Hurricane Fall on literally breaking their neck for music

18 December 2020 | 11:13 am | Mallory Arbour

Pepper Deroy from Hurricane Fall talks about the new single Aftertaste ft. The Crawford Brothers, Golden Guitar awards and turbulent flights.

Hurricane Fall

Hurricane Fall (Hurricane Fall)

In July 2019, Newcastle-based country band, Hurricane Fall made international headlines when their flight from Vancouver to Sydney, carrying 269 passengers and 15 crew, encountered sudden turbulence and forced the aircraft to make an emergency landing in Hawaii. Passengers reported the turbulence tossed people into the air, some hitting the ceiling, with 37 people injured during the mid-air incident.

After posting footage of the incident on their social media, their page went “ballistic”, with the ban inundated with requests for interviews. Singer and bassist, Pepper Deroy went live with CNN from his hospital bed, and the other members: Jesse Vee (singer/guitarist), Lachlan Coffey (drummer), Tim Hickey (keyboardist/guitarist) and Luke Wheeldon (guitarist/producer) all appeared on FOX News.

Deroy says, “From all reports, the plane should have ripped in half – it was that intense! The plane just fell from the sky. We've extremely lucky to be here. We're glad we're alive! All the boys were petrified, to be honest. We’ve flown since and hit some turbulence, and your body subconsciously goes into fight mode.”

While the other four members came out physically unscathed, Deroy was not as lucky. What was initially thought to be nerve damage to his forearm and elbow, ended up being a broken neck, a fractured back and ribs, resulting in a 12-month recovery period.

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“I couldn’t move at all. I thought I had just broken my arm, because they said I was fine in Hawaii – that [my arm] was just stiff from being shunted into the top of the airplane, but it was my solicitor who said to get a CT scan. I walked into the CT scan and they put me in an ambulance and took me to hospital for emergency surgery. They said, ‘If you'd step off the curb the wrong way, you’d be in a wheelchair!'”

While still under the impression of just having a broken arm, he describes that first gig back at the Broadbeach Music Festival as ‘rough’ and ‘horrendous’. While loaded up on Valium to get through the pain and unable to hold his bass, they used a replacement bass player was didn’t have time to learn the songs.

“We weren't performing at our best and I was to blame for that. It had a major impact, just more than I'd like to give credit to. When you have damage to the neck, sometimes there’s bits of bone floating around in there. I'm right arm dominant and it damaged the right arm, so basically, that arm just disintegrated [and] sweat away to nothing. It’s been a 12-month process, gaining strength back. I’ve had to basically learn how to sing again, because there’s a giant plate in my throat. My back has pretty much healed.”

Deroy credits his sheer grit and determination for helping him heal, and, despite always being close, the incident has brought the band closer together. It also changed his perspective on life.

“I don't hold back anymore. If something needs to be said, it’s said. And the fact that I had to retrain vocally, that alone has given me a fresh perspective on performance and where we need to be musically – so, that in itself, has been a huge positive. We’re performing better than ever, actually.”

While Deroy says his injuries caused a bit of a hindrance to the recording process and, other plans fell by the wayside, Hurricane Fall released their much-anticipated debut album Ain’t Leavin’ in January. This was before the covid-19 pandemic, where, like all touring musicians, restrictions surrounding live music forced them to take a break, and gave them time to reflect, reassess and figure out what they wanted to do as a band.

This change in attitude led to the release of their latest single Aftertaste, featuring The Crawford Brothers on November 13. Written by Deroy with Ben and Zac from the Crawford Brothers, the song is a fusion between pop and contemporary country and was written from a very personal and emotional place.

“The song was written from the lyrical standpoint of losing someone you immensely care for and finding it impossible to ever shake those feelings. It's about the deep emotions and memories that come back up when you hear a specific song on the radio – a song that you and your loved one had a very personal connection with. The song you hear on the radio pulls at your heartstrings as it's an instant association and summary of 'what you had' and it rips you apart.”

The music video was directed by Ben Crawford, and shot and edited by Tom Blake from Gravity Films, and intercuts between a couple on the emotional roller-coaster from love found to love lost, shot in the heart of Maitland, Lorn Bolwarra and Phoenix Park areas, and the musicians and artists on location at Tocal Homestead in the Paterson area of NSW. And, Aftertaste was recorded at the Crawford Brothers home studio in Hunter Valley and engineered by Rhys Zacher from Spinlight Studios.

Of this collaboration, Deroy says, “The Crawford Brothers wanted to tap in on our loyal fan base and vocals too, and we wanted their pop writing. They’re great writers. It was awesome to see how other writer’s write and be part of that process, rather than just writing amongst our own group as we usually do.”

Deroy says this new single showcases a more mature sound and new direction for the band.

“I was over that old sound. I wanted to push forward, get it out of the road and get something new out. Our last album, we'd been working on tracks for years, it just took us a while to get it out. We didn't have a streamline process which we do now. We've learned from our mistakes, and everything's planned and articulated more than it ever has been, so that’s something different for Hurricane Fall."

"It's onwards and upwards. The whole vibe and product is going to be a notch up because you're competing on a world scale. The world's a very small place now. Especially [with] covid, it's made it even smaller in terms of our technology keeps us connected. So, if we release a song, we're competing against everyone in Nashville.”

He further adds they've learnt that their fans are drawn more to their vocal-rich, country-pop kinds of songs. Which, he hinted, will be even more evident in their next single due due for release next year. They've been working Michael Delorenzis and Michael Paynter from MSquared Productions in Melbourne (the duo responsible for producing Casey Barnes’ ARIA-charting albums) and others who might surprise their long-time listeners. And, while I can't say who – yet – it certainly surprised me!

Recognised as one of the hardest working bands in the Australian country rock scene, their efforts have earned them their first Golden Guitar nomination in the Country Music Capital News Group or Duo of the Year category. Deroy notes they've got some “stiff competition” competing alongside Angus Gill & Seasons of Change, The Buckleys, The McClymonts and The New Graces. While "it’s nice just to be nominated," his money is on The Buckleys or the McClymonts.

However, their nomination is well-deserved, after having regularly performed at the Tamworth Country Music Festival, Gympie Music Muster, Cavandish Beach Music Festival in Canada, and headlining internationally at Top Paddock Music Festival in New Zealand in 2015. They have also supported Tasmanian heavy-weights The Wolfe Brothers, as well as US country music legend and actor Billy Ray Cyrus on his Australian Tour in 2018.

Furthermore, they have tasted success with their studio releases. Their debut self-titled EP reached No. 2 on the iTunes Country Albums chart, with the follow-up EP How We Get Down peaked at No. 4. And, although not released as an official single, the track Lost was added to Spotify’s Fresh Country playlist and has received over 365k streams to date. Similarly, their last single Top Down has been streamed over 305k times.

While Hurricane Fall has only done one gig since coming out of lockdown – and with the audience required by law to remain seated – it wasn’t the same party crowd they’re used to play to; Deroy remains optimistic, saying, “Once the restrictions are lifted fully, I think it’ll come back better than ever!”

With restrictions easing and a new single in tow; it's no surprise, they're keen to tour again – not even a turbulent flight can hold them back! Deroy says, "We've a long enough hiatus now. We're good to go again."

Keep up to date with Hurricane Fall on their Facebook page here.

For more in-depth interviews on CountryTown, check out here.