Joel Hoekstra has spent the past decade performing for hundreds of thousands of fans between his commitments to several respected hard rock groups and the Broadway musical ‘Rock of Ages,’ however the guitarist just recently made what is perhaps the most ambitious move in his career thus far when he traded his role as one of the lead guitarists for Night Ranger to stand in the company of David Coverdale in Whitesnake.
The subsequent announcement that the members of Whitesnake would be tackling a collection of songs from Coverdale’s work as a member of Deep Purple more than four decades ago was considered somewhat underwhelming from longtime listeners, who were looking forward to hearing what direction the band’s chemistry would head in now that Hoesktra had entered the picture.
Such premature conceptions would either be reinforced or disassembled altogether upon the release of the first single from ‘The Purple Album,’ an athletic rendition of “Stormbringer” from Deep Purple’s 1974 studio album of the same name.
Propelled by blistering guitar harmonies, smashing percussion, leveling bass lines and that distinctive falsetto, it became apparent that the members of Whitesnake were going to center their entire weight into this forthcoming venture, which is currently due for release on May 19 via Frontiers Records.
Music Enthusiast recently had the opportunity to talk with Joel Hoesktra about the formation of the new Whitesnake album, his decision to move between two respected hard rock bands, his recent activity with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and his upcoming assortment of side projects.
William Clark: You traded being one of the guitarists for Night Ranger for the opportunity to be one of the guitarists in Whitesnake. There are plenty of aspiring musicians who would be happy with the chance to perform with either of these bands! What was the motivation behind this decision?
Joel Hoekstra: I think David Coverdale’s rock royalty. I think an opportunity to work with him was something that I definitely wanted to take advantage of, and the band is a really great band. It’s a strong lineup, what with Tommy Aldridge and Reb Beach and Michael Devin, so a lot of it was just the musicians involved. Put it this way: it had a lot more with wanting to do Whitesnake than not wanting to do Night Ranger. I was perfectly happy playing with all the guys in Night Ranger and still love those guys. I’m very proud of the studio albums we did together, two studio albums and the live album. You know, the Whitesnake material sounded like a really fun time, an opportunity to play a lot of those great songs live. I think just the opportunity to maybe branch out a bit and get out and play for some new fans and play some new music, it just seemed like a good opportunity.
William: Were you a die hard fan of Whitesnake prior to joining the band?
Joel: Yeah, I wouldn’t say like a “die hard” fan, but I’ve always been a fan of Whitesnake. I mean, really both Whitesnake and Night Ranger. I grew up listening to a lot of the 80s bands that we’re talking about here. (laughs) So I listened to both, and really honestly, the Whitesnake material is just so awesome. There’s a lot of great songs that I get an opportunity to play and like I said, a lot of it was it’s an opportunity to work with those musicians and do some different things for a bit.
William: Alright. ‘The Purple Album’ is your first studio album as a member of Whitesnake, which just as the title implies features new takes on classic Deep Purple material from David Coverdale’s time with the band. Who put forward the idea behind this effort?
Joel: Oh, I mean that was David long before I even came into the picture. They were in pre-production basically by the time I entered the picture. I really just had an opportunity to come out and jam on a bit of it, and it sounded like great fun really to me.
The thing is there’s been much made of whether or not it’s an original album, but coming from a player’s perspective if you’re not really in on the writing anyway, then to me it’s just you’re playing a great song.
These are songs that David wrote and it’s an opportunity to rework them drastically and put our stamp on them, so I don’t feel that it’s necessarily a… we weren’t instructed to re-record covers (laughing) note-for-note or anything of that nature.
It was really like, “Look, I want to do these songs that I did a long time ago.” That’s what David put forward to us and said, “I want you to put your stamp on them and do your thing with them.” What guitar player wouldn’t want to do that with these great songs? So it ended up being great fun.
William: There were members of your fan base who weren’t entirely thrilled with the fact that your first effort with Whitesnake is comprised of all Deep Purple covers. Were you supportive of this decision right from the get-go, or did you initially have any objections?
Joel: No, I mean… to me it sounded like fun, and like I said people can say that but it’s not as if I was getting to write all the songs on the Night Ranger albums. For me to then get the opportunity to rework some proven great classic tunes and go ahead and play the way I want to play, it sounded like a good time.
William: As of our conversation today, Whitesnake’s music video for “Stormbringer” is approaching 250,000 views on YouTube. Are you surprised at the fan reaction thus far?
Joel: You mean in terms of the number of people that are watching it? Hey, I think it’s awesome! I mean, I’m just glad rock is still alive and somewhat well. (laughs) That there’s still a scene for all of us to make a living playing guitar and doing what we love.
William: The new version of “Stormbringer” has some close ties to the original recording, but also has that distinctive Whitesnake disposition to it because of your guitar playing alongside Reb Beach. Was that kind of the intention behind this new album – to offer renditions that stay true to the originals but also are their own separate animal?
Joel: Yeah, definitely. The idea was to really in a sense to create an original album, it’s just with songs that David wrote quite some time ago. (laughs) But yeah, I think “Stormbringer” is one of the ones that’s closer to the original than some of the others. Many of the others have fresh takes on them that I think people will really enjoy and will feel like they’re listening to a brand new album anyway.
William: We’ll talk more about the new album in a moment, but I just wanted to make a quick observation. Reb Beach has juggled his roles as the lead guitarist for both Winger and Whitesnake for many years. Did you consider doing something similar with Night Ranger?
Joel: Um, yeah, it just wasn’t something that they were comfortable with. I just think it wasn’t going to work for them to basically give me a prolonged period of time off. It was something that we talked about. I said, “Look, I can go check it out and we can call it a leave of absence.” But I think it felt like too much of a distraction, and I can understand that. Obviously I’d like to clone myself and play with every band possible. (laughs) I love to play guitar, man. The better the opportunities are for me to get out and make a living playing great rock music in particular, I’m all about it.
William: While ‘The Purple Album’ is comprised of new takes on previously released songs, this isn’t just a simple rehash of the original tracks. I think fans will be surprised at the amount of new musical arrangements that are introduced throughout the album. What was the chemistry like during these sessions, and how did you go about adding new pieces to such celebrated rock anthems?
Joel: Well, I was given basically the pre-production demos when I took the gig and began to work on that and think about what I would play on it and try to come up with different scenarios, which wasn’t always easy because a lot of demos didn’t really have the drums on it yet. Pre-production, for those who aren’t familiar, is really rough sketches of songs. Many of them were much different than what actually turned out, but basically… I would say that I spent a couple of weeks, maybe even more.
I think I spent like a month just spinning the original songs, listening to them, because I didn’t want to necessarily just ignore that, if that makes sense. I wanted to absorb the vibe. I transcribed everything Ritchie Blackmore did, basically, and his parts, etc., and then as we got into the recording end of it, I think I spent maybe two weeks just coming up with ideas. I tried to get multiple ideas for each song, and then I went in and worked for – I think around eight or nine days on tracking and stuff.
So a lot of it at that point starts to become clear. It starts to come clear what’s working, and David’s there so you obviously know what David likes or what he’s liking and what he’s not liking. That’s really where it all just became a reality, you know what I mean? Like what parts worked. Some things I tried to be as diverse sounding as possible to bring as many flavors to it, and sometimes that fell under the Whitesnake umbrella and sometimes not, if that makes sense. (laughs) But I tried pulling out all the gizmos. I did talk box, I did slide, I did dobro on it. I even tried talking David into letting me play a banjo overdub on something that (laughing) made him completely freaked out! He was like, “Banjo?! Absolutely not.” But anyway, it was great fun, man, to honestly try and reinvent it all and go after a bunch of great songs, really awesome tunes.
William: I agree. Sometimes I’ll hear that when bands head into the studio with a batch of material already prepared to record, they’ll end up jamming around and coming up with new music altogether. Did anything like that happen during the making of the new album?
Joel: You mean are there any jams or parts that will be shelved and put on an original album? Is that the question?
William: I’d say that would be in the ballpark, sure.
Joel: You know, not really. Most of it was well thought out and like I said, I came in with a lot of David having already hashed out a lot of the arrangements. So for me it was really having to come up with parts that fit, which is something that is always fun. I like even just playing rhythm guitar and finding the right part that fits in with a band, that’s always a great challenge in itself. So really that was it, that was the challenge – to try and fit in. Basically by the time I came in to lay my parts down, I think Tommy Aldrige was done, Michael Devin was done and Reb had his rhythms on there. So from there, it was really about just finding the right part and make it all tie together and make it sound like a great band, you know?
William: Even though it sounds as though your work with Night Ranger may not have been the most fulfilling from the perspective of a songwriter, those albums still had some memorable moments. It is noticeable, however, that those albums didn’t quite embody the “classic” approach of the band quite like the way your new work with Whitesnake does. Was that another appealing point behind your transition, to try and channel that original approach?
Joel: Well, no. I still feel that I was very creative with the Night Ranger stuff in terms of finding the right part and trying to play a lot of the tasteful stuff in it, and lot of the writing came down to my guitar solos or the harmony guitar solos. Or again, just to write rhythm parts.
But yeah, look, they’re both appealing. Playing with Night Ranger was appealing to me, I had a great time doing that stuff. I’m just coming from a place where it’s not if I wrote all thirteen songs. I don’t even know how many songs were on ‘High Road,’ but it’s not like I wrote all those songs, if that makes sense. But yeah, certainly like the rocking nature of some of these tunes and getting back to playing proven classic tunes is fun.
William: Like we mentioned, the last few Night Ranger albums still had their fair share of memorable moments. One of my favorite tracks from those efforts is “Say It With Love” from ‘Somewhere in California.’ What do you recall about the formation of that song?
Joel: I remember just kind of going between me playing the A and the F# mark, kind of like being a slight play on “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me.” We were kind of joking around a bit with that and then it actually ended up turning into something. (laughs) So we were like… we kind of horsing around, I think, going like, “Hey, what if we just reworked ‘Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,'” and then we kind of ended up on something that’s quite a bit different but still had those chords in it, if that makes sense.
I remember coming up with the eight finger tapping solo I have in the middle pretty quick in the room, and everybody liked that right out of the gate. Everybody was like, “Oh, that’s cool. We’ll keep that in there.” So yeah, the ‘Somewhere in California’ album for me was really a lot of fun, because we did that a whole straight thing at Jack’s. I think I was actually out there three and a half weeks straight staying in his studio out there. He has a great set-up that was built back during Damn Yankees, and it was really a great time. We were hanging out together every day out there and that stuff came together… I wouldn’t say quickly, but when it came together it was a lot of fun.
William: Aside from your current commitments to Whitesnake, you’re also a member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. What do you enjoy most about being involved with that project?
Joel: Man, that’s just a top notch scenario. Everybody in that is just an A+ person from top to bottom. The crew is all top notch guys and the pyro people, it’s just an amazing production. It’s just something you don’t get to do that often in the standard band, like stand up on a gigantic stage that consumes the width of an arena with giant pyro and huge laser and light show and play two shows a day for ten thousand people each show. It’s really pretty remarkable, so for me to get an opportunity to do that for the last five years has been awesome. It’s like a total pleasure and honor to be a part of.
William: Trans-Siberian Orchestra does put on some rather impressive stage shows, not to mention some solid symphonic metal albums over the years. What is the chance that you’ll appear on some new TSO material in the future?
Joel: I actually was just down in Tampa playing a little bit on the next album so I’m not exactly sure what’s happening timeline-wise with that, but Paul O’Neill is like hard at work every day down there working on recording. I’m not sure what I played on, what album or albums it would be on, but TSO is just great to be a part of. I just take it and leave it at that. It’s a lot of fun and I love the guys in the band. They’re great fun to tour with, great players and we’re all good friends at this point. We’ve been doing it together for so long now.
William: Turning back to your upcoming endeavors, you’re being slated for several months of extensive touring across the world with Whitesnake in support of the new album. What are you looking forward to about performing live with the band?
Joel: Just getting out! I just love touring. I love going out, I love meeting the fans and connecting with the fans not just offstage but onstage, getting a chance to say hello as much as I can. I just love the comradery of being out on a bus and touring with a band, and I love to perform. I love being onstage and that’s pretty much the whole thing, man. I just love to tour.
William: With twelve studio albums in their catalog, there’s plenty of material to chose from for the band’s set during this upcoming tour. Are there any deep tracks from the Whitesnake catalog that you’d personally like to play during these shows?
Joel: No, not necessarily. I’m just looking forward to getting after it up there. David can pick the songs and I’ll be perfectly happy to play any of them. I’m not such much – my mindset is not really that where I’d go, “Oh, man! I wish we’d play this song!” My mindset is always like, “I’m just going to hit so far out of the park any song that we’re doing.” (laughs) At least, as I possibly can, if that makes sense.
William: Similar question: what tracks off of ‘The Purple Album’ do you feel would resonate well with fans if they were introduced to the set?
Joel: There’s a bunch of them that are really friendly for a live performance, because all of those songs really come from that sound and that style. So I would really say any of them. Hopefully people that aren’t familiar with these songs, it will give them a chance to maybe initially connect with them, and hopefully people who are familiar with these songs, it will give them an opportunity to reconnect and hear a fresh spin on them.
William: Do you have any personal projects outside of Whitesnake that are currently in the works?
Joel: Yeah, I have like five projects that’re going to be coming out in… I’m not sure of the official release date, but later summer/early fall. That’s with Russell Allan on vocals from Adrenaline Mob and Symphony X, and it’s Tony Franklin on bass from The Firm and Blue Murder, and Vinny Appice on drums, of course from Black Sabbath and Dio. Derrick Sherinian on keys from Dream Theater and Joe Bonamassa. Jeff Scott Soto actually sang the backups on there, too. So I’m considering Jeff an honorary member of the band because he’s overqualified to be a backup singer. (laughs) But yeah, I’m really looking forward to that getting out. That is something that I wrote everything on. I wrote all of the songs and all the lyrics and all the melodies and the whole nine yards. For anybody that wants to hear my writing, if they’re disappointed then… (laughs) If you were disappointed that we’re playing covers on the Whitesnake album, you’ll be able to hear what my writing is like on there.
William: From a musician’s standpoint, do you enjoy the more collaborative songwriting efforts or are you more comfortable with coming into the middle of a project like with Whitesnake?
Joel: I enjoy both, man. I just think it’s like asking a band if they like working with a producer or not. Sometimes you might think, “No, no, no, I know what I want to do,” but when you end up working with a producer you’ll get something out of yourself that you weren’t quite expecting. So that’s cool, and then sometimes it is cool to just do whatever you feel like doing. So I would say both, honestly. I love the collaborative effort. Like I said, it’s not me getting to write an entire album. It doesn’t have to be what it takes to have me enjoy an album or be happy with an album. You could also say the opposite; getting the opportunity to write the entire album doesn’t make me unhappy, either. I just like to be a musician and play guitar for a living. It’s kind of simple, you know? I’m just a simple guy in that way. I’m not really dependent on having too many specifics involved in it, if that makes sense.
William: Once you get off the road with Whitesnake, I assume work will resume within the months afterward on more material. Have you spoken with Coverdale about putting some original material on a new record?
Joel: No, not really. It’s always about the task at hand and the task at hand right now, now that the record is done and is coming out, the task now is to tour and support it. When the time comes to decide what’s next, I’m sure David will have something in mind that he’s looking to do for Whitesnake. And whatever that is, it’s going to be my job to do the very best possible job with that, not necessarily to tell him what to do. (laughs) It’s not that kind of chemistry, and it really wasn’t with me and Night Ranger, either. I mean, I was never going to be the guy to tell Jack, Kelly and Brad what direction Night Ranger needed to go in, you know? Those were the guys who spent all the years building up the brand and the band, so you basically have to give them the respect by supporting that, no matter where they want to go and doing the best possible job for them.
William: That’s probably a smart decision. (both laughing)
Joel: Yeah, that’s just common sense.
William: You mentioned that you have five other projects currently in the works, including your recent work with Russell Allan. What else have you been working on?
Joel: Well, I just finished up last summer the VHS EP, which was also with Tony Franklin on bass and a friend of mine, Todd Vinciguerra on drums. That was really more like a labor of love. It’s a seven song EP that’s psychedelic instrumental rock that we definitely knew would not burn up the charts. We definitely did it as something fun. Todd came up with the idea by just laying down song forms on drums, and then he sent the drum tracks to Tony Franklin and said, “Just do something to them, man. Come up with something, whatever you feel.” So Tony wrote very riff-oriented stuff to it, and then Todd said, “Hey man, you’ve gotta check this out. I’ve got these tracks with me on drums and Tony Franklin playing bass.”
I thought this was really interesting, it was like a song being built backwards, you know? So anyway, I agreed to do one track for them which ended up being the track called “Backside of Your Eyes” on the EP. I thought that it was a really unique result from building a song that way and it was kind of fun to already have bass and drums down and just kind of write to that. It was a unique challenge, so I agreed to do the EP and complete it. So that came up there.
Outside of that, I just finished up the six year run on the Broadway show Rock of Ages. I just finished up in mid-January, January 18. I’ve also been rather occupied doing stuff for TV. I write and record stuff for the show ‘Duck Dynasty’ and for the show ‘The Wahlburgers,’ so I’ve been keeping busy doing that, more or less. And I’ve been catching up on doing sessions for other people, all while learning the Whitesnake stuff before we go on tour.