Joel Hoekstra is one of the best guitarists around today with an impressive résumé. He made headlines recently when he joined Whitesnake after a seven year run as the guitarist for Night Ranger. On top of that though, he was a part of the most recent Trans-Siberian Orchestra tour, and he’s been playing with them since 2010. Prior to the big TSO show in Hartford, Connecticut recently, I sat down with Joel to discuss Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Whitesnake, That Metal Show and more.
Alex Obert: What have you taken out of a Trans-Siberian Orchestra show compared to other bands you’ve played with on stage?
Joel Hoekstra: Paul O’Neill really gives us a production second to none that is just an absolute blast to be a part of and an honor. The light show by Bryan Hartley is just amazing. It’s just awesome to be up there. The crew out here, absolutely everybody is top-notch.
Alex Obert: Which concerts that you went to as a fan really blew you away?
Joel Hoekstra: As far as live shows go, I would say a lot of the ones where I was a kid and was just starting to learn guitar or maybe hadn’t learned guitar yet. That’s the stuff that held a lot of the magic. Once you start to get an understanding as to how music works and how live shows work, bit by bit, you seem to lose a little bit of that magical perspective on everything. The first concert I ever went to was Iron Maiden on their Piece of Mind tour and that was really special for me. I think I was in seventh grade. I still always look back fondly on that.
Alex Obert: What are some of your favorite TSO songs?
Joel Hoekstra: I love a lot of the instrumental rockin’ stuff. Obviously Sarajevo’s a lot of fun to play. I love playing Mad Russian’s. And Mozart. I like a lot of the acoustic pieces as well including Different Wings and Dream Child. Love playing that stuff. It takes the huge production down to the simplicity of the acoustic guitar. The acoustic stuff really brings out, in my view, dynamics and how strong the song itself is.
Alex Obert: You play with many talented musicians on stage including previous interviewee, David Z. What are your thoughts on him?
Joel Hoekstra: He’s a blast to tour with. He’s a great bass player and a really funny guy. We get along great and it’s an honor to work with him.
Alex Obert: What goes through your head while on stage?
Joel Hoekstra: I just feel like I’m really lucky. I try to cherish every moment. There are obviously moments where we get extremely tired, we work really hard doing eight shows a week with this. But I always try and fight through that and remind myself just how awesome the experience is and how lucky I am to be here. There’s so many players that would love to have an opportunity like this. I feel honored and lucky to have that chance.
Alex Obert: With other recent endeavors, what was it like being the guest guitarist on That Metal Show last year?
Joel Hoekstra: It was great! Eddie Trunk has been a big believer in me for quite some time and a good friend. I think it really changed the course of my career in a lot of ways, it got me a lot of new fans. It’s a very intimidating gig because you basically sit still there for five or ten minutes at a clip and all of a sudden, you’ve got twenty seconds to show your stuff. So it’s a little different than having the adrenaline going and your hands going the whole time. It was a pretty nerve-racking experience for me, but it was really an honor to be there.
Alex Obert: Did you plan ahead of time what you are going to play or did you improvise?
Joel Hoekstra: I planned it out because they tell you exactly how long they want them to be. I wanted to maximize what I could do with that time, so I didn’t want to go in with a thoughtless thing because you ultimately end up regretting that. I’m a believer in hard work creating better opportunities. I put work into each of my segments and planned them out and timed them.
Alex Obert: 2014 was also memorable for you because that’s when you officially joined Whitesnake. When was the first time that you listened to them?
Joel Hoekstra: I’ve been listening to Whitesnake since I was a kid. It’s obviously awesome to be on board. I met David Coverdale in 2013 when Night Ranger opened for Whitesnake. He’s a great guy. We get along great and he’s very encouraging. He’s a really funny guy and a great musician. I can’t say enough good things about him.
Alex Obert: What are you looking to bring to the table that perhaps the band has not seen yet?
Joel Hoekstra: I don’t know if I really want to change what Whitesnake has been doing. There’s things I bring to the table as a player just inherently that’ll probably put my own flair on things, but I’m pretty much just interested in making the fans happy and keeping the legacy of Whitesnake going strong. We’ll be starting the tour this spring, so it’s coming up soon. I think everybody’s really gonna dig the new album that I’ve done with them, it’s a cool album.
Alex Obert: What do the guys in Night Ranger think about you leaving to join Whitesnake?
Joel Hoekstra: I think they’re understanding of it. The guys in Night Ranger have always been very cool and understanding of the fact that I’m still trying to build my own career in a sense. I would be happy working with Night Ranger somewhere down the road again as well. They’re great guys and I’m very proud of what I did with them. This period in time is gonna be all about seeing what I can do with Whitesnake. I want to challenge myself as a player and as a person.
Alex Obert: In closing, what you have to say to those who have yet to see the incomparable live TSO show?
Joel Hoekstra: I think it’s a one of a kind show. It basically pulls from elements of hard rock and Broadway and the classical world and melts them all together. On the front half, you get one of Paul O’Neill’s great stories told so eloquently by Bryan Hicks on our tour. It’s just great to be a part of. It’s an unbelievable production. It’s basically eye candy with a capital everything. You have Bryan Hartley’s amazing light show and the amazing laser show and pyrotechnics. Paul O’Neill just really goes all out to make sure that the fans go away feeling like they got every penny’s worth that they paid of their hard-earned money to go see a TSO show. And the band, we try and do that as well, holding up our end of the bargain.
Alex Obert: It’s truly show that should be seen by all. I’d love to thank you so much for your time.
Joel Hoekstra: Cool! Thank you!