If you threw several major genres of music into a blender, you'd get Della Mae. The Boston-based quintet is made up of musicians from incredibly different backgrounds, who've come together to create a sound that simultaneously respects tradition and invents something new. In the middle of their current tour promoting new album This World Can Oft Be, BFTV caught up with Della Mae's singer Celia Woodsmith, hoping to find out how they made all the pieces fit.
"What don't I love about this band?" she said. "This band, we have such good camaraderie. The sisterhood in this band is beautiful. We work as a team. It's not one person above anyone else. It's all of us together. And I think that's what I love about this band so much. We're doing it with one another and for one another. It's just a wonderful group to work with."
It's also a very eclectic group. Aside from Celia, who's played in rock and roll and blues bands previously, Della Mae consists of guitarist Courtney Hartmann, who graduated from the prestigious Berklee College of Music; veteran Nashville bassist Shelby Means; and mandolin player Jenni Lyn Gardner, whose background is traditional bluegrass. They were all handpicked by the fifth member of the band, Kimber Ludiker. And they're playing music that's decidedly not mainstream.
"This kind of music, it's hard to pin it down," Celia reflected, calling the band "very grounded in traditional music. However, we're growing up in contemporary society. We're a contemporary American roots band with a bluegrass flavor. We do a lot of original material. We really kind of try to put our own stamp on the music. It has notes of pop, and indie, and certainly blues.
"Go into it with no preconceived notions about what we're doing," she continued. "If you think that you hate country [music], that's fine. But just don't go into it thinking it's going to be one certain way. I think we surprise certain people."
What also might surprise you about Della Mae is the band's commitment to more than just making music. The band recently traveled internationally and found it to be a remarkable experience. "The thing that opened my eyes to this album and what we were doing, we took a State Department trip to six countries in Central Asia," explained Celia. "Our mission there was just diplomacy, to meet people, to play for kids, do workshops, sort of a person to person thing. We were just received with such hospitality and warmth that our whole lives were totally changed."
That trip also helped her look differently at what they were doing. "What's become apparent to me [with] the album, is there are these story songs," she continued. "Songs about love, songs about deep, deep sorrow and loss, and just the commonalities between everyone in this world. We would sing these songs for people and in a way they would understand what they were about even though they didn't speak the language.
"To be a successful musician is to bring out emotions in the people who are watching you," she said. "I hope what this album is able to do for people is just that - to make them feel that emotion. In general, it's a very emotional album."
They're a band that isn't easily classifiable, and clearly committed to more than just stardom. So how will Della Mae judge This World Can Oft Be? Is it based on the album's commercial success? "I know our record label probably cares about that quite a bit," said Celia with a laugh. "But for me, what I have been really humbled by are reviews of the album that praise the songs and praise the musicianship and don't just praise us for being women. I don't want the fact that we're women to be a factor. I want this to be a strong album on its own, whether you knew we were all female or not."
Regardless of their gender, listening to Celia makes clear that Della Mae is composed of the right people, who share the same goals and who make each other stronger musicians. "These women in this band are actually quite inspirational to me. I started music quite late," she revealed. "A lot of the other ladies, they started when they were three years old or eight years old. This has been their dream, to play music and not to have another job. And [also] to have an album on Rounder Records. That dream has come true for us. We're so extraordinarily lucky to be where we are right now. Really, I can't wait to see what the future does hold."
Check out a video from Della Mae below. You can also find more information on the band by visiting their website (dellamae.com) and following them on Twitter (@heyheydellamae). Their new album, This World Can Oft Be, is now available.