Joel Hoekstra Of TSO Interview
Long-time Trans Siberian Orchestra guitarist Joel Hoekstra is back on tour this winter. Joel has been very busy over the past couple of years; he's toured with TSO, recorded and toured with Night Ranger, has appeared on Broadway and the film version of Rock of Ages, and for the past two years has been involved with Whitesnake.
I spoke with Joel last year to discuss his appearance with TSO on New Years Eve and the different aspects of his career. He'll be touring with Whitesnake this summer; they'll be playing at Blossom Music Center with Foreigner on July 11, 2018.
Greg Drugan: Hey Joel, thanks for the time, where are you calling me from today?
Joel Hoekstra: I’m in Youngstown getting ready to kick off the tour.
GD: What does TSO have in store for fans on this tour; what's the stage design like?
JH: It’s still technically a secret because we are still technically in rehearsals, but there will be footage going up online. You know Paul O’Neill, our founder and creator, he is always trying to make the show bigger and better in terms of production. I don’t think people will be disappointed. I think they will be pretty amazed! In terms of the content; The Ghosts of Christmas Eve was really successful last year, which was essentially a greatest hits tour so we are doing that again with some new songs in the back half. So there will be musical differences from last year as well.
GD: TSO will be playing a special New Year’s Eve performance in Cleveland; will there be any special guests?
JH: I couldn’t tell you because I don’t know. We usually find out a little later in the tour in terms of special guests or things of that nature. Hopefully so!
GD: Do you know if you guys will actually be playing at midnight to bring in the new year?
JH: I’m not sure about that. I think we’re done before that if it begins at 9, but I’m not sure what the plans are for that.
GD: How many tours have you done with TSO?
JH: This is number six for me. So I’m somewhere between the long-standing veteran and the newbie!
GD: Let’s look back on your career, who were some of your musical influences?
JH: My parents because they are both classical musicians and they really jump started me in terms of getting me a good foundation as a kid. That was more on cello and piano lessons and things like that. What made me want to start on guitar was Angus Young. I heard “Back in Black” and I saw the video’s when MTV first started and there were like five videos that circulated around and I saw Angus on there constantly. I was like, “that’s what I want to do!” I started out with hard rock and heavy metal but I love music of all kinds. Over the years, I feel that I have played every kind of gig there is.
GD: You mentioned the piano and cello; do you play any other instruments?
JH: Pretty much just guitar. I play a little piano but I haven’t touched the cello since I was a little kid. I can hold down a few beats on drums but that’s about it.
GD: Do you remember the first concert you saw?
JH: The first one I attended was Iron Maiden. Unless you consider the ones I went to as a kid because I attended many classical concerts. But I did attend Sarah Vaughan, the jazz singer, as a kid and I remember parts of that. But the first concert that I wanted to go to was Iron Maiden and I think Quiet Riot opened up for them.
GD: I got the opportunity to see you play with Night Ranger a few years ago, what was it like working with those guys?
JH: It was a great time for me. When I joined, I was still pretty green because I didn’t have a name at that point, so to speak. It was a great learning experience. I feel like I went through a lot with those guys making a couple of studio albums and touring a lot, it was a great experience.
GD: Are you still in contact with Brad Gillis or anyone from the band?
JH: Brad and I still talk regularly. That’s how it was when I was in the band, I hung out with Brad the most.
GD: You also appeared on Broadway with Rock of Ages, can you compare that experience with a regular rock concert?
JH: It’s different. I think that no kid starts out playing rock guitar thinking, “Someday I’m going to be on Broadway!” That was a curveball or out of left field but it turned out to be a blessing because I got to play with great musicians, eight shows a week, playing music that I liked. The best part was that I could take off whenever I need to and it was union-protected. During that time I was still able to tour with Night Ranger or Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Essentially, what that gave me an opportunity to do was have a gig every day, for seven straight years. That really changed my financial reality and it made me overall a better musician too; performing non-stop over that time.
GD: That’s amazing. I also got to see you play with Whitesnake this past summer, your solo was one of the highlights of the show. Are there any plans for new music or tour in 2017?
JH: I think David Coverdale has gone on record and said that’s what we’re gonna go after this year. Any kind of specifics, I’m going to let David tell everybody. I think the plan is to go for one more album. We’re going to make it difficult on him to want to hang it up!
GD: Well, it seemed like you guys were having fun on stage, that’s for sure.
JH: That’s really been the way it’s gone, man. He was really honing retirement, but he really likes this lineup and we all get along so well. We’re having a good time out there and the band sounds real good. I think he’s kinda changed his position on that from “I want to retire immediately” to “I want to do a little bit more.”
GD: That’s great! I read somewhere that you and Michael Sweet (Stryper) might have something going on this year too. Do you have anything else lined up?
JH: Michael and I have gotten to know each other over the years. When I was in Night Ranger we opened for Boston when he was a part of that band. We started to get closer and closer to working together. I mimed the guitar parts in a couple of his videos from his previous solo album and I played with him on his acoustic set on the Monsters of Rock Cruise. This time, on the solo album that he just put out, I played on three of the songs on there. There’s a video for the song “Radio” that’s online if people want to check out. We are getting closer and closer to full collaboration, we want to be able to put out a full album where we write and record everything together.
GD: Very good. Getting back to the TSO tour, does it go through the end of December or do you go into January at all?
JH: It wraps up at 12:01 on New Year’s Day in Cleveland. We’re all going to wake up and then head home!
GD: Excellent! I’m looking forward to the show. Believe it or not, I have never seen TSO and I’m excited to check it out.
JH: Oh wow! I think you'll really enjoy it. It’s really a one of a kind spectacle across the board. It’s something that I’ve been really proud to be a part of over the years. I love all the guys in the band. You get close with them and it’s like tradition for us because we spend the holidays together. It’s a blast! You will enjoy it. It’s like mashing up The Who’s Tommy with Pink Floyd and Andrew Lloyd Webber with Beethoven thrown in! It’s an interesting hybrid of things.
GD: Joel, thanks again and I look forward to seeing you and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra on New Year’s Eve here in Cleveland! Good luck with the tour!
JH: Sounds great, brother! Thanks for the time.
Joel and the rest of Trans-Siberian Orchestra will be playing Quicken Loans Arena for two shows on December 29th. You can get tickets by clicking here.