It's no secret that Joel Hoekstra is one the hardest-working musicians you're ever likely to meet. The Night Ranger guitarist, who just celebrated the release of the band's new album, High Road, also performs regularly as part of Broadway's Rock of Ages and tours every fall with Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Hoekstra also has unveiled a brand new project, VHF, which stands for the initials of band mates Todd "Vinny" Vinciguerra (drums), Joel Hoekstra (guitars) and bassist Tony Franklin (the Firm, Kenny Wayne Shepherd).
Co-produced by Joe Floyd and Tommy Kessler (Blondie, Rock of Ages), VHF's debut release, Very High Frequency, which was released June 20, isn't a shred record by any means. It's full of trippy, groove-inspired rock that's been built from the ground up.
I recently caught up with Hoekstra and got an update on Night Ranger, VHF and the secret to mastering his two-handed technique.
GUITAR WORLD: High Road reminds me a lot of the classic Night Ranger sound. Was the intent going into this album to pay homage to those early records?
We just wanted to be ourselves and were able to find a nice balance of sounding like the classic Night Ranger while giving ourselves the leeway to express some our influences. We’re still a rock and roll band who likes to create new music and give our fans something they’ll appreciate. It’s an honor for me to be a part of it.
What else can you tell me about the new album?
There’s really something for everyone on this record, and a lot of it starts with Jack [Blades], Brad [Gillis] and Kelly [Keagy] together. "Knock Knock Never Stop" is really a good example of that. It's got that signature Brad Gillis riff in it. "Rollin On" is another song that started out with a bluesy-sounding riff. I think you can hear a little bit of Brad’s Hendrix influence on that one. Eric Levy and I are involved as well. Eric came in with the ballad “Only For You Only” and I came up with the riffs for “I’m Coming Home."
What's your live setup going to be like for this summer’s Night Ranger tour?
I’ve been using EVH III amps for quite some time. I also have a built in AKG Wireless system into my guitars that were installed by Atomic Guitar Works. They did a phenomenal job. They literally build the transmitters right into my guitars. All I need to do is press it on or off. It goes directly into the receiver and straight into the amp. From there, I just use a Line 6 DL4 for delay on the loop when I go to solo.
How did the VHF project come about?
I've known Todd since the two of us were roommates in Hollywood back in the Nineties. He recently hit me up and told me he had some drum tracks Tony Franklin had played on and wanted to know if I’d be interested in playing on it as well. He sent them over to me and basically said to do whatever I wanted on it. The cool thing about it was that we built the song from the drums up, which is a pretty backwards songwriting concept. But the results that came from it were really unique. We ended up with a hybrid mix of cool playing along with some really trippy stuff. For instrumental music, it focuses more on the vibe of the song instead of just the chops.
That first song went so well that I asked Todd about doing an EP. We ended up doing five more songs like that. Then Todd and Tony did a bass and drum song called "All Is Within” and I did a conceptual guitar piece ("Conception to Death") where I improvised on a track and then wrote seven more to it. It’s basically all of the stages of life condensed within a minute and a half. Everyone can check out the video for the song “Whispers of the Soul” online right now. It’s a very cool, unique project and we're happy to have it out there.
Do the three of you have plans to do any live shows?
Right now there's a lot going on with our other projects, so we’re not sure what’s going to happen next. But you never know. When you enjoy what you do and work hard at it, sometimes things can surprise you. I never thought I would be in Night Ranger or in a Broadway show that features Eighties hard rock. There are all kinds of things that can happen over the course of your career. You just have to ride the wave.
Can you tell me how you developed your two-handed technique?
I was really lucky that another one of my first guitar teachers taught theory and soloing and was really into the eight-fingered technique. His name is T.J. Helmerich. He’s an amazing player who has a lot of rock/fusion albums out with that style of playing. I remember I was 14 when he first taught me the eight-finger part for "Rock in America." I used to sit up in my bedroom practicing it over and over and even tried to do it with my eyes closed. So it’s kind of an ironic thing for me to now be in the band. Some of the things that I was working on at that time just seemed to have come full circle.
Do you have a piece of advice for someone who wants to learn it?
It’s a unique solo technique and I always liked having that as something I could spend time on. But it’s just like anything else - it’s about finding where your passion lies and then putting in the time. My advice is to find what you dig and then go after it as hard as possible. You'll always get back what you put in. It’s all about hard work.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.