Eye of the tiger

Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee on ’90s country, sobriety and accepting ‘good signals from the universe’

Waxahatchee performs at the 2022 Bluebird Music Festival in Boulder. Credit: Lauren Hartman

The 1990s may be most closely associated with the grime of grunge and the rise of radio hip-hop, but it was the sound of pre-Y2K country that got its hooks in Katie Crutchfield. 

“That’s the first music I connected with, and it’s imprinted on my DNA,” says the 35-year-old songwriter behind the critically lauded indie-folk outfit Waxahatchee. “But on [my early] albums, I was so concerned with sort of scuffing that up a bit and making it weirder, or more in line with indie rock or punk rock — my tastes at the time — which is great. I’m so glad it all exists as a snapshot of that moment.” 

But as with most long-running institutions, a major realignment happened in 2020. That’s when Crutchfield dropped Saint Cloud, her fifth release as Waxahatchee since launching the project more than a decade ago. The record broke through in a big way, gaining a legion of new fans and lifting the project of the Alabama-born roots music maven to new heights amid the social upheaval of the moment.   

“It came out right as lockdown happened,” Crutchfield says of the album unpacking the journey to her newfound sobriety. “I think people were able to take some of my words … and apply it to what they were experiencing during COVID, and I think people were just connecting with it.”

Now Crutchfield is back with Tigers Blood, her first collection of new music under the Waxahatchee banner since making the biggest splash of her career four years ago. As the lead single “Right Back to It” suggests, there’s a sense that she hasn’t been gone that long at all: “You just settle in / like a song with no end,” she sings in sticky-sweet harmony with indie-rock wunderkind MJ Lenderman. “If I can keep up / we’ll get right back to it.”

Waxahatchee – “Right Back to It” (feat. MJ Lenderman)

Listen to the full album: https://antircrds.io/4cm8rz9 “Right Back to It” by @Waxahatchee from the album ‘Tigers Blood’, out now Order, stream & download at https://waxahatchee.ffm.to/tigersblood Directors: Corbett Jones & Nick Simonite Producer: Anna Rau Cinematographer & Colorist: Ryan Carmody Camera Support: MPS Austin Caddo Lake Film Correspondent: Aaron Applebaum Additional

“When I wrote that song, I couldn’t see it for myself. I don’t know why,” Crutchfield says. “There’s something about that melody that I was like, ‘This feels outside of my zone.’ Which is funny, because the song on Saint Cloud I felt that way about was ‘Fire,’ which ended up being the biggest song on that record. And ‘Right Back to It’ is the biggest song on this record. So it’s something I might just track in the future, to go after the melodies that don’t quite feel like something I would normally do.” 

Dropping the anchor

For Crutchfield, getting right back to it meant more than retreading familiar ground. With the help of producer Brad Cook — the Durham, North Carolina-based engineer known for studio work with Bon Iver, Nathaniel Rateliff, Snail Mail and others — the latest from Waxahatchee finds the artist stretching out in her signature sound while pushing it to new places. 

Crutchfield and Cook initially weren’t sure what those new places might look like on the anticipated Saint Cloud follow-up. They even toyed with the idea of incorporating more synth-driven, pop-forward production — an experiment that was quickly abandoned. But things came together on the aforementioned single with the addition of Lenderman, who wound up playing guitar in the studio band across the whole album.

Performing under the moniker Waxahatchee, singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield has carved a lane for herself as one of the leading indie-folk artists of the last decade. Credit: Molly Matalon

“It was the first time where we were like, ‘This might be the thing,’” she recalls of the initial session with Lenderman. “And then, of course, when he sang with me [on ‘Right Back to It’], we were like, ‘OK, this is something special.’ … We just hit on something and decided, ‘Alright, let’s drop the anchor here.’”

The confidence to know when you’re on to something was hard won for Crutchfield. In addition to the support from her partner and fellow musician Kevin Morby (“he keeps me present”), she says few things flipped a switch in her creative life quite like the decision to get sober. Saint Cloud may have been her first step in understanding what that pivotal decision meant, but Tigers Blood finds the artist writing a new chapter of the story. 

“I really feel like everything in my life got better when I quit,” she says. “I’m a lucky person in that I’ve gotten nothing but good signals from the universe that it’s what was supposed to happen. If I just keep not drinking, good things are coming my way, and happiness is coming my way — and reaching these new creative milestones, that’s coming my way.” 

ON THE BILL: Waxahatchee with Good Morning. 8 p.m. Thursday, May 23, Mission Ballroom, 4242 Wynkoop St., Denver. $36


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