American guitarist / songwriter Joel Hoekstra, best known as the guitarist in Whitesnake these days, as well as having been in Night Ranger, Trans Siberian Orchestra, and more recently has toured with Cher, recently released his the follow up to his 2015 hard rock album – Dying To Live under the name Joel Hoekstra’s 13. The album is Running Games, which features Hoekstra as guitarist / songwriter / producer, and he’s supported by a great band, notably Vinny Appice on drums. The album is full of cool hard-rock / metal, as well as more melodic rock tracks. Here Joel answered questions to his new album, the Joel Hoekstra 13 project, and a few others regarding his music and bands he’s been involved in….. Enjoy the read and check out Running Games.
First, how have you been surviving through the whole CoVid thing? Keeping healthy? And has this pandemic given you more time to work on things [musically & home] that you might not normally be doing?
I’m doing fine all things considered. Healthy and making a living. I try to exercise every day. Well, I’m very busy but a totally different kind of busy. Lots of teaching, Cameos, sessions, writing, quarantine videos, etc.
This is your 2nd album under the Joel Hoekstra’s 13 name. Now, your previous solo albums were instrumental[?] Can you explain how the change to a full ‘band’ type project came about, along with the players [most of which are the same on both albums], and the ’13’ meaning?
After I released the instrumental albums I became more well known for hard rock through being a part of Night Ranger, Rock of Ages, Trans Siberian Orchestra, Whitesnake. I wanted to release something that sounded like a band, but also something where I write everything. So a project name made the most sense and ’13’ kept it short. It’s a lucky number.
How did you wind up with the players you have on the 13 albums? Quite a cool line up with Russell Allen & Jeff Scott Soto, as well as Tony Franklin, Vinny Appice..
Tony Franklin and I played on the VHF project together and I asked him first. He recommended Vinny and at the same time Russell Allen joined TSO and I heard everything he could do. From there, having top pros/friends Derek Sherinian and Jeff Scott Soto are easy decisions. In short – these guys are all great players and friends of mine.
Curious how songs come about for you – musically and lyrically?
I usually start by writing riffs on the guitar while singing. I’ll typically write a chorus first and a melody for the rest of the riffs. Once that’s in place, I’ll write the lyrics for the verse, bridge, etc. This is not for every song, but is the usual method.
On Dying To Live I really liked “Say Goodbye To The Sun” and “Scream”, but “Until I Left You” was the standout song for me. Can you give me a bit about those songs being created [lyrically / musically], and perhaps anything else from that album that really stood out for you?
Some of the ideas on Dying to Live had been around a while. ‘Until I left You’ and ‘Say Goodbye to the Sun’ were both in that category. ’Scream’ was one of the final ideas that I wrote. ‘Until I Left You’ was written singer/songwriter style on acoustic, the rocked-up for the record.
When did you find time to put together Running Games [between other projects & tours]?
Once I mentally committed to doing the album it seemed pretty easy. I had many ideas that fit into the sound of the project. So as to “when” that’s a bit complicated. Some of the riffs are older than others. I enjoy writing on days off on the road.
Running Games is really a solid album – a great listen with plenty of favorite tracks. Was it easier / harder to write and record compared to Dying To Live?
I don’t think either was harder than the other, but I felt like I had defined and focused the sound of the project better this time around.
“Finish Line” is an awesome opener! For me, it really has a Dio feel to it – musically & lyrically. Curious if you hear that and if there’s any Dio influence or perhaps deliberate nod there?
Well, that’s the center of the sound for the project. I always say it’s melodic hard rock that’s Dio’ish at it’s heaviest and Foreigner’ish at it’s lightest.
Can you talk a bit about the video for “Finish Line”? It’s quite unique. How much creative input did you have in that?
I gave the artist Wayne Joyner a rough idea of what the video could be about and he really did a great job. I always wanted to have an animated video. That’s really the benefit of working with Frontiers because they had established that relationship.
The song “Running Games” really stands out and really is a great closing track, despite being the only really light & acoustic number on such a heavy album. Can you tell me a bit about this track – where it came from and the idea to produce it as an acoustic number, with harmonies… ? [Was this written at the beginning or end of the project?]
I had named the album Running Games and sequenced the song order and realized it was ending with about 4 mid tempo rockers in a row. I felt like it needed something to tie it all together and give it a more interesting ending. So I wrote the song at the last minute basically. I’m really glad I did too. For me, it made a world of difference.
Can you give me any antidotes to some favorite tracks – Heart Attack, Lonely Days, Hard To Say Goodbye, Fantasy [?]… Anything that you’re particularly happiest with?
I’m happy with all of it. It’s nice to see people chiming in with their favorite songs and to see every song title included from someone. I think that’s a good sign. No duds. Haha! The riffs for ‘Heart Attack’ were written in Reno at the the Whitesnake studio, ‘Lonely Days’ in Germany on a day off, ‘Hard to Say Goodbye’ in Tokyo on a day off and ‘Fantasy’ is the oldest riff. I wrote that in Omaha, for Inglorious as a potential song idea for their first album.
Conditions willing, do you foresee taking this project and players out to perform live / tour ?
I’d love to. We did one show in support of Dying to Live on the Monster’s of Rock Cruise, so its happened. You never know. Let’s get the world open and I’ll take it from there.
You’ve been playing and recording with Whitesnake for the past number of years. Curious how that gig came about and can you talk a bit about the whole experience or performing, writing, and recording with a guy who’s legendary in 2 historical hard rock bands?
Foreigner’s manager Phil Carson got me an audition and it went really well. It was a definitely a case of the early bird get’s the worm. It sounded like a great opportunity and I went after it. Working with DC is great. He’s a great boss/bandmate and friend. I’m very grateful to be a small part of the band’s amazing history!
Any favorite Deep Purple And Whitesnake songs and/or albums [that you weren’t on]? Any stories of perhaps having these albums or being a fan as a teenager?
I love all of it. The Whitesnake catalog is amazing and having the opportunity to revisit the old Purple classics was really fun.
Of the stuff you recorded with Whitesnake [including Flesh & Blood] – do you have any favorite tracks or performances? Songs you are happiest with.
Not really. I’m honored to be a part of the process. I’m especially honored that DC would include me in the writing and thrilled to have 8 co-writes with him from that period.
You’ve also played with Night Ranger, Trans Siberian Orchestra, Rock Of Ages on Broadway, and more recently Cher. Any highlights from a few of these tours or shows ?
All of it. When I set out to be a professional guitarist, I never really thought I’d be able to do all of these great gigs, so it’s a blessing. All the way…
What else do you currently have on the go recording-wise…or in near future?
I recently gave the guitar riffs to our project with Nathan James, so I think people can look forward to hearing that later this year, although I’m not sure of the release date, etc. Outside of that I just want to stay productive on a daily basis and do the best I can at every turn. It’s hard to predict where that will take me. That’s part of the fun.
What does Joel Hoeskstra listen to? Can you give me a list of favorite albums or bands from your younger years and what you might be listening to these days?
Not much these days. By the time I’ve taught lesson for 6 hours and possibly done a session, I’m pretty much done with music for the day. As a kid I started out listening to hard rock/heavy metal…AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Ozzy, Dio, Iron Maiden Scorpions, Dokken, Queensryche. As I got older more melodic bands like Journey, Foreigner, Boston. Rush and Yes were big influences. Classic rock bands like Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jim Hendrix, The Doors are favorites and then all of the guitar albums like Yngwie, Vai, Satriani, Steve Morse. All f that stuff had a big impact on who I am today.