Interview – Joel Hoekstra of Night Ranger

Interview – Joel Hoekstra of Night Ranger

joel newDuring the 1980’s a mass amount of powerhouse rock-n-roll bands rose to popularity and dominated the airwaves of radio. San Francisco, CA based band Night Ranger were one of those dominant forces selling over ten million records between their debut Dawn Patrol (1982) and Man in Motion (1988). Remaining active and relevant in rock music, the heavily guitar driven band continue to tour worldwide to the joy of passionate fans. Adding accomplished guitarist Joel Hoekstra to the fold back in 2008, the band continues to celebrate success and recently released their eleventh studio album High Road. With passion and skill to complement original lead guitarist Brad Gillis, the chemistry of Night Ranger is as strong as ever. Recently we sat down with Hoekstra for a personal look at his joining Night Ranger, determination to succeed, their new album, performing with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and much more. – Night Ranger has been together for over three decades and established themselves as a leading rock-n-roll band in that time with chart topping albums and a series of hit singles.  You joined the band back in 2008.  How did it come about that you became part of the band?

Joel Hoekstra – Basically because of the project Jim Peterik and World Stage.  I grew up in the Chicago area in the suburbs and Jim Peterik (of Survivor) had these things every year. A lot of guests come out and sing their hit songs, he has a house band; I was in that house band.  One of the guests every year was Night Ranger’s drummer Kelly Keagy.  Kelly and I did that probably six or seven times, so we already knew each other.  One year he came in and basically said Jeff Watson was no longer with the band and Reb Beach was the interim guitar player.  I kind of got in Kelly’s face a little bit about it and said give me a shot, give me a call (laughs).  Turns out it was later they called me because Reb needed to miss a show.  They said look we can cancel this show or we can give you a shot at it.  They said we are not going to be able to rehearse because we are coming from Japan, basically you are going to meet us there and play this gig with us.   I was like oh my god (laughs), scared to death, but of course said yes.  It was a bit like jumping out of a plane and not knowing if you had a parachute or not, but when the parachute opened it was a beautiful thing.  The gig kicked ass and here I am today.

MCA – That is a pretty wild story but it has worked out. It has been six years you have spent with the band and a lot has happened including tours with Journey, Foreigner, and Scorpions among others, as well as the release of the band’s tenth studio album Somewhere in California (2011).  It has been a very successful run.  What has it been like for you to play an intricate part of everything and working with Night Ranger?

Joel Hoekstra – It is really hard to sum up all the experiences in a couple of lines in all honesty.  I guess I would just say it is an honor.  These guys have achieved so much and it is great to be part of the legacy of a historic recording act like Night Ranger.  It is also certainly a lot of fun.  That is one thing about this current line-up is we really enjoy each other’s company and have a lot of laughs.  We really have a good time out there and we like being around each other.

Frontiers Records
Frontiers Records
Frontiers Records
Frontiers Records – That is great that the line-up has good chemistry, that is very important.  You are a pretty accomplished musician in your own right with a series of solo albums and working with everyone from Foreigner to The Turtles.  Considering the variety of rock bands you have worked with, what are some of the most valuable things you have learned from the experiences?

Joel Hoekstra – Yes, I think maybe it is a Zen answer but everything you go through is a valuable experience to where you have arrived today.  Certainly my thing is to outwork the other people.  That is my attitude to try and make a living playing music.  Enjoying playing guitar is a totally different thing, that comes from clearing your head and just being in the moment.  When it comes to making a living, which a lot of guitarists and younger kids ask me about, you get back what you put into it.   You have to treat it like a job and go after it even though you are in the arts and it is creative.  You have to approach it with a diligence. Jimi Hendrix was asked what is it like make a living playing guitar and he said ” Man, sometimes you are going to hate your guitar”.  It is not every time you pick up your guitar you are going to want to play it, that is how much you have to want to do it.  You have to be disciplined and be after that.  That is definitely a good lesson for any up and coming musician, just get up every day, and go after it. – That is good advice.  That would go with anything you have a passion for whether it be writing, painting, or playing music.  When you are doing something for a living you really have to push yourself a little harder.

Joel Hoekstra – Yea that is just my personal philosophy.  I get a lot of kids asking how are you doing all these gigs and how are you able to do this.  I still write everyone back.  This whole thing is about the fans and I am honored to be making a living doing it.  I try and get back to everyone.  My answer to them is always, “Look around and if anyone is out working you, it probably is not going to work for you, you have to be the person that is working the hardest.”

i-jKQhs7P – That is extremely true.  Now, Night Ranger released their new album entitled High Road on June 6th.  What was the writing and recording process like for this new record?

Joel Hoekstra – As with the last album, Brad, Jack, and Kelly get together and start hashing out with what they have.  They come up with pretty much the core of it and then they get Eric Levy and myself involved.  We write basically the rest with them, so I think I have a few co-writes on this one.  The guys are cool about involving us with that and are very open-minded about everyone working on their own parts. We do it a lot of times with all of us in the studio and we talk about it, but that is with everyone across the board.  That is what keeps it sounding like Night Ranger, there is not one person that takes it too far off the beaten path.  Luckily for me, I grew up loving Night Ranger so my style just fits right into the band.  That is the style I like to play anyway. – The album definitely has an upbeat rock feel to it with some really memorable tunes.  Was there a higher level of comfort for you this time around considering you had one record under your belt with the band and worked together a lot in recent years?

Joel Hoekstra – Honestly no.  I felt very comfortable the first time.  I kind of looked at it like I can play guitar well and these guys do what they do well, so we are going to have a good album.  I never even sweated the first one, I just said let’s rock, do what we do, and give people a kick ass Night Ranger album that they can enjoy.  I think with this one we delivered not only the classic sound  but I think we are challenging out listeners with some of our other influences. Hopefully people dig it and I think we have some great songs.  They are certainly some of my favorite Night Ranger songs of all-time.

Frontier Records
Frontier Records –  Night Ranger has always been a heavily guitar driven band with some really great and often heavy riffs.  Sometimes it is possibly downplayed how heavy Night Ranger has been over the years.  Was it important going into this album to showcase that heavier side of the band’s sound?

Joel Hoekstra – I think that is really just Brad’s influence in lot of the writing.  I think Brad is just a heavy riff maestro with the Ozzy Osborne background.  Also, I think a lot of the riffs were heavier on the early albums but producers thinned out the guitar sounds a little bit because they were trying to market Night Ranger as a pop act and tone it down.  Anyone who comes see us live, they will soon learn.  I was really shocked when I joined the band how heavy the live shows were, in comparison, it was like wow this is rocking!  Nowadays there is no one trying to tone us down or tell us what to do so we get to do exactly what we want to do.  Heaviness is a part of what we do.  We definitely love melody and hooky choruses, all of us love pop too, we do not dislike pop, but we definitely love rocking with a hard edge. – You are right.  That can be felt at the live shows.  The live shows are quite powerful.

Joel Hoekstra – Thanks so much.  We take pride in it.  That was my biggest lesson in joining the band.  I joined in the beginning of 2008 and one of the first things we did was go to Japan.  I remember meeting Brad in the center for the harmony solo on “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” and I remember I was just looking down at my guitar neck making sure I played real clean and had it all practiced.  I looked up and the whole audience was looking at Brad because he was looking out at them putting on a show doing it, I thought oh man I cannot go out like that, I am going to start getting my showmanship’s together.  Jack and Brad have been great for pushing me with that, working on my stage performance end of things.  That is something I always loved to do, I had just never have been pushed as hard as I was then in this band.

i-tshbwks – That sounds extremely exciting.  Besides Night Ranger, in recent years you have toured with Trans-Siberian Orchestra on the Winter Tour.  Their stage show is a spectacular event to witness along with the inspirational music.  What has working with TSO been like?

Joel Hoekstra – Again, that is hard to sum up, but it is a honor.  Everyone involved with that from A-Z, to the crew and management, is the best at what they do so it is an honor to work with all of them.  To be on stage with that kind of production,  I cannot think of anything else that is comparable, short of joining Roger Waters and playing The Wall (1979) with him.  Just to have pictures of myself with walls of flames and the insane lighting (laughs).  Paul O’Neill does an amazing job of making sure he blows everyone’s mind with the production end of the show every single time out.  Musically it is great, some of the stuff I get to play on there is my favorite stuff to play.  There is a lot of fun guitar stuff. – It really is.  It is amazing to see live.  What is interesting about TSO is they are essentially a metal band but they transcend into the mainstream with everyone.  It is quite exciting to see the diverse mix of people you see at a TSO show.

Joel Hoekstra – Yes.  Really that is the thought behind the name of the band in the first place.  The Trans-Siberian railway is the railway that connects more cultures than any other.  That was really Paul O’Neill’s vision for this, to have something that you can have anyone from a seven year old kid to a seventy year old person sitting out there enjoying it.  It is certainly a one of a kind show, I cannot think of anything else I would even compare to it.  We are all just so grateful that it works and to be a part of it.  It really is a blast and we have a great time every time out.

photo – It looks like a unreal stage experience for a performer.  What are some of your musical influences?

Joel Hoekstra – I grew in a family of classical musicians.  My parents are both classical musicians, so that is really way down in the core of me.  That really helped develop my fundamentals just as a listener, I was always hearing music in the house.  Hence I developed pitch, a sense of harmony, and even creativity.  My sister and I would take a little classical piece my parents had been playing and sing goofy lyrics to it and try and poke fun at them, that was great for us from the creative aspect.  Then I found rock-n-roll; that was because of AC/DC and Angus Young.  When I heard Back in Black (1980), I said man I want to do this (laughs).  It certainly started off with the metal stuff like Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osborne, and AC/DC.  It then transitioned into more of the hard rock with the pop type of sound with bands like Journey and Boston.  I loved bands like Rush and Yes.  I really was just kind of into bands with skill.  I never really could wrap my head around some of the campier elements of the hair band era, I was not necessarily a fan.  I went through everything, the shred guys,  Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, and Joe Satriani were all big influences on me.  Now it is just kind of whatever I am working on.  I really like everything nowadays, I do not even mind the campier stuff these days.  I just kind of look at music, that it is not about judging it, everything is what it is, and whatever you can take from it that benefits your own personal experience with music.

Atlantic Records
Epic – That is a great outlook.  That outlook honestly comes with experience and maturity.  You learn to appreciate other types of music that we put down when we were younger, we are victim of that.  You learn to take things for what they are and what you can take out of it like you stated.

Joel Hoekstra – Yes, life is not a talent contest.  When you are young you are all about trying to prove you are better than the next guy.  When you are 21 your outlook on life and just what is ahead is completely different.  Now it is more just about being the best person I can be rather than worry about what everyone else is doing. – Very true.  My last question for you is pertaining to movies. covers music and horror films.  If you are a fan of horror films what are some of your favorite horror films?

Joel Hoekstra – There is only one, The Exorcist (1973).  That is just the greatest horror movie of all time.  I do not know if any movie has scared me outside of that one.  I saw it as a kid, my mom let me go to a midnight showing of it with a friend.  I was scared for a week (laughs).  I was scared to death from that movie.  I do not know if any of the slasher films ever really got it.  I can enjoy them and crack up at some of the aspects of them.  The spiritual things have always been a little scarier for me than just cutting someone’s head off. – The Exorcist is a universal frightening film to many people.  It still holds strong today.

Joel Hoekstra – Yes, especially for the time of that movie, it was just ground breaking stuff.  I think there has been a lot of effort to capitalize on that same vibe but I do not think everyone has ever gotten it.  A lot of it is just that the movie takes its time, moves extremely slow, and it is not all about the shock value.  If you watch some of the scenes in the early going, showing the clock tick and having it stop, they really took their time.  They even take time to develop the priest and his mother’s relationship.  When she is talking in his mother’s voice, it really means something to you, it is not just the shock value of different voice coming out of a person.  I think because the movie took its time, it really had a better impact in terms of some of the scarier elements.

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.
New Line Cinema
New Line Cinema – Those elements you are speaking of have been lost over years in many films.  Now it is more of in your face special effects with instant gratification and a story that is not developed as strongly anymore.

Joel Hoekstra – Yes.  I certainly find it hard to watch some of the films that have really just gone for the graphics.  Some of those Pirate of The Caribbean films for me were almost unwatchable because I did not know what I was seeing half the time.  It was as if they took every scene and worked on the visual and sped it up.  It was almost like listening to an album with 2,000 tracks going on at one time, it was just too much for me to digest visually.  To me, that stuff is cool, it is not as if it should be frowned upon.  I think we are just like puppies and some of the technology is new to the film industry and they are making it all about that.  How cool would it be if they picked one moment in a film to go there, instead of punching everyone in the face the whole time.  I would appreciate that more in films.  All things are good in terms of development and technology, it is just a lot of times we tend to overuse stuff as a culture.  We are always fixated on what is cool and next, instead of just taking our time and saying something is still cool.  As a fan of classic rock, of course I am going to say that (smiles).  The same thing with films.  I think it holds true, you can still watch a film from the 1960’s and have it be totally incredible.

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