For someone from Birmingham, Alabama, Katie Crutchfield has an accent that's startlingly subtle. "It sort of snuck away," the lead singer and creator of the band Waxahatchee says, taking a break from her international tour to talk via phone. "It'll sneak out when I have a drink," she adds. "It's sad. I kind of wish I still had it."
Now 28, Katie's music career began alongside that of her twin sister, Allison, in the mid-2000s with a high-school rock band they called the Ackleys. It's a moment she recently revisited with some friends through an old student-made video of the two from 2006 that's still online. "We both have the thickest Southern accents," she says, half-chuckling. "It's crazy."
A few years later, they'd experiment with creating a pop-punk band (called P.S. Eliot) before heading to New York to helm their own projects in 2011. There, surrounded by "cool East Coast people," Crutchfield remembers being self-conscious about her Southern drawl ("I felt like such a bumpkin"). A likely impetus, it seems, for its disappearance.
As Crutchfield worried about fitting in, her newly formed group Waxahatchee was taking off. An indie music project named for a creek near her parent's home, it's part solo venture, part band. Crutchfield, who writes and sings all the songs, is in full creative control of the music. On some, she's supported by as many as four backup players — including, on percussion and keyboard, her twin. On others, it's just her and the guitar.
But no matter the makeup of Waxahatchee, it's a force to be reckoned with. Upon the 2012 release of the band's first album, American Weekend — which Crutchfield wrote in seven days — Pitchfork awarded it an honorable mention for album of the year. By the next two albums, she'd be fielding interviews with the New York Times, The New Yorker, and NPR.
Through evocative lyrics and a transformative sound, Waxahatchee has become a staple in the indie-music scene and this summer will be releasing its fourth album. Out in the Storm , like the three records before it, is both sonically and lyrically arresting. A blend of alt rock, pop, and folk that paints a picture of heartbreak so vivid it stings. But unlike the others, this one ends with a triumphant Crutchfield. An idealist who lost herself in a volatile relationship for a while and — with the help of her sister — clawed her way back out.
In the lead-up to the album's release, we talked embarrassment, Berlin, and "shutting out the noise."
Abby Haglage: You started Waxahatchee in 2010 and within two years were being profiled by the New York Times . Since then you've been in the Guardian and The New Yorker , and in September, you performed on NPR's "Tiny Desk" series. Does all this fame get overwhelming?
Katie Crutchfield: I was talking to a friend about that. The thing is, I've been playing music for a long time. It's coming up on fifteen years that I've been making music and ten that I've been touring. I know a lot of people struggle with [fame] — and I have my moments for sure — but it happened at such a comfortable pace that I feel fine about it. At times it's really exciting; at times it's a little overwhelming. I have good days and bad days, but mostly I'm fine with it.
AH: Your music is such a blend of genres — alternative rock, pop, folk, and more. Is there one that you prefer to be known for?