Interview with Joel Hoekstra of Whitesnake and Trans-Siberian Orchestra

With its ’70s Glam Rock influences and the distant echoes of Beatle-esque Pop, “Save Me From Loving You” by the Echobats is this summer’s ultimate jam. Well, at least until you listen closely to the not-so-upbeat lyrics… But once you take a look at the video, you’ll instantly recognize the all-star line-up behind the project. In the opening sequence, you’ll see the face that’s more than familiar for every Whitesnake aficionado, every avid Trans-Siberian Orchestra fan and everyone who’s been to see Night Ranger or Cher live in recent years. And be sure it takes more than a pandemic to slow Joel Hoekstra down as in spite of it, I still had plenty of things to discuss with the ever-busy guitarist…

Photo credits: Igor Vidyashev

Alexandra Mrozowska: Where did the idea for the Echobats come from and are there any plans to carry on with the project?

Joel Hoekstra: Matt Starr, the drummer, and Tony Harnell, the vocalist, connected first and reached out to me.  We all agreed James Lomenzo would be a great addition. While we were recording “Save Me From Loving You”, it seemed like it needed keyboards, so I suggested my old bandmate Eric Levy. And well, we have given Tony seven to eight song ideas.  This is just the first one that he completed.  Maybe we’ll continue to release singles, or maybe something full-length. That decision hasn’t been made just yet.

AM: There’s certain ‘70s Glam Rock vibe to the new Echobats song “Save Me From Loving You”. Was this stylistic change kind of refreshing for you?

JH: Absolutely. The last thing I wanted to do was join a project that sounds like Whitesnake.  I’m IN Whitesnake (laughs). Variety is the spice of life.

AM: Also recently you took part in online live performance and recording the cover version of The Doobie Brothers‘ song “Listen To The Music”, both in tribute to the tragically deceased Trans-Siberian Orchestra, SOTO and Adrenaline Mob member David Z. Why do you find this initiative so important?

JH: David Z was a dear friend and a special person.  Of course I love the cause too.  They are raising money for children’s music education. (Editor’s Note: You can find more information about the David Z Foundation, its annual fundraising events and goals here.)

AM: When we talked the last time back in 2015 for Hard Rock Service, we discussed your solo project Joel Hoekstra’s 13’s first album (also reviewed by me for Hardrock Haven). Isn’t the follow-up to it in the works already?

JH: Yes!  It’s very close to being done.  I’m very excited about it! The line-up is the same so far: Russell Allen (vocals), Vinny Appice (drums), Tony Franklin (bass), Derek Sherinian (keys), Jeff Scott Soto (backing vocals), Dave Eggar (cello), Katie Kresek (violin, viola).

AM: In recent years you’ve also toured with Cher quite a lot…

JH: Yes. Great experience.  I learned to play a wide variety of styles in my day, so it was nice to showcase that diversity.  Obviously to step out and share the stage with a Pop icon is great fun.

AM: Two bands you’re a regular member of – Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Whitesnake – are two different kinds of beast so to speak. How is the experience of playing with TSO different from that with Whitesnake from a musician’s perspective?

JH: Whitesnake is an amazing band with a great catalog that draws a fan base that sits a very specific demographic for the most part. Trans-Siberian Orchestra is just as much a production as it is a band and draws people of all ages. I love them both so much.  Amazing gigs/opportunities to have.

AM: What kind of experience is it to write with David Coverdale? What trait of his – songwriting or otherwise – would you like to absorb if you could?

JH: David and I had fun writing together. He’s a great guy.  He writes quickly. David is definitely a master at staying positive, so that would definitely be what I’d like to absorb the most.

AM: Reviewers often compare Whitesnake‘s newest album – Flesh & Blood (2019) to 1987/Whitesnake and Slip Of The Tongue, but were these two any point of reference to you at all?

JH: Not at all. Honestly, most of it is David’s vision.  He steers the ship.  My job is to help him fulfill that vision.  I think there’s an influence from every era of Whitesnake on Flesh & Blood.

AM: Whitesnake fans loved the nostalgic vibe to the video “Shut Up And Kiss Me” with all those ‘80s references, but are you as a songwriter personally more for reminiscing about the past, or rather than that, looking forward? And which ‘classic’ Whitesnake era is your favourite?

JH: Either way.  I’m always about creating, but with popular music I’m a classic rock guy.  The ’90s are is still “new music” to me (laughs) And well… I grew up on the 1987 album.  So, I guess that’s my answer, though I LOVE the overall sound/vibe of the initial line-up.

AM: The partnership between the two guitarists in one band is always dynamic, as one has to leave enough space for the other but complement his playing at the same time. So how is it with you and Reb Beach?

JH: Great. Reb has never been the type who wants all of the solos and neither am I.  He’s a very funny/nice guy.  It’s been really smooth sailing.

AM: The tour in support of Flesh & Blood obviously postponed, you’re now busy with teaching at online guitar workshops and classes as well as being a Guitar World columnist. Do you enjoy it? What qualities do you think an ideal music teacher should have?

JH: Yes. I taught 70 students a week from 1993 to 2000, so I have a lot of experience teaching, not just performing.  So, yes… 30+ Skype “one-on-one” lessons a week at the moment. Then there are the master classes for Rock N Roll Fantasy Camp and also Rockstars of Tomorrow. A good teacher should understand how to explain things clearly and actually care about the improvement of the student.

AM: Why do you think such a large number of the world’s best guitarists are self-taught?

JH: Is that true? I’m not sure it is. I think it can happen either way. It’s all about time spent with the instrument.

AM: Anything left to add in the end?

JH: Thanks for the interview! I appreciate your time!

Joel Hoekstra’s Official Site

Joel Hoekstra on Facebook

You can watch a video to the Echobats’ first single “Save Me From Loving You” below: