Family matters for Delta Rae 

click to enlarge Three Hölljes siblings, former Bay Area residents, form the anchor of Delta Rae, a hot alt-country band based in North Carolina. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Three Hölljes siblings, former Bay Area residents, form the anchor of Delta Rae, a hot alt-country band based in North Carolina.

Fans of Durham, N.C., family band Delta Rae — which plays The City on Thursday — are familiar with Brittany Hölljes’ smoky vocals from the band’s recent debut album, “Carry the Fire.”  

They have heard her, and her co-vocalist and childhood friend, Liz Hopkins, on Peggy Lee’s “Bless You (For the Good That’s in You)” on the “Gangster Squad” soundtrack, and with brothers Eric (keyboards) and Ian (guitar) on a YouTube cover of “The Chain” by their stylistic forebears Fleetwood Mac.

The outfit is also featured in the upcoming animated film “Escape From Planet Earth.”

But no one outside the clan has heard her curious professional debut — and they never will.

The Hölljeses — who resided in San Rafael for more than a decade while the kids were growing up — were unusually creative and came from creative parents.

Their writer mother is finishing up a novel about a Southern girl named Delta Rae who accidentally awakens the Greek gods.

“We stole that name from my mom, and we’ve been proudly using it ever since,” says Brittany Hölljes, who also tested prototypes for her father, a toy inventor who created Fisher-Price’s Smart Cycle, a stationary bike for kids.

She adds, “I even did voiceovers for one of his first toys, a teddy bear with an LED face, kind of a hybrid of a Nano Pet and a stuffed animal. So that was my first professional voice work!”

While Ian and Eric Hölljes returned to their native Durham to attend Duke, Brittany, with her parents’ blessing, left high school early and entered community college, then UC Berkeley.

“I took after my mom and studied paganism and mythology — specifically, ancient Mediterranean religion,” she says.

“I even studied abroad in Italy with a strong focus on astrology and alchemy, so it was inevitable that I would go into music. There’s no other profession, aside from palm-reading, that I was prepared for.”

When all three siblings graduated simultaneously, she says, “We were free of our obligations and able to start a band.”

It was a tough decision, Brittany Hölljes admits — leaving Marin and a longtime beau to join her brothers, plus Hopkins, in a rustic old house in the Carolina woods, where they perfected their alt-country pop harmonies.

But it paid off. Sire Records President Seymour Stein signed Delta Rae, now a sextet, after one listen.

Last fall, the group opened for Michelle Obama at a local Democratic fundraiser, a moment immortalized in a snapshot of the first lady and Brittany Hölljes, cheek to cheek.

“Meeting her was one of the happiest moments of my life, and it wasn’t just shaking hands — it was like a mama-bear hug,” she says, wistfully. “She went in for that hug like nobody’s business!”

Delta Rae, with Z.Z. Ward

  • Where: Great American Music Hall,
  • 859 O’Farrell St., S.F.
  • When: 8 p.m. Thursday
  • Tickets: $16
  • Contact: (415) 885-0750; www.gamhtickets.com

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Tom Lanham

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Wednesday, Dec 17, 2014

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