Joel Hoekstra’s 13 Releases Incredible New Album Crash Of Life - Summer 2023
Hard rocking tunes doused with infectious melodies...
It may have taken Joel Hoekstra six years to follow up Dying To Live with his second Joel Hoekstra’s 13 album Running Games in 2021 but it actually has only taken him 2 years to release his third album Crash Of Life with the project. What is particularly surprising about this is that it was actually able to happen at all given Joel’s perpetual schedule. The last couple of years has seen Joel write and release albums with Iconic and Revolution Saints; continue to deliver his artist brilliance with the Trans Siberian Orchestra, Whitesnake and Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp and complete extensive acoustic tours of the US and the UK with Brandon Gibbs. So how did Crash Of Life all come together? We catch up with Joel at his home in New York where he is looking surprisingly fresh and bright given that he’s pretty much straight off the plane after returning from the Monsters Of Rock cruise. With the hot sun shining, we make ourselves comfortable and our conversation begins…
It’s a hugely exciting time with the new album crash of life due to be released on June 16. We’ve just a few weeks ago, what sort of thoughts are going through your mind album release time?
Not a whole heck of a lot right now! The video for the second single comes out in four days so I’ve been kind of like been giving final approval on that, so that’s been happening. But in regards to the big picture of it, I’ve been remarkably tuned out because I’ve had so much stuff happening. Obviously I’ve just finished a two-week run with Brandon Gibbs in the UK and then I went straight to the Monsters Of Rock Cruise and then straight to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp in LA. So there hasn’t been a lot of me sitting around angst-ing about whether or not people are going to like the record this time! (Laughs!) Even today, I’m packing to go and play two shows with Brandon again. I’m just really busy right now and in a way it’s good because it keeps my mind from getting too anxious about that.
Well, you say you’re busy, yes you are! It’s been only 2 years since your second Joel Hoekstra’s 13 album, Running Games, was released, and it’s been an enormously busy time for you where you have released an album Second Skin with the band Iconic, you’ve joined Revolution Saints and released the album Eagle Flight last month, there’s your work with Trans Siberian Orchestra, preparing for and undertaking acoustic tours of the US and UK with Brandon Gibbs, the Monsters Of Rock Cruise and latterly your involvement with Rock N Roll Fantasy camp. A new Joel Hoekstra’s 13 record therefore came as a bit of surprise simply because of the perspective of trying to understand how could find the time to devote to it. Tell me about how the journey for Crash Of Life started and how it evolved to become this final album?
So this stuff always sees the light of day much later than people realise. I think I had given the scratch guitars to Vinny Appice – which is what I do: I track the riffs or whatever and get those over to him, and that was roughly a year ago. It took Vinny a little while to get it done and then it goes to Tony (Franklin, bass), and at that point in time everyone can kind of work simultaneously. One of the things I had to do which was different is that I had to dedicate time to writing lyrics. So I will usually write a song a night where I write all the lyrics and write what the vocal melody will be, and when I go back in I have to actually record myself singing the whole album as a guide vocals. So that takes time too. I just do maybe like a song or two a day. So these albums are a lot more work for me than like Iconic or Revolution Saints. They are very much my baby, so by the time I’m done I’ve written all the riffs, recorded them but then I’ve got to write the lyrics, sing it and then I get it back and I record my real guitars on that. I’m then actively involved in mixing with Chris Collier and reviewing the artwork. A lot of work goes into these, so I would say it started about a year ago.
You’ve mentioned some of the band members and I’d like to talk about the line up because along with the new vocalist Girish Pradhan, Crash Of Life sees you choosing to work again with Vinny Appice, Tony Franklin, Derek Sherinian and Jeff Scott Soto. The consistency of musicians over three albums now suggests this is evolving more and more into a band rather than a what may be perceived as a solo project but perhaps still led firmly by your vision. To what extent do you think that’s a fair thing to say?
Well I think it’s fair that I tried to create music on it that sounds like a band because I don’t have a lot of interest in releasing an album with self-indulgent guitar solos all over the place. I kind of just want to create good songs for people, good hard rock songs, and music that I would like to listen to if I was a listener. So that’s more where I’m coming from. So it sounds like a band in that regard but the hitch is that I am very much the dictator. I write everything and this is my one chance to do that, so I like to be able to do that. The other stuff is always going to be a little more democratic. You’re always going to have your input on it with certain elements, but for this one this is really my opportunity to say “Look, these are going to be my songs and everything is gonna be mixed the way I like it”. It’s not fair to those guys to say that it’s a band, if that makes sense.
It absolutely makes sense! So I mentioned ‘your vision’. You write the riffs, the lyrics, vocal melodies, but how important is it for you that the band members have the opportunity to bring their creativity and to influence the direction of songs or even the record as whole?
I would say that I’m very hands-off with Vinny, Tony and Derek. I let them do their thing. Occasionally I will say “Hey, would you mind doing this?” here and there but with very little input. So my production style is very hands-off with that. When it comes to the singing I’d say it’s a mix of the two because I always had a guide vocal for Russell (Allen) too but Russell would do his own thing a lot. Girish (Pradhan) I would say followed a little bit more of what I did but he also did his own thing when it was time to do his own thing. I’m hands-off but I think Girish followed it quite a bit more than Russell did on the past two records.
Let’s talk a little more about Girish Pradhan. Many people will know him from his band Girish and the Chronicles, and he has an incredible voice! How did you first meet and how did Girish come to be a part of Crash Of Life?
I think just looking at options for who was going to the vocals this time around Girish was a suggestion from Frontiers. I think Mario (de Riso) first brought him to my attention. I listened to a track from the Girish and the Chronicles and I was like ‘Wow, this guy is amazing!’. He’s definitely screaming a lot more there, it’s a little more like straight-ahead metal, and I thought I’ve got a lot of ballads on this and a lot of stuff that calls for subtlety as well so I thought ‘let’s just see how it goes’. It turns out that he’s really versatile and can kind of just sing straight ahead and sing melodically as well. In the end it worked out really cool. He’s a really versatile singer. Through the course of the album he’s actually a really good fit because he’s kind of a chameleon with his voice – he is able to adapt to the track. He is a really good fit and I’m really happy to have him on board.
Just picking up on Jeff Scott Soto, he provides backing vocals but the impact of those vocals is huge, so much so that it would be completely wrong for anyone to assume that he has had a minor role to play in the making of this album. Collectively the vocals between Girish and Jeff are very special. How did you discover this magical vocal collaboration?
That’s an accurate assessment! Jeff fronts a lot of projects already. He’s a good friend of mine so when it comes to doing these records, I mean he does this more or less as a favour to me. My interest first and foremost is to make a great album for people so when it comes down to the ego of ‘do I sing the backing vocals just so that I can say I sang on it or do I get this guy who is a friend of mine who is willing to help me out and do this and he’s one of the best at it in the world’, I’m going to get the guy who is the best in the world at it! I just want a great album for people and at the end of the day that’s the way it works out. But you’re right, his backing vocals are a huge part of the sound of all three records really. So it’s not to be diminished. It’s more or less just because Jeff has a lot going on that he fronts already, people don’t understand that it’s not disrespectful to him at all and he doesn’t take it that way. In fact it speaks to how cool he is that he is willing to do it!
Well let’s talk about the music because on 17th April, you released the incredible track Far Too Deep. This song follows the Joel Hoekstra’s 13 DNA in that it’s hugely melodic but it appears to have quite a heavier edge to it. Was this something that you were specifically looking to create and also how representative is this track of the rest of the album?
I would say that this record is going to be a little bit more like Dying To Live where there is a wide variety of styles represented. So Far Too Deep definitely lives on the heavier edge of it which was interesting to lead with that because it gives people the idea that the solo album is going to be really kind of metal but there’s a lot of different styles represented. There’s stuff on there that feels very Zeppelin or even AC/DC inspired at times. There’s stuff on there that has my traditional Dio-ish influences that we worked with because Vinny was part of Dio, and also Tony having that gritty sound with his fretless bass. So I would say that it is representative of my influences. It doesn’t fit as cleanly into the box of what I’ve said of ‘Dio-ish at its heaviest and Foreigner at its lightest’ but there’s ballads represented and there’s heavy stuff represented. My tastes always ran, back in the day in the 80s, thinking melodic bands like Journey or Foreigner at the light end of things, way up to Metallica for me. That’s where my tastes would range – anything in there. I think there’s a lot of people like me in that regard. As long as there’s melody there it can be kind of mellow or it can be hard rocking and still dig both. I personally enjoy albums that have a lot of variety. I’m not a big fan of putting on an album and having all 12 songs kind of sounding the same. I don’t see the point in that. This album I’d say has kind of gone back to that, you know, a little bit more variety on it like Dying To Live had, and I appreciate that Frontiers gave me the artistic freedom to do that and do my thing.
I think that’s testament to the relationship that you have and the respect Frontiers have for you as an artist. You’ve had a great relationship with Frontiers for many, many years.
Yes, that really began with Night Ranger in 2011 working on Somewhere In California. We had two releases: Somewhere In California and Highroad. Then we had to live acoustic album with them followed by The Purple Album and Flesh and Blood when I joined a Whitesnake which were both under Frontiers. Obviously, this is my third Joel Hoekstra’s 13 album. Like you mentioned earlier, I can also add in Iconic and Revolution Saints to that. So yeah, we are close and they’ve been good to me. I feel like that really helped to get my name out to the world which is something that I needed, especially back in the days when I was touring with Night Ranger and Trans Siberian Orchestra and playing with Rock of Ages, everything was very US-based. I think Frontiers have really helped me get out to the world a bit more, as did joining Whitesnake. That’s important as an artist - that I continue to grow my fan base and I’m very grateful to those guys for all they’re doing for me.
Far Too Deep has only been out three weeks yet it has already been viewed 136,000 times on YouTube which is staggering! And the comments from fans are wonderful and heartfelt, for example ‘ another stellar performance from the one and only Joel’, ‘this track rocks’, ‘this song is perfect from every angle’, ‘incredible all round’ and ‘what a gem from genius Joel Hoekstra’ – and this is just a snapshot. How does all this amazing praise, before the album is even released, make you feel?
Oh, I mean obviously good! That’s a heck of a lot better than ‘this sucks’! (Laughs!) Any time anybody enjoys what you release it feels good. I’d say that very much a large part of why I do these records is just for artistic expression. A lot of it is based on that and not wholly based on what people are going to think. Obviously it’s nice when people like what you do! I do put in a lot of work into it. I would say that the fact that the Far Too Deep video is well received, it doesn’t put any pressure on me around the album or anything like that. This is one of those albums that’s going to be interesting for people to digest because, like I said, it’s not going to be like you hear one song and you go ‘Oh, it’s going to be a whole album of this’. It’s going to take actually streaming the album or downloading the whole album or buying the whole album to get the whole scope of what’s on there.
Now I know it’s always going to be difficult because of scheduling, but might there be a prospect of you taking Joel Hoekstra‘s 13 out on the road, either for a full tour or even a one off show?
Yeah, there’s always that possibility. We’ve done a one-off on the Monsters Of Rock Cruise before after Dying To Live was released, so now there’ll be a lot more material to pull from. For me it would probably be an enormous money loser. So it would require me investing in it and by the time you get done trying to have a backdrop for the band and paying everybody, getting everybody in hotels and travel, if I’m running the show I doubt that the offers for the gigs would be at a price that would necessarily cover all that. So it would probably be an investment on my part but it wouldn’t be a bad idea, I would love to do it. Artistically, I think it would be amazing! And when we did play on the cruise, it was cool having Vinny in the band because it gave some justification to play some Dio and some Black Sabbath, and then having myself in the band it gave some reasoning to play some Whitesnake. So when you mix some of those songs into the Joel Hoekstra is 13 stuff it makes for a really cool set!
As our conversation draws to a close, we reflect on what an incredible album Crash Of Life really is. Quite simply this is a record that delivers hard-rocking tunes doused with infectious melodies as well as moments of light and shade that really create a wholly immersive and cohesive album experience. Find out more at www.joelhoekstra.com and in the meantime enjoy the video for latest track Torn Into Lies below.