Imagine how cool it’d be to take best friends on tour. That’s exactly what Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield has been able to do with fellow Brooklyn residents Swearin’, who are all currently on the road together after an extensive stint of running into each other back home in the US. While her musical background extends well over the last decade, 2013 has been the breakout year for Crutchfield, Sitting down to talk with Katie in the wide-open spaces of London’s Scala, she’s just had to give a prep talk to her backing band, who are slightly nervy about playing a 1,145-capacity venue.
“I said that you should never be nervous about a show like this!” an enthusiastic Crutchfield says, perching casually on the edge of a windowsill. “This is great! It’s like your birthday party or something. When you play a show to a smaller crowd or one that’s sparsely attended, you have to work a little harder to get people to like you – they don’t know anything about you. They don’t have any attachment to your songs, and that’s scary. Tonight, people are here with us – they’re not against us.”
Indeed, people are here tonight because of the way ‘Cerulean Salt’ has catapulted its way to the forefront. The reaction to the record has been gushing, and rightly so. It’s a beautiful album full of intricate, intimate moments with hints of raucous power pop to boot. “It’s not really like this in America,” Crutchfield says on her newfound UK stardom. “It’s been sort of slow-burning over there. Over here, it’s just completely the opposite - it went from no expectations, to like ‘whoa!’”
A show like tonight’s has been a long time coming for Crutchfield. She’s been making music for as long as she can remember. Before Waxahatchee, her biggest success came in the form of P.S. Eliot, an indie rock band based in Birmingham, Alabama who produced pop punk-tinged indie rock that’s not too far derived from her current moniker’s most upbeat song ‘Coast To Coast’. When the band split, Crutchfield insists that they all remained the closest of friends, with bassist Katherine Simonetti becoming an integral part of Waxahatchee’s live band.
P.S. Eliot’s drummer on the other hand? She’s none other than Allison Crutchfield, Katie’s sister and frontwoman of Swearin’.
“We all wanted to do our own thing,” Crutchfield explains on the disbandment of P.S. Eliot. “Allison and I were moving to New York, whilst Katherine was staying… In the end, we just ended up doing everything we wanted to do as a band. I wrote all the songs, and I just knew I couldn’t write another record like this.”
Crutchfield and her sister moved to New York, where she got a dead-end job in a coffee shop to pass the time that she didn’t spend writing songs. After spending a year recording ‘American Weekend’, she decided to pack it all up, and began touring again with the songs from that album. “It was pretty organic,” Crutchfield says on her decision to get back out on the road. “It wasn’t contrived in an ‘I’m going to blow this shit up now!’ way, you know? I just wanted to focus on my music all the time, and I just wanted to make it work.”
Friends and some punk rock community spirit proved to be integral to the development of ‘American Weekend’’s successor, ‘Cerulean Salt’. Keith Spencer and Kyle Gilbridge – who both play in Swearin’ – helped Crutchfield record her new album between them. She’d recorded ‘American Weekend’ herself, which led to its lo-fi, bedroom quality charm, but insists that she doesn’t know a thing about recording. “When I attempted to mic drums and things like that, it just didn’t translate and it didn’t service the songs,” she explains. “So the obvious answer to that was to get Kyle in the mix. We live together, and he records all of the Swearin’ stuff, so it was really easy and we just did it in our basement.”
Having written and recorded songs for the better part of ten years, Crutchfield admits that she tends to get a little self-conscious about what she’s writing about these days. That’s something she envies her sister not experiencing right now. “Allison hasn’t been writing songs as long as I have, she’s sort of relatively new,” she says. “She has a lot more out there to write about. I try to challenge myself more, to write about weird stuff y’know? I’ve written about heartbreak and relationships for so many years now.
“I envy her a little bit because I think it’s a little easier for her. She’s got this whole world out there, and I have all these weird neuroses where I worry that I can’t write about something because I’ve already written about it, or I can’t use a certain word any more. She doesn’t have that.”
After chatting with Crutchfield, Swearin’ drummer Jeff Bolt sits down on the same cosy windowsill. Swearin’ have also had a breakout 2013. While their debut, self-titled album possesses a sloppier, pop-punk sound, material from their new ‘Surfin’ Strange’ record has more of a subdued 90s indie rock feel to it. “I was talking to somebody about this the other day,” Bolt laughs. “I feel like there’s almost this residual feeling of us all playing in fast pop punk bands [on the first record]. This was an album that was recorded with four microphones in the basement of my house – well, the drums were anyway – and then the rest was done in Kyle’s mom’s art studio.
On this second one, Kyle got more equipment. That’s why on some of the songs, the drums sound a lot bigger. We just ended up experimenting a lot more.”
Bolt had played in a band that supported P.S. Eliot when they passed through his town and stayed in contact with Katie ever since. He and Kyle [Gilbride] met through each other’s work, and bonded over beers at a Bad Banana show. When Allison was talking to Katie about forming Swearin’, Katie recommended Bolt as he’d just moved into town and was looking for a band to play in. He and Keith [Spencer] had never met each other when they turned up at their practice space together for the first time. “I already knew these guys were cool, so I was like, I suppose this Keith guy will be!” Bolt jokes. “Now we’re holding down the rhythm section of the band. On the new record, it’s definitely going to come across that we’re more comfortable together.”
Allison reaffirms the band’s improved collaboration and slight veer in the direction of sound. “It was different for everyone, but I think we all were into the idea of this record being a bit heavier,” she says, adding that working the new material into their live set has been a “pretty natural” process for them. “There are some songs on the record where the instrumentation is a little more varied than what we normally do live but we’ve been able to pull most of them off,” she says.