Waxahatchee, Katie Crutchfield, recently released a quietly extraordinary, second album, Cerulean Salt. Crutchfield came into music through the the DIY, punk scene in her native Alabama before transferring to a like-minded community in Philadelphia. A member of pop punk group, P.S Eliot, she released her debut album as Waxahatchee after they genially disassembled the project. That record, American Weekend, was performed, as written, as a solo piece. With Cerulean Salt, Waxahatchee spread into band form by incorporating old friends, Keith Spencer and Sam Cooke-Parrott, and you can hear just how comfortable these musicians are with each other.
We spoke to Crutchfield a few hours before Waxahatchee, taking a night off touring with Tegan and Sara, calmly enraptured everyone at the packed out Shacklewell Arms.
Hey! So do Tegan and Sara have a similar crowd to yours in America?
Waxahatchee: Sort of. A really concentrated percentage of their crowd is like our crowd in America, and then everyone else is too young to find us yet. Maybe in three years their crowd will discover our whole community, but it’s cool.
I like that you used the word community. I was reading about your DIY background. How much of that ethos are you able to still keep now the band is getting more successful?
In my day to day life I’m very much still a part of it. I still set up shows, go to shows, and every other night we have a band staying in our house. We still play in our basement and make records ourselves, but you just have to take opportunities as they come and make the best of what you can do. We’ve just tried to make the most ethical decisions that go with our DIY mindsets that we can and navigate slowly.
It must be very helpful to have the ethics already so defined within you before going out in to the world.
It gets really overwhelming sometimes, but you have to think everything through and be really meticulous.
This record seems to be connecting with a huge number of people, mostly through word of mouth at first it seemed. Did you think it would be the one to bring your music to so many more people?
Not really. I was told, “Oh this record might reach more people” ,“this record might be bigger than the other stuff,” but I didn’t know what to expect. I definitely found that it has had a bigger impact than the one before. That one was really word of mouth, it didn’t get any press till a year after it came out. None of it’s been calculated.
Did you always write before you started making music?
I started writing songs when I was fifteen. Some of the first songs I wrote were atrocious, but that was really when I started to find my niche.
Has what you write become more divorced from your feelings, more of an art form as you’ve progressed, or is it still very much something that naturally flows out of you?
It’s funny, but for this project it is. I have to be in a really specific mindset to write what I think is an appropriate song for Waxahatchee, but I’m in another band and those lyrics have become more abstract. It satisfies a totally different creative force and energy.
I find when I’ve vented by writing feelings down, that I sometimes can’t get them back, even if I felt I wasn’t ready to deal with them. As you’re doing it so much, do you feel like sometimes you have to force yourself to expose feelings you haven’t really worked out yet?
I think so. Sometimes I listen to songs a year after I’ve written them and it’s like “I had no idea that’s what I was thinking” and now it’s funny as I’ve ended up dealing with that, but at the time it can feel, even though I know it’s not now, that it’s up in space, and hits you all of a sudden. So I guess yes, I have used songs to change my course of action.
Could you tell me a little about The Soviettes, who I read were seminal to how you make music?
They’re a punk band from Minneapolis. They were so good and so powerful. I had seen Rilo Kiley and a few other bands that are soft, come out and start playing perfectly dressed, and it was beautiful, but then I saw The Soviettes and they were drinking cheap beer, tuning their own guitars and getting all set up. It was a rugged punk show and it was my first time seeing something like that and it ended up changing what I wanted to do.
Do you feel like with what you’re doing now you’re inspiring similar feelings in others?
I hope so. I watched Tegan and Sarah do that every night and it’s cool to be in front of their audience who are cool and impressionable, and they’re getting to see us do this and play this weird music and maybe they’ll go home and think, “ I want to start a band”.
Do you find where you are that the music industry is very male-dominated, like it is here? Is there anything you consciously do to work with women more?
I feel like that is really hard as there are so few, but I would usually pick the woman if there is a female option. I’ve played a lot of fests in America, like Ladyfest and all-women fests. There are a lot of female booking collectives in New York and New Jersey and I try to play their shows and just support them when I can. I feel like the scene that we’re part of is really rooted in that. There is a lot of feminism in the community.
You mentioned you were also in another band at the moment?
Great Thunder, it’s me and Keith who plays the drums in Waxahatchee. When we started we wanted to make a poppier, Royal Trux-style, sort of music, but it’s really all over the place. We have our ballads, weird noise songs and punk songs. We just finished a record that’s thirty songs long. We started it to have no limits on genre. Anything goes.
That must be such a release to play.
Yeah it is. It’s so cool to bring a song that wouldn’t fit in Waxahatchee, or any of his bands and do that. We play live, but we look at it as a recording project, so we can do whatever we want.
Do you get more personal fan mail than other artists, due to the nature of your music?
I don’t know what’s normal. Sometimes I do. I played this show in Massachusetts once and this girl came up to me crying. She’d just broken up with her boyfriend and she wanted to talk to me about it for like an hour. People just want to relate to you, because they feel like they can and that’s good and bad sometimes, but I take it as it comes.
I read you’re into Cat Power. Are there any other artists you’re really into at the moment?
Well, I feel contemporary music, well some of the bands I’ve been written about in the same space as, can be kind of pretentious and boring. I just feel like they exist in such a controlled, airtight environment. A well articulated moment of melancholy or sadness is really profound and you can’t have that in that environment, but there’s a lot of bands back home that play sort of similar stuff. There’s this band Radiator Hospital from Philly who are about to put out the best record. I really like this band Sour Patch and they do a lot of really cool stuff like set up fests and shows and stuff. I’ve been listening to a lot of Mama Cass lately. She’s got a beautiful sadness. I’ve been really gravitating to big voices, and sadness.
Agreed. Thanks Waxahatchee!