In a roar of harmonies that hit with the force of a jet engine, Delta Rae brings intensity to their music in the best way possible. Heavy distortions merge with acoustic guitar, piano and drums, as four of the band’s six members unite their voices to create a hip-hop, rock ‘n’ roll sound all their own. Debuting songs off their upcoming release, “After It All,” and with a new violinist accompanying them onstage, Delta Rae will kick off their tour right here in Wilmington at the Brooklyn Arts Center, Thursday, March 26.
“We’re going to have a brand new show for those who come out for the concert,” Grant Emerson, upright bassist for Delta Rae and graduate from UNCW, says. “We’ve been working on a lot of new stuff.”
Siblings Ian, Eric and Brittany Hölljes first started the band with old friend Elizabeth Hopkins in 2009. The brothers wrote song lyrics, and the girls used their powerful, old-soul voices to create the band’s sound. It wasn’t until 2010 that Emerson and drummer Mike McKee joined to make it what it is today.
“I met the band through Mike,” Emerson tells. “I knew Mike and had played with him in all sorts of bands—from jazz to rock. We played anything and everything we could. Then Mike met Eric and introduced me to him and the rest of Delta Rae, and things just went from there.”
Delta Rae played its first show as a six-person band at Capital Ale house in Richmond, Virginia. From there they toured and honed their collective abilities at live shows. They earned a reputation for incredible concert performances, sometimes pushing through half-working sound systems.
Delta Rae’s onstage presence resounds with audiences, as they often come offstage and sing in the middle of audiences. It makes their sonic prowess an up-close-and-personal experience for the crowd. Sometimes they ratchet up the energy and emotion by screaming their lyrics, filling arenas and concert halls with passion. It’s all a matter of getting their voices and music heard in a way that affects listeners. If their music survives the push-and-pull test of performances, their songs will be strong and ready when they enter the recording studio. It’s a philosophy that has served them since their inception, and continues to showcase their raw power.
“When I started playing with Delta Rae, I felt like I was doing something right,” Emerson says. “When we recorded the video to ‘Bottom of the River,’ we were all on our own. We did it all ourselves, out in the rain with a generator, with the risk of electrocution hanging over our heads. But that’s the fun part: the storytelling and creative process.”
Delta Rae’s music runs deep with muscularity, tenderness, and at times vulnerability. Their first album, “Carry the Fire,” combines the band’s histories and influences from life and the land around them into a 12-track hit. The Americana style of music intertwines gospel, bluegrass, blues, and pop with their love of deep-rooted storytelling, folklore and mythology.
One song, “Surrounded,” tells the story of their relationship with Durham, NC, where the siblings grew up and the band now lives. In the almost five-minute song, they bring to life tales about their ghosts with the city and their relationships between friends and loved ones. Much of their music touches on personal inspirations and things that matter most to them.
“We want people to stand up for what they believe in,” Emerson says. “We support gay and women’s rights and sing about the things that matter to us. I guess what we want to impart on people is that it’s OK to care about something and to stand up for it.”
Delta Rae was hand selected by VH1 as their “You Oughta Know” artist of the month in October 2012. As well, they performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and again when Conan played host. They even shared the stage with first lady Michelle Obama when they performed during a democratic rally at UNC Chapel Hill.
The band has gone from sold-out performance to sold-out performance over the last year. During the summer, they traveled to the Middle East, Africa, Mexico, and Canada, and brought their harmonious, deep-rooted Carolina music to ears around the world.
“It’s not easy,” Emerson says. “All the long hours touring and performing add up, and things can’t always be pretty—but that’s because everyone cares. We’re trying to make the best music we can, and we have to call out each other on our bullshit. In the end, it all works out, and we face our challenges as they come.”
Such an unexpected event occured in April when their brand new tour van slid off the road in Minnesota. However, Delta Rae didn’t let the unfortunate stroke of luck deter them.
“Everyone was fine, but our van had a big dent in it,” Emerson tells. “[It’s] just how it happens.”
Following their breakout debut album, Delta Rae’s sophomore album, “After It All,” is set to be released April 7. In preview to the album, the band released a music video to the new song “Scared.” The album pulls heart and soul from every one of the members of the band and promises to live up to Delta Rae’s reputation.
Folks can get a sample of their work this week. Doors at the Brooklyn Arts Center will open at 7 p.m., and the show will kick off at 8 p.m., with opening band Jeanne Jolly. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 day of the show.