Delta Rae were on the acts with arguably the least profile going into this year’s C2C: Country to Country but they left a huge impression by the end of the weekend.
The six-piece group mesmerised C2C fans with their incredible vocals, their tight musicianship and their electric chemistry. I saw them on the BBC Radio 2 Stage and they were one of the best performances of the weekend.
Comprising of siblings Brittany Hölljes, Eric Hölljes and Ian Hölljes, and long-time friends Liz Hopkins, Grant Emerson and Mike McKee, Delta Rae definitely left us wanting more.
I caught up with the whole band before they performed at C2C to talk about their chemistry, find out their plans for new music and to discuss their experiences of performing in the UK.
I saw you perform at the Big Machine UK showcase earlier in the week. You guys were amazing! If you’re to introduce yourself to a crowd that perhaps don’t know you, that’s the way to do it…
The band breaks out into laughter.
How do you feel like it went?
Brittany: I thought it was wonderful. I never really get nervous I was bit nervous before that show just because it was for industry in a different country and it was an introduction. I think that we we knew exactly what we were saying by playing those three songs. It showcased the full spectrum of what we do and the show we like to create, which is joyful and heartfelt with a mysterious Southern Gothic wow factor. Those three songs are our power punch. It was really fun to see people’s reactions and to know that we were bringing something pretty authentically American with us to the UK.
What I took away from the performance is that you can tell there’s nothing manufactured here. There’s just real passion and raw talent, which is not something you come across every day. You can tell you’re all in tune with one another, you bounce off each other and the chemistry is evident. Obviously the band is a mixture of siblings and long-time friends so how do you not kill one another and how do you keep that chemistry fresh?
(lots of laughter).
Liz: We come this close to killing each other all the time! That’s where the Southern Gothic part comes from. That’s where the scary dark side of our sound lives…
Eric: I think you kind of nailed a big part of what is the driving force behind the band. I think it is the passion for what we get to create and then it’s these little flare ups of adversity just in being a band for eight years now. You have these moments where you’re like, ‘how can we keep doing this and keep reinventing this and keep rediscovering this for ourselves?’ and so you confront that. Then right on the other side of that something happens and you write the song or you have a show that kind of wakes you up and it’s like, ‘oh my god I can’t believe I forgot that we can create some of this magic’, when we’re lucky on a good day! It’s been an interesting path and one that I think has just been riddled with lessons. If you stay committed and committed to each other, committed to the craft. then there will be real moments of rediscovery and joy…
B: …and triumph…
E: …and creativity. I sometimes feel totally depleted and then the next week I will feel on fire like I’ve never felt before. That’s only from sticking it out and staying attached. The lucky part of Delta Rae is that I feel like I’ve found, in my siblings and these friends, just the people that I like collaborating with the most in the world. We just have the weirdest ingredients to make the most interesting potion that I’ve heard yet. To me it’s worth sticking around for but then again we always almost kill each other.
L: I think our most recent single in the states, No Peace and Quiet, is really an example of what Eric is talking about breathing new life into it. At least for me, I got new energy from just seeing the way that song resonates with so many different people for so many different reasons. For some people No Peace and Quiet is about going through a really difficult breakup. For some people it’s about having lost a loved one and for some people it’s about having gone through a divorce. Amazingly so, our fans have reached out to us so much. Brittany is amazing enough to respond to literally every single person that writes to the band about what that song has meant to them and what they’ve gone through in terms of loss.
I think we’ve been playing that song out on the road for a year or a year and a half and just the continual fountain of catharsis that we can see from our fans, and feel from our fans, in a way it feels like we’re able to to give everyone a hug that’s going through something.
B: It puts things in perspective. If you’re creating art that means something to people and people are writing to you saying, ‘this changed my life’ or ‘this got me through something really hard’ you kind of sit back and you’re like, ‘am I really that annoyed that you put your stuff on my bench in the van or is it fine?’
We have to stay a band so that we can keep creating music that people are literally saying is saving their life . (It makes you go), ‘Wow OK, well let me put myself back in my place and say this is worth doing and I can’t imagine doing anything else or or doing this with anyone else so we better make it work’. Plus Mom would be upset if we got into a fight that broke the band.
When you have fans that take your music to heart so much and say things like you’re saving their life, does that put a lot of pressure on you in terms of crafting your songs and lyrics?
B: Honestly, we are people who take life very seriously. We have a lot of fun but we’re emotional. We’re tapped in and empathetic. I think we already are going to create the music that means the most to us and hope that it resonates. When we see that it does, that gives us strength and power to keep going forward. The only pressure that I feel is just in the sense that I now worry for those people and I hope the best for them. We feel connected and every new connection you make I think makes you feel a little vulnerable for a moment. The truth is that moment of vulnerability when you open yourself up, when you make that connection, ultimately you’re strengthened by. It’s pressure but it’s a good kind of pressure where you’re doing something that means a lot.
Eric: There’s no manual for this. I mean in terms of trying to write music that means something to us, and then finding that it means something to somebody else, and them reaching out through Facebook or Instagram and sending you a really personal email. You want to respond with care and love, and I don’t know how to do that to people I’ve never met. I really was appreciative of what you said earlier that you can tell by seeing us on stage that this is not a manufactured thing. It really isn’t and we’re figuring this out each day at a time since we started. It’s just been very growing like and one of the biggest gifts actually has been those types of connections and trying trying to learn how to best to best have that relationship with fans.
Ian: I think it’s probably different for all of us. We had an interesting experience the other day where we were about to go on stage and then our production manager brought a letter back from a fan who said she had lost her husband…
B: …while she was pregnant…
I: That’s right. It was this incredibly articulate beautiful letter really kind of hit us all.
B: We read it aloud. I didn’t even think about it. He handed it to me and I opened it expecting it to be an, ‘I love you guys’ but it was somebody’s story…
I: …and it was an incredible story. She identified a couple of songs that had meant a lot to her through the period of grieving she’d been through. We were thinking about how to handle that on stage, whether or not we should address it because it had meant a lot to us to read the letter.
B: Do we dedicate a song to her or….
I: We decided not to. For me when I was thinking about performing one of the songs, Dance in the Graveyears, that she identified I thought it’s important for the performer to bring whatever’s true to them to the stage. A lot of times for me it’s a certain lightness because that’s where the songs came from. They are imbued with a lot of meaning and feeling but ultimately this is something that gives me great joy to do. I think if the songs are meaning anything to anybody else, it’s important that I keep bringing what inspired those songs to the stage, even if it’s being connected to a heaviness or sadness in someone’s life. What’s informing the song, and hopefully what’s helping in any way for them, is the joy that ultimately lives at the centre of music. I think is that is something that’s really healing.
We’re only really just getting the A Long and Happy Life EP now, a bit later than the US. What are you planning next for your music? Are you working on more EPs or a new album?
B: Great question! We’re kind of seeing how it goes. I think that we’re reticent to put out a full length album at the moment. It feels like it’s a lot of fun to put out songs or an E.P, where you can create the music you’re feeling now and give it to fans as opposed to create music, go in the studio, take forever, it be a year later and start to trickle out one song at a time and then another year later the full album. It’s just quite a process. I think with streaming and with people buying fewer albums in general, it feels fun and exciting the idea to put out a single at a time or a shorter E.P., and have it be digestible and a little more current for our experience. We put out two E.P.s last year; A Long and Happy Life and then at the end of last year we put out The Blackbird Sessions, which is only available online but that had a fun impact at the end of the year just as a nice treat for our fans. I think we’re in the studio one week per month and seeing what comes of it but no set plans… yet except that we’re going to come back to the U.K. soon and see you guys!
What have you most been looking forward to about being involved with C2C?
B: I am so excited to see folks in the UK’s response to Country music because we’re so familiar with it in the States and the appeal is very clear. It’s an inherited thing generationally… you grow up on Country music, love country music and you’re a Country music fan.The way it’s migrating over to the UK and people’s enthusiasm around it is fascinating to me. I love that it’s an American kind of novelty here. Thus far we’ve just had such a nice experience with people in the UK – longtime fans, people in the industry – just all around kindness, warmth, enthusiasm and a genuine love of music and lyrics. Every time I’m hear I’m thrilled to meet people and get our music in their ears.
L: The fans that we’ve met thus far, they’re quite thoughtful and they’re very friendly. We were just outside taking some photos and two very kind people came up to us saying, ‘we’re so excited to see you, we’ve got you on our schedule. We’re so looking forward to learning the meaning behind your songs as well’. You can tell that they go the extra mile as a listener, which really means a lot to us.
Delta Rae’s EP A Long and Happy Life is available to download and stream now. Watch the video for the title track below: