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“People want something that’s authentic,” said Ian Hölljes, guitarist and vocalist of the North Carolina-based band Delta Rae when asked about the appeal of Americana folk-rock music to modern audiences. “Something with real instruments where you can almost imagine how the song came into being.”
As Delta Rae’s growing fan-base suggests, there is indeed something appealing about their music. Originally started in 2009 as a four-piece band by Ian and his two siblings—vocalist Brittany Hölljes and pianist/vocalist Eric Hölljes—along with vocalist Elizabeth Hopkins, Delta Rae later added to their already big sound with the inclusion of percussionist Mike McKee and bassist Grant Emerson in 2010. As a six-piece band, Delta Rae recorded and released their debut album Carry the Fire in June 2012. Since then, they have embarked on a nationwide tour in support of the album, the most recent leg of which they have been sharing headlining duties with fellow up-and-coming artist ZZ Ward.
Taking a pause from their ongoing tour with ZZ, the members of Delta Rae were kind enough to stop by WERS to lay down a few tracks off of Carry the Fire live in studio as part of the station’s Live Music Week.
Out of Delta Rae’s many impressive qualities as a band, one of the most apparent and powerful is their use of four different vocalists. Hopkins and the three Hölljes siblings each have their own unique vocal styles and contribute different things as lead singers on various tracks. However, some of Delta Rae’s most engaging and memorable moments are when all four singers are equally represented on a track, such as in “Hey Hey Hey,” the first song of their WERS session.
A fun, flirtatious song, “Hey Hey Hey” features all the vocalists of Delta Rae taking turns on the verses of the song, but coming back together to harmonize for the choruses. It is a catchy track that showcases each of the group’s distinct voices over the thumping rhythm section and country-tinged guitar and keys. There is a remarkable sense of community in the song that makes it sound less like skilled musicians coming together to perform for an eager audience and more like a group of friends gathered around a campfire for a sing-along.
The session took an evident shift with Delta Rae’s second song of the day. “Morning Comes” is a power-ballad that finds Eric Hölljes singing about his bright-eyed acceptance of forces out of his control. It is a remarkably moving track, even when stripped down from its usual instrumentation, leaving only Eric’s singing and piano playing. Starting out slow, “Morning Comes” gradually takes off from Hölljes’s humble lament into an anthem-sized gospel epic, before eventually returning back down to Earth with a renewed sense of hope. While it is clear that Delta Rae can function successfully as a tight-knit team, songs like “Morning Comes” makes it apparent that they are not above allowing one member to time shine in the spotlight on his or her own.
Delta Rae took a similar approach with the third and final song of the session. “If I Loved You” —the latest single off of Carry the Fire—features the lovely Hopkins on lead vocals. Both a declaration of the power of love as well as an apology for the lack of true romantic desire for a lover, “If I Loved You” is a series of ideal hypotheticals that are shattered by the unfortunate reality.
The sense of heartbreak that is prevalent through Hopkins’ sorrowful vocals is kept from being overly-sentimental by the musical accompaniment by Brittany on the tambourine and Ian on the ukulele. Although the song’s subject matter is considerably pessimistic, Delta Rae’s undying sense of optimism and hope remains through the up-tempo, endearing melody.
Perhaps this is what is so alluring about Delta Rae. Yes, their music is phenomenal, thanks to their dynamic blend of heartfelt lyrics and well-crafted melodies; however, it is their hopeful authenticity as musicians and people that radiates through their music and grabs their listeners in a way that most Top 40 music does not. To Delta Rae, music is not about escaping from reality, but about finding and celebrating the natural beauty that dwells within it, imperfections and all.
“Sure, music about going out on Friday nights after work is fun to listen to,” said Hölljes with a smile. “But you always need to go home before you can go out.”