Hey Hey Della Mae! Around the World with Celia Woodsmith

Celia Woodsmith of Della Mae at The Festy Experience 2018

​I was first introduced to Della Mae in a church.  ​Not what you would expect, right?  They were just back from an overseas trip that they did for the State Department where they travel to other countries and teach​ people about the music and instruments that they play.  It was amazing and I was instantly a fan.  A few months later, I saw them open for The Infamous Stringdusters at 9:30 Club and have gotten to see them several times since.  It was a real pleasure to be able to learn about the band and their adventures from lead vocalist and guitarist Celia Woodsmith. 

Karin McLaughlin: (after explaining the above to her)  I want to talk about that and what your experiences were with that program - what you guys learned from doing ​it and what you hold dear from it, maybe.

Zoe Guigueno with Bonnie Paine
Zoe Guigueno with Bonnie Paine

Celia Woodsmith: Yeah, so I think at this point it's ​18 different countries that we've been to with the State Department. ​ It's either through this program called American Music Abroad or it's straight through  working with an embassy - a lot of embassies will bring us there if they want to surreptitiously work on things like women's rights.   Just by having us there and by having us be present and playing music, we don't need to say a thing, we can just show who we are and what we think and how we act. ​That in itself is sort of a testament to women's rights. ​  Especially in some of these places that we've gone like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Jordan.  There's a lot of places that we've been that I feel​ we can lend a hand in that department. ​

It would take all day to ​name or​ put words to everything that I feel we've learned on these trips, but one of the most important things is how similar we are.  I know that​ at this point,​ that's ​something everyone talks about - we're all one - but truly, ​when you ​get down to it, you really get to know people in small, little classes, where you get together with little kids or you get together with women from a cooperative or with high school students.  Everyone is so nice and so curious.  They just want to be with you and in turn, you really just want to be with them and ​​taste the tea that they're giving you or you teach them a song, they teach you a song.

"​I go to the women's rights marches, however controversial that may be for some people. I stand up for my fellow women, ​no matter what color they are, no matter what creed, what religion."

I really do believe that we're so afraid of one another for ​no good reason. We're sort of stuck in this scary media thing. It's a cyclical thing.​ We get scary knowledge from the media, so we don't travel and then because we don't travel, we're scared of people.  Then we get more scary knowledge and we're reaffirmed in our desire not to travel.​  It's a sad thing.

When we first went to Pakistan, we had family members, we had fans, we had people telling us, 'Do not go!' ​  That was one of the most beautiful, amazing places I've ever been just in terms of ​culture and ​feeling different and being accepted, it is totally mind blowing. ​

KM:  Do you also find any difference in how you guys are ​viewed or judged here and now in America,​ with the whole 'me too' movement being that you're an all female band? ​ If so, do you find that there's any either good or bad to that or is it the opposite and you ​guys really feel empowered because of the movement and ​being an all female group? ​ It's seen by so many as a setback, ​but then you have the angle of being able to prove everyone wrong about whatever they might already think in a negative way?

CW: Yeah, ​I think for as long as we've been a band, we've been proving people wrong.  ​ I can't tell you how many times I've heard - and I love that people even think it's cool to say this to you - but​ were like, 'Wow, you guys are a lot better than I expected.' Like, really? ​

KM:  You know you gotta love those back handed comments.

Celia Woodsmith of Della Mae at The Festy Experience 2018
Celia Woodsmith of Della Mae at The Festy Experience 2018

CW: Yeah, like, 'Why are we a lot better than you expected?'  'If you went to see a band of all men, would you have said that to any of them?'  No, you wouldn't have.  So for a long time we really​ in a way, kept quiet and just showed how powerful we were and are because of the way that we play and that we can keep up with any man.  

I have to say now that this 'me too' thing, I think it has emboldened us to really speak up about things, particularly in ​respect to women's rights. I don't feel afraid anymore to speak up and to say that I am a feminist, that I am a supporter of women's rights.  I go to the women's rights marches, however controversial that may be for some people. I stand up for my fellow women, ​no matter what color they are, no matter what creed, what religion. ​ I really do think that D​ella Mae has a place standing up for that in the future and no longer ​being afraid that we're going to lose fans over it.   Maybe it was something that we thought a little bit more when we were younger, when you're a little bit more afraid of what people have to say about you.  Now after going all around the world ​and meeting all sorts of people and growing up a little bit, we're not afraid of that anymore. ​ I don't think we're going to be at the front lines of​ whatever movement, but we are going to be more outspoken, whether it's through songs or through​ organizations that we outwardly support.  ​

KM: We're jumping around here, but I'm going to go back to the beginning​, where did the name Della Mae may come from?

CW: The name ​Della Mae comes from an ​Osbourne Brothers songs called "Big Spike Hammer" and the chorus goes, "Hey, Hey, ​Della Mae why do you treat me this way?"  ​I wasn't there at the beginning, but Kimberly thought that they might name the band Big Spike Hammer as a sort of tongue in cheek, look at how masculine we are playing a million miles an hour and we're going to stand on stage and not smile and that was a joke. ​ ​Then, later on, it became,  'Why don't we own the fact that we're not trying to be men, we're just trying to be badass women?'  So the band name became ​Della Mae​

KM: ​ You guys were named IBM's Emerging Artists in 2013, and then turned around ​the very next year with your second album where you get a Grammy nomination!

CW: Yeah, that was ​very unexpected! ​​ I knew nothing about the Grammy process at that point and I had no idea that we had even been ​put in the pool for a Grammy nomination.   We found out after a show in Johnson City, Tennessee.  I just remember that moment being very surreal, because someone looked at their phone, at their email and said, 'Guys, Jim (our manager at the time) just said, 'Congratulations on the Grammy nomination!'  And we were like, 'Jim that's so mean, that's a mean joke!'  But then we were ​all like, 'Wait, didn't the Grammy nominations just come out?'  So we googled it, you know 'Della Mae Grammy nomination'. (laughs).  And we did! ​

KM: (laughs) That's a pretty great story!  You know you've made it when you have to Google yourself, right?

​KM: You guys also just came out with a new EP ​The Butcher Shoppe on March 1.  You've got ​two songs on there that are covers - ​"Sixteen Tons" and "Whipping Post" - I just want to say that we came to ​Festy ​and I had been hyping the band, telling everyone how good you were, and then you guys played ​that song ​and both the guys that were with me were like, "Holy shit, those girls ​kill it!"  ​You also covered "No Scrubs" and another 90's rap type song and the entire venue was just ​wowed.  There were some people​ there that didn't know you and some that did but​ let me tell you, everyone left there a Della Mae fan.  ​Specifically that song being that it's on your album and I've seen what you've done with it live - is there something about "Whipping Post" that you guys have a draw to?  Or is it just a fun song to play?  I know, it gets covered a lot and it's a very energetic, throwing everything in the ring type of song, but is there anything that ties it specifically to you guys, and ​maybe why you decided to put it on this EP that just came out?  

Della Mae - The Butcher Shoppe EP
Della Mae - The Butcher Shoppe EP

CW:  ​You know, I think the reason that we did it was, and it has been covered a lot, but I'm not sure how many times it's been covered by an all female bluegrass band. ​ For me, doing such a traditionally sort of testosterone-driven, masculine song and doing it in a way that we want to do it, you know, not, you know, that there.

We're not trying to do like a 20 minute jam, you know, like, I think we're really just trying to own that song and surprise people by the song choices, like "No Scrubs". ​  We've covered Led Zeppelin and Foreigner​ a lot of ​classic rock stuff. ​  With "Whipping Post" I'm really drawn towards it because I think it lets me ​off the leash a little bit, which is really fun for me but I mean, I obviously ​cannot take credit for how badass that song comes across, but I think that's probably why we do it - to surprise people a little bit. ​

​KM: Another ​super badass thing that you do and I've seen a lot more of lately, especially with Bonnie Paine​ joining up with other bands onstage, is the electric washboard. Holy ​moly!  I mean, that is one of the coolest things I've seen!   ​I met a guy at a festival last year, it was a really small festival, but ​there were lots of fireside jams. ​ He had a doorbell that he had ripped out of a wall, a washboard, pots and pans and all this stuff. ​ We became Facebook friends​ and I videotaped ​ you playing the electric washboard and sent it to him and his mind was blown. ​ Since then he has electrified his washboard and he loves it.  I feel like there's something unique and special, obviously, because it's a washboard but the ​electric washboard just levels it up AND you get to wear those gloves. What's it like being able to get up there and do something that's considered so old timey, but then you bring it into this new realm and you hook it up and ​bring it back and you play the hell out of it? 

CW: Yeah, so I've played the washboard for a long, long time actually.  I used to play in a band in Boston that we called Washboard Rock n Roll and it was really, really fun.  Then when I saw that Bonnie Paine for the first time - I got to give her basically most of the credit here - she was the one who who put the underside of the snare drum on the side of it, that little metal dangly thing.   She did that and it gives the ​washboard this whole other element of, usually these words aren't used together, but subtlety.  You can ​sort of tap on it and it's not quite so jarring.   So I found that​ it just goes a little bit better with more songs when you don't have to be a Zydeco Queen for the whole time.  Y​ou can sort of tap on it like you would tap on a snare and that gives me a lot more flexibility.   

What I love about the washboard is it's so physical.  I love being not tethered to a microphone and that I can sort of move in the way that I want to move.  You can give it that physicality that I think is one of the things that draws people towards ​you while you're doing it, because in reality, the washboard is very loud and annoying, but when you see someone playing it, ​it's sort of mesmerizing, it's this ownership of a rhythm.  So I love being able to plug it in and being able to move around and the guy who did mine is the same guy that fixes my guitars when they have problems.  I just asked him if he thought he be able to put a pickup in a washboard snd he said, "Well, I've never done it, but I am also interested to try, so if you trust me to, give it to me and I'll figure it out!"  I think he did a really, really good job with it, so ​yeah, it's awesome!

KM: ​ You guys have had quite a busy year so far and have ​even more still coming up.  Reflecting back on 2018 as a whole, ​was there anything ​from 2018 that you guys really found that ​you're still talking about it? 

Della Mae at The Festy Experience 2018

Della Mae performs at The Festy Experience

Della Mae at The Festy Experience 2018

Della Mae performs at The Festy Experience

CW: Well, we feel that way about Festy whenever we go and ​it's a crowd of​ young people.  That is not something you see at every bluegrass festival.  I wouldn't call ​Festy necessarily a bluegrass festival at all you know, it's like jam grass slash Americana and ​blues like ​Rubblebucket played, so it's a wider reach.  ​

KM: Rubblebucket!  ​That's a good example of one of those festival finds that I didn't know about before, but I am now in love with what a great band!

​CW:  They're great. Yeah, I actually went to University of Vermont with​ Annakalmia (lead singer), back in the day. ​ But yea, I love Festy because when you look out at the audience, it's just mostly young people and I see that next generation of people who are going to be really into coming out to see live music.  There's also another one called Fresh Grass in Massachusetts, which is awesome and just really great. We've been having a lot of fun playing with Allison Brown on the banjo, she is just a total rock star!  She's cool because she quietly can sort of, own the stage and just melt your face (laughs).  You​ might not expect ​it, but then she gets on stage and you're just like, 'Holy shit!'​  Not only is she a fantastic banjo player, but she can play a lot of other instruments, she's a producer and she can be an engineer​, she's just got it all. So​ that's been fun.

KM: ​Now we've talked about the past, let's talk about the future.  ​You've got dates scheduled all the way through like October already.​  Is there anything you guys are especially looking forward to this summer that maybe you haven't gotten to do in the past? Or you are looking forward to again to return to?

CW: Well, I have to say we've been doing a couple of shows with Steve Martin and Martin Short and that has been really fun.  It's a different sort of thing, but man oh man, it's been cool to sort of lend our music to their show. They're incredibly funny and really gracious guys.  We're going to be doing that probably another​12 shows with them.​

We're going to Europe and we're going to be doing a couple of festivals in Europe, which is exciting. ​ I think the most exciting for me right now is we're going to be tracking another album coming up here in the next month and a half to two months down in Nashville.  I am so excited about the songs.  I think we're just going to crack it open and let it all out even more. ​  You're just going to see more stuff, not "Whipping Post" itself, but more stuff along ​those lines, where we really just ​get to have a big, big sound and lots of harmonies and lots of meaningful songs. So the future is definitely with another album and​ I'm really excited to record it. ​

KM: Celia, I want to thank you so much for taking the time. We're looking really forward to you guys coming back here at The Hamilton. ​

CW: Thanks so much!

​*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length

*​Though pictured here, Bonnie Paine will not be touring with Della Mae*

Performance Details

Performance Details



Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Doors: 6:30PM

Show: 7:30PM

The Hamilton


600 14th Street NW

Washington, DC 20005

(Google Maps Link)

$19.75 - General Admission Seated

$14.75 - General Admission - Standing (Bar Area)

Associated Album

Associated Album

Associated Album

About the author
Karin McLaughlin

Karin McLaughlin

Karin has been a live music junkie all her life, however is a fairly new fan in the world of jam bands and bluegrass. She grew up on hip hop, classic soul, motown and classic rock but has found a new home in the festival world and that is what, in part, had brought her to DC Music Review. Karin produces and hosts a weekly radio show in the area called Karin's Calendar, where she talks all about 'Where to be in the DMV'. She is very excited to be starting down a semi-new road with us and hopes to use her interview skills and write ups of shows to contribute even more to DC Music Review.