Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield: Q&A

Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield (photo by Molly Matalon, PR)
by Kara Manning | 05/07/2020 | 12:00am

Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield (photo by Molly Matalon, PR)

Quarantined Artists is a new FUV feature that includes online Q&As and on-air conversations with musicians dealing with life in Covid-19 lockdown.

When Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield decided to give up drinking following her tour behind 2017's rambunctious Out in the Storm, she also gave herself free rein to reconsider and revamp all aspects of her life. Sidestepping away from what she told Rolling Stone was a "loud and abrasive" sound that coursed through her previous work, she veered down a different road for her fifth album. The result is the lucid dream of Saint Cloud (an FUV New Dig). It's an edgy valentine to new romance (and sober epiphanies) as well as a love letter to the women of country music whom Crutchfield revered as a child, like Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris.

This extraordinary album, Crutchfield's finest, had the tough timing of dropping in late March, smack dab in the early cyclonic days of the pandemic. But Saint Cloud is that sweet songwriting elixir that everyone needs right now, as we are set adrift with time to appreciate the arc of an entire album. Crutchfield has a knack for poetic precision that demands that kind of attention, from "Ruby Falls" ("Real love don't follow a straight line/It breaks your neck, it builds you a delicate shrine") to "The Eye" ("I will chase all the rain, put it down, call it paint").

Crutchfield, who is spending her quarantine days in Kansas City, Kansas with her boyfriend, fellow musician Kevin Morby, has been keeping busy even though touring is pretty much off the table. The pair have taken to livestreaming like seasoned pros, doing an NPR Tiny Desk (home) Concert and other weekly livestreams via Instagram, covering songs by John Prine, Silver Jews, and even Blink-182.

FUV caught up to Crutchfield for a Quarantined Artists Q&A to chat about homebound days and Saint Cloud — and we discovered that she's an enthusiastic cook and a Fiona Apple fan too:

There seems to have been a lot of factors that filtered into your songwriting for Saint Cloud, like your move to Kansas City and your admiration for strong songwriters (and women) like Lucinda Williams, Dolly Parton, and Emmylou Harris. What was the perfect storm for you that became Saint Cloud?

I think after Out in the Storm my taste shifted a bit back toward classic country and Americana music. This has happened a lot over the years; I feel like I'm always reacting to whatever record I made last. This was obviously the biggest leap yet for me as far as sound goes and I really just think that a fairly organic shift in my taste was to blame for that. I think we chip away at what we’re really trying to do and say with every new offering as artists. In identifying with people like Dolly and Lucinda as Southern women writers with a unique perspective, I was just getting a little closer to wherever it is I'm going.

Sobriety is also a brave new world for you and it's also a courageous place to be not only artistically, as you are in songs like "Lilacs" and "Ruby Falls," but also in the midst of a pandemic. How did that clarity serve your songwriting?

I think the clarity that sobriety brings has really helped the outcome of my songs but definitely cramps the process a bit, in a good way. I think it has made me labor over things more and take everything way more slowly. I'm way more deliberate about every single detail now, whereas in the past I’d just kinda breeze through a little bit more than I do now. I'm happy with the change now on the other side because I think the finished product is better. The process is a little bit more tortured and labor intensive.

You tap into some vivid images and metaphors song to song, as on "Arkadelphia." What about your childhood in Birmingham, Alabama was resurrected in your imagery throughout Saint Cloud?

I go back to Birmingham on every record at least a few times. I think as a songwriter you want to tell the story and bring the listener with you as much as you can. I find that being thoughtful about the details I choose to include is helpful and I want to paint the picture as clearly as I can. It's important to include literal and intimate details; it's important to include small, sensory details like how much tomatoes cost or things I'm passing and barely clocking on the drive out to Waxahatchee Creek. Things that just kind of live in my mind live in everyone’s mind. I think it creates an intimacy, to not be too heavy-handed with the details.

What have you been reading, while you were pondering Saint Cloud and also now, self-isolating?

When I got to Sonic Ranch to start work on Saint Cloud, I was finishing up Normal People by Sally Rooney. In the lockdown I’ve been revisiting Pema Chodron’s books and reading a lot of plays. 

Where are you spending your lockdown and what room or favorite spot do you feel yourself drifting to the most for comfort or quiet? Are you a cook? If so, what have you been making or baking?

I’ve been sitting at our desk a lot in a sort of central room of our house that has a lot of art, books, and plants in it. I also gravitate towards a little studio we have in a back house to work on music. I’ve been cooking so much! Mostly Alison Roman and Molly Baz recipes.

Is there a lyric from Saint Cloud, or any song by anyone, that's floated into your head a lot since we've all been on lockdown?

I’m mostly listening to [Fiona Apple's] Fetch the Bolt Cutters, on which every single lyric is a gift.

How do you feel, once we are on the other side of this dark time, that we will find light again?

I try not to think about the future right now to be honest. Maybe that's avoidance but I am really trying to live one day at a time and stay present. I think that's just because everything feels so incredibly unknowable right now, so it feels better to just look at what’s right in front of me and enjoy this downtime. A lot of us rarely get it. 

A lot of folks are struggling with feeling productive these days. Are you finding music — either writing it, playing it or listening to it— a gateway to escape right now?

I think the thing about productivity is that it always feels better when you really want it. If you don’t, at least for me, and if it's not coming naturally, I find it better to walk away. I have little bursts where I want to work on music, so I listen to those, but otherwise I haven’t been pushing it. It will come. Like others, I like that I’m naturally finding satisfaction in the simplest things lately. 

- Katie Crutchfield
April 20, 2020

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