Q&A: Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield On Twin Dynamics, P.S. Eliot, And New LP Cerulean Salt
Waxahatchee is the musical nom de plume of one Katie Crutchfield, an Alabama native who spent most of her formative young adult years playing alongside her twin sister in the much-beloved punk band P.S. Eliot. After that band called it quits — her sister Allison now plays in the band Swearin’ — Crutchfield switched gears completely and released a beautiful acoustic record as Waxahatchee. That album — 2012’s American Weekend — proved to be a watershed release for Crutchfield, garnering a slew of good reviews and showcasing a totally different side of her songwriting, a side distinguished by plaintive, emotionally harrowing tunes. Next month Crutchfield will release her second Watchahatchee record, the slightly more polished-sounding Cerulean Salt. I called her very early in the morning to discuss the new record and how difficult and wonderful it’s been for her to embark on a solo career after buzzing about the DIY punk rock world for so many years.
CRUTCHFIELD: Hello! I completely forgot you were calling me today, but this is actually a great time. I was about to not answer then it all came back to me that you were gonna call this morning.
STEREOGUM: I have that experience a lot, actually. I don’t take it personally.
CRUTCHFIELD: I like that style. No texting first, nothing, just…surprise! But no no, that’s fine, I couldn’t be more free to talk now so…
STEREOGUM: That’s good, I was terrified that I would oversleep and miss this. It’s one of those things where I think I was thinking about this interview last night and then somehow it invaded my dreams a little bit. In my dream, I was interviewing someone on the phone but I was calling them from an apartment building that was abandoned. It was really weird…I don’t think that’s a reflection on you or your music.
CRUTCHFIELD: Okay. [Laughs]
STEREOGUM: But I’m happy to do this.
CRUTCHFIELD: Me too.
STEREOGUM: Whereabouts in the world are you right now?
CRUTCHFIELD: I am at my house in Philidelphia, which is where I live, I don’t know if you knew that. I used to live in New York, is that where you live?
CRUTCHFIELD: Okay. I used to live in Brooklyn, and I moved, I guess, in…well I was sort of just a vagrant for like six months, cause I was touring a lot. Then I moved to Philly in September…to West Philly.
STEREOGUM: Nice. Do you like it?
CRUTCHFIELD: Yeah, yeah. I loved New York and I miss New York all the time, but it is just so much cheaper to live here and we have this really huge old house in West Philly with a basement we can practice in and a backyard and it’s just sort of like, for the amount of space and the price you really couldn’t get this in New York. But I miss the City a lot.
STEREOGUM: That sounds pretty good, I’ve lived here for, I guess a little over a decade now. But when I visit friends in other places, you can see how life could be different. I get jealous sometimes.
CRUTCHFIELD: Yeah, I know. It’s a quality of life thing.
STEREOGUM: I know your new record, Cerulean Salt, comes out in March. Did you tour a lot on the back of American Weekend before you started writing songs for this one?
CRUTCHFIELD: I did. Quite a lot, actually. More touring in a relatively small amount of time than I’ve ever done. I wrote and recorded that record in early…2010? I lose track of the years — no, it was 2011. And it didn’t get released until early last year, I guess about this time last year. Then a year ago, right after it was released, I did a two month tour that was the full US…and that was just insanely long and hard. It was great, I had a lot of great shows, and they ranged all over the place from like DIY — well most of them were pretty DIY — but it was house shows, and all acoustic shows, and shows with my friends bands and it was sort of a different — it was sort of a mixed bag, we never knew what we were going to get when we pulled up to the shows, which was both cool and exciting. But it was a very long time to be…It was with my friend Katherine who was in a band with me a while ago. It was just the two of us, which was also kind of hard staying away from pretty much everybody that I know for that long. It was really hard, then I came home and kind of worked on writing and flushing out some of the new songs and then I went out on tour again with Swearin’ for the same amount of time, for two months, so that was crazy. And then I haven’t…I’ve done a little bit of touring here and there. Swearin’ went on a tour with the Japandroids and I went with them and helped them sell merch and stuff and I’ve kinda hopped on different people’s tours here and there, but I haven’t really done any touring myself since the summer.
STEREOGUM: Were you surprised by the reaction to American Weekend?
CRUTCHFIELD: It’s so funny…it was kind of a delayed reaction. Like I said, the record was released a year after I had finished it so by the time anyone really heard it, it was old to me. When I finished it I gave it to my sister first, she was kind of the first person to hear it. And she loved it, and kind of made me feel like it was something really special, and so it was just that and, honestly, I kind of have a tendency to not so much care about the reaction to things, but her reaction has always just been really important. Her specific reaction to it made me feel like, “Okay maybe this…maybe someone will want to put this out.” Cause I did it and didn’t really know what I was gonna do with it. I didn’t have a plan, it was just sort of a thing I made on a whim. And then Joe from Don Giovanni ended up asking if my band –- cause we were in a band together called P.S. Eliot –- wanted to do a record and I was like, “No, we’re probably gonna break up, we’re not really a band that does stuff anymore.” But I was like, “I made this thing, and I don’t know if you want to do it.” And I gave it to him and he really liked it too and wanted to do it. It’s just funny that I feel like at the end of 2012 it was on a lot of lists, and it got a good bit of attention, and it’s just funny because it’s almost two years old now…to me.
STEREOGUM: That’s always a weird thing for a lot of bands, even under the best circumstances when you make a record there’s always that extreme limbo time between when you finish it and when it comes out.
CRUTCHFIELD: I know! I’m definitely in that limbo right now. I’m living it every day. Cause we fininshed that, and not that we were rushed to finish it, but we were sort of under the impression, “Oh shit we really gotta finish this thing, we have this strict time limit and we need this ready to go and…” and now it hasn’t even been announced yet, so we’re just waiting around and it’s sort of a bummer. But hopefully… it’s supposed to come out in early March. It’s so funny, I just pulled my calendar back for January and it has the release date and it’s in the middle January and it just says, “Release date!” with an exclamation point and I was like, “God, that’s like the saddest thing I’ve ever seen” cause now it’s like March, I think, is when it’s actually coming out.
STEREOGUM: That’s funny, you should release something else on that day, like just go outside and release a dove or something.
CRUTCHFIELD: I know! I should, you’re right.
STEREOGUM: Some people thought that American Weekend was some kind of reaction to your previous band P.S.Eliot coming to an end….or subject matter wise, maybe the two things were connected. But it sounds like that wasn’t really the case at all.
CRUTCHFIELD: I have actually never heard that before. That is…it’s so funny, I haven’t even read into that, cause possibly that was something I was going through that I didn’t even want to admit, but truthfully the end of our band was really fine. We’re all still very good friends. Like, I live with my sister, who was the drummer, and I live with Katherine who was the bass player. And we’re all best friends and hang out every day, and we had several guitar players, but the one who was with us the longest, he lives in the Ukraine, he’s in the Peace Corps so I actually don’t really see him, but I still talk to him all the time. And everyone who played guitar with us I talk to all the time, so it’s actually a pleasant ending. But I think we all got to a point where we wanted different things out of making music and everything we wanted to do from when we started we had definitely accomplished. So it was sort of like…like when we made the last record and it came out, I just couldn’t navigate making another record. I was like, “I just don’t think that’s gonna happen and if it does I’m afraid it’s gonna be boring for me and not fulfilling in the same way.” And also the dynamic of that band was really…I don’t know, like really, like I was kind of in the driver’s seat for every decision that we made, and I wrote all the songs and kind of did most of the stuff, and that’s not to discredit my bandmates ’cause they did stuff too, but it was sort of like considered…my thing for the most part, and it sort of got a point where it didn’t seem like that was working out for my band mates and they didn’t seem like they were having too much fun doing that, and especially Allison. She was getting to a point where she wanted to start writing songs and that just hadn’t been the dynamic of our band. And it was sort of like, “Well, let’s just break up and I’ll do my own thing and you can do your thing and we’ll all still be friends and it’ll be fine.”
STEREOGUM: Oh that’s cool, that’s good.
STEREOGUM: That’s very healthy.
CRUTCHFIELD: Yeah, totally.
STEREOGUM: You and she still live together?
CRUTCHFIELD: We do, yes.
STEREOGUM: Did you two always play music together, like even when you were young kids?
CRUTCHFIELD: Yeah! We started playing music at the same time, I maybe started playing guitar like six months before she started playing drums. Yeah it’s so funny, in middle school I guess it was, or maybe like freshman year of high school. We had like…you know, you have those close friends from middle school that you have a lot in common with, and this one friend was really into Hole and Nirvana, and ’90s-type grunge bands and even like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile. And I think she had like a cool mom who got her into stuff and got us into these bands and as tweens often do we had some sort of a falling out, and Allison and I were like, “Fuck it, we’ll just learn to play instruments ourselves” and then just played music all the time. We were starting to really get into it. We’d just go to school and go home and just practice in our basement like every day and that’s around the time when I started writing songs. So that’s when we were around like 14? Almost 15? And we played our first all-ages DIY punk show when we were 15 and then we’ve just been doing that pretty much ever since. But honestly, we played music together pretty much forever, until like a year and half ago, and that’s when she started doing Swearin’ and I started doing Waxahatchee.
STEREOGUM: Well it sounds like a very healthy thing, but it must also be…was it weird initially, to no longer be in a band together?
CRUTCHFIELD: Not really, because with a sibling you have a -– like, I don’t know if you have any siblings, but in my experience, you’re tethered together through thick and thin you’re just…you’re in it for life together. So even if we’re not in a band together, our lives are inevitably gonna be intertwined and tangled up together and it’s just gonna…even if we’re not just doing this one thing together, we’re definitely gonna be in each other’s lives. And I tried to be supportive because I didn’t…I almost…when she first started wanting to write songs, I guess, I don’t know if it was me being really self-involved or not paying attention, but I had never realized that that was something she had wanted to do, cause she had always been….like in our first band she played drums, and keyboards and synthesizers and, and again, in P.S. Eliot she played drums. And I had always been the singer and the songwriter in everything we’ve done. So I felt like… when she was like, “Hey, I’ve been writing songs and learning guitar, let me show you some of my songs,” I was like…”Oh” and it all kind of like came flooding to me, that maybe she had been wanting to do this and maybe I’d been hogging that whole position in all of our bands, so I was just trying to be really supportive, so I was like, “No, you should, you should start your own band and I don’t even have to be in it.” You know, like, do you thing. So, it’s been that, sort of like, “No, no, no, go do this without me.” Cause you know, especially being twins, you sort of share an identity and people are constantly lumping you with this other person, so…and that’s never really bothered me that much, but I feel like it’s bothered her a little. So, that’s sort of a thing when she’s like, “No, I’m gonna do this and it’s gonna be my thing and you’re not gonna be a part of it,” I’m not mad about that. I mean, I completely understand why you’d want to do that.
STEREOGUM: I find that dynamic so fascinating. My brother and sister are twins.
CRUTCHFIELD: Oh really?
STEREOGUM: Yeah. I grew up with my twin cousins, who are a year younger than me and who are identical, and they were kind of like my sisters. And when I moved to New York, I lived with twin sisters who now live a block away from me. They…I guess that have similar careers, but they bought a building in Brooklyn two blocks away from where I lived with them and one lives upstairs and one lives downstairs. They’re very much…they have kinda different lives, but they’re very committed to the fact that, “We’re probably gonna always live together.” I was always surrounded by some kind of “twinergy,” which is so fascinating but also so weird. I know they struggle sometimes with having to really forge a path of their own and to be considered their own person rather than one part of a set.
CRUTCHFIELD: Yeah, it’s like anything else, like, you’re born into that and I don’t really know any different, so I’m like, “Yeah that’s weird,” but it’s also just life. But I feel like people are always fascinated by the twin lifestyle.
STEREOGUM: Did the making of this record, or the writing of these songs, feel radically different from the making of American Weekend?
CRUTCHFIELD: Yeah, well the first record… I wrote and recorded the first record in one week. The whole thing. So the process for making that was — I was in my parents house, I would write a song completely, and I would record it. Then I would write another song and record it. That was the process. It was just right on the spot. Like, what you hear is just the original version of the song. With this record, it was a much longer process, I slowly wrote the songs over about a year….which for me…I’ve always been, like, I can just spit out a bunch of songs really quickly. But this was a much slower, more vigilant, meticulous process. So I wrote all the songs and in April or so and then I went to Alabama with my boyfriend and he kinda played drums with me and we sort of fleshed out everything and decided what needed drums, what didn’t need drums, and reworked a lot of the songs I had. And then in October, I guess, we recorded it here at my house with Kyle. And Keith and Kyle are both in Swearin,’ which is my sister’s band, and they sort of, we all kind of, still like Allison is a part of my life and her entire band is an everyday part of my life, so it still felt very comfortable. We recorded it here in my basement and Kyle and Allison and Keith and another roommate of ours Sam all played on it, and it was sort of like…I had these songs ready, and they were my songs, but I was really into the idea of involving everyone because I feel like I have really talented friends and wanted to bounce ideas off them. Like, two heads are better than one, four are better than two, and maybe if we all got together on this they could present ideas to me that I had never thought of. That was the sort of process on this record that, honestly, is completely different than American Weekend in every possible way.
STEREOGUM: How will it be to tour this record? Will you go out with other people or will it just be you?
CRUTCHFIELD: That’s what’s so hard is…it’s gonna be hard to play these songs without other people and that was part of the original appeal of doing a project by myself was not having to worry about everybody taking off work and everybody being able to do this and now it’s like…I’m like a naturally guilty person, anyway. I’m planning a tour in March and I’m bringing Keith and our roommate Sam as my backing band and I just feel so bad asking them to take time off work to bring them on tour. It’s silly, but that’s kind of the plan is to…I don’t think I’m gonna have a band that is a consistent band, but I will just put bands together for certain things, like if I have to go do this like one weekend of a festival or if I have to do a tour, then I’ll just see who’s available and who wants to do it, so that’s kind of the plan.
STEREOGUM: That’s one of the perks, I guess, of having a lot of friends who are great musicians.
CRUTCHFIELD: Yeah, I feel like all my friends are muscians at this point, it’s a little bit boring, but I guess it’s cool.
STEREOGUM: Do you get the feeling a lot of this year will be spent touring or is it too soon to tell?
CRUTCHFIELD: No, I think it’s safe to say that I will. I just…I don’t want to tour for longer than like four weeks at a time. My other sister is having a baby this year, so I have to go home for that for a couple weeks. And I’ve got little things where I’m like, “Oh, I can’t tour around this, or I can’t tour around that.” It’s so funny because I was kind of hoping that this year that I wouldn’t have to tour much…not that I don’t like to tour but it gets super exhausting and it’s super easy to just lose yourself in all this traveling and I was kind of hoping avoid that. But it was just naïve of me to think that way. It’s like, “Oh, I’m putting out a new record this year, of course I’m gonna have to tour.”
STEREOGUM: Do you have other projects you want to do or music you want to make?
CRUTCHFIELD: Yeah, well I have another band with Keith who played on my record a lot. We have a band that we both write songs for, and we write songs together, that’s the first time I’ve really done that. In a band where, a) I’m not the sole songwriter, and b) I’m actually collaborating…so it’s interesting. If I didn’t have Waxahatchee, like, if I didn’t have an outlet that was just my thing, I maybe wouldn’t like it as much, but I do. And all the songs that we do are songs that I would never have come up with myself. Keith has a really interesting way of doing things and it’s kind of like opened up my eyes to all sorts of different ways to do things and write music so not only have I learned a lot from doing…like, you don’t always have to do verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus, like this strict structure that I’ve built up for myself, and you know it’s…and just a lot of cool things I’ve learned from doing this band with him.
STEREOGUM: Cool. That also sounds very healthy. I think it’s nice to do those kinds of things that take you out of your zone.
CRUTCHFIELD: Right! And when you’re writing songs so much its super easy to get into a groove of how you do things, and when you do that for years and years it becomes super boring and it’s just easy to get stuck. You know you’ve just done everything thing you can do, every trick you have you’ve played. It’s kind of, I don’t know the term I’m looking for…reinvent, reinvent your songwriting technique. I feel like that’s what I’ve been doing over the last six months.
STEREOGUM: The record comes out on March 5th, which is really soon. It’s hard to believe it’s about to be February.
CRUTCHFIELD: I know! January is already over! I’m not ready!
Cerulean Salt is out 3/5 on Don Giovanni Records.
[Photo by Ryan Russell]