Chaney was born in Florence, Italy in 1982, and spent most of her childhood in Oxford, England. Early on, Chaney took notice of her father's record collection, and began soaking up the influences of noted singer/songwriters (most notably Bob Dylan) and British folk-rock acts (such as Fairport Convention and Bert Jansch), while occasionally playing boogie-woogie with her dad on the family piano. By the time she was 14, Chaney began studying at Chetham's School of Music in Manchester, after she won a scholarship to study piano and voice, and after focusing on the classical repertoire, she moved on to London's Royal Academy of Music, also on scholarship, with an emphasis on jazz and improvisation.
After completing her studies, Chaney divided her time between teaching herself the guitar and the harmonium and working as an actress and vocalist with several British theater companies, including Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. In 2010, Chaney recorded and self-released an EP, which garnered enthusiastic reviews for her blend of traditional and contemporary styles and helped spread the word about her in the U.K. folk community. Chaney contributed tracks to a pair of compilations from Folk Police Records, The Oak, Ash and Thorn Project and The Woodbine & Ivy Band, both released in 2011, and she participated in recordings by Seth Lakeman (Hearts & Minds), Alasdair Roberts (A Working Wonder Stone), and Wolf People (Fain). Chaney also performed and recorded with the Balearic Folk Orchestra, and in 2013 she was nominated for two prizes at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, the Horizon Award (for best emerging artist) and Best Original Song (for her composition "Swimming in the Longest River").