Waxahatchee On ‘Out In The Storm,’ A Breakup Record Created To Uplift

On a late Sunday afternoon in May, the Crutchfield twins, Katie and Allison, performed in an intimate, mostly-full room at Milk Studios as part of Vulture Fest for an audience filled with familiar faces (including recent tour mate Kevin Morby) and fans. This wasn’t like any other show they’ve recently played.

Rather than a traditional performance, the sisters used the set to share stories about their experiences when they were starting out musically as The Ackleys in Birmingham, Alabama and beyond. The girls played songs that encompassed their careers, and bands who inspired them along the way, including a fantastic cover of Sleater-Kinney, who Katie’s band, Waxahatchee, opened for in the past. At times, it felt like they’d forgotten there was an audience watching their interactions. The conversations felt intimate, like the audience was privy to a conversation they would’ve naturally shared with their friends. It was the perfect framework for Katie Crutchfield’s new Waxahatchee album, Out In The Storm, because that’s how this record feels, too.

The album is her most personal yet since her early work, sharing her journey in overcoming an unhealthy relationship and its consequential breakup. Although it focuses on that narrative, it’s not a breakup album; it’s an album about growth, empowerment, and finding your voice. Its first track, “Never Been Wrong,” calls out her former partner on his troublesome behavior, while in gorgeous acoustic track “Sparks Fly,” she recognizes her newfound confidence after breaking things off. Unlike debut album American Weekend and sophomore album Cerulean Salt, which shine with their solemn, acoustic songs, Out in the Storm thrives in its continuous shift from guitar-heavy tracks to softer ones, representing all the emotions that come with the process of her experiences.

The album encompasses all the best aspects of her previous work, from Ivy Tripp’s pop-ish sound, to her early work’s autobiographical tone that weaves each song as a story. When discussing the new album onstage, Katie shared that it was recorded live in a studio, shifting from her previous recordings taking place in her various homes over the years. For this album, she had John Agnello produce it, who has worked with iconic bands such as Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. It was her first time working with someone who she didn’t know well. As she opened up about the making of the album, she told Allison the impact that she had on it, even though her musical contribution to the album was minimal.

“You made yourself available, which is important because it was like a scary, sort of new experience for me,” said Katie. “I was working with John who I didn’t know that well so I felt overwhelmed and I was full of ideas. One day, I’d be really, really certain about something and the next day I’d be spiraling about it so I feel like even though you didn’t play that much on it, you were still a big part of it. I needed you to be there for me.”

Out In The Storm doesn’t just symbolize personal growth. It’s an album that shows Katie Crutchfield has come a long way since she set out to write her first solo album as Waxahatchee. With a Lenny tour that was recently cancelled due to Lena Dunham’s health issues and continuously touring with musical heroes, from Jenny Lewis to The New Pornographers, Waxahatchee’s popularity keeps growing. Even with a more polished sound, Katie stays true to her DIY roots and evokes the essence that put her on the radar at the beginning of her career.

Katie and I chatted over the phone about the new album, self-care, touring, and more. Read our conversation below.

In this album, you openly discuss dealing with the downfall of a relationship and you’ve definitely touched on that in previous albums, but it seems like in this one it’s a lot more personal and it’s more of a focus. What was the process of writing this album, in comparison to your last one?

I wrote about a lot of the same stuff on Ivy Tripp as I do on the new one. A lot of things evolved and changed, and it’s a little bit more visceral. Also, a lot of time has passed so I’ve been able to reflect. When I think about writing breakup songs, I actually, in my mind, go all the way back to my first record, American Weekend, because that was kind of a breakup record and mostly about being young and having a clumsy moment that you’re learning how to not be in a relationship anymore. I really wanted to capture that. This one’s more about relationship dynamics, the way that people treat each other, and all the different ways that that can work, and really diving into that stuff. It is really personal. Every song on the record is about the same thing. That’s also the first time I’ve ever done that. Even records that feel really focused– Cerulean Salt, for example. Still, I’m writing about different situations that relate to each other and this record, it’s all about the same situation. It’s different. I take snapshots of different moments of that situation but it’s all kind of about the same thing. It felt like something I needed to do for myself to move on.

It seems like it’s your first time you’ve openly addressed a relationship that your fans know who you’re talking about. How has it been, dealing with that, knowing that you’re showing this vulnerability?

It’s something that I’ve just become comfortable with. Maybe now that it’s on a big scale, that’s something that I’m going to have to learn how to deal with. I’ve had all these growing pains anyway, over the years. As my audience grows, the way that I do things does evolve. But I also feel like I’ve always done that on a much smaller scale. I remember writing songs about people and it being so obvious to the people around me of what it was about. But I’ve become comfortable with that.

The pros outweigh the cons for me as an artist. I feel like I can write this thing, and it’s so close to me, and it’s so personal. But if I can get to this place where I can make something beautiful that people can relate to and I can invoke any sort of feeling out of a large group of people; it feels like I should just do that. On this record, specifically, one thing to keep in mind is that it’s a relationship that has ended. It’s not an ongoing relationship that I’m actively trying to maintain. It’s something that’s over. So, I can reflect on it now without worrying about the repercussions it’s going to have on my life. That’s kind of important too.

You mentioned a recent interview that your reflection after the relationship helped you feel closer to yourself. How has that focus on self-care changed since writing this album?

I was sort of in crisis for a little while there. I was having a really hard time. I was struggling. Writing the record helped me get on the other side of that. Now I feel completely on the other side of it. I feel like I’ve just been moving forward in my life and that’s been good. You learn so many things. You have these relationships with people; sometimes they’re really damaging and something that stays with you for a really long time. You grow; we all grow from that, we learn from that. I really feel like I’m in a good place now because I went through that. Not that it would have been lovely had I not gone through it. But, I went through it and now I feel stronger and more ready to take on anything — to a certain degree.

What was the main difference, in terms of your recording process this time, in comparison to your previous albums?

It was totally different. I made my last two records, Ivy Tripp and Cerulean Salt, with the same people in the same set up. Kyle [Gilbride] engineered all of [those previous albums] and he’s great at that. But it was more DIY and more hands on for me, as far as that stuff goes. And with this one, I recorded it with John Agnello, who is a brilliant producer and engineer. We recorded it at a studio in Philly called Miner Street Recordings. We took our time, we took a month tracking and mixing and stuff. It was a fresh set of eyes and ears on my music was really great. Especially somebody with so much experience and so much talent.

We did a lot of the recording and a lot of the tracking with the band live, which was cool. We set up with the room and just played the songs. Everything you hear is just us jamming together. So that was the first little bit of it. Then I brought it my good friend Katie Harkin who is so brilliant and talented. She did all these great lead guitar and piano and stuff. It was a cool, positive creative experience where John, Katie, and I were just sitting in the control room bouncing around ideas and trying things. It was a really, really great experience.

“8 Ball” really stood out to me as one of the most strikingly vulnerable tracks. Can you tell me a bit about the story behind the song?

I’m so glad you asked me about “8 Ball,” I hadn’t been asked about it yet. It’s actually one of my favorite songs, lyrically, that I’ve ever written. I really am into that song. That song is about being at the end of a relationship and feeling like you’re both pulling away from each other. All of the cracks are starting to show in the relationship. A lot of the little things that I’m saying when I’m being super specific are very autobiographical.

The beginning of the song is about me going to New York by myself and being alone for the first time, embracing that feeling. I’m talking about drinking too much, causing a scene and that’s really just about feeling like you can make mistakes and feeling like you can be vulnerable and that’s okay. That’s part of life. Sometimes when you’re in a really messed up relationship, you can feel like you’re walking on eggshells, or you feel like you have to be perfect and you can’t make any mistakes, and if you do then that other person is gonna point at that.

So that song is kind of about being able to let that go. Just being like, ‘You know what? It’s okay, I’m a human being. I can f*ck up and it’s not the end of the world.’ It’s really just accepting that you’re an imperfect person but you’re still a good person, trying to express that outwardly to the world, specifically to the person you’re in the process of leaving. Mostly I think the real meaning of that song is like, ‘This is who I am and that’s okay.’ And also, I needed to pull away from this dynamic in order to see that.

Was this album written right after ending your relationship? How did it develop?

Yes and no. I wrote it after the relationship ended. The whole process was so fast. I wrote the record last summer — last fall, really. I was super focused and writing everyday. I went into the studio in December. We mixed in January. And the record’s coming out in July. To me it was such a fast turn around. The timeline of it has been funny. It all feels so new still. Which is not a typical feeling when you’re making a record. Usually, I think it’s the opposite. Where you feel the songs are so old by the time they come out. But they still feel so fresh and new.

That’s the feeling I got when I was listening to it. Sort of like, you were processing your feelings as you went along writing it.

Yeah. Which is something I used to always feel. It was like this very sacred process for me. Where I needed to do that and that finished product felt so important. It’s been a minute since I’ve had that. I mean Ivy Tripp was a whole different thing for me. I love that record. I’m so proud of it, but lyrically specifically, it’s very different from any of my other records. So coming back through that process of being able to… especially now, where there’s more eyes and ears on me than there ever has been.

In my mind, I think I built that up and was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do that anymore. I wouldn’t be able to be super honest the way that I had been in the past. So it’s a relief for me to be like, ‘Oh no, I still can do that.’ It’s harder and there are aspects of it that. With a record like Cerulean Salt or American Weekend, they’re so personal and a lot of that stuff is so real. I wasn’t even really doing interviews then. So even now, having to talk about it, it changes things sometimes. I feel like I was very much relieved that I was capable of that kind of songwriting.

What was the main thing that, now that you finished the album, you are most looking forward to in terms of the reactions from people who are listening?

Oh that’s a good question. I don’t know. I feel kinda like, when I was finishing it, sometimes it’s the lyrics. I write something and I’m like, ‘Yes this is exactly what I’m trying to say,’ and I’m so psyched about it. And then as I continue to listen to it that the meaning changes and evolves and that’s one really cool thing about writing songs. I feel like the answer to it has probably changed a few times. I just feel like there’s a lot of hope in what I’m saying. Going through something really hard and then going through the minute details and picking out things and going, ‘Wait a minute, I wasn’t wrong in this situation. Wait a minute, this going to like doing something f*cked up.’

Going through that and then feeling validated or something — that sense of validation, that sense of relief that something hard is not a thing anymore… that sense of that hard thing I went through is now over and I can move forward. I really want people to feel that and to feel lifted up by that. I really hope that’s how people hear it. Anybody who’s ever been through, even a hard breakup, or even harder situations than that, within those kind of relationship dynamics, I hope that people can hear it and feel lifted up a bit.

Out In The Storm is out 7/14 via Merge Records. Pre-order it here.

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