Waxahatchee mastermind Katie Crutchfield doesn't want to give the impression that her last album, 2015's Ivy Tripp, was an inaccurate representation of her dissolving relationship, but on her band's new album, Out in the Storm, she's been able to put more scrutiny on that difficult time in her life and ended up coming away with a clearer perspective, which reveals itself through the new album's direct, more literal lyrics. Speaking from her childhood bedroom in Birmingham, Alabama, while back home for a wedding, Crutchfield walked us through the writing of Out in the Storm, how her improved situation has changed the way she views the Ivy Tripp material, and why she isn't going to be writing 10-minute songs any time soon.
AllMusic: What was your energy level like when it came time to make this record?
Katie Crutchfield: I started writing early last year. I wrote the first song and the last song for the record in the same sitting, and did a little more touring in the summer, and when I came back, I had it in my head that I wanted to put out a record in 2017. Then I had all this time off, six months of nothing to do but work on music, and that was more than enough for me, so I wrote the record in probably six weeks. I kept business hours, I started at nine in the morning and worked until five, and in six weeks’ time, I had all 10 songs ready, and then some.
But they didn’t start to take shape, the energy didn’t make itself known, until I started to flesh them out with the band. I have all these demos that will be the deluxe version of the LP that have drum machine parts, and you can hear that it’s a very skeletal version of what the songs became, and they don’t change much in structure, but you can hear the energy of the band on the record. It’s so palpable, because we recorded it live, and that’s when the songs started to take shape and that’s why the record sounds more like a rock record.
AllMusic: Since you had "Fade" so early on, did you know that it would be the closer and that the other songs should build to it?
Crutchfield: For this record, unlike any other record I’ve ever made, the sequencing came together at the very end. We were mixing the record when we came up with it, and I had no idea how I wanted to do it until we finally sat down and did it. That’s so weird for me, because it’s usually so important, like with Ivy Tripp, I had it in my head the whole time. The way that the record flows, the tracklisting is what makes that record, in a lot of ways, for me. But this one, I didn’t have that, and “Fade” was the first song for the longest time, but everyone had different opinions about it, and I was so unsure about it. In a way, I felt good about that, that all of these songs could work anywhere. It was the producer who came up with the tracklisting, and when he played it in this order for me, I was like, “This is it, I think.” I was attached to putting “Fade” at the beginning and he said, “No, I think it’s better at the end.”
AllMusic: The last album opened with a more atmospheric song, and this time you chose something more uptempo to lead it off.
Crutchfield: I think it’s the right choice for the record. It’s up and down a lot, but there’s a lot of energy on it, more than some of my other records, so I think it’s indicative, it’s kind of a kick in the teeth. Lyrically, it’s very sharp and intense, and that gives you a preview for what you’re in for, so I think it works. That song is the first one I wrote for the record, so it’s the oldest one, but sometimes that’s the one you lose interest in the quickest, but I feel like everyone around me, and my band mates, all love that song, so it’s a good opener.
AllMusic: There's been some discussion that Out in the Storm is something of a counterpoint to Ivy Tripp.
Crutchfield: A lot happened between when I wrote Ivy Tripp and the new record. It’s definitely more honest, and lyrically, I hope it’s satisfying for longer-time fans, because I think that Ivy Tripp was a bit of a surprise, lyrically, for people. It was a bit more abstract, and everything’s cloaked in a lot of metaphor. I really wanted a challenge, and I was making a lot of different music at the time I was making Ivy Tripp, and that was my approach in that moment. I’m glad it’s documented, but I think that one of the things about Waxahatchee, the point of view, my point of view, is really experience-based and literal and really honest, and that’s something that people look to, or it’s something they want out of a Waxahatchee record, and that’s what I want out of it when I listen back to it; I want those visceral, literal lyrics.
Rather than say that this album is the real story and Ivy Tripp is the vague story, I’d say that Out in the Storm is about what I was going through when I made Ivy Tripp, and also what I went through after that. It takes a step back to the way that I approached writing lyrics before Ivy Tripp, but I could draw parallels between those two points of view. Like Cerulean Salt and the new record are more lyrically similar than Ivy Tripp, which is its own thing.
AllMusic: Does that reckoning change your relationship to the Ivy Tripp material?
Crutchfield: I think I have a better relationship with that record now, I understand it more. When I was making it, there was a lot going on, and I was in a bad place with my mental health. It wasn’t a very good memory, so when I’d tour with those songs, it was hard, and now that I’m in a better place with all of it and I’ve had time to reflect on it, I’m more excited to play those songs than I was the first time around. So I’m actually really psyched about getting back out there and reworking the Ivy Tripp songs.
AllMusic: Now that you seem to have found a better place for yourself, have you figured out how to stay there?
Crutchfield: Yeah, I think so. It’s just growing, and there were relationships that were causing a lot of my problems, too, that are no more, so I think that’s part of it, the company that I keep. I have a really excellent lineup of my band right now, and I’m really excited about that, those are the people I’m going to spend the next year with, and my band and crew are the most amazing people on the planet, so I feel really good about that, too. A lot of that had been wearing on me, and now I feel like I’m in a really good place with it. It’s mostly personal stuff that’s shifted around and is now in a much better place.
AllMusic: "Brass Beam" sounds like an especially pointed song, how did that one come about?
Crutchfield: I had that melody for a long time. It always had a bit of a swing to it, and it reminded me of a country song. I’d been through a three-year obsession with Lucinda Williams, and she was an influence on that, even though the lyrics aren’t quite in her fashion, but the way that I sing it, I’m trying to emulate her a little bit. That was a song I wrote early on, too, when I was still finding the voice a bit, so those lyrics came out very earnest, almost to the point where I’m uncomfortable with it. It shows a lot of vulnerability and struggle, which is not always something I’m comfortable showing.
That song reminds me of when you’re just ranting to your best friend about what you’re going through, like I’ve been ranting and raving for half an hour about this situation with somebody I really trust, and there’s not really a filter on it. It’s hard to put that thing out into the world for like a million strangers to listen to, but as a person who loves music, I could see myself listening to that and relating to it. A lot of the stuff on the record isn’t the easiest to put out there, because it’s so close and so real to me.
AllMusic: In that song you also point the finger at yourself, which not everyone is aware enough to do.
Crutchfield: Totally. Every song on the record is about the same person and the same situation, but in different phase of the relationship, and I think that a lot of it is written at the very end, reflecting on the fact that you did put so much time into it and you’re asking yourself, “Why did I do that, why did I put myself through that?” It’s natural to blame yourself in those situations, but that’s not the tone that I want the record to take. There’s a lot of that in the song, it goes back and forth pointing the finger at somebody else and at yourself, and that’s how those conversations tend to go. You talk in circles, so that’s the vibe of that song.
AllMusic: Once you had these 10 songs, did you know you were finished?
Crutchfield: Yeah, that’s usually how it goes for me. If a song isn’t going to make it on the record, I always know, it sticks out. “No Question” was the last song I wrote, as soon as I finished that song I said, “We’re done, that’s 10 songs.” And I’ve never made a record that was only 10 songs, so I was like, “Do I need another one?” but it felt so finished to me. Every record I’ve ever made, I know when it’s done.
AllMusic: We're about the same age, and we grew up in an era where it seemed like every album had to be 68 minutes.
Crutchfield: Totally, and a lot of my peers, my contemporaries who I have a lot of respect for, write songs that are so fuckin’ long, and my songs are so short. I feel sometimes I get self-conscious about it, or I’ll see someone make a record that’s nine or 10 songs that’s an hour long, and I’m like, “Oh my god, what am I doing wrong? I’m only making half an hour’s worth of music.” But it’s OK, different strokes, it takes all kinds of music to make the world go ‘round.
AllMusic: Did you enjoy longer albums as a kid?
Crutchfield: I came of age listening to the Ramones, I was never a Zeppelin person. So short pop songs are what Allison and I always strived to make We were trying to emulate Guided by Voices and stuff like that. A lot of tracks on the earlier Waxahatchee albums are less than two minutes long. This record, to me, is the most cohesive of the bunch.
AllMusic: Would you ever test someone with an album as a way to gauge your compatibility?
Crutchfield: Through so much experience with music, I’m at the point where people’s musical taste is important to me, but at a certain point it becomes a bit superficial. I’m like, “OK, if they don’t love this Sleater-Kinney record, that’s OK.” It doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, especially if they like these other 10 records that I love, so I try and keep that in perspective. At a certain point, you can’t judge somebody based on something like that. But at different times in my life I would have said, “You don’t like Rilo Kiley? We can’t be friends.” I’m not in that place anymore.
When I was younger, and I see it now with younger people, getting upset about things, I say, “Oh yeah, I used to have all that energy to give to hating music that a human being took time and made, and other human beings seem to enjoy." Why? It doesn’t matter, just let them have it. Go and like the things that you like.