The Whitesnake axeman is getting ready to release the debut album from his new project, Joel Hoekstra’s 13.
National Rock Review recently caught up with Joel to talk about the new album, touring with Whitesnake and what he has in store in the coming months.
NRR: Thanks for taking the time to speak to us at National Rock Review today. So you are about to release Dying To Live could you tell us a little bit about the album and your inspiration behind the project?
Hoekstra: Sure, well I have three solo albums that I put out years ago that were primarily instrumental guitar albums. For years now I’ve been having fans that have known me from Night Ranger and Whitesnake or Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Rock Of Ages or whatever saying hey how come you don’t put out an album of just cool rock songs, vocal songs that we can listen? My other albums were rock fusion and a little bit more adventurous on the guitar playing side.
So it sounded like a great idea to me. I had always wanted to make the album it was just a matter of finding the time, so maybe over the last year or two I’ve finally been able to put this together. So it’s this interesting scenario where if you listen to this album it sounds very band like but the reality is I did all the writing, the lyrics and the melodies and everything.
I gave this a project name Joel Hoekstra’s 13, I felt that was the most appropriate thing to do. I’m not trying to sell it like a band because it was very much my album but at the same time I didn’t want to call it a solo album because as you can hear there’s not much wankage on the album, there’s no long guitar solos, just good solid rock stuff.
So anyway yes, Joel Hoekstra’s 13 is the project, the album is called Dying To Live and the theme on it lyrically is about eliminating the obstacles or overcoming the obstacles in your life to finally arrive where you are meant to be. I think all of us kind of have those struggles in our lives that we are fighting to be the person we want to be, and that’s really the theme of all the lyrics.
NRR: You just briefly mentioned about the rest of the guys on the album there, you’ve got Jeff Scott Soto, Russell Allen, Tony Franklin, Derek Sherinian as well as a whole host of guests. You wrote the album but at what point did you think these are the musicians you would like to work with on this project and how did you come to meet them?
Hoekstra: We came together one by one. I started with Tony Franklin, I had just done the VHF project with him, and I said hey man I was thinking of doing an album of straight-ahead rock vocal songs, would you be into that and he was like absolutely let’s do it and I said who would you want to use as a drummer and he recommended Vinny Appice. So that’s how the rhythm section came together.
From there Russell Allen had just signed up to do the Trans-Siberian Orchestra tour that I do. So I checked him out, and I was like wow this guy is amazing I’ve got to get him on this. I had never really listened to Symphony X before, I didn’t realize what a great vocalist Russel Allen is, and so I got him on board and he tracked the first half of the album.
I called in a favor from my friend Jeff Scot Soto, and I said I would really love you to sing some backups on this stuff, I know you are way over qualified to be a background singer, but I would consider it a favor and Jeff, of course, is such a good guy he was willing to do that. Then I was like hey man you’ve got to sing some lead on this you are too good to only sing background, and so Jeff sang lead on half of the album as well.
I really felt like even after laying down all my guitars there was still some room for keyboards on this for textures and different sounds, I decided to start at the top and ask Derek Sherinian if he was willing to play on it and thankfully he was and he did a really nice job on this. Derek again over qualified because he only got to play a couple of solos on this, so it was really just about playing the right parts and playing tastefully. Derek did a great job.
I really appreciate all these guys contributing to this album and bringing these songs to life for me, it was really nice of them all.
NRR: So how did your approach to Dying To Live differ from your previous solo albums in terms of the recording side of things, I know you worked a lot on the production?
Hoekstra: I did. It basically came together at the moment I started with some guitar riffs for the Russell Allen material, I had that stuff laid down and I had Tony and Vinny play on it before there was really any vocals. My plan was to have a singer kind of co-write with me, and I thought if we need to edit things in Pro Tools and change around the arrangement we will be able to do that after the fact, or god forbid even have people re-record but Russell was so busy that I ended up just really taking the writing on myself.
So I ended up writing the lyrics and the melodies, and he did that and then we basically had the template for the second half except that Jeff was going to sing the second half. So I just went ahead and wrote everything, I would lay my scratch guitar parts down and the guitar playing with the vocals would sing melody wise and send that to Vinny Appice and he would do the drums, Tony would play to him and then kind of everything could happen simultaneously from there. The vocals, my real guitars, and keyboards.
NRR: So how long did it take to write and record the album?
Hoekstra: It was a while but a lot of it was waiting on other people’s schedules including my own because there’s times where I was just too busy with whatever, be it with Whitesnake even some of this was in the works before Whitesnake. So sometimes I was out with Trans-Siberian Orchestra or with Night Ranger so yeah it’s been probably two years from start to finish for me to get this out. Like I said a lot of it was just kind of waiting on schedules and the necessity of doing this in the “downtime” (laughing).
NRR: So do you have any plans to do any live shows in support of your new album?
Hoekstra: I’d certainly be willing to support it in any way, shape or form I can. I think that right now the objective is to get the album out there and see what kind of reaction everybody has to it. If there is a enough demand hopefully we can put something together that would make sense in terms of live support or I’d even be interested in seeing what this could become with everybody collaborating on the writing down the road and turning it into more of a band thing. I think the sky would be the limit for this lineup honestly.
NRR: You mentioned there about Rock of Ages there, you completed a six year run on the show that must of been a lot of fun right?
Hoekstra: Yeah it was a great opportunity for me to have a show where I could play music that I liked 8 shows a week and get a lot of stage experience. Just to do that right here at home in New York was fantastic for me. I could take off whenever I need to tour with no problems, it was a union protected job and everything. So to be able to tour with Night Ranger and Trans-Siberian Orchestra during that time was really great and it gave me an opportunity to have a gig basically every day for about 6-7 years.
NRR: You’ve been out on tour with Whitesnake in the U.S. recently. I was wondering how the shows had been going?
Hoekstra: The opening leg was just absolutely fantastic it exceeded all expectations as far as I’m concerned. We didn’t have a single bad review; it was all good reviews. David was fantastic, and the band was sounding good and getting along. It’s just such a great lineup to play with. I mean obviously David Coverdale, but Tommy Aldridge and Reb Beech and our bass player Michael Devin and our keyboardist Michele Luppi is just awesome and a great background vocalist. So we had a great time on and off stage, and the fans certainly seemed to feel that.
NRR: One of the noticeable things for me the first time I heard The Purple Album was your partnership with Reb Beech. I love the way the two of you have come together. What has it been like been working with Reb?
Hoekstra: Reb is great, I mean he’s just a really nice guy. He’s not very aggressive in terms of being the type of guy who wants to play every solo and neither am I so we have never had any tension over any of that stuff at all which has been great. He’s just a funny guy and a great hang, he’s fun to hang on the road with. So yeah, so far so good man. I think he’s a great rhythm player which is something I didn’t know coming in, and what a great singer he is, there are all these things I’ve learned about Reb.
Everybody knows he’s a ripping lead player, I’ve known that for a long time. He sure is fun to lock on these great riffs with live. To have our guitars panned out in my in ears to be able to hear the riffs played nice and tight and like I said he’s a much better singer then I ever realized he really had a lot of this Glenn Hughes stuff. He’s just a great guy to be in a band with.
NRR: Who would you say are your guitar heroes?
Hoekstra: Ah man, how much time do we have? There’s too many to name and every time I do that I just feel like I leave people who out who I would want to name. I think just really I try to learn from anybody that I listen to. I really get heavily influenced by people I work with and actually make music with and a lot of my teachers from when I was young. Random stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily expect, people that have been big influences on me.
NRR: Obviously with your new project and your commitments with Whitesnake, has it been a difficult balancing act?
Hoekstra: Not really. It only became difficult right at the very end when I needed to meet the deadline on getting the mixes in and basically the pictures and the EPK video, that was all due in on one day. We had a couple of days off in Minnesota, and I spent those whole days just going back and forth on notes with everybody trying to make sure we could get everything turned in on time.
That was really only the time it became strenuous. The rest of the time it’s been done in just downtime and felt very relaxed and natural.
NRR: You are going to be in the UK later this year as part of a co-headline tour of Whitesnake and Def Leppard. Are you looking forward to those shows?
Hoekstra: Absolutely man, that should be a great night of rock. We have Black Star Riders on those shows with us as well. Yeah, I think that’s a hot ticket it should be a fun time.
NRR: Out of all of the Whitesnake tracks that you are performing at the minute which is your favorite to perform live and why?
Hoekstra: I get that question a lot but I really don’t have a favorite, that’s the gods honest truth. I’m just happy to be up there playing all of it. I tend to have a very similar mindset no matter what song I’m playing and that’s just kind of making sure that I’m playing at my very best and that I’m performing my very best for people and so whether that be simple playing parts it just doesn’t really matter all that much.
Everything feels kind of difficult in a way when your playing, so I just want to make sure I’m always playing as solid as possible. So honestly my mind doesn’t work that way I don’t have a favorite song, I’m just happy to be playing man.
NRR: What else do you have in store for the rest of the year?
Hoekstra: Well for the rest of the year it’s going to be very much about promoting Dying To Live which comes out on October 16th on Frontiers. Then of course wrapping up this year end of the tour with Whitesnake.
I think I’m going to be heading out and at least starting on some stuff with David, at least talking about some recording with David (laughing) so there’s maybe a little something in the works there. We are going to see where he steers it and what he has in mind. He’s been batting about a couple of ideas.
I’m going to be getting some riffs in for a project I’m going to be doing with Michael Sweet from Stryper.
NRR: That sounds great. Thanks for taking the time to speak to us and we are very much looking forward to catching you here in the UK later in the year with Whitesnake.
Hoekstra: Thanks so much, I really appreciate your time.
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