While catching up with Thunder and Rain lead singer Erinn Peet Lukes to talk about their up-and-coming EP Storybook Sessions, she spoke about their two new singles, “Ash and Rain” and “Wendigos Wandering.” The Nashville Indie and Bluegrass songstress and her band are among today's rising bluegrass acts. With their decade-long career, Thunder and Rain have shared bills with flat-picking sensation Billy Strings and bluegrass legend Peter Rowan, among others. Balancing her solo career, Lukes has opened for Rachel Baiman and John Paul White of the Civil Wars and has won numerous awards, including Floyd Fest On The Rise Artist 2021 and 2022 and the 2023 IBMA Songwriter Showcase.
Set to drop in its entirety in the early spring of 2024, the EP's singles Ash and Rain and Wendigos Wandering are already available on Spotify, Band Camp, and the band's website.
Lukes chatted candidly from her home in Nashville, where the story-telling lyricist described the recording sessions for the EP as a series of single takes with no overdubs. “I think for any performer that is a nightmare situation, but they handled it with grace. They are so talented,” she said, praising her band.
Filled with suspense, the song “Ash and Rain,” about a young maiden whose heart filled with vengeance leads to murder, captures the imagination much like a romance novel would. When asked how she came up with the idea, the singer recounted her real-life romantic struggle that inspired the ominous seafaring lyrics.
“I had a crush on someone already in a relationship and knew I couldn't have them,” she sighed. Detailing how her newly purchased mando guitar (hybrid) from Carter Vintage music shop inspired the melody, “With that [mando guitar], I started writing this 6/8 (musical time signature) sea shanty. I sang words that came to mind. It's a murderous, cheating, high seas kind of thing, and I like murder ballads. I just think they are fun. It's the ultimate murder ballad song.”
“Wendigos Wandering,” the band's second single, is yet another masterpiece among the songs in Storybook sessions. Fascinated by Southern Appalachian folklore, the Redondo Beach, California native recalled what she felt was an eerie encounter.
“While walking in the park, I just got the creepiest feeling. You know when your hair stands on end, and it feels like something is watching you?” She learned about Appalachian skinwalkers through social media. "I thought, man, this would be a cool song about skinwalkers warning people not to go in the woods. I went home and wrote the song right away.”
Ever since Lukes can remember, she’s loved to sing and write songs. She left California at age 18 to attend Seattle’s University of Washington, where she describes her time as doing more busking (playing music on the street) than schoolwork. Lukes credits the Emerald City as the place where she discovered bluegrass.
“I didn’t have any bluegrass in my life until I left California. It was Red Hot Chili Peppers and Snoop Dog. It wasn’t until I went to Seattle when I first heard old-time music and bluegrass music."
After college, she left for a stint in the New York City folk scene, finding city life distracting. “My one dry spell was when I lived [there]. That was the only time I didn't write songs. I think it's because I didn't have space to write songs.” Leaving the Big Apple behind, the Indi-styled singer-songwriter drifted to Denver, Colorado, where she fell in with kindred bluegrass musicians, forming Thunder and Rain in 2013.
By 2014, they released their debut album, Holler Out, followed by Start Believing (2017) and Passing in the Night (2020). After touring for eight years across the US, Canada, Ireland, and the UK, the 2020 pandemic hit, causing the group to disband. With no end to the pandemic in site, Lukes relocated to Nashville where, at the suggestion of friend and Della Mae bassist Vickie Vaughn, she reformed Thunder and Rain with Amelia Ransom on Fiddle/Vocals and Laura Ray on banjo/vocals.
Erinn remembers asking Vickie to put together an opening band for her solo album release show. “[Vickie] couldn't, so she suggested Laura to put together a band, who was her roommate." Becoming good friends, Laura then introduced Erinn to Amelia. “We just started hanging out.”
Lukes expressed her happiness working alongside Amelia and Laura while performing with a new version of Thunder and Rain. Describing the previous lineup as losing enthusiasm, she explained,
“With this lineup, I feel that fire when we play. Amilia and Laura's ability to process music and perform it without a mistake is unlike anything I have ever seen.”