Delta Rae Interview
It finally seems as if music has gotten good. Really good. So good in fact, you have to be absolutely kick-ass or you fall through the cracks. Delta Rae knows it. And theirs is a rocket ride fueled by adrenaline.
An American folk band formed out of Durham, North Carolina, Delta Rae brings an intensity to the scene that commands attention. They simply will not be ignored. Their breakout album, Carry The Fire, released on Sire records in June of this year, has snagged the attention of critics, fans and everyone in-between who've absolutely fallen in love with them. And with good reason. Delta Rae brings it. All of it. With an edgy, powerful blues undertone that pulls at you, Delta Rae can easily hold their ground on a playlist next to the likes of the Stones. (Speaking of, another in-the-know magazine has called Delta Rae one of the top-ten must see bands of Voodoo Fest in New Orleans this past month)
Delta Rae, consisting of three siblings, Ian Hölljes (vocals and guitar), Eric Hölljes (vocals, guitar, piano and keys) and Brittany Hölljes (vocals), as well as Elizabeth Hopkins (vocals), Mike McKee (percussion) and Grant Emerson (bass guitar), bring talent, intelligence, and experience to the table. (Really. Ian and Eric both graduated Duke, and Brittany graduated Berkley School of Music. Early.)Their unmistakable sound coupled with their artistic vision, both evidenced in their smash single "Bottom of the River, "encapsulates just how much energy, passion and gutzpa this outfit has.
Oh, and their fans love them.
Delta Rae's loyal fan base helped them raise over 30 thousand dollars to record their first album. If that's not bringing the adoration and support of your fans to testament, I don't know what is. But don't think this breakout band isn't aware of their blessings. With sold out shows across the nation and invitations to play just about anything and anywhere, including the DNC, it seems likes everyone wants a piece of this band. And why not?
With unparalleled energy, uncompromising talent, and unending integrity, Delta Rae are making their permanent engraving on the world.
antiMusic had the rare opportunity to catch up with Brittany for an in-depth look at where they are, where they're headed and what they've experienced along the way.
antiMusic: How did you meet and where did the name Delta Rae come from?
Brittany: Well, my brothers and I have known each other for a while…. and Liz has been our close friend since I was 8 years old, and we have always been in love with the sweet soul of her voice. It's like Sheryl Crow, meets the boy in Sister Act II, meets whiskey. Lucky for us Eric had met Mike, our drummer, a few years back when Mike did sound for a show Eric was playing, and said "if you ever need a drummer, give me a call" so two years later we did! And Mike brought bassist Grant on board and we immediately gelled. The name is close to our hearts. It's the name of the main character in a book our mom is writing about a girl from the south who invokes the Greek gods and calls them back to earth. Our mom told us a lot of stories and folk tales growing up, and now she is creating her own American mythology through Delta Rae. And in a way, through our songwriting, we are too.
antiMusic: Gospel, bluegrass, blues, and pop have been used to describe your music. How would you describe what you're putting out?
Brittany: We know there is some controversy about our genre, and it has been tough for us to categorize it in the past. I think we all recognize now that our music is pure Americana. That to us means it's an amalgam of all the sounds of our childhood, the songs that have shaped us growing up in America, from James Taylor and Otis Redding, to Sweet Honey in the Rock and Billy Joel, to musicals like Jesus Christ Superstar and Phantom of the Opera, to Kanye West and Coldplay. Ian and Eric write our songs and they worry less about trying to fit into a definable box and more about telling a story. It keeps the music so fun and fresh for us, and I hope for listeners too.
antiMusic: Talk about the chemistry in the band. You have a lot of band members, What does everyone bring to the table?
Brittany: We DO have a lot of band members, six total. The chemistry between us is what makes this lifestyle livable and the art sustainable. We three siblings have our own specific dynamic, and while we can be extremely antagonistic and frustrating for one another, the care and love we have for each other is unstoppable. Liz, Mike, and Grant are the perfect counterpoints and compliments to the siblings. They bring levity, perspective, and their own unique strengths to the group, which is extremely helpful in keeping us three Holljes kids from strangling each other.
And musically, our kinship just feels like destiny. There is a synergy and musical compassion between us that makes playing with one another emotional and magical. Those moments we share are raw and personal. I think thats part of what has brought us all so close together.
antiMusic: For Eric, Ian, and Brittany, does sibling rivalry ever come into play? How about big-brother protectiveness?Can you give us an example?
Brittany: We siblings fight in the same way that a lot of siblings fight, but mostly it's beneficial. It's because we love each other and we always want the band to do the right thing. We never let each other rest on our laurels, and because we know each other so well, we keep each other in check. And all the boys are protective of both Liz and I sometimes, but for the most they just get out of the way, because at this point we tend to do a pretty good job taking care of ourselves.
antiMusic: Would you call yourselves sentimental?
Brittany: Thoughtful and nostalgic, yes. Sentimental, only sometimes. Like at Christmastime in my parents house or when I have to throw away worn out flip-flops.
antiMusic: Talk about playing live and how it forces you to be creative and in-the-moment in order to obtain the sound you're going for at the time?
Brittany: When you have six people in a band it's not always easy to change things up on the spot. I would say when it's our moment to solo, we play with our parts and get creative, but otherwise as a band we are more interested in delivering something that we've thought about and crafted to the audience, rather than indulging whims. Rehearsals are our creative space, playing live is playing out the stories we've honed behind closed doors.
antiMusic: What's everyone's creative strong points?
Brittany: Mike and Grant have brought a lot of creativity and diversity to our sound. Mike for instance introduced the chain and the trash can, which has become essential for Bottom of the River. He also brought in the auxiliary bass drum, which Liz hits with immense precision, she is a rhythmic goddess. Grant also expanded his own skills when he joined the group by picking up an electric upright bass and learning to play and bow it like a pro. Ian and Eric are the song writers and without them there would be no forum in which the rest of us could flex our creative muscles. They are the creative bones. Liz and I have the luxury of letting our voices run wild in both imbuing our solos with soul and arranging vocal parts.
antiMusic: Was just something everyone in the band always wanted to pursue or was it an after-thought or second choice for anyone? What would you each be doing if you weren't doing this?
Brittany: I feel safe saying for everyone that there is nothing in the world we'd rather be doing than playing in Delta Rae. We may not have seen this coming, but anything we might have done before seems impossible now. This is what we were meant for and it has felt like the stars aligned to bring this group together. I've never been one to defy the stars.
antiMusic: You guys are in the verge of exploding in a big way on the mainstream radar. What were some of the signals along the journey that let you know you were on the fast track to success?
Brittany: Thank you! I think we were all rejuvenated and pretty much gobsmacked when we first played for Seymour Stein, the man who signed us to Sire/Warner Brothers. His enthusiasm for our sound and his confidence in our vision affirmed for us that we really had something. Early on getting attention from Rolling Stone in their Women Who Rock Campaign was an absolute honor. And we were asked to play the DNC this year in Charlotte, and even though we got rained out, the fact we were asked simply blew us away. But I think when our fans helped us raise $30k in 2010, we realized we had the opportunity to make a record we believed in and that we could be proud of, and that was really a turning point for our band. We wouldn't be where we are without that tremendous support.
antiMusic: Where does pride fit in?
Brittany: No room for pride. We all have learned that in order for this to work the best interest of the group and the band has to come first, you give yourself up to the whole. You learn not to take yourself too seriously, and it's tremendously freeing.
antiMusic: Talk about the touring experience? What have been the best moments? The downfalls?
Brittany: We have been on tour on and off for the last two and a half years, but things really picked up this year. The touring experience is exhausting sometimes and can wear you thin if you don't' take care of yourself. That being said, it is our absolute favorite part of our "job". You are doing what you love, with people you love, and sharing it with others who love it too, and it regularly blows my mind. The best moments have come with discovering new markets and pockets of die-hard fans who have all the lyrics memorized, even if we've never been to their town before. The main downfall is the sedentary time in the car, we get a little stir-crazy. But then, we get to just explode with energy on stage, so I guess we can't really complain :)
antiMusic: Who would you like to work with in the future?
Brittany: Kanye West is one of the best artists of our generation and we think it would be amazing to collaborate someday, but we would be thrilled to join forces with anyone who is making great, timeless music.
antiMusic: Who has imparted the deepest lessons to you? What are they?
Brittany: Ian received some powerful advice from Reynolds Price, an author he took care of for a year after college. The advice was: "Some people are going to hate you for the exact same reasons other people love you." To me, this advice is invaluable if you're anyone attempting to break the mold.
antiMusic: All about the success "bottom of the river" has received.
Brittany: We've been thrilled by the response it's received. We recorded it with friends and volunteers on a $2,000 budget, as an independent project. It has since been our most viewed and listened to piece of content and I think the video and song together pack a powerful punch. It's taken us to the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and on CONAN as well and now the video is being played in heavy rotation on VH1, as we are their You Oughta Know artist for October. The song came to Eric in a dream, so we always say it has mysterious origins. I keep telling Eric to go back to sleep and see what comes next!
antiMusic: Tell us a little more about the video for "Bottom of the River," what were you going for? Whose concept was it?
Brittany: Ian came up with the concept after we had been ideating for nearly nine months, and had been dissatisfied with all the ideas up until he said the words "witch trial". It was the perfect story line for such an earthy and mysterious song. We wanted to create a video that told a story, had a twist, and could be endlessly watchable, with little hidden camera tricks and subtle layers. The director, Lawrence Chen, had a huge hand in that element and brought in the step team and the dancers too. He executed the shoot brilliantly. I think a one shot video is arresting and in keeping with the story telling aspect. And the fact that the band got to shoot it as a real performance piece kept us within our comfort zones, and made filming it an awesome experience.
antiMusic: Your debut album carry the fire is getting a ton of attention. Did you see this kind of immediate success coming? Would you call it immediate success?
Brittany: It's been wild. It feels immediate in that "Carry The Fire" only just came out in June and already so much has happened since then. But we've been crafting many of the album's songs from the beginning and have had an extremely loyal and generous fan base that have sustained us early on and even funded the recording of the record, so while we didn't know what to expect when we released it through WBR, we knew were releasing the album that we had always envisioned. We are so grateful and excited that it is resonating with people.
antiMusic: Aside from "Bottom of the River" what track embodies the band as a whole?
Brittany: I would say the song that best embodies the band is Morning Comes. It's a song about knowing that the best times in our lives can sometimes come on the heels of the darker times, and that hope is the light in that darkness. It's the story of our family and its hard times and triumphs, and I think ultimately it is a very American story. The song opens with big, joyous four part harmony, which is essentially our hallmark.
antiMusic: What's been the coolest part of this ride so far? Your biggest success?
Brittany: I think we have all learned a great deal about one another and about ourselves through this band, and we are only just on the precipice of the real adventure. I would say for me, the coolest part has been the relationships. Not only with my band/family (bandily?) with whom I am now inseparable, we've formed a unique and incomparable bond, but also with fans. To know that the stories we tell through our songs are relatable for so many souls is beyond moving. And for us to pour our hearts out every show for a loving and energetic crowd is a beautifully exhilarating and symbiotic exchange.
antiMusic: What's next?
Brittany: Touring, touring, touring, and did I mention will be touring a lot? We will be touring A LOT.
antiMusic: Do you see yourselves taking your music in another direction or keeping with your current sound?
Brittany: I think our current sound covers enough ground that we don't really worry about the direction it will take. We are always expanding, and yet always honing. All I know now is that what comes next will sound like Delta Rae.
antiMusic: What impression do you want to leave on people?
Brittany: I think we hope to leave people with the impression that we care. We care about the songs we are writing, we care about the way they sound, we care about our audiences' experience and their relationship with our music. We are not a band that's "too cool", or apathetic, or nihilistic. We are entrenched in the feelings of being alive, the joy and the sorrow, and we aren't afraid to express ourselves and tell our stories. We hope it gives the audience and opportunity to connect and feel something too.
Delta Rae Interview