Fans of underground folk music have had the unique privilege of experiencing the maturation of twin sisters Hannah and Delia Rainey. Through their acoustic group Dubb Nubb — which the sisters began in high school, carried through their college years in Columbia, Missouri, and continue as they've migrated back home — the Raineys have turned what was once charming but nascent songwriting into poetic, knowing songcraft.
A fair amount of Dubb Nubb's appeal came in the two-headed approach to the songs; listeners were never quite sure which sister was taking lead or writing the lyrics. But with the new quartet Shady Bug and its just-released debut tbh idk, Hannah Rainey has taken her first steps as a solo artist, setting aside her folk roots and casting her songwriting in a more rock-centric setting.
"I started writing solo songs in 2014," says Rainey. "Some of them were more folky, and some were more hard rock, but I always wanted to start my own project that wasn't Dubb Nubb to see what could happen with that."
She's been writing songs since her teenage years, but Rainey's role in Shady Bug has caused her to stretch her musical chops. She's set down her classical acoustic guitar for the time being and gotten familiar with a hollow-body electric, which she regularly pairs with the creamy undulations of a chorus pedal; that guitar tone covers many of the corners of these new tracks. "I've never played with guitar pedal — I never even owned an amp," says Rainey with a laugh.
While Rainey had the itch to start her own project for some time, the creation of Shady Bug — and the recording and release of tbh idk — was relatively immediate. Rainey and Early Worm drummer Aaron O'Neill turned a casual jam session into a full-fledged band with the aid of a few friends from other acts. Todd Anderson, who normally rocks a Rickenbacker in the mighty Vanilla Beans, takes a turn on the bass, and guitarist Tom Krenning, also of Persh, handles what Rainey calls the "dissonant, one-note melodies."
Together, the quartet makes tight, tuneful rock songs that push Rainey's voice past the soft, gentle confines of Dubb Nubb. Rainey mentions some touchstones that helped inspire her new direction — Mac Demarco, fellow St. Louis native Angel Olsen — but much of the charm, for Rainey and for the listener, comes through the casual, unfussy comfort that the band deploys in creating these songs.
"We started at the beginning of December and had our first show at the end of December," recalls Rainey. Likewise, the group recorded its debut in a single eleven-hour stretch, using Krenning's home/D.I.Y. show space on South Grand (known as "the Nest") as studio space. Zach Schimpf, a prolific solo artist in his own right, served as engineer for the clean and kinetic recording.
That immediacy — of the band's formation and this album's recording — speaks to some of the emotional tenor of Rainey's songs. A number of the eight tracks deal with the elation, frustration and ennui of young adulthood; the fumbles of modern romance appear more than a few times as well.
On "Sweet 'n' Sour," Rainey marries a rangy, sideways guitar lick reminiscent of early Talking Heads with the short story of an attraction that is either unrequited or left to rot on the vine. With a strong voice and just a hint of snark, Rainey spits out the album title's text-message-shorthand — short for "to be honest, I don't know" — as a quick, six-character summation of the situation.
"I liked it because it's kind of a relatable thing," Rainey says of the title. "It's kind of humorous but it's kind of mysterious. I think it reflects the vibe of the album— being young and not knowing who you are and what you're doing with your life."
But if youth and young love remains a tangled web, Rainey's longest-running relationship remains intact. Dubb Nubb is still a going concern — the band released an album in 2015 and gigs regularly — and the specter of sibling rivalry is quickly brushed aside.
"That project probably won't die," Rainey says of Dubb Nubb. "I think it's just really important for me and Delia — we've been doing it for so long. We don't practice that much. We go on stage and we know what to do; it's that weird twin connection, in a way. I feel like it makes us close to play shows together."
Of her sister and musical partner, Rainey adds, "People always ask her if she's jealous, and she says no. She knows it's always been a dream of mine to have this own project. At our first show at CBGB, she even cried, she was so happy."