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24 March 2014 @ 09:32 pm
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interviews: Joel Hoekstra - December 10, 2013 - Part II  
<-- Part I

Bp: When you're in Omaha do you take in West Coast's full production rehearsal so you can see how the other half lives?

Joel Hoekstra: Every year except this year. [laughs] I didn't make it this year. I've made it every other year to watch them do the full run through. I didn't make it this year in all honesty just because I was working on some side projects and I just selfishly wanted to stay in and record. I spent the day tracking guitars in my room.

Bp: What have you thought in previous years since this is a somewhat rare situation, you can't watch the Night Ranger show.

Joel Hoekstra: Yea. I think it's great. Some of the interpretations for the West are a little more outside what the record versions would be then us. The East has Derek's attention to detail a lot in it. You can hear it just in terms of really making sure we are super together, that's the thing we take the most pride in; staying super tight as a unit for you guys and making sure we're playing together. I love it. The West band is outstanding. It's sort of like everything else we've discussed in terms of differences, it's all apples and oranges. Everything you hear from them is. It is helpful, you do learn stuff from watching them do it. I do regret not going this year, but at the same time I got some good work done in my room [laughs].

Bp: I would think it's interesting to see the production from that vantage point.

Joel Hoekstra: Oh, absolutely. [laughs] 'Cause I don't see it ever. I don't even look at it all year. I'm always amazed when I look at pictures online. Jeff Plate videotapes all the shows too and we'll usually huddle and watch a show or two together during the tour and every time I do I go, "That's what's going on behind us? You've got to be kidding me! It's unbelievable." It really does change your perspective and in a way it almost takes me back to that initial feeling of getting nervous. You realize the magnitude of what's occurring. It can almost make you nervous to watch it back. It feels so much easier when it's just the music on the guitar neck.

Bp: Moving to the studio, have you done any studio work with TSO? Did you track anything for the EP?

Joel Hoekstra: I went down one time and played on a couple of songs on the EP. Actually one song that I don't think is released yet and I played on "Winter Palace."

Bp: How was that studio experience compared to other experiences you've had? I've heard Florida can be a pretty intense place.

Joel Hoekstra: Where they are set up now, it's pretty amazing because I'm in there with Paul O'Neill and Dave Wittman, our awesome front-of-house and studio engineer, and on a level you feel like, "Wow, I should be really nervous and intimidated." But Paul and Dave are so cool when you're doing this, you kind of feel like three guys hanging out in a studio. It doesn't feel tense. Paul's got a way of keeping the vibe right and I really dug it. It was really the most time I'd had to hang hands on with Paul, which was fun too. Paul's a busy guy, he's got so much going on. I don't get much time alone to hang out and talk to him and to hear his stories. He's got a lot of great stories to tell and so that was really great for that. And Wittman is just awesome, he's the nicest guy in the world. It was really cool in that regard, not just the playing. It was fun because it brought it back to that: here we are, just three guys sitting in the studio having fun doing what we dig.

"Oh Come All Ye Faithful/O Holy Night" - TSO Live in Hartford, CT; November 20, 2011

Bp: I'm going to drop a few song titles here and I'm looking for you to tell me the first thing that comes to mind for you. "Oh Come All Ye Faithful/O Holy Night."

Joel Hoekstra: The best. I wish we were still doing it [laughs].

Bp: Otherwise known as, five minutes of Joel Hoekstra.

Joel Hoekstra: Five minutes of guitar - what could be better?

Bp: Anything more than that?

Joel Hoekstra: Uh, no, that pretty much sums it up. That's so much fun, c'mon, from a guitar player's perspective who wouldn't want that. To be able to play two classic tunes back to back and lick out a little bit; fantastic! It's great stuff.

Night Ranger - "Sing Me Away" - Live in Rhinebeck, NY; August 21, 2013

Bp: "Sing Me Away" [from Night Ranger's debut album].

Joel Hoekstra: A staple of the Night Ranger set. I love it because it showcases the diversity of the band and the fact that we have two lead singers. We usually put that song second in the set so you've seen Jack Blades sing a song first and then you see Kelly Keagy sing this song second. I think it also showcases that we have a unique stage set up. Jack, Brad and I usually move far stage right while Kelly sings far stage left sideways on the drums. And it's also what we always warm up a little with singing before the gigs. We always start with "Sing Me Away."

Bp: You guys warm up with that a cappella?

Joel Hoekstra: Yea, every gig we scroll through, just like I do with the guitar licks, we always scroll through our choruses and just sing a bit for five or ten minutes before we go on so we're not totally rough out of the gate.

Bp: Wow, that must be something to hear! That's why it's one of my favorite Night Ranger songs, those lush and rich harmonies that are a trademark for you guys.

Joel Hoekstra: It's turned a little impromptu in spots. I can think of one story, I think it was somebody's birthday at an airport, one of the agents, and so we all sang the chorus to "Sister Christian" for her out of nowhere. It was pretty funny. The harmonies sound really nice on that song without anything behind it. It turned everybody's heads in the airport [laughing] "What's going on over there?"

Bp: "Don't Tell Me You Love Me."

Joel Hoekstra: That's a hard solo to play, that's what I think of! [laughs] That's more Jeff Watson's forte, my predecessor in the band. That picking pattern is a bear for me to play. I love the song, I just have to warm up with that all the time.

Night Ranger - "Sister Christian" - Live in Rhinebeck, NY; August 21, 20131

Bp: "Sister Christian."

Joel Hoekstra: Probably as much fun as I can have on a stage playing a song. It's so fun to play that entrance when the band comes in and it starts to chug. When we're in front of a big crowd and everybody is singing along, it's pretty amazing! That's a great experience. Those shows that we did with Journey and Foreigner, especially in 2011 when there were 15,000 people there, some of those gigs were 18-19,000 people, and when they're all singing the chorus, it's really pretty incredibly cool. It's really fun.

"The Dreams of Fireflies" - TSO Live in Toledo, OH; November 13, 2013 Evening

Bp: "Dreams of Fireflies."

Joel Hoekstra: I think about...I love that keyboard patch at the front end of that song. I know that's a bizarre answer, [laughs] but I love that keyboard sound. I think Derek came up with that, so Derek will be happy.

Bp: Right at the very beginning, right?

Joel Hoekstra: Yea! I love that sound! It's a really cool keyboard sound. Anyway, that's what I think about with that. And I remember doing that song on Jimmy Fallon so that comes to mind too. Gearing up and playing that last year on Jimmy Fallon was so much fun.

Bp: "Faith Noel."

Joel Hoekstra: I'm feeling that's the song where we get a chance to really say hello to everybody and smile and feel friendly. I love playing the solo in the middle, but it really feels like the first moment where we're greeting the audience and thanking them for coming back. That's what I feel like when we're playing that.

"Faith Noel" - TSO Live in Hartford, CT; November 16, 2013 Matinee

Bp: And to wrap up the song section here, "Sarajevo."

Joel Hoekstra: Everything [laughs]. That's all that it's been. Everything is blowing up. All systems go, man. Lock and load, is a Paul phrase. Everything's happening at that point in time production wise. Even when we were doing Christmas Eve & Other Stories in the front half, that was always a great production moment, but definitely now that we're wrapping up the show with it these days, spoiler alert, but the fact that everything is going is awe inspiring. It's pretty cool on the lift every now and then to take a peak back at the stage and see what's happening on there, it's like, "Oh my gosh!" I guess I just think of it as TSO at its biggest and best.

Bp: You've got three solo albums which folks may not know about, so if you'd like to describe each of them for those who aren't aware of what you do on your own.

Joel Hoekstra - "Electric Fields" - from Undefined, 2001

Joel Hoekstra: My first one was Undefined. The genesis of that project was meeting Virgil Donati, the drummer, who is unbelievable if anybody hasn't checked him out, and Ric Fierabracci on bass; ridiculous musicians, both of those guys. I met them because they were backing up one of my original teachers, T.J. Helmerich and one of my favorite guitar players, Brett Garsed on a gig at Musician's Institute. I was out in LA and I had a chance to hang with those guys for a few days as they rehearsed. I even soundchecked with them as Brett was late for soundcheck and I knew his parts. Virgil and Rick both said to me, "If you ever have anything you want me to play on..." and I thought, "I've got to do this, right?! These guys are so great, it would be really fun." So I just took a lot of the songs that I was doing at that point. I was in an acid jazz band at the time, that's why a lot of the material is funk or funkier, I just took whatever song ideas I had. It just turned out to be something that a lot of Virgil's fans really enjoy because it's not a lot of odd meter, it's a lot of 4/4 time, just straight ahead, and people don't get to hear him play like that very often. I think it's because he didn't know if the album was ever going to be heard so I think he did a lot more off the cuff, straight ahead takes and there's a lot of fire in his playing on that.

Joel Hoekstra - "Euphoria" - from The Moon is Falling, 2003

My second one, The Moon is Falling, I really did do more of the odd meter thing. That's my most progressive album. I think it has aged really well. I did that in 2003 and I think if anybody listens to it I think they still have to think it's totally unique and creative. On a level it's extremely frustrating for me that it doesn't get more notice, but it's not very commercially driven. There's no singing, number one, which usually turns people off. I think in a lot of ways that pushed me away from that direction for a bit because I thought, "Well, that's a pretty good dive into being uber creative on an album." A lot of the guitar sounds on there, and the production, for its time, looking now over ten years ago, were really unique.

Joel Hoekstra - "3 Trees" (live) - from 13 Acoustic Songs

Then 13 Acoustic Songs was my third one and that's a little more...I was going through a lot of time writing with people in New York so I think my mind was a little more pop driven, but I still found myself hanging out on my couch playing stuff where I was playing chord melody songs. Rather than just take all that stuff and disregard it, I thought I'd document it and document the period. That album is not really about me showing off on guitar it's just, as far as I'm concerned, very listenable tunes. It was a lot of labor over whether it should be just one pass on guitar, which it is, but then I decided to arrange around it which I just thought made more sense at the end of the day; to take a pass and build around it so it held the listener's interest a little more.

Bp: You've mentioned on social media and also earlier in our conversation about recording at various times recently, is that for other projects or an upcoming solo project?

Joel Hoekstra: I have a band project that I'm doing right now that's a straight ahead hard rock thing with Vinnie Appice, from Dio and Black Sabbath, on drums and Tony Franklin on bass, from Blue Murder and The Firm, and a great singer, I don't want to say who it is yet, but there's a great singer on it [Ed. Note – it has since been revealed that Symphony X/Adrenaline Mob/TSO vocalist Russell Allen is the vocalist he's referring to]. I'm really excited about that. Hopefully it will come out around spring of 2014.

Also I have a project with Tony Franklin and a drummer, Todd Vinciguerra, that's interesting. It's like psychedelic instrumental music. The drummer basically improvised a form of a song, which is really simple, not a lot of chops or showing off, then Tony Franklin laid down a form which basically improvised the song form to it and then they gave it to me. There was a lot of room to build out and a lot of the songs were five or six minutes, so I really had to fall back on...I couldn't really play licks that whole time 'cause that's not going to be interesting at all. So there's a lot of me talking and all kinds of real creative stuff to fill the void. That EP should be out soon. And that project is called VHF, it's our initials, Vinciguerra, Hoekstra, Franklin. That worked out well. It can also stand for Very High Frequency. That will come out and I'm excited about that.

VHF - "Whispers of the Soul" snippet

Actually last night I cut my tracks for the last Night Ranger song on the upcoming album. It was basically done, but then they ended up writing one more song so here I am out on the road in Dayton and I'm cutting a Night Ranger song in my hotel room. [laughs] I'm able to print my sounds off of my interface, the 11-rack for Pro Tools, but I also recorded DI and what they'll do at Jack's is they'll put my DI through my amp out there after the fact and have it mic'd up.

I've done a bunch of projects for people over the course of the year too. It's all increasingly part of wanting to do more creatively every year, or just more every year. While I'm thoroughly busy with the three gigs that I've been doing, now I've been with TSO four years, I've been with Night Ranger six, and with Rock of Ages five, I think it's important, even though I totally value those moments and they are very fulfilling, to continue to find some new territory every year, otherwise I feel like I'm stagnating a bit.

Bp: You're not relaxing too much at the hotels then.

Joel Hoekstra: I'm not, but like I said I think it's all about what you do with that down time. On one level it might sound like, "Ok, you're exhausting yourself. You're working." But actually I feel like it does the opposite. You do have to do something during the course of the day, you're not going to just sit around and do absolutely nothing. So what happens for me is that I end up feeling revitalized by my mind going into a different headspace creatively, if that makes sense. You go there so when you come back to doing your gig, it sounds different to you, it feels different. There's something about letting your brain leave that headspace for a bit that's really important.

Bp: And if you've got the creative juices flowing, you might as well tap into that.

Joel Hoekstra: It's corny and I'm sure everybody else says the same when you come down to it, but if I want my life to be one that's remembered, I've been given a gift to have not just the gigs I have, but the opportunity to play music and do what I love for a living, so it's really, really important to me to give that my all and I hopefully leave...y'know legacy sounds very self-important and egotistical, but it's important for me to think of it in terms of what it's all about when you die. What did you leave behind? I try to do more than the other people because that's what makes you...I have a saying, corny or whatever, it's: extraordinary people do extraordinary things. I think if you want to be looked at as extra ordinary then you have to do that. You can't just say you are. You have to do it. It's all about putting in the work when it comes to that stuff. I've yet to see a great musician who hasn't put in a lot of time. [laughs] At the end of the day, that's what it's all about. As long as you have the passion for it and the ability to stick to it I think it's really important to give things your all in life.

"Sparks" - TSO Live in Buffalo, NY; December 30, 2013 Evening

Bp: Absolutely. When we talked over the summer you mentioned that you weren't sure if you'd be able to make the Kiss Kruise with Night Ranger before heading to Omaha for TSO rehearsals, but you were able to fit both in.

Joel Hoekstra: [laughs] TSO management was very nice to me this year. They were very understanding. From a professional standpoint it's a bummer to the Night Ranger guys to have me leave two months every year. Obviously they'd much prefer to have me stay and play all the shows with them. I think TSO was cool with working with them on that to try to minimize some of the impact of me coming out and doing this. They were really nice and the Night Ranger guys have been super cool about everything. I've got to hand it to them, they could easily have somebody who plays all of their shows and nothing but. So I feel like they've been very understanding. We're like brothers by now, I've been with them six years and I just feel like we know each other so well. There's a definite brotherhood there.

Bp: You log a lot of shows with them every year.

Joel Hoekstra: It was about 60-70 with Night Ranger this year. It's nice that it kind of fits in for the most part as weekend-ish stuff which is perfect for me. I do Rock of Ages waiting for me at home and I have my family waiting at home. To be gone five straight months with them, or whatever it was in 2011, I don't want to do that every year. But TSO gives me the opportunity to do that for two months which is just about the right length for me. I do love to tour. I love the road, but seven or eight months of it a year could be, at the stage I'm at in my life, is that a fit? Night Ranger is perfect because it gives me the opportunity to go do outside stuff and go to other areas and also be on the road, but also to have a home life and a family life. Thank goodness I have the Broadway gig waiting for me at home.

Bp: You mentioned finishing up the last Night Ranger track and when we talked over the summer you guys were targeting spring of '14 for release, is that still the plan?

Joel Hoekstra: Yea, that's going to be spring of '14. There are some really good tunes on it. The last studio album was regarded as the best one done in a really long time and we felt like we had a lot of good songs. This one I think is a little more diverse in the overall sound, not to give away too much, but I think there's a little more diversity. I think we have some songs that are better than anything we had on the last album, so we're excited.

Bp: Will that be followed up by a tour?

Joel Hoekstra: Yea. I think we'll have the normal set of dates and there's always the possibility of a package with Night Ranger, but we're sort of in that world of either being the opening act for something on a bigger stage or headlining. Stuff like that is up to the band and management; to Brad, Jack and Kelly, as to what they want to do. They're the guys who have been doing it for thirty plus years now. Personally I hope it's more the weekend-ish stuff at this point and I can keep everything going. There's always great moments during the year, like the Kiss Kruise was, and every year with Night Ranger there's always some really fun moments.

Bp: Have any of the Night Ranger guys caught you with TSO?

Joel Hoekstra: They haven't. I don't think any of them have seen TSO at all. Unfortunately Jack, Eric and Brad are out on the west coast so for them to fly across to see me in it is totally not realistic at all. Kelly's in Nashville and he's inquired, but the way routing has been every year it's been TSO West that's gone there. He's inquired about it, but it's never come together. It'd be fun though. I'd love to have them out sometime.

Bp: You talked about it a little bit in discussing your upcoming projects, but what other goals do you have for your playing that you're reaching for musically?

Joel Hoekstra: To be a better player and a better person. It's self-improvement on a daily basis for me right now. There's nothing specific because I think life has a way of guiding you to places you never thought you'd be. If you work hard and stay ready, it's sort of like the bench player in the NBA, for a sporting analogy, I'll throw in the obligatory sports analogy in this interview.

Bp: I was wondering when it was going to come.

Joel Hoekstra: Yea, it had to be there. I didn't say anything was a home run yet, [laughs] but basically if you work hard and you stay ready, when opportunities present themselves that are correct or are a good fit in life, you're there. I don't think I could have told you seven years ago that I'd be in Trans-Siberian Orchestra. In fact I think a lot of times you would say why it wouldn't happen, "That wouldn't happen because of this." But I think that if you stay ready, opportunities present themselves. It's all about putting in the work and trying to be a better person for me at this point in time.

"Different Wings" - TSO Live in Buffalo, NY; December 30, 2013 Evening

Bp: Are there a couple of favorite songs or solos in TSO, Night Ranger and Rock of Ages that are particular favorites to play live?

Joel Hoekstra: I think with TSO we covered "Oh Come/O Holy" which is pretty awesome. Oddly enough I really enjoy the acoustic stuff in TSO. I know people probably think all the shredding and solos is what I'd like, but I love playing "Different Wings" with Georgia. I think Georgia sings it great. She connects to it emotionally so it's fun for me to hang on her dynamics and we tend to find different louds and softs within the song every time depending on how she's feeling it. That's really fun for me. I think it's a really pretty tune too. I like playing "Someday" with Kayla. That stuff is fun. Those would probably be my favorites with TSO.

With Rock of Ages probably the show opener. Looking back on when the show started and how fun it was to walk out to center...I don't know another Broadway show that starts off with a guy doing an 8-finger tapping solo. It'll probably never happen again in the history of Broadway. [laughing] That's probably the highlight for me. And at the end of the show I get to do my little Angus Young shtick running around and being a goof ball and I jump off the bar to end the show. All that showman stuff I dig, so those are probably my favorite moments of that.

With Night Ranger really my favorite is "Sister Christian," because of the impact of the song. It's not about having the fancy lead work in it or anything. It's fun to do the "Rock in America" solo, the eight-finger solo in that. I remember learning that solo from T.J. Helmerich, my old teacher when I was thirteen or fourteen years old. I was in High School and used to sit and play it in my room. So there's something about that solo that brings me back to, "I remember learning that at fourteen years old and here I am years later making a living playing that." That stuff always comes back and hits me. But there's something super special about playing a big song like "Sister Christian." It's such an amazing experience to see a crowd of people get off and sing something and they all know it. There's something so fun about that that's irreplaceable.

Bp: How is your eight-finger tapping technique going to work in possible frigid temperatures in Berlin on New Year's Eve?

Joel Hoekstra: [laughing] We're gonna find out, man! I don't know if I'll have any tapping in that, hopefully not, now that you mention it. I know that this year Night Ranger had some gig in upstate New York that was so cold I thought, "I'll be fine." But I remember playing the first solo with Brad, I think we started with "Touch of Madness," and we met in the center and I was playing, but I couldn't feel my fingertips on my left hand. They were numb. That was as cold as I'd ever been on a stage. This TSO New Year's Eve thing might rival that. Hopefully I won't have to play anything too difficult. [laughs]

Bp: Are you looking forward to it?

Joel Hoekstra: Oh, dude, it's almost so crazy I don't know what to say about it. A live crowd of up to a million people could be there and then that's not even including the television audience. I'm just honored to be a part of it and glad it worked out that way. It'll be a great life experience. Just buckle down, do my job and hope for the best.

Bp: Wrapping up with one more question, I know from a fan perspective how important the signing line after the show is to have some contact with you guys and tell you what we thought of the show, get an autograph, share a story, and stuff like that, but from your perspective, especially after doing multiple shows for multiple days, you might not want to be on for another hour or so after a long double-show day. How important is it to you to do the signing line and to have that connection with fans?

Joel Hoekstra: It's very important. I've gotten to know a lot of people, you included, through that a lot more. Again, so you can say that we don't feel like it, but I think life is about discipline because honestly as musicians there's lots of times we don't even want to do the gig that we're about to do, but when you get out and you're doing the gig, there's joy within the moment and you don't even remember why you even thought that way. I think the signing line is very much the same way. You may feel like going into it, "Ugh, I just feel like I want to lie down..." but once you're in the moment and if it's something you enjoy, to a degree I consider myself a people person, I certainly appreciate anybody who is supporting my career because it's very important to me, it's what a lot of my life is about, so I find joy within the moment. Sometimes discipline leads to rewarding things that you wouldn't normally get if you immediately got what you wanted in life. [laughs]

I was always working, but I wasn't immediately a rock star when I was twenty-one, I think that really benefitted my playing. I think a lot of guys who achieve that level of success they kind of rest on their laurels a bit if they're rock stars out of the gate. I think it definitely made me a more well-rounded player and also learning the art of being self-less within the moment by going through that whole period in the '90s of playing with singer-songwriters. There was never a guitar solo. I was backing people up on acoustic or just playing the right part on electric. It's helped me become a better, more well-rounded guitar player. Sometimes it's not about how much you're going to show off. As the old cliché goes, it's not about how many notes you play, it's about notes you don't play. Those are all very true. That's a cliché for a reason, it's totally true. So going through all of those life experiences it has helped my playing in terms of being a more well-rounded musician.

Bp: It's landed you some pretty impressive experiences as a result.

Joel Hoekstra: There's a lot of great players who don't have the opportunity. It's not just about, "Are you a great player?" It's almost like a philosophy in a way, it's about how you approach life that leads to these things I think, more than about how hard you practice. It is that, but it's also how you approach everything else.

Bp: This has been a pleasure, Joel. Thank you very much.

Joel Hoekstra: Thank you so much, dude. It was good.

Bp: I appreciate you taking the extra time with me.

Joel Hoekstra: Awesome.

More in my Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interview series -> here.

Additional Links:
Part I of Joel's interview
Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Joel Hoekstra Official Site

"Moonlight & Madness" - TSO Live in Boston, MA; December 23, 2012 Evening


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