Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield on the truth and lightness of Saint Cloud - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

Katie Crutchfield lives a quieter life now than she has in years. The Birmingham, Alabama native, who lived here in Philly for several years, is about to release Saint Cloud, her fifth album as Waxahatchee and the product of some serious self-examination.

“I moved to Kansas and I just sort of live a really quiet, relaxed life right now,” Crutchfield tells me on a brief visit back to Philly last month. Saint Cloud was written in the wake of the songwriter’s decision to leave the city, become sober, and take time off from the demands of her musical identity.

Raw and reflective with overarching themes of addiction and codependency, Saint Cloud sees Crutchfield embracing the softer, country-inspired sound that comes naturally to her, but that she used to reject. Writing music during such a tumultuous period wasn’t always easy for the self-described perfectionist, though. “Songwriting sort of found me in moments where it was kind of inconvenient or it wasn’t really the most conducive space, and I just sort of had to lean into that in those moments,” Crutchfield says.

Crutchfield hit her stride when she started worked with the Detroit band Bonny Doon, and they developed what she calls the “Waxa-Doon” sound while recording the album last summer. Bonny Doon will play as Waxahatchee’s backing band on the Saint Cloud tour, the North American dates of which have now been postponed to later this year.

Saint Cloud feels like the work of a songwriter unburdened, and it flows with an ease and lightness that Crutchfield hopes will be long-lasting. “Even if the subject matter is heavy, how I convey those messages feels a little bit more removed, or calmer, or just a little bit lighter than the past,” she says. “There’s something in my gut that feels like these songs will stay fresh for a while.”

Waxahatchee | photo by Molly Matalon | courtesy of the artist

Read what Crutchfield has to say about finding the Saint Cloud sound, channeling heroes like Dolly Parton and Lucinda Williams, her non-musical goals and more below.

On spending time away from music

I got sober and then decided I wanted to take some time off from music, period. I’ve used music as a vehicle for healing whatever’s going on in my life for a long time, and I had finally gotten to a point where that just wasn’t working. And it was kind of in turn making me resent having to do music stuff, like tour and all that. So I just decided, I was very intentional about, ‘I’m gonna take some space from music.’ And while I was doing that I was — because I’m a crazy workaholic — I was like, ‘well, while I’m taking a break from music I’m gonna start thinking about my next record.’

On finding her truth as a songwriter

Songwriting is really strange; it’s a really fickle process for me. When I wrote Out in the Storm here in Philly, I kept business hours. I would wake up and get to work in the morning and stop when the sun went down, and it was actually very easy to do that. With this one, it was a little bit more of a labor. Out in the Storm was so visceral and raw and it just sort of jumped out of me, and this one I feel like I really labored over more. 

As I get older and I write songs more and more, I get more critical of my lyrics and more picky about what makes it in and what doesn’t, and just more of a perfectionist. I think that’s just a result of chipping away at my own truth and my own voice. I’m getting closer and closer to that truth with every album.

My songs are so personal and autobiographical, and it always feels really great when people relate. I know how good that feels to me when I deeply relate to lyrics of a song and can sing along and just feel empowered, so that’s all I ever really hope for. If anybody can feel that way about something I made, then that feels cool. 

On embracing country music and her Southern identity

I grew up on country music — that was my parents’ music — and as I was getting to find my own voice musically and started to write songs, I was discovering punk and more underground, obscure music. I really started to reject country music, like, “that is my parents’ music, that’s from my past.” 

I think both country music and my Southern identity I was rejecting. And it resulted in some cool records, [but] what’s natural for me is to have this sort of traditional sounding voice and be really melodic. But I would fight with that, and then that conflict would create this cool result, which was like my first few records. With this album, it was important to me to finally lean into what was natural, which, turns out, is a country thing. 

Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt are some of the most powerful singers of our time and Lucinda [Williams] is my favorite songwriter ever. Another big one for me is Dolly Parton. I feel like I have some heavy Dolly moments on the album where I’m really channeling her whole thing as a writer. I would say “Hell” is a really big Dolly moment — something that’s a little bit psycho, a little bit crazy, but in this really empowering, deeply relatable way. And that’s just so melodic and jaunty, you know. That sort of seems like a Dolly-ism.

On Bonny Doon’s role in helping find her sound

I knew I wanted to do something that felt a little bit more Americana. That was where my voice was going, where my melodies were going, but I did not have the slightest idea how to achieve that. It caused this very stressful writer’s block moment for me. Cut to February of last year, so like a year ago, I do this tour with Bonny Doon as my backing band, and from the moment we started playing together, when they started to sort of interpret my old songs, it was exactly the sound that I was looking for. So once I had heard my music that way and felt what it felt like to sing with a band that played that way, I hit the gas with writing. I started to involve them in the whole process, and slowly but surely I started to write. I was just excited and had such a clear vision of what the record was gonna be. Bonny Doon I think saved the day.

On finding work-life balance as a musician

For so long my career and my life were, like, the same. There was no breaking that up. And I really tried, in my time between these two albums, to try and have a healthier relationship to it, because I think being a musician in the position that I’m in — I guess this is true for any career, but there’s a lot of stuff that’s beyond my control. Like how people are gonna react to the stuff that I make — I can’t really control any of that. And because it’s so personal and it’s so close to me, that’s even harder. So I really tried to sort of have more realistic expectations — or no expectations — for how people are gonna react to stuff, and then in turn try and find other ways to make myself happy that aren’t just getting the approval of strangers, basically. It’s something I think about a lot. And truth be told, I am at my happiest when I’m in the thick of working. And I think that that’s okay too, but trying to have a better balance or a better relationship to that kind of thing has been on my mind.

On her non-musical aspirations 

When I was working on this record, I was also sort of thinking like, “maybe I’ll write a book, maybe that’s what I’ll do instead of make a record right now,’’ and then the record just really started to take off. I feel like my life since I was 15 has just been this cycle of making a record, touring a record, making a record, touring a record — just like the album cycle life of a musician. That’s been very organic for me and felt natural for my process, but I’ve had many ideas for different types of things I could do. I just saw Hadestown, the Broadway play. This woman Anaïs Mitchell, who’s a singer-songwriter, wrote this musical. It’s this concept album about the Greek myth of Orpheus, and it just completely blew my mind. I saw it a couple nights ago and I’m like, “I wanna write a musical.” That’s one of my aspirations. I have podcast dreams, I have this really good idea for a podcast and I’m like, “I’m gonna just record a few and see…”

Saint Cloud comes out Friday, March 27 via Merge Records. To celebrate the release, Katie Crutchfield will host an Instagram livestream with Kevin Morby on Thursday, March 26 at 9 p.m. ET. Waxahatchee will play Union Transfer on Monday, October 5.

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