Waxing Not Waning

After a roller coaster year, indie singer-songwriter Waxahatchee finally takes a deep breath

click to enlarge Waxahatchee headlines The Bartlett Saturday.
Waxahatchee headlines The Bartlett Saturday.

Moments of calm reflection for Katie Crutchfield have been few and far between in the past year. The Philadelphia-by-way-of-Birmingham, Alabama singer-songwriter known as Waxahatchee remained busy, supporting her critically lauded third LP Ivy Tripp. In this momentary reprieve at home in Philly, she can slow down, catch her breath and process the implausibility of it all.

"Last night, when I was sitting on my couch, I looked across the room, and on the wall I have the Sleater-Kinney/Waxahatchee poster," says Crutchfield. "And I just sort of looked over at my boyfriend and I was like, 'I think it's just hitting me that we toured with Sleater-Kinney.'"

Success hasn't lessened Crutchfield's fandom, and often her inner teenage girl still geeks out. In addition to supporting Sleater-Kinney, Waxahatchee opened for indie darling Jenny Lewis. That's kind of a big deal for Crutchfield, who has a Rilo Kiley (Lewis' former band) album cover inked onto her arm.

"Seeing my name on the poster and thinking about that," she says. "Just thinking about myself when I was, like, 14, and just discovering Sleater-Kinney, and how important they were to me. How instrumental their music was to me becoming a musician. It's the same with Jenny. I mean, don't even get me started on her."

Waxahatchee drew national attention with the majestic Southern sorrow on 2012's Cerulean Salt and the graceful, personal fragility of that album's subdued singer-songwriter style. Comparatively, Ivy Tripp feels like a solitary creature stretching out its limbs and emerging into the open summer air. It's an expansive pop-rock record that buzzes with tangled feelings and '90s alt warmth while maintaining Crutchfield's intelligent and reserved lyrical style. The disc eventually found its way onto many Best Albums of 2015 lists, including AV Club and Stereogum. Crutchfield, who feels overwhelmed by the positive reception, believes that the general narrative regarding why Ivy Tripp sounds so much bigger is slightly off base.

"I think when the record first came out, a lot of people assumed, 'Oh, she has more time to do this, more money, this is sort of her full-time thing now, so she can fully realize this project that she didn't have the resources to do that in the past.' But I just wanted to do something totally different. As a music fan ... I always find it really interesting when my favorite artists take a step in a direction that's different."

While Waxahatchee is a solo project in construct, Crutchfield never feels alone musically, thanks to her biggest supporter: her twin sister Alison. The pair fostered a creative climate while growing up playing music together in Birmingham, and shared the stage as the emotional pop-punk group P.S. Eliot from 2007 to 2011. While they've since branched out separately (Alison plays in the terrific alt-rock band Swearin'), their musical bond remains vital.

"It's kind of this thing that is embedded in us — to sort of bounce things off of each other and to kind of keep each other in close proximity creatively. What we have is pretty powerful. We don't actually collaborate that often. How we inspire each other, and keep each other confident and excited about what the other is doing, has been pretty important to my whole process since we were young."

Alison toured as part of the Waxahatchee live band in support of Ivy Tripp, but Katie says that's far from her sister's most important contribution to the project. Waxahatchee simply wouldn't exist without her sister's pestering.

"My whole life, every time I write a new song, the first person I show it to is Alison. Always," she says. "Oftentimes she's the only person I show it to. When I made [the first Waxahatchee album] American Weekend, I had no plans of releasing it. I gave it to Alison and she sat on it for like a year, listened to it every single day, and was like, 'You have to do something with this.'"

After a year fleshing out Ivy Tripp with a full band, Crutchfield strips things back to the original, "most primitive version" of Waxahatchee for her upcoming solo tour. She's excited by the prospect of reimagining the old songs and stripping down the newer ones to their cores in order to play them alone. In that comparative calm, she can soak in all the emotions.

"If you had told me this when I first started being in a band, like, '12 years down the road, if you keep at this, you're gonna be playing with these people and getting to travel all over the world to make this music... ' it's pretty surreal," Katie says. "I feel happy that when I started writing songs, I stuck with it." ♦

Waxahatchee with Briana Marela and Globelamp • Sat, March 12, at 8 pm • $12/$15 day of • All-ages • the Bartlett • 228 W. Sprague • thebartlettspokane.com • 747-2174

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About The Author

Seth Sommerfeld

Seth Sommerfeld is a freelance contributor to The Inlander and an alumnus of Gonzaga University.