Music: Delta Rae

By Anissa Abdel-Jelil

Delta Rae is an American folk rock band from Durham, North Carolina. The band consists of three siblings, Ian Hölljes (vocals and guitar), Eric Hölljes (vocals, guitar, piano) and Brittany Hölljes (vocals), and their three friends, Elizabeth Hopkins (vocals), Mike McKee (percussion), and Grant Emerson (bass guitar). The Mac Weekly was able to snag a phone interview with Eric Hölljes before Delta Rae’s performance at the Varsity Theater on Oct. 2nd. The Mac Weekly: How did Delta Rae form? Eric: Delta Rae was the product of an idea that Ian and I came up with in 2008. We have been writing songs since the age of 10. It’s our passion. We had the idea of starting a band with Brittany and Liz, who we’ve known since she was 12 years old. The idea was conceived in 2008 and then everyone moved back to North Carolina in 2009. We started touring in 2009 and had our first show in October. We wanted to branch out of North Carolina, so we made a trip to New York City every month to play gigs. We started off playing at smaller venues, like lounges, before getting the attention of record labels. Why did you choose the band name Delta Rae? We stole the name from my mom. She is currently working on a piece of fiction about a 12-year-old girl named Delta Rae. The story is set in the South and we loved the name. How would you characterize your sound? I respect the question, but defining our sound doesn’t matter to me. I just want to write a great song and sing it as passionately as I can. We try to make songs that are timeless, thoughtful, and that we’re very passionate about. We choose songs that we can really dig into as vocalists. The types of songs we perform range from rock to doo-wop. A lot of your songs include four part harmonies, how did this become a part of your sound? The moment we hit the first four-part harmony, we knew we had something special. I think it’s a sound that is rare nowadays. Our sound has a certain uncontrolled energy that is very unique. We’re not trained, we just sing from the gut. Our four-part harmonies have always been important. That’s it. They are a big part of what we’re doing. Who does most of the songwriting? My brother, Ian, and I do all of the songwriting. We’ve trained ourselves to listen to each other’s ideas and offer suggestions. When an idea pops into our head, we share it with each other and if we still like it a week later then we present it to the rest of the band to further develop it. How do you tour the country? We tour the country in a 12-person van with a large trailer for our equipment attached to the back. We either couch surf or stay in hotel rooms that we book on Priceline. How do you get ready for a live performance? Thirty minutes before the start of the show, we clear out the green room. We do some vocal warm-ups and talk about things that we want to improve. We huddle up, do a pep talk type thing, and drink a lot of water. Nothing too ceremonial yet. What’s your favorite song that you have written, thus far? They’re all children of mine, but probably the ones that haven’t been released yet because I’m still experiencing them. Morning Comes is one of the first songs I wrote with Ian and it was written with my dad in mind. It’s about being strong and resilient during dark times. It’s a song that makes me have faith in the human spirit. Our song Bottom of the River comes from a different place. I woke up with both the melody and the lyrics in my head. It’s a gospel song that came from a strange and surreal place, which I love. I love thinking about the fact that a song that was written in my bedroom is now being played on stage. How did you choose the songs for your “Carry the Fire” album? It was a very difficult decision to make. We started with a list of 20 songs, so there were a lot of songs we decided to exclude. We started with limited funds and raised money off of With those funds we were only able to record 12 songs, so those were the songs on the record. Because of our budget, we couldn’t worry too much about the quality of the songs. I believe there’s always room to add more later on. Were you, Ian, and Brittany involved in musical projects growing up? We grew up in a very encouraging and artistic environment. Our parents are not musical, but they are very creative. We were in choirs like high school jazz choir. We sang every opportunity we got. When I got the chance, I would write a song for any school project. I once wrote a song about Bogota, Colombia for my World History class. Delta Rae has earned a reputation for being incredible live performers, what do you think is lost in studio recordings? It’s challenging to try and capture the band’s energy in studio recordings. The studio is not as freeing as a stage; it feels like you’re in a box. It’s also hard for a vocalist to feed off of an audience that isn’t there. But there are benefits to recording in a studio. You have more control over the sound you produce. You get the sound that you want and you get to explore new sounds. It’s an exciting place, but they are two very different experiences. What inspired the storyline for the music video Bottom of the River and how do you feel people have responded to it? It was Ian’s idea. He has always loved the American folklore of the Salem Witch Trials. We found out that some witches were tried in North Carolina and that our friend had ancestors who were persecuted. I was excited about the idea of filming the story in one shot, so that the viewers would be pulled in and focus on what is being told. It is a bold story that makes people a little uncomfortable, but people have responded positively to the music video. We’re really happy with the way it turned out and we’re going to be featured on VH1. How does your fan base differ across the United States? Each state is different, but they’re more similar than different. We capture a wide audience of different ages and from all walks of life. Our music is very universal. Our band brings a great energy to the show and afterwards we like to stick around and meet our fans. Where’s your favorite place to perform? The Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina. It’s very close to where we grew up, which is our favorite place to live. We headlined there for the first time earlier this year and had a sold-out show. It was very fun, surreal, and exciting. How would you describe each of your band mates? Ian: thoughtful Brittany: fire-y Eric: (had a hard time finding a ) gives people a hard time – a bit of a policeman –keeps the focus going. Liz: sparkles Mike: “drummer and cracks him up so much”- goofy Grant: stoic refresh –>