At the time of its formation, Shady Bug was the ultimate side project, a group of friends from different active and on-hiatus bands coming together to create some music just for the heck of it.
In time, though, something began to happen, through that mysterious alchemy that launches some groups out of the world of basement shows and into a touring lifestyle. The songs, the intra-band chemistry, some unexpected connections to fans within the industry: All of it came together in the most natural possible way for Shady Bug, which now exists as one of St. Louis' busiest musical exports.
Taking time to sit down at the Mud House recently, vocalist/lyricist/guitarist Hannah Rainey and guitarist Tom Krenning are between touring experiences. Just behind them is a stint at South by Southwest, where the group's official showcase was augmented by no less than five non-official shows. And ahead of them is a three-week, eighteen-date tour through the East Coast and mid-South.
"I'm excited to be on the road with a scheduled routine," Rainey says. "The longest we'd been out before was ten days. At South by Southwest, everything was blurred; we were in a rush to get everywhere. It'll be nice to be in a different city every day and playing a set every night. It'll be like a job."
The road work will also allow the group some additional bonding time with Chris Chartrand; he's taken over bass duties from Todd Anderson, who played on the band's new album Lemon Lime. The talented multi-instrumentalist Aaron O'Neil, recently featured in the RFT for his songwriting project Ronnie Rogers, rounds out the quartet on drums.
This touring cycle has been made possible by the release of Lemon Lime, a noisy platter of guitar pop heavy on loud-quiet-loud dynamics and rich melodies, which follows up on the early 2017 release of the band's demo tbh idk (available for streaming/sale on bandcamp). The latest album, recorded and mixed by Seth Engel at Pallet Sound in Chicago, was released by New York's Exploding in Sound Records, best known for putting out releases by likeminded artists Speedy Ortiz, LVL UP, Pile and Porches. A music blog had picked up on the band's work, piquing the interest of the label. Since the album was already recorded, there wasn't much left in the way of process. The members of Shady Bug enthusiastically signed on, offering up their finished album as their first official release, and plans to tour commenced.
"It makes me feel so comfortable to work with something that's got such a great reputation," Krenning says of the tastemaking label. Once the match was made, "we never thought twice about shopping the record around."
Oddly enough, the Exploding in Sound team signed the band sight unseen.
"It's crazy to think they put our album out without seeing us live or meeting us," Rainey says. In fact, she says, it wasn't until the band's marathon streak of SXSW shows that they even met anyone from the label in person.
The nine-song album was "recorded pretty simply and straightforward to how we sound live," Rainey says. She adds that the band's basic aesthetics have stayed consistent from its earliest work.
"The first record was done pretty much for fun," she recalls. "We were doing it for ourselves and we thought we could make something really cool with this loud-quiet-loud idea. While we worked really hard on Lemon Lime, the other one was more simple; we didn't spend a lot of time workshopping it."
Krenning believes that going to Chicago to work with Engel was a big part of the success of the process, too.
"He was a pleasure to work with," Krenning explains. "The way he facilitates bringing the music out of you makes you feel comfortable in expressing yourself and getting down what you need to get down. That's an important aspect."
Never ones to sit on their hands, the bandmates have already begun crafting a new album, which is coming together as time allows. In between tour dates, the band's members have day jobs to attend to, and all still take part in their share of other projects. They are at the point, though, where they realize that they've made their presence known on the American indie rock scene's radar, and they're putting at least a majority share of their eggs in the Shady Bug basket.
Rainey says that some of the new songs are already being played out live.
"And there's room for change within them, which is exciting," she says. "Playing them live will help solidify them before we record again. Interestingly, writing this one has us in a different place than we were before. There's a little more pressure than before. We've had to change bassists and there's a whole new person that we're writing songs with. Mostly we collaborate, and this is giving the songwriting a little different dynamic because of that."
Mid-conversation, an employee of the Mud House slips a Shady Bug song onto the afternoon's playlist. Both Krenning and Rainey wince and express mild horror at having to unexpectedly hear themselves in a public context. As the song passes, they visibly relax.
They might just have to get used to this experience. That sophomore album's charms are likely going to keep the spins coming in 2019.