Last Survivor - Decky Hedrock and Mick McCallion.
Last Survivor, a brand new band from Derry, have signed an album deal without actually releasing music. The electronic band, which comprises of Decky Hedrock (producer), Mick McCallion (songwriting/drums) and various guest vocalists, started writing music in November 2019, and then lockdown kicked in - but it didn’t stop them. Decky has achieved worldwide success with chart success in the US and Australia as well as remixing international stars such as Beyonce Knowles, Depeche Mode and Daft Punk, to mention but a few.. Here, he reveals how Last Survivor got its named, how he first appeared on stage as a dancer, shared a stage with one of the world's most popular electronic punk groups and recalls how it didn't 'all go Pete Tong' in Ibiza.
From Danesfort Crescent, off Greenhaw Road in Derry, Decky, went to St Brigid's Primary School, Carnhill, and then onto St Joseph's Boys in Creggan.
After that came a few years studying business and then on to computer suites at what was known locally as 'The Tech,' now known as the North West Regional College (NWRC).
Like many of Derry's singers and musicians, he was inspired by a member of his family, in his case, his father.
He recalled: “My dad taught me to play guitar. He would have been influenced by rock 'n' roll, he also put on shows for patients at the hospital when he worked there and he would still play away at his guitar most days.
“When I was 16 he bought me my first guitar in a pawn shop in Florida when we were on holiday. It was a Bentley Series 10 shark fin grey and it looked like a proper '80s rock guitar - I still have it on the wall in my studio. I think he paid $30 for it back then. I got a Yamaha synth when I was quite young, probably around 10 years old. Just the basic home ones that had speakers built in. I used to play that and arrange my own songs, as it had an ability to record your own arrangements also.
“Obviously, I wasn't doing anything too professional back then and I never actually learned to play it properly - in fact, I still can’t actually play a keyboard properly all these years later. But it was my first taste of making music.
“Then I got the guitar when I was 16 and a few years later it was my computer. It was around then when I discovered ‘Mod Trackers’ software on the Commodore Amiga, which allowed you to make music using samples. I was making electronic music at this stage, covers of songs and dabbling in different styles. It wasn’t until I saw The Prodigy playing at a festival in 1994 that I decided I wanted to make dance music. That gig kickstarted my creativity and made me determined to try and do what they did. I digested and absorbed everything that was The Prodigy for years.
“I was inspired. Liam Howlett, the producer behind their music, he was a genius. It was many years later in The Japanese Popstars that I actually played alongside The Prodigy and it had all come full circle at that point. But I’d finally had met my music hero Liam Howlett.”
Decky made his first stage appearance with Aurora 7, a band formed with friends.
He recalled: “I initially started out playing guitar and had been in a couple of bands with mates that never really played anywhere other than our parents garages.
“My first proper band I joined was Derry rave act Aurora 7. Noel Canney, who was the producer, took me under his wing after he heard a few tracks I had been making and he taught me about MIDI and helped me start building my music studio. I’m forever grateful for that opportunity that helped me starting out.”
Recalling his first stage appearance with Aurora 7, he said: “We played at a venue in Cookstown which was more like 'old fashioned rave.' I think we headlined and I was a dancer on stage. Yep, a dancer - you have to start somewhere!
“It was great to be in the spotlight and it felt amazing to be on stage for the first time. I remember eagerly running out on to this large, open empty stage and realising there was hundreds of people staring back at me. It felt like there was no music for ages, just these faces staring back, waiting for me to do something. The rest of the band hadn’t come on yet and the thought crossed my mind to go and hide, but I shouted, very cheesily: ‘Are you all having a good time?’ and the crowd responded to me, they shouted back ‘yeah'!
“The music immediately kicked in and everyone cheered. It was like magic and I just started dancing. After the gig, there was a line of people outside our dressing room looking for me to sign autographs. Confusing thoughts ran through my head - I wasn’t anyone famous, it was my first gig, I’m just a lad from Derry and this attention was a bit overwhelming for me to take it all in but I just played along.
“I realised the people didn’t know who I was, they just enjoyed the gig and wanted that little bit more. I was happy to play along with the charade. That became the norm then for a few years.”
Decky then started Hedrock Valley Beats, an electronic band with Kevin Fox (bassist) and Frankie Kane (scratch DJ).
“We started getting loads of BBC Radio 1 plays, remixing well known bands and even had a number one in Australia - we did tours there”
“That ran for about four years until we went our separate ways, when Foxy moved out of Derry and things fizzled out.”
The Japanese Popstars was Decky's next venture, which saw him play loads of shows all around the world, building up a massive following as a great live act.
“We remixed so many high profiled artists, music legends and even ended up collaborating with Robert Smith (The Cure), Green Velvet, Tom Smith (The Editors) and Lisa Hannigan on one of our albums. It was so much fun and we never took ourselves too seriously but managed to play alongside peers that we only ever dreamed of.”
At the height of their careers, The Japanese Popstars won a few respected dance music awards and had various artists calling looking for them to rework their own music.
“We got commissioned to do tons of remixes by artists like Pete Tong, Benny Benassi and The Editors who asked us to remix songs for them. We ended up remixing two Beyonce Knowles songs, the first ‘If I Was A Boy’ and that didn’t get actually released as no other remixer that was asked was able to deliver a remix for her to put out as a package, so we got asked again for her next release, as she loved our remixed version.
“So, we ended up then remixing ‘All The Single Ladies’ too a few months later.”
The Japanese Popstars got asked to remix a few songs of the Disney Tron soundtrack by Daft Punk and contributed two remixes onto the Tron: Reconstructed soundtrack, which Decky described as being 'pretty cool,' as it meant being involved with Gary and Gareth who were massive Daft Punk fans.
Decky added: “I also remember one time we were playing a show in Ibiza at Dalt Villa, with Pete Tong, Dubfire and 2ManyDJs, and Fletch from Depeche Mode just walks up to us from the crowd and introduced himself. He had come to check us out as they had asked us to remix for them a few weeks earlier and he wanted to say thanks and how he loved our version of their song. That was probably our cooler moments, as a music legend had come to watch us and just hang out with us for the rest of the evening.”
Springing forward to the present, Decky said he and fellow Last Survivor member Mick were 'absolutely buzzing' to have found a home for their music without releasing any material or even playing a gig in more than a year.
He revealed why the band was formed and how it got its name.
“I’m a producer, which means I make the music. I write everything in my studio, on a computer but have synthesisers, samplers and a large mixing desk to record all the sounds to make the music.
“I built a hardware-based studio over the years but have steadily become more reliant on using the computer, as the PC technology has got better over the last 20 years I’ve stepped away more from the hardware and onto using software synths. I can bang out ideas a lot faster on a computer compared to using old school hardware. Mick is the drummer and also a singer/songwriter, so he’s writing lyrics for some of our vocalists, as well as even lending his talents and singing himself on tracks!
“I really wanted something that had that type of '80s hair metal irony but still striking and easy to remember, or at least easy to spell for people to search online to find us.
“Weirdly, I always had a habit of coming up with names that where ‘uniquely spelt’ or difficult in the past like Hedrock Valley Beats, The Japanese Popstars or Sirkus Sirkuz, that actually made it tough for people to spell, so I realised years later any online searches could be hard for people tracking us down due to the unique awkward spelling. It’s not a way to get new fans.
”I’ve been in and out of bands for years and some more successful than others. Hedrock Valley Beats was probably the most commercially successful with major radio play all over the world, a number one in Australia, number 21 the in Lebanese pop charts and a national airplay number one in the USA.
“After that, I started The Japanese Popstars with fellow Derry man Gary Curran and Gareth Donoghue and we toured considerably, remixed the likes of Beyonce, Daft Punk, Kylie, 30 Secs To Mars and ended up signing to Virgin Records.
“We released a few albums and won a few prestigious music awards and even got the band name on a Formula 1 racing car for a season.
“I had actually stepped away from writing music for a few years, as I got a little disillusioned with dance music. I started listening more to '80s songs, rock, hiphop and different types of music. Pretty much going back to my roots before I started writing dance music.
“I met Mick about three years ago and he was always asking me to do something with him; he was a singer/songwriter and had been a drummer for a band called Droids over the years. I finally caved into him and started writing music again with the mindset of Mick on drums and that’s how Last Survivor was born.
“We now have this new futuristic sound, that features '80s synths, an attitude of rock and a sprinkling of dance music
“I actually came across Last Survivor, as part of a slogan, on the back of a vintage '80s rock T-shirt and it literally was staring me in the face, there on a person's back that was sitting in front of me in a room. It was exactly what I was looking for as a band name.”
Last Survivor's album will release later this year with the single ‘Waste Away’ coming out to begin with.
Decky said he enjoyed making the album.
He said: “I find it therapeutic and satisfying. I forgot how much I missed writing when I had stopped for those few years. Just looking at music in a new way with Last Survivor was invigorating, as I wasn’t writing music for DJs anymore, I was writing songs now. These had more structure, chord changes, more melody and where less repetitive than dance music. It feels like I’m being that little bit more creative.”
So, why release 'Waste Away' as a single?
He explained: “It was pretty much the first piece of music I wrote for us, so I wanted to get that out first. Usually, electyronic producers normally gravitate to releasing in order of what is written first, probably because we immediately move onto writing the next piece of music instictively.”
For more details, got to www.facebook.com/last survivorofficial/.
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