The musician, known by her stage name Waxahatchee, is currently comfortable and at ease wearing a Breeders T-shirt and cardigan, with her hair styled in a high bun and headphones on. She is contemplating the past decade and how it has affected her. She notes that her 30s have brought more opportunities for happiness, which she finds intriguing. Each day, she awakens and realizes that she has undergone changes. She lets out a slightly sad laugh and remarks, “I am a different person now.”
Crutchfield, at the age of 35, attributes the change to growing up, being sober, and achieving success. However, she emphasizes that these three factors are interconnected. From her teenage years in Alabama, Crutchfield has been a part of various bands, often with her twin sister, Allison. She rose to prominence in the mainstream music scene with her fifth album as Waxahatchee, titled “Saint Cloud,” which was highly praised in 2020. The album, released in March of that year, features introspective, country-influenced indie rock songs that reflect on Crutchfield’s decision to stop drinking in 2017 and her journey of self-discovery in sobriety. These songs deeply resonated with listeners who were also trying to reconnect with themselves during the lockdown.
After the restrictions were lifted, Crutchfield embarked on a delayed victory tour of Saint Cloud that lasted for 18 months. In October 2022, she collaborated with fellow singer-songwriter Jess Williamson on an album called Plains. After a quiet year spent at home with her partner and occasional collaborator, musician Kevin Morby, Crutchfield is now preparing to release a new album.
Despite being Waxahatchee’s sixth album, Tigers Blood has a somewhat experimental feel to it. The artist herself describes it as a “student project” and acknowledges that it takes a different approach compared to her previous album, Saint Cloud. She also mentions feeling more removed and isolated in the making of this album, constantly striving to push herself further.
Crutchfield is discussing the limitations she has set for herself in the past three years. This includes protecting herself from substance abuse as well as any distractions or depletions of her creativity and well-being as both an artist and a person.
Tigers Blood is more outward-looking than its predecessor, without an overarching narrative. Saint Cloud had “such a neat little bow on it: ‘This is an album about someone getting sober,’” Crutchfield says, ironically. That’s a simplification, she adds – but the narrative was certainly picked up and cemented by the press.
In interviews, Crutchfield frequently mentioned that her struggles with substances were not extreme. However, her journey towards sobriety has provided inspiration for her music. In Saint Cloud, Crutchfield explores her personal struggles with codependency and addiction, and in tracks like “Fire,” she encourages herself to be more self-compassionate.
As a songwriter, Crutchfield has always been intrigued by introspection, occasionally even inventing “two versions of herself in opposition”. After five years of sobriety, she has a changed perspective on both herself and her art. “That was something that weighed heavily on my thoughts: it’s not the expected, polished transformation of sobriety – I am now fully immersed in it,” she explains.
After giving up alcohol and relocating to Kansas City to be with Morby, Crutchfield, who had previously traveled between her hometown of Birmingham and cities like Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Long Island, was warned by a friend that she would not recognize herself for some time. Crutchfield confirms this, stating, “That was definitely accurate. Now I can confidently say that I know my sober self.”
She still has some challenging days, but overall, she feels very stable. Crutchfield’s Tigers Blood album reflects her confidence and ability to take stock of the current positive “season of her life.”
The content includes more than just romantic stories. It also explores addiction and the challenges of being in a relationship with other addicts. Additionally, there are songs that express the artist’s thoughts on the music industry and society as a whole.
For example, the song “Bored” expresses her increasing irritation towards a close friend: Crutchfield’s vocals, uneasy and complaining about conforming, intensify into a scream during the chorus: “My kindness just disappears / I become boooooooooored.”
The song reflects her experience of how, in her mid-30s, paths diverge and friendships can “become really challenging”, Crutchfield says, just one of the ways she’s found that “life gets really interesting as you age”.
During her twenties, Crutchfield’s life was characterized by excessive drinking, drug use, and engaging in extreme behavior. However, as she has matured, she has found a sense of direction and is comfortable with who she is. This has led to a lower tolerance for people who do not align with her journey.
It’s a sign of Crutchfield’s maturation as a person and an artist, as well as her growing awareness of time. She still loves that teenage intensity of feeling in others’ music, she says, singling out the “really impressive” Olivia Rodrigo as “gen Z’s Fiona Apple”. But in her own work, Crutchfield is looking to draw inspiration from her (mercifully) peaceful day-to-day life – and to pace herself.
At the young age of 14, Crutchfield and her sister Allison learned to play musical instruments and compose songs on their own. By the time they were 16, they formed a band called the Ackleys and had gained a significant fanbase in their local area. They were also skilled enough to go on tour. They spent most of their school breaks traveling and performing.
In 2007, when they were 18 years old, the twins transitioned to playing pop-punk music in their new band PS Eliot. They embarked on national tours lasting up to eight weeks, which they organized themselves without any guaranteed payment, purely for the love of the music. Crutchfield explains, “We fully booked these tours on our own.”
Despite her youth and the distractions of being in her early twenties, she was determined to pursue a career in music. She found inspiration in Brian Wilson’s latest album, which delved into a newer stage of his life. However, she admits that during that time, her songwriting was mostly centered around the small dramas of her own life.
“If I am truly committed to achieving a long and successful career, which I am, it will be crucial for me to remain fully engaged in the present moment and constantly ask myself, ‘What is my truth right now?’… Even if it may not seem as thrilling as the chaos of my younger years, I must focus on this and continue to progress.”
In her latest album, Crimes of the Heart, Crutchfield explores her uncertain role in the online music industry and the expectations for her to do more. She compares herself to a fortune teller giving away her services in someone else’s profitable enterprise and cautions against taking on too much.
Crutchfield herself is not active on social media, wary of how “manipulative” algorithms might diminish her songwriting and emotional insights: “I have to preserve my human brain,” she says, laughing at herself for sounding so “tinfoil hat”.
According to Saint Cloud, the artist wanted to demonstrate that creating captivating art does not require suffering. After completing the album with a clear vision and cohesive message, Tigers Blood explores a variety of topics that were on her mind at the time. Rather than introspection, the album is more like a dialogue with the audience.
In 2017, Crutchfield used an “outward” approach for her album Out in the Storm. The album explores the aftermath of a breakup and she admits that it can be difficult for her to revisit due to its rawness.
Tigers Blood proved to her how much she’s grown since then, confidently channelling not just that earlier, angstier album’s searching perspective, but also its heavier sound. MJ (Jake) Lenderman – of the band Wednesday, whose third solo album, Boat Songs, was widely regarded as one of the best of last year – plays electric guitar throughout the record, and also sings harmony.
When Crutchfield initially witnessed Lenderman’s performance at South by Southwest a couple of years ago, she was immediately interested in working together with him. She was particularly impressed by his raw and authentic southern style of playing the guitar, which she has a strong affinity for.
Producer Brad Cook suggested inviting Lenderman to their initial studio session without any prior knowledge of the upcoming album.
At first, Crutchfield had doubts and was already feeling somewhat exposed about creating another album after Saint Cloud (which was also produced by Cook). “Even though we didn’t openly acknowledge it, I think both Brad and I felt the pressure…we didn’t want it to come across as a lucky coincidence.”
In an attempt to accurately represent the success of Waxahatchee, we were enthusiastically throwing around terms like ‘huge’ and ‘grand’, boosting each other’s confidence,” Crutchfield explains with a chuckle as she remembers their productive brainstorming session. In reality, “we were just going in circles”.
I admit that I am having difficulty envisioning the “amazing” album by Waxahatchee. According to Crutchfield, “ironically, I believe we were considering pop production, which neither of us truly desired.” However, with the success of their latest album, she acknowledges, “the opportunity is there and it’s alluring to pursue it.”
However, following three days in the studio with Lenderman, Cook and Crutchfield came to the realization that they didn’t have to completely change themselves or meet the expectations of Saint Cloud; they simply needed to stick to their tried and true formula.
Crutchfield expresses her strong affection for Saint Cloud, Tigers Blood, and the Plains album. She believes that utilizing these methods has been more successful for her. She also believes in the power of surrounding herself with the right people, as things tend to fall into place when she does so.
Crutchfield’s goal is to sustain her current level of achievement while also placing importance on her happiness. She is appreciative of the progress in her career thus far, stating that achieving success at a young age would have been chaotic. She believes that she is prepared to take advantage of any opportunities that come her way. Currently, she feels that she is producing her finest work and receiving more recognition than ever before.
Crutchfield chimes in with a melodic tone, stating, “Everything fell into place as expected.” She begins the sentence with a hint of self-awareness, playfully poking fun at the tidy storyline – but concludes with a sigh of contentment.
On March 22nd, Tigers Blood will be released.