Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield on getting sober and making new album Saint Cloud
The project is all about calming down, simplifying your life, and learning to be more comfortable with yourself.
It's safe to say that Saint Cloud, the fifth full-length album from Waxahatchee, is debuting under unexpected circumstances. But just because people have retreated indoors to lessen the spread of coronavirus doesn’t mean they’ve stopped listening to music. In fact, anyone currently languishing under the repetition and boredom of quarantine life might get a lot out of singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield's latest record, which is really an album about calming down, simplifying your life, and learning to be more comfortable with yourself.
“It’s funny, I’ve done a lot of interviews where people have approached it like, ‘We’re so sorry you have to put out a record in the middle of all this,’ but I don’t really see it that way,” Crutchfield tells EW when reached by phone this week. “I feel good about putting it out. It’s my most hopeful, positive album, and I think it’s so good to put music out right now. I think people need it."
Fans of Waxahatchee’s previous album, 2017’s Out in the Storm, may be surprised to see words like “calm” and “positive” attached to her work. That project, written in the aftermath of a contentious break-up, was full of loud guitars and raging emotions. It’s a powerful listen, but it also came from a headspace that Crutchfield knew she couldn’t draw from more than once. Saint Cloud is a smoother listen, though it still packs plenty of propulsive energy of its own. Much of that stems from her decision to get sober following the release of Storm. While earlier Waxahatchee records like 2013’s Cerulean Salt are full of details from a hard-partying early-20s lifestyle, Saint Cloud proves Crutchfield is just as capable of writing about later phases of life.
“I was on tour when I got sober," Crutchfield says. "I remember calling my manager and being like, everything I have on schedule — which wasn’t much — cancel it. I had to hit pause on the music career for a second and focus on myself. So by the time I actually got back into songwriting and thinking about what the next record was going to be, I actually was a totally different person with a different perspective. But I don’t think I ever really thought about how it was going to affect the songwriting.”
Crutchfield continues, “I remember a few years ago Brian Wilson made an album, and it’s just about getting old. As a songwriter I love that so much. I love the songwriter life, I just can’t wait to have new things to write about in all the phases of life. Even if you’re not a sober person, I think this is totally an ‘entering your 30s’ album."
Saint Cloud is also the story of Crutchfield coming to embrace the Americana and country style of music she grew up with, rather than punkishly rejecting it. Crutchfield cites Lucinda Williams as her favorite songwriter of all time, but also points to a Dolly Parton influence on cuts like “Hell” or "Fire," where an elemental idea of pain or suffering is counterbalanced by jaunty music and a relaxed attitude.
“That's the music from my childhood,” Crutchfield says. “As a teenage punk in the South, I started to reject it as I got older because I wanted to write songs more seriously. So I just think this whole experience of turning 30 and getting sober — it’s like this big return to form where I feel like I finally really leaned into those influences."
As indicated by the name, the Americana genre has a strong sense of place. It’s the sound of road trips and traveling across this great big country. That’s evident in songs like “Arkadelphia,” named after the Birmingham road where the events that inspired the song took place, but also in the eponymous “Saint Cloud.” There are at least two different American towns by that name: one in Florida, one in Minnesota. Though she was drawing on the former location, where her dad is from, Crutchfield says she mostly used it as a stand-in for Everytown, U.S.A. Then of course there’s the name Waxahatchee itself, taken from the Alabama creek where Crutchfield grew up.
“I think setting has always been hugely important for me. I’ve always wanted that to be one of the main characters in the song,” Crutchfield says. “Waxahatchee Creek where I grew up is the common thread in every album. It’s kind of the one thing that’s stayed consistent.... I’m putting you in the Mississippi Gulf. I wanted people to hear that and get in that state of mind, like you’re right there with me.”
That’s another reason Saint Cloud could make an especially good quarantine listen: In addition to soothing musical catharsis, it can also provide a bit of vicarious traveling for people stuck at home. Crutchfield had to postpone the Saint Cloud tour, but earlier this week revealed new dates starting in July. In the meantime, she’s been hosting Instagram Live performances alongside her boyfriend, musician Kevin Morby.
“We’re all kind of having this collective experience. It’s affecting everyone differently, and also affecting everyone the same way," she says, adding that "this album is about calming yourself down by simplifying your life. That’s kind of what I think everyone is aiming to do [during the pandemic]: Trying to stay calm during this scary time, and being forced to simplify. I hope the way I frame those things can be relatable to people. Maybe now it will have a different meaning. Maybe it was always supposed to be like that.”