A Brief History Of… Waxahatchee

Jake May details the countless projects of Katie Crutchfield, pre-Waxahatchee.

With her new album released through Wichita today and new UK shows for this autumn recently announced, Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield has plenty to be looking forward to. The past few months has seen this side of the Atlantic gradually embracing the Alabaman artist with open arms. Two headline London shows (organised to fit in with her ongoing European tour with Tegan & Sara) swiftly sold out and word’s gradually spreading on someone being labelled a ‘new’ artist.

What the UK might not know about the 24-year-old, however, is that she’s far from a newbie. Not only is ‘Cerulean Salt’ her second record as Waxahatchee, but the artist has a whole back catalogue from previous projects just begging to be your new, old favourite band. Such is ‘A Brief History Of…’s aim.

The Ackleys
The Ackleys was Katie’s first band, started with her twin sister Allison (who currently plays in Swearin, set to support Waxahatchee on their forthcoming UK dates) at the age of just 14. Leave your preconceptions at the door, the Crutchfield’s were no average early teens. They cited Rilo Kiley, Guided By Voices and The Breeders as influences and as a four-piece wrote riffy, melodic songs with Katie on guitar and Allison on keys. Even back then you can hear Katie’s personal, recognisable style developing. There’s a music video for the pretty darn impressive ‘Chinaman’ below while there are more songs on MySpace and there’s also this short and insightful documentary on the band on YouTube here. I wish I was that cool at 14.



King Everything
A solo project while Katie was in the Ackleys aged 16, King Everything is the band’s stripped back sister - much like what Waxahatchee is to P.S. Eliot (we’ll get there…). It’s delicate and minimalist and feels really personal. As Katie describes:

‘Those were songs when I was very, very young. I was a little bit embarrassed but I got a lot of emails about it. People were like ‘I really want to hear this, I used to have a tape of it and I don’t have it anymore’. And I was like ‘right, I’ll put it online but I’ll have to put a disclaimer!’ Like, ‘look, I was only 16, please don’t think that this is something that’s new that is coming out. This was a long time ago…’ It was only like year two of me writing songs.’

Katie has nothing to worry about. 16 years old or not, this is seriously impressive stuff. Vocally it’s as beautiful as you’d expect and despite the age and lack of experience she was clearly already a mature songwriter. Even lyrically, though probably embarrassing for her to look back at, there’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Check out all three demo collections on bandcamp.



P.S. Eliot

‘We were about 18 or 19 when P.S. Eliot started. It was like the most fun band.’

You’re not wrong, Katie. P.S. Eliot again featured Katie (vocals, guitar) and Allison (drums), with various friends coming and going to help them out on bass and at live shows. As a band they released the ‘Bike Wreck’ five-track demo before two full-length albums (2009’s ‘Introverted Romance in our Troubled Minds’ and 2011’s ‘Sadie’) - though it’s the ‘Living In Squalor’ 7’ sandwiched in-between them that really demonstrates their strength. The band essentially sounded like Waxahatchee turned up to 11 - fast, catchy, loud, pop-punk-ish, and thoroughly excellent.

‘It’s sort of like a rock’n’roll, pop-punk version of Waxahatchee songs,’ Katie says. There’s this band The So So Glos from New York City, they came to Alabama on tour and had five off days - shows had fallen through - and they ended up staying in Alabama for five days. We became very good friends. They had just purchased this bus and they were constantly playing music and they were so happy and they were all best friends and brothers and they were going for it. They had moved out of their homes and quit their jobs and they were on tour for like two months. Allison and I had toured before but we hadn’t toured like that… So Allison and I were just like ‘fuck it, we’ll just go back to what we used to do and we’ll start the band, just the two of us’, and we put my friend Katie on bass. It was three best friends and we made a demo and started playing shows and touring just the three of us - basically out of just wanting to have fun. It wsn’t so much about the music at the time… Now I’m super proud of the demo and the music that we made - but when we first started it was just all about going on tour and being best friends and having these experiences. It was really cool.’

After ‘Sadie’, P.S. Eliot came to its natural conclusion. ‘I just had a desire to have complete control over what was happening. P.S. Eliot was sort of in a place where we were living in different cities and we all had other projects and other things going on that were more important at the moment so we just decided ‘well, we’re not going to do anything else’. [Splitting] was the obvious thing to do.’

Though it’s a real shame that we don’t get to hear more like ‘Acid Flashbacks’ (taken from the ‘Living In Squalor’ 7’, below), it did of course allow Katie to focus on subsequent projects, and without their split it’s unlikely we’d have ‘Cerulean Salt’ now. I guess we’ll forgive you.



Bad Banana
Very much towards the extreme end of the rough’n’ready scale, Bad Banana is like a more direct, more immediate P.S. Elliot with strong 90s punk influnces and lots of energy. Again of course it’s Katie’s and Allison’s band (later recruiting friend and future ‘Cerulean Salt’ producer Kyle Gilbridge), Bad Banana were active throughout 2010 and 2011, touring and releasing the ‘Cry About It’ 7’ and the ‘Crushfield’ album (downloadable for free with the band’s permission from here).



Waxahatchee - American Weekend
The lesser known debut album from Waxahatchee was written and recorded in one week in Katie’s home. Significantly more lo-fi and sparse, it results in a personal, delicate, and incredibly affecting listen with Katie’s heart-wrenching lyrics sitting loud and proud. Though it’s sonically less-developed and musically less complex, its rawness is a real draw and fans of ‘Cerulean Salt’ undoubtedly need to become acquainted. Hear ‘Bathtub’.



Great Thunder
An ongoing project between Katie and her live Waxahatchee drummer (and boyfriend) Keith, Great Thunder is a far more collaborative project than much of her previous work - and it also feels a lot different. Keith's vocals, which switch between hushed and shouty, often take centre stage and his style comes across strongly and juxtaposes well with Katie's. And those snare rolls. 'Oof'.



'When I write for [Great Thunder] it's sort of more the first stuff that comes to mind, as long as it's not totally stupid,' Katie describes. 'It's going with a more abstract theme and not writing about something that's your personal experience. Those lyrics are easier and more fun. It's like making a painting - there's no wrong stroke of the brush, you can just do what you want and just paint this weird crazy picture. And if it doesn't make any sense to anybody else then fuck them, it doesn't matter.'

It's an ongoing project to the side of Waxahatchee, so keep an eye on Facebook for more updates.



Oh, and don’t forget Allison and Katie’s excellent recent cover of Grimes’ ‘Oblivion’:



Intrigued by what you hear? Read Jake May's interview with Waxahatchee and read the DIY review of 'Cerulean Salt’.

‘Cerulean Salt’ is out through Wichita Recordings on 1st July.

Waxahatchee plays an acoustic solo in-store at 6pm at London’s Rough Trade West and at 8.30pm at Kingston’s Banquet Records on 1st July. They appear as a full band at London’s Rough Trade East at 7pm on 2nd July.