What do you get when you mash killer pipes with killer shoes during the year’s hottest months? The Steve Madden Music Series. Last week, the shoe authority carried on it’s annual summer concert showcase with a mind-blowing performance by folk rock band Delta Rae at its lower Manhattan store. The North Carolina-California collective of vocalists, guitarists, pianists, and percussionists led an intimate set featuring hits from their debut LP “Carry The Fire,” including the intoxicating “Bottom of the River,” and acoustic crowd favorite “Hey, Hey, Hey,” which the band performs off stage in the middle of the crowd! Before the band took to the stage, we chatted with its leading ladies, Brittany Hölljes and Elizabeth Hopkins. The dynamic contenders for a Rolling Stone “Women Who Rock” cover gave us an exclusive look into their lives as folk crooners, from what it’s like working with four other bandmates to what fashion favorites they can’t hit the road without.
You all just released your first studio album, “Catch The Fire” a month ago. For those unfamiliar with your sound, who is Delta Rae?
Brittany: Delta Rae is a sextet. It’s four vocalists, and three siblings, and we play Americana rock, sort of in the vein of Fleetwood Mac — if Fleetwood Mac came from North Carolina. We run the gamut of genres and we have four lead singers, like I said, so you’ll be hearing a lot of harmony and a lot of vocals. That’s sort of our signature.
How did the group get started?
Elizabeth: I became very good friends with Ian and Eric [while performing in an a capella group], and then became best friends with Brittany a couple of years down the line. We all went to different colleges, but Ian and Eric went to Duke together, and when they graduated, they reached out to Brittany and I about starting the band together. Brittany was in Italy at the time, and I was actually in Peru, so we were both overseas, and we were both absolutely ecstatic when we got the offer. And definitely, we’ve always loved singing together. The four of us convened in North Carolina in 2009 to get the project off the ground. We started off as a quartet but now, like Brittany said, we are an Americana rock sextet.
Six people in one band – what’s that creative process like?
Brittany: Since my brothers were 10 and 12 years old, they’ve been writing music together. They do all of the writing of the melodies and the lyrics, and then they bring the songs to the group, and we all add our own flavor. Mike [McKee]’s a fantastic drummer. He’s really creative, so he’s added a lot of the awesome flair that comes with the trashcan and the auxiliary bass drum, and the different instrumental breakdowns that we have. Grant is our bass player who totally innovated our sound with the electric upright, which he learned to play as soon as he got in the group. I would say everybody contributes in their own way, but the key to me is the harmonies which all just fall into place.
What is your favorite song to perform live?
Elizabeth: Right now, my favorite song in the set is “Dancing In The Graveyards,” just because it’s such a joyful beat, and I love the message. The message of celebrating those that we have lost as opposed to just sort of being extremely sad and “let’s not talk about it,” “let’s sweep it under the rug.” I love the approach of “let’s remember these people and celebrate them.”
Brittany: Maybe, it’s “Hey, Hey, Hey,” which is our song that we come out into the crowd and sing, totally acoustically. No mics; just a drum, and a guitar, and a bass, and our voices. And I love that because it’s just so back porch, so raw, and it gets the audience really excited.
Do you have any dream collaborations?
Brittany: We love Kanye West! “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is rocking in the van all the time. We love that album so much, and pretty much everything he’s ever done — he’s an amazing artist. So, we feel like if he sampled “Bottom of the River,” it would pretty much make our life. That would be an amazing collaboration. I also am absolutely in love with Beyoncé! I just think she’s such a powerful woman. I don’t need to collaborate with her, not saying that necessarily, I’m just glad she’s out there doing what she loves because she’s so kickass. Beyond just other artists, I think a symphony would be just so cool to collaborate with. We’re influenced by so many genres of music, all of which are American, and they really run the gamut. So anywhere from jazz artists to hip hop and rap, we would love to be involved and sort of expand.
We’ve got your songs covered, now tell us about your style. What inspires your fashion choices?
Brittany: My guideline is like leather and lace. I like to show toughness. We’re so vulnerable on stage with what we’re singing and talking about that I like to have a little bit of a tough element. Some of my songs are a little bit more, fiery — literally, one of my songs is called “Fire” — but I still totally have a feminine side, and I like to show them both in equal parts.
Elizabeth: I envision myself as an urban mermaid. I’m from California and I like to take the beach with me everywhere I go. Whether it’s with my hair being very beachy, wavy, and then wearing something that’s very sharp and urban, because I also spent a lot of time in New York City. It usually involves wearing black and then having a big colorful accessory or super wavy, beach hair so I can feel free, but also sharp at the same time.
What are the three things we’ll always find with you when you’re traveling with the band?
Brittany: Mascara is key. That for me is number one for the face. I think a fabulous pair of jeans. For me right now, it’s a pair of Diesel’s that I’ve just been wearing the crap out of. And then the sexiest shoes in your world. I think, for me, that’s like a strappy, black, lace-up, dominatrix heel. Steve Madden all the way. Have Liz and I mentioned how many pairs of Steve Madden’s we own, because it’s sick! I haven’t counted. I can’t pick up my suitcase anymore because it’s full of shoes.
Elizabeth: There’s one overlap with Brittany — mascara, is key. Eyeliner is very key. And then, I have really wavy hair, so I have curl perfector, mousse, and gel that I use that I never go on the road without it.
Check out more photos of the ladies — and their Steve Madden stilettos — fronting Delta Rae, and a clip of their debut single, “Bottom of the River,” below.