that the guys in the line-up just said yes to the project, but how did you choose them? You've got Russell Allen, Vinnie Appice, Jeff Scott Soto, to name just a few. They're pretty much the best in the business at the moment, so how did that originally come together?
Joel: As I said, I didn't really set out to get a superband or anything like that. I just asked Tony Franklin because we just finished another project together called 'VHF', so I asked Tony, I said I wanted to make an album of straight ahead vocal rock stuff - Nothing fancy, not progressive, just good vocal stuff, would you be interested? And he said yes! So I asked who he'd want to use on drums and he recommended Vinnie Appice, that people would know from Black Sabbath or Dio, and from there, Russell Allen had just signed up to do the Trans-Siberian Orchestra tour and I checked him out and I was totally blown away and was like "This guy has gotta sing on this" and so I got Russell on the first half of the album, on the seven songs we had going and I decided to call in a favour from my friend, Jeff Scott Soto, even though he's over qualified, if he would sing backgrounds on Russell's tracks, just to have another great voice singing with him. Jeff is such a nice guy, he was willing to do that and, as it became clear that it was going to be a project album, I really just thought it would be more fun to have Jeff sing some lead, too. For me, that was just bringing more fun to the party, adding a second voice and adding a little bit of diversity to the record. It's important that listeners get to hear two of the best singers in rock today singing on this.
After I got done with laying down my guitar parts on the record, I still felt that there was room for keyboards, so I asked Derek Sherinian. And again, there wasn't really a lot of room left for him, but it was really about playing tastefully and having the right sounds. There was room for a couple of solos for him but he did such great job of playing exactly what was called for on the album, so all of a sudden, I had this ridiculous line-up on this album (laughs) so I really thank those guys for helping me bring those songs to life.
SC: It sounds like you've all been working together for a lifetime! It really doesn't sound like it’s a new thing for you guys.
Joel: Yeah, well, I tried to make the production style as simple as possible and that was to just let them do their own thing on it. So, I gave them the songs and even if they steered them in different directions or did something different to what I would have pictured, I just rolled with it and recorded my guitar parts to go along with what they're doing and produced it that way, so that allowed everybody to have their own personalities on it, as well, and not having me micro-managing it and telling them what to play, and it worked really well in the end! I think the end result is, as you said, fitting to the band format as everyone got to play a little bit of what they wanted to, from the heart.
SC: Even though the line-up work within the same genre, they all have their own individual strengths and stand-out points and I think this reflects in the songs. They're quite diverse in sound and style, so was this something you went for purposely, or something that developed through the process?
Joel: Well, I've never been a fan of albums where all the songs sound the same. That's kind of a pet peeve of mine. I've always been a fan of bands like Led Zeppelin, where you'd have a few styles represented on one album, so I basically just wrote what I wanted to (laughs) and didn't try to overthink it and then, when the time came to sequence the album, I did have to decide that some songs had to go because they were too diverse! The album bonus track 'Kill Or Be Killed' was heavier than the rest. I tried to keep it within the framework of what I've been describing as "Dio-ish at its heaviest and Foreigner at its lightest" and I felt like 'Kill Or Be Killed' got a little too heavy! (laughs) So we made that a bonus track and ‘Never Want’ was actually a kind of a blues based song, and ultimately, it just fits best as the Japanese bonus track just because of sequencing the record and wanting it to have a flow. I wanted it to be diverse but also for it to fit together as a record. I think we accomplished that too, by having the same musicians on every track and basically, everybody using the same instruments. I only used one guitar on the whole album; a Les Paul and one amp for the whole album, so I think that really kinda gave it a sound and made it all fit together in its own way. So yeah, even though we're running through the heavier 'Say Goodbye To The Sun' to the more pop rock sound of 'Start Again' being the two extremes, it still worked together and that’s kind of cool!
SC: Sure! We noted in the album review that, even though the styling is different from song to song, it still flows as a sort of story. It has a strong, heavy build with Russell in the early tracks of the album, following to Jeff's vocals in the later part of the album, it still flows seamlessly. I'm finding myself singing these songs just around the house, doing day-to-day things. They're so catchy!
Joel: It's so great to hear that. As far as the writing style for it, I really tried to give all the songs a really strong chorus and kind of build out from there. I tried to also arrange them so that they weren't always too full on, as some people start to tune-out from songs if nothing new is being introduced. A lot of it comes from years of me being a parts player on guitar and kind of going through that whole 90s era where playing guitar solos wasn't cool! (laughs). You had to learn different ways to be good on guitar and a lot of that was finding the right part and finding the right way to arrange your guitar parts in songs and learning how to make it build, and de-crescendo, I guess, as well.
SC: The whole project seems to already have a ridiculous amount of support from the press. I don't recall seeing anything negative towards the album being said... How are you finding the general reception to the album, pre-release?
Joel: I'm really, really excited about the reviews. It's been overwhelmingly positive and as you said, every review has a been a rave which is super exciting for me. I do think, though, that it's going to take a lot to get the word of mouth out on an album like this, because it's not like people hearing about the new Queensryche album, for example, who I love! I love Queensryche. people are familiar with the name 'Queensryche', for this they've got this confusing name. Some people don’t know who I am and some are just learning who I am, so I think it's going to take a lot to spread the word and have people recognise it as one of the contenders for the better albums of the year, but I've been getting those reviews.
It was certainly a labour of love for me, I put a lot of work into it and I mean, ultimately, I'm pretty sure I lost money making the album (laughs). I spent two years working really hard on it and for me it was about the art of it and wanting to make something great for the fans, so I hope people will give it a shot and I don’t think they'll regret it if they do.
SC: I'm really hoping that fans hear out the press and just take people's word that this album is worth buying. There's been so many 'big name' releases this year. The Scorpions released this year, obviously, the new Whitesnake record, but this is definitely up there as a contender.
Joel: Thank you, I really appreciate it. As I said, it was definitely a labour of love. I sincerely appreciate the support on it and, yeah, I hope people will give this a shot.
SC: As we touched on the subject of this line-up, I'd imagine that everyone’s schedule is pretty hectic, but do you plan to take 'Dying To Live' on the road?
Joel: Well, I think step one is releasing the album, which comes out on October 16th on Frontiers, I should mention. I should also mention that people can pre-order it right now on Amazon and on iTunes and they'll get the first three singles that have been released up until this point, so a quick plug for all that stuff! There’s a video 'Until I Left You' that people can watch, a lyric video for the song 'Anymore', and there is an audio release with some special bonus video clips of me for 'Long For The Days' that just came out. People that pre-order will get those three songs right now, out of the gate. To answer your question about live support, I’m certainly interested in supporting the album in any way I can and I think the good thing about having this many named people on the album is that I wouldn't necessarily need all of them to play gigs. I'm just going to see how it all unfolds and hopefully there'll be enough demand for it in the right situation... I am hearing from promoters already, which is really pretty awesome (laughs) to be hearing from people even though the album isn't even out yet! I think it'll be incredible to see some shows come together with this line-up and I also think it would be interesting to hear what this line-up would become with everybody collaborating on the writing, as well. I think that could be a really interesting thing!
SC: We'll be keeping our fingers crossed for UK appearances! How has the tour been with Whitesnake, so far?
Joel: Amazing! It's really exceeded all expectations. We just finished up the first leg, which was three months here, essentially, in the US and there wasn't a single bad review! I mean, David was singing great and, for me, what a great line-up to be a part of. Tommy Aldridge back there on drums...
SC: A Legend!
Joel: A total legend, and the greatest guy. What a wonderful band mate to have! Also, to be in a guitar team with Reb Beach is really good fun! I mean, everyone knows what a great player Reb is, but he's a really great rhythm guitar player, as well, so to be locking on these Whitesnake riffs with him is just a blast! For those who don't know, we did just release 'The Purple Album' which was re-imaginings of the stuff that David recorded with Deep Purple. So, not only are we playing the Whitesnake hits on this tour, but we can also pull from the catalogue that David had with Deep Purple which is just so kickass to play live! It just lends itself to live performance and jamming, so the band is truly having a wonderful time. Some of the guys that have been in the band for a long time, like Tommy and Reb, are feeling enthused because we’re playing a lot of new stuff... and by new stuff I mean forty years old (laughs), but to be able to put that Deep Purple stuff in the set has really kind of given everyone a charge of energy and I feel like David... Well, David said that he feels like we're onto something magical with this line-up and I know he's very, very enthused. He's always got a lot going on, musically, in his head, but I think he has a couple projects and I think he's alluding to more touring than we have out publicly rightnow. So, y'know, I'll let David fill everybody in on that, but I think we can look to having a very active next year or two, which is great news for all of us!
SC: That's amazing to hear! The Purple Album was another amazing album to be released this year and we're looking forward to Whitesnake coming to the UK in December... but how did you find playing the Deep Purple classics? Was it intimidating at first? or did you pretty much tackle it straight on?
Joel: It all happened so quickly for me really. David filled me in on it when we first met in May of 2014 and, basically, I had a two month period where I was playing with Night Ranger and was learning, or listening to, the original material (the Purple original stuff) and transcribing it all and then I was in the studio so I didn't have a lot of time to stop and be intimidated by it and that would really make a lot of sense, anyway, because that would be the productive mind-set I should be in. I will say that I was actually able to be a lot more creative on an album like this than you would expect, because most of it was built on single guitar riffs, or a heavy keyboard sound on the original versions. So, with Whitesnake, David said that he wanted to focus more on the twin guitar attack and less on the keyboards. Reb had the basic guitar parts covered, rhythm wise. So, I can sometimes add a second part, or double him on the main part, and, of course, we did our own things with the solos and, also, David turned over the acoustic stuff to me like 'Soldier Of Fortune', 'Sail Away', to do the arrangements on. So, I would say, between that acoustic stuff and me trying to get some unique stamps on things with set-ups for songs, and the different types of sound. Just for example; the tapping intro for 'Lay Down, Stay Down', the slide and talk box during 'The Gypsy', and wrote the little acoustic piece on the way out in "Holy Man'. What are some of the other stuff? Oh, the dobro set-up on 'Might Just Take Your Life', that was all stuff that I kinda sat down and came up with to try and take the songs in slightly different directions and really try to put our creative stamp on it a bit.
SC: So, you really did have control on it! Again, back to press, there were a lot of people sort of dismissing 'The Purple Album' before its release. People are attached to it because they're classics, but this sort of album gives younger listeners like myself a fresh take on these classics, in a way we can possibly relate to a little more. My generation wouldn't have had the opportunity to hear these songs back at the time of release, now we get these revived versions, they're 'heavier' and maybe a lot of people wouldn't have ever heard Deep Purple originals if it wasn't for this Whitesnake release.
Joel: There's totally that! I think it definitely brought attention to that music again. (laughs) Even if someone didn't necessarily want to listen to the album, the amount of press that David got over doing this move... I mean, he was in USA Today talking about The Purple Album for crying out loud! I don’t think that would have happened with just another Whitesnake album. I think it was controversial and, at the same time, I just try to approach things like that as a musician. It's not my job to question the concept of it, but it is my job to do the best job, musically, with the concept. With that being said, I thought it was a great idea and I had a great time doing it. I think it gives people a second option to listen to those songs. They're muscled up and it’s more of a temporary production, obviously, and if they don't want to listen to it, then don't listen to it! (Laughs)
SC: Sure, the option is there, either way people want to hear it! Thank you very much for your time, it's been a pleasure!
Joel: Thank you! And thank you for the great review! I really appreciate it!
SC: I look forward to seeing you and the rest of Whitesnake on the December UK tour!
Joel: Awesome! I can't wait to be there! See you then.