Waxahatchee

Katie Crutchfield discusses Cerulean Salt, cabin recordings, and Great Thunder

May 10, 2013 Web Exclusive
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Only in her early 20s, Katie Crutchfield is already a road-tested indie rock veteran. She's been forming bands, recording albums, and touring the country with her twin sister, Allison, since they were in high school. The siblings' best-known vehiclethe punk band P.S. Eliotsplit on friendly terms in 2011, when the sisters decided it was time to go off in their own musical directions. Katie now records under the name Waxahatchee, while Allison went on to form the energetic rock act Swearin'. The sisters currently share a house with their bandmates in Philadelphia.

"We don't really play an active role in each other's music, but we definitely give each other feedback and listen to each other's demos," says Katie. "I live with three-quarters of Swearin', so I'm always hearing them practice and hearing their demos, hopping on board when they go to play a show in New York or something. Keith, my boyfriend, is also in Swearin', and he plays drums in Waxahatchee. At times it sort of feels like we're all in one band, just playing different songs, and that we're tied together."

Although it's an entirely different project, Crutchfield sees Waxahatchee as an extension of the work she was doing in her previous band.

"When I wrote for P.S. Eliot, it was a similar writing process to how I write for Waxahatchee," she says. "I'd make a really simple demo, and then we'd expand on that as a band. As far as the songs being pretty personal, and the technique, I think it's a continuation. I think I've grown and gone in slightly different directions with Waxahatchee, but I don't know that I wouldn't have done that anyway if P.S. Eliot were still a band."

Her first Waxahatchee record, American Weekend, had the feel of a raw, lo-fi pop project, as emotionally upfront as early Liz Phair or Guided By Voices. Her second, Cerulean Salt, released this spring, expands that style to a full band. With these two records, Crutchfield is finding a wider audience among the indie music crowd, and appealing to listeners who may have missed out on her earlier, more punk-influenced projects. 

"[Punk] still plays a pretty big role in what I'm doing now," she says. "As I get older, I'm sort of revisiting a lot of classic artists that I'd rejected when I was younger, for whatever reason. Like, my parents loved Fleetwood Mac, so I didn't get into Fleetwood Mac until like three years ago. Stuff like that. When I was younger I was listening to stuff that my parents would have never liked. So recently, my stuff is influenced more by classic music. I think my ethos, as far as my ideals and stuff go, are influenced more by punk now than my music."

Crutchfield's lyrics have always felt personal, and the songs here feel no less confessional. Songwriting, though, isn't her method of self-therapy.

"At this point, it's a natural thing, my natural state of being and creative expression," she says. "This is what I do. When I have creative energy, what I want to do is write songs. It's not really something I do to feel better about things that are going on; it's something I do when I have some frustrating creative energy. Later, I'll look back and see that it's what I was feeling back then, and it'll be clearer than when I was writing it."

Lyrically, Cerulean Salt deals with some pretty heavy topics. There are songs about drifting friendships, loneliness, and anxiety over relationships. If there's a thread that ties the songs on the album together, it's one about getting older.

"I think more it's about going from this carefree, day-to-day life without any real accountability or responsibility, to getting to a point where reality is starting to hit you about the lack of control that you have over anything happening," she says. "And then life just ends, and you don't know when, and you don't know what's going to happen. I feel that reality starts to set in as you get older, and the nostalgia you have about things that happened...there's sort of a darkness looming over you, because it's never going to happen again. It already passed, and maybe you didn't enjoy it as much as you should have."

The record's title, Cerulean Salt, ties into this theme.

"The color blue had stuck out me from the beginning of work on the album," she says. "It sort of tied in with the blues, in the traditional sense. At first I wanted to call the album Blue, and then I remembered there already is a Joni Mitchell album called Blue, and I didn't feel great about that. I played with a bunch of different things, and 'cerulean' is just a nice-sounding word, so that became the one. I also had an idea for the back cover, originally, to take a bunch of blue gemstones and scatter them into a pile and take a picture, do the writing over it. We did take that photo but we didn't end up using it, but 'salt' sort of came from that. It sounded right, so we went with it."

Like last year's debut, American Weekend, many of the songs on Cerulean Salt were written at her family's home in rural Alabama. She takes her recording name from Waxahatchee Creek, a tributary located nearby.

"At this point, the renting-a-cabin-and-going-out-into-the-woods technique of record making is kind of cliché," she says. "But it is helpful. You can't deny that taking all of the distractions out of the picture makes it easier to focus. It's an obvious sort of resolution to making a record. The hardest part of songwriting is sitting down and working."

For a musician who says she occasionally has trouble sitting down to write songs, Crutchfield is a prolific songwriter. She also plays and co-writes in another project called Great Thunder, a band she started with her boyfriend (and Swearin' bassist/Waxahatchee drummer) Keith Spencer. 

"It started out as a project for me and Keith, to not feel like we had to start a band and make a certain genre of music," she says. "We wanted to do whatever we wanted. If we wanted to do a hardcore song, we'd do a hardcore song. If we wanted to do a piano ballad, we'd do a piano ballad. There are no real limits with it. We did a 22-song demo about six months ago, and since then we did an EP and now we're working on a double LP. We just write and record whenever we have time off from touring."    

Cerulean Salt is out now on Don Giovanni Records.

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