Waxahatchee: Blowing Up

Waxahatchee gets extremely loud and incredibly close

It’s 9 a.m. in Texas, and Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield is on the phone, bright and cheery after a gig opening for the New Pornographers.

“I’m at my freshest and most mentally clear in the morning—it’s definitely not rock ‘n’ roll,” she says, explaining her request for the early chat about her band’s new album, Out In The Storm (Merge), which definitely is rock ’n’ roll.

Out In The Storm, the fourth Waxahatchee LP, is another step forward for Crutchfield. It’s her first record working with a producer from outside the band’s tight circle, as well as her first using her full touring group as its core. It also contains her hardest, loudest songs since her days in scrappy punk band P.S. Eliot.

Crutchfield began Waxahatchee as a solo bedroom-recording project while in P.S. Eliot, the Birmingham, Ala.-based band with her twin sister Allison. After P.S. Eliot split in 2011, the sisters moved to Philadelphia, where Waxahatchee became Katie’s main project. The live group solidified for the long touring cycle supporting 2015’s acclaimed Ivy Tripp: Ashley Arnwine on drums, Katherine Simonetti on bass and Allison on keys, backing vocals and guitars. Joining on lead guitar for Out In The Storm is Katie Harkin, who played guitar and keyboards for the Sleater-Kinney reunion tour.

“I knew that I wanted another layer there,” says Crutchfield. “I felt that I would really love some great leads. And Katie’s so good with layering, at finding the space in the song. As soon as she sat down and started working, immediately I was patting myself on the back. Everything she came up with, I was freaking out.”

To help her produce the album, Crutchfield drafted John Agnello, who’s worked with Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, the Hold Steady and Philly friend Kurt Vile. Whereas Ivy Tripp opened with a somber keyboard drone, Out In The Storm leaps out of the gate with a blast of guitars that sounds like a declaration of intent. “Never Been Wrong” is a big, rousing rock song with a ’90s crunch to it.

“I kept pushing for a Breeders vibe on the rock songs,” says Agnello. “It’s not obvious. I don’t love when you get hit over the head with a hammer with influences.”

Unless, perhaps, it’s the Breeders’ “Divine Hammer,” a song Agnello suggested as a reference point when the band began recording.

“I knew what I was getting into with John,” says Crutchfield. “I knew his records, and I knew that that’s the sound. So I kind of figured that would happen. That, coupled with having my live band, because when people see us live, that’s been a thing. On the other records, it’s been kind of pulled back; it’s kind of reserved, there’s some space between you and the band. When we play live, it’s a totally different experience than the record, in my opinion. It’s bigger, it’s louder, it’s heavier.”

Those three adjectives characterize Out In The Storm overall, especially glorious, hook-filled single “Silver.” There’s also a hint of P.S. Eliot, which did a reunion tour shortly before the group began working on the Waxahatchee album.

“It was a lot of fast rock ’n’ roll songs in that band,” says Crutchfield. “It brought back memories that made me long for that energy again.”

Although the group does pull back on the acoustic “A Little More,” the resonant “Sparks Fly” and the keys-based “Recite Remorse,” bold electric songs such as “No Quarter” and “Brass Beam” dominate the record. Crutchfield decided to let this album be more focused than past ones.

“The way that I used to approach making records, I wanted to really try to up the ante with the variety,” she says. “I wanted it to be as diverse as possible. I wanted it to play like a Guided By Voices record where you don’t really know what’s going to happen. It’s not all rock songs. There’ll be, like, one two-minute rock song, then there’s a piano ballad, then there’s a super stark solo thing. That used to be higher up on my list of priorities than it was on this new record.”

But just don’t expect Waxahatchee to be a rock band forever.

“I reserve the right to go in a totally opposite direction on the next one if I want to,” says Crutchfield. “But I feel good about it. That’s something that two or three years ago, I would have been like, ‘No, that’s not the kind of record I want to make.’ You evolve, I guess.”

—Steve Klinge