All Your Tragic Fiction: Clash Meets Waxahatchee

Katie Crutchfield on the songwriting methods, future plans, and the poetry of Stevie Smith...

The details of Katie Crutchfield’s personal experiences are irresistibly stitched into the fabric of her work. More than anything, when confronted with such honesty in art, our first desire is always to pull it apart at the seams: is this a break-up album? How toxic was the relationship? Which side of the bed do you continue to leave empty?

Fortunately for Crutchfield, her fourth album as Waxahatchee carries enough gale-force indie rock bluster to resist any maudlin narratives. Certainly, the 28-year-old has an ear for a devastating lyrical turn: “I left you out like a carton of milk” still rings around my head, two years after the bruising ‘Ivy Tripp’ landed. But the first time I heard ‘Silver’ two months ago, I knew that ‘Out In The Storm’ was streaked with an adamantine spirit, that any lingering sadnesses would burst through in power chords and bright melodies.

As she explains, Crutchfield has no interest in dividing her work into happy and sad. It’s the songs that unite the two, bright and broken all at once, that she wants to create. After touring with the likes of Sleater-Kinney and Kurt Vile & The Violators prior to making the new record, it seems that approach has only solidified. Regardless of life circumstances, you sense that we’ve reached peak Waxahatchee: woven from life’s greys, spun into silver.

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‘Out In The Storm’ has been presented as a strongly autobiographical record, reflecting on the end of an unhealthy relationship. On ‘Fade’ you sing about “dreaming of the potential, the person I could have been.” Do you feel like you’re still re-evaluating where you’re going as an artist?

I guess as much as anybody is, yeah. That lyric is really about catching yourself in moments in a relationship, in an unhealthy dynamic, and feeling like, “Oh, my life used to be different, I used to like the person I was more.” Just evaluating that, and coming to the realisation that it’s because of the relationship and not because of anything else is.

I know that sounds so dark, but it’s kind of bittersweet – the clarity of it is great, and healthy, and hopeful. But the actual situation is obviously sad and dark.

Waxahatchee records often seem to be covering fairly serious and emotional subject material, but never let go of their inherent playfulness and humour. There’s that line on ‘Never Been Wrong’: “Everyone will hear me complain. Everyone will pity my pain.” Is that your way of detaching yourself from the confessional nature of your writing?

I think so. I’ve always been really into the juxtaposition of pop music with really dark, sad lyrics. That’s kinda my favourite thing on Earth. But in terms of bringing a bit of fun or levity to the darkness… I think it’s natural to combat that kind of stuff with humour, for me anyway.

Also, that lyric that you just named is one that, when I wrote it, I didn’t think of it as funny. But everybody thinks of it that way! Every listener loves that lyric, like “That’s hilarious!” I wasn’t thinking of it like that when I wrote it, but I’m glad that’s how people hear it.

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I’ve always been really into the juxtaposition of pop music with really dark, sad lyrics.

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I know you’ve spoken about using your platform as a soap box in the past – i.e. if you see something wrong, you should be calling it out. In terms of subject matter, have you ever wanted to make that more explicit in your writing?

Everybody says that the personal is inherently political, and I think a lot of those lyrics, especially on this new record, are very much rooted in my own personal experiences on a one-on-one basis. But I think there’s a lot of it you could apply to a lot of what’s going on in the world today. I think it’s inherently political. But, you know, maybe I would.

I think, because I’ve written with other projects since I started Waxahatchee, I’ve always looked at it as just being the voice of this project – it’s my personal experiences, and that’s what makes it work in my mind. So I’m not sure I would do it in this band, but definitely in a different band.

You’ve been signed to Merge since the release of Ivy Tripp, sitting alongside acts like Arcade Fire – do success affect any perceptions of yourself as an outsider?

I sort of feel half-in, half-out I think. I’ve always had a community, and I mean Merge in itself is such a community; they’re so warm, and all the artists and the people I’ve met at that label are so wonderful and special.

I came from punk, and I’ve always had friends that are artists around me, everyone making music around each other and encouraging each other. I think in terms of the indie rock world at large… yeah, half-in, half-out. But there’s a lot of great people making music right now.

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You mentioned you’ve had to put yourself in a habit of working business hours. I think there’s a bit of a myth about creativity that it purely strikes at random. Do you find that scheduling your creative hours helps your process?

I kind of have a timeline for myself, I really wanted to make a record by the end of last year, and put it out the middle of this year. So I set the hours for myself, because it was about this time last year that I was starting to work on the songs. I set those hours for myself just so I could set aside time to do it, so I wasn’t over-scheduling myself, so I didn’t have time to write. But everything still kind of happened randomly.

There were definitely many days where I would sit down at 9am to write, and I was just sit there all day with a guitar, playing things over and over again and getting absolutely nowhere. That still happens. But the reason I tried to keep those hours was just to block off time, and to not be doing anything else, so that if it did come, I’d be ready.

Otherwise, I’ve been on tour so much, and summertime I would go to the beach with my friends, or go on trips, or be out and about busying myself, and not at home trying to write. So it’s really just about setting aside the time. But it still happened randomly, as it often does.

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I will definitely be craving something a little quieter…

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Is there a collaborative element to working with your sister, or do you present the songs when they’re pretty much finished? 

Well my sister and I don’t have a ‘collaborative process’, I wouldn’t call it that. We definitely lean on each other a lot. We bring each other finished products before anybody else hears it, and how we go from there is based on each other’s feedback a lot of the time. But as far as collaborating goes… I mean, I wrote and demoed all the songs myself, and then fleshed them out with my live band, and that’s who plays on the record.

England’s own Katie Harkin plays guitar on the record too! She had all the demos, and a little bit of what she ended up writing, but a lot of the stuff she did was on the spot in the studio. A lot of it was Katie, myself, and our producer John Agnello just working stuff out. It was great.

Beyond music, is there a particular author or artist who you would especially count as an influence?

Of course. I’ve always gotten a lot of influence from poetry, just because the lyrics are so important to my music. So I would say Elizabeth Bishop, Stevie Smith… there’s a lot of poets that I turn to, especially when I’m stuck.

Do you think Waxhatchee’s sound is nailed down now, or could you see yourself taking it down other routes?

I really wanna pull it back again and do something really minimal. I have a lot of ideas for the future. It’s funny, because when I was doing interviews towards the end of the ‘Ivy Tripp’ tours and people asked what was next for me, I said the same thing: “Oh, I’m gonna do something super solo and stripped down.” And then I made this record! So it’s hard to predict, but I would like to scale it back again.

I see myself making a lot of records over the years, and I would like to try a lot of different things. So it’s hard to say. But I think after a few years of playing in a loud rock band, I will definitely be craving something a little quieter, a little bit more calm. That feels like where I’m going next.

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'Out In The Storm' will be released on July 14th.

Words: Matthew Neale

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