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INTERVIEW: JOEL HOEKSTRA of Whitesnake – May 2015

How lucky to wrap up a Friday with a killer conversation with Joel Hoekstra, the newest gunslinger in Whitesnake… I have been enjoying the latest batch of Whitesnake recordings – a disc of Deep Purple tracks re-visioned by Coverdale and company that is sure to please Whitesnake and Deep Purple fans, as well as fans of Joel and his career.  Let’s see what the killer guitarist has to say about the disc, his solo endeavors, and more…

Whitesnake Joel IMG_9287 - Photo Credit Mark Weiss

Joel: Hey, Todd! How you doing man? It’s Joel.

Toddstar: Hey Joel, what’s going on, brother?

Joel: How’s it going?

Toddstar: Well, man, I appreciate you taking time out of your schedule. The world has just got to be going crazy for you right now.

Joel: Oh man, thank you so much for thinking of me and making time for me.

Toddstar: Well let’s talk about it. We’ll get into other things, but let’s talk about The Purple Album. This thing is just… It’s a monster.  We’re a couple weeks away from its release. What can you tell us about this killer project?

Joel: Oh man, I’m just honored to be a part of it and psyched. I think that it’s not a note for note re-record of these songs. We really flexed our creative muscles quite a bit on it. David really encouraged us to play like ourselves. He said to put a fresh coat of paint on these songs and really Whitesnake them up. Hey man, each one of us collectively just brought everything we had to the table, and I’m just psyched to have it come out finally.

Toddstar: Well this is your… I don’t want to say trial run, but this is your debut with Whitesnake. How apprehensive were you to go into the studio and put the Joel Hoekstra stamp not only Whitesnake but the Deep Purple legacy that you guys have redone here?

Joel: Well, I think the trick is to think of it like a pro guitar player and just approach it from that aspect. It was great to not have a whole lot of time to think about that. It was already in pre-production, in fact pre-production was basically complete by the time I came on board. So, it was really like, all right, now I’m going to just transcribe everything off the originals and listen to it a lot and then basically forget it. So, go into the studio and just be myself. I tried to come in with as many ideas as I could for David and see what stuck. He was incredibly gracious and encouraging having us all play like ourselves, like I said, he was… I didn’t know how open-minded he was going to be. He was incredibly open-minded. I mean he’s just such a great musician, and we were on the same page with the bulk of what we did on it. And it was really a lot of fun, man. We just had a blast. Like I said, I think despite the fact that we’ve reworked preexisting songs, I think the creative muscles, man, were definitely in motion. There’s a lot happening on these songs that are just completely different than the originals and it gives people who aren’t familiar with these songs a chance to hear these great songs, and people that have been familiar with this material a chance to hear a fresh spin on it.

Toddstar: I love the fact that you guys did put a fresh spin on it. Looking back at this, I mean as a guitar player, which of these songs just made that thirteen-year-old kid squeal when you said, “Yes, I get to record this!”

Whitesnake band standing in Lake Tahoe Forest photographed by Ash Newell

Whitesnake band standing in Lake Tahoe Forest photographed by Ash Newell

Joel: I wouldn’t say that in advance I had any. I would say the coolest moment that felt that way for me… I have two stories for you. One was really when I went out to audition for Whitesnake and David kind of filled me in on everything. They put up the pre-production of “Lady Double Dealer” and had me take a stab at soloing on it. So, that was really my audition for Whitesnake, so that was definitely a very cool moment. Just going like, “Wow I’m on the spot here; alright I need to come up with something.” And ended up writing a harmony solo for that, just after my solo, that basically I recreated on the actual album. That’s pretty much what I played at my audition.

Toddstar: Oh wow! That’s awesome.

Joel: Yeah, and then the other one that was really cool was when it came time to do “Soldier of Fortune,” we got the mikes up on the acoustic sound together and David came down and cut the vocal live with me. I think much of what he sang is actually on the record. So, there was just a moment there of going, “Wow, this is so cool. I’m playing alone, like this famous song with David in the studio,” and it was just really neat, man. Just a great experience to go like, I’m really cutting this killer tune again with David in the studio. It just felt awesome.

Toddstar: Again, I love this album and have been listening like crazy since we got access to it. I think each of the thirteen songs stands alone, not only as part of the Deep Purple legacy and the Whitesnake legacy, but the legacy for you guys all as individuals. Because, like you said, you all kind of put your own stamp on it. You can hear it in the guitars, you can hear it in the drums, and you can hear it in the bass. You said David kind of pushed you…

Joel: Well thank you. Yeah, I appreciate that. Like I said, I feel like… there was definitely a lot of creative work to be done. For me, coming in, it wasn’t just well, learn the riffs. It was thinking, well, if the riffs are going to be there in the studio already, and we’re a two guitar band and not necessarily leaning as heavy on the keyboards as Deep Purple did, what would I play around that if somebody was just coming in with this song for me and it wasn’t Deep Purple? Without getting too daunted by the legacy of it. Just trying to say, well if somebody came in and gave me this song and wanted me to play on it, what would I do? I tried to come up with a lot of those parts for David and Reb to bounce them off them. A lot of them actually ended up making the record.

Toddstar: Now how can it work out between you and Reb? I mean you’re not used to a twin guitar attack when you do something like Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  I mean how many players… like nineteen of you guys on the stage. You know?

Joel: No, that’s not true. I … with TSO it’s really two guitar players throughout and it’s really me and Chris Caffery playing on the East side, and it’s really… TSO is very much a core band with a local strings section put to it when you come in to each city. So it’s really a band. And of course my last seven years has been spent working with Brad Gillis and Night Ranger.

Toddstar: Yep.


Joel: And so I’m really used to the twin guitar attack, and I’m not the type of guy who needs every solo. I never have been and never will be. I’m like the guy who wants to make the band sound good and make everybody happy in the band. So I think it just was right, man. I mean Reb and I were on the same page, and I think Reb’s a lot like me, either. He’s not the guy that wants to play every solo. I think we just kind of ended up going pretty much fifty-fifty on the album, in terms of splitting that stuff up. Like I said, for me it’s more about what makes this all work? That’s how I think as a guitar player and as a person fitting into a band. You try and go, “What do I do to make this all work the best?”

Toddstar: Well that said, looking back, who would you say … I don’t want to say made you want to pick up a guitar and play, but who really formulated or formed in your mind the style of playing that you play now?

Joel: I don’t know man; it’s a combination of stuff. I mean, Angus Young really was for me who I saw and heard that made me want to play guitar, so there’s always a little bit of it that’s that. Just the performance aspect of it and the hard rock aspect of it. In terms of technical challenges, I had a great teacher early on, TJ Helmerich, that… He pushed me to learn a lot of theory and a lot of my soloing techniques, and so there’s a lot of it that’s that. A good friend of his, Brett Garsed, who’s an amazing guitar player. So, a lot of those guys had big influences on me. But again, my answer is almost very similar to what I said about playing in a twin guitar attack. It was always more about the band. For me, when people ask influences, it’s more about saying AC/DC, Black Sabbath than saying Tony Iommi or Angus Young, if that makes sense. It’s AC/DC, Black Sabbath, really heavy stuff early on. Then I got into more melodic sounding stuff, too, like Boston and Journey and Foreigner. Of course, great progressive band like Rush and Yes were big influences on me, and classic bands like Floyd and The Doors and, man, of course Zeppelin. Those are all my influences, dude. And then of course players with chops that I admired, but I always looked at it more like bands were my influence.

Toddstar: That’s an interesting approach, especially from a guitar player. Normally, guitar players will list off… you obviously listed the guitar heroes, but to say that it was the band more so than the individuals. But it also speaks to you and how you seem to fit in. Like you said, you’re not the guy that’s in the spotlight with every solo or with every riff or lead. You always seem to be part of the band. Is it something going into it that you just kind of said, “Hey I’m just grateful to be playing,” or, “I just want to be part of a gang,” or…

Joel: I think it’s because I didn’t become a rock star very early on. I didn’t find a lot of success in my career early on, so I learned in terms of just being a pro guitar player that it didn’t always have to be about me. Just sometimes, it’s just about the gig and the other people’s music and just serving the big picture. So, for me, I’d rather play music on a high level than be playing G-C-D all night and playing a million notes in kind of a crappy musical scenario, if that makes sense.

Toddstar: Oh it definitely does.

Joel: Yeah, it’s more about like… and that’s not just to say only career, it’s actually just because the music sounds better. So, for me it’s all challenging. Even playing simple music is very challenging because it’s about playing the right notes at the right time.

Whitesnake 2014

Whitesnake 2015

Toddstar: Well you seem to do that, and it’s funny you mention all the different influences that you say are intricate into the forming of how you play. But, you go back to even your solo stuff and it’s so diverse. But I can see why you are a perfect fit and are a perfect fit for Whitesnake because even when you’re playing your heavier stuff you’ve still got that bluesy feel to you.

Joel: Well, I grew up in Chicago, so right there there’s a big blues scene and there is also a little bit of a country scene, so any of that Americana style. That’s a lot of what I was playing around the bar scene in Chicago growing up. So while I wouldn’t say I’m a blues player, I’ve played plenty of blues in my lifetime. I would say I’m a rock player first and foremost, but I love to play all styles and all music and just have an open mind to it. And like I said, if it’s being done on a high level and there’s a skill level there to create it, I have a lot of respect for it.

Toddstar: Well you mentioned a couple other projects you’ve been with. We’ve talked about TSO very briefly, and you mentioned Night Ranger, and now the Whitesnake gig. What’s next for Joel Hoekstra? You’ve done Broadway. I mean, what’s still left out there that you want to do, Joel?

Joel: Well, later on in the year I’m going to have my side project coming out, which I can’t quite reveal the name of the project to you yet. But, I basically wrote everything on it, and it is stuff that people are used to hearing me play these days from bands. I wrote… being somebody who grew up into the hard rock scene, my tastes were always in keeping it melodic. Maybe the Dio-ish stuff at heaviest and Foreigner-ish at its lightest. So this project reflects that. It’s sort of that and everything in between. So, I have two of the best singers in rock on it: Russell Allen and Jeff Scott Soto. The band… the players on it, I should probably say, rather than band, but Vinnie Appice, he played drums and Tony Franklin played bass. Derek Sherinian was kind enough to be the special guest keyboardist. So, just a great, great group of guys for me to get some of my rock songs out with, and that’ll come out this October.

Toddstar: That’s an insane lineup.

Joel: Yeah, it’s not bad, huh?

Toddstar: I mean, you nailed probably, hands down, my favorite vocalist of all time, and that’s Jeff Scott Soto, who I’m going to speak to Monday morning. He actually… when he fronted Journey for a year, I was going to skip that tour. When I heard he was fronting, I went out and bought tickets for that show.

Joel: Yeah Jeff is not… He’s a killer singer. I literally can’t say enough good things about him. He’s just a great dude, and he and I basically connected through Trans-Siberian Orchestra, so we see each other every rehearsal period out there. He tours with the west and I tour with the east, but we were able to connect and get to know each other. When he needed some songs for his Damage Control album, I think it was 2011, I co-wrote a couple of those songs with him and they really ended up becoming the singles off the album: “Look Inside Your Heart” and “Never Ending War.” I did end up co-writing a couple of the bonus tracks for his solo album that hopefully will see the light of day someday. He and I have a great working relationship.

Toddstar: Well, I mean that’s awesome. I’ve actually had the pleasure of seeing you several times, as well, with Night Ranger, and I did get to see you at TSO. Watching you on stage is amazing. When you hit that stage, what do you feel is your biggest inspiration for just putting it… you turn it on every time you’re up there. How do you do it?

Joel: Well, I guess I’m damn lucky to be doing this, right? I think it’s just having an appreciation for that. Not feeling a sense of entitlement or any of that B.S., because the bottom line is I got pretty much the best job in the world in my view. To be able to play rock guitar for a living and get out and share that experience with people is damn fun. So the more the merrier.

Toddstar: Cool. When’s the last time you were star struck, Joel?

Joel: I don’t know, I mean it’s been great for me in the classic rock scene to play with a lot of my heroes. I grew up with a lot of these guys. It’s like the cliché from the Mark Wahlberg movie, Rockstar. I had pictures of a lot of these guys on my wall. So, to get a chance to make music with them all nowadays is great. But I wouldn’t say star struck, but just a healthy level of respect for all of them.

Toddstar: That’s a killer insight. With everything you’ve done, Joel, with your storied career so far, I mean you’ve done solo stuff, you’ve done Night Ranger, you’ve been contributing, you’ve written with a lot of who’s who today. Looking back professionally, what are the couple things that you’re most proud of or would like to be remembered for?

Joel: I don’t know man; I just want to be remembered for giving my all and hopefully being a decent guy. Not have people saying, “Well that guy was a dick.” I just want to do my best and hopefully treat people the right way and see where this all leads.

Toddstar: I couldn’t have said that better myself. You’re a very talented guitar player, but yet you keep the humility in check. It’s very cool to see.

Joel: Oh well, thanks dude, I mean, like I said, I’m lucky to be doing what I’m doing. There are a lot of great players out there, so I’m just trying not to waste any of it and hopefully, like I said, just keep building, man. Just take this as far as I can.

Toddstar: Very cool. Well listen, man, I love the thirteen tracks I’ve heard. I cannot wait until the rest of the world gets their hands on Whitesnake’s The Purple Album featuring Joel Hoekstra. May 19th. We’ll see you here in Detroit, I believe July 3rd, out on tour.

Joel: Thank you, man, I’m looking forward to it.

Toddstar: All right, we’ll talk to you soon, Joel.

Joel: Cheers, thank you.









Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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