Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield talks moving on, moving forward
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK / LOOKatOKC
Nearly regardless of who you ask, Waxahatchee, also known as 29-year-old songwriter Katie Crutchfield, put out one of 2017’s best albums.
Seminal rock critic Rob Sheffield wrote about “Out in the Storm,” which landed at #14 on the year-end best-of list for “Rolling Stone,” calling it a “punk rock answer to Carole King’s ‘Tapestry.’ ”
“That made my day,” Crutchfield said. “I feel pretty fortunate because even when all else is going wrong in my life, usually record critics will like my records for the most part. I do feel very blessed in that. It’s not super frequent that it’s a horrible review, at least — knock on wood — not yet.”
It’s this silver lining outlook that makes “Out in the Storm” unusual for, as Crutchfield calls it, “a breakup record.” What sets it apart is its laser focus on honest reflection, two-party blame and moving forward. There’s no painful wallowing (see: Ryan Adams’ “Heartbreaker”) or that other, less tactful trope of breakup songs, revenge (see: Beyonce’s “Lemonade” or any other woman taking a “Louisville slugger to both headlights”). Instead, Crutchfield’s songs focus on the other side of what Sheffield called “gnarly emotional wreckage.”
“I wanted it to be hopeful. It’s about heartbreak, and it’s about picking yourself back up,” Crutchfield said. “It’s not really about longing or missing the relationship. It’s kind of about the frustration, the relief, but also having a lot of anger to get out. I want people to, as they take the record off the turntable, to be like, OK, now I can move on.”
In other words, it’s just over a half-hour of the feeling you get for the first time after the hard part of a breakup, the first morning where you wake up and realize you’ll be fine. And when you take the record off the turntable and feel a little better, Crutchfield does, too.
“Long before I ever made money writing songs, the big reason that I did it was to process emotions,” Crutchfield said. “I’ve always used it as this tool to kind of get my feelings out; it’s always been cathartic. This record is a big example of me needing a vehicle to get through this hard thing.”
Songs already in hand, Crutchfield called on her longtime live band (twin sister, Allison Crutchfield, drummer Ashley Arnwine and bassist Katherine Simonetti), percussionist Joey Doubek and old friend and indie rock go-to guitarist Katie Harkin, known for her work with Sleater-Kinney and Flock of Dimes in addition to her own projects.
“Typically, I’m sort of like a sheepdog, herding everybody into the direction I want, but with this one, I worked with my live band and Katie Harkin and wanted to lean on their personal styles of playing,” Crutchfield said. “Me and the rhythm section of my band have been playing together for a long time, and we’ve turned a lot of old songs into a new thing and have a specific energy I wanted to capture.”
“I self-consciously went in thinking I wanted to make a rock record, and then when we were in the studio, I thought, ‘Oh, ha, this is definitely a rock record,’ ” Crutchfield said.
It is a rock record, coming out of the gate with punchy stunner “Never Been Wrong,” on which Crutchfield sings, as a sometimes-antagonist, “I love being right / especially with you,” or the bass-heavy “8 Ball.” There are also extreme pop leanings, as on “Sparks Fly,” an expansive, effects-laden anthem, or the satisfyingly snarky “Brass Beam.”
“I think some of the most groundbreaking music being made right now is definitely pop music,” Crutchfield said, noting that two of her favorite albums of 2017 were Lorde’s “Melodrama” and SZA’s “Ctrl.”
“It’s something I study and am constantly inspired by. I think back about me and my sister, in our early teenage musical renaissance, we’d listen to the Velvet Underground but also radio pop, usually unabashedly. That music is important; it defined our generation.”
Allison Crutchfield, a solo artist as well as sometimes Waxahatchee band member, is also a primary source of inspiration for Katie, who notes her sister’s influence doesn’t always reveal itself in obvious ways.
“She’s been such a big part of my musical journey from Day One that everything I do feels like it’s a little bit her, and vice versa,” Crutchfield said. “I’m not sure that I could pinpoint, like, Allison always does this in her songwriting, and that’s where I get that from, but if she hears a song I wrote and says, ‘This is really good, Katie,’ that’s all I need to put it out into the world. That’s the big strength of our relationship; we make things for ourselves and for each other, and if that feels good and feels right, then we feel like we can share it.”
Calling her back
“Out in the Storm” has Crutchfield sharing a turning point, a substantial lyrical pivot for a songwriter formerly known for intense vulnerability, now giving way to a self-actualization, of sorts. This may explain why, after years of bouncing around the East Coast, Crutchfield recently moved back to her home state of Alabama.
“A lot of the early Waxahatchee songs, the setting is Alabama; it feels Southern. I think I was resistant to that being the narrative because I had really abruptly left and was excited to be in New York or be in Philadelphia and be away from the South,” Crutchfield said. “But as the years have passed, it’s been calling me back. I’m starting to write another record, and I have a lot of ideas, and it’s kind of hard to describe, but I feel like my early voice felt like it needed to be there. It’s a wavelength, and I need to go get back on it.”
The Crutchfield returning to Alabama after a few short years seems vastly different from the one who left, firmly in control of her own narrative now, regardless of geography. Her run of shows through the South, in fact, including Feb. 21’s Tower Theatre performance, are solo performances after a year of performing with her band. “I’ll go back south, I’ll leave it all behind / See myself clearly for the first time,” she sings on “Sparks Fly.”
And, perhaps in a pre-emptive response to fans or record reviewers trying to keep up from city to city, sound to sound: “I know you don’t recognize me,” she sings, breathlessly, “but I’m a live wire, finally.”