Delta Rae performing at The Standard, East Village.
It looked like something of a Swedish family reunion in the Penthouse of The Standard, East Village last night as a number of tall, handsome and towheaded, 20-somethings milled about against the blazing orange Manhattan skyline. This deduction wasn't too far off, as the band, Delta Rae, which is composed of the yellow-haired Hölljes family (brothers Ian and Eric, sister Brittany) along with Elizabeth Hopkins, Mike McKee, and Grant Emerson were setting up for their live set. The Durham-based sextet could be labeled folk rock, but their sound is one of those impossible to pigeonhole affairs. There's some Fleetwood Mac, there's some Janis J., there's Southern Gothic, there's gospel, but in the end, there's just Delta Rae, a juggernaut in the making. Signed by Seymour Stein (Madonna, The Ramones, Talking Heads, Seal, Depeche Mode) after an acoustic concert in his office, their debut album, Carry the Fire came out last month and the band's tour led them to, where else, but the 21st floor of The Standard, East Village. We sat down with Eric Hölljes (vocals, guitar, piano and keys) before their performance for a quick Standard Q+A.
Standard Culture: What is your current state of mind?
Eric Hölljes: It's a little bit dazed because it's been just a whirlwind trip. We were in Boston this morning. We're just always trying to keep track of where we are. And very excited about tonight's showcase, and also tomorrow night at the Bowery Ballroom. We've been working up to that venue for a number years so ... In short, 99% excited. 1% dazed.
You and your brother went to Duke. Did you study music there?
I took a few music classes, Composers of Influence, some basic theory classes, and I took some audio classes as well.
Was it supplementing what you already knew you wanted to do?
Yeah it was supplemental. It was something I wanted to learn more, but I didn't want to commit to the major because it's a very structured major and my love of music has always been very unstructured. And whenever I do try and put structure around it – practicing for a certain number of hours a day – it sort of kills the spirit.
Especially when you're doing Advance Musical Theory 301.
Exactly, and it makes it very mathematical, which I was happy to dip my toe in, but not jump in all the way.
Is there a band motto? Something unofficial or just something you focus on before you go on?
OK, um, yes. Before every show we do our little huddle and try and get centered. And we always say at the end, "Feel the rush, and have a good time," which stems from Mike our drummer. In a lot of his interviews (before he joined Delta Rae) he would get nervous and keep saying, "I just feel rush and have a good time," multiple times per interview so that's what we say everytime now.
Left: Brittany Hölljes performing at The Standard, East Village Penthouse. Right: Brother Eric kindly answers our questions.
What's the difference between hearing your music live versus recorded?
Our live performance has a ton of energy that I think is very different than what an album offers. It's more visceral. It's also a little easier to understand what we're about when you see us live because we have four main singers (two girls two guys), three siblings, six band members and we play trash cans and marching drums and a host of other strange things.
You can really see the dynamic.
And you can really see it play out as a narrative as opposed to just listening to it, which is just one sense and maybe you don't always get the full depth of what we're trying to do. On an album, however, we're able to add the string instruments and craft the song in a way perhaps we hadn't thought of before. Two very different processes but we love doing both.
Where did the inspiration for the "Bottom on the River" video come from?
It took a long time to come up with that idea. It took probably eight or nine months. And a Duke buddy of mine named Lawrence Chen, whose a phenomenal director, we had always wanted to work together. We keyed into "Bottom of the River" because it's got a story and it's very different sounding. But the idea of the witch trial didn't come until eight months into the creative process.
Their witch trial inspired video. No fangs, but True Blood fans would approve.
The rhythm of the chains and the call-and-response reminds me of African American work songs. Was that an influence?
Not intentionally. The song has very strange origins for me. I woke up with the chorus in my head which has never happened before. It's very weird. I ran to my phone, recorded it and the next morning I listened to it and I had no idea what it meant, but then I could hear these gospelly back parts coming into it and the shhhhhhhck-clap. And then Ian wrote verses and then the call-and-response with our band made sense because we had the one lead singer and three backing singers.
It was organic.
It was. And we wanted Brittany telling you part of the story and then this sort of Greek chorus echoing another part. We grew up listening to bands like Sweet Honey and the Rock and both the girls have sung in gospel choirs before. So there is definitely some gospel influence.
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Of Seymour's legendary roster of artists, who would it be most fun to sing with? To hang out with?
Oh my God, that's really tough. Seal comes to mind. I love his voice. Madonna would amazing. Depeche Mode. Tough to decide.
What is the best part, and the most challenging part, of having blood relatives in the band?
Best part is being able to celebrate with family. It's like a lightening bolt just passes from one person to the other. Plus it's amazing to have that shared history with three of the band members. And it's such a close group now. But it's amazing to have the three of us together. The flip side is because of how close we are, how honest we can be with each other ... you can't escape that.
100%. They're my best friends. This band is my family both literally––
I guess one relavent hotel question would be: Where are you staying while you're in NY?
I don't know. They haven't told us. I hope it's here.
Delta Rae performs at the Bowery Ballroom tonight.