Photos by Rachel Lipsitz

As Katie Crutchfield talks candidly about her new album, Out in the Storm, it becomes clear it marks something of a change for her. “This record has a different tone to my others,” she says. “It’s a little more confident, it’s a little more angry, it’s a little more shouting out, rather than looking inward, so it felt more cathartic to make.”

As she toured her last album Ivy Tripp, Crutchfield found herself in the midst of a poisonous relationship. The result is an explicitly autobiographical and searingly honest album. “A lot of the things on the record are things that I didn’t get a chance to say so this was my chance to. Like writing a letter to someone and never sending it, it’s my way to process it.”

Has that person heard the record, I ask? She shifts slightly in her chair. “I don’t know. Probably…”

If they have, they’ll know that songs like ‘Sparks Fly’ – the centre point of the record – feel like they’re talking directly to them. “I guess that song is like a message to a person, but mostly it was a snapshot to give to a person from the past: this is where I am now.”

The record does sound cathartic – like an artist who has found renewed energy. It perhaps helped that this was a new way of working: the first time she recorded in a studio and the first time she worked with a producer – the legendary John Agnello (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Patti Smith). She also assembled a highly talented band – her sister Allison, Katherine Simonetti on bass, Ashley Arnwine on drums and Katie Harkin from Sleater-Kinney on lead guitar – who played together, recording the album live. Not that that was the original intention.

“We didn’t plan to do it live at all. I said ‘Don’t focus on playing well together because that doesn’t matter – we’re not gonna play live’. Then the first day we went to the studio, John said ‘I really think you should do this live’.”

“I’m glad we did it – there’s something about the energy of the songs that really sounds like a band. I really wanted to lean on the styles of the band: showcase Ashley’s drumming, Katherine’s bass playing, Katie’s guitar playing. They were brilliant – they’re so talented but there was no ego.”

“I’ve never really felt like the live show sounded like the record before, but with this one I’m excited about playing these songs live. My band is all women, my crew is all women. We have suits we’re going to wear and it’s going to be full, loud rock band. I think it’s going to be powerful.”

And it’s not just powerful personal messages that Crutchfield has been making. “I’ve always been politically vocal but obviously now it feels like actual action is important, so I’ve really been trying any chance I have to give a song to a comp or play benefit shows.” She recorded a song the day after Trump was elected and also – after a lot of deliberation – decided to join Lena Dunham’s Lenny tour before Dunham’s ill health saw it being cancelled (“I knew people were going to be alienated by it but at the end of the day I thought doing it was better than not doing it.”)

Yet amid this shifting landscape – personally, professionally and politically – Crutchfield maintains a strict control over one thing – her lyrics. “Writing songs is easy for me – the lyrics are the hard part. With Waxahatchee I hold myself to an impossible standard – the vocal rhythms, the syllables, they all have to be perfect.”

“John would sometimes say, ‘Can we add an extra verse here or repeat this?’ I said ‘I’m sorry I can’t do that, the lyrics are perfect how they are’. In other things I’m so open minded because he’s made albums for 30 years and who am I to shut down his idea – but with lyrics I just can’t.”

Waxahatchee – Out In The Storm
July 14, 2017 – Merge Records
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