Meeting Waxahatchee

It's often necessary to let the days and months kneel over on themselves in order to figure out where you see yourself going forward. The creativity that art brings in these periods are timestamps. You can recognise these are no longer habitual feelings – no longer solid block emotions, but ones that shoot straight past you still. They stand in a space with their shadows joined at the outlines of each period where all sensory is pulsating in and out of focus. Paired by a car journey, flooding in the night creeks or lit in a duvet bunker, the transparency of years gone can fill your veins to the swinging peaks and troughs. It’s all about what you learn out of this that separates the fog from the clear.

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Ivy Tripp is the most ambitious record Katie Crutchfield has released under the Waxahatchee name. But this is the latest in a long list of projects and albums that she’s had involvement in through her teenage years playing with her sister Allison. Sonically, there’s more development in her later releases, and the rawness of Katie’s current solo projects are preceded by the faster, catchy 90s indie punk sounds of PS Eliot. That band came to its natural conclusion following the two sisters living in distant cities.

Following a “visceral stupor and a personal breakthrough”, Katie retreated to her parents home and recorded the first Waxahatchee album American Weekend while the worst winter in decades shut down Alabama. It was a bruised and isolated record. The result ended up being twelve songs on an eight track stuck in a limbo between figuring out how far she had fallen in a break up of a teenage relationship and what it means to push on through, to finding what her future adulthood might bring. I don’t think all of her past inhibitions in her sophomore album Cerulean Salt had all quite left, but there was a confidence there that brings defiance. The clarity in the production was stronger and there was a more assertive steadiness right from the word go: ‘we are late and we are loud / and we’ll remain connected as you’re reading out loud’. I ask Katie Crutchfield about how her last records match up to the present day. “I’ve changed a lot and I’ve grown up a lot – I’m kind of a totally different person than I was when I made that record. Now it’s easy for me to empathise with that person and get back into that headspace.”

Days after the New Year celebrations had dwindled, with even the most optimistic souls letting up that a passing of a year doesn’t mean shit, the debut single from Ivy Tripp is released. ‘Air’ tows the line between love and loneliness – the let up that stagnates when nothing goes anywhere and we must keep pushing forward, even if it's further away from giving someone false comfort. The abhor to monogamy is thematic right the way through Crutchfield's songbook, but with Ivy Tripp, the recording process can still feel deeply personal with a far broader musical palette. ‘We stand hand-in-hand idle in our course / when we are moving / we just pretend to be strangers lamenting a means to an end’ is the sort of off-guard lyric that brings a hint of romanticism into even the most mutual of separations. 

The speaker – whether this is Katie herself or someone else – is more analytical and pragmatic than in the past. “It’s less experience-based and more observant. It’s still very personal and very autobiographical, but the subject matter is a little vaster.” The patience that recording outside of a studio brings in recognition of the breathing space within your years and a greater deal of self-control. Each word can have the exact meaning it requires, albeit nothing too simple or ostentatious. Ivy Tripp is laced with a protection to those around her – lamenting not just on her own diary narrative but whether the people that surround her are as happy as they come across, what it means to be happy in your 20s and 30s and how to control it. “It was pretty easy for me to be open just because it was cathartic and a way for me to process things more than making a record for other people.”

With each album longer than the last, Waxahatchee appears to be a more informed and controlling title with each year. Additions of a piano, more harmonies and a drum machine add a jagged juxtaposition as the ballads play against the larger rock songs. ‘La Loose’ is the most off kilter track of hers, jumping out with a stuttering drum machine as a base for all three minutes. Frolicking and stumbling in rhythm, it’s painted still in this last moment of delusion before action and ultimately heartbreak must take place. The contradictory notion that the music will always be far more hopeful than the words that present themselves on top stops on ‘Breathless’, as it croons ‘if I was foolish I would chase a feeling I long ago let fade and we could be good for days’. No longer a function embedded to kid anyone, it’s in the more precious moments where both align together in awareness that cuts the deepest.

In the end, it would be fictitious to claim Ivy Tripp’s maturity means it’s from someone who is totally content. This timestamp is startlingly honest, but the marks left from the shackles of fragility are now more fearless.

Words by Niall Cunningham