EXCLUSIVE – JOEL HOEKSTRA INTERVIEW

Joel Hoekstra is a man on a rock mission in 2015. Not content with taking on the back catalogues of Whitesnake and Deep Purple as David Coverdale’s latest recruit, he’s unleashed his inner rock beast on solo album number three.

RUSHONROCK editor Simon Rushworth caught up with the former Night Ranger man for an exclusive chat ahead of the release of Dying To Live. 

RUSHONROCK: When did Dying To Live take shape?

JOEL HOEKSTRA: The album took a while to complete because everyone had to fit it around their already busy schedules – including me! From the time I wrote the first riff for the first song to the record’s release date it will be nearly two years. It was in the works before I joined Whitesnake but as soon as I joined the band I explained the situation to David. It’s certainly not been released to hang on the coat tails of the Purple album or the upcoming Whitesnake tour. It’s purely coincidental but David’s been great from the start – he even said to put it out on the same day as Whitesnake’s record to give both of us a boost!

RUSHONROCK: Dying To Live represents a significant change in direction from your previous solo albums – was that a conscious decision?

JH: I released three solo albums ears ago and they were mainly instrumental records. Two of them were guitar fusion records and one was a finger-style acoustic piece. None of them really represented my trademark style and people had been asking me for some time when I was going to release a real rock record. Over the years people have got to know me better through Night Ranger, Trans Siberian Orchestra and Rock Of Ages so I suppose they want a Joel Hoekstra record in that style. To an extent that’s what Dying To Live is. It’s a solo album that sounds more like the bands I’m in – if that makes sense!

RUSHONROCK: You’re in the middle of a world tour with Whitesnake and yet you’ve assembled a new rock supergroup at the same time – are you taking on too much?

JH: It’s the right time to put this record out there. But I didn’t set out to create some kind of super group. It just happened that way. It just fell into place. I’d just finished a project with Tony Franklin that’s completely different and I just wanted to do a straight ahead rock album – no long solos or anything too fancy. I asked Tony if he’d be into that and he said yes. So that was the start. He recommended Vinny Appice and suddenly we had a rhythm section that sounded like Black Sabbath on steroids. Even at that point I knew it was going to be special. It just so happened Russell Allen was in the right place at the right time when I needed a singer – I hadn’t checked out Symphony X before and I had no idea how great a vocalist I’d brought on board. Russell sang on the first half of the album and at that point it was really starting to take shape.

RUSHONROCK: Was the intention always to release a full album given the time that would take and your touring commitments with Whitesnake?

JH: Initially the plan was to release half an album – or an EP – as I felt that would be as much as I had. I sang some background vocals but I was looking for something a bit different and I asked Jeff Scott Soto if he would mind doing some backing vocals. He was willing to do it but of course he sounded so good that I realised he needed to be up front leading the songs. He’s far too talented and over-qualified to be a backing singer and he was bringing so much to the party. In the end he fronted some more songs and I came away with an album featuring two of the best singers in rock right now! It’s totally amazing for me.

RUSHONROCK: But you didn’t stop there when it came to recruiting the cream of hard rock…

JH: After I’d finished laying down all of the guitar parts I realised there was still room for some keys and I was able to invite Derek Sherinian to work his magic. Suddenly I had this insane, crazy, cool line-up – one of the best rock line-ups ever. I ended up facing this amazing dilemma: do I promote this as a so-called supergroup or do I still release it as a solo record under my name? I wrote almost all of the songs but then I had quite a lot of help from my friends. The melodies and the words were all mine but I decided it shouldn’t go out as another Joel Hoekstra solo record. I wanted a project name and so I took that idea to Frontiers.

RUSHONROCK: Why did you choose 13 as the project name?

JH: I came up with the name 13 as it’s always been a lucky number for me. I was born on the 13th and it just seems a lot of important life events happen on that day for me. It’s a name that can mean different things to different people but it means a lot to me. As far as the album title is concerned, Dying To Live reflects on the themes running through the record. I wouldn’t exactly call it a concept album but the message is all about overcoming life’s obstacles and aiming for self-improvement. A couple of years ago – around the same time I started writing Dying To Live – I decided to make changes and be more of the person that I wanted to be. I made a laundry list of all of the things that I wanted to be better at. That’s what the album is about. Everybody understands that life can be a struggle but there are things you can do to make it easier.

RUSHONROCK: So is Dying To Live a personal statement?

JH: There are a couple of lyrics that are very close to home but I didn’t want Dying To Live to be 100% about me. The struggles that we all face are common to all but everyone has their demons- whether it’s over-eating, too much drinking or something even more serious like drugs. Everybody wants to improve some aspect in their life and I’m no different.

RUSHONROCK: Almost two years down the line is Dying To Live the record you always imagined it would be?

JH: I still haven’t had time to reflect of the record properly. I’m still in the promotion phase and that’s taking up all of my time and attention. We’ve just completed a new video – Until I Left You went out on September 4 – and it’s all about getting the word out right now. I have to remember that there are still some people out there who are only just learning about who I am and what I do! So I’m hoping those people might give this record a shot. It’s like Dio at its heaviest and Foreigner at it’s lightest – if you like that style of melodic rock then Dying To Live might be the record for you. I’m just really excited and honoured to have the opportunity to get this record out there and it’s great to have a worldwide release.

RUSHONROCK: Given the positive early reaction to the album there’s bound to be a demand for live shows – is a tour on the cards?

JH: I’d say there’s a chance of some live shows in the future. It’s a star-studded album and if I could only get half of those guys to play live it would be a big draw. There are already promoters asking about booking shows but I suppose we’d be looking at next summer’s festivals at this point.

RUSHONROCK: After Dying To Live is released you’re heading to the UK with Whitesnake – how much are you looking forward to that run of shows?

JH: I know the Whitesnake Choir has its roots in the North East of England so playing Newcastle with Whitesnake is going to be awesome but I can’t wait for all of the UK shows. The stuff we’ve been playing this summer is going down so well. On a personal level I’ve been playing the US over and over for years and years. In my previous bands I just didn’t get the chance to come over and play the UK despite being well aware that I have fans over there. To make the trip with a band like Whitesnake is a dream come true. What makes it better is that we’re on the Purple tour – we’re playing all of the Whitesnake classics as well the Mk3/4 Purple material. It’s a blast. I’m playing with a killer line-up safe in the knowledge that David wants to do a lot with the band in the next 12 months. We haven’t had a single bad live review and the band is having a great time on the stage and off it. For me it really is rock and roll bliss. David thinks there’s something magical about this line-up and I’d have to agree.

I’m a journalist specialising in sport and rock music. Can’t play either so I write about them instead.

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