Katie Crutchfield, the 24-year-old Alabama–born, Philadelphia–based musician who’s the creative force behind Waxahatchee, ditches our first interview. She apologizes for the last-minute cancellation, but claims she’s too busy to chat. You can’t blame her. She must be exhausted after several weeks of touring. Her band played a house show in Philadelphia on March 1 to celebrate the release of its new album, Cerulean Salt, and the wheels have been rolling ever since.
The Southern tour route took Waxahatchee to Austin, where they played five shows at South by Southwest, including NPR and Pitchfork’s official showcases. Then they drove west for a few gigs, among them an opening slot in Los Angeles with Thurston Moore’s Chelsea Light Moving. Now the band has the day off in Seattle; they need the break. No load in, no soundcheck, no interviews.
But the tweeting never stops. And it’s obvious how they chose to spend the day off when the following update appears on Waxahatchee’s timeline: “woah gucci mane is from birmingham?!” Like many other people that weekend they went to see Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine’s ridiculous new film starring Gucci Mane, Selena Gomez, and James Franco. Crutchfield’s just discovered that Mane, the Atlanta-based rapper, was born in her hometown.
So did she like the movie?
“It was stupid and pointless,” she says on the phone the next day while cruising in the tour van somewhere between Seattle and Boise. “It made me feel terrible. After that we saw the campy new Alicia Silverstone movie, Vamps, which is also bad, but in a whole different way. So, yeah, I guess we spent our day off watching terrible movies. It was fun.”
Katie Crutchfield’s parents have a lake house near Waxahatchee Creek, which is about 40 miles south of Birmingham. As kids, she and her identical twin sister, Allison, swam and sometimes fished there. And then Katie and Allison started making music there. “It’s off the grid,” says Katie. “There’s no cell phone service or Internet. It’s a great place to be creative, and it’s been a huge part of my life.”
At age 15, Katie and Allison played their first show together at a warehouse venue in Birmingham called Cave 9. Their band was the Ackleys, a pop-punk quartet with Katie on guitar and vocals and Allison on keys. Then came P.S. Eliot, another pop-punk fourpiece with Katie again playing guitar and singing and Allison switching to drums. There was also a short-lived band named Bad Banana, which had a funny demo tape titled “Crushfield.” But P.S. Eliot, which released two full-lengths and one EP, remained the twins’ primary project until they called it quits two years ago.
There was no bad blood. They were simply ready to do their own things. Allison started the rock band Swearin’ (which released its promising self-titled debut last year), and Katie started a solo project called Waxahatchee. After a brief stint in Brooklyn, they both moved into a big house in West Philadelphia.
The first Waxahatchee release, a split cassette with Chris Clavin, was released in 2011. Katie’s five tunes were nasty and blown-out, like Elliott Smith’s four-track years, with her acoustic guitar strings scraping proudly and her voice fuzzing up as she howled about inside jokes, her clumsiness, and memories of old bedroom floors. American Weekend, Waxahatchee’s first full-length, arrived last year. Like its predecessor, the sound is lo-fi and grimy, with Katie weaving together tales of reckless days, lonesome nights, and lousy breakups.
Waxahatchee’s second album, Cerulean Salt, was released in early March. Katie wrote all the songs, but she had instrumental support from Keith Spencer, Kyle Gibride, Sam Cook-Parrott, and her sister. (For the current tour, which stopped at 285 Kent on Wednesday, Spencer plays drums and Cook-Parrott plays bass.) Waxahatchee’s a rock trio now, but the music remains minimal so that Katie’s vivid, autobiographical lyrics continue to take the lead. The sound’s still melodic and loose—reminiscent of early Pavement, the Breeders, and Liz Phair—but the production’s cleaner than on past recordings. These changes are obvious, but Katie also adjusted the focus of her songwriting.
“The attitude’s shifted from languishing in grief to acknowledging the shitty stuff’s just a part of everyone’s lives,” she says. “There are some nostalgic moments, but for the most part, it’s about acceptance and moving forward.”
Does she ever feel nostalgic for her own misery?
“No,” Katie says. “I’m happy that I’m beyond misery. Maybe I’m nostalgic in the sense that those were the times I was creatively productive, and maybe sometimes I wish I had something to be sad about so I could be inspired to work and be creative. But I don’t think so.”
The sense of forward momentum is best expressed on the road-trip anthem “Coast to Coast,” where Katie sings elatedly about stage fright and embracing life’s lows. It’s this spirit of joyful uncertainty about the future that makes Cerulean Salt so magical; it commands us to keep going while purposefully not telling us where to go. This is at first frightening—until we realize we’ve just been set loose into the world unchained.
About “Misery Over Dispute,” another one of the album’s most triumphant songs, Katie says: “It’s about being in a relationship where you feel like you’re trapped and can’t speak up. You remain in a bad place rather than question it because you feel weak.
“But that happened a long time ago,” she continues. “I’ve changed a lot since then.”
Waxahatchee perform at 285 Kent on Wednesday, April 3.