By Philip Runco.
“I try to keep things vague enough that they don’t blow up the spot of the person that I’m writing about,” Katie Crutchfield told Katherine Flynn on this corner of the internet in early 2015. “But I like to write really honestly because that’s what feels good for me.”
At the time, the Philly-via-Alabama singer-songwriter was making the rounds on Ivy Tripp, her third record under the name Waxahatchee and the first for indie stalwart Merge Records. More specifically, she was responding to the idea that there might be some sliver of her life that was off limits as a subject matter.
The answer was more or less no. Crutchfield explained that she had always drawn inspiration from her own experiences, and she would continue to do so, but she also reserved the right to exercise discretion in how they were presented. And therein lied an intriguing tension: What happens when writing honestly, writing what feels good, necessitates blowing up someone’s spot?
If there’s an answer to that question, it’s Out in the Storm, the fourth Waxahatchee record and a 33-minute evisceration of a former lover. It’s not an entirely one-sided affair – her own behavior and tendencies certainly don’t escape introspection – but across ten songs, Crutchfield gives voice to some of the most savagely honest assessments of another human and their failed relationship ever laid to wax. And backed in the studio by her touring band for the first time, she’s never sounded better doing it.
I reached Crutchfield at home in Philadelphia in early July – a few days after her the album debuted on NPR, and a few days before it officially saw release.
You’ve said that when someone puts out a record these days, it feels like nobody cares about it six months later. At the same time, though, the focus on that record when it sees release feels more intense than ever. The reviews, the profiles, the reactions – it all hits at once. As someone currently in the middle of that storm, how does it feel?
Alison [Crutchfield] has referred to me as a bridezilla a couple times. Release week is always intense and crazy and busy.
I was kind of nervous about this record. As an artist, you tend to go back and forth once any record is pressed and ready to go. I always think, “Oh my god, is this good? Can I put this out?” There’s a lot of second-guessing and freaking out, and I was definitely feeling that with this one. Every day, I felt differently. It was very extreme.
But once the reviews started to trickle in, and more than that, once the stream went up and the fans were kind of reacting, it was very positive. Everyone seemed really into it. That’s been really exciting. It feels very validating to have made the record and been feeling vulnerable about it, and now the feedback all seems excited and good.
Where was that sense of vulnerability coming from?
Well, I want to say that I go through that with every single record, but I think with this one, two things are different.
One of them is that as I’ve made more and more records and put more and more out there, my audience has sort of grown. The attention that a record of mine gets has increased with each release. So, this is the most attention I’ve received. I basically knew what to expect. I knew that some people were going to care to a certain degree. I’ve been making records for a really long time, and for the majority of that time, a very small amount of people cared, so it’s kind of a new thing for me, and one that takes a lot of getting used to.
But the main thing about this record that’s made me go back and forth is just that it’s more earnest than a lot of my previous records. Something about that puts you in a vulnerable state of mind. Everyone keeps asking me about this, but it’s very personal and rooted in my own experiences, and while I have made records like that before, this is the first time I’ve released something this personal to much bigger audience than I had previously.
So, all of that put me in sort of a weird headspace of being scared to put it out there.
There are some brutally cutting assessments in these songs. There are lines that make a listener just say, “Damn.” What was it like giving voice to those thoughts?
It felt pretty cathartic. It’s hard to explain a lot of it unless I give you the full backstory, which I don’t want to do, but it’s the kind of thing people feel when they go through break-ups or feel some sort of social injustice has been done to them. I just want it to be relateable. I want this record to be something that people listen to when they’re angry.
Anger had never really been an emotion that I went to when I wrote songs, but with this record, it was. It’s sort of a different vibe than my songs in the past.
I don’t know, I really poured over it. There were a lot of things that I threw out because I thought they were almost too emotional or too intense – they lost some of their edge. I poured over the lyrics, and I knew that they were different, and I knew that people were going to hear them and be like, “Damn.” [Laughs] It definitely crossed my mind, because they are kind intense.
My main thing is that I hope people can relate to it.
As someone for whom lyricism is paramount, how does it feel seeing individual lines splattered across places like Twitter?
It’s great, because I do that. I do that with records that I love and lyrics that I love. And like you said, they are paramount to me. It’s kind of like the most important of my songs to me, so when people highlight that or those lyrics mean something to people, that’s the best feeling in the world.
One of the things that leaps out on Out in the Storm is the full band sound. What was the energy like in the studio? How would these songs have turned out differently had you had tried record them as you did in the past?
My live band has always had its own thing. I really think the main person I can credit that to is my drummer Ashley Arnwine, because she’s just a completely singular drummer in my opinion. No one really plays like her. If you went to see Waxahatchee live in the last couple of years, it kind of had a thing that we were doing. It was different than the records.
There was definitely more energy [recording Out in the Storm]. I think that I would have made a completely different record had I gone about it the way that I used to; in every way, even lyrically, it would have been a completely different thing. I feel like it would have been less powerful, maybe. That’s a good way to describe Ashley as a drummer: It’s very energetic and powerful.
But it was a really great experience working with my live band. They’re my best friends in the world. You know, some of the stuff on the record is some shared experiences that we all had, so it feels really good to have worked out those songs together and then recorded them together. And it’s all live, so that energy is just on the record, and now we’re going to go on tour together forever and play them. It’s like a sisterhood or something. It feels very powerful.
“La Loose” is a song that I thought took on a new life live.
That’s a cool thing about my band, and one thing about writing super simple songs: They are easy to reimagine, and we like to do that. The version of “La Loose” that we’re going to do on this tour is a completely different thing. We’re kind of reimagining things here and there.
But what I’m really excited about is that all of the songs on the new record are gonna sound exactly like the record because we played them like that on the record.
You’ve described Ivy Tripp as “a lot of beating around the bush and superficially trying to see my life clearly.” Do you have mixed feelings about that record? Or do you think that such reserve is in and of itself an honest reflection of where you were at the time?
I think it’s both.
I kind of revisited Ivy Tripp recently, and I have a new appreciation for it. And I remember making it and being really excited and all of that, but I think I was in a really bad state of mind. There was some sort of darkness over it. Even with tours that we did on that record, there was just a lot of things going with all of us personally that cast a little bit of a shadow on Ivy Tripp for me for a long time.
But I’ve definitely started to come back around. There have been a couple of people in my life in the last six months or so that have been like, “You know, Ivy Tripp was so good.” Their talking to me about it made me want to go back and listen to it. So, I’ve definitely come back around, and I’m really proud of it, and I think it’s a great record and all of that, but it was definitely a little bit of a shadow cast on it just for personal reasons.