Pic: Bridget Julie-Anne Photography
Perth trio The Holy Smoke chat with Bob Gordon about freedom, empowerment, and letting your light shine as beloved band member Delilah Rose prepares to move interstate.
The Holy Smoke are in fits of laughter and it’s not unusual.
The trio of Rose Parker, Delilah Rose and Karlee Rae entertain each other as much as they have entertained audiences over the last seven years with their soul/gospel/folk/country trio. Emotionally compelling songs, beautiful guitar and keyboard interplay and oh, those three-part harmonies. You could cry until you laugh.
And laugh they do.
“I’ve never had so much fun in a band as I have had with these girls,” Rose Parker says. “We get to dress up and have to decide, ‘am I gonna wear the tan boots or black boots? I like that kimono that you’ve got on. Can I try that on? You need my belt. Oh, what lip gloss colour do you have on? Can you put my false eyelashes on?’
“Then in between a child will wander in whinging, ‘Mummy, I’ve done a poo’. ‘Alright, we’ll deal with that too’. Then there’s another child having a meltdown and a dog wanting to go out or come back in. It’s just all handled with aplomb.”
It’s a lively triumvirate to say the least, what with families, full-time careers and the demands of their other bands and solo pursuits vying for attention at all times. The Holy Smoke, however, is a realm where they can all revel in each other’s company and abilities. And oh, those harmonies. It’s downright harmonious.
“The fact that our three voices come together so well, like it’s one voice, it’s incredible,” says Delilah Rose. “It’s otherworldly, there’s no other word. It’s literally magic.
“And the best thing is – and we say it so often – that Rose and I do our band stuff and it’s great and it’s fun and it’s hard work, and it’s awesome. But it’s so easy, us with Karlee, and there’s this sense of egality and equality. We’re happy to do that in our bands; to be the bandleader and make the decisions and that’s how we want it to be. But in this wonderful prism all the things come together. We have these beautiful strengths in these three separate areas that really just work as a trio.”
It wouldn’t completely be a beautiful story of friendship, however, if it wasn’t just a touch bittersweet. Delilah and her husband are taking their two children to live in Queensland to be near his family. She goes, of course, with the full support of her bandmates, but she will be missed and there have been tears.
It’s not totally the end, Karlee points out, simply “the end to this little season.” In typically poetic fashion, The Holy Smoke played their ‘last’ show at Lyric’s Underground in Maylands on May 14, but the event itself was something of a birth as in doing so they launched a new single, Little Light.
The story behind the song is something of a hallmark of The Holy Smoke itself. Reeling from a challenging period of time in terms of family and work dynamics (not to mention the Covid effect on those sorts of things), Karlee had hit a creative wall and had misgivings about what she was bringing to the songwriting table. She was in good company to be in such a dilemma though; Rose and Delilah run Australian Songwriting Retreats, a workshop series that helps people reach their songcraft potential.
“I know right?” Karlee laughs. “They’re really good people to be around. I was sitting in the shed one night and just said, I said, ‘Man, I’m just really struggling to feel like feel like I can contribute anything in this space’. And Dee said, ‘just go write a crap song. Don’t overthink it. Just go write a crap song and start somewhere’.
“So I went home, and this was literally the song that I wrote. When I went to show it to the girls, I realised that as much as it had a story for me – coming out of this cave-wilderness time that I felt like I was in, my own version of darkness – and coming back out creatively, we realised that actually, I think this has a message that’s broader than just my story, which goes out to a lot of people.”
Spoiler alert: it’s not even a crap song. Not remotely.
“Imagine what her good ones are like!” Delilah laughs. “You have to give yourself permission. Have a play. You know, like, we play music. And it’s good just to go and have a play and allow yourself freedom in that space to fail. Not everything has to be a hit song. It’s good to not have to have an outcome and an algorithm and a KPI and all of those things. It’s good just to throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks sometimes.”
“That’s so true,” continues Karlee. “That was pretty much the reason why I was struggling to write because I was getting so stuck in whatever the song was, it needed to be a really good song and it just shut me down. And so I kind of feel a little bit like sure, even though I might have been the one that wrote it, I feel very much like these two have contributed to this just as much because it was kind of through them and their encouragement that it even got out.”
Part of Little Light’s appeal is that it references This Little Light Of Mine, the traditional gospel song that was picked up by the US civil rights movement and recorded in various versions by the likes of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and Paul Robeson.
“I’ve grown up in church, my whole life,” says Karlee. “I’ve been surrounded by those sorts of gospel songs my whole life. You know, you go to Sunday school and you sing the songs. I don’t know what made me lean to that, it just seemed appropriate at the time. ‘I need a bridge, what can I bring in?’ That just popped out.”
“I love it,” Rose says. “I think thematically it just amplified what you were trying to get out, which is like, ‘don’t wait for yourself to become perfect and polished. Just start right here and right where you are right now. And just let your little light shine’. The actual old scripture that it references is Don’t hide your light under a bushel. So it’s saying whatever your light is, whatever your gift is inside you, don’t hide it away out of shame or fear. Or thinking you’re not good enough. Let your little light shine because everybody’s got their own light… and just let it shine.
“Even though that’s a little gospel reference, I think it’s probably present and relevant in many, many cultures and many good things.”
What Little Light shares with its reference point is a universality, its arms are open to all. Considering it came from an individual predicament, it speaks to the power of good songwriting which is even more impressive when you consider it emerged from a serious case of writer’s block.
“Whether it’s COVID, or anyone else’s own personal stories, I think everyone’s got a story where life has just sucked the life out of them,” Karlee posits. “And it takes some courage, I think, to step back out of that, and back into those things that actually bring joy.
“So Dee and Rose are a big part of that for me and it was very interesting that we would end our final show with that song. It was a very full circle for me.”
The Holy Smoke at Lyric’s Underground, May 17 2023 – Photo: Grace NW Film www.instagram.com/gracenwfilm
The ‘final’ show was always going to be an emotional affair. As much as the trio steeled themselves and put on brave faces, a look or a lyric was always there to tug at the heartstrings.
“It was great,” says Delilah, fondly. “It was full of story and song, and we laughed uncontrollably and I ugly-face cried and I forgot words and as usual Karlee and Rose scooped me up and it was like the most fun you can ever have with your pants on and with no drugs.”
“Before we went on stage we all looked at each other and went, ‘No, don’t go there. I’m not crying yet’ Rose laughs. “We had to keep our chins up, so no one was allowed to get too deep and meaningful. We’re just doing the business, putting on the lip gloss. Let’s go do this.”
“And then I managed to break the banks,” adds Karlee.” So when I intro’d the song, I just said thanks in gratitude to the girls… that was it, as soon as I said that I was like, ‘waaaahhhh’.
“And then of course we got asked for an encore at which point we started to play Landslide, it was the encore, that was the moment that it was like, ‘Okay, this is real, this is actually the end’. And I looked at Rose and you were like, ‘you have to stop looking at me…baaaw’.”
‘Well, I’ve been afraid of changin’
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older too’ – Landslide, Fleetwood Mac
Karlee and Delilah’s youngest kids were 3 and 6 months old when The Holy Smoke formed. They will turn 7 this year.
“It’s a song about changing and kids and listing off all the things,” says Delilah. “The girls have been around since my son Wyatt was born. That’s his whole life.
“My mum had organised some flowers and my hubby got up and gave us them and said about The Holy Smoke rehearsals – no matter how much time and energy and effort it was for everyone – having that backdrop, a soundtrack in the shed to our kids’ lives has just been incredible. And it really has.”
“That was very beautiful,” adds Rose, her eyes welling.
While their tenure has been bookmarked by the pandemic, The Holy Smoke have achieved much and affected many. Appearances at festivals such as Nannup (Karlee: “we did it at the Town Hall and we got a standing ovation. Half the people hadn’t even heard of us!”) and Harvey Dixon’s Rodeo, where they played Jolene to 3000 well-refreshed pogoing cowpersons and Delilah got called a MILF (“I was like, ‘I’m putting that on my resume’, she laughs.) are highlights, as are the many intimate venue shows the trio performed over the years. The experience itself, however, seems to be the greatest takeaway.
“The fact that we can get together and make music together with pants on and are mostly sane with five children between us, three full-time jobs, and three other bands that we play in, that feels for me like biggest accomplishment with the band,” says Delilah. “And we did two EPs, that’s fucking amazing.”
“That is our greatest achievement,” Rose adds, “how much each of us has grown. I sent the girls a message before the show that night. And I said, ‘working with you girls makes me bigger and braver’.
“And it does. It’s been so confidence building. I think it’s because we’re just so encouraged, we champion each other, you know? We’ve all got each other’s backs. We laugh our freakin’ asses off. I love delivering such a great end result and having so much fun putting it together.”
The Holy Smoke at Lyric’s Underground, May 17 2023 – Photo: Grace NW Film www.instagram.com/gracenwfilm
There is one more farewell. The Delilah Rose Band will also wave fondly off at Lyric’s Underground on June 16 and then sunny Queensland beckons. For The Holy Smoke, however, a long-distance relationship is not out of the question…
“I’m still applying for festival spots in the West so we’ll just see what happens,” Delilah explains. “As it goes we’ve still got another four songs to get out over the course of the next nine months. So we’ll just keep going with that and see what happens.
“The whole thing with Holy Smoke has been so organic. It’s been very easy just to convince people we should play (laughs).”
The trio are hopeful of airplay for Little Light and the other songs they have planned for release down the track. Clearly though the greatest wish is that if there’s a chance Rose, Karlee and Delilah can be in the same room or on the same stage, they’ll make the very most of those opportunities.
“What we didn’t get to do because of COVID was tour,” says Rose. “So I’m hoping that with Dee over there we might jump on a plane and go over and do a couple of different things but do some shows while we’re there. We’re resourceful chicks and we’ll make it work somehow.
“Wherever we are and whenever we get together, we will create magic. That I know.”