The music scene in Philadelphia has been garnering a lot of attention over the past year or so. Arguably one of the most prominent DIY scenes in the US, Katie Crutchfield – a.k.a. Waxahatchee – is just one of the exports the UK has fallen for. Her debut LP 'American Weekend' showcased a songwriter with a flair for sincerity, where simplicity reigns supreme. “Sunlight probing, it is Christmas Eve // No stitch of shade, we pass by lakes and big Mimosa trees // Your breaths are short and urgent and it is unsettling.” she sings on 'Rose, 1956', proving Crutchfield can see the beauty in just about anything.
2013 saw the release of Cerulean Salt, her break-out album if you will, that offered a more polished sound. Gone were the at-home recordings, replaced by bigger instrumentation, refining her tracks to a sleeker output. It was a different sound but no less enticing; at points poppy, the record solidified Crutchfield as a songwriter with the ability to develop as an artist but never losing the sincerity that made her so special in the first place.
At the beginning of this year we were treated to 'Air', the first track from her third LP Ivy Tripp. Signing to Merge (in the USA) and demonstrating a further developed sound, the album sees Crutchfield playing with new sounds and structures, diving into electronic aspects, layering vocals and producing hooks catchier than ever. I was lucky enough to catch her at Old St Pancras Church back in January, where we were treated to a stripped-back performance of these new songs. The next morning, both feeling a little weary, we sat down for coffee and chatted about the new record, diving into our love for Michelle Branch and early Avril Lavigne, discussing the solitude of songwriting and what it felt like to have one of your songs featured on one of the biggest TV shows.
DiS: You rented a house in Long Island to record the album. Did it make the recording feel more authentic? Do you think studio recording can sometimes feel a bit too polished?
Katie Crutchfield: I don't know. I always record at home – especially with Waxahatchee – because I like to have all the time that we need. Recording in a studio is expensive and a bit clinical... it's a really weird environment to like, create. I feel like it's just more pressure than I wanted to deal with and I just liked the idea of being able to spend days and days on one thing if we wanted to and not have some engineer trying to hijack stuff or turn things around. Kyle Gilbride, who is in Swearin' with my sister, he produced and engineered it and then Keith Spencer also produced it. Keith played a lot of the instruments on the record... we did a lot of collaborating. I just feel like, it was just laid back.
Did Keith bring new ideas to the table? Or stuff you wouldn't have thought would work on a particular song?
Definitely. He always kind of does that. He's an ideas man. He's always full of so many cool and great ideas. I feel like I brought the songs – the lyrics, the melody and the structures – everything was sort of finished and it was really simple. We always build things up together, so he would sit down with the drums or with the guitar and just kind of add all these influences that would kind of make the song what it ended up being.
So how long did you spend recording?
We took about a month. And we did it really similar to how we did Cerulean Salt...
Is that how you say it? Ser-ru-le-ann Salt? I've always pronounced it Seh-ru-lean Salt.
I'm always trying to get people to say words they can't pronounce! It's funny, whenever we go over to somewhere like Germany, they can't say Waxahatchee because y'know, it's just not natural. They just don't say it. But yeah, when we recorded Cerulean Salt, we sort of built the songs... I dunno, a lot of the time when you're tracking, you do all of the drums and you do all the guitars and you do all the bass for every song and we just build the songs up one at a time. This time we did all the drums at once but usually we do all the drums and then the bass and the guitar and listen back and be like, 'Oh, maybe we could add a piano here...' and then do all the vocals. It was cool because at the end of the day, we could all just sit back and listen to what we had done for the day. It was such a nice experience.
Was there a reason why you chose 'Air' to be the first taster of Ivy Tripp?
Sort of. In the back of my head, it was the right choice. Merge is doing my record in the US – I couldn't be happier about that, they're the best – they kind of had another one in mind that was more of a straight-forward one. I kind of did this with Cerulean Salt where for the first song everybody hears, I want it to just be a little more representative of the whole record. I don't just want to do a song that's really poppy and straight-forward and that's just not how the rest of the songs are, you know? It doesn't give people the right idea about what to expect. So, I thought 'Air' was the right song to represent the group of songs on the record.
Do you think you'll stay in Long Island now?
No, I'm actually going back to Philly.
Did you have to escape your usual surroundings of Philly to create the album?
Well, I started writing in Philly – a lot of the songs on Ivy Tripp are songs I wrote when I was touring. I had little bits and pieces but I went to Long Island to almost tie up all the loose ends. We pretty much decided to go out there just to get away and make a record and now that we're done with the record, we're going back to Philly. It was cool.
Philadelphia seems really great.
It is, yes. I'm from Alabama originally but Allison and I had moved to New York about 4 1/2 years ago and we lived in Brooklyn for like a couple of years and then we moved to Philly for a little while, then I went to Long Island and now we're going back to Philly, so we've kind of been all over the place.
The music scene there has been getting so much attention recently.
It is so good. I feel like it's quite it's kind of compartmentalised. We live in West Philly and I don't really like go to shows in South Philly or other parts of Philly that much. But the West Philly scene right now is crazy – I mean, all of Philly really – but there's so many cool bands there right now. And a lot of people are moving there, which is great.
The Waxahatchee shows in Philly are a little different because the shows that I usually go to there are house shows and punk shows and stuff; we don't really get to play shows like that as much any more. It's almost like a conscious thing because I feel like if we play shows like that... we've cast a wider net than that at this point – more people know about Waxahatchee than just that community and I wouldn’t feel comfortable alienating them in that way. The music scene there, that I am a part of or that I like, love, is the DIY scene and bands like Radiator Hospital and my drummer's band Pink Wash who are really amazing.
You've said before that you have to be alone when you write - is that still true? Do you find it helpful to work through stuff you're singing about?
And do you know what you're going to almost, like, 'work-through' when you sit down to write a song?
I try not to do that because I become too self aware and then it doesn't translate well. I definitely think that it's cathartic though; sometimes I'll listen back to something and I won't really realised what I was talking about at the time and then when I listen back to it, I'm just like, 'Oh well that's what I was thinking' at that time. I can kind of add more meaning to it. It's cool because it's also great for prosperity – to look back at songs I wrote 3 or 4 years ago and just remembering exactly how I was feeling.
Have you ever been surprised by what people have said they think songs mean? Or what songs mean to them?
Not surprised; I used to feel this sense of ownership and I also was more close to what the song was actually about. I feel like now, I want people to have that – I want people to have the songs and have them mean what they mean to them. I want to make it less about what it means to me and more about what it means to them. It can mean what it means to me but it doesn't have to be all about me.
Is there anything you want people to take from 'Ivy Tripp'?
It's funny because it's so new, I haven't really processed it yet. It's always interesting to see people's reactions and to just sort of watch, and see how people take it. I guess because not a lot of people have heard it yet, it's hard to know how it's going to go. I always just want it to be what it is to individual people. For a long time, I felt like I was always telling the stories of the songs and I just don't want to do that any more. I want to let people have them. It can mean something to me but I don't necessarily want to put that out in the world.
You've started playing piano at shows now and I haven't seen you do that before. What made you take that direction?
I've always played piano and I've written songs on piano but I don't usually play piano live and I'm trying to do it more. A lot of the songs on the record were written on the piano and I played a couple of songs, like Keith and I do another band called Great Thunder but I kind of feel like Waxahatchee is my project and Great Thunder is kind of like, his Waxahatchee... like I play with him and stuff but it's his thing.
A lot of those songs that I've done are on piano also. I thought it would be a nice addition because I've just been playing solo shows forever and it's always with just guitar, so it kind of just breaks it up a little. For a long set, it's nice to just throw some of those songs in. I love those songs and when I play them, correctly, they're my favourite songs of the set. But I never really know how it's going to go! It's scary because I know I can go up on a stage and play guitar by myself and it's going to go fine, even if I mess up, it's going to be okay, but I feel like with piano, it's exciting because it could go horribly wrong.
Did you learn piano and guitar at the same time?
Allison was always the instrumentalist, she was always just naturally better at instruments than I am. She is so funny – when she started to play guitar, she just showed up at my house and was like 'I wrote these songs' and she had 3 or 4 songs that she had written on the guitar and I was like, 'When did you start playing guitar?!' Overnight, she just knew how to do it. She's really, really good at the drums too. And piano, she's always been really good at, so I was writing songs or whatever but everything else she started first and was better.
So, I feel like she was always playing around me; when you're there and there's music all around you, you sort of dabble a little bit. I'm still learning the guitar! Every day. The sound guy last night, I had sound checked on my piano and I stopped playing and just went to hang out back stage and he got up on the piano and just started playing so perfectly and so beautifully. I was just like, 'Whaaat? I just play these super simple songs and I'm constantly fucking them up and there you are, playing this beautiful and complicated piano piece.'
I think American Weekend, Cerulean Salt and now Ivy Tripp all sound so different from each other. Did you plan on that happening?
It's a combination of things. It was sort of natural because I always feel like I'm onto the next thing, you know? It wasn't a conscious 'I want to make a different sound,' because I had made Cerulean Salt about 2 1/2, 3 years ago at this point; I had just moved on creatively. That's definitely part of it though. I think a lot of it is through collaboration with Keith – he's adventurous and when you work closely with someone like that, it changes how you look at things. It was just like, 'oh, he's doing all this wild stuff' It just inspired me to try different things, so yeah, I definitely think my collaborations with him have made me more adventurous. I mean, I always want to make a different record, y'know? I think when you're making the same sort of stuff that can be kind of stifling. People will also just compare it and maybe it won't be as good. I think it's good to make something totally different so they can't really compare the two.
Cerulean Salt was kind of your 'break-through' record...
Well, that's what they say.
Did you feel a tonne of pressure with Ivy Tripp after that?
I have a lot of time, so I had a lot of space from Cerulean Salt which is kind of what I needed. I guess I thought maybe I would feel some pressure but maybe it was because I had gained some confidence or space but it wasn't hard for me to just completely disassociate myself with the last record and y'know, what people said about it or how much people loved it – it was pretty easy for me to just kind of forget about it and just focus on what I was doing. I hope it's always like that. It was much easier than I thought it would be initially, to just like, not think about what had happened with the last record.
And then 'Be Good' from American Weekend got played on The Walking Dead!
Yeah, that was weird! It was cool though. I didn't think it was going to be a thing that people would even notice but it kind of blew up. After that happened, every show that I played, a bunch of people would come up to me afterwards and say 'I heard of you because you were on the Walking Dead' which is crazy. It's totally crazy that people would hear my song on a TV show but it happened and it was great. People always write the characters names underneath the YouTube video now. The following of that show is pretty intense, people LOVE that show.
It's just like when I hear Michelle Branch's 'Goodbye to You' and all I can think about is Willow and Tara from Buffy.
Oh, that's so good. I actually met Michelle Branch recently. We're kind of friends! I actually have her phone number. She's so sweet. We played this show – it was the craziest nights of my life – we played this show with Jenny Lewis in Nashville and it was the last show of her tour, so she had this sort of after party and we walk into this party and it's like, Michelle Branch is there and Connie Britton is there. I walked in and saw Connie Britton and my sister like loves the show Nashville, so I immediately turned around and grabbed her and was like, 'Don't freak out. I have to tell you something. Connie Britton is in this party. She's drinking coconut water. She looks amazing.' and Allison just about passed out. It was so cool. We had like wine mouth and were falling all over the place and she was all flawless and amazing.
I've just recently got back into Michelle Branch – I think the early 00s were so good for that kind of music.
Oh totally. I agree. I love Avril Lavinge's first album. It's really good right?! I still listen to it sometimes. I am not ashamed to say it publicly, at all. I think that sort of stuff is going to have a renaissance. Well, I hope it will.
Okay, so back to 'Ivy Tripp'. You've said that it applies to those people that are wandering around, trying to figure out what to do with their lives. Have you figured it out yet?
Not really! It's weird, I feel like I don't have to work a day job but that's the only thing that's different. I'm definitely still wandering around. I guess the idea of that theme is more of an observation than it is a personal thing. It's more about me seeing that in people that I encounter. I guess it applies to me too. That's the thing; these ideas come to me and then they just evolve, y'know? Maybe talk to me in 6 months and I'll say something completely different!
What are your plans for the rest of the year? Are you scared about the record coming out at all?
No, I'm not scared at all. I'm excited for people to hear it. We'll just be touring a lot – the next time we come back here it'll be completely different. I have a new touring band and we have three guitars and it's going to be a crazy loud rock band. Our new drummer – if you check out her other band Pink Wash – she's a serious drummer, she's so good. We've only done a couple of songs so far but I'm just so excited to play all the songs from the new record and see what people make of them.
Sat 23 May Dresden Beatpol
Mon 1 June Münster Gleis 22
Wed 3 June Hamburg Molotow
Thu 4 June Copenhagen Beta
Mon 8 June Köln Blue Shell
Wed 10 June London Electric Ballroom
Thu 11 June Bristol The Fleece
Fri 12 June Manchester The Ruby Lounge
Sat 13 June Dublin Button Factory
Sun 14 June Belfast McHughs
Mon 15 June Glasgow Stereo
Tue 16 June Newcastle The Cluny
Wed 17 June Leeds The Brudenell Social Club
Thu 18 June Sheffield The Harley
Fri 19 June Southhampton Joiners
Sat 20 June Brighton Bleach
Tue 11 August Odense Dexter
Wed 12 August Aarhus Voxhall
Thu 13 August Oslo Oya Night
Fri 14 August Gothernburg Stay Out West
19-22 August Paredes De Coura Festival
20-23 August Green Man Festival