Delta Rae is not the same band it was ten years ago. Or rather, it is no longer the band that higher powers want it to be. After dismantling from their record label Big Machine Records (yes, the same label that Taylor Swift famously feuded with for owning her masters) less than a year ago, the six-piece band was left to try and pick up from where they first started a decade ago, leaving the creation of their next body of work up to the only ones that mattered—their fans. Their KickStarter fundraising campaign raised a whopping $451,000 over two months, far exceeding their initial goal of just $30,000. A generous donation that allowed them to record two new full-length albums, starting with the effortlessly uplifting The Light, out today.
"We are so lucky that our fans caught us in the biggest trust fall of our lives," Eric Hölljes (vocals, guitar, piano) excitedly shares over a lively phone conversation. "This music has been with us for five, ten years. We had the most fun making it of anything we’ve ever made because it was so pure. The joy of making music was so honest and I think we’ve made our best work." There is an audible sense of relief over the phone's speaker. This album isn't simply the result of a few months' recordings. It is a long-awaited celebration of all the things they loved about music when they first started, but are only now allowed to explore."When we were signed to a country label, they wanted us to use country players (for instrumentals). It wasn’t necessarily us. We know how to play and we play a really specific way [as part of] our sound," the second of three Hölljes siblings, Brittany, chimes in.
To try and hone in on the big, sweeping sound that made Delta Rae so dazzlingly enticing on their "Bottom of the River" debut, they enlisted the help of Alex Wong, who produced their first album Carry the Fire. Unbridled and unfiltered, the end result sees a return to the spirited piano arrangements, the carefree vocal harmonies, and pounding percussions.
Though the band is indebted to its southern roots, The Light does not attempt to fit within the tight confines of country music. A not-so-subtle artistic liberation that was worth leaving the comfort of a well-connected, well-funded record label for. “It wasn’t working at country radio," Eric opens up about the struggle of trying to fit their genre-bending songs into the only platform their label would push for. "Women do not get played, female-fronted ensembles don’t get played." Inspired by such contemporaries as Chris Stapleton and Maren Morris, the band was originally hopeful for the future of country music, and excited to be at the forefront of it alongside their modern heroes. "We wanted to be part of the community here," Brittany adds. "We thought we might be on the cutting edge of a different era, and really sadly, it just got harder and harder and more exclusively straight white males." With the restrictions they were bitterly playing with suddenly gone, they seem to have cast their net as far as they possibly could. The most blatant instance of this found on "Danced Right Out Of My Arms", a motown-inspired gospel piece that takes pleasure in a fast, foot-tapping rhythm and ever-evolving guitar arrangements.
While the album sweeps through different eras of music, taking inspiration from varied practices, it never loses its euphoric signature on any of its twelve tracks. Which is no coincidence. The Light, as it turns out, is a sister album to The Dark, an album they hope to drop next March. "If you listen to our first two albums, you’ll see both light and dark and it's sort of intermittent. It's a rollercoaster. What we realized is that some of our fans—and us too—love to just sit in a mood. When you put on an album, you want to stay in that zone for longer. So we thought, instead of each song taking you to a different place, what if an album kept you in a similar world and transported you to that mood?" Even on "From One Woman To Another", a sharp-witted, blues-y track about a prolific playboy, there is not one whiff of melancholy or anger. It's just an honest story backed by an irresistibly charming production.
This album is the destination as much as it is the journey. With only two full-length albums released in ten years, this six-piece ensemble from North Carolina never stopped believing that they were meant for something greater. Their struggles only strengthened their resolve, while their early successes kept them hungry for more. "The first lines on 'Burning in Carolina', the first song on this album—'the panic never stops / it's the rush of wanting it so much / that it tears you up'— we wrote that lyric eight years ago and it’s more true today than ever before."