A decision Rainey Qualley made recently in her burgeoning career as a singer-songwriter proves that she’s dead set on being the best musician she can be and that alone. Weeks ago Rainsford (her stage name), was offered an opportunity to model in an elite Italian fashion house’s Fall 2017 fashion show in Milan, which took place on the same February weekend that she already had two smallish gigs in Los Angeles scheduled.
While the most newbies would scramble to reschedule their concerts to walk the runway for a top-tier brand, she didn’t flinch. “I’m into fashion, but my primary focus is music,” Rainsford says before taking a sip from her wine glass at The York here in L.A. “If other things come into play, that’s great. But I’m not dying to be a model.”
She’s humble about her looks: “I’m definitely not a traditional model. I’m 5’7 and not the skinniest person. I’m not what you would envision when you think of a supermodel.” But with features on style and beauty sites like WWD, W Magazine, and Diane Von Furstenberg, it’s difficult to agree with her.
Even harder to believe is that back in her school days, Rainsford was turtle-like, spending most of her time in her shell. “I was too shy to talk to people or say what I liked,” she recalls. “I was very guarded and hated high school. I actually graduated a year early because I was miserable and wanted to get out.”
The New York-born, North Carolina-raised songstress grew up listening to the likes of Marvin Gaye, Etta James, and The Temptations. Beginning with soul, Rainsford -- who is actually the daughter of famed actress and model Andie MacDowell -- then gravitated to “weird indie pop.” Both influences are apparent hours later across the street at Hi Hat, where she performs a sultry cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me),” her bubbly lo-fi pop break-up cut “Too Close,” and dreamy beachside love song “S.I.D. (Sunshine in December),” which showcases her falsetto. At 27, the former wallflower seems comfortable with spotlights, iPhone lenses and many sets of eyes on her tonight.
Before putting herself all the way out there musically and making L.A. her home base, Rainsford spent her time trying to get the songs she was crafting to a quality level high enough to allow her to share them with the world. Back then her demos were “stuff that I was embarrassed about and didn’t really wanted people to hear. Performing and showing my music to people didn’t feel good, because I wasn't excited about it.”
That changed when she decided to stop relying on the guidance of others and immersed herself in a search for potential production and writing partners, scouring Spotify for sounds and then reaching out to various artists when Google searches led to email addresses. “[I realized that] I need to stop being so shy and waiting for people to tell me what to do,” Rainsford says. “If I’m waiting on someone else, nothing will ever happen. I have to do this for myself.” That resulted in her meeting current writing partner Nick Dungo, who plays a key role in her forthcoming debut EP. “Now I love my music and I want everyone to hear it.”
The hundred or so cheering Hi Hat fans, thankfully, enjoyed listening to her material. And while she looked like a star on stage in a blue vintage leotard, baggy black elastic-waisted pants and matching vegan boots (she loves animals and owns two cats and a dog), she’s more chill in a day-to-day life. “99% of the time I’m usually just wearing sweatpants and look, like, so homeless,” she half-jokes. “And I don’t like to put makeup on or do my hair. But if I have a show, I obviously want to try to look good.”
Currently, she’s trying to get used to her new haircut. Just days ago the brunette sported a full head of long locks. Things changed during a fashion video shoot, which required that she take on a dramatically more retro look. An updated take on the mullet was what they landed on. And then she cried.
“They cut it on camera and I started bawling.” Still adjusting (“When I’m washing my hair, I’m like, ‘Where is it?’”), she does recognize some of its benefits: “I would always mess with my hair on stage because it would always get in my face. Now it’s fun and off of my face,” she says laughing. Her new bangs stop short of her brows, revealing blue eyes and a face that merits the aforementioned runway job ask, a quickie vixen acting role on Mad Men and the Calvin Klein jeans ad campaign she has on her resume.
Now that she’s in plain sight, Rainsford is anxious to put out more tunes. “It’s a culmination of all of my influences,” she says of her still unnamed EP. “The production is very modern. And my influences are more old school.” She’ll play at Austin, Texas festival South by Southwest and hopes the buzz will help her land on tour “opening for someone cool.” Making her dreams of music stardom a reality is a process she’s been preparing for.
For now, though, Rainsford’s just thankful for what she’s accomplished so far. Her debut track “S.I.D.” surpassed the Spotify streaming goal she scribbled down a while back. “I fully believe in manifesting your life,” she explains, “envisioning what you want and making it happen. I wrote in my notebook that I want my first single to have over a million plays and now it does.” It’s clear Rainsford wants so much more, but a little revelry and back-patting is okay. “Congratulations, self!” she says, flashing a toothy grin. Time to achieve what’s in the rest of those pages.