Ian Hölljes Eric Hölljes Brittany Hölljes Elizabeth Hopkins Mike McKee Grant Emerson
The landscape of America is sprawling and vast, reflecting a storied past and a looming sense of possibility for the future. That topography and what it can represent is the basis for Delta Rae’s second album, After It All, a collection of songs that looks to the folklore and romance of the American frontier as a means of understanding our angst about what is yet to come. It began as a concept album, a story of young lovers who fall on hard times during the recent recession, but throughout the writing and recording process it became clear that Delta Rae’s music had to tell stories as the band was personally experiencing them.
“Our goals for the record were to make something cinematic, romantic and American,” Eric says. “And to make music that we love, which is an ever-changing goal, but something we strive toward.” Brittany adds, “We kept coming back to ourselves as we were writing. These songs were integral to our own stories in our own lives. It had to be an honest reflection of what we were feeling instead of being projected onto characters we created.”
The identity of the band and its six members has been key to both this album and Delta Rae’s 2012 surging debut Carry The Fire. The group was formed in 2009 by three siblings, Ian, Eric and Brittany, whose childhood brought them around the U.S. to places like San Francisco, Nashville and Marietta, GA. After moving to Durham, NC for college, the trio partnered with Elizabeth, Mike and Grant to create energetic, impassioned music that could be a vehicle for layering their male-female vocals. The idea of dueling forces has lingered: their music continually reveals a tension between male and female, dark and light, and life and death. Carry The Fire was a snapshot of this aesthetic, recorded in only a few months with producer Alex Wong and funded entirely via Kickstarter before the band signed with Sire Records. It offered Delta Rae a platform for touring and the group spent the next year and a half on the road, and performing at festivals like Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits and Hangout Festival. Along the way, the backdrop of America revealed itself to them.
“Chasing Twisters,” an anthemic song that appeared on 2013’s Chasing Twisters EP, was pulled from travels in the Southwest. “It was inspired by being on the road and traveling through New Mexico,” Eric says. “We felt like there should be music that captured this vast expanse of land. It’s a gun-slinger-type story of romance and love.” Brittany adds, “We draw on the idea of early American folklore. It feels natural and exciting to shine a spotlight on these stories that aren’t given credit as magical, but they are. Our country has its own deep, earthy side and we wanted to shine a light on that.”
The album as a whole balances these two feelings, the magic of our past and the uncertainty of our future. It opens with the line “Am I always on the edge of quitting?” which asks the listener to participate in the world around them. “That’s a really honest lyric for our band,” Ian explains. “That lyric is really true for us. I feel like that is a theme running through the American psyche right now. We have to constantly choose to re-engage. There’s a lot of discontent throughout the album that is reflected in our country.”
The idea of facing and defying death runs throughout the songs, notably on “Outlaws,” “Scared” and “I Will Never Die.” It culminates with the melancholy closer “After It All,” a dulcet, soaring ballad that explores life after death. These themes thread throughout the album as a whole, connecting the songs as the music itself diverges into various styles and genres. The musicians, who implemented a “real instruments only” policy on their debut, loosened their grip on this effort, drawing on inspirations that ranges from the hip-hop of Kanye West and Jay-Z to the Americana rock of Tom Petty and The Eagles. Unlike the first album, these songs were created over the span of a year and a half, beginning in Los Angeles with Rob Cavallo in late 2013, continuing in Raleigh in the spring of 2014 and concluding with Peter Katis in Bridgeport, CT last fall. After It All is comprised of 13 tracks culled from the 25-plus the musicians came up with over these sessions.
“On this album we were more experimental,” Ian says. “We brought in horn parts and sweeping strings. It feels to me a bit more dynamic as a result. People will recognize what has been at the core of Delta Rae the whole time – the harmonies, the songwriting and the real instruments, which we augmented on this album. That was really exciting for us.”
“Carry The Fire feels like the little seed for what we grew with this album,” Brittany adds. “It puts that record into context and gives us a new way to love it. We stretched ourselves immensely for this record. You can feel everyone’s heart in every moment. You can sense that all the pieces of the puzzle are important for the picture the album paints.”
The picture is one of America, past and present, and one of a young generation still searching for their place in the world. The songs sound like the American frontier as the lyrics tell its stories. It is a journey because the musicians embarked on one in order to create it. “This album was a search,” Eric says. “We worked in three cities and we’ve traveled to many more. It’s been an exploration in a lot of ways. We arrived at this album and this statement. I’m so proud of the songs and the different shades of us that are showcased.”