Joel Hoekstra has been a part of some killer bands and projects over the years – Night Ranger, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Whitesnake, Broadway’s Rock Of Ages, and is now introducing the rock world to his new melodic rock vehicle, Joel Hoesktra’s 13. With a disc full of gritty rockers that run from “Dio-ish to Foreigner-ish” in Joel’s words, dropping worldwide October 16, 2015 on Frontiers Records, Joel is beating the street and hoping to get the word out there on this release. Taking time out of his schedule for the second time in less than six months to speak with us, Joel gives us some thoughts on the project…
Toddstar: Thank you so much for taking time out for us, Joel.
Joel: No, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Toddstar: Dying to Live, this thing is 11 songs of rock-and-roll goodness. What can you tell us about this project that you might not get the first or second listen through?
Joel: Oh, man. Well, that’s an interesting question. I mean, this is really the album that fans that have gotten to know me through the bands I’ve been playing with have wanted from me for a while. I had three solo albums out years ago that were instrumental guitar albums. Two of them were kind of fusiony and one was fingerstyle acoustic. As I’ve been playing with Night Ranger, the show Rock of Ages, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and now, of course, Whitesnake, the fans have been like, “Hey, how come you don’t make a solo album that’s a little more along the lines of what genre you’re in these days?” Anyway, this is that album. I got around to making it in down time the last year or two, and it comes out October 16 on Frontiers Records, a worldwide release. Yeah, I’m super-excited about the reaction so far. In terms of telling people what they might not get after one or two listens, hey, I think the whole trick is getting them to give it the first listen. Really, I think they’ll be in once they do that.
Toddstar: I’d have to agree with that 100%. I mean, this thing grabs you from the first notes of “Say Good-bye to the Sun,” in and out of the different songs, regardless of the style that they are.
Joel: Thanks so much. Like I said, I think that’s really the trick right now because it’s not like the new Queensrÿche album or the new Stryper album, where people know those bands and they know what to expect. They’re hearing Joel Hoekstra’s 13 and they’re going, “What’s that?” Well, it’s melodic hard rock, just straight ahead really, just cool melodic hard rock tastefully played by great players, in my opinion. I mean, it’s got one of the best line-ups to ever be on a classic rock-style album, in my opinion. I would describe it as Dio-ish at its heaviest and Foreigner-ish at its lightest. That’s been the line I’ve been using to kind of give people a good indication of what they’ll be hearing. I’m blown away, man. It’s just getting many album-of-the-year type reviews. That’s super-exciting, seeing as it’s essentially coming out of nowhere for a lot of people.
Toddstar: We spoke about it back in May when you were pushing Whitesnake’s latest project, and you mentioned those two references, the Dio and the Foreigner, but listening through it, I’m hearing so much more than that. I’m hearing gritty guitar work. How easy or how hard, on the other side, was it for you to dig that deep and to be able to bring something edgy compared to what you’ve done in the past?
Joel: Yeah, a lot of that really had to do with the personnel. Having Vinny Appice and Tony Franklin playing on it, I was like, “Wow, well, this could be like Black Sabbath on steroids here.” Tony’s got that kind of gritty Geezer [Butler] sound and having Vinny playing drums and then having Russell Allen sing, who just can sing that Dio style to the utmost, I was like, “Well, it’s a good opportunity to have some heavy stuff on here.” I wasn’t signed with Frontiers at that point, so for me, I was thinking, “Yeah, we’ll make it more like a Black Sabbath kind of thing.” Then, as the album evolved and I signed with Frontiers, the back half has a little more of some AOR-ish type of stuff on there, which I’m equally proud of. I mean, artistically, I’m proud of all of it. But anyway, that’s kind of how the album evolved and took shape. The heavy stuff had a lot to do with the personnel, to answer your question.
Toddstar: Great insight. On the more melodic stuff, you’ve got Jeff Scott Soto out there on vocals, who you do work with in TSO. I mean, end of the spectrum, if you listen to the lyrics that Jeff or Russell are singing, this is kind of a personal album. How much did you have to dig for that, or did this just flow for you?
Joel: Man, the lyrics came together pretty easily for me. I’ve done more of that in the past than people would know. I haven’t done as much of it lately with the bands I’ve been in just because they haven’t essentially been my bands, so to speak, with Night Ranger and Whitesnake. Of course, with Whitesnake, we’ve only done The Purple Album to this point. But I love to write lyrics, and essentially, it’s just kind of where my head space was at the time, just about self-improvement. It’s really about the struggle to overcome the obstacles in your life, to be the person you want to be or arrive where you’re finally meant to be. Some of this is fantasy-based. Some of it is reality-based. In a way, I don’t want to get overly specific about it all because I think it’s cool for people to hear their own stories in this music. Essentially, that’s more important because I want the fans to connect with it. I don’t want this to be all about me and what I’m going through, if that makes sense.
Toddstar: It definitely makes sense, Joel. Looking back at the song list, were there any tracks on here that just came together so easily for you, whether it be the lyrics, the melody, the guitar parts?
Joel: All of it really did. I’ve always been kind of one of those people that can write on command. Like, if you wanted me to write you a song right now, I could sit down and do it, for sure. I would just say, “What style, and what demographic?” or whatever, and I could give you something. I knew stylistically what I was kind of angling for on this. I wanted it to be diverse. Yeah, I wanted it to be heavy, as I told you, with the personnel and everything and take full advantage of that. Yet I wanted to have some commercial appeal. I wanted all of these songs to be really hooky. I would say it was a lot of work to do all of it, in a way, and also a lot of it came together. The writing was easy. I think lyrically, once I knew what direction, I just knew I could basically have any of this kind of tie in and just have a theme, have the lyrics kind of have a theme, so creatively it was pretty easy to put it together. Logistically was the tough stuff: everybody’s schedules and I’m just learning a lot going through this process of promoting it. Oh, my gosh. Putting together all these… the lyric video for “Anymore,” the EPK video, the song-sampler video, then the video for “Until I Left You,” and now the audio with video clips of me that just went up for “Long for the Days.” Man, each one of those has been like a saga getting it ready. I have realized the work doesn’t end. With all the interviews I’m doing and everything to get the word out; it’s been an eye-opener for me. I’m usually the guy that goes in and just plays guitar on the album and calls it a day. But because of that, it’s been a great experience for me. I’m definitely learning a lot. It’s a great opportunity to learn and get better at all this stuff, too.
Toddstar: Well, does that open a door for you as far as come the day that you don’t want to stand up on stage and sling that guitar around all over the country and world? Is Joel going to be the behind-the-scenes guy now?
Joel: I don’t know, man. I love getting out and touring and being up on stage, so that would be a hard thing. You may have to drag my dead body off of the stage, but I don’t know. Maybe it could give me a second avenue of employment to possibly produce or write for people a little bit more. I wouldn’t mind doing a little bit more of that.
Toddstar: A second line of employment for one of the busiest guys in music today.
Joel: Well, you can never have too much lined up in music, man. It can dry up in a heartbeat. It really can. I’ve been there, believe me. I’ve been at that point where there wasn’t anything happening, so that just makes me appreciate when good things are happening that much more.
Toddstar: Cool. Well, you talk about touring. You talk about hitting the stage. With the line-up you put together on this record, it’s going to be hard to put together those guys on tour, but any chance of you taking this out on the road, maybe even through Detroit here?
Joel: I think the nice thing about this is there are so many name players on it that even if I got a couple of the guys, it’s still going to be a good sell. I don’t know. It’s very exciting. I’m hearing from promoters already about it, and I’m certainly interested in, I guess, supporting the album any way I can. I’m just going to see if there’s a situation that makes sense. I think the biggest thing right now as a focus is getting the word out because, as I said, it’s not a familiar brand, as people say these days. It’s not like if you saw on a marquee, “Queensrÿche Is Here Tonight.” “Oh, Queensrÿche, cool,” and there’s a past history. I think finding the right situation for us to play live is the tricky thing, but hopefully, the word of mouth will get around enough. I mean, honestly, every single review has been a rave review. I’m really excited about that, and I hope that that translates into public support, as well.
Toddstar: Well, our review is going to fall along those same lines. We love this thing top to bottom. The thing that caught me is there are 11 songs, but the project is called Joel Hoekstra’s 13. What’s the 13 represent, Joel?
Joel: Well, technically, there are 13 songs. There’s a Japanese bonus track and a digital download track that people will get, so technically, there were 13 songs, but that really wasn’t necessarily why. I mean, I was born on the 13th, and a lot of life events seem to fall for me on the 13th. It’s just been a lucky number of sorts for me. I also like the idea of having a project name that could mean different things to different people. I’ve joked that think of all the free advertising I’m getting every time somebody sees a 13 at this point. I mean, really, honestly, the nice thing is it leaves the future open because if I wanted to do another Joel Hoekstra’s 13 album with a different line-up of my favorite musicians, that would make sense. If we wanted to take this line-up and collaborate and write together and turn it into a band, then it makes sense to just call it 13. It just made a lot more sense for me. Like we touched on earlier, my solo albums really sounded like a guitar player’s solo albums. This sounds very much like a band to me, so I thought a solo album, it just didn’t really make sense to me, in a way, to call it a Joel Hoekstra album. I think people would be expecting fret-board heroics and all that stuff, and to me, as I said, everything I played on it was just for the song. There are some quick-shred solo breaks and things like that, but it’s not what people would expect on a guitar player’s solo album. I’m not taking 3-minute solos and writing in odd time signatures or anything like that. It’s basically just cool rock stuff.
Toddstar: I get it. I know you’re busy, so I want to wrap this up for you. You’ve written one of the better melodic albums of the year. Every song comes at you. Looking back again over the songs that are out there, are there a couple that you would just love to take to a live crowd? Which ones would you get the most joy out of playing live?
Joel: All of it. If we get to do any of it, I’ll be thrilled, man. I’ve joked with some other interviewers that it may take some illegal activity. I may have to hold these guys hostage and at gunpoint or something, but I mean, it would be so cool to take it out live. It really would. As I said, I’m just going to try and figure out scenarios that would make sense for it. But I am hearing from promoters, which is amazing, considering the album’s not out for another couple of weeks, and it’s very exciting for me.
Toddstar: Well, if you need any help pulling these guys together and holding them hostage, let me know, because I’d love to hear this in a live situation.
Joel: Awesome. You’ll be the man. You’ll be the guy holding the gun.
Toddstar: That’s it. Well, listen, Joel, this album has done justice to your legacy as a guitar player, as a musician, and we’re so happy to be part of the engine that’s going to make this thing go.
Joel: Hey, thank you so much. As I said, the trick is, I think, getting people to give it a shot. Believe me, I appreciate every ounce of support, anything you can do to help get the word out. I do believe if people will give it a shot and they like melodic hard rock, they won’t be disappointed.
Toddstar: I agree. Good luck with Joel Hoekstra’s 13 Dying To Live, due out October 16, and we’ll talk to you next go-around.
Joel: Awesome. Thanks so much, Todd.
Toddstar: Thanks, Joel.
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