Americana music may be making a comeback, but the irony has been that for the last few years, the bands most often identified with its resurgence have rarely hailed from the United States (don’t let the banjos fool you: Mumford & Sons are actually British). So consider Delta Rae the real deal. The sextet, comprised of three siblings and a few of their longtime friends, wrote most of the songs that make up their debut album Carry the Fire from a house they shared in the Durham, North Carolina woods. The guy-girl groups they cite as inspiration (ranging from The Mamas & the Papas to Fleetwood Mac) are all homegrown. And while many a buzz band first gains popularity in the UK, it was an American—Seymour Stein, president of Sire Records and the visionary who signed Talking Heads and Madonna, among others—who discovered them. Before heading out to LA to perform on The Tonight Show next Monday, vocalists Brittany Hölljes and Liz Hopkins sat down with ELLE.com to talk about hair flips, White Russians, and giving a damn.
ELLE: For someone who has never listened to your music before, what do they need to know going into Carry the Fire?
Brittany Hölljes: They need to strap themselves in! It’s sort of an emotional rollercoaster, and it’s not necessarily the album you want to pump [during] a dinner party; it’s more the album you’re going to want to put on at the start of an epic road trip.
Liz Hopkins: I think our music appeals to an extremely wide array [of listeners]—people of both genders, of all ages, from all countries—but at the core someone who’s willing to dig deep, willing to think about extremely deep questions about themselves, about their families, about morals, about ethics…that sounds really scary!
BH: That sounds like an intimidating album. But beyond that, it’s not so much about thinking as about feeling. That’s not emphasized in our age group in our society; it’s cool to not care. And that’s so not Delta Rae. So maybe we’re trying to bring back a little bit of that passion and drive.
ELLE: Since you’ve known each other for so long, when was the moment you decided to all play in a band together?
LH: It was a brainchild of Brittany’s brothers, Ian and Eric. They knew when they got out of college that they would start a band, they knew that they wanted some girl vocalists, and they thought of Brittany and me.
BH: I was studying abroad in Italy when Eric called me. I was so thrilled to hear from him because it was the most depressing point in my life ever—Italy’s beautiful, but I was like, [slurring words] “Another White Russian….Let me tell you my problems, barkeep.” I was in a weird place. So I got this call and I was in flux and Eric was like, “Do you want to start a band?” I was like, Yup! Ready!
LH: We were both overseas—I was in Peru working as a tutor at an all-boys school. I got an email from Eric that was extremely long with the subject “Starting a band.” I was like, What the hell is this? Okay!
ELLE: To get signed by Seymour Stein must have been exciting.
BH: Unbelievable. Really mind-blowing and really validating. It was through a mutual friend, and Seymour was doing a favor by hearing us. We came up to his office with guitars and our voices and a cajon, and that was it. We just started singing and as soon as the first phrase left our mouths he stopped us. We were pretty sure that we had just blown the meeting—like, okay he’s heard enough. But he called more people into his office and then we sang for 45 minutes.
LH: Every time we finished a song he was like, “Please keep singing. I never have days like this.”
ELLE: He has a knack for picking bands that represent a larger musical movement, be it the Ramones with punk or Madonna with pop. Do you feel like you are part of some new wave?
BH: I feel like we’re on the edge of something, with artists like Mumford & Sons and Florence [and the Machine] and Adele sort of paving the way. But what Delta Rae is doing is occupying a more specific space, so hopefully it resonates with the world at large. We don’t have much to go on, because we’re still a young band, this all happened so fast. But we also really know who we are and really know the music we want to make. People call us pop, and that isn’t inaccurate, because hopefully this is the popular trend.
ELLE: Do you consider Delta Rae a pop band?
BH: To make it digestible, we say [we play] Americana rock. And I think that we rock—because we do, there are a lot of hair flips, a lot of sweating and energy—but the Americana aspect is the one that pulls on gospel and soul and Motown and country and folk and bluegrass and blues and the storytelling element. And we’re trying to tell an American story. It’s not like it’s an old time mountain story that’s trickling down, it’s like this is hopefully what a lot of people are living, and that’s why it’s worth the world connecting to it just because people can find their story within it.