Delta Rae presents a multifaceted, united front
By Harris Cohen Special to The Post and Courier | Wednesday, August 22, 2012
If you go
What: Delta Rae, with opening act Patrick Davis
When: Saturday, doors open at 8 p.m.
Where: Music Farm, 32 Ann St.
Price: $5 in advance, $10 the day of the show; a $3 surcharge will apply for those under 21
For more info: www.musicfarm.com
Very few successful bands have boasted interchangeable lead singers, though a list would include some of the biggest bands ever, including The Beatles, the Eagles and Pink Floyd.
The Beach Boys and Fleetwood Mac sport multiple lead singers. Mix the lush harmonies of the former, the slick production of both and emotional content of the latter, keep them at their peak and fast forward a few decades, and out comes Delta Rae.
Siblings Ian, Eric and Brittany Holljes, along with childhood friend Elizabeth Hopkins, and Mike McKee and Grant Emerson, form the sextet Delta Rae.
Their debut album, “Carry the Fire,” was released in June. Lyrics with deep themes over complex musical arrangements and catchy melodies fuse perfectly to form addictive and diverse songs.
Guitarist and vocalist Ian Holljes describes the compositions’ genesis as very different from pop music, saying, “My brother, Greg, and I write everything with real instruments and real voices. There’s no auto-tune, no electronic production; nothing is synthetic.”
The group’s breakthrough opportunity came in the summer of 2011, when a distant connection placed it in the office of legendary talent-signer and music executive Seymour Stein.
After only 10 seconds, Stein yelled for them to stop and exited.
“We thought we had blown our chance and were getting kicked out of his office,” Holljes said.
Quite the contrary, Stein was calling in colleagues to listen.
“This quick change of fortune brought us relief, joy and a sense of validation. It was an incredible real-life dream,” Holljes added.
The Holljes’ musical tastes formed early while listening to their parents’ vinyl collection of ’70s folk rock artists such as Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and James Taylor, along with Broadway soundtracks and Motown albums.
“We’re not sensitive to genre, and we see ourselves as a hybrid of all types of music,” Holljes said.
Their debut album reflects this attitude with textures from rock, pop, soul and country influences.
While the album is full of vibrant and creative, but also radio-friendly, songs, the band made the unconventional choice of “Bottom of the River” for its first single and its late-night television debut.
“We wanted something different and bold to stand out for the listener from much of the homogenous sounds on radio these days. We felt the risk was worth it,” Holljes said.
The gospel-tinged song is composed solely of harmonizing vocals and percussion, using not only traditional drums but also chains and trash cans.
At its recent sold-out concert in New York City, Delta Rae captivated the audience with a high-energy show from the opening number through the final encore.
“A visceral connection to the audience means everything to us,” Holljes said. “It is a two-way street as we also feed off the audience’s energy.”
He further related the band’s desire to capture the intimacy of the smaller venues and rooms where it played when it began as a group.
Percussion is an integral and important part in the band’s recordings and performances.
“We are proud and want to be known for our dynamic live show,” Hopkins said.
She calls it a rhythmic explosion when she climbs up to the drum set and bangs her tambourine on the cymbals.
“I’ve always been the one to jump around and I feel a force enter my body and it comes out, not just out of my mouth singing,” she added.
To extend the bond with the audience, the band moved from the stage to the middle of the room to perform “Hey, Hey, Hey” without any amplification. The song includes individual parts for the four lead singers with harmonies for the chorus.
“It is a moment of both vulnerability and confidence to be shoulder-to-shoulder with everyone listening,” Holljes said.
With similarities in style, Delta Rae covers Fleetwood Mac’s hit, “The Chain,” with an expansive version.
“We all connect to that band, and the song was a natural fit for us as there is no one lead singer. It’s all of us all the way through,” Hopkins said.
While conflict could arise having four lead singers and with three being siblings, there is never a disagreement on who should sing, according to Hopkins.
“The songs tend to find the singer naturally. We run through them a few times, and there’s always a consensus,” she said.
For example, a new unrecorded song the band performs, the ’50s-tinged “What You Thinking ’Bout Baby,” was meant for Hopkins, but once Ian Holljes, who wrote the song, presented it to the band, they all agreed he should sing the lead part.
Holljes described the process as “mysterious and natural as it has happened in so many instances that a song is coincidentally someone’s personal story.”