Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield Gets Candid on Out in the Storm

On her fourth LP, she draws inspiration from her live band

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Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield Gets Candid on <i>Out in the Storm</i>

When Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee released her last record, Ivy Tripp, in 2015, she called the album a gas, and her release before that, 2013’s Cerulean Salt, a solid. This Friday, she releases her fourth full-length via Merge Records, Out in the Storm, but it may not symbolize a physical state of matter like her earlier works. On this record, Crutchfield becomes a scientific element—explosive, volatile and uncontrollable. She proclaims on the coincidentally titled “Silver,” “If I turn to stone/The whole world keeps turning/I went out in the storm/And I’m never returning.”

Since American Weekend, Crutchfield’s intimate, lo-fi solo debut in 2012, Waxahatchee has become known for harshly self-aware, candid songwriting. Her releases since then have expanded listeners’ affection and trust in Crutchfield’s honesty, which is why it is so surprising—and intriguing—that Out in the Storm is being deemed Waxahatchee’s most autobiographical album to date.

“When I wrote my second record, I didn’t have that many fans. I didn’t expect for as many people to even hear that album as they did,” the 28-year-old Alabama-born, Philadelphia-based musician recalls over the phone. “I kind of felt like I was still writing stuff that was just going to be mine.”

Like all of Waxahatchee’s work, Ivy Tripp was completely honest, according to Crutchfield, but it was not as literal as the project’s earlier tracks, or Crutchfield’s work in her former Philadelphian pop punk band, P.S. Eliot. Crutchfield experimented with poetic language and discreet metaphors on Ivy Tripp, never making the topic of a song too palpable. “I felt like I had been working with the same people so much that I almost felt like too many eyes were on me,” explains Crutchfield. “I think maybe just feeling like too many people were gonna pick it apart sort of put me off of it for a while.” While American Weekend was passed around like a secret note in class, Cerulean Salt read it aloud for all to hear, and Ivy Tripp handwrote it out on the blackboard. Out in the Storm finally screams the truth over the loudspeaker.

“I felt even more like myself writing this album,” Crutchfield says, identifying that her writing process on Out in the Storm had not changed so much as it had reverted to a style she dates back to high school. “I had more space than I had had in a long time. I didn’t have anyone breathing down my neck. That’s really the main ingredient for my songwriting process: A lot of time and space. It was kind of like the throwback to my glory days of songwriting,” she says, laughing.

“On this record, I wanted to go back to that original way of doing things,” Crutchfield continues. “I think that as I grow as a person, and gain perspective and life experience, things that I write will be more acute. I’m evolving and growing as a person, and that sort of voice of me as Waxahatchee is growing with that.”

Perhaps Waxahatchee has not become more honest or autobiographical as she has become more in tune with herself: less apologetic, more confident. At moments where Crutchfield used to put herself down, such as on Ivy Tripp’s “Less Than,” she now talks back, standing up for herself, even to herself. Crutchfield has expressed in past interviews that sadness is central to her albums, but Out in the Storm conveys an assortment of emotions and reactions to the same events—a breakup is among the catalysts for the record.

“There’s a lot of anger and frustration on this album, and I think that there is a lot of hope, too. Even the title Out in the Storm indicates it’s chaos right now, but that’s gonna end, and in that, there’s some hope,” Crutchfield explains. “There’s more coming through than just pure melancholy.”

“There’s a lot of anger and frustration on this album, and I think that there is a lot of hope, too. Even the title Out in the Storm indicates it’s chaos right now, but that’s gonna end, and in that, there’s some hope,” Crutchfield explains. “There’s more coming through than just pure melancholy.”

There is now strength to Crutchfield’s signature sorrow. She allows herself to get angry or frustrated, such as on “Never Wrong,” the record’s purely rock ‘n’ roll opening track, when she firmly declares, “Everyone will hear me complain/ And everyone will pity my pain,” as if she is preluding the multiplicity of feelings she will incorporate into the next nine tracks. Crutchfield indignantly removes herself from a noxious relationship and asserts her independence on tracks like “8 Ball” and “Brass Beam,” but later portrays the vulnerability and weakness that unavoidably merge with that withdrawal. She uncovers a fragile falsetto on “A Little More,” in which she softly admits insecurity and hesitation, singing, “I move delicately/ I slowly choose my words/ And when my presence is felt/ I’ll fly away just like a bird.”

Halfway through Out in the Storm, Waxahatchee truly transforms on “Sparks Fly.” “It’s hopeful and it’s kind of about my relationship with myself, really,” Crutchfield says. “It’s kind of about regaining some agency in your life, and it’s very positive in that way because of that.” The context is still gloomy, but a feeling that there is sun behind the clouds emerges as Crutchfield triumphantly conjectures, “Tonight I’ll laugh, I say whatever I want/ Stay in the bar til the sun comes up/ Then I see myself through my sister’s eyes.”

The mention of her twin sister, Allison Crutchfield, is particularly sweet, as Allison performs keyboard and percussion on the record and in Waxahatchee’s live band. The sisters have made music together since they were teenagers, beginning in Alabama rock band the Ackleys. Following P.S. Eliot’s breakup in 2011, they split ways in their music careers—Katie with Waxahatchee, and Allison with her alternative rock band Swearin’ and her solo project using her own name, under which she released her debut solo LP, Tourist in This Town, earlier this year.

Although the two solo projects sound distinct from one another—Katie is more bare-bones, indie rock, while Allison incorporates synthy ‘80s pop into her new tracks—comparisons between the siblings are inescapable.

“We really wanted to carve out space for our own individual things, and didn’t want it to be like a gimmick or a thing that we leaned on. It feels like people kind of want to see us together as like a unit,” Crutchfield explains. “The fact that we both put records out this year…I think that it’s natural for people to compare them. But I really hope that people can see them as two individual things made by two individual people, because I think that the records are super different.”

Still, Crutchfield acknowledges that her sister’s input is important to her finished musical products and says that Allison is the first person she sends all of her demos to. In fact, when looking back on the development of Out in the Storm, Crutchfield recognizes the help of many of her colleagues, who are also her friends.

In a way, the tables have turned. After making music for around 15 years, Crutchfield has a lead on the many sprouting artists in the industry. Especially to growing indie bands like Girlpool or Cayetana, Crutchfield is source of insight and experience. “I definitely make myself available to help or give advice when I can,” she says, citing “Don’t be afraid to say no” as the most frequent guidance she gives. “I feel like I see a lot of young bands blow up really fast, or not really get a ton of experience before they have to deal with a lot of things that I didn’t have to deal with until I had been making music for many, many years. I feel grateful that I’m where I’m at.”

Crutchfield cites her bandmates—in addition to her sister, Katherine Simonetti on bass, Ashley Arnwine on drums and new addition Katie Harkin, touring guitarist with Sleater-Kinney, on guitar—as her support system following her recent breakup. Although Waxahatchee is her solo project, Crutchfield recognizes that she gets by with a little help from her friends. “Everybody is leaning on each other all the time,” she explains. “I feel like the tour is going to be really special, because my whole band and crew is all women and non-binary people. It’s going to feel really powerful to play a lot of these new songs on stage with these people that I feel like I’ve leaned on, who have really supported me in the last few years.”

Even the recording process relied on Waxahatchee’s live band. The record’s producer, John Agnello, known for working with Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth, encouraged Waxahatchee to record Out in the Storm live, giving the record its full, comprehensive sound. When it came to searching for inspiration for that sound, Crutchfield looked within her band. “I kind of just leaned in to the melodies I was writing and really leaned on my bandmates’ specific styles,” she says.

Out in the Storm may have partially been motivated by a dissolved relationship, but Katie Crutchfield has never seemed less lonely, finding love and solace in her relationships, and with herself. She sums it up in the first two lines of “Sparks Fly:” “I take it back/ I was never alone.”

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