Folk-Rock Group DELTA RAE Discuss Their Brand New Album, ‘The Light,’ Appreciation For Their Fans, Kickstarter and More!
Last week on March 20th, Delta Rae released their third album entitled ‘The Light” via an incredible response on Kickstarter. The overwhelming response raised over 15x the original goal and saw the band become the 5th biggest music Kickstarter campaign!
The album finds them at a crossroads in their lives, leaving their label deal last summer after feeling trapped and creatively stunted. On a whim, they created a Kickstarter to help fund the creation of ‘The Light’ and within hours they reached their goal on $30,000.
“Recording these songs reminded us of how far we’ve come and what a journey we’ve been on together,” says guitarist/singer Ian Hölljes, who shares primary songwriting duties with his brother. “Our music can be strange and unruly sometimes, and it doesn’t always fit neatly into any particular box, but at the end of the day, that’s us.”
This album is an exciting genre-defying slice of Americana, mixing in major pop choruses, classic southern songwriting, and the soul of Motown, and it will serve as a sister album to their forthcoming 2021 release “The Dark.” On the album, the sextet tackle life’s big mysteries, with each song crafted using The Tarot’s major arcana as inspiration and tracing the band back to its origins as three siblings and their friend convening in a house in the woods of Durham, North Carolina, writing songs that were honest explorations of their lives and emotional explorations.
This folk rock band formed in Durham, North Carolina and is currently made up 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).
Connect With Delta Rae Online Here- WEBSITE
Learn more about Delta Rae in the following All Access interview-
When it comes to your music, what are you most excited about for 2020?
We are most excited to share The Light with the world because it is the most authentic expression of who this band is. In both its simplicity and its complexity, it is the most unapologetically Delta Rae that we have been in our 10 years as a band. It isn’t trying to fit into any sort of pre-prescribed box. It wasn’t created to cater to any certain consumer demographic, radio format or genre. When making this album, above all else we stayed committed to making music that came from our souls with the ultimate goal of sharing it with our fans.
Can you recall the moment when you thought you could be in this group together?
Ian, Eric, Britt and Liz sang together in an a cappella group when they were teenagers and became really close friends through that process. When we started spending time together outside of rehearsals and performances and continued harmonizing in that setting—just the four of us in in their parents’ living room—I think that’s when we knew. Mike and Grant joined us in 2010 and formed an integral part of our sound and were the final piece of the puzzle that made Delta Rae feel complete.
Do you find that your band name still represents you and your music today?
Absolutely. Our name and the story behind it speak to our roots as a band, which are what we returned to with this latest era of music. Delta Rae conjures strength, power, equity, mysticism and the kind of Southern storytelling that we have always believed in and stood for. The woman and the bull are our North Stars, and representative of what we strive for every year, on every tour and every album that we build as a band.
Where did your name come from?
Delta Rae is a six-piece band and three of its members are siblings (Ian, Eric and Britany Hölljes). Their mother, Laurie, was working on a novel at the time the band came together. The book is about a 12-year-old girl growing up in the South whose father falls into a coma, and she calls upon the Greek Gods to awaken her father from that coma. That girl’s name is Delta Rae. When we formed the band, the name and the story felt perfect. Laurie is cool with us borrowing the main character’s name (forever). She is actually still editing and perfecting the book itself; we can’t wait to read it.
How do you think your hometown has influenced the sound and how you all carry yourselves in this group? If not, why is that?
The band formed in Durham, NC in 2009 and is proud to be a North Carolina-grown group. North Carolina has a rich history of folk, gospel, blue grass and soul music and I think there are tastes of that all throughout our music. There are some heavy hitters from North Carolina—James Taylor being one of the most notable with other amazing artists of recent times also hailing from there, a la Nina Simone. Contemporary artists from here that are really carved their own paths also stand out to us: The Avett Brothers, as rock- folk-energetic rebels; the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an all-black string band that have now become more of a movement than a band, focused around showing how much Black musicians and composers are an integral part of American Music and its entire history. The state is a really complex and distinct place with a real connection to the earth. It’s a place whose four distinct seasons remind us of fireflies, the smell of burning leaves in the woods and the extremely loud cicadas chirping on summer nights.
All of those things come together in harmony. From the beginning, our sound—and the thing that has remained the spine of our songs—is four-part harmony. The call and response vocals and gospel influences emerge naturally in all of our music, whether it’s a happy love song, a heartbreaking ballad or a dark and swampy Southern gothic tale.
How excited are you to be releasing your next album, “The Light” later this month?
It has been five years since Delta Rae released a full-length album. In our ten years as a band, we have gone through lots of ups and downs. At times, that’s meant losing a little bit of what made us who we are. The Light is us finally putting out music that we recorded simply because we loved it and we knew it sounded like us. It infuses the range of musical influences, big shifts and major milestones that brought us to this point in our lives and our career. It is our first independent release, made possible solely because our incredibly loyal and passionate fans chose to support us when we announced our independence and launched our Kickstarter campaign last July. The result is a joyful ride from top to bottom. Get ready to move!
What was it like using Kickstarter to fund it and then getting into the studio to record it?
Our fans helped fund the first album last time we launched a Kickstarter in 2011 for Carry The Fire. Going back to that platform to crowdfund our upcoming albums felt as natural as it did scary.
To say we are grateful to our fans—old and new—would be an enormous understatement. The truth is that they are the reason we are still a band. We can keep making the art we want to make and sharing it with the world because of them. To finally record these songs— some of which had been floating around in our heads and hearts for years—was like letting out a breath we didn’t know we were holding.
Speaking of Kickstarter, were you guys shocked that it only took a matter of hours to reach your goal of $30,000 and then became the most-funded indie band in the platform’s history? Did you have any idea that you would get that much support?
It’s been a truly surreal couple of months. We’ve been calling this our trust fall moment, and we’re still shocked by the number of hands that reached out to catch us. What we thought would only be one album has manifested into two full length albums (The Light and The Dark), one live album, a holiday album, an acoustic album, a Southern Gothic musical and the forming of our own record label.
We are completely blown away and remain eternally grateful to our incredible fans. They have given us a second chance.
What are your favorite songs on this album? What inspired them?
This is very tough, and is a question that everyone in the band would probably answer a little bit differently. Each song was written at a different time, inspired by the moment each songwriter was personally in or experiencing through others’ eyes when that song itself was written. Songs like “Only In America” and “Stronger Than A Lion” come with a strong message. The former shines a light on the sense of hope and optimism that exist in this country alongside the ugly truths we need to confront in order to be a better nation; one that respects and protects women, people of color and non- binary individuals. Since recording it, “Stronger Than A Lion” has gone from a broad one about fighting off your bullies to an uplifting song that pulled us out of sadness following the recent storms in Nashville, which is a city many of our band members call home.
“No One Will Miss Me,” while written during a period of serious depression, flips that sadness on its head and packages it up in a song that’s as unexpected as it is raw and honest. “Back To The Garden” was inspired by Liz’s engagement in her beloved garden at her home in North Carolina but has a deeper message of the need to return to the physical and spiritual places that bring us back to center.
The list goes on. Every song on this album has its own story.
Can you talk about using the Tarot’s major arcana?
In college, Brittany majored in Religious Studies with an emphasis in Mediterranean Religion and early Christian thought, which allowed her to delve deep into such things as Greek and Nordic myth, paganism, alchemy and astrology. The songs that would make it on The Light and The Dark spoke to this part of her spirit. The link between the songs and The Major Arcana of The Tarot came organically, with the associations forming before we even decided on the double album concept. It started as a vision for single art but soon became a much deeper vision with parallels that felt cosmic. Brittany has now aligned each song from The Light and The Dark with a card from the Major Arcana and we’ve made our own original Tarot deck as another way for fans to experience the music and dive deep into the world of Delta Rae.
How exactly will “The Light” be the sister album to your forthcoming 2021 release, “The Dark”? How will the songs on each collection compare to each other?
Delta Rae has always existed with a dichotomy in our music. There has always been the light and the dark, and you can’t have one without the other. Our previous albums had tinges of both. For the first time we decided to build both of the worlds fully and independently, creating a space for our listeners to really soak each one in and exist in those worlds for a while. The Light is soulful and sun-kissed. The Dark is the earthy, mysterious and calls for the kind of Southern gothic storytelling that fans of “Bottom of the River” know well. We’re excited for everyone to know and experience both sides of our band more deeply.
Generally, how does this group go about writing your music? Do you write together or separately? What is the first step in your music-making process?
It isn’t the same for every song. Usually one of the siblings will come to the group with a completed song and play it for us either on guitar or piano. Then we workshop it to see who the song is meant for. Sometimes the writer has someone in mind, but not always. Sometimes, a writer has an idea for just a chorus or just a verse, and we as a band will play around with it and experiment with it for a long time before it reaches its final form.
But in most cases, the writer of the song will present the song with complete lyrics and melody—either live or they send over a demo. If the band reacts positively, we all try it out when we’re together for rehearsals and go from there.
I always like to ask bands how much you hang out socially apart from when you are creating and performing music?
When we all lived in the same town we were together quite often. And we spend a TON of time together when we’re touring and recording. We live in three different states now, so it has gotten trickier to hang over the years. But at the end of the day we’re a family band, in every sense of the word. We love and care about each other and get under each other’s skin in the same way families do. We enjoy each other’s company but also need the time apart to recharge. It’s important for us to take it down to zero in order to be able to bring the level of energy, love and commitment that we want to give to the band, our shows and our fans once we get back on stage.
How do you feel that this band has grown through the years? What has remained the same?
We have found a way to be more candid with our fans about tough things we’ve gone through in our career and in our lives. Our music has always been personal and opening up about pain and joy has felt freeing. When we released “No Peace in Quiet,” for example, Eric shared the story of what originally inspired that song. Liz then came out and shared her feelings on the song from the perspective of someone who’s lost a parent. We used to think those were things to keep hidden but our fans taught us that isn’t necessary. We’ve been sharing the stories with every song we’ve released off of the album to date.
As far as what’s stayed the same, we’re still touring musicians at heart. We spend lots of time together in a moving vehicle and playing live shows. And the live shows and seeing the way our audiences react to the music are still the most satisfying parts of the job.
Where do you think you are all happiest- in the studio recording new music, on stage performing or elsewhere?
This also depends on what band member you ask. Liz loves being on stage because she loves to sing to people and feel the exchange of energy between the band and the audience: “I love to perform a song with my whole body and then see in real time how it’s making someone feel. I like the movement and the sweat, and finding out if we’re going to dance together or not. Sometimes the look on someone’s face is telling me they have been through the feeling I’m singing about, and sometimes the look in someone’s eyes shows me they actually aren’t so into a certain song. I even love the authenticity and honesty of that— because I love people and learning about them. I love that we’re all sharing an experience and a unique moment in time.”
What do you think makes for an ideal show for this band? What have been some of your favorite shows and venues lately?
Haha, again it depends which band member you ask. For some of us the ideal show is one where the show itself sounded perfect. For others it’s about how the show felt. Amidst the perfect tempos, missed notes, some of us care more about what the overall energy in the room was like. Our last show of 2019 in our hometown of Raleigh, NC was a pretty special one. There was a magic in the air that we wished we could have bottled up. There have also been a few moments at shows that stood out. At a recent show in Texas, Liz sang a bilingual version of “No Peace in Quiet” (“No Hay Paz en la Quietud”). She’s always wanted to combine her loves of singing and Spanish language and that was a first for her and for us.
On the whole, we love to see everybody standing, ready to sing and move and throw up their hands with us.
With all the different social media platforms out there, how do you balance it all? How do you think that social media has impacted this band? How often are you all on your different sites interacting with fans? How have you been able to utilize it through the years?
Social media has been a great way to stay in touch with our fans and learn more about what wonderful people they are. They are thoughtful and caring, believe in magic and want more of it in their life. They want to dive deep and learn as much as they can about the mythology and artistic processes behind everything the band creates and shares with the world. They are open-hearted and unafraid to be vulnerable to share about how or why a song resonates with them personally. We wouldn’t know any of this if it weren’t for social media. We’re able to see how our music is helping them through a difficult experience or helping them celebrate, and that’s really gratifying.
Brittany also does an absolutely incredible job reading and responding to messages from our fans on all platforms. The stories our fans share with us blow us away. That energy transference, honesty and compassion between fan and artist has actually been what’s made us more open to sharing our stories.
We are currently living through a very trying and politically charged time right now so I am curious to know how you all think being musicians and in this band still gives you the most joy in life today?
First and foremost, it is an honor to be able to share music with kind, passionate and caring individuals who are along for this ride with us. Whether it’s from the stage, or our social media accounts, we’re grateful to have a platform we can use to share our views, shine light on all good people and spread messages of peace and equality. We’ve never been afraid to sing about issues we care about: female empowerment, equal pay, marriage equality, eradicating racism, and/or the importance of being allies for LGBTQ+ non-binary individuals.
Seeing the crowd move and sing joyfully with us when we’re playing something up-tempo and danceable brings just as much joy as watching them experience the catharsis of other songs that were written to unload anger and outrage. Anyone who has been at our shows has been asked to journey to those darker or more uncomfortable places. Our fans have never been afraid to go there with us.
What musicians have really been inspiring you all since you first started making music? Who would you still love to work with?
We grew up listening to a lot of different styles of music, from Motown and soul to folk and rock and classic Americana. For us, inspiration pours in from everywhere, with artists like Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin reflected in our music in the same way that Sheryl Crow, Tom Petty, The Eagles and Jackson Brown have. Fleetwood Mac will always be a touchstone for us as another male-female, genre-defiant band that wasn’t afraid to take their music into unknown spaces. One huge perk of being touring musicians is all of the festivals we have gotten to play and other artists we’ve had the opportunity to see live when they headlined those festivals. There are too many to name that we would love to work with. We’ve been super lucky to work with Lindsey Buckingham on “If I Loved You” and The McCrary Sisters on “From One Woman To Another.”
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
Be kind to each other. Be accepting of people who are different than you. Speak out when you know something is wrong. Love with your whole heart. If you’re going through something hard, please know that you’re not alone. We are all together in this crazy word. Don’t lose your spark. We all bring back a good story to tell.