Many of you may be familiar with Joel Hoekstra even if you haven’t intentionally sought him out. An American guitarist and artist, Joel has played with Night Ranger, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Jack Blades and Amy Lee, has performed as part of the Rock of Ages show and film and is now the guitarist in Whitesnake (having replaced Doug Aldrich). Joel has also produced three well-received solo albums but it this, his fourth solo work, that is likely to put his name well and truly on the hard rock map. Released as Joel Hoekstra’s 13 to differentiate it from the more fusion-y early releases, ‘dying to live’ is an unholy monster of an album, offering up a varied selection of tracks from full-on heavy rock (think Dio and Heaven and Hell) to softer, more melodic fare (in the vein of whitsenake and foreigner). It’s a hell of a record and it features an amazing array of talented musicians, all of whom gave their time to help a respected artist. Destined to be one of the hard rock albums of the year, ‘dying to live’ is a remarkable record and we were lucky enough to chat to Joel about its gestation. Read on and learn more about a guitarist who is set to become a household name – Joel Hoekstra.
Hi, This is Phil calling from the UK website, SonicAbuse
How are you Phil? Thanks for taking the time to do this.
I’m great thanks, and thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
We’re here to talk about your brilliant new album which you’re releasing under the name of Joel Hoekstra’s 13, I take it you added the 13 just to differentiate this release from your previous, quite different, solo work.
That’s exactly right. I had three solo albums out a few years ago which were primarily instrumental, guitar albums. Two were kinda fusion-y and one is a finger-style acoustic album, so I they’re very much guitar player solo albums, whereas this one is basically what all the fans who’ve gotten to know me through nightranger and Trans-siberian Orchestra, and the show rock of ages and now, of course, Whitesnake, I’ve had a lot of fans asking why I don’t make a solo album with rock songs, that they could get into a little easier, so this is that album finally. So I had this strange dilemma of writing this album that sounds very much like a band, but it’s not really a band because I did all the writing on it, so the most appropriate thing was to give it a side-project name, so I called if Joel Hoekstra’s 13 and it’s got a stellar line up of musicians and it’s gonna be out Oct 16th on Frontiers Records and I hope people’ll give it a shot.
As you say, it’s got a stellar line-up, how did you get the other musicians involved?
It kinda just happened step by step, I didn’t really set out to do a ‘super band’ album or anything like that, I just wanted to write a cool rock album, like I said. The first person I approached was Tony Franklin because we’d just finished doing a different project together called ‘VHF’. So I told him I was just interested in doing a straight ahead rock album, just writing good rock songs, and asked if he’d like to play on it and he said yes. So next I asked him who I should get on drums and he recommended Vinny Appice, and he was willing to play on it, which was great because Vinny’s drumming just has such great character and he took the album in such cool directions that were unexpected and gave it really, a very unique sound. From there, I needed a singer to sing on it. Russell Allen had just signed up to do the Trans-Siberian Orchestra tour that I was doing and, I had never really heard any Symphony X before, but I was blown away when I heard Russel – it was like “Wow, this guy can sing crazy great, I mean he can sing anything!” so Russell said he’d sing on it and then, I sang some of the backgrounds, but I thought it’d be cool to have another great singer singing some of the backgrounds on this so I decided to call in a favour from my friend Jeff Scott Soto. I’ve co-written some stuff with Jeff and played on some stuff with Jeff and I said to him “dude – you’re obviously over-qualified to be a background singer, but would you sing on some of these tracks for me?” And Jeff is such a good guy and was willing, and then, when it became a full-length album I realised we had to get Jeff to sing on it, so that we could have two of the best singers in rock (in my opinion) on it. Then, after we’d layered all the guitars I realised there was still room for some keyboards on it to add some textures and I asked Derek Sherinian and he was willing, and all of a sudden I had this amazing line-up of musicians on this thing, and it just kind of went step-by-step as I said. It wasn’t necessarily the intention, but they all did a great job and I would say that the album is just melodic hard rock that is Dio-ish at its heaviest and Foreigner-ish at its lightest and it’s just… my taste, from growing up in that genre and there’s not a lot of wankage, despite the line-up, there’s no three minute guitar solos or big drum breaks, it’s just cool rock songs tastefully played by these awesome players. I owe these guys a lot for bringing these songs to life for me.
One of the things you see with the blues community is that it’s very much that, a community, and it seems like you have the same thing happening within hard-rock, bringing in your friends and creating something that’s… cool, for want of a better word.
I think there’s two ways of looking at it. I think a lot of people are kind of down on the fact that people won’t play with each other these days and record projects, but at the same time, I think as our fan base is growing older with us and they see us less as a guy who’s in one band and more as a musician which, of course, we are, like everyone is, all the guys in your favourite bands are musicians and they just happen to have a really huge band that they started. So, for me, I’m always looking to improve as a guitar player and as a musician, so the more I can remain active and have as many things on my plate as possible, it only means that I can improve my skills that much more.
I’ve listened to the album, and one of the things I really like is that it’s heavy, in places, but it’s also very positive and it’s got a very cool vibe to it. What sort of lyrical themes inspired you when creating this record?
Well the album’s called ‘dying to live’ and I’m gonna stop calling it a ‘concept album’ because it’s not really that, but there’s a theme to the lyrics about us all dealing with the struggles inside ourselves to become the person that we want to be and, really the last couple of years of my life there’s been a lot of that for me. I’ve just gone through a big, self-improvement phase of trying to improve areas of my life that I wasn’t happy with, so a lot of it evolved directly from that and other parts are more fantasy based. So, for instance, ‘long for the days’ is about a guy who’s blown it in I his relationship and the way he’s looking at it… that didn’t necessarily happen to me, I didn’t have a direct experience of that, but, again, that’s somebody who’s dealing with the struggles and maybe let it get to far and ruin a relationship, so the album basically just deals with us all moving over those obstacles that stop us from getting to where we want to be in life.
It’s a very diverse album, and one that you kinda of need to hear all the way through to appreciate, are you concerned that the album may be perceived in one particular way if people only hear one or two tracks?
Here’s the thing. I never really enjoyed albums with, how many tracks on this? I guess 12 with the digital download tracks, I’ve never enjoyed it when all twelve tracks sound identical, it’s like why? What’s the point? Just put out one song and call it a day! So I like having some diversity to it. Album’s like Zeppelin’s ‘houses of the holy’ where there are all these different styles represented, so, like I said, I try to keep it within some decent constraints where it’s like Dio at its heaviest and like Foreigner at its lightest, but, as you said, it’s diverse, and it’s tricky to promote because everybody’s over-reacting with every single that gets released right now. So the first one came out and people thought all of it was going to sound like that one song, it’s so funny – over-reacting stylistically to what it is and wishing it was lighter or wishing it was heavier. It’s just funny to watch that, and I think you’re right, when words gets out on the album and people start to see the diversity of it, and I think the flow if it works and once people give it a chance and live with it as an album they’ll see its just cool, old school rock man. Melodic hard rock with great musicians playing – what’s not to like?
You produced the album as well, is that something you particularly enjoy?
Yeah, I mean I owe a lot to Chris Collier who’s a great mix engineer. He did a great job on the sonic end of the album I think, so… basically my production style was pretty simple, it was to let the guys do what they wanted on it, because I think you get the best out of people when you let them play to their strengths and follow what their first instincts are and, even if it’s totally different to what you first expected, you just kinda roll with that and that way you get everybody’s personalities on there. So definitely there were some things that Vinny Appice played that were completely different drum stuff than I would have played, and when I got the drum tracks back, my first thing was “oh my god, what? Wait a minute, what???” but then I started to think about what I could do to incorporate that beat into the song that I’d written and I came up with all these cool new results and the album in the end got those twists and turns from everybody, and that’s what makes it cool, I think. You get everybody’s personalities on there, so despite the fact that I did all the writing, the lyrics and the vocal melodies and the whole nine yards, you still very much get this sound of the other musicians. I didn’t want to micro-manage it to the point where these guys couldn’t do what they wanted to do.
When it comes to the writing, was that you recording to midi-drums or how do you get the original idea down?
I’m a little too lazy to do anything like that and, like I said, I think that probably would have given Vinny too much of a guideline. I wanted him to play whatever the hell he felt, so what I did was to record the guitars to a click track, so you have scratch guitars (guitars which weren’t really going to be on the album), so you have my guitar riffs and the vocal melodies that we were gonna sing (even the harmony parts in a lot of places so you get a feel of the chorus getting bigger and things like that), but basically you just had a lot of guitars played to a click track and then Vinny played to that and Tony tracked his stuff and then, from there, everybody just simultaneously got their stuff on there.
Life is obviously very busy for you and I know you did this album fully with David Coverdale’s blessing, but how did you find time to actually get to work on all of this?
It took a while. It’s just basically down time and a lot of it was waiting on other people’s schedules – Russell Allen’s crazy busy with Symphony X and Adrenalin mob and all his stuff, so to get everybody on there it often took a few weeks of working stuff out. So, I mean, it was a challenge to a degree but at the same time, like I said, I like to be working as much as possible to feel like I’m… it’s so cheesy but to be the best musician I can be [laughs] I think it’s a good thing to be active and productive in whatever field of work you’re in and not just resting on your laurels, especially for a guy like me, I’m still very much trying to carve out a name for myself and this is hopefully another step along the way for me in doing so.
And of course, joining Whitesnake, which is very much a player’s band must have helped get the word out about this record more quickly than it might otherwise have been?
Yeah, I apologised to David and said I was sorry for any overlap in promo, and he told me not to be silly and that he wished we could have released the albums on the same day! I mean David’s just great about the whole thing and, as long as I’m ready to rock whenever Whitesnake needs me, and of course that’ll never be an issue or a problem, he’s totally supportive. I think he really likes his players growing as musicians and growing as people as well and David’s fantastic to work for man, I can’t say enough good things about him.
It must be beneficial for Whitensake as well because, as you said, you’re developing so presumably you can bring that growth back to Whitesnake?
Yeah, I don’t know how much of this would overlap into Whitesnake. Probably only certain elements of it. A lot of the music on this was written with the singers in mind, just knowing what singers I was going to be working with changed the direction of it, or honed the direction of it quite a bit for me. I’m sure it’s like, if I was going to write an album with David it would be more classic rock muscled up a bit, but this… it’s own thing, I think it’s a cool melodic hard rock album and, like I said, the trick for me is that people are still kinda starting to learn who I am, or maybe they don’t know who I am, so the trick is for me is just getting the word out enough that people will give it a shot. But the reaction and the feedback I’m getting so far is pretty amazing. People think it’s a really special album and I’m just hoping it’ll be well-received.
I think it will be, certainly I’ve enjoyed listening to it many times since I received it last week. What are the chances of getting this out on the road?
I’m going to just try to be as productive as possible in terms of supporting the album and doing anything I can, so yeah, I guess if the right scenario is there I’m going to try and do what I can with it. The amazing thing is I’m getting offers and stuff like that, and I’m like “this hasn’t even gotten out – it’s like a month and a half away!” [laughs] so I think there’s a lot of interest in it but the thing is obviously everybody’s schedules and what kind of realistic situation we can get it into if that happens. But I think it certainly would be interesting and I think it would also be interesting to do… to have this line up all write together and have it be a band, I think that would be really cool to have it turn out… you never know man, I guess it’s all just up to the system of supply and demand, so… if it’s well-received that’ll be a good start.
I hope so man, some of these songs just sound made for the live environment!
Yeah, I think it’d be really great if it all could come together. I think the difficulty will be everyone’s schedules and I think it might actually come down to illegal activity, like you and I forcing them at gunpoint to all get on stage together, but I certainly would be overjoyed to be able to pull that off… only time will tell!
Thank you so much for talking to me – do you have any final words for your UK fans
Not really! I just appreciate the support. I feel like I’m a bit of the underdog in terms of just getting even this far in the music business and I’m just going to try and take it as far as I can with hard work and show appreciation to the fans and hopefully they’ll come along with me for the ride.
Thanks again for your time and all the best with the album man.