Katie Crutchfield is arguably Birmingham’s most visible representative in today’s indie rock scene. She grew up in the city with her sister Allison Crutchfield — together, they formed the band P.S. Eliot — and they cut their teeth at venues like the now-defunct Cave 9.
Crutchfield’s current project, Waxahatchee, started with American Weekend, an album she recorded in her bedroom. Shortly after it was released, she departed Birmingham for Brooklyn; she’s since released two more albums as Waxahatchee: 2013’s Cerulean Salt and 2015’s Ivy Tripp. (Allison, who moved to Philadelphia, formed the band Swearin’.)
Crutchfield recently took time to discuss her recent musical directions and her complex relationship with the city she grew up in.
Weld: The last time you performed in Birmingham was for December 26’s benefit for Growing Kings at the Nick. You joined the lineup on pretty short notice — how did that come about?
Crutchfield: I didn’t want to do a show at the Nick totally by myself — I was really anxious about doing a solo set. My boyfriend was in town so we just kind of threw it together. It was really fun.
Weld: One thing that stood out about that performance was that it featured some stripped-down performances of songs from Ivy Tripp. That album features your most diverse instrumentation to date, so was it difficult to arrange simpler versions of those songs?
Crutchfield: A lot of my songs are written that way, just on one instrument — typically acoustic guitar. A lot of them are rooted in three-chord progressions, so it’s pretty easy to strip them down. And that’s just how I tend to write songs. Pretty much any song I’ve ever written could be stripped down to that.
Weld: What was your goal, sonically, for Ivy Tripp?
Crutchfield: I think my goal sonically was exactly how it turned out. With Cerulean Salt, my second record, I had really fleshed a lot of things out and relied on other instruments and a band setting in a lot of the songs. That kind of felt like a big step, and with Ivy Tripp I wanted to take that even further and sort of instead of just using two guitars, bass and drums on one song, using synths and acoustic guitars and pianos, and just stretching it out even further.
I think how we achieved a lot of that was just time. We had a lot of time in the studio. I was recording with my friend Kyle, who recorded Cerulean Salt, and we just really camped out at my house and just took our time and tried a lot of things and built these songs up from those three-chord roots, that simple song structure.
Weld: You moved away from Birmingham in 2011, and in the press you’ve expressed conflicted emotions about the music scene here — particularly in regards to sexism. Could you talk about that?
Crutchfield: It’s the kind of thing where I have a nuanced conversation with someone about it and then the most inflammatory things are what’s printed and what people read. I do think that a lot of the time, some of the men that I know and that I grew up with in Birmingham have been defensive about the things that I’ve said, and that in itself is a little bit off-putting, because I am the one who experienced it as a woman, and maybe they’re just not seeing things. There’s that aspect to it.
But I don’t want to portray my experience in Birmingham as bad. I feel really lucky that I got to grow up in the era when Cave 9 was there, where Aaron Hamilton helped with that. He is a truly amazing person. Basically, if I had never met Aaron, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. He changed my whole life, and was just so great to us and such a good mentor.
And there were so many cool people organizing cool shows and playing in cool bands at the time. There was an element, you know, where the kids that were our age when we were going to Cave 9 that were into sort of mosh-y hardcore, and that was obviously a type of music that is naturally alienating to anyone that isn’t a man. It’s an aggressive, testosterone-fueled type of music. As I got older, I found I had less and less patience for that kind of stuff, just because it was set up to alienate people and not to be super inclusive.
I got older and toured more and met different kinds of people, and that aspect of the music scene in Birmingham kind of put me off. But I certainly would never cast that city off as a whole, or the scene off as a whole. There are so many cool bands now. There’s so much cool stuff happening there now. I really, truly love Birmingham. There was a period where it was really beautiful and really amazing and I had great experiences, and then after a while, my politics and my sister’s politics became more developed, and they started to clash with certain aspects of the scene that we had grown up involved in. That’s not damning every person. It is what it is.
If anyone reads this that has been annoyed with us in the past, maybe it’ll set them straight. It’s funny, I feel like that’s a weird thing when we come to town now. I feel like people don’t even understand what we mean.
Weld: When you come home now, five years after leaving, do you notice that any of that has changed? Has that aspect of the scene improved, from your perspective?
Crutchfield: Oh, yeah. A lot of the people that, when we talk about our bad experiences, those people don’t even go to shows anymore at all. That tends to happen in music scenes; some people whose heart maybe wasn’t in it for the right reasons, they just tend to go away after a while.
But also, there a lot of younger people in Birmingham who I really just think are awesome and who are doing a lot of really cool stuff, setting up a lot of really cool shows. There are a couple of people in Birmingham who are five or six years younger than me, but if my friends are coming to Birmingham, I’ll send them in their direction, because I’m like, ‘These are the people I trust to do shows.’ These younger, enthusiastic people.
I really love what’s happening there. And obviously, we’re coming to play at Saturn. I’ve wanted to play there since I heard it was going to be a venue, so I’m thrilled about that. Anytime I’ve come home since it opened, I’ve swung by and hung out there. It’s awesome.
Weld: It’s been around a year since Ivy Tripp was released. Have you started working on your next record?
Crutchfield: I’m just now getting all my ideas organized. I have a few songs, and I have a lot ideas for songs that I’m really excited about.
A lot of things in my life have changed. Different people are in my life now, and some other people are out of my life now, and everything feels really new and I’m excited about making the record again. I can’t wait. I don’t have any ideas for it sonically, where I want to go, but I’m leaning toward a little more minimal. We’ll see what happens.
Waxahatchee will perform at Saturn on Saturday, June 11. Allison Crutchfield and Glories will open. Doors open at 8 p.m.; the show begins at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance and $14 the day of the show. For more information, visit saturnbirmingham.com.