Log in

No account? Create an account
24 March 2014 @ 10:32 pm
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interviews: Joel Hoekstra - December 10, 2013 - part I  


The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interviews:
Joel Hoekstra - December 10, 2013

Interview, photos & videos captured by Brad Parmerter unless noted otherwise.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra guitarist Chris Caffery introduces his six-string teammate, Joel Hoekstra, as the "hardest working musician in rock and roll." Not only is Hoekstra hard working, his work spans a variety of styles from the melodic hard rock of Night Ranger; acoustic and fusion themed solo records; multifaceted stylings of hard-rock/metal/prog/acoustic in TSO; '80s guitar shredder in Broadway's Rock of Ages; and more free form psychedelic as on his latest project, VHF. In a recent guest guitarist appearance on VH1's That Metal Show, Hoekstra highlighted his ability through a myriad of sounds and diverse licks.

In 2010 he joined TSO on the east coast for their annual Winter Tour and has been spending each holiday season since on the pyro-filled flight deck. His million-dollar smile radiates from the stage both his love of the instrument and performing.

During the 2013 Winter Tour we spoke at length about who inspired him to pick up a guitar, his musical upbringing, how his hard work paid off when opportunities arose, his warm-up routine, Night Ranger and Rock of Ages, writing and recording on the road, finding joy within the moment, as well as what he still hopes to accomplish. We also dug in deep on TSO including how it mirrors his life and outlook, his array of guitars, studio work, changes to the 2013 show, favorite moments, the fans, getting nervous, overcoming a fear of heights, and how he didn't think he passed his original audition.

Bp: Good morning, Joel.

Joel Hoekstra: Good morning, bro.

Bp: Let's start from the beginning, can you give me a quick musical history, influences, and background for those who don't know.

Joel Hoekstra: My parents are both classical musicians so they started me off on cello when I was three and piano lessons when I was seven, I believe. It was one of those things, I had an older sister who was always a little ahead so I didn't care for it much. I guess the sibling rivalry thing, she always had the upper hand. I think I was 11 when I asked to play guitar and it was basically from hearing AC/DC. I just totally wanted to be like Angus Young. All that energy was very appealing to an 11 year old kid. I just thought that he was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. They obliged and thankfully I found a good teacher out of the gate who started me learning songs, which I think is a great way to start, garnering kids' interest when they can play music that they're interested in. I think that's an important thing rather than teaching them strictly as a discipline or a form of torture. Some parents view it that way and it's supposed to be a joy. I got really hooked immediately. I remember going home after my first lesson after learning "Paranoid" from Black Sabbath and I must have played that for hours and hours, just even the main riff is all I knew. But it was so fun and back then I didn't even have an amp, I was just plugging into our home stereo and [laughs] I think I played it so loud that I blew out the speakers. There was no distortion on it so I just turned it up really loud so I could get some form of...I don't even know if I knew the term 'distortion' at that point. I wanted it to sound like AC/DC or Black Sabbath or Ozzy or any of the things I was listening to at that point in time. I had some really good teachers early on and the second guy, a really proficient guitar player to this day, T.J. Helmerich, taught me how to play leads, how to improvise and he was also proficient on the eight-finger tapping which paid off a lot in my career, especially lately. That ended up being really amazing. He was in this suburb of Chicago, I grew up on the southwest side of Chicago, and I was taking lessons from him in a mall. Neither one of us had any business coming out of there being any good on guitar basically. He is an unbelievable guitar player so I was lucky to have somebody like that out of the gate and I just looked at that as the norm. Between that and my parents, who were both amazing musicians, it really pushed me a lot.

And it was that era, coming up being blessed with that era everybody was putting in major hours on guitar. Say what you will about the '80s era, you had to learn how to play guitar to play that stuff. There are a lot of proficient players. I think that was really a blessing and a blessing consequently afterward that my career didn't immediately take off because I think I had to learn a whole lot of different bags and go through a lot of different eras. The beauty of being beaten down and kicked around is it pays off in the long run because you're not immediately rewarded in life. So I think that really benefited my playing, but from the point of learning I continued on and I've always had a good go at it. I went to school for classical for a couple of years and I went to GIT [Musicians Institute] in Hollywood and worked a year out there at Cherokee Studios as a tech which was a great experience. There were so many big names in and out of there it was really great insight into how the business works. I made a lot of good contacts that I have to this day. After that I taught a lot back in Chicago, I had 70-plus students for years. Gosh, I'm trying to think how long I did that. It was a good seven or eight years: tons of teaching and gigging in the Chicago area. Even then I was always working hard and making a really good living with guitar and I moved to New York to do a show called Love, Janis which a lot of the TSO fans will remember Katrina Chester was in that show for a bit. I did it the whole duration, which was crazy, it was two years in New York basically. I probably did a good 700 shows at that point. That was really great for me. That was a really big turning point for me, getting me out of the teaching world and full time as a performer. That was my first time having that, which was roughly when I turned thirty years old, it kind of took me until then to not have any fall back at all to the teaching world or anything. That show was really good to me and then the director hired me on a show called Ain't Nothing But the Blues that I went around with and that was really good to me. I started performing with some oldies acts and whatnot, filling in, I was with The Turtles for a couple of years. That was a great experience, I played bass with them for a while. People who don't know The Turtles, they know the song, "Happy Together." That was really good for me on a lot of levels. It sounds silly or corny to be in a band like that, but it was really great as far as teaching me how to be a pro, how to be on tour. [laughs] A lot of etiquette lessons you learn from things like that. Again, it's what you grab from things, not what you can criticize. It's what you can take away from the gig.

Katrina Chester & Joel Hoekstra "Me & Bobby McGee" in support of Love, Janis, 2005 - courtesy YouTube

Bp: It doesn't have to be the hippest thing in the world, if it gives you experience and is a learning environment then it's worth it. You obviously learned valuable things from the experience.

Joel Hoekstra: Yea, it was great for the professionalism things. It was also really great as there were a lot of background vocals in that band and so I played bass in it for a while, and Tristan Avakian, another TSO alum, was on guitar. Then Tristan left the band and I switched to guitar and their old bass player came back. So I had to change all the background vocals that I sang to the guitar chair so it was really good for me to learn another round of background vocals. I was also gigging a bit with Big Brother and the Holding Company which is a totally different thing, very improv based. It was really good to get life experience from these older musicians. There's so much you can learn because they've really seen it all and done it all and deserve tremendous respect. What these guys have done in their lifetime is remarkable selling millions of albums. Flo and Eddie from The Turtles were with Mothers of Invention with Frank Zappa. There's lots of good stories and lots of good life experiences to pull from that stuff. Oddly enough, at that point because I was doing so many '60s things, I grew my hair out – I had hair short like yours for a while – I grew my hair out to do this '60s stuff and Love, Janis and then suddenly everybody from the '80s wanted me. That was perfect because I grew up on that stuff. So I was playing with this project called Scrap Metal and this project called World Stage that Jim Peterik of Survivor runs. He would have all of his friends out every year and I played in the house band.

Bp: That was your introduction to Kelly, right?

Joel Hoekstra: Yea, I'd see Kelly Keagy our drummer [in Night Ranger] once a year. He'd come out and sing the hits. A bunch of other great artists were involved with that as well. I got to play with Alan Parsons, Rik Emmett [Triumph] a bunch of times, Don Barnes from .38 [Special], Kip Winger, David Pack from Ambrosia – a really cool list of artists that I'd get to play the hits with; a great experience. Scrap Metal was very much the same way with Joe Lynn Turner [Rainbow]…it was a really great experience. I was the only non-famous person in that band, which was really fun and a great experience for me. I ended up hooking up with Kelly through the World Stage project and one year he came in and I heard that Jeff Watson wasn't with Night Ranger anymore and I got in his face a little bit about it [laughs] and said, "You should've called me." They were working with Reb Beach [Winger, Whitesnake] in the interim period, but they did need somebody. As it turned out, about a week after I saw Kelly, Reb announced that he needed to miss a show and instead of cancelling the gig they said, "Why don't we give this guy a shot." I basically got to do a gig with Night Ranger on no rehearsal and barely a soundcheck. It was terrifying. [laughs]

Bp: That's a nice audition.

Joel Hoekstra: They gave me the recordings and said, "Here ya go!" I think they treated it as, "It will be fun. It will be an experience. We'll just do this." It ended up going really well. That was basically what got me in. A little bit of time passed for what they committed to Reb on, but basically just doing a gig with them cold like that was [laughing] terrifying but it worked really well. Everything else that's current has fallen into line in different ways. Rock of Ages I think a lot of people would figure I'm doing that because of being in Night Ranger, but not really. I got that through subbing on [musical/Broadway] pit stuff in New York. A guy who lived a couple blocks from me was playing on The Boy from Oz at the time and said, "Would you ever consider subbing for me on the pit stuff?" I said, "Dude, I haven't done that since High School." [laughs] I just felt like I wasn't prepared for that. I didn't have the skill set. I asked if I just had to sit down there and sight read it. He said, "No, it doesn't really work that way. You get a recording and the book and you work with it for a couple weeks.

I worked really hard on it and did a few shows subbing for him in the pit. I subbed on the show Tarzan for him and it turned out that the keyboard player from that show became the music supervisor for Rock of Ages. When it came time for him to put together the band he was like, "Oh, I remember this guy sitting in on Tarzan who was a rock guitar guy." He had no idea I was with Night Ranger or anything at that point. That's the classic example of the harder you work the better your luck gets. So yea, that's how that worked out and Rock of Ages has just been such a blessing. I get to gig every day and keep my skill set sharp. It's given me so much time on stage, I can't even begin to tell you. I figure by now I've probably played about twelve or thirteen-hundred of the nineteen-hundred performances.

Bp: Wow, that's amazing.

Joel Hoekstra: Yea, it's been crazy to be able to get that amount of time on stage. They're very cool with me taking off whenever I want. There's so many good things about this gig. The fact that I'm able to have continuous work with Night Ranger and Trans-Siberian Orchestra while I'm having a gig every day I go home has just been really awesome. At the end of the day, it's that '80s stuff I grew up on that's given me…there's been so many cool moments at that show. So many people have come to see it. It's really been like an era. We've been five years on Broadway now and with off-Broadway it's really been over five years I've been working with that show. On one hand, thank goodness I have it on the other hand, thank goodness I have other stuff to get me out of there otherwise I think I'd probably be in a mental institution right now [laughs]. It's a little bit like the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. You wake up every day and your big change is how you think of it mentally, but you're still going to do the same thing.

Bp: So where did the TSO connection come in? Was it through Katrina or Tristan? Did you know about TSO?

Joel Hoekstra: Actually it's kind of from just being out there in the world. Katrina Chester had put me in touch with Steve Broderick, Stevie B, after Love, Janis closed. Steve and I were getting together and writing. It's got to be back in 2003 and I ended up writing a few tunes with him and playing guitar on his CD, Steve Broderick, the one he's holding the guitar on the cover, I did the electric guitar on that along with Blue [Miller] from Bob Seger's band. Stevie is the first guy who put my name in to Paul when Alex was going to take a year off to do the tour with the [Alex Skolnick] Trio. So he put my name in and I think Angus Clark, 'cause he subbed at Rock of Ages and he and I know each other and see each other all the time, so I think he kind of backed it up. They had me in to audition for Al first at SIR and I really had no time and no notice [laughs]. It was pretty terrifying. I got the material and I think I had a day and a half, but I had a gig that day in Chicago. I was doing a promo for Rock of Ages in Grant Park or something really big, so I was at soundcheck all day. I was supposed to organize it and be the MD [Musical Director] more or less so I remember getting back to the hotel at 10 at night staying up till 4 working on the TSO stuff. Then as soon as I landed, of course they're running ahead of schedule and Dina [Fanai, TSO Artist Development] was like, "Can you just come straight here?" [laughs] I was like, "Well, you know, Dina, you know I'm dying here." But I went in and I think more or less it was just to see if I could play and I think they understood.

Rock of Ages on America's Got Talent, July 14, 2010, skip to 1:10 for performance - courtesy YouTube

Bp: What did you do for the audition, do you remember?

Joel Hoekstra: As I recall, I think I played "Oh Come/O Holy" without anybody else. There was no band playing with me or anything so it was really weird [laughs]. I was just playing the lead line on my own. So I did that and I think a little bit of "Wizards" and a little bit of "Old City Bar." I didn't hear anything for a little bit, which I thought, "Oh man, I didn't get the gig. That's a bummer." But around that time Rock of Ages was on America's Got Talent as a guest and I sent the link to Dina thinking, "Well, they probably won't care about this at all, but I'll just pass it along." I think it actually caught Paul's eye, because Paul hadn't seen me perform at all and I think he thought, "Cool, well he has a stage presence too. Let's have him down." One thing about that first audition is, there's something about me that I need the audience to be able to do any of that stuff on stage. I'm not comfortable in front of a flip-cam in a room in SIR doing rock moves, y'know. [laughs] It has to be real to kind of do that.

Bp: C'mon. You mean when you're jamming at home you're not throwing rock poses and stuff? [laughing]

Joel Hoekstra: [laughs] I'm just not capable of it, dude. I just can't do it. I need an audience. It has to be a real gig. By this point and time in my career I've done too much…it's kind of like an athlete and practicing versus playing in a game. So, I think maybe that was an issue for a minute, "He played the stuff fine, but he just stood in one place and looked bored." [laughs] Well, that's what happens when there's no audience. Anyway, things went really well down in Tampa. Paul had me down there and Al and I, it was really fun actually, we each had an acoustic and we just noodled and played while watching TV for a few hours while waiting on Paul. That was really fun, we got to really play and I think a lot of it was Al kind of sussing me out in that time too, which was totally cool and I figured as much. But it's just kind of figuring out if someone can really play or not or if he got lucky on a song or two. Things went really well. I played for Paul and he was exactly like he is, charismatic and super cool, good heart and he asked me that night to join. At that point it was like, "Now how am I going to do all three with Night Ranger and Rock of Ages." The main change that made was come November and December I had to actually take time off from Night Ranger which I'd never done. I hadn't done that going into that. It's never fun. It's always awkward doing that. I always feel like someone's sleeping in my bed, y'know, but at the same time there are great players and great friends of mine who have filled in on that and the shows end up being real special and fun.

Bp: You mentioned him earlier, Tristan, has done some time filling in.

Joel Hoekstra: Yep. There's been a few guys, Tristan, Kerry Kelly from Alice Cooper's band and I think he plays with John Waite right now, he's done a really good job. Actually this past weekend they did two and Reb Beach filled in for me again. He hadn't been in in a while. I think stuff like that ends up being fun for the fans in a weird way. Especially for a band that's established and been around for a long time like Night Ranger, most of the fans who are there have seen a lot of shows already. They're not seeing Night Ranger for the first time. I think in a weird way it kind of makes the year special. And obviously it gives me the chance to do this gig. I love being a part of TSO. I really love it. It makes a big difference in my life.

Bp: As fans, we don't mind having you up there.

Joel Hoekstra: [laughs] Thanks bro.

Bp: Did you know much about TSO or Savatage before the audition process?

Joel Hoekstra: Not too much. I am probably the world's worst listener and that's 'cause I'm usually gigging. I don't know what anyone else has going on or what they're up to. I'd never seen a TSO concert or anything. Obviously I was familiar with them, having heard some of the bigger songs like "Wizards" and "Sarajevo." But it was a lot coming in the first year because there was a big process in terms of what they wanted to do. Everybody wanted to take that moment and press the restart button. Which was a lot easier on them than it was me because it was sort of like, "Learn everything off the albums, and now here's a West Coast show, we want you to learn what Al does and now here's an East Coast show and here's what Chris and Alex do." At that point I think a lot of the differences between the two shows was a lot steeper than it is nowadays, at least in the guitar area. So that was one of the reasons I think they wanted to get it a little more together in terms of who is playing what part on each coast. So the shows were a little more together and cohesive. I think that was one of the things that we took the opportunity to do. That was great for TSO, and I think certain people think that decisions are made for different reasons, or "He's not playing this solo anymore!" A lot of it just has to do with that. It makes it cohesive. It makes the band function better. It was a lot. I felt by the time, in my first year, I was playing with the band I felt like I'd learned three or four different versions of every song so it was spaghetti in my head in a way. It was almost like, once I knew what I was supposed to play I was so relieved, "Oh, I can settle in now and just play this part every time." That was a big relief.

Bp: What are some other memories you have from that first tour in 2010, for instance, heading out to Omaha and seeing the monstrosity for the first time?

Joel Hoekstra: Yea, I actually got nervous when I saw the stage for the first time. I remember being up in catering looking down and I got nervous. I was like, "Oh my god, look at that!" I'd never been on a stage like that in my life. With Night Ranger we'd played big amphitheaters and arenas, but usually as the opening act and we're pushed to the front of the stage, but we certainly don't have any production even one-millionth of TSO who is throwing every light known to man in the air and on the deck. But it actually made me nervous. That first year I felt I thought I was comfortable at that point, but looking back I probably wasn't. I was very much the new guy.

Bp: Well, it was a new time for the East Coast band in general. Derek was in his first year as MD, there was a brand new set of female vocalists...

Joel Hoekstra: Yea, looking back the amount of change that year was pretty drastic. I think we were all just trying to weather the storm and make sure everybody got the shows they wanted. I think we did a good job with it. There were a lot of new faces and I think we were all just trying to…I'm sure the girls to a degree were going through the same thing as I was, just trying to make sure that we wanted you guys to be happy. And I still kind of look at it that way. I don't look at the show like it's about me, I look at it that it's about you guys. I want you guys to come and have fun and hear the music that you like the way that you like to hear it. That's just the way I've always approached all my gigs. I try to think, "If I was sitting out there, what would I want."

Bp: When we hung out this summer you had mentioned to me that you were playing the "Christmas Canon Rock" solo like Tristan had played it...

Joel Hoekstra: Yea, it's actually Tristan on the studio recording I believe. I had heard from Angus that Paul really liked that solo and so there you go. If the boss likes the solo that way, then he's going to get it that way. [laughs] I love it anyway. I love that solo. It's a great solo.

"Christmas Canon Rock" - TSO Live in Hartford, CT; November 16, 2013 Matinee

Bp: How was Chris when you first joined? How did you guys gel at first?

Joel Hoekstra: He was the same as he is right now. He's a blast. Chris is really funny, just a really funny dude [laughs]. He and I connect on a lot of levels. He reminds me of Brad Gillis [of Night Ranger] a lot. He's my buddy in this thing. Chris and I both really love spicy food too so we connect on that level too. We're always having fun trying all the hot sauces and the hot stuff on the bus. I love playing with Chris. I think he's very underrated as a guitar player. He comes from the true rock school and maybe I'm the kind of player who would kind of overthink things compared to him so I admire that he comes from a guttural place in his playing and I think he's an awesome player.

Bp: How has your relationship playing with him evolved over the last four years?

Joel Hoekstra: We're just more comfortable around each other these days just as people and as players. I think we joke around a lot more on the deck than maybe my first year. I was probably a little more tightly wound and focused on the show and…I'm not going to say it's unhealthy because it's always good, but you can sometimes be wound a bit tight in a performance and maybe nowadays there's moments when he and I will look at each other and we'll make goofy faces at each other to crack each other up. I don't think we were doing that the first year. He'll be looking at me and he'll be cross-eyed or something while no one else can see us and it cracks me up. Little things like that. He's funny. But in general, as far as doing our job, Chris is very professional. We go out and do our jobs and we want you guys to have the best possible show every time. At the end of the day it is all about that. It's fun for us to find our enjoyment in there, but it wouldn't be much fun for you guys if we were joking around to the point where the music wasn't coming across or if we weren't giving it our all as players. We definitely have a job to do and we take it seriously, but it is fun to find some levity in there.

Bp: Was there a learning curve navigating such a large stage, in that first year especially, when you've got two shows a day with back-to-back double-headers?

Joel Hoekstra: It's all about taking care of yourself, which was a learning curve for me with it. I do eight shows a week with Rock of Ages as well, but it's a small stage, not moving around. It's more of a mental fatigue with that I feel like. With TSO you can actually get physically fatigued just from, like you said, the size of the stage. There was a learning curve with me for that, it was like, "Ok, don't hang out at the bar as much, whatever." I think it's about taking care of yourself to be up for it and this year I'm feeling better than ever on this year's tour, physically, oddly enough even though it's my fourth year. I think as the years have gone by I'm learning more and more to take care of myself.

Bp: That makes sense. It means you're getting smarter.

Joel Hoekstra: [laughs] Yea, I suppose.

Bp: What do you do to warm up on a show day before the show?

Joel Hoekstra: I've gone through a lot of things with this, about what to do and what's best. Oddly enough, the thing that I do is I play all of the key passages from whatever gig I'm doing. So for TSO I'm basically playing all of the solos that I would have or any lines that I have any trouble with. I just basically go through in set order and pick out all the key spots. For instance I would maybe play the scales from "Winter Palace" [sings the ascending/descending pattern of the song]. I keep my Gold Top backstage so I'm on a Les Paul which I think is important that I have a guitar like the one I'm gonna get out on instead of warming up on something completely different. So I'll start with "Winter Palace" and then what's next, "Faith Noel," I'll play my solo from "Faith Noel" and just kind of scroll through the set that way picking out all the key sections that I might have any trouble with. I think that's always the most beneficial because it actually reinforces muscle memory too. You're not just warming up, you're giving yourself muscle memory for the gig so you can focus your attention into performing, which I think is huge. If I sat with my guitar and played the TSO set I guarantee I could play it without making any mistakes every single time because the mental focus is right there on the guitar. It does get divided to be able to put on a show. There's something different about playing a song while you're going up on one of Paul's lifts. [laughs] It changes because you're looking around seeing all this sensory information and it is a lot different than being in your room playing guitar. In other words, warming up by playing the stuff from the gig itself I think makes the gig better on other levels.

Bp: So is soundcheck a necessary evil or is it productive?

Joel Hoekstra: We don't really have to soundcheck. It does get cancelled, because the monitor board has total recall on it from everything we did the day before so there's really not a problem with that. However you do find it's good for us if there were any problems to go through some things. So it's more beneficial in the rehearsal way than it is in terms of audio. It's very rarely about audio. Every once in a while Dave Wittman [TSO East sound engineer] will have a little blend on a background vocal thing he'll want to run or if something didn't sound tight we're noticing night by night then we'll focus on it, but it's very much about the music end of things.

Bp: Going back to the lifts, last year when they were introduced out in Omaha, did you draw the lucky straw or the short straw to go on the lift for "Sarajevo?"

Joel Hoekstra: I was really terrified at first. I'm scared of heights, but somehow, I don't know how, right now I don't get nervous at all anymore. Maybe it's due to repetition. It's like any other fear in life. The fear of flying, if you have to get on a plane everyday there's only so long your mind is going to be scared of flying. You're just going to go, "Ok, here we go." It doesn't make me nervous anymore, I'm really glad. I remember going up the first time in Omaha and thinking, "Oh my god, this is awful! I want off this thing!" The catwalks as well from the years before, those made me really nervous too. I wasn't on them in the show. For "Mozart and Memories" where they wanted me to be on it I just said, "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if I was just center stage on the deck playing? Isn't that better?"

Bp: That's right, you held down the fort center stage.

Joel Hoekstra: It worked! That's the funny thing about this thing. Paul says it's alive and it's totally true. Despite the fact that it's such a huge thing, you'd be surprised how many of us get these little opinions or little thoughts and they're actually in the show. There's certain things that you can directly affect the show by, even someone on my level, and I don't look at myself, by any stretch, as someone who is a key figure of TSO. But it's amazing that I can have a thought on the set, Derek will be open minded and it will make its way in. I think that's amazing.

Bp: If you're up so high that you're not going to be able to play, they won't want you going up that high.

Joel Hoekstra: [laughing] Well, thankfully I seem to have gotten over it. This year we have the lifts behind the castle and the first couple shows I was a little nervous about moving because the lift had gotten a lot of pyro dust on it and they were getting a little slippery, so I did ask to have some grip tape put down so I didn't feel like if I moved my feet I'd go sliding off and plummet to my death [laugh].

Bp: Talk to me a little bit about the guitars you're using on this tour.

Joel Hoekstra: Well, I basically started off with my white custom Les Paul my first year and pretty much did the gig on that. That still is pretty much my main TSO guitar. I do have a black custom and I sometimes make a change depending on the mood of the song. It does have a little more grit and it's a higher gain sounding guitar than the white one. I use the Axcess for things I want to get sustain on so even though I'm not doing "Oh Come/O Holy" where I'm holding the note for ten minutes like I was in 2011 with it, it comes in very handy on a song like "What is Christmas" where we're playing power chords and they ring for a long period of time. I'm able to kick on the sustainer and get sustain on the power chord. Cris Lepurage, my tech out here did the install on the Fernandes sustainer. I should give Cris a shout out here 'cause he does an excellent job. I have an Atomic Explorer, Atomic is a small guitar company out of the Phoenix area, I used that on "Christmas Dreams" last year which we did in a different key and this year I ended up using it for "Sparks." I just thought it was a better fit for that song. I have my Taylor 12-string [acoustic] out for "The Lost Christmas Eve."

Bp: And the Howard...

Joel Hoekstra: Yea, I'm using the Howard Roberts this year. I wanted to do something different this year and I didn't really see anything that I wanted to buy or ask for. It just so happened that we had a little huddle this year in rehearsals and Al was wanting "Christmas Nights in Blue" to sound a little more organic bluesy than we were doing last year. So it turned out to be perfect that I had that guitar with me and I thought, "Wow, that's a perfect fit there." And then I kept playing it on some other stuff to find out what it sounded good on and it sounded good on "Christmas Jam" and all the foundation rhythm stuff. It's different than a Les Paul, but it's got a nice fat sound and it sounds really good. I definitely love that guitar. That goes back with me to playing it on the second half of Love, Janis. There's something for me about bad mojo with bringing other guitars from different gigs…I don't want to bring my Gold Top into TSO because that's my guitar with Night Ranger. I don't know, maybe it's an OCD thing, but I feel weird about bringing that guitar into TSO. I like having my TSO stuff and my Night Ranger stuff and my Rock of Ages stuff. TSO actually owns the Chet I play on "Someday," the Gibson Chet Atkins, I love that guitar. They own the Martin that I play on "Different Wings" as well. I love that guitar too. It sounds great.

"Someday" - TSO Live in Albany, NY; December 5, 2013

Bp: Speaking of "Someday," I mentioned this to you after the Albany show last week that I really liked the newly added embellishments and licks that you've added to that song.

Joel Hoekstra: Thanks so much. I think it's about keeping people's interest without detracting from the vocals. Hopefully it doesn't take away from the vocal to add some things in, but it's the third year of doing it and human nature to start exploring a little further into it and dabble a little bit more with what you can do with it. That's kind of been like Paul says, "It's alive." No one made that decision outside of me. They can request that I not do that, but it's just that no one has made that request and everybody seems open to hear some new stuff so I'm very happy about that.

Bp: I think it's a great addition and provides a little more depth to the arrangement. I don't think detracts from Kayla's vocal at all.

Joel Hoekstra: No, I don't think so at all. She's so great and has so much power for the little thing that she is, it's pretty remarkable.

Bp: I do miss the trade-off blues licks in "Christmas Nights in Blue" though from last year. I can understand Al wanting to move the focus to the piano and make it more organic, but I miss that interplay between you and Chris.

Joel Hoekstra: It's apples and oranges. Actually, truth be told I prefer it this year. I like being able to play that blues style rhythm a little more this year. I changed the sound completely on the song and there's barely any gain and it's more bluesy; a lot of reverb. So I'm into it. I like it this way. It's apples and oranges. I think with the other way I was viewing it like we're not really playing it with a bluesy tone, we're playing it with a hard rock tone for these blues licks, so it's always fun to try something a little more outside with it was my mind set. There's something in me that gets off on having some licks in there that are like, "No one would ever do this." That comes from my fusion background I think, getting away with some note choices that most people would not ordinarily do. I dig them both. I miss last year's version, but at the same time I really like this one.

"The Wisdom of Snow" - TSO Live in Hartford, CT; December 20, 2012

Bp: We've talked and obviously you know my feelings on the loss of "The Wisdom of Snow" solo this year...

Joel Hoekstra: [laughs]

Bp: ...the emotional climax of the show. It was a pivotal moment of the show last year, is it something that you miss playing?

Joel Hoekstra: In all honesty from my standpoint it's one less guitar moment that I enjoy playing as I don't necessarily get to do a lot of slow emotive solos. A lot of the solos are rippin' so I thought it was fun to play a melody and elaborate on it a little bit. But that's a player's standpoint, you know what I mean, and I think it's important that the changes they made are about the show overall and for people coming to it. There's always going to be an issue of show length. You don't want people sitting there for three hours or over three hours for the show. I think a lot of it comes down to that, I don't think it was that they didn't like that moment. It just comes down to how can we improve it this year and they're always trying things. At the end of the day as a player you have to look at it, "Well, I'd be out of my mind to be really upset about that because I get so many moments during the show." At the end of the day it's more about counting your blessings with it than what you don't have.

Bp: They tightened up a whole lot of the story and turned the focus from the man to the child, so it was one small piece of a lot of other story-based changes. But that was a favorite part for me last year, so I was bummed.

Joel Hoekstra: What I think they did this year, which is interesting, is that one center section where there seems to be the most narration. It kind of puts the story a bit more back-to-back and not as fragmented. Some of the narrations are very short leading into "Jam" or "Siberian," those are little tidbits connecting the music. I think the story is easier to follow this year because it's more put together for people. You're not really the typical person sitting in those seats. You're so inside of what we do and know every bit. You know as much about it as I do, and I'm in it! I think people coming for the first time wouldn't have that opinion and you wouldn't know that you're missing that moment, so there's also that. Again, it's apples and oranges. Decisions like that, it's Paul and what he wants and no one can doubt that he's gotten results out of everything he's done. You go along with him because he's had a remarkable track record. He's been moving this thing in the right direction.

Bp: Who would have believed any of it would have worked.

Joel Hoekstra: It's really kind of amazing. I sit around and think, "I can't believe that we're doing this every night for thousands of people." It's remarkable and fun. It's really a beautiful thing. I love the gig. I really love it. It's a great time and it's got a lot of elements of what I'm about in life. The fact that there's a little bit of classical influence that taps into my childhood, it reaches me on a lot of levels.

Bp: What are some of the other levels?

Joel Hoekstra: I think it's an opportunity to be a showman, which I told you, from the moment I started to play guitar I looked at Angus Young and thought, "How cool!" I've never been good at being in these bands where these guys stand around in one spot and go, "Aren't I cool?!" I've never been able to get down with that. I like performing. I like the whole thing. I think live music is meant to be that way. I think artists should be connecting with their instruments and find movement in it, not stoic with no facial expressions, no joy and no movement. The great players, if you look at them, they're playing with the movement. Angus Young plays the way he plays because he moves a certain way. He'll actually play licks because his body is physically moving a certain way. I think he would play different if he were sitting in a chair.

Bp: I don't know if he could play if he were sitting in a chair.

Joel Hoekstra: That's what I mean. Look at Jimi Hendrix, there's a perfect example. The music that Hendrix made, the movement, the performance was part of the playing. It's all one. It's not like, "Ok, let me just get this down and now I'll go out and perform." It gets back to when you asked me about warming up and I think if the playing becomes muscle memory and is there it allows you to go to a place where you're coming more from how you're performing rather than sitting there making sure you're fretting that the right way. Hendrix would be the perfect example, but I think there's a long list of guys like that. You look at them and you think, "Man, the performance is part of how they're playing" and those are my favorite types of players. So the performance thing and I think even the fact that I have the experience that I have that dials me in on this thing even that much more. Paul will say TSO is a combination of the rock world, the classical world, and the theater world all melded together. I feel like I have a background in all of those so for me it feels like a very natural fit.


Bp: How much freedom do you have up there either when you're working out things at the beginning of the tour or even onstage during the tour, to not do heavy improvisation, but to do small amounts, like we were talking about in "Someday."

Joel Hoekstra: I think it's there. What's seemed to happen is that the first year there's a lot more scrutiny and I think because they're sussing you out as a player and they're looking out for the best interests of the band. They're looking to make sure everything that's done is a good representation of what it's all about. Certainly as we've gone on I'm getting more and more freedom to just play the way I feel like playing which thankfully falls right in line with what people want to hear. There's been so little talk about musical interpretation this year, I think it's been really about the production this year being new and I think they've had their hands full with that making sure visually everything is the way they want it, and it's not that the music is an afterthought, it never is, but there hasn't been as much scrutiny. I think we know the front half from last year and I try to rework some stuff so it's not the same as last year and try to change some things up. At the same time I must admit I am one of those people that finds something I like best and then I tend to stick to it. I go, "Well, I can try to improvise, but then I'm giving them 90% of what I think is best." When you play a show like this where you do a lot of it, you start to find what you like best.

Continue to Part 2

Tammie ShaibleTammie Shaible on March 25th, 2014 05:00 pm (UTC)

You are so Awesome Joel Hoekstra...
Love every thing you do. xoxo
Tamme Shaible