Joel Hoekstra [Whitesnake]
'Dying to Live: It's The Only Way to Go!'
Joel Hoekstra's 13 is a side project formed by current Whitesnake guitarist Joel Hoekstra, who is also well known for his work with Night Ranger, Trans Siberian Orchestra and the show Rock of Ages. He also made a cameo appearance alongside Sebastian Bach, Nuno Bettencourt, Kevin Cronin and Debbie Gibson in the big screen movie adaptation!
The son of classical musicians, Hoekstra started out playing cello and piano at a young age, but it was hearing Angus Young that inspired him to start guitar. He was raised in Chicago and he has lived in New York City for nearly 15 years.
On his brand new solo album, the just-released Dying to Live, Joel handled the bulk of the creative process by doing all of the producing, writing and arranging (music and lyrics). The result could best be described as hard, melodic, classic rock that is Dio'ish at it's heaviest and Foreigner'ish at it's lightest!
On Dying to Live, Joel focuses on struggles, potential pitfalls and the art of overcoming obstacles in life to finally arrive where we are meant to be. Indeed, helping him musically achieve that goal are some stellar musicians on this debut album, and are some of the absolute best the classic rock world has to offer: Jeff Scott Soto (Journey/Yngwie Malmsteen - lead vocals, backing vocals); Russell Allen (Adrenaline Mob/Symphony X - lead vocals, backing vocals); Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath/Dio - drums); Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater/Black Country Communion - keyboards), and Tony Franklin (The Firm/Blue Murder) on bass.
Chatting recently with the legend himself, Joel Hoekstra, I first wondered, having named his band 13, if that number was indeed lucky for him in life? "Yeah, it's a bit of a lucky number for me. I was born on the 13th and a lot of important life events have fallen on that calendar date for me. So, yeah, I thought I'd just give it a go - and so far so good," he gently laughs.
Chock full of some stellar musicians, was there one, more then the others, that you were you the most impressed to bring on board? "I couldn't really single anybody out man. I mean, with this amazing line up everybody really contributed in their own, amazingly tasteful way. What a kick ass rhythm section to have in Vinny Appice on drums and Tony Franklin on bass. That's pretty much a dream battery right there and to have two of the best singers in rock today, in Russell Allen and Jeff Scott Soto singing on it, it's really an honor for me. And of course, you've got Derek Sherinian putting the frosting on the cake on the keys. So yeah man, I just couldn't be happier to have all these great musicians contributing on the album."
The album has that old school, classic rock vibe to it, so was that what you set out to create or did it come to be during the recording process? "Well, I released three solo albums years ago that were, basically, instrumental guitar albums. Much like you would expect from a guitarist. Two were rock fusion and one was like finger-style acoustic. So as the fans have come to get to know me over the past seven or eight years in playing with Night Ranger, Rock Of Ages, TSO and now, of course, Whitesnake, I've had a lot of requests for an album that was just straight ahead rock."
"Something that would be easier, I suppose, for the fans to grab on to that have gotten to know me from those bands. So as it always sounded like a great idea to me, it was just a matter of finding the time. I've had an amazing run, these past six or seven years, doing about 350 shows a year, so I finally managed, in the downtime over the past year or two, to get this done."
"I've very excited abut getting this out there and yeah, I think the attention was definitely always to have a straight ahead, melodic hard rock album. I didn't want to get too progressive or think too much like a musician on this one, if that makes sense. I really wore my fan hat when making it.I wanted to make something that I would want to listen to as somebody who grew up a melodic hard rock fan. So that was the mindset, definitely, to keep the intention in that genre."
You've said that the title, Dying To Live was made so because the album focuses on "struggles, potential pitfalls and the art of overcoming obstacles in life." So, are these tracks all personal ones to you yourself, perhaps? "There are some on the album that are very specific, and some that are more fantasy-based. In a way, it's better to leave it in that grey area for people, 'cause I really want listeners to relate to the songs in their own ways. So, I tried to keep the lyrics at a level that people can find their own meaning in them. Sometimes it ruins songs when it gets too specific and you know the story behind it," he laughs. "So, yeah, I'd really like everybody to have their own experience with the album."
Will we see 13 perform live here in North America any time soon? "Man, I'm gonna personally do everything I can to support the album. Obviously, I'm headed out with Whitesnake here in a couple of days to Japan to do all of Europe with them, but I think in 2016 I'm gonna try and put something together that could be able to support the album. The trick is to find the right scenario and something that makes sense. That said, step one was really just about getting this album out and see what the reaction was like; because the demand has to be there."
And what have the first reviews been like thus far? "Well, in terms of the album reviews, they've been phenomenal. I mean, they have way surpassed all my expectations. There's been many "Album of the Year"-type reviews coming in and that's super exiting, but it's going to come down to fan reaction and how many people we feel we can get this out to share with."
Were there more tracks recorded for Dying to Live that you couldn't figure out how to include, once the sequencing was done, perhaps? "Not really. With the bonus tracks, there were 13 tracks and they were the thirteen ideas that I went for on it. The album definitely evolved as it went. I think it started heavier, with the personnel that I had. Russell was the first singer to do the front half of the album, so there were some more melodic rock-type songs for Jeff."
"Some of the songs I wasn't sure would fit though, but they ended up fitting. Like 'Until I Left You' was a very catchy song, but I wondered if it would be too diverse having a song that poppy on there. And a song like 'Start Again,' I wondered how I was going to get that on the same album as 'Dying to Live.' The bonus track 'Kill or Be Killed' was really the heaviest, and so I decided to make that an additional download bonus track. But I think, in the end, I just found the eleven that sequenced the best. I found a way to have the album flow."
Well, kudos to you, because Dying to Live dies indeed flow nicely, if truth be told "Thanks. Yeah, in the end, the album really has a sound, because of our mix engineer, Chris Collier. That and the consistency in the instrumentation, of course."
What guitar(s) did you personally use on this album? "I actually just used a Les Paul and one amplifier for the whole album! So that gave the guitars a sound that tied them together, but having all the musicians play on all the tracks; Vinnie, Tony, and Derek, really helped tie it together and give it a cohesive sound. I mean, I love diversity, but then again, you don't want something totally scattered, you know what I mean, You don't want to be turning the listeners' head from Point A to Point Z, as they're going track to track," he laughs.
"I definitely wanted a flow. So, in the end, I found the eleven tracks that flowed the best for the album itself and took the ones that were on the fringe, in my view, and made them various bonus tracks. I just tried to choose wisely. Also, those bonus tracks are fun for people, 'cause they can now hear what lived on the fringe," he gently laughs.
So, today, what are YOU "dying to live" for?! "Ah man, everything! What's not to like about my life right now really. I've got a great situation playing in Whitesnake. It's a great, killer guitar gig playing in a great rock band. I mean, David's [Coverdale] really awesome to work for. He's rock royalty. A great boss. Tommy Aldridge on drums is a living legend right there, and being alongside Reb Beach is just awesome too."
"I'm having the time of my life playing with those guys, and having this other project released on Frontiers worldwide is all very exciting for me, man. For me to have an opportunity to actually make a living playing guitar, it's not to be taken for granted these days. I mean, this business is getting brutal, let's face it. So the fact that I'm doing OK and I'm able to make a living doing this, is really an amazing thing for me."
Is Whitesnake the biggest band you've been in for constant world tours and sold out audiences? "I think that all the gigs that I've had have had their strong points, so I wouldn't want to degrade anything that I've done in the past, or would want to continue to do. I think there's something special about the Whitesnake gig as a guitar gig, definitely. The pedigree of the guitar players that have been through there is amazing. Like John Sykes, Steve Vai, Vivian Campbell! I mean, give me a break, you know," he laughs. "All the way back to Bernie Marsden, there have just been some amazing players that have come through. So for me, it's an amazing honor. Also, I think material wise, it's really fantastic too."
"Great riffs and great solos to cover and working with David, who has worked with Jimmy Page and Richie Blackmore, has it's own cache, in a sense. In terms of it being a great guitar gig. So, listen man, it's phenomenal, but that being said, I've been happy with all the gigs that I've had and I've been honored to have any of them. It's not easy out here, there's a lot of great players who have struggled to build a career and, like I said, I don't take it for granted."
How did the invite to join Whitesnake, and replace Doug Aldrich, come about? "I put out some feelers, and a combination of that and some well-respected people recommended me to David Coverdale, which led to us meeting at the end of May, 2014. The original contact was, more or less, just to come out, meet up and basically have a little audition. So, I didn't get it by phone, but I got a voice mail from David and we set up a time for me to come out. I think he had basically watched every second of footage on me on YouTube by that point," he laughs. "Most of it had to do with my personality and whether we could get along. Whether I was a good fit and all those little intangibles."
"And we did fine. The playing end of it, they put up some pre-production from The Purple Album and had me take a solo on 'Lady Double Dealer,' and we did a little singing on 'Sail Away.' That was basically my audition. And everything went fine and I was offered the gig. But for me, even that that point, it was still a few months before I was even going to be needed to record, so I didn't really want to even put my mind into it at that point. I was like, OK, I've been offered that gig, let's just start on the album and see how it goes. Because, you don't want to be the guy that says, 'I got the Whitesnake gig' and then two days into recording and you're fired or something," he laughs, "'cause you never know! So, I just kinda kept it under my hat and just kept it quiet, but when I went out and did my tracks on The Purple Album, that's when it was really clear to me: 'OK, I'm in the band!'"
I noticed that, from when I last saw Whitesnake live this summer, that every time you get a solo guitar moment you kinda strike an "80’s pose" - hair tosses included! So do you have a favorite Whitesnake song to 'rock out to" yet, perhaps? "No, not necessarily. My mind set is actually just to really try and play all of it the best that I can. And that's just where my mind tends to live," he laughs. "And that's really the truth. I know people want to hear that I'm just waiting for that 'Still Of The Night' solo or something, but for me, it's all super important. My mind is always on just playing all of it the best that I can. Even the very easy stuff."
"It's just about being perfectly locked into the perfect zone and creating a perfect approach to it all. Music is always a struggle, in a way, but you can always get better at it. So that's always where my mind is, just very much honed in on playing the very best I can the whole time. Oh, and definitely, like you said, putting on a show for people! I don't wanna get up there and just stand there. I mean, people come to those shows to rock out, so nobody wants to see us guys all broken down and beaten up," he laughs. "and struggling to play this stuff. So, I love putting on a high energy show for people. I think that's all part of giving the fans their hard earned money's worth, as far as I'm concerned."
As you are headed to Japan at the end of this week, and as my girlfriend was stationed over there just outside of Tokyo, she was wondering if you have ever been to a region called Shinjuku (SHIN-GE-KOO)? "I don't know if I have or not, honestly. I don't believe I have. I've been to Japan a couple of times with Night Ranger, so I guess I don't really remember being there - so I would say no."
Well, she says, if you've got some down time once there, that it's, basically, the Las Vegas of the area?! "Oh, wow! OK, cool, I'll keep that in mind," he laughs. "I know we have a decent amount of time off over there, which is fantastic. I just love Japan. I love the fans there, but I love the culture there too. The people are just wonderful. I love that hospitable vibe. Being someone from the MidWest, yeah, we love that stuff."
Being that I'm here in Detroit, where from the MidWest are you from? "I grew up in the burbs of Chicago and so I do know Detroit well. We've had our sporting rivalries, haven't we," he laughs. "I've been in New York City now for the last 15 years, so I'm very much a New Yorker at this point as well; much to my surprise!"
From the moment that you started to know you could actually play the guitar, to where you are currently, how have you evolved as a guitarist? "Man, that's a tough one. In a lot of ways right now, things have come full circle for me. I'm playing the material that I grew up on," he laughs. "I feel like I missed the first wave of it just by a minute! I was in Hollywood going to G.I.T. at nineteen years of age, like right at the end of the guitar thing in 1990. So, I'd worked up all my chops in the guitar scene ... and then playing solos just became the least coolest thing in the world right around that time!"
"But, in a way that's become one of the best things that ever happened to me, because I kind of became more of a well-rounded musician around that time. I learned to become more of a parts player, more of a guy who could play for the songs, and definitely a better overall musician; in terms of singing and playing other instruments and things like that. It was a great thing for me not to have immediate success and I think it has also helped me appreciate what's gong on right now. Sort of playing in what some people might call the "rivival of the 80's scene," you know."
In all your photos, you seem to have the most incredible, ready-to-take-on-the-world hair, but does it take time to get it like that - or do you step out of the shower and bam!? "Well, that is kind of the way it is now, in terms of I don't do anything with my hair," he laughs. "I just get out of the shower! The only thing I do is put a lot of conditioner in it, you know. That's it in terms of that stuff, but over the years, man, I've struggled with my image, you know. I've been a guy, in younger years, who had short hair and struggled with weight fluctuation."
"So I've had periods of looking completely different to what I do right now. As I say though, I think everything kind of came full circle and I've kind of, I guess, I've grown to put my arms around the image thing a bit more now, I think. When I was younger, I was very much about just the musical skill and used to use the word "poser" a lot," he laughs. "I was actually the guy who used to make fun of the posers ... and now I've probably become one, in terms of being able to enjoy all the visual aspects of performing. Yeah, now I'm a big fan of that stuff, but I should have probably just gotten over it and thrown my arms around it a lot earlier. But, it is what it is. Hindsight is 20/20 with regard that stuff, as you know."
Finally, we here at Exclusive Magazine LOVE penguins, so we were wondering if you did also, perhaps? "Oh, I love penguins! You'd have to be like, not a good person to not like penguins! I mean, they're lovable, right. They're cute. I don't have a story about any, but my three year-old son is in a BIG superhero phase right now, and so we're always playing with the bad guy, The Penguin from Batman. Of course, everybody will remember him. So that's the first thing that I think of when you ask about penguins. Oh, and when you buy the little action figures these days, he comes with a little sidekick penguin," he laughs. "An actual penguin as his sidekick. So, yeah, when you talk about penguins, that's the first thing that comes to mind for me these days, as a dad."
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
'Dying to Live' CD Purchase Link
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