Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield is a songwriting force of nature

A storm in heaven

Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield is a songwriting force of nature
Photo by Jesse Riggins
WAXAHATCHEE with Ought, 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16, The Social, 54 N. Orange Ave., 407-246-1419, thesocial.org , $15-$17

Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield will likely go down as one of the greatest songwriters of the early 2000s. This isn't the result of any stumbles into the spotlight – it's been pure hard work, the product of practicing and playing and writing music since her early teenage years.

Crutchfield was born and raised in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama – a background almost mythical to those with music history tunnel vision. "I think now it's actually kinda strange, that I ended up the path I ended up down," says Crutchfield. But she attributes that path to one thing above all else: Y2K internet music culture, where she had access to any sort of music that she wanted. It started with Nirvana (as it so often does), but soon Katie and her twin sister Allison were peeling back layers upon layers of musical influence.

They started a band, the Ackleys, influenced by Olympia's riot grrrl scene – which Crutchfield swears wasn't "particularly cool" at the time – but after other members got bored and dropped out, the twins took their music even more seriously. They practiced every single day, so much so that the formerly-intimidating punks and DIY scenesters came to them: "Once they saw our band [at a school event], they approached us ... [we] came into that community already very confident and competent and with a fully formed vision." The Ackleys – and the Crutchfields – were legendary in their city, but their reach soon extended far beyond Birmingham with the formation of their constantly-touring and much-loved duo P.S. Eliot.

After the twins' paths diverged, Katie wrote and recorded her first full-length as Waxahatchee, American Weekend, over the course of seven days while she was stuck inside her parents' house during a blizzard. If you're up for the potential emotional turmoil, it's worth sitting down and listening to Waxahatchee's catalogue in chronological order. There's a clear thread of growth that can be traced from the first few Waxahatchee songs (on a split released in 2011 with Chris Clavin), to this year's Out in the Storm – but it's not just that Crutchfield is now willing to play more with her considerable vocal power, or that she's transitioned from self-produced bedroom recordings to working in a studio with real-deal producer John Agnello. Each consecutive record documents the frequently uncapturable feeling of an artist really coming into her own.

Crutchfield writes about deeply personal feelings and lived experiences, but her vulnerability never betrays itself. You get a sense of who she is and how she grew up – "Waxahatchee" is the name of a creek near Crutchfield's childhood home, her mostly-hidden southern twang slips through, she tosses out references to time spent in Brooklyn and Berlin – but her songs are cloaked in just enough metaphor to be empathetic, to provide emotional universality. These are songs that are just as comfortable when their lyrics are scrawled in the margins of notebook paper as when they're topping end-of-year rankings and checking prestige cred boxes.

Out in the Storm, released on Merge in July, takes that relatability and amps it up by a thousand by tackling a toxic relationship and its fallout head-on. The record was written like a 9-5 – Crutchfield is a Capricorn; she thinks she needs the structure – but it sounds and feels like drawing outside the lines. Performing it is cathartic, and it's rid Crutchfield of any shreds of self-doubt, especially since the band and touring crew is entirely composed of women and nonbinary people: "I have no idea what shape Waxahatchee's gonna take next, but with this record – I'm glad to be surrounded by no men on the tour. It feels really powerful." [email protected]

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