On Monday, country-rock band Delta Rae sent a long-planned tweet into the universe.
“IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: We left Big Machine Label Group. We are going independent again,” the group wrote. “We are making Album III right now. We need your help.” They posted similar messages to Instagram and Facebook, along with a link to a Kickstarter fundraising page that they hoped would bring in about $30,000 to underwrite the recording of their new album. If they were really lucky, they thought, maybe they could raise $60,000 and record a fourth.
Little did they know the odd collision of events that awaited them. About 24 hours before their Kickstarter launched, pop megastar Taylor Swift set the Internet ablaze with a scathing Tumblr post calling out Big Machine, her former Nashville label, for selling the company — along with her lucrative master recordings — to music mogul Scooter Braun, whom she accused of “bullying” her for years. It devolved into a shockingly public feud with A-list celebrities taking sides; and in the eyes of Swift’s fierce fan base, Big Machine was suddenly the enemy.
The six members of Delta Rae thought it was an interesting coincidence that Big Machine was randomly in the news, but that’s about it.
“We suspected that it might have some resonance with what was going on, but we had no expectations in that regard,” co-lead singer Ian Hölljes said in a phone interview from Rochester, Minn., where the band has a concert Wednesday night. “We were just focused on getting our message out to our fans.”
Indeed, their fans noticed the message — and, turns out, so did Swift’s legion of followers. Hundreds of comments rolled in: “Swifties will support and stream your music!!! “SWIFTIES HAVE YOUR BACK!” “Swifties will definitely be buying all of your music from now on!”
Their post was retweeted and “liked" thousands of times. And as Swift fans pledged their loyalty to Delta Rae, something else started happening: The Kickstarter numbers skyrocketed. They raised $30,000 in 30 minutes. Then $60,000 in an hour. At their concert Monday night, several band members broke down in tears as they told the crowd they raised $125,000. As of Wednesday morning, they had $170,000. There are still 58 days left to go on the fundraiser.
Of course, it’s unclear how many Swifties actually donated — Delta Rae has been touring for many years, nurturing what they call a “diehard” fan base of their own. More than 1,260 fans have contributed so far, seven of whom donated $10,000 each. Either way, Hölljes called it “very strange and wonderful” timing that the band received a surge in attention just when they needed it most, while striking out as an independent act.
“We’ve been a very odd beneficiary of this whole thing. . . . It’s a whole kind of secondary wave of support we didn’t expect at all,” he said. “I don’t know what to say exactly. It has just been very – “ He paused. “We’re grateful.”
While some Swift fans appear to think Delta Rae abruptly exited Big Machine because of Swift’s Tumblr post (“if they support our girl, Taylor, we should support them!”), the band started the process of leaving at the end of last year. The group — made up of siblings Ian, Brittany and Eric Hölljes, along with Elizabeth Hopkins, Mike McKee and Grant Emerson — were initially thrilled to sign the deal with BMLG’s imprint Valory Music Co., but grew frustrated as their singles fizzled on the radio and they weren’t able to release a full album.
“We were just feeling a little hemmed in by the need to conform to one genre,” Hölljes said. They describe their sound as “gospel-tinged country-rock, sensual blue-eyed soul and harmony-laden Americana.” The group has also never shied away from topics such as gun control or the #MeToo movement, and at one point were encouraged by the wave of “politically and musically progressive” country artists such as Maren Morris, Brothers Osborne and Cam.
“We were really excited to potentially be a part of that,” Hölljes said. “Sadly, that didn’t take root as strongly as we had hoped, or as quickly as we thought it might.”
Although their inadvertent crossover with Swift was a coincidence, the two acts have one thing in common: Having total control over their music is a vital concern. With the money, Delta Rae plans to record two “sister” albums: “The Light,” scheduled for March 2020, followed by “The Dark” in 2021.
With the influx of new fans, Hölljes said, they’re almost more intrigued by the number of Kickstarter backers than the amount of money. After all, the goal is to expand their fan base — and he thinks this whole situation could serve as inspiration for other artists looking to go independent.
“I hope it’s a message for other bands looking to take a leap of faith, find out what their fan base is and where they’re support might be,” he said. “We’ve just been overwhelmed by the response.”