Getting personal: Waxahatchee shoots straight from the heart on new album

Alabama girl Katie Crutchfield takes a different musical direction on the new Waxahatchee album, Ivy Tripp, but her heart is still firmly on her sleeve. Photo: Jesse Riggins Alabama girl Katie Crutchfield takes a different musical direction on the new Waxahatchee album, Ivy Tripp, but her heart is still firmly on her sleeve. Photo: Jesse Riggins

Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield released her second album, Cerulean Salt, in 2013 to high critical acclaim. Full of punk-edged folk songs that are at once quiet and powerful thanks to a stripped-down performance and sublime lyrics, the record was rated an 8.4 out of 10 and dubbed Best New Music by Pitchfork. It landed at No. 36 on Rolling Stone’s 50 Best Albums of 2013 list and was chosen as an album of the week by Stereogum. And the accolades kept coming.

So what did Crutchfield do when it came time to make a follow-up record? She tried something new.

Crutchfield plugged her guitar into an amp and paired a more electric sound to her clarion voice and piercing lyrics on Ivy Tripp (2015). The instrumentation in particular, she says, was ambitious. “I really wanted to challenge myself to make a record that was totally different than the other two I had made. I wanted to surprise my audience, to show that I can write a wide array of songs while still being cohesive.” Crutchfield opens the record with “Breathless,” trading her acoustic guitar for a synthesizer and singing, “You indulge me/I indulge you/But I’m not trying to have it all.”

She’s not trying to have it all; she’s just trying to make good music. Music that she’s proud of, music that others can connect to.

“I’ve been writing hyper-personal music for more than a decade,” Crutchfield says, sounding a bit incredulous at the fact. She got her first guitar at 13 and starting writing her own songs out of the desire to accompany herself while singing. “And also partly due to lack of skill,” she admits with aplomb. “Playing other people’s music is kind of hard. Once I started writing my own songs, it was something I really loved and I became immediately passionate about it.”

Before she began recording as Waxahatchee, Crutchfield played in rock-, pop- and punk-influenced bands The Ackleys and P.S. Eliot with her twin sister, Allison (currently of Philadelphia’s Swearin’), and various friends. As a kid, she and her two sisters were always singing, dancing and putting on shows.

The music is not directly autobiographical, but it is born from personal experiences. It has become Crutchfield’s way of processing and coming to understand her emotions. When she returns to a song after some time away, she remembers—and better understands—just how she felt in the moment she wrote it.

She is often asked by worried exes, friends and family members if she’ll record a song about them and what that song might say. “I try not to be super obvious, like ‘You have brown hair and a birthmark on your face,’” she says. “But I want to be honest about how I’m feeling and put that out in the world.” Crutchfield is acutely aware that when she sings to lift the veil and expose her feelings, she’s often involving another person.

The first Waxahatchee record [2012’s American Weekend] was made on a whim, and she didn’t think anyone was going to hear it. But a few people did hear American Weekend, many more heard Cerulean Salt, and even more will hear Ivy Tripp—as the supporting act for Sleater-Kinney this fall her audience is bound to grow, but it may not leave a lot of time for songwriting.

Crutchfield’s lyrics are a huge part of Waxahatchee’s draw and she doesn’t intend to leave that behind completely. “I try to be as respectful as I can and hope for the best, because if I’m feeling something that I need to put down, I want to be able to do that,” she says.

When writing Ivy Tripp, she pondered universal experiences. On the album’s second track, “Under A Rock,” propelled by driving guitar hooks and a catchy pop melody, Crutchfield could be singing to just about anyone. “Maybe you got your head caught in a ditch last night/I got to you, imparting/Now you’re someone else’s mess tonight/And I got upset, I told you twice/That I know how to break inside/The brick house that you build around your cranium/You wear it like a crown.”

She knows how to get in your head, how to crack you with her tender but strong voice, and she knows exactly where to slice you with her sharp lyrics. She’ll open you up so that you’re on even ground with her, a double exposure. Crutchfield’s songs get at the essence of what makes her—and her listener—human.

The 26-year-old believes fully in the music she makes. It’s evident in her voice, in her guitar playing and in her confidence on stage. It’s how she can continue to write and perform songs that are close to her heart while owning a completely different sound on a new record. After all, she says, “I am myself. And I’m growing.”

–Erin O’Hare