Waxahatchee on “Saint Cloud” and Being Quarantined During COVID-19 Safe At Home | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Saturday, July 11th, 2020  

Waxahatchee on “Saint Cloud” and Being Quarantined During COVID-19

Safe At Home

Mar 26, 2020 Web Exclusive
Bookmark and Share


Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield began her musical recording career in high school with twin sister, Allison. Earlier band P.S. Eliot gave way to Crutchfield’s primary vehicle, Waxahatchee, which she records under today. Waxahatchee’s third album, Cerulean Salt, appeared on several best of the decade lists and Crutchfield is poised to release her fifth album, Saint Cloud, under the Waxahatchee name tomorrow via Merge. Saint Cloud sees Crutchfield moving further away from her lo-fi and indie roots to a more stripped down and vocally forward approach. 

Saint Cloud is the follow-up to 2017’s Out in the Storm. Brad Cook produced Saint Cloud, which was recorded in the summer of 2019 at Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, TX, and Long Pond in Stuyvesant, NY. Crutchfield’s backing band on the album was Bobby Colombo and Bill Lennox of the Detroit-based band Bonny Doon and that band will also be backing her on her 2020 tour dates. The album also features Josh Kaufman (Hiss Golden Messenger, Bonny Light Horseman) on guitar and keyboards and Nick Kinsey (Kevin Morby, Elvis Perkins) on drums and percussion. Saint Cloud was written right after Crutchfield decided to get sober.

The new album is being released several months into the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and as portions of the United States begin to move into mandatory “stay-in-place” orders. We caught up with Crutchfield via telephone at her current home in Kansas City that she shares with fellow artist, and romantic partner, Kevin Morby. About a week out from the release of Saint Cloud, we talked with Crutchfield about how her new album came about, the disruption of the current environment, and moving forward from here.         

Mark Moody (Under the Radar): How are you doing today? 

Katie Crutchfield: I’m good. Yeah. I’m fine. How are you?

I’m good. It’s a little bit of a strange situation right now I know. So I really appreciate you taking the time.

Oh, definitely. I mean, it’s actually better than ever because I truly have nothing else to do. [Laughs] 

I understand what you mean. I have a whole set of questions about the album [Saint Cloud], which I’d still like to do. And then if you have some time at the end I had some separate questions about the whole coronavirus (COVID-19) situation and tour cancellation/postponement. 

Yeah. For sure.

Okay. Cool. Why don’t we start with the album first and I’m reviewing it as well and it’s amazing. You should be really proud.

Thank you.

So I’m fortunate to have this opportunity to talk to you about it. But I was hoping maybe we could start with the album cover first. If I was going to go out and buy something just based on the cover Saint Cloud would probably be it. So if you could talk about how that came about? What was the concept and all that?

Well, you know it’s funny. I feel like for every record I kind of have a vision. Sometimes it’s a little murky or it’s a little bit more malleable, and with this one it was really clear. And every element of it. A lot of the sonic choices, the players I chose, the producer I chose, all of that stuff was very clear to me. There was no question about it. There was no compromising. I just kind of knew once I got my mind around it, I really kind of knew what needed to happen. And the album art, I was thinking the same way. I had a really clear vision for what I wanted it to be, really clearer than any other album cover I’ve ever done because every record cover I’ve done in the past has been very collaborative with an artist. I mean Saint Cloud ended up being collaborative in that I worked with brilliant people, but I had the idea of the truck with the license plate, with me sitting on the top, with the roses, that whole thing just hit me one day. Really I think before we even went into make the record I’d already written a lot of it, and I kind of knew what it was going to sound like. I sort of knew the vibe that I was trying to evoke, but yeah, it was really early. So I wrote all of that down and was just sitting with it for a while. I’m fortunate enough to know the photographer, Molly Matalon, and the production designer, Andreina Byrne. I worked with both of them on other stuff, like Andreina, she’s done a lot of set production on films, and she also works with Christopher Good, he’s a dear friend of mine and a director. He made the “Chapel of Pines” video. But she’s just one of those people who like can do anything that you ask her. So I told her, “I want a truck. I want roses. [Laughs]. I want this. I want that.” And she just came through in such an epic way. I remember when we showed up to shoot the photo, she found the truck. She did all of the flower designs and all this stuff. And it was good.

That’s great. I was going to ask if that was a family truck and a real license plate?

It is a real license plate. It’s my mom’s old license plate. But what it says—”St. Cloud”—is photoshopped. But the actual license is put on the truck. And then, Michael, who’s like my dear friend, Mike [Krol], he’s going to be my brother-in-law married to my sister. He did all of the design. 

Okay. Cool. 

He’s done all the merch designs, all the lettering you see. All that stuff is all Mike.

Okay. And where was the photo taken?

Outside Austin. So Andreina lives there. And Molly lives in New York. And I’m in Kansas. We were kind of trying to decide. And we made the record in Texas. So this was just the best place to be and where we chose to take the photo.

So was the cover supposed to indicate a move towards a country sound?

Yeah. I mean, I feel like it was sort of doubling down. I knew that the sound of the album was a change and that people were going to react to that. And so I just thought, “Well, we’ll just take it one step further and make the record cover really indicate the sound before you even hear it.”

So like fair warning, I guess?

Yeah. Totally. [Laughs]

So tell me a little bit about how you and the guys from Bonny Doon got together. I can’t remember if you all had toured before.

Well, I met Bobby [Columbo] who’s one of the two main songwriters. He and I had been friends for like 10 years. He’s a great songwriter and there were these other projects before Bonny Doon and the first Waxahatchee tour ever. I played in Detroit with Bobby, so we met that way. And then, it’s one of those things. He had this new band. And people around me kept bringing it up like, “Oh, Bobby’s got this new band. It’s really good.” And eventually, I shifted my focus to it and realized like, “Oh, my God. This band is amazing. They sound incredible.” But there’s so many different elements [of Bonny Doon] that speak to me because it is very classic. And they obviously are very influenced by The Grateful Dead. But then, they’re also influenced by Talking Heads and more classic punk stuff. And they also have all of these great sort of classic indie rock influences like Silver Jews and stuff like that. So I feel I really was moved by what they were doing and felt a kinship with it early on.  And then we did a little touring together. And they played with my band. And that was kind of right in the time where I was working with Brad Cook, who produced Saint Cloud. And I was writing songs. I knew the vibe I wanted to be more kind of country, more Americana, less like rock, less indie rock. And we did this tour together. We were all jamming on my old songs. And it just hit me very quickly this is the sound. This is exactly what I had in mind. And I didn’t even realize it. It was just their interpretation of my songs.

That’s great. So how did you end up at Sonic Ranch? I know a lot of artists have started to record there.

That was Brad. Brad had started working there a lot. That’s become one of his preferred spots. And so when he and I were talking about making this record together right after we finished the Great Thunder EP that we did together, he was the guy. So we’ve been kind of bouncing ideas back and forth for a while and we made the EP at Justin Vernon’s studio. So on the table, we were just talking about a bunch of different things. And Brad kind of kept coming back to Sonic Ranch. I have a lot of friends who have worked there and everybody just spoke so highly of it. And so it just kind of kept feeling like that was the right place to do it. 

It looks like a cool place. I know Big Thief recorded Two Hands there and commented on how the heat there influenced their music. But when I listen to your album, it’s so kind of breezy, freewheeling, it doesn’t really seem to have the feel of the place. 

That’s cool. I mean, I feel that the record was really written in two main places. And that is the Midwest, a lot of it in Michigan, a lot of it in Kansas, and then the South. So Alabama, a little bit of Texas, but mostly in the Deep South. So to me, Texas is like the perfect marriage of those two things. It’s kind of both at once. So I feel like it’s really appropriate. But I will say Sonic Ranch is fully equipped with insane air conditioning. [Laughs] So I was comfortable the whole time. I feel like I was colder than I was hot, for a lot of it. 

That’s funny. So how do you think your fans are going to react to this more stripped down sound? When I heard “Fire” for the first time, I was really excited to hear it, but I don’t think that really kind of gives the feel of the rest of the album.  I’d say “Can’t Do Much” certainly does and points the way. What do you anticipate?

I don’t know. I mean, it’s funny. I try to really turn myself off to that stuff. And I do a lot of different things to turn myself off to that. But I do pay attention to certain people’s reactions. People whose work I admire, you know what I mean?

Yeah. 

I think it’s important for me in order to make the most honest thing I can, not really pay attention to what the reaction’s going to be. And so that’s just a practice that I have in doing that. The people who I have sort of focused on, or cared about their reaction, it’s been positive and it’s been cool. And so it’s my fifth record with Waxahatchee and it’s probably like my tenth record I’ve made as a songwriter. And I just find over and over again, that if I can just really focus on making something that I am excited about, and I really love, and just really trust that, that’s never steered me wrong. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about something that I’ve made.

Yeah. You should be. 

Thank you. I appreciate that. And I feel like that is translating energetically. I feel people are picking up on that and reacting to that. So I feel good about it. I hope people love it as much as I do, but I think that just my loving it as much as I do is enough.

Yeah. No, I think it’s going to have an awesome reception. Maybe if we could talk about a couple of the songs.

Sure. 

One of my favorite groupings are the three songs “Hell,” “Witches,” and “War” together. 

Oh, thank you. 

It’s just those single-word titles and how tight the songs are. There’s almost a Britpop thing in the last two, in particular, these big hooks and things. And also with “Hell” coming after Out in the Storm, which felt like a kiss-off, angrier record. Sounds like maybe you were taking a little bit more accountability there with this song? 

Well, I think that my sweet spot perspective-wise when I’m writing is looking inward and self-criticism and that sort of thing. So I think that those songs hold up the best, and they’re the most timeless to me or the ones that I’m sort of pointing the finger at myself and not outward. So I think that all three of those songs do that. I talk about this a lot, and I touched around it, but I got sober, and a lot of that stuff comes up on the record. And I think with “War,” “Witches,” and “Hell,” all of those songs are kind of about the worst moments of that stuff because when you’re getting sober, you’re living life on life’s terms. There’s no crutch. There’s no numbing yourself. All of your crazy feelings that you were maybe suppressing are now exacerbated and they’re right in front of you and you have to face them. And I think it leads people to bounce off the walls and maybe alienate people or burn some bridges or get into fights or whatever, and all of that stuff happened for me in my sort of recovery work. So those songs to me are all about that. They’re supposed to be a little bit psycho, a little bit intense, but sort of the common denominator in all of them is me and my problems. So yeah, it’s funny that all of those songs, they do kind of weirdly fit. It’s like a little unit. And I maybe wouldn’t have put them together in the sequencing, but I think that was Brad that did that. That’s another just moment of Brad’s brilliance. He was like, “These go together.”

Yeah, it really jumped out at me quite a bit. So “Witches,” to me is a little bit more fun, but why the title “Witches,” which is not in the lyric? There’s references to your friends and your sister [Allison Crutchfield]. Could you dig into that a little bit?

Yeah. Well, “Witches,” that song is really about a lot of external frustrations, like social media and the music scene at large and different things like that. It’s kind of meant to be this song that feels like you’re behind closed doors, just kind of talking openly with my closest friends. It’s sort of a sour anthem for friendship and just my closest friends because it’s about this small group of women. And so I kept thinking about, politically speaking, we talk a lot about what witches were. It’s just like a weird early example of patriarchal bullshit, and I think that it’s political too, just sort of calling ourselves out—“We’re the black sheep of society.” 

Right. I definitely got the sense of solidarity. 

Yes. Totally 

And I assume Lindsey—is Lindsey Jordan [Snail Mail] in the song?

Yes. 

Okay. Cool. Just on the vocal approach on the album—on “War,” your vocals are so strong. And even on “The Eye,” that’s a little bit more laid back, but you hit this phrase “lit up” in there. So, this is definitely the most stripped-down thing you’ve done. I’ve listened to the Jason Molina singles that you and Kevin [Morby] did and then your Great Thunder EP. It seems like a movement towards Saint Cloud vocally. So if you talk about your vocal approach and how that’s become more forward. 

Yeah, it’s interesting. I’ve been kind of looking back a little bit lately as I talk about all this stuff so much. And I actually think doing the Molina [covers] with Kevin was maybe step one in this approach because I think just digging into those songs and the way that he sings and then kind of doing my own version of that. I remember recording that and just feeling super powerful, thinking, “Wow, I can do some crazy shit with my voice if I actually try to.” And it made me excited, and it made me realize when I step into this type of singing, it’s exciting and powerful for me. So I think that was sort of step one. And then the Great Thunder EP stems from me revisiting those songs and showing those songs to new people in my life. Showing them to Kevin, kind of like going through everything myself. “These songs are really cool,” like, “We can reimagine them,” and then kind of taking that same vocal approach. It’s just me realizing that I’ve always loved singing so much, but because I’ve been so invested in this more indie rock sort of sound, it didn’t quite fit. And so this is the first record where I feel like, “I’m going to really step into my vocal power a little bit more,” and also my taste is shifting around. I think it’s more the shifting around. That constantly happens. So I think that’s huge. It’s like being obsessed with this power and Lucinda Williams at the same time. I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to try and do powerful stuff with my voice.” 

Yeah, and I was going to get to that next, actually. I think probably my two favorite songs on the album right now at least are “The Eye” and “Arkadelphia.” And I know you’ve talked about Lucinda Williams and some of the other legends. Do you have a favorite album of hers or a song?

Oh my God. It’s just so hard to narrow that down. I just interviewed her which will come out really soon. I spent the whole day with her and it was crazy because I got to ask her every question I’ve ever wanted about every album. So it’s really life-changing. So I go through phases with her records because I love all of them. But the one I’ve been spending the most time within the last month is the self-titled one. The songs have been super exciting for me lately. I think I said, two years ago, I had the same love affair with that album. And now, I’m back to it. So yes, she’s truly my favorite songwriter.

Yeah, that’s awesome. I know her song, “Side of the Road” from that album. I had a note on it somewhere but I think I lost it. There was one on Saint Cloud that made me think of that. It may have been “War”—where you say “it’s got nothing to do with you”. 

Oh, wow. 

It was the moment of “just give-me-a-second-to-myself” type of thing. 

Really? Yeah, that’s such a powerful song. It’s cool because Lucinda’s music is so multifaceted. You can’t really call it just country. But as far as country music goes, it’s such an interesting perspective for a woman to take in a song, kind of like, “I’ll come back to you but give me my space.” It is sort of this inherently masculine thing that usually Waylon Jennings would be singing. You know what I mean? 

Yeah, yeah. 

And women sort of writing about this horrible heartache, I just think it’s so cool. It’s like this powerful woman just being like, “Yeah, I need space.” It’s cool. It’s relatable. Yeah. She’s a genius. 

Yeah, that’s awesome. The self-titled album is one of my favorites, too, and then Sweet Old World is probably the other. And I think with her, obviously, it’s her sense of place and descriptive power, and that’s really what “Arkadelphia” did for me on your album. And just was wondering where some of those images were coming from, the whole thing about bags of tomatoes, folding chairs, very evocative language.

Yeah, I mean, that’s all just my childhood, growing up in Alabama, just images of that. And then that song, it’s about someone in my life I have been close with my whole life. And it’s about how they really struggled with drug addiction and got very close to death and then recovered and they’re in recovery now. So it’s sort of about this sort of shared story of growing up and then both of us struggling with addiction. Them, obviously, way worse than me. And then sort of now, the shared language of being better and working through it. So that’s the early parts of that song and then it jumps back and forth. But it’s just really about our shared experiences growing up in the South.

Okay. There’s a couple of lines in the song and if you’re not comfortable talking about it, that’s cool, but I thought I would ask. There’s one, it said, “If I burn out like a lightbulb, they’ll say, she wasn’t made for this life.” So I assume that’s about the touring and all that and just curious where that’s coming from. 

Yeah, that’s exactly what it’s about. And then the next line about “put it all in a capsule,” it’s to make you think about people who burn out quickly because of the crazy lifestyle that we lead as musicians. Like, “Oh, people will see another really sad story in the long lineage of sad stories.”

Okay. So this part about where you say, “They’ll say she wasn’t made for this life,” that wasn’t necessarily like a lack of support in the beginning of your career or that’s not really about that?

No. It’s not about like direct relationships.

Gotcha.

It’s more like at large kind of.

So I think that’s basically what I had on the album and thought maybe we jump to what’s going on in the world right now [COVID-19 outbreak] and your tour and that type of stuff.

Yeah.

Okay. So obviously, I mean, this whole coronavirus thing—I know you had to delay parts of your tour. Are there other complications on top of that? You still going to be able to tour with the Bonny Doon guys and all that?

I mean, it’s so hard to say anything because things keep changing. There’s so much information. And I think everyone is so desperate for facts. And it’s really hard to decide facts over sort of heavy handed think pieces, opinion pieces. Like, we are so deep in this opinion culture. And I’m so desperate to just hear the facts. And I think that’s partly because it’s so unknowable right now like what’s going to happen. Sorry to get immediately existential about it. [Laughs] But I don’t know. But I will say according to our plan, I can really only take it like one hour at a time. But right now, as it stands, we’re going to do the tour exactly how we planned on doing it with everybody in place. The band is still the band. Bonny Doon’s still coming. Everything’s going to be the same. We’ve already rehearsed. So we’re probably going to rehearse again in the next couple months whenever it’s safe to go outside again. And yeah, we’re going to do our best to just like keep it all intact. But it’s hard to say because you have some people saying like, “Oh. In eight weeks, everything will be back to normal.” And then, you have other people saying like, “We can all be living like this for a year.” So it’s really hard to say exactly. It’s sad. It’s scary. And I’m feeling all of these emotions about it. But I also just feel extremely grateful that we were able to reschedule quickly and still as of today and as of right now, still have dates on the calendar.

Yeah. Well, I noticed your first date on the calendar is for the Corona Capital festival in Mexico. It’s a little ironic—the name.

Yeah. [Laughs] That’s funny. Yeah. I’m still like, “We’ll see.” Hopefully, that still happens right.

So you’re in Kansas City right now I take it?

I am, yeah.

Okay. Is it just you and Kevin [Morby]?

It’s just me and Kevin. [Laughs] It’s just been me and Kevin for many days now. [Laughs] 

Are you guys getting out much? 

We’re going for walks every day. We live kind of where we can walk for a while and not see living souls, which is kind of good for this situation. I’m grateful that we’re not in New York, or LA, or like a really densely populated place. We can go for long walks and just not come into contact with anybody. So yeah, we’re getting out here and there. I went to the grocery store Monday. He went like last week. We’re kind of just cooking every meal. And our house is perfect for this. We have like a little studio. We’re both working on music. We’re playing music together. We’re reading. He’s jetlagged. So we’re on like weird opposite sleeping schedules. We’re getting like good together time, good apart time. It’s working out.

Right. No pets?

No pets, just us.

Okay. Are you guys hoarding anything? Everybody’s doing crazy stuff.

No. We’re not panic buying. We’re buying like reasonable amounts of stuff. It’s funny, we were talking about this. Any time that we’re home together and we’re cooking a lot, that usually only lasts for a week or two before one of us has to leave or both of us have to leave. So this cooking every meal is new for us. We’re having to do way more dishes than we’ve ever had to do, things like that. We’re not used to being so domestic. Neither of us are. So it’s an adjustment. But it’s been nice. We’re both pretty into it. 

Yeah. No. It’s interesting. We’re spending a lot more time with our kids than we have in years. So that part of it’s been pretty cool.

Yeah. That’s nice.

I’m sure you’ve been talking to other musicians about how this has impacted them, just maybe more broadly beyond yourself if you’ve got any awareness of what’s going on with other people. 

I mean, I’ve been talking to Kevin, obviously, constantly about it, but Lindsey [Jordan of Snail Mail] and I just got off the phone right before I talked to you. And my friend Jess Williamson, she’s got a record coming out a couple of months after me. I mean, everyone’s the same. It’s so much bigger than any of us and any of our albums. And obviously, we’re all concerned about the financial impact it’s going to have on our lives. But so is everybody. So is every person in every profession. So it’s crazy. I mean, I think it’s just going to change everybody forever. And in a weird way, it’s going to connect everybody more because we’re all going to be kind of going through the same types of struggles. I had a millisecond of feeling very personally victimized. 

Yeah. Like it’s not fair type of thing. Sure.

Exactly. And then very quickly I was able to see this is every single person experiencing this. So it’s really easy, I think, to just get outside of yourself and just realize we are going through a dark hard thing. And so yeah, I think that that’s the vibe with everyone that I am friends with, even musicians. Yeah, it sucks. Tours are being canceled. Records are being pushed back. I mean, I’m assuming that people who have records that were supposed to get announced, maybe reconsidering announcing and things like that are happening. And so in different ways, everybody’s being affected. It just is what it is. We’re all just going to have to wait it out and see where we land. And I think everybody that I’ve talked to basically feels the same way. 

So I know you’re planning a livestream tonight. I think I saw one once before, I think around Christmastime. You guys were in your pajamas and stuff. [Laughs] So what are the plans for this evening?

It’s funny. We’ve been talking about it a little bit. And there’s a lot of people that are really going for it and seemingly planning stuff out. And that’s not really our vibe for this. But we just want to make it very casual. We have a couple things up our sleeve. We practiced a few things together. So mostly, we’re going to hang out. We’re going to set up in our living room. There’s a few fun collaboration things we’re going to do. And we’re just going to see who calls in. We’re going to see what the people want us to play, what the people say, and just make it more of a big hang than like a planned-out performance. 

So it’ll be on both of your Instagrams?

That’s the plan. We’re going to try that and see how it goes. We’ll just tell people when we’re in the stream like if Kevin takes a guest, feel free to switch over into Kevin’s. And then, when I take a guest, feel free to switch over to mine. Like, people might be kind of switching between the two feeds a little bit. But it is what it is. It’s an imperfect system. It’s all a big experiment. We’re going to see how that goes. And if it doesn’t work out, then we might just take turns in the future. 

Well, we’ll have multiple phones going. So we’ll make sure we get it all covered. 

I love it. That’s great.

Do you plan to play anything else from Saint Cloud that hasn’t been released yet?

I don’t know. Maybe. It’s so close to release now. It’s funny. I bought stuff to make two cakes. I’m going to make myself a record release cake because I feel like I’m just going to be here doing nothing else. So I’m going to make myself a release cake. And then Kevin’s birthday is shortly thereafter. But yeah, I might. We’ll see. It’s so close to release now, I think it’s probably safe for me to do that. I’m definitely going to play the singles that are out. 

Yeah. Okay. So on a more serious note, how do you feel about releasing Saint Cloud into this environment? And do you think it’s going to be forever tied to this?

I don’t know. It’s hard to say. We’re in uncharted waters, you know what I mean? So I have no idea how this is all going to land. I will say that I was pretty devastated about my tour. And that was really hard to process, and really hard to kind of get back into feeling good about it. But then the actual record coming out, I actually feel really good about it. I feel like people need music now more than ever before. And if it can bring people some joy, and some light in this dark time, then that feels very good to me. So yeah, I’m not that worried about it forever being tied to this. I’m more so just happy that it can be out there and it’s a really hopeful album I think. I think it’s sort of the most hopeful, warm sort of vibe of any of my records. So if people can get that from it right now then I think that’s great. 

Yeah. No. I agree. I think that’s awesome. This is a little bit off the wall, but your record release is eight days from now. So just the way things are evolving around the world so quickly, what would you want the national or worldwide headlines to be the day that Saint Cloud comes out? 

I mean, just good news. That’s all we want, right, I mean is good news. My astrologer told me that tomorrow [March 20] is one of the most good fortune, good luck, happy news big day. So I’ve been kind of rolling that around in my brain. And he also said the same thing about the 27th [March 27 release date]. So he sort of said about those two dates that are a week apart. And this was months and months ago when he did a big reading for me. So I think kind of having that in the back of my head, maybe there is good news tomorrow. And also, maybe there’s good news on the 27th. Those might be two big breakthrough days. Who knows. I have no idea. I mean, I’m just hoping it’s all good news.

Yeah. We’re all looking for good news for sure. 

That’s all we want. Yep. 

Got you. Okay. I appreciate all this a lot.

Awesome, thank you so much. 

www.waxahatchee.com

Support Under the Radar on Patreon.



Comments

Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published

URL

Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.