How Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee Learned to Tune Out the Noise

Katie Crutchfield

Katie Crutchfield, photographed by Molly Matalon.

When you think of March 2020, it often evokes specific, media-centric reference points. People were watching Tiger King, playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons and, if they were indie rock-inclined, spinning Saint Cloud, the stunning fifth studio album from Waxahatchee. Katie Crutchfield, who started the project back in 2012, has comfortably ascended into her role as one of the genre’s lodestars. Saint Cloud was earthy and inviting, the aural equivalent of stumbling upon warm shelter during a wintry storm. It struck a chord at an auspicious moment; Crutchfield’s soothing vocals and lived-in songwriting resonated with listeners all across the globe, catapulting her to new levels of indie fame. 

But Crutchfield didn’t let the attention impede her artistic growth on the album’s follow-up, Tigers Blood, out this Friday. “If I just focus on what’s mine and keep my head down and work on the songs, the returns are going to be really great,” she says. “It’s pretty simple, actually.” Tigers Blood is a gorgeous record that explores a wide gamut of topics, such as self-discovery, codependency, addiction, enduring love, and growing apart from old friends. Last week, calling from our respective homes in Kansas City, Crutchfield and I discussed her recent switch in record labels, her experience interviewing Lucinda Williams in 2020 for this very magazine, writing her first true love song, and why she decided to start a Substack.



GRANT SHARPLES: Hey, how’s it going?

CRUTCHFIELD: Good. How are you?

SHARPLES: Good, good. Are you Zooming in from K.C.?

CRUTCHFIELD: Yes, exactly.

SHARPLES: Nice. Same here.

CRUTCHFIELD: Oh my god, really? Have we met before?

SHARPLES: We briefly met at the New Pornographers show at the Truman.

CRUTCHFIELD: Yes, you interviewed Kevin [Morby].

SHARPLES: Yeah, I talked to Kevin.

CRUTCHFIELD: I knew you looked familiar.

SHARPLES: How do you feel about putting this record out right now?

CRUTCHFIELD: I feel good. I am ready. There’s been so much build-up. I made the record a year ago and I had been working on it for a year leading up to that. I feel like I’m on the bench and I just want to get put in the game.

SHARPLES: Are you excited about the prospect of going on tour and letting these new songs kind of flourish?

CRUTCHFIELD: Of course. I really think this particular batch of songs is going to thrive and take on a new life the more that we play them, because that’s really how we developed them. Everything was just so improvised and it was all about bringing musicians together and seeing what happened organically. With all the players I’ve assembled for this run of shows, I just think it’s going to be really fresh every night.

SHARPLES: This is also your first record with ANTI. What was the decision-making process? I know your sister’s in A&R there as well, so did that influence your choice at all?

CRUTCHFIELD: Definitely. I’ve been with Merge for three records, and obviously they’re historically such an important label in the indie rock story, but it was just time for me to try something new. My sister has been such an important unofficial part of my team for so long and I just felt pulled there because of her. With every passing month since I’ve been working with them, I’m more and more reassured that it was the right decision. But the big selling point for me was Allison, definitely.

SHARPLES: Looking at the credits for this, you’ve also assembled this really cool crew of musicians like Jake Lenderman, the Cook Brothers, Spencer Tweedy. How did you go about choosing who you wanted to work with?

CRUTCHFIELD: Well, I was always going to make the record with Brad. We didn’t even have a conversation about it. We went straight from working on Saint Cloud to starting abstractly talking about Tigers Blood. That collaboration started at the earliest points of writing the songs. I was just writing vocal melodies and kind of vibing out to certain things and didn’t even have lyrics. We had been living in the growth of Saint Cloud and the impact of that record, what that did for both of our careers. We weren’t talking about it, but I do think we were feeling a certain amount of pressure to follow it up. We wanted it to be really good, but we didn’t know exactly what that was going to look like or what that meant. Do we need to make another hard pivot? Do we need to do something really different and reinvent what our working relationship looks like? So we toyed with many different ideas. I had the idea that we should bring in Jake Lenderman because I love the MJ record that came out two years ago and Brad did too. He brought Jake in really early and we jammed with him, just the three of us. It wasn’t until we tracked a version of “Right Back To It” that we were all kind of like, “Holy shit, how we’re feeling about this song is something we can anchor the whole record around.” Then Jake left because he had to go on tour with Wednesday and we kept working and jamming with the drummer, Matt McCaughan, who was in for the session. Then we were trying to do the song “365” and we programmed drums with a drum machine and we’re using all these synths and it was just feeling so wrong. In that moment, me and Brad both were like, “Okay, the confident choice is to just do what we did for Saint Cloud, to put a great band together and just make it all really warm and simple and not overwrought.” One of the pleasures of working with Brad is that Phil Cook is occasionally in the room as well. It’s an amazing perk. And from the very beginning I was like, “I just feel like he’s the exact right temperament to bring into an intimate project like this.” We went to Sonic Ranch. We were all living together in a house for three weeks and spending all day, every day together. This bond developed and I was like, “He’s the perfect person to bring in.” Anyway, that’s a very long-winded way of telling you how the band all came together.

SHARPLES: I love hearing about it. That decision to, as you put it, “try less hard,” was that just a sense of intuition?

CRUTCHFIELD: Sort of. Maybe Brad and I were trying to achieve some level of confidence and we wanted to radiate that. We were making confident choices. And I think at first we were like, “Okay, maybe confidence looks like a hard pivot or a reinvention.” But I actually think that the confident thing to do is to just do less, to just do what we can to support the songs. I was thinking about my biggest heroes, who are Tom Petty and Lucinda Williams, and how they never really tried that hard to reinvent their whole thing. They were just writing really good songs and elevating them in new ways, but there’s a through-line style-wise.

Katie Crutchfield

Katie Crutchfield, photographed by Molly Matalon.

SHARPLES: Speaking of Lucinda, you got to perform with her semi-recently. What was that experience like?

CRUTCHFIELD: I met Lucinda because I interviewed her for Interview Magazine, actually. That was the first time I met her. Since then, I’ve performed with her a few times and gotten to know her a little bit, which is just crazy. I’m kind of a shy person when it comes to meeting people that I look up to. I’m the last person who will go up to somebody and talk to them. I see them from across the room and just kind of clam up. No one means more to me on earth as an artist than Lucinda Williams. She’s such a trailblazer. She’s a hero in so many ways, but she’s had a long, fruitful career that spanned many decades and she’s just continued to make great albums, write great songs over her entire life, which is my ultimate goal.

SHARPLES: How has she affected you as a songwriter?

CRUTCHFIELD: My approach to songwriting, as far as the structure of the songs, is identical to Lucinda. Rarely will you find a bridge. It’s usually like, three to four chords only, and it’s simple. It’s all about the vocal melody. I don’t know if you read her book—

SHARPLES: I want to, it sounds good.

CRUTCHFIELD: It’s great, and it’s an easy read. But what I was really affected by is how simple but profound the style of it is. Everything is stated so matter-of-factly, but it’s very thoughtful and it just matches her songwriting style.

SHARPLES: Who else, musicians or just non-musical inspirations, informed the palette for Tigers Blood?

CRUTCHFIELD: Well, Bonny Doon obviously was such a huge part of Saint Cloud, and I feel like the palette for that record was finding inspiration in some of their influences. With this record, Jake’s aesthetic was so big. As Brad put it, he’s a very potent spice. You’re going to taste it if Jake’s in the room. I was also returning to some things that I had grown up with, like The Drive-by Truckers and Sparklehorse. I’m a really big R.E.M. fan, so that was something that I was trying to bring into this record.

SHARPLES: When I first heard “Right Back to It,” the lead single, I heard Jake’s vocals. Like you said, you can taste it.

CRUTCHFIELD: It’s such a spice.

SHARPLES: It’s country-fried.

CRUTCHFIELD: Yeah, it is.

SHARPLES: I read somewhere that you consider this the first true love song you’ve ever written.

CRUTCHFIELD: The fundamental parts of my whole songwriting style are built on being inspired by sadness, so it’s more about evoking heartache and heartbreak. That’s the stuff that I was always inspired to write about and the place that I felt the most comfortable writing from. But it’s tricky to write songs about being happy. The earnestness of that is a little uncomfortable for me. It’s so important in what we do as songwriters, but I couldn’t quite write that and make it feel authentic. When you think about love songs, a lot of the time they’re a little flowery or over the top. I just was never going to be able to write about that. It would not feel like me, partially because I am in a very long relationship and there’s a lot to sink your teeth into as far as what I could write about. But I was up for the challenge. There’s something about the melody of “Right Back to It” that feels a little romantic and puts me in that type of headspace. That’s probably why I decided to write it that way. It’s a new era for me.

SHARPLES: I think it’s cool that you’ve articulated the feeling of settling into a long-term love and joy of doing nothing together. It’s not represented in songs very much.

CRUTCHFIELD: If you were just describing it on the surface or telling somebody about it, maybe it wouldn’t sound that exciting, but this song is so relatable. So many people have told me that it’s relatable, so I feel validated.

SHARPLES: What are some of the other ideas and subjects you’re exploring on this record?

CRUTCHFIELD: There’s a couple more love songs. I like to talk about codependency when I write songs, specifically my relationships with other addicts. There’s a few songs that are kind of about that, like “365,” the new single. Then there’s been this phenomenon occurring in my life as somebody in my mid-30s of ending friendships, growing apart from old friends, and learning a lot about yourself in the process. I have a couple songs that are about that. And then there’s a few songs that are just kind of about the music business.

SHARPLES: Something else that struck me was the name of the record, Tigers Blood, which is also the title of the closing track. Where did that name come from?

CRUTCHFIELD: Well, it came from the closing track. I’m talking about childhood and summertime and innocence, and I remembered this snow cone flavor that I ate as a kid called Tiger’s Blood. It’s strawberry and coconut mixed together. I’m talking about somebody’s mouth being stained with tiger’s blood because it’s red from eating a snow cone and I loved it so much. I was like, “That sounds so muscular and intense but also innocent and sweet.” I just really liked the juxtaposition of that, of these polarizing meanings. It’s actually pretty innocent and innocuous, but it was hitting me in a certain way that felt like it represented the record.

SHARPLES: Do you have a favorite track on this record, or at least one that you’re most proud of having written?

CRUTCHFIELD: It’s hard because I feel like every song’s so different. It changes a lot. I’m really proud of “Right Back to It” for a lot of reasons. I love “Tigers Blood.” I love “Lone Star Lake” lyrically. I love “Crowbar,” that’s a really fun one. There’s a lot.

SHARPLES: “Lone Star Lake” stood out to me. I believe that’s the one where you talk about the lake in Kansas and crossing state lines? Whenever I hear it, I’m like, “Hey, that’s where I am.”

CRUTCHFIELD: Lone Star Lake’s just on the other side of Lawrence, so you could go.

SHARPLES: Oh, really? I didn’t realize it was that close.

CRUTCHFIELD: Kevin and I went there during COVID and went swimming. I go to Clinton Lake a lot, which is a little closer to Lawrence and is bigger. But Lone Star is pretty cool. People go fishing there a lot.

SHARPLES: Do you go fishing there with Kevin?

CRUTCHFIELD: No, I grew up fishing a little bit and I haven’t gone fishing in so long, but I do love it.

SHARPLES: I’ve been following your Substack, which has been a lot of fun to read.


SHARPLES: In one of the posts you’re talking about trying to ignore the amount of eyes that are now on you because of Saint Cloud. How did you go about navigating that?

CRUTCHFIELD: It’s something I’ve developed over the years and I’ve gotten pretty good at, I’ll say. I’ve always been pretty good at tuning out noise. I took myself extremely seriously as a songwriter at age 15. I’m sure I was a nightmare about it, but I was dead serious about it, even back then. It’s easy for me to get focused, but with every album there’s a little bit more outside noise. I haven’t used social media in a pretty long time. I don’t read anything about myself. I just think that internalizing any of that stuff is not helpful. Anyway, I’ve been in that mode for years and years. I’m insulated in that way. My favorite work I’ve ever made is on these last couple of records and I just keep getting signals from the universe. If I just focus on what’s mine and keep my head down and work on the songs, the returns are going to be really great. It’s pretty simple, actually.

SHARPLES: You found what works for you. That also speaks to your move towards Substack. What inspired you to start it?

CRUTCHFIELD: Well, I love writing, and I have a desire to share it with the people that care about what I have to say. I wanted the opportunity to expand on ideas that I have about music and sports and whatever it is that’s interesting to me and to just send it out to anyone who might care. I send it out and I move on with my day. I thought it might be a nice change of pace for me.

SHARPLES: I remember when I was talking to Kevin a couple of years ago, I asked him about his Substack. I remember him saying that any interaction he got from a Substack, even if just two people liked or commented, meant so much more than any like on Twitter or Instagram.

CRUTCHFIELD: That’s true. I don’t post my own Substacks. I just write them and send them. I actually don’t know what people say about them, but I will say that people have come up to me in person or brought them up in interviews and it’s kind of a nice way to connect with people.

SHARPLES: I’ll just ask you a couple more things and then let you get on with your day. But I was wondering, what are you most proud of with Tigers Blood?


SHARPLES: It’s a loaded question.

CRUTCHFIELD: A lot of the time, when I’ve made records in the past, I listened to them over and over and over again after I made them and before they came out. I think it’s an anxiety thing, like I’m searching for mistakes or something. With Tigers Blood, when I made the record, I just felt so good about it. I just felt like every word, every vocal performance, every instrumental choice, everything is just right where it needs to be. I don’t need to search for mistakes. We really did it, and that feels good. There’s no need to overthink it.