Waxahatchee on Extracting the Magic Out of the South


This is an edition of the newsletter Pulling Weeds With Chris Black, in which the columnist weighs in on hot topics in culture. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday.

I’ve listened to Waxahatchee since singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield first began recording under the name in 2012. But I was floored from the first note of her 2020 album, Saint Cloud. “Lilacs” was a daily listen of mine for months after that. As a fellow Southerner and an artist who leans into her roots to create twangy music with nuance and real soul, Crutchfield fascinates me. After I became friends with her through her boyfriend, Kevin Morby, also a musician, we quickly discovered that we shared some history as youthful members of the punk and hardcore scene in the South.

Last November, at the Vulture Festival in Los Angeles, Katie and her twin sister, Allison, assembled a band and several special guests (Tim Heidecker, D’Arcy Carden, Whitmer Thomas) to cover their favorite songs from high school. Fun and charming, the performance showcased the power of her voice in a new way. Afterward, she told me her new record was finished. I pestered her for a link the following day, and her label boss and Allison, now working as her A&R person, sent over a protected link with no cover art. I must have listened to that album 100 times on my MacBook Air. If you could wear out digital files, I would have by now.

Crutchfield is a singular talent and voice, and her new album, Tiger’s Blood, out March 22, solidifies that status. She spoke to me over the phone a few weeks ago from her childhood home in Birmingham, Alabama. We chatted about moving to New York City as Southerners, her harmonizing with MJ Lenderman on “Right Back to It,” Lucinda Williams, and shooting a music video on a boat.

Are you at home?

No, I’m in my childhood bedroom right now. I have a 10-year-old niece, and I’m taking her to see Olivia Rodrigo in Nashville next week.

Is this the calm before the storm?

God, I fucking hope not. I hope I’m already in the storm.

Does that mean touring is the easy part?

For me, now, touring is part of the prize. It’s the fun part. I think I’ll finally feel sane when I’m doing that.

You’ve been doing this for a long time, and I imagine touring feels like a warm hug at this point. Every day is planned for you. You know what’s happening and you’re doing your thing every night.

Yeah, you’re in your little bubble, insulated in a way. I’ve been touring since I was 16. I’m a creature of the road, so when I get to that point, I feel safe and at home.

So, who’s touring with you?

It’s going to be a bigger band than usual. There will be six of us onstage. It’ll be sick. I’m stepping it up this year. I’m going cordless mic mode.

Holy shit, okay, hold on.

I need to move around! And I’m going to have a teleprompter, which is crazy because the only people I know who have teleprompters onstage are senior citizens. But I have so many words, I need to be able to glance down.

So you’re in your childhood bedroom, and you’re with your family. Do they all get it and understand what’s going on, or is it like, “Oh, Katie’s just doing her music thing”?

They’re into it now, but when I was a teenager, they were super confused because there wasn’t a ton of music around. I think my parents figured, Okay, she’ll go to the University of Alabama and get a communications degree and get married and have kids pretty young. That’s what all their friends’ kids were doing while my sister and I were getting dressed from the thrift store and playing Velvet Underground covers in the basement. They were like, “What the fuck is this?”

The path you just described is the ultimate Southern upbringing. It’s what every parent wants. Growing up in our generation, being Southern wasn’t cool. At least for me, it was like, “Get rid of the accent.” But as you get older, you gain a different understanding. You respect it more and learn to embrace it.

I completely agree. I moved to New York when I was 21, and I tried so hard to suppress the accent. There’s a video I should send you. It’s a mini-doc about my first band, the Ackleys, and our accents are crazy. Crazy. You can barely understand what I’m saying.

I moved to New York a little later, and I tried to suppress it, but at the same time, I was getting into music that was more Southern, like Whiskeytown and Uncle Tupelo. It was punk, but I didn’t know this cool side of it existed. I didn’t know there was a way to fuse the two things, and that’s exactly what you do now.

Thank you. I mean, that’s what I’m trying to do. For me, it was Lucinda Williams. She was the one who showed me there was a way to extract all the magic out of being Southern and turn it into something cool. But it took me a while to get there. Did you read her book [Don’t Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You]?

I didn’t, but I’ve heard it’s great.

Yes, it’s great. I mean, she kinda spills the tea about everyone. I interviewed her about the book recently [in front of an audience], and I brought up some things behind closed doors because I didn’t want to bring up how salacious parts of it are. But I really respect it. She had all these great encounters with these really interesting men. Obviously, she had a thing with Paul Westerberg—I mean, I’m such a Westerberg head. It’s great. It’s all so well-written, and her life is just so compelling.

I didn’t realize you moved to New York when you were so young. That’s the right time to do it because you don’t realize how scary it is.

Everybody talks about how it’s crazy to learn how to drive when you’re 16, and I’ve always thought, “No, that’s the perfect age to do it.” The older you get, the more aware you are of your own safety and mortality. It’s good to jump in the deep end.

Between touring and living in Kansas City, do you feel you no longer need the action of New York or LA?

I have a life philosophy about not living in New York or LA, and I feel like you’ve really called it into question. But doing what I do, I like to be out of the mix. If I’m taking myself seriously as a songwriter, it’s not for me to be in the middle of everything. I like to be hidden and keep my focus on all my own stuff.

Where did you make the new record?

Texas. I’ve made the last two records at the same studio, Sonic Ranch, outside El Paso on the border of Mexico. It’s a pecan ranch, and a lot of records you know have been made there. It’s like a compound with 10 different studios on one big piece of property. It’s very remote, so when you go there, it’s like you’re at summer camp. The whole band lived in a house together, and we worked every day and we had a blast.

Do you have an affinity for Texas?

For sure. Texas is a marriage of every part of America. It’s like the South, but it’s not, and it’s like the West Coast, but it’s not. What’s not to like about a place that contains so many elements of the country in one place? I made all the music and all the visuals except the record cover in Texas.

You worked with your twin sister, Allison, on this album. Was she the A&R?

Yes, dude! Isn’t that crazy?

Is this something you’ve always wanted to do, or did it fall into your lap?

We’ve been searching for 20 years to find the perfect dynamic for how we can officially work together, and we finally figured it out. She was one of my closest collaborators in the early years, and we played in a band together for a long time. She was in the Waxahatchee band for a couple of record cycles. She’s always been an unofficial team member on the business and creative side, but she’s officially a part of the team now. It’s crazy; she’s on so many of my work calls, and that’s never happened before. She has such a talent for the music business, and it’s so cool to watch her thrive in this new context. I just really, really trust her. She gets the vision in a deeper way than anybody else does, so she’s able to advocate for me in a way that I could never even explain to anybody else.

I’ve had this record for a while; you sent it to me when it was done. Obviously, I love it. But the video for “Right Back to It,” shot on Caddo Lake in Texas—I couldn’t believe how well it worked. I’ve never seen anything more Southern. When it cuts to Jake [MJ] Lenderman as the driver, and he starts singing, I was dying!

That was my idea, isn’t it good? For 10 years, I’ve been trying to make a video on a boat. I bring it up every record, but it’s a logistical nightmare. The thing that made me want to make it was the “Mrs. Robinson” video by the Lemonheads, where they’re cruising through Boston Harbor.

I remember hearing you say that the first time you heard Jake sing, you knew you had to sing with him. It’s interesting that you felt that so clearly.

I don’t like to do this comparison because he’s his own person, but I think that I was in such a big Jason Molina moment when it happened, and I was like, “I’m such a fan of this person who is dead now, who I never got to see, and who I wasn’t that big of a fan of when he was alive, and now I’m hearing someone’s voice who sounds a lot like that.” I just thought, “Oh my God, my voice against his voice, that’s a sound I never would have been able to hear.” Since I’ve gotten to know Jake, all the character in his voice is its own, but I just had a feeling. We use a lot of food metaphors when we talk about music, Brad and I, so when we would talk about working with Jake, he would say, “He’s a really potent spice. You’re going to taste it.”

When we did the How Long Gone show in Boston, you and Kevin [Morby] played, and you did an indie rock Make-A-Wish Foundation thing and let me sing “Drug Buddy” by the Lemonheads with you. But I could see there’s a confidence that you have, probably because you’ve been singing for so long and you figured out your voice.

Yeah, I think the confidence just comes from doing it for 20 years.

10,000 hours shit.

It’s the only thing I actually know how to do, straight up. But it’s my favorite thing. I love singing so much. Literally, nothing makes me happier.



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