Rock band Delta Rae are a friends-and family-act with Ian, Eric and Britney HÃÂlljes forming the centerpiece and Elizabeth Hopkins, Mike McKee and Grant Emerson adding to the sound. Their music can be described as Fleetwood Mac meets Blues Traveler. Hailing from North Carolina, this sextet is constantly touring and bringing their music once again to Chicago this week.
We talked about their homage to gay love by phone when they were out on the road.
Windy City Times: Hi, Ian. Where in the world are you?
Ian HÃÂlljes: We are driving out of Utah, heading toward San Diego. It has been a real geographical conundrum what that route looks like. I can't really picture it in my brain so we are leaving it up to GPS.
WCT: You are always touring, aren't you?
Ian HÃÂlljes: Yes, all the time.
WCT: How is it touring with your sister and brother?
Ian HÃÂlljes: It's okay. It is good at times then at other times like right now when Eric is helping to direct me with the GPS that it is horrible! Eric says, "Hi." Overall, I feel lucky. The rest of the band feels like an extension of family. Honestly I can't imagine it any other way, which is not the normal way of being connected to your family but I think for the three of us it has become very natural. We are slowly implementing more distance because we used to live all together too. That was a little tough but now we are beginning to get individual identities.
WCT: You all grew up in North Carolina?
Ian HÃÂlljes: Unfortunately, it is not that simple. My brother and I were born in North Carolina. My sister was born in Nashville, Tenn. Then we moved to Georgia and finally California, where we met Liz, our fourth singer. Eric and I came back to North Carolina and have been there ever since. The group has joined us there three years ago.
WCT: Was it a musical household when you were younger?
Ian HÃÂlljes: Yes, in different ways. My brother started teaching himself piano when he was about 7. I never took to an instrument so easily. I started playing and songwriting in college. We all grew up singing and that was the main thing. I don't really know where it comes from to be honest because my parents had nice voices but were never professionally inclined toward music and didn't play an instrument.
We were self-directed towards loving to sing and our parents played a lot of great music in the house growing up. We started leaning towards Fleetwood Mac and Les Miserables and everything in between. That was our early childhood music education.
WCT: Your group is often compared to Fleetwood Mac, even switching singers like them.
Ian HÃÂlljes: They were a big inspiration for us when we were contemplating how the band would work. We wanted this harmony sound. They are the only models, along with The Mamas & The Papas, that has reached a classic quality. They have so many great records and songs. That is what we wanted. We wanted the songwriting to be strong enough so that there wouldn't be one identifiable voice every time you hear the songs on the radio. The only one out there that knows how to do that is Fleetwood Mac.
WCT: Fleetwood is touring again. Are any of you going to the concert?
Ian HÃÂlljes: We don't have plans to currently but I really hope we get a chance to go. It is tough being on the road. You don't get to see as many shows as you would like to. Recently, we re-recorded our song "If I Loved You" to send to radio. It is on our album, Carry the Fire. We had the thrill to have Lindsey Buckingham play guitar on it. It is unbelievable. His guitar work is distinct. He is such an incredible songwriter and has such a sensitivity and nuance to express the song in a beautiful way. This is something we never expected to have happen.
WCT: Congrats. I interviewed Stevie Nicks for her last solo record. She's a bit of a diva.
Ian HÃÂlljes: Well, if anyone deserves to be, then it's her.
WCT: Delta Rae sounds like a Designing Women character.
Ian HÃÂlljes: [Laughs] That is right. No, the name came from my mother. She is writing a book about a girl from the South who summons the Greek gods back to earth. We were going over names for the band for weeks and finally we thought about Delta Rae. Our mother was gracious enough to use it. It has been a really lovely synergy around her work and what we are doing. She has actually made incredible headway on the book. She is very close to finishing it up so we are feeling very excited about that.
WCT: Let's talk about your song "Chain of Love (A Song For Marriage Equality)." Did you write the lyrics?
Ian HÃÂlljes: I did.
WCT: What inspired it? Prop 8 had something to do with it, I imagine.
Ian HÃÂlljes: Correct. We grew up in California, like I mentioned, so I was monitoring the Prop 8 decision. When it was revealed that it had gone the way of discriminating against gays, I was really heartbroken. I think I, like a lot of people, get caught up in my bubble of family and friends and forget where the country is on gay rights. Literally that day I went in my room and wrote that song in about 20 minutes. It was a heartfelt reaction to the decision coming down.
WCT: Where did this empathy for the LGBT community start?
Ian HÃÂlljes: Our history with gay rights really starts with my mom. In Marietta, Ga., she was a gay-rights advocate. She was with a city coalition that was trying to repeal a county resolution that said that Cobb County did not approve [gay people]. That was my context for understanding the struggles, with my mom being very involved and a public advocate.
We would get death threats left on the car windshield and neighbors shunning us. It was incredibly constructive to a 10-year-old on how cruel adults could be to one another. It has been something that has been close to our hearts ever since then and grew. We have many friends who are gay and lesbian and we feel for them. It has been wonderful to watch the tide turn.
WCT: The lyrics "love doesn't know when it's a sin" are such powerful words. You are reaching a lot of people with this song.
Ian HÃÂlljes: Thank you. It comes from a real place of connection to it. It has meant a lot to me to see people's reactions to the song. It is very much mutual.
WCT: You played at Bottom Lounge last time in Chicago and upcoming at Lincoln Hall. I wish your mom could be at the show. She sounds amazing!
Ian HÃÂlljes: She is. I wish she could be there too.
Look for that sold out concert at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., on Sunday, Feb. 24. Visit www.lincolnhallchicago.com or www.deltarae.com for details.