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Joel Hoekstra - Running Games - Spring 2021

New York is renowned for being the city that never sleeps and this fact appears to extend itself quite literally to one particular resident: Mr Joel Hoekstra. At 9.30am, it’s surprising to meet someone at this early hour brimming with life, excitement and vitality, especially when their profession is one perhaps associated with a more nocturnal body clock. It’s wonderful to hear Joel share how lucky he feels that he and his family are well and how he has been able to stay busy despite the crazy times we continue to be in. The fact that he has still been able to play guitar for a living and to stay relevant as an artist is something he clearly feels as enormous sense of gratitude for. Even though the tour buses have remained parked and the stage doors firmly closed, Joel’s profile has remained incredible high over the last 12 months. Projects such as Echo Bat, writing with Inglorious, weekly sessions, guitar masterclasses for Rock n Roll Fantasy Camp and teaching around 30 students a week are just some examples of what 2020 has been like for the guitarist. But perhaps the most exciting of all is the creation of his second Joel Hoekstra’s 13 album Running Games , 12 tracks of the most infectious melodic rock facilitated through a foundation of the strongest songwriting and the most stunning fretwork delivery. With bright sun illuminating the snow surrounding backdrop of the New York skyline, our conversation begins… 


It’s a hugely exciting time with the new – and can I say absolutely stunning - Joel Hoekstra’s 13 album Running Games being released on 12th February. What sort of thoughts are going through your mind as we approach album release time?

I’m excited for it to see the light of day, that’s for sure! It’s been a process to get it out so I’m very happy that people like the singles so far and I hope that the album is well received!

Your last Joel Hoekstra’s 13 album was Dying To Live, released back in 2015. Again, an absolutely stunning record. The concept of Joel Hoekstra’s 13 has very much been about there being a band feel but one which clearly encapsulates your vision: your music, lyrics and melodies. Running Games appears to keep running with that concept. Of course, there is the most electrifying guitar work but not at the expense of the songs. To what extent would you agree with those statements and overall what was your vision for this record?

You pretty much said it perfectly! Just putting out something that sounds like a band but the trick is it’s not really a band because I’m writing everything in it, hence the project name. The formula is the same as Dying To Live where I would say it’s melodic hard rock, it’s Dio at its heaviest and Foreigner-ish at its lightest. The difference being I think from that one, I was kind of figuring out what Dying To Live was going to be as I wrote it and made it. There were some songs that lived on the fringe a little bit more with that one. So this one is a tad more focussed but in general it’s the same thing – it’s straight ahead classic rock. You said it perfectly where it’s about the songs and the guitar maybe has some flair to it here and there. It’s not really about self-indulgent guitar solos. I just want to put out a good solid rock album for everybody.

And just building another bridge between 2015’s Dying To Live and Running Games, you’ve chosen to work with many of the same outstanding musicians: Vinny Appice (drums), Tony Franklin (bass), Jeff Scott Soto (vocals), Derek Sherinian (keys) as well as many others including Chloe Lowery who you also worked with in Trans Siberian Orchestra. What does it mean to have worked with such amazing artists and to have them represented on the album?

Well, first up it’s the same lineup as Dying To Live. So that’s important just in terms of having consistency from album to album under the name so people can know what to expect, not a completely different sounding record than Dying To Live which is nice, and on top of it they’re all really, really talented people and good people and all my friends in the business. So I’m thrilled to have them all back!

So consistency and continuity were particularly important to you?

Yeah, absolutely! I felt like, you know, what you can improve upon and do better this time, and also just for the listeners. Like I said, so they know what they can expect. So if I’m still going to keep building on this history of having albums out under the name of Joel Hoekstra’s 13 it helps to have been fairly consistent (laughs!). So I wouldn’t want to put out a disco album or anything (laughs!). That would confuse everybody!

Let’s talk about the music. Running Games is 12 tracks of the most infectious melodic rock. Prior to the album’s release we have been teased with the album opener Finish Line which some fans agree has a Dio quality to it. Fans have also been commenting with praise such as ‘tremendous song’, ‘Oh, hell yeah!’, ‘Love this song’, ‘this song is amazing’, ‘love, love, love this!’. And the praise goes on and on. How does it make you feel to hear such wonderful feedback?

Oh, that’s great, man! When you’re getting ready to put out an album, usually at the end you’ve got in so much work on it you’ve no perspective anymore. For me it’s a relief to know that people might like it (laughs!). By the end you are looking at a painting from an inch away so you have no perspective and you’re way too close to it. So I’m looking forward to seeing how it’s received and fingers crossed, that it’s well received.

The video that accompanies Finish Line is incredible and sees you immortalised in animated form. The ‘super hero’ likeness you have been given in the video is something you must be particularly pleased with?!

Yeah, I’ve always wanted to do an animated video and Frontiers has a working relationship with Wayne Joiner, the artist on this, and I’d seen some of his stuff and I thought it was really cool. So I thought Finish Line was a good song to work on in that regard, for the imagery and it being kinda dark and I thought it would be fun. So I gave Wayne just a rough storyline to work with and he really did a great job!

Running Games showcases your skills as a producer. How comfortable do you find sitting in the producer’s chair? Do you need to develop a different mindset to that of being the artist?

I think I’m always thinking ‘big picture’ regardless of what band I’m working with or certainly with this, so I’ve been at this a long time. So in general my method is really just kind of hands off. Because I write everything, when it comes down to what parts everybody actually plays I just let them do their thing and stay out of their way. So I sent the stuff to Vinnie – Vinnie knows how to play drums, I don’t need to be sitting there telling him what to play on the album. So just let everybody do their thing that allows everybody to play creatively and be inspired and hopefully give you a good performance, not just like ‘Oh, this is drag having to make this album for this guy’. As somebody who does a lot of sessions myself that’s what we all want! We just want everybody to give us the stuff and let us do our thing and then turn it in. That’s the way I go about it.

I would like to take a moment to deviate from the album to focus on another project you’ve been involved with, working with UK rock band Inglorious. You’ve contributed to 2 of their tracks, one of which is the wonderful slide guitar riff for Medusa. Inglorious have a very special place in the hearts of UK rock fans. What does it mean collaborating with your old Trans Siberian Orchestra friend Nathan James and the boys?

It’s great fun for me! They are younger, up-and-coming kind of guys. So it’s not like a legacy act. Inglorious are actually a current band with that classic rock sound that’s great fun. They’re all great guys, very talented. I co-wrote one track on their first record and then Nathan asked me again about this one and we ended up connecting on 2 ideas. I’m thrilled to have those coming out and be a part of their story. It’s great!

Getting back to Running Games, this is an album of arena-ready tracks that deserve to fulfil their potential. With the current restrictions in place and your other professional commitments, how likely is it that you will be able to perform these tracks live?

You never know, man. I just keep telling people that we’ve got to get the world open and then take it from there, but I would love to support it live anyway I can. We’ve just got to see what the lay of the land is and get everything open. The thing is if we do get back to live shows everybody is going to want to go out at the same time. It’s going to be like a gold rush! Everybody is going to be like scrambling for venues. So we’ll see. But I would love to get out. We did do one gig in support of it on the Monsters of Rock Cruise as an electric set, a full band, and I’ve done a bunch of it where I’ve got Russell Allen or Jess Scott Soto singing with me in my acoustic set on the cruise. So I’ve definitely played the songs a bit from time to time but nothing consistent so it would be amazing to put together a run. I would love to!

As our conversation draws to a close, reflect on the sheer uplifting power of Running Games. A wholly captivating record which arrives just in the nick of time. This breathtaking record is exactly what we all need right now. Find out more at www.Joelhoekstra.com and in the meantime, enjoy the video to Finish Line below.