Waxahatchee talks 'Saint Cloud,' Lucinda Williams, and takes The Quarantine Gauntlet
Waxahatchee is Katie Crutchfield. The name Waxahatchee refers to Waxahatchee Cree, Alabama where Crutchfield grew up. Despite the name, she has been reticent to incorporate the sound of the south into her albums, instead drowning in guitars in 2016's "Out In the Storm." But that's starting to change. Since then, Katie has gotten sober. She's moved to Kansas City where she lives with her partner Kevin Morby. And she's opened herself up to some of the sounds that she grew up with. She names Lucinda Williams as the biggest influence on her new record, "Saint Cloud."
We contacted Katie via Skype last week. She was about to bake a cake for Kevin's birthday and prepare for their weekly check in/hangout/performance that they have been doing on Instagram every Thursday.
Between every album that an artist makes there is there's that period of time that things happened that kind of leads to the album. What happened between the last album and this album?
Well a lot kind of happened, so I made “Out in the Storm” and that record is, it's kind of just like a breakup record and it was written sort of in the rawest time of that breakup. So the emotional tone of that album is super different than “Saint Cloud,” obviously. So I was kind of going through a lot and really using writing as the vehicle to unpack everything and heal from, you know, the experiences I had. And so the result of that record, it's very raw. There's a lot of atmosphere, very claustrophobic I would say. And that was all intentional, but then taking that album out on the road, a few things happened. I mean it got physically sort of hard cause it's very loud and kind of just like a rock band. Which was not ever my intention as an artist to be in a rock band necessarily. So that started to wear on me and just, you know, you write about things and you have these experiences in life and then you move on. By the time I was touring that record, I had kind of already moved on from what the record was about. There were just so many different situations in that record that just made me really want to take a really sharp turn away from that. So that was kind of the path that I was on from the very beginning with record five that became “Saint Cloud.” It was to just make something really different. And then a lot of things happened. I got sober, I went through another breakup and then was in a new relationship. And that relationship is very new, and different, in a lot of ways for me. I moved from Philadelphia back to the South for a while and then to Kansas where I live now. Just like a lot of sort of outside things happened, but ended up kind of informing a lot of the choices I made. Both in my writing and then also in how I made the record. Life happens and then you just sort of adapt as an artist and try to use those things that happen to inform in a new and exciting way.
What has been difficult and what’s been the easiest thing about being sober?
I feel like my drinking, like my bottom was more or less pretty high. I was very like, functioning and it was not like a live or die situation for me. So in a lot of ways it's the easiest thing I've ever done because to me the benefits and how much better I feel are just so obvious, you know? And that makes it really easy. It’s an easy choice to wake up every day and not drink. There was obviously some hard stuff about it. I mean, early on I think just kind of like, life on life’s terms and all of the reasons that I was drinking, all of the things I was trying to kind of escape from. I think ultimately like the main addiction that we all have and that I had was to just distract me from whatever. I would just grab whatever I needed to just distract from the stuff that was actually bothering me. And so having to then this heightened clarity and having to face a lot of that stuff, that's really what the record's about. Just kind of bouncing off the walls and going through and facing a lot of your stuff without the crutch of alcohol or drugs or whatever, that was the hard pat. But I mean that's something that I'll continue to do forever, you know? But it's just like learning. I would say for the most part it's been like the easiest choice I've ever made.
No one really needs it.
I think that “Oxbow” is such a wonderful opener and “Fire,” is such a standout track, I think one of the things that I love about it is the drums. The drums have this kind of thundering quality to them. How did that happen, where did the idea there?
It’s so interesting. So it’s nice that you said that it’s a good opener because it was always the opener and the working title of it was always “Intro.” I was like, this is going to be the intro. And I had that little piano part and the vocal melody kind of happened in different moments. A lot of these songs, I sat with melodies for a long time and they developed a lot over time, which is new for me. Usually, I sit down, I write, it's very like simplified. I sit down and write a song and that's it. And with this record, a lot of the melodies kind of developed over time and went off into different directions. And that was definitely the case for “Oxbow.” And so early on before I had demoed with Bonnie Doon and Brad was involved. I went to my friend Nick Kinsey's studio in upstate New York. He's a drummer and he played drums on the album. He and I just demoed in his studio, just the two of us. It was right after I wrote “The Eye.” So we worked through that and we worked through “Can't Do Much” and a few of the more simple songs. And then I was like, can I just like sit at the piano and kind of noodle around on this and you just see what comes. And it had been “Intro” in my head, I was like, this is going to be the first song. And he starts playing that beat like pretty immediately. And I was immediately reminded of the song “Sleep to Dream” by Fiona Apple on her first album, it’s the first song on Tidal. And I was like, oh my god, yes that’s it. It’s so not the aesthetic of the record that I had in my mind, but I love it. I was like, this is going to work. And I freaked out and brought that up to him. I’m like, “It’s like sleep to dream!” and he didn’t really even know that song and so I freaked out and was like, that’s it. It was so kismet and accidentally perfect. And again, it doesn’t really go with the record, but there’s something so undeniably powerful about it and it just suits the song so well. So yeah, that was all Kinsey, and I kind of have to give it up to him on that.
That’s great. I think that possibly my favorite song is “Saint Cloud” and the way that those two songs kind of end the album, I really love. It’s such a killer, it’s such a devastator and I was just wondering what the song is about?
The way I look at the record, in a way it feels like a conversation that you're having, you're telling somebody something big about yourself, like this big life change and you're catching somebody up. And so the beginning of Oxbow you start at the beginning, which is what that song does lyrically and then it sort of warms up to the climax, which to me is like “Arkadelphia” and then “Ruby Falls” where you're sort of taking somebody through everything. So like the darkest, deepest part. And to me, “Saint Cloud” is sort of like when you are wrapping up the conversation and you zoom out and talk about the universe at large and it's a little bit more abstract and it's a little bit softer. You're just kinda wrapping up any conclusion. This is some philosophical thought about like the universe at large and now we're done. So “Saint Cloud” kind of zooms out the record. It sort of starts zoomed out, it zooms really close in and then “Saint Cloud” is sort of as I'm starting to zoom back out and be like, this is the end of this conversation.
I have heard you mention Lucinda Williams’s songwriting style being influential on this album. What is Lucinda Williams’s songwriting style and how did it influence this album?
I mean Lucinda to me is the most obvious influence on “Saint Cloud.” I’ve been such a fan of hers for so long and it’s slowly worked its way in. I feel like I recognize a lot of her influences. It's interesting, as an avid music lover and a student of songwriting, I feel like you're always noticing things about certain writers and with Lucinda it's like a lot of the things that influenced her, influenced me in a way that I'm like, I didn't really see anyone else drawing these lines. Lucinda is Southern, but she struggles with her Southern identity but she also embraces it and she's a storyteller and tells these stories of this dark Southern existence that I have always felt, but never really heard in country music. She loves country music and she also rejects country music. And it’s all of this stuff going on with her. Then I'm like, “Oh my God, that's exactly how I feel.” And I never heard music like that before, and here she is like having been making that music for like 40 years. It's just like all of these things like hit me kind of at once. Obviously, there are so many different things you could say about her. Her lyricism is just unparalleled. It's poetry and it's storytelling and she can say so much with so few words. That was really big for me on this record. I think in the past I have over-explained and I've almost made it too specific and too wordy. I feel like Lucinda is like I'm going to try and say this as simply as possible and I'm just going to choose my words so carefully so that, that people can really understand what I'm saying even if I'm not saying that much. So that was really big.
What’s an example where she’s done that in a song?
I think Greenville's a great song cause it's the same refrain. It's six verses. It's the simplest refrain. “Go back to Greenville, go on back to Greenville.” And it's her talking about this horrible, abusive relationship and if you were just catching a lyric here or there, she's saying stuff that just feels like someone complaining about their shitty boyfriend. Someone who's thinking about their boyfriend. But if you listen, it's so simple and it's so relatable and she's saying things like empty bottles, broken glass, busted down doors and borrowed cash. It's so simple, this really specific imagery. And it's just such brilliant storytelling. She puts you there with so little and it's a gift. I feel like I've been studying it so much in the last few years and without having done that, I feel like Saint Cloud would've just been a different record completely. I think I'm very much like a student of Lucinda Williams on this record.
Lightning Round: The Quarantine Gauntlet
So lightning round. What has been your favorite podcast to listen to in quarantine?
I haven’t listened to that many podcasts, but I liked This American Life that came out last weekend about Coronavirus.
Google Hangout, Zoom Meeting or House Party?
Zoom all the way, I’ve been Zooming left and right.
Have you made a sourdough starter?
No, but I made an earl grey yogurt cake and I ate the entire thing myself.
When was the last time you wore real pants?
I’m a fan of soft pants in real life anyway. I wear a lot of linen and like fancy, fashion sweatpants. That’s more my vibe. I have not worn jeans, but I have worn like real pants that are soft.
Best movie that you’ve watched?
We have not been doing a lot of movies, are you going to ask about TV? Because I can just wait.
Let’s do TV then.
Tiger King, Tiger King, Tiger King. Yes. I mean it has everything I want. It's like the redneck, true-crime, craziness, but I've been like waiting my whole life for. I loved it so much. I watched the whole thing. And then Kevin, my boyfriend did not watch it with me and was like, I think I want to watch it. And I was like, I'll watch it again. So I've watched it twice.
Did Carole Baskin kill her husband?
I don't know. I'm suss of Carole. I have to say. From the beginning, before they even talk about the dead husband, I was like, I don't know about this lady. I love a true-crime doc where you walk away from it being like, I don't really know who the villain is. That's very much I feel about it.
For sure, I went in being like, “Okay, I’m taking sides.” And then at the end, I was like, “No, everybody is wrong. They’re all villains.”
I know. Exactly. I'm like, everyone is wrong here. And the character that I thought would be the least sympathetic, weirdly is the most sympathetic and it's just, I love it. I love a doc like that. So I'm, I'm fully onboard with Tiger King.
Have you gone live on Instagram?
Yes, we go live every Thursday. It's Kevin, my boyfriend's birthday, so the theme for this evening is “birthday party” and I'm going to make him a cake when we get off the phone.
What has been your go-to junk food item?
I am really a big fan of Easter candy. I think Easter is the best holiday for candy. So I have bought the biggest bag available to the public of the Cadbury Eggs, but like the candy. They have a candy coating and then chocolate in the middle. Every time I walk past it I grab a couple. That's been my big thing with junk food.
Have you started and finished a book in quarantine?
I've read like a couple of plays. There have been a handful of plays that I've been wanting to read. So I'm like, that's an easy thing. I can read that in one sitting. So I read, “True West” by Sam Shepard. I read “Crimes of the Heart” by Beth Henley. What else did I read? I've been reading a little bit of Chekhov. I've read my friends screenplay, like stuff like that. Stuff I can read in one sitting has been the best. I've read a little bit. I've been cracking open Pema Chodron's books cause I think she's amazing. She's this Buddhist nun who writes these beautiful works of nonfiction, just like her teachings. That is the good kind of spiritual like breeziness that we all need right now.
What’s the best thing you’ve cooked in quarantine?
Oh my God. I've been cooking so much. Cooking has been my favorite part of quarantine. So let's see. I've cooked some amazing stuff. I've made some incredible salads, just totally off the top of my head. I made a really great chicken soup. I made the earl grey yogurt cake, I just finished it this morning and it was incredible. It's Molly Boz's recipe.
What’s your secret ingredient to a salad? The thing that really makes it?
I mean it's all about the dressing I think. My dressings are usually like, a sour, a sweet, salty and a savory, and if you can do all four in one. So I do like sauce, apple cider vinegar, a little bit of honey and olive oil and I'll stir that up really good. And that is like a flavor explosion.
Who is the person you miss seeing in real life the most?
Um, so many people. I mean, I live my life kind of on the move. So when I'm home in Kansas where I am right now, I usually only see my boyfriend regularly. So this is pretty normal for us. But I miss my sister. I miss my best friend Marley. I miss my bandmates. I miss my parents and my other sister and my niece. I miss a lot of people, but I also am kind of used it. All my closest people live all over the world, so I am sorta used to not seeing them.
What is the song that you have listened to the most?
I really like Lucinda's new songs, so I've been listening to them. My friend Jess Williamson has a record coming out in May and I love her music and she put out a single, like a month ago called “Wind on Tin” that is incredible. That's been on repeat for me. It's such a -- it's like a really good, like easy rocker, like a feel-good song. And so that's been heavy in rotation for me.