Katie Crutchfield Reviews Every Waxahatchee Album

When I caught up with Katie Crutchfield via Zoom earlier this week, she seemed excited to talk about the albums she has made thus far as Waxahatchee. Perhaps she was already feeling triumphant over the early reviews of Tigers Blood, the sixth Waxahatchee LP due out Friday. A sonic and thematic sequel to her acclaimed 2020 release Saint Cloud, the new record continues Crutchfield’s transition from the noisy and confessional indie rock of early Waxahatchee to the wised-up country rock of her mature “thirtysomething” period.

This pivot is obvious and, it turns out, self-conscious. Tigers Blood is another product of Crutchfield’s union with Saint Cloud producer Brad Cook, who helped the singer-songwriter assemble a supporting cast that includes MJ Lenderman (prominently featured on the instant-classic single “Right Back To It”), Spencer Tweedy, and Phil Cook.

“Honestly, the way I look at my whole catalog is pre-Brad and post-Brad,” she says. “The Brad era sits together and works together. And then the pre-Brad era, it was really one album at a time, and they weren’t really in any communication with each other.”

That might be true, but revisiting Waxahatchee’s discography uncovers one of the more fascinating evolutions in modern indie rock, tracing Crutchfield as she grew from a hard-touring musician in her early 20s to the more settled and thoughtful songwriter she is now. Those early records are still dazzling in their own way, particularly given Crutchfield’s fearless and often self-lacerating lyrics and the teetering-on-the-brink-of-collapse music. But the arc of Waxahatchee’s output has bended toward craft and steadiness, a sign that she is a music lifer who intends to go the distance artistically, professionally, and in every other sense.

American Weekend (2012)

I think I made that record right at the beginning of 2011, so I would’ve been 21. And I wrote and recorded it in a week. It was this really prolific moment. I had been in my band, P.S. Eliot, and that was just naturally feeling like it was starting to wane or fall apart. I made that record in this transitional moment, and then I sat on it for two years. It was this weird lightning-in-a-bottle thing where I feel like I had this crazy creative growth spurt. And then I held onto it for a little while and it was really just mine, and I didn’t have any plan of releasing it or doing anything with it. But then, obviously, it set a lot of things into motion once I did.

I know that album has fans and a lot of those fans have followed me. But I’m so far away from where I was when I made that record, so it feels a little tricky for me to try and embody it at this point. It’s funny, because I look at artists that have made really amazing records at that age — 20, 21, super, super young. One of my best friends, Lindsay Jordan of Snail Mail, made the album Lush when she was 19. And I’m like, she can play those songs for the rest of her life and they’ll be amazing no matter what. But when you’re looking in a mirror, it’s different.

I’m sure there are a lot of people who love American Weekend who are like, “Yeah, you can still play ‘Bathtub.'” And I’m sure that I could. But it’s so uncomfortable to put your 21-year-old skin back on. When I go back and revisit that record, there’s a tender-hearted thing that comes up for me. I really have compassion for that person. And I’m also like, “Ugh, this is so uncomfortable.”

Cerulean Salt (2013)

With American Weekend, nothing about that record was zoomed out. It was extremely zoomed in. Cerulean Salt to me is the first record I made where some through-lines for what would continue on in my work start to present themselves. I’m talking a lot about addiction, I’m talking a lot about co-dependency, and certain other things that I’ll keep revisiting on every record.

I had moved to New York when I made Cerulean Salt, but I had had this mini-breakdown there and went back to Alabama. I wrote half of Cerulean Salt right when I first got there. So there’s a lot of home in that record. American Weekend I made in my bedroom and it’s this very intimate-sounding thing. And I made a version of Cerulean Salt that’s exactly like that, but ultimately I decided to start collaborating with other people and have a band around me. By the time I made the record, I had moved to Philly, and we made it in my basement.

When I did the first Waxahatchee record, I was doing P.S. Eliot and we were super, super DIY. I booked every show we ever played. It was very underground. Deeply underground. We could go play in any city in America and pack it out, even if it was small. There was a following at that point with that band. With that first Waxahatchee record, it had grown a little bit. And then by the time Cerulean Salt came out, I was able to quit my day job and really focus on music 100 percent for the first time. But it all happened in this really organic way, so I didn’t feel overwhelmed. And that’s really just continued. With every new level-up that I’ve approached, I’ve been pretty ready for it, just because it all happened at this really healthy pace.

Ivy Tripp (2015)

That was a tricky one. Ivy Tripp and Out In The Storm were tricky in their own ways. And a lot of it has to do with who I had in the room at the time. I was in this messy relationship, and we were working on that record together, so it was tough. I felt I had tapped in with the first two records to this really specific voice that I was trying to cultivate. It was trying to tap into some emotional truth. And I really struggled to get there on Ivy Tripp. It’s a more abstract, poetic record.

I didn’t go into a studio to make a record until my fourth album. We were still doing it super DIY-style at my house, setting everything up. With Ivy Tripp, we worked on that record for a few months, just with everything set up in the house. I was really into Flying Nun bands at the time — Tall Dwarfs, The Clean, stuff like that. A big thing that we were trying to do that’s very GBV is make every song short and make them all sound different, to really run the gambit of aesthetics. “This one’s going to be a poppy piano song” and “This one’s going to be this really weird, dark indie rock song,” and “This one’s going to be all on Moog.” We were trying to make shit weird.

My intuition is always to write really simple, poppy melodies. That’s what’s always comes naturally to me. And I think there was some discomfort with that. We were like, “We got to make this interesting in some way, because it’s too simple.” So we would throw all kinds of stuff on it just to make it weird. We were full force on that tip with Ivy Tripp. I’m very happy that I’ve moved on from that. Now I embrace what the song is and we just do what we can to make it better.

Out In The Storm (2017)

That’s an outlier, because the first three records were made in the super DIY way and more or less have the same cast of characters that worked on them. Even my first record, by the time that came out, these collaborators I was working with were already in the picture. So Out In The Storm, my live band at the time played on it, and my sister played on it. And I worked with Katie Harkin — who’s a dear, dear friend of mine, a legend in her own right. She played guitar and a lot of synths.

I worked with John Agnello. It was the first time I ever made a record in a studio. I made it at Miner Street in Philly, in Fishtown. John was such a gentle landing for me, as far as working with a producer for the first time. He’s not super hands-on. He really just let me take the reins. He was just a sweetheart, and we had fun.

When I turned that record in to Merge, Mac McCaughan was like, “Katie, I think this is just the record that you have to make right now.” It struck me when he said it. And now, looking back, he was right. It’s not a sound that I was ever going to go back to. It’s just this big, loud, angry rock record. But it’s just where I was at. I had made some transitions in my life. I had ended some relationships. It sounds corny, but I was on my way to becoming the person I’m now. And I just needed to make a scorched earth record about that. That’s really what it is.

I think touring that record was really hard for me for a lot of reasons. But making the record was cathartic. It’s a little hard for me to revisit those songs. It was this thing I had to get out. And then once I got it out, I was like, I don’t need to go back to that.

Saint Cloud (2020)

I had this meeting with an astrologer who was giving me my forecast for the year, and he said there’s this one week in July 2019, where if you do something creative and big in that week, it’s going to change your life. And I looked at the week, and I swear to God, it was the week that we made Saint Cloud. I had it on my calendar to make my next record then at Sonic Ranch. I always think about that. It’s so weird and cosmic.

Honestly, with both of my last two records, those are my two favorite records I’ve ever made. I just feel like I finally figured it out, what feels correct for my songwriting. I give so much credit to Brad Cook. I feel like my friendship with him, my collaborative relationship with him, completely changed my life in so many ways. Saint Cloud was me transitioning into my 30s. I quit drinking, got sober, left Philly, took almost two years off of touring, and started dating Kevin [Morby]. I got in this new phase.

Writing the record was really hard. It was the closest for me to writer’s block. I was still writing, but it was a labor. It’s partially because I had all this anxiety from being newly sober, and I was really self-editing in a major way. Kevin was like, “I have this new friend who I think you should know, and I really think you should work with. I think you would really like him.” And that was Brad. We met and talked and then worked together on the Great Thunder EP, and I knew he was going to do the record.

The other big part of teeing that all up was I did a tour with the band Bonny Doon, who I love, and they were playing as my backing band. I loved how it sounded so much that I threw them a couple new songs, one of them being “Can’t Do Much.” Once I heard them play that I was just like, “Oh, this is the sound. This is exactly what I want my next record to sound like.”

Tigers Blood (2024)

My first four records are riddled with clues that I was someone who was really struggling with substance issues. When I made Saint Cloud, I was a year sober, and that’s palpable in that record, even if it’s not on-the-nose talking about sobriety. With Tigers Blood, I’ve settled into that part of my life more now, and that’s probably the big through-line between the two records, how being a sober adult is affecting me five years in as opposed to one year in.

I didn’t have any aesthetic vision when I was writing the songs. With Saint Cloud, pretty early on, I knew what it was. Out In The Storm was so cold feeling, and I was like, “I want the next record to feel really, really warm.” With Tigers Blood, I was like, “Well, I still want it to feel warm.” I just didn’t have any clarity about that. I had my head down, I was just letting the songs come out, and I was like, “We’ll figure it out.”

We were just trying things, and we were like, “Well, maybe we’ll program some beats?” Very quickly, when that wasn’t working, I remember Brad saying, “Katie, I think the confident choice here is to just do what we do together and not overthink it.” And that is putting a band of people we pick that feel like the right people in the room and just playing the songs. We had to get over ourselves a little bit. I give myself some grace, because there’s a natural pressure that comes after you make a record that people really love. You feel this pressure to reinvent yourself, and so we’ve resisted that with this record.

[MJ “Jake” Lenderman] musically and just in spirit brought so much. He’s young and he’s got this fun, young energy. He just breathed some new life into my whole thing with Brad. A lot of the early demo sessions, it was just the three of us. It was really good for me at this particular point in my career to be around somebody like Jake, because he reminds me so much of myself when I was his age. He just approaches it all in this really, really cool way. There’s all this hype around him and he’s so unfazed by it. He’s got his head screwed on so straight. He just cares about the music and he cares about his friends who are making the music with him, and it’s all just very cool. It really helped me realign with some values that are essential to me as well.

The thing that really struck me about Jake when I first thought about having him on the record was his voice. Obviously, everyone really knows Jake’s guitar playing. There’s a lot of conversation about him as a guitar player. And, of course, once he got in the room, I was like, “Oh, perfect. This is the guitar sound I want on the record.” But his voice was the thing that really struck me. Because his voice is this really specific thing, and so is mine. I’m like, “If we put them together, what would that be like?” It was just a curiosity.

We jammed on probably two-thirds of the songs in this one session. “Right Back To It” was one of the last ones we did, and that’s when the energy in the room shifted. All of us were like, How this is making us feel, we really want to try and anchor the entire album around that. It was a transitional moment in the making of the record.

I think a lot about longevity. Kevin and I talk about longevity and sustainability within our larger careers a lot, especially as we age. We see people like Lucinda [Williams] or other people we really look up to still touring in their 60s, 70s, 80s even, and we’re like, “What a blessing.” Maybe that will be us. Or maybe it won’t. It’s fun to predict.