Waxahatchee: The Soviettes completely changed the route I took in life
Waxahatchee and her human companion.
While she's only been using the moniker of Waxahatchee since 2011, Katie Crutchfield's roots in the punk and DIY community run as deep as the Alabama watering hole she draws her name from. Cutting her teeth on the touring circuit before she was even 18 in the Ackleys with her sister Allison, the duo reformed as P.S. Eliot and garnered cult acclaim for their two albums of spiky, defiant punk. After 4 years, Katie and Alison parted ways, with one twin continuing on the loud-fast trajectory in the group Swearin' and the other switching to a more plaintive, folky acoustic sound.
Waxahatchee's most new album, Cerulean Salt, continues on the heart-bearing honesty and austere melodies of her well-loved debut American Weekend but updates the delivery with additional instruments to support Katie's singular vocals. Arriving in town with labelmates Screaming Females and Tenement for label Don Giovanni's 10-year anniversary tour, Waxhatchee will be performing at the Triple Rock for her first time on Tuesday.
Gimmie Noise: A while back you wrote this awesome piece for the International Girl Gang Underground zine about how our local heroes in the Soviettes changed your life. Have you connected with them since you wrote that?
Katie Crutchfield: I have! Just with Annie [Sparrows], the lead singer, and I've actually seen Sturgeon's other band Gateway District in Chatanooga maybe like a year or two ago. I had no idea, I was just visiting my sister who used to live there, and we were at this show and I saw them. They were really good! But the Soviettes, I talked to Annie, I kinda just like mustered the courage one day to get in touch. We have some mutual friends, and so I was like, "Hey, I hope this isn't weird, but I wrote this thing..." I had a friend of mine tell me that Annie had seen it and thought it was cool, so I decided to touch base with her and she was super sweet. She told me, "Anytime you're in Minneapolis, let me know!" I actually probably should tell her that I'm coming!
Do those records still resonate with you the way they did back in back then?
Yeah, absolutely. I think the thing about them that really changed me was seeing them play, because I hadn't heard them before I saw them. At that time in my life I was so obsessed with bands like Rilo Kiley, and they're still one of my favorites, still love them a lot. But you know, you see their show and they're up on a stage, and Jenny Lewis is like...perfectly dressed and they sound absolutely crystal clear and great. Then I saw the Soviettes at Cave 9, which was this punk show space that I used to hang out at and play at all the time, and they were playing on the floor!
They had like, old, shitty looking Fender guitars and they were drinking beer and wearing denim vests, and they were a punk band. It was the first time that I had seen women like them, and I think that completely changed the route that I took in life. I was already really active in that scene, but there weren't that many women in Birmingham doing stuff, at least not in the part of the scene that I was a part of. After seeing The Soviettes, that's when we started P.S. Elliot, and we kind of idolized them. I'm kind of surprised that the aren't more popular, the music that they made became kind of cool, that style of fast, punk-influenced garage rock became so huge.
Like The Soviettes, you have this deep background in the DIY Punk circuit, how did you start your connection with the Twin Cities scene up here?
I really like going there, and I've played there a couple of times with Waxahatchee, but it's always been kind of last-minute because I don't have a ton of friends that live there. I think the reason is, it's just far enough west that it's kind of hard to get to if you're doing a short tour, like I usually don't go further than Miliwaukee. It's a drag , because I do like it a lot, but it's just far enough away that it's hard to get to. So I'm thrilled to have it included on this tour, it's as far west as we'll be going. I've never played the Triple Rock but I've always wanted to. I'm also coming back there in November, not to play a show, per-se, but I'm doing the Wits Podcast. I'm going to be there November 7 for that too, which is exciting. It's funny, I'm coming for 24 hours a few days after I come home from Europe, so I'm going to be completely out of my mind.
Has the hustle changed significantly since you started working with Don Giovanni for American Weekend? What's your partnership with them been like? How does it feel to be part of their 10th anniversary tour?
It's been cool. When I did American Weekend I was originally going to release it on Salinas [Records], they're great friends of mine and I had done all of my records with them prior. Joe [Steinhardt, Don Giovanni owner] had expressed interest, and I ultimately decided that I wanted to do something different and basically I wanted it to be like a divorce from P.S. Elliot, a different route. Not that more of the same would have been bad, P.S. Elliot, those are the best years of my life, but I wanted a change so I took a chance, and it's been cool. Joe's a great friend and they put out really great records. Before it became what it is now, where they release records from bands from all over, he put out records for only New Brunswick, Jersey bands. It was cool, it was this archive of music that happened there, and a lot of really great music happened there. I always admired that a lot.
Your new record, Cerulean Salt, actually reminds me a lot of Screaming Females' Ugly, not necessarily sonically, but because both records show y'all expanding your sound-and-songwriting palate and embracing some slightly cleaner production.
It's funny, I recorded my record in my shitty basement and they recorded theirs with Steve Albini, so I think they're definitely different sonically [laughs]. But I see that, and their songwriting process, I can't imagine what it must be like. I think Marissa takes the lead, but it's so collaborative, and I've just never been great at doing that. Even with P.S. Elliot, for example, I always just wrote the whole song and brought it to practice. I'm just a little bit of a control freak when it comes to that. With Waxahatchee, I need to have control over one creative project, and I think Screaming Females are so much more loose with it, which is cool, it's obviously working for them.
Like Marissa, I think you really struck a nice balance between the vulnerability and melancholic aspects of your writing with these really bright, clear, resonant melodies. Was that a cognizant thing?
I don't know...she and I were supposed to make music together at some point but we've just never had the time. We've started this long-distance writing thing, and we have like two songs I think, but we've never finished it. I hope some day we get to work on it.
Your lyrics on Weekend tend to be relationship-focused, where as the lyrics on Cerulean seem to focus more on your family and upbringing. What draws you to write about this kind of directly emotional subjects?
I think that with American Weekend I kind of found this sweet spot in my lyrical writing, I struck a chord with myself, and it just felt like it was working to come from that place, and to make things really literal, and everything really true to how I was feeling without being overly emotional on the page, I guess. So the delivery is sort of dry and deliberate, but the content for me is rather emotional and personal, and that kind of seemed to work in this way that I felt really good about.
So I tried to do it again with Cerulean Salt, and it was the exact same thing but with different subject matter. I had pretty much only written about relationship stuff before this record and I wanted to just do something different. I'm not in a sour relationship situation right now, so I wouldn't want to lie about that, not for this project anyway, I want to be true to what the content's going to be. So I had the plans to make it more nostalgic, and not necessarily about my family, because my family is great and my childhood was great, but nostalgic in other ways.
What made you decided to add more electric guitar, bass and drums to this record? Are you still playing all the instruments?
Nope, I'm not. It's mostly Kyle Gilbride, who is my sister's boyfriend, who's in Swearin' with her, and Keith Spencer, my boyfriend, so it's the three of them plus this guy Jeff Bolt, and we're so interchangeable at this point. So Kyle engineered the record, and he played a lot of stuff on it. Keyboards, guitar, bass, and Keith played drums and a lot of bass and guitar also. I played guitar and bass on it. My sister, I think played percussion on one song and she sings on one song, but it was just sort of whoever was around at my house at the time like, "Hey, do you want to play bass on this one?" That's probably how it will be in the future too, I really got attached to that process.
You seem to be mostly sticking to bars and music venues on this tour. As someone who grew up in all-ages punk shows, is that exciting or something you're just living with?
Of course I miss it, it's my total bread and butter, it's what I always did. It's funny, I saw Swearin' play a house show the other day, and I told them, "God, you guys just always sound so much better in a basement." I didn't wanna bum everyone out, but it just sounded so much better down there to me, and maybe that's just because it's how I'm used to hearing them.
But I go back to it. I still play houses sometimes, I always prefer to, but it's gotten to a point with reach where it's not accessible to everyone that would want to see me play. I'm actually playing a show today out on Long Island that's at a new DIY all-ages space called No Fun Club. It's kind of weird to think that I haven't played that many DIY spaces recently, because that's always where I played growing up. It's kind of weird, but it's working out. I understand that this record just reached more people, and I'm not sure it'd be cool for me to not play places where everyone can come to. I'm playing the Bowery Ballroom because everyone who would want to see me play can find the Bowery Ballroom. If I played at some house in Brookyln, maybe all of my friends would know where it was, but not everybody else. So I'm trying to make myself a little more accessible on tour, but I'm kind of just taking it case by case. House shows in a lot of cities are so precarious, with the police and stuff you can't really be posting the address and promoting it in the way that I would need to.
What was your experience in Europe like? Was that your first time over as Waxahatchee?
Yeah, I went over on tour with Tegan and Sara, that was my first time ever, it was awesome. It was weird, because we got there and we were really jetlagged and then we were immediately playing with Tegan and Sara, so it was sort of like a weird dream the whole time. They were the coolest, and their audience was the coolest. I'm headed back out there on my own after this tour, without the cushion of Tegan and Sara's wonderful audience [laughs]. It'll be cool though, I'm going with Swearin', so basically all of my best friends are going on tour with me. Keith and myself were there and we had all of these stories about everything, and it's always fun when you go somewhere and then you get to bring your friends back with you to experience it. It's like experiencing everything a second time for yourself.
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