Delta Rae revels in past year’s highlights

Photo by Smallz and Raskind -- Delta Rae Show caption
Photo by Smallz and Raskind -- Delta Rae

As the first anniversary of the June 2012 release of Delta Rae’s powerful Warner Bros. album debut, Carry the Fire, looms, the band from Durham, N.C., can look back at a good year.

Delta Rae, an unclassifiable but undeniably soulful sextet that includes singing siblings Ian, Eric and Brittany Holljes, plus a dynamic fourth vocalist in Elizabeth Hopkins, made two appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, was profiled by NPR’s All Things Considered, named an “Artist to Watch” by Rolling Stone and a “You Oughta Know” act by VH1.

“It’s been an incredible year,” singer-songwriter Ian Holljes said during a brief break from the road. “We started with high hopes and then were blown away when things actually happened.”

Highlights include that late-night talk show debut with Leno, getting booked for the Austin City Limits Festival and having a song, “Bottom of the River,” featured in the trailer for the upcoming sixth season of HBO’s Southern vampire chronicles, True Blood.

Holljes and the other members of Delta Rae are True Blood fans.

“It was a dream that ‘Bottom of the River’ might at some point meet with the show,” he said. “We could not be more thrilled about it.”

Other high water marks during the past 12 months include the group’s Halloween weekend performance at the Voodoo Experience music festival in New Orleans.

“The first festival booking that had that cool factor was Voodoo Fest,” Holljes said. “Voodoo Fest and Hangout Fest. The acts who were headlining those festivals were heroes. Neil Young, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica. That may seem a little strange from a genre perspective, but with six people in the band, our influences are incredibly varied. Grant (Emerson), our bassist, has a Red Hot Chili Peppers tattoo on his bicep. Flea is his guy.”

Holljes and his brother, Eric, have been writing songs together since childhood. They grew up singing with their sister, Brittany.

“We listened to our parents’ record collection,” Holljes remembered. “Every weekend when we cleaned house, we sang along to Les Misérables and Billy Joel and James Taylor and Peter, Paul and Mary, Joni Mitchell.”

Even today, when the Holljes siblings sing together on stage, no matter where that stage is, it feels like home.

But three great voices weren’t enough for Delta Rae.

“Liz practically feels like a sibling,” Holljes said of Hopkins. “I’ve known her since we were 12 years old. I fell in love with her voice the first time I heard it.

“So when Eric and I graduated college, we felt like, ‘Well, now all the options are open. What do we want to do?’ I said, ‘I’ve love to work with Liz.’ Eric said, ‘I really want Brittany to be involved, too.’ We both said, ‘OK. Let’s do that.’ ”

“And it’s been amazing. We take inspiration from both of their voices. I’ve written quite a few songs for Brittany at this point. Eric wrote some of Liz’s most impactful songs. We’re a unit and, at this point, the six of us are congealed.”

Holljes isn’t discouraged by the fact that Carry the Fire and its singles have not burned quickly up the charts.

“The album has had a sustained burn,” he said. “People keep finding it and I’m never quite sure how. But that suggests to me that friends are telling each other about it and that our performances are making an impression. It’s exactly the kind of career we want to build.”