Interview by Luisa Mercier
I had the pleasure to review the debut of Delta Rae, talented band from Duke, North Carolina. Their sound draws from several genres, ranging from rock, to gospel and bluegrass giving birth to an experience that will take you over!
Hi, Brittany – Welcome on Femme Metal Webzine. First of all, I truly love your voice and your record! I was not much into this kind of music, but you really conquered me!
Hi! Yay for allowing yourself to be conquered! 🙂 And thanks so much.
May you introduce yourself to our readers? How was the band born?
Sure! My name is Brittany Hölljes and I am one of four vocalists in Delta Rae. The band was a dream of my brothers’ (they are the two male voices in the band) who have been writing music together since the were 10 and 12 years old. By 2008, they were writing songs that they knew needed women’s voices. So they emailed Liz in Peru and called me, in Italy, (Firenze! I loved it!) and asked us what we were doing in the fall of 2009. By the next September we had all moved into a big fixer upper in the backwoods of Durham, NC. We found Mike and Grant in the local scene and asked them to join up. And thus Delta Rae was born!
Your main influences?
As a band, we’ve drawn inspiration from Fleetwood Mac, Mumford & Sons, Coldplay, Bruce Springsteen, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Billy Joel and Jeff Buckley and even Les Miserables and Jesus Christ Superstar. Our influences are as varied as our sound.
Have you got a formal music education?
The only member of our band who was formally educated in music is our bassist, Grant Emerson, who went to UNC-W. Mike grew up in a very musical household, his parents are both full-time musicians and music teachers. And Liz‘s dad was a fantastic vocalist/musician/songwriter, she totally got his ear and voice. The three siblings grew up in a house of artistry and creativity, but neither of my parents are particularly musical. We all learned to sing by belting along to our parents’ awesome ’70s albums. Eric taught himself piano when he was 7, Ian picked up guitar in college. I think one of the reasons we work so well together is that our music isn’t about technicality as much as it’s about feeling, it comes from our guts.
Speaking of writing, how does a Delta Rae track come together? Your vocal harmonies are great!
My brothers, Ian and Eric, write all of Delta Rae‘s songs and I don’t think I will ever get over how original, honest, and smart their writing is. It never gets old. They usually start songs on their own and once they have the bones of it, they’ll bring it to the rest of the band to flesh it out. The harmonies are the backbone of the band’s sound. They usually just fall right into place.
What are the inspirations you draw from to write lyrics? Sometimes I get a mysterious, like magical vibe!
Wow! That’s a big compliment. Thank you! I think Delta Rae is capturing something that truly is magical. Our songs can be warm and euphoric, but we also embrace their darkness and mystery. Our songs are stories, usually about our lives, our history, our families, and our ghosts. Their origins are earthy and we sing and play them viscerally and with abandon. For us, music and magic go hand in hand. Then again, I DID study paganism and astrology in college, so this kind of talk is my jam… you don’t even wanna get me started 😉
You are two brothers and one sister. How does the all-in-the-family vibe affect the work you guys do?
I think it has been a really helpful thing for this band. We love each other of course, but the really key thing is that we three siblings also LIKE each other! We fight sometimes, but I think it only serves to make us a stronger unit. We fight because we care. I personally wouldn’t be doing this without my brothers, they are my inspiration and my whetting stones, and I am always myself with them around. I’m really lucky.
I have watched a lot of your live clips on YouTube, your show are great! What can your audience expect?
Thank you! I’d say audiences should expect a swampy-stompy, sing your lungs out, punch in the face, tongue-kiss of a show! You’re hearing four-part harmony, banging on trash cans, melodic piano riffs, driving guitar and bowed, electric upright bass. It is A LOT of new sounds and to spice things up even more, we have four lead singers. So we keep the audience on their toes. At the same time, our main goal is to bring people in emotionally. We bare our souls on stage. Overall, it’s a roller coaster. I always feel electrified after shows, I hope we are doing the same for our listeners.
I can hear a lot of Southern influences, how your hometown, its history has influenced you?
Well we have kind of a unique story. The three siblings grew up around the south until we were about middle school age. Then we moved to northern California where we met Liz. Liz is a chameleon and could travel anywhere and fit in, but the Holljes kids always felt like we would be drawn back to our southern roots. So we planted the band in Durham, NC, where Ian and Eric were born, and where our mom spent her whole childhood and college years. Our sound definitely has southern flavor, we pull on elements of bluegrass, gospel, country, and blues. Going back to the question of magic in our music, I think we also live in a part of the country that has magic in its nature. Just being in a place that’s home to huge summer thunderstorms, gobs of fireflies and kudzu devouring whole forests, has an impact on our sound. Epic yet cozy. Warm but mysterious.
The “Bottom of the River” video. How does the song’s subject matter relate to the video?
Well, in truth it doesn’t, aside from the dark, swampy, stompy, southern vibe. The lyrics of the song tell a baptism/exorcism story of a woman trying to rid her son of a “demon” by drowning the evil spirit, but drowning her son in reality. When we were thinking of concepts for the video, a witch trial seemed like a good parallel story, as women used to be tortured and killed when accused of witchcraft and associating with the devil. Our video however, is infused with serious lady-power, and I, the witch, get the better of my accusers… that makes the video MUCH more fun!
I know you performed on Leno on 25th June, how did it feel?
I can’t say enough for the people who work on The Tonight Show and Jay Leno himself. They were all SO nice and they made us feel very at home. That being said we were all still sick with nerves and excitement! It was just so surreal and such an honor. I was relieved that we sang “Bottom of the River”, which is a song we have performed thousands of times. On the street, on boats, in subways, to no one, and to thousands, so it’s ingrained deeply in us. Even national TV can’t phase that 😉
I found the song “Rain Down on Me” on YouTube. It is amazing! Do you plan to release it in the future, maybe together with some of your cover songs (I love “Rolling in the Deep”)?
So glad you like it! “Rain Down on Me” is one of our absolute FAVES! We are definitely putting it out someday, though I don’t know when yet. I don’t know if we will ever get a chance to record or release covers, we have so much original material that we’ve got to get out into the world first! But I love singing “Rolling in the Deep”. That song is tough! But the soul is palpable. If we do record any covers, you better believe we will put a Delta Rae spin on it and it’ll ooze soul!
Have you thought of hitting Europe somewhere in the near future? I would love to have “Carry the Fire” released here.
WE WOULD TOO! We are hopeful that there will be a European release but we are still focused on the States for now. It would be an absolute dream to travel through Europe, singing what I think is very authentic Americana music and I personally would LOVE to watch the emotionality of our music cross cultural and lingual divides.
That’s all, Brittany! Thank you for your time and all the best!
These questions were so thoughtful and fun to answer. Thank YOU!
Photos by Shervin Lainez & Smallz and Raskind