Singer-Songwriter Rainsford Is Reinventing Herself Through Pop

She's finding freedom in a new genre.
Reading time 5 minutes

Photography by Ryan Shorosky 

Fashion by Julia Ehrlich 

Show of hands: Have you seen a Rainsford video? If not, get ye to YouTube right now, and watch them all, and you’ll begin to understand the beautifully elegant quirk-core at work here. Many of the songs you’ll see and hear are included on Rainsford’s six-track debut EP, Emotional Support Animal.

In one, “Intentions,” featuring Twin Shadow, Rainsford is flanked by two leotard-rocking dancers on a set that evokes Twin Peaks’ Red Room—the dancers eventually messily apply lipstick to each other, while Rainsford smears blue paint over her face, allowing it to be chroma-keyed with abstract blurs. In another, “Rendezvous,” an elderly couple goes on a sexy, R-rated picnic date. “The ‘Rendezvous’ video, which is the old people making out, was just my sister and me,” she says. “My sister [Margaret Qualley, best known for The Leftovers] is an actor, so she asked her team to help set up some people because we shot it on film, and neither of us knew how to do that, so we had people helping us with that. But as far as the creative, I come up with all the ideas.”

"I hate that [country music] stuff. I learned a lot as a songwriter, but I just didn't like what I was making."

The independence streak is a personal one for Rainsford, born Rainey Qualley. Early in Qualley’s career, she was based in Nashville making primarily middle-of-the-road country songs. She was getting a lot of advice from a lot of people and says she felt that country music was the only way she was going to find success. “I hate that stuff,” she says when I bring it up. “The whole time I was in that world, I was very rebellious, and always trying to write pop songs, and everyone was like, ‘We can’t do anything with these songs.’ So, but it was good practice, because I was in sessions every day, practicing. So I did learn a lot as a songwriter, but I just didn’t like what I was making.”

Now, as Rainsford, Qualley is able to put forward the pop nuggets she’s always wanted to. The songs are wonderfully catchy and dramatic, on the same mystical plane as Kate Bush and Marina and the Diamonds. “Now I’m super happy with the music that I’m making, and I’m doing it independently, so I don’t have to please anyone besides myself,” Qualley, whose mother is legendary actress Andie MacDowell, says. “I’m really excited to play my shows and share my music, and that feels great.”

"I don't have to please anyone but myself."

As for growing up in a famous family, Qualley cites the fact that MacDowell raised her in North Carolina, far from the prying eyes of Hollywood, as an example of why she doesn’t really think she grew up that differently. “It’s kind of hard to say because it’s the only life I’ve ever had,” she says. But what about when it comes to launching her own career as an artist? “I think it can be challenging to establish your own person because people are always comparing you. So I want to have value on my own, regardless of where I came from.”

Qualley comes across as quite demure when we sit down on a set of concrete steps in Silver Lake to chat. Her hair wisps in front of her face, and she doesn’t bother to clear it away. When she’s making music, she says, that’s when she feels most comfortable—hence the allusion to emotional support animals in the title of the EP. “I’m a huge animal lover,” she says, shouting out her dog, Books. “I foster cats, and outside of music, animals are probably the most important things in my life besides my sister and my family. But then also, I think music, in a way, is my emotional support animal. That’s where I’m able to say everything that I can’t really say in my real life, so, you know, self-expression, blah blah blah.” When we speak, Qualley is on the tail end of a month-long U.S. tour with Aly & AJ. In her spare time, when she has it, she reads magic spell books (“I’ve been working with this psychic who has been training me”) and re-re-re-re-watching The Office (“I feel like that show has gotten me through the deepest darkest parts of my life”).

“What’s next? Finishing out this tour, and then I don’t exactly ever know,” she says, flashing her devil-may-care attitude. “I don’t know what’s going to come along, or what direction my plans will go.”


Hair: Vernon Francois

Makeup: Charlotte Prevel

Photo Assistant: Julian Berman

Stylist Assistant: Grace Lynch

Makeup Assistant: Keely Maroney

Production Coordinator: Tim Oliver

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