Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield on addiction, sobriety, and new album 'Tigers Blood'

Interview Waxahatchee: Let The Light In

On her sixth album ‘Tigers Blood’, Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield is distancing herself from her demons and embracing home in all its forms.

The last time DIY spoke to Katie Crutchfield (aka Waxahatchee) back in 2020, the Alabama-born artist was trying to be a little kinder to herself. Having made the leap into sobriety in 2018, 2020’s ‘Saint Cloud’ was a career-high record that saw her embrace her newfound perspective and begin to rekindle a bond with her southern roots. Her imminent follow-up, ‘Tigers Blood’, meanwhile, is her most confident to date; an album inspired by the revelations that the musician has encountered more than five years after she began to rein back control in her life.

Taking a stroll along London’s Brick Lane for today’s conversation, Katie is in high spirits, gleefully petting as many dogs as possible, ecstatic at the fact that a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel looks “just like mine!”. Any jet lag from a quick trip to Europe seems to have evaporated. There’s good reason to be cheerful too, as ‘Tigers Blood’ is an album that surges forward with a stormy assuredness, unwavering and teeming with realisations.

‘Saint Cloud’ was produced alongside Brad Cook, who Katie describes as her “great collaborator in life”, and the pair intended to replicate the same processes for ‘Tigers Blood’. This time around, however, the relationship delivered vastly different results, thanks in part to the introduction of MJ Lenderman: the Americana-infused songwriter known both for his solo work and as part of indie-rock group Wednesday. “I saw him at SXSW before his album ‘Boat Songs’ came out and it blew my mind,” she remembers. “I was like, ‘I can’t believe this music exists’. It’s this intersection of so many different things I like in one.”

When MJ was introduced for the first demo session, it quickly became apparent that he would have much more involvement than originally planned. Katie’s relationship with her Southern identity has fluctuated, having shaken off her country roots earlier in her career to instead pay homage to bands like Bikini Kill. However, ‘Saint Cloud’ saw her switch back towards Americana and those sounds frequently associated with the Deep South, wielding them with an elegant balance of poise and fury.

Listening to MJ, she was reminded of the positive ways she could entwine it all back into her music, while branching out from Americana too. “When I was younger, I wasn’t embarrassed being from the South but it was something I was looking to shed from my identity,” she admits. “I really appreciate how Jake wears it on his sleeve but doesn’t make it his entire musical [personality]. With this record I was coming at it from a more Southern alternative rock place and a lot of that was Jake and his influence.”

Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield on addiction, sobriety, and new album 'Tigers Blood' Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield on addiction, sobriety, and new album 'Tigers Blood' Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield on addiction, sobriety, and new album 'Tigers Blood'

“A lot of things I talk about on this record are sad or dark, but there’s an air of forgiveness.”

A much denser record than ‘Saint Cloud’, ‘Tigers Blood’ is the product of an artist fully aligned with their sense of self, able to see things for what they really are. There’s an improvisational feeling to the album compared to the neater edges of her previous work, and while, like 2017’s ‘Out In The Storm’, there is turbulence to be found within these tracks, this time it’s delivered with clarity and assuredness too. Take the song ‘Crowbar’, which teeters on the edge of rage, with Katie’s pained, layered vocals feeling as if they’re about to reach a boiling point.

It’s about an unbalanced dynamic within a relationship, as Katie notes: “It’s about letting someone in too quickly and realising that you’re being taken advantage of.” There’s a lot for her to be mad about, and throughout ‘Tigers Blood’ we hear of relationships - both of the romantic and platonic kind - that become stalemates or dissipate completely. Having entered her thirties, she’s starting to see the past for how it really was, having had the best part of her twenties blurred by addiction.

It’s a topic discussed on ‘365’. “My own addiction issues are one piece of the puzzle, but the really big other piece is my relationship with other addicts in my life and my codependency,” Katie explains. “That disease is a lot bigger for me than my own addiction stuff and I’ve been on a journey with it for a long time. ‘365’ is about being in a relationship with another addict and thinking, ‘I was in this crazy ride forever and now I’ve got to get off’.”

Now settled in Kansas with partner and fellow musician Kevin Morby, Katie has learned that slowing down and feeling more settled in her life has accentuated the positives. ‘Right Back To It’ has been described as the first real love song she has written, and the chorus line, “You just settle in like a song with no end,” delicately translates the easiness within their relationship. It’s a moment on ‘Tigers Blood’ of real comfort and security.

Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield on addiction, sobriety, and new album 'Tigers Blood'

“When I was younger, I wasn’t embarrassed being from the south but it was something I was looking to shed from my identity.”

Since her journey into sobriety began, one of the ways Katie has coped has been through watching sports - mainly basketball, tennis, and American football (Travis Kelce - aka the current Mr Swift - lives ten minutes down the road, she casually informs us). Her relationship with sport, she explains, became an unforeseen “godsend” as it gave her something new to really care about and hold onto.

You can see examples of Katie’s newfound sharper focus in her lyrics; her eye for rhythm sticking out as words seem to bounce effortlessly between each other. Usually her lyrics are instinctual, but if she finds herself looking for just the right amount of syllables, she enjoys the challenge of “figuring it out like a math problem” until the words fit perfectly. The most important lesson that she has learnt from her sobriety is to take time.

“It’s really important that you let the dust settle. I think sometimes you can be too raw in the moment, I find that when I look back on some songs,” she says. “A lot of things I talk about on this record are sad or dark but there’s almost an air of forgiveness or acknowledging things that have happened. I’m moving on. It’s just me being present with where I’m at in my life and I hope that I’m doing that even when I’m 80 years old.”

When you take time to reflect, you see things for what they really are, and since becoming sober Katie has learnt a lot about herself. It’s emboldened her to write with devastating precision, able to say so much in very few words; just like that, one line can shift your perspective. The musical journey of Waxahatchee is intrinsically linked to that of its author, who is also finding herself just that little bit more each time. “I would say this is probably my most authentic record,” she nods. “Each record, I’m getting a little closer to whatever it is I’m working towards.”

‘Tigers Blood’ is out 22nd March via ANTI-.

Tags: Waxahatchee, From The Magazine, Features, Interviews

As featured in the March 2024 issue of DIY, out now.

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