Full Songs in an Empty House: Waxahatchee to Play the Metro Twice with The New Pornographers

Katie Crutchfield’s ideal day is playing music in an empty house.

She’s known this ever since she was a teenager. And often times her twin sister Allison joined her. They grew up in Waxahatchee, Alabama, where they spent most of their musical youth in basements recording and performing.

The mirror twins have worked on music together ever since they were able to play. When Katie learned guitar, Allison learned drums. They started their first band the Ackleys in high school, which released an album and an EP. The Ackleys ran for three years until its members split for different colleges.

But the sisters didn’t lose any momentum, nor did they forget to reference literature in their next musical ambitions. They started recording under the name P.S. Eliot.

P.S. Eliot, which also grew to be a four-piece, ran for almost twice as long and recorded twice as much (with two EPS and two LPS) as the Ackleys. Whereas the Ackleys borrowed from the Velvet Underground, jangle-rock, and power-pop, P.S. Eliot borrowed more from their contemporaries in the world of mid-to-late 2000s emo and indie-rock. But both hinged on the Crutchfields’ DIY ethic.

The sisters’ strength — writing prolifically amid different projects — is what also helped wind down the band. “I knew that P.S. Eliot was going to end after people moved to other places,” Katie said over the phone.

Allison’s loud and catchy project Swearin’ started to take off. Katie was in between jobs and bad breakups, so she reverted to the one thing she had always done as a teenager: writing songs in her family home, which lies near Waxahatchee Creek.

She wrote a record in a week.

“My favorite thing is to do is to play music in an empty house with nothing to do that day,” she said. Her project Waxahatchee is much more inward-looking than her sister’s project, though both borrow heavily from ‘90s indie-rock, including its fuzz. Waxahatchee’s songs sound sure in their own hesitation.

Katie said recording in her own project “frees me from the democracy of a band and gives me complete control.” Working with only her instruments and tapes also felt comfortable and familiar to her. “I started my solo project back in high school, which was just bedroom recordings. It was very simple and the earliest tapes were bare bones.”

Starting the project Waxahatchee brought Katie the two things she needs to craft music: solitude and a DIY spirit. “I liked working with my stripped-down recordings better than the full recordings with a band,” she said. “The trajectory has felt like one long, really sharp turn.”

She doesn’t get a lot of time to work on new music while on tours. But after 2015’s Ivy Tripp, Katie started writing new songs with “loose plans” and “800 melody ideas.” She also likes to experiment. “Ivy Tripp was an extension of Cerulean Salt, but I feel the desire to strip things down again, like the way I always had known how to write.”

“And now I’ve been doing a 180 from Ivy Tripp, and I think it’s important to change,” she said. “It felt natural to hop off and do something different.”

In anticipation of Ivy Tripp, Waxahatchee signed to Merge Records, the respected indie label from North Carolina started in 1989 by two members of Superchunk. “It’s the only label I can see myself on. If I wasn’t on Merge, I wouldn’t know what I’d do.”

Still, signing onto a successful indie label doesn’t mean she’s changing the way she goes about music. “Coming from a DIY culture, doing what we’ve been doing for so long gave us a weariness of the music industry and the way in which capitalism seeps into that,” Katie said. “But Merge has a rich history, they’re artist-focused, and they’re run by two people who were in a popular band for so long.”

Nor does garnering more popular and critical attention, including an article in the New Yorker, slow her down or get in the way of working on new music. “My favorite part of writing songs is the end result of a new song,” she said. “You get a demo and that’s finished. And that feeling is what I’m chasing. It’s the backbone of what I do and why I do it.”

When Waxahatchee releases their upcoming Out in the Storm this summer, don’t be surprised that it’ll sound different than Ivy Tripp. The band is touring with New Pornographers this spring and they are actually playing Chicago twice this week, both at the Metro which 93XRT is welcoming this Wednesday and then on Friday. Tickets cost $38 in advance.

This interview was conducted over the phone last summer during her previous Waxahatchee tour.

Colin S. Smith
Colin S. Smith

Colin Smith thinks that Chicago right now is the place to be for music. He works for Illinois Humanities, is a freelance writer, and plays psychedelic-pop songs with his band.

Plan Your Life with 3CR Highlights

Join Our Newsletter today!