Music

Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield: ‘I Can’t Believe People Are Going To Hear This’

Indie rock’s sharpest self-scrutinizer has made her most personal album yet

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Katie Crutchfield is nervous. It’s a few weeks before the release of her new album, Out in the Storm, and the 28-year-old singer-songwriter — known for her deeply personal, candid work — is only beginning to come to terms with the fact that she’ll soon be sharing with the world the most unflinching and detailed record she’s ever made. As she puts it in the lead track, “Never Been Wrong,” “Everyone will hear me complain/Everyone will pity my pain.”

Over the past decade or so Crutchfield has played in a variety of upstart DIY bands that blend folkie intimacy with cascading electric guitars, often sharing the stage with her twin sister, Allison. Out in the Storm is her fourth release as Waxahatchee, and her second for the indie mainstay Merge Records. She’s long been celebrated for the emotional directness of her songwriting, which places a magnifying glass on her own flawed tendencies and relatable shortcomings. But Crutchfield has never put out a record quite so raw as her latest, which chronicles the dissolution of her long-term relationship in painful detail.

“I can’t believe people are going to hear this,” says Crutchfield, calling from her home in Philadelphia. “Every day I wake up, as we get closer and closer to putting the record out, and I’m like, ‘This is the best thing I’ve done.’ And then the next day, I’m like, ‘I can’t put this record out.’ ”

Waxahatchee’s music organizes conflicting emotions into something resembling clear-minded self-awareness. The first Waxahatchee album, 2012’s American Weekend, was a stark collection of acoustic songs that Crutchfield recorded in her family’s home in Alabama. “I don’t care if I’m too young to be unhappy,” she sang on “Grass Stain,” after promising to drink her way to happiness. She explored the self-destructive tendencies of twentysomethings stuck in slow-motion memories, establishing herself as indie rock’s sharpest self-scrutinizer in the process.

That self-scrutiny makes Out in the Storm all the more complicated. To help preserve some sanity, and privacy, while unveiling a piece of art as intensely detailed and single-mindedly focused as Out in the Storm, Crutchfield has set up some boundaries. She will talk about her new record at length, but the moment the real-world relationship that inspired her latest work comes up in conversation, she politely draws the line. “I have made it a very specific point not to get into any of that,” she says.

The pain of Out in the Storm feels as fresh as a newly skinned knee, but it took some time for Crutchfield to write songs she felt comfortable sharing with others. “I really tried to not write when I was in the middle of all this craziness at the end of that relationship, because when I did try to write while stuff was still going on, I was in such a state. I hadn’t fully processed a lot of things,” she says. The first songs Crutchfield came up with sounded like they were written by an “angsty fifteen-year-old girl.” They were “too earnest,” she says, “to the point where I felt uncomfortable putting them out in the world.”

In fact, there are still moments on the finished album (“Brass Beam,” parts of “No Question”) that give Crutchfield pause. “It’s just like, oof, there it is,” she says. That unadulterated openness is what resonates profoundly with an internet-raised generation eager to admit to “feeling all the feels,” and a growing fanbase that includes admirers like Sleater-Kinney, Lena Dunham, and Kurt Vile.

For Out in the Storm, her first full-length recorded with an outsider producer, Crutchfield reached out to John Agnello, who’s worked with artists like Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth. “There’s a real backstory to these lyrics, and that might be why this record has such an edge to it,” says Agnello. “Katie was really motivated to go in a certain direction, and the talent and energy from her and her band was just incredible.”

The resulting record brims with heavy, fuzzed-out guitars and a bouncing Nineties melodicism interspersed with small moments of reflection. “Katie’s got a real knack at writing songs that are incredibly immediate but also have a scale to them that can be expansive,” says Katie Harkin, who played guitar and piano on the record. “She was so keyed into the meaning and identity of these songs.”

Out in the Storm renders an emotional palette with space for wisdom, peace, and clarity alongside more typical breakup-album ingredients like anger, hurt, and resentment. In several songs, Crutchfield finds solace in moments of escape: train rides to Berlin and road trips to Brooklyn provide precious space to reflect and collect. Throughout the record, each confession becomes a revelation, a way of making sense of herself as she leaves behind a dark stage of her life and enters a brighter future. Many of the songs conclude with Crutchfield literally moving on and walking away.

“All the things I learned from the American Weekend era have been thoroughly applied to my life now,” she says. “This record’s more about gracefully ending a relationship.” On “Sparks Fly,” Crutchfield needs only three words to sum up both the premise and the promise of her new LP: “A disaster, dignified.”

As a songwriter who faithfully documents different periods of her life in her art, Crutchfield says it’s comforting to have older music to look back on. She can track her progress — as an artist, as a songwriter, as an adult — by seeing how she’s dealt with various difficulties in her life in song. “The things I used to sing about now obviously feel so trivial. I feel like I’ve come so far and learned so much that what felt like such a big deal at the time now feels so small.”

And as nerve-racking as it may feel, at the moment, for Crutchfield to release such a personal statement, she’s confident that she’s faithfully documented this recent period. “I want to make a lot of records in my life,” she says. “So, hopefully, ten years from now I’ll look back on this record and feel like I don’t really know that person anymore, but I’ll be glad it’s there.”

An earlier version of this article speculated as to the relationship chronicled on Out in the Storm. Crutchfield, who does not confirm such speculation, objected, and declines to comment further.

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