Foto-© Christopher Good

Woran halten wir aus unserer Vergangenheit fest? Was müssen wir loslassen, um wirklich vorwärts zu kommen? Katie Crutchfield von Waxahatchee verbrachte einen Großteil des Jahres 2018 damit, sich diese Fragen zu stellen und besann sich auf ihre Wurzeln, um Antworten zu finden. Das Ergebnis ist Saint Cloud, eine intime Reise durch die Orte, an denen sie gewesen ist, gefüllt mit den Menschen, die sie geliebt hat. Ihr fünftes Album erschien am Freitag bei Merge Records. Die Neuerfindung reichte auch ins Musikalische und so schuf sie zusammen mit Brad Cook von Bon Iver einen Sound, der purer ist als ihre rockigen Vorgängerplatten und trotz seiner Reduziertheit weit wirkt. Das Ergebnis ist eine klassische Americana-Ästhetik mit modernem Touch, mit der sie ihr Talent für eindringliches Storytelling auf den Punkt bringt.

Wir haben im Februar mit Katie telefoniert als sie in Michigan angefing, für ihre Tour zu proben. Im Interview erzählt sie von den allumfassenden Veränderungen in ihrem Leben und ihrer Musik, wie positiver Perfektionismus aussieht und warum es eine Herausforderung war, sich selbst auch ohne Selbstzerstörung als vollwertige Künstlerin zu sehen.

Congratulations on your new album Saint Cloud, it’s exciting times for you, how are you feeling?
Thank you! I feel great, it’s all been very cool and positive.

I read that you did most of the writing in 2018, that is a while ago. Does it feel strange to put your songs out after you worked on them for so long?
Yes, I started in 2018 and the first half of 2019 was when it really came together with the band. It all feels very natural. I’m not sick of the songs yet, which is good. I tried take breaks from the record and think about other stuff. I could come back to it and get excited again. I’m in Michigan and today I’m meeting up with my band and we’re going to rehearse for the first time. The live band is people, who played on the album and some new people. Today is the time, we’re all coming together to play these songs and get ready to tour.

That’s exciting, do you think the songs will be very different live?
I think, they will. The major element will be there, but it’s a different drummer, for example. It’s two amazing drummers, who have different styles and I’m excited to work on that. It’s a different bass player, too and the woman is also an amazing singer. She’s going to do all the back-ups that I do on the record. So, it will inevitably sound different, but we’re going make it sound good.

It feels like you are a perfectionist — how would you describe yourself in this matter?
That’s definitely correct! I try to lead by example and not to be such a perfectionist that I end up alienating the people I brought in to work on what is ultimately my project. I try to keep space for everybody. Now that I’ve been doing it for so long, I’m trying to be intentional about the decisions I make about who I put in the room. Usually, by the time I ask somebody to play on the album or to play in the band, I’ve thought it through enough and I’ve had enough of an intuition about it. I feel like I can usually foresee any issues. I’m a perfectionist, but I try to keep the vibe positive.

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Would you say that’s one of the advantages as an established artist – being able to choose, who you work with?
I know a lot of people, who are just getting started and who are having those kinds of conversations and making those kinds of decisions. I think, it’s possible at every level, but I would say that I’m lucky. I feel like I’ve gotten to work with my first choice in every column.

For Saint Cloud you have stripped back many layers of sound, how would you describe where you landed and what intention did you have?
From the beginning, I wanted to go in another direction. At the end of the Out of the Storm touring cycle, the sound of that album had gotten a little bit old to me. I love the record and I needed to make that record at the time, but this very loud rock music wasn’t something, I wanted to continue to explore. I knew, I wanted to take a sharp turn, but I wasn’t sure how. I made the Great Thunder EP with Brad Cook and when we came together, we wanted to make something very minimal with extremely sparse instrumentation, to let my voice sit on top of everything. It was such a good experience working together. Sometimes, the artist producer relationship can be about pushing and producers trying to draw something out of an artist. Brad’s technique of doing that really worked for me. He was hyper focused and just saw me as a songwriter. He didn’t try to push me in any direction, he tried to do anything he could to make the song work based on my natural tendencies. I loved that and I felt like we just clicked so well. As I was starting to talk about Saint Cloud, I was bouncing every idea off Brad. From the beginning, he was my main collaborator and I knew, he was the person, I wanted to make the album with. Then, I got on tour with Bonny Doon from Michigan as my backing band. As soon as I heard the way they played my old songs, I knew the sound I’ve been looking for. These elements have been the main things that let me do the Saint Cloud sound.

Do you think that the reduction of sound allows listeners to get closer to you? Did it allow you to get closer to yourself?
Not in the sense of Out of the Storm against Saint Cloud. But that record has so much atmosphere and filling up the space, my vocals are layered, and it feels like this wall. In Saint Cloud, there’s a lot of space and my voice is right in center. It’s more intimate and calmer. Out of the Storm was raging out, and with Saint Cloud you feel close. It is a result of me getting closer of myself.

Is Saint Cloud the beginning or the end of a journey?
I look at it as a beginning, like the first chapter of a new story. With Out of the Storm I was on that creative trajectory with the other albums, leaning more and more into it. With this album, I’m leaning into a totally new direction, which I decided to continue to explore. It feels like the start of something.

Foto-© Molly Matalon
Foto-© Molly Matalon

Your album creates a sense of place and was written in different locations — are places an important inspiration for you?
The biggest influence of this album is Lucinda Williams hands down. It’s something that she does better than anybody, she puts you into places and in that mindset. That’s how she tells stories, she includes all the details. And that’s something, I was experimenting with for this album.

Your songs have very strong narratives, where do you find the stories?
I try not to plan and to see what comes out. Once I have a few lines and a little bit of song starting to form and I know what it’s going to be about, I start to build around. When I really try to capture a specific narrative and I put too much pressure on it, it makes the song hard to write. I try to keep it open. Usually, I have to not look at it too closely at first and then see what comes out.

Coming back to the sense of place: Your band name originates from a creek behind your childhood home, for the new record, it says you revisited your roots. What does home mean to you?
This album talks so much about sobriety and the stuff that let me there, it was important to me to revisit home in the songwriting quite a bit. Now, I do spend a lot of time down there and it’s such a big part of how I identify as an artist. It’s been like the common thread of all my records, from the beginning to the end. I always go back home on the records and reference it in the stories.

Saint Cloud is also about journeys and places within oneself. Your single Fire is a song about self-acceptance and self-love, is that something you have struggled with?
In the past I used music as a vehicle for healing. Anything, I was going through, I put it into music. That was how I would feel better. With this album, I had a lot of this work to do before I was ready to make a record. I approached this with a calmness as I’ve already done a lot of thinking and a lot of work. When I wrote Fire, it was from that perspective that I felt better than I normally felt when writing a song. I wanted to put that into the music. How do I make a song about these things that everybody feels without making it sound preachy? That was a challenge. I was really hung up on the methodology I had about being a tortured artist. That’s how you write music, that’s how you make great art, you have to be like a train wreck. And through a lot of different changes in my life, I was recovering from that. I was trying to prove to myself that I can still make great art being healthy physically and mentally. That was a big part of it, too: How do I make something that feels positive and is still something people will get behind? I wanted to make people feel less alone, but have it feel positive.

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You mentioned the different artistic approach that came with changes like getting sober and healthier. What other differences did it make to your writing process and to your day to day work routine during the recording?
In a way it was harder. My relationship to substances affected everything. It was a big change. In a lot of ways writing was more of a challenge, I was more self-conscious about what was going to happen. But I also had much more energy for it and much more clarity around it. I have taken so much more pride in what I do and more gratitude for the fact that I get to do what I do. Ultimately, it’s been nothing but positive.

Do you think it’s going to be hard on tour?
I toured a little bit here and there since I got sober. I feel like I put the right people in the mix to make sure that the vibe is correct. I don’t worry about it. The touring I’ve done sober has been more enjoyable and easier. Physically I feel so much better. I feel like anyone I know who used to drink a lot, but doesn’t drink anymore, says the same thing about it: If you can get rid of the temptation, which I have, the actual environment you create is way more conducive to enjoy your tour.

I have the feeling that more and more artists talk about not wanting this self-destructive rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle that has been kind of a myth for a long time. Do you think, there’s a shift in a way people see artists? That an excessively wild lifestyle is not expected as the norm?
I’m feeling a shift. Even four years ago, the thought of being a sober touring musician felt like defeat. There’s always been people in horrible active addiction or in the process of sobering. It has always happened, but it’s much more common now for people to make that choice. People are realizing that even drinking that was excessive, but not life ruining or destructive, is also bad for them and just a cultural thing that we accept. The conversation is shifting, more people are examining their relationship to alcohol and substances. It’s becoming much more the norm for musicians to realize, “I am in a dark bar seven nights a week, creating a good time and party energy for people and without even realizing it, that is turning me into an alcoholic.” I think, everyone is just looking at it a little bit more closely than they used to. Now, I know so many musicians, who are sober, that it’s easy to put a band together with people that don’t really drink, it’s easy for me to find my people.

You have changed your sound, your lifestyle has drastically changed and despite feeling very positive about it, do you sometimes worry about the reactions?
I feel like I’ve done a decent job of shutting that out. I’m still confident about the choice to make that shift. I throw my full weight behind this creative decision and I feel like people will respond to that. There will definitely and inevitably be people who don’t like it and I’m okay with that. I’m okay with making my choices as an artist and just being open to the universe. I feel like people will naturally follow my good vibes about it. Also, because I’m just so happy to be making this new music. I’m the one who has to live with it every day, I’m the one who has to play the shows and hear the songs and be with it constantly. To me, it’s always the most important that I love it. Usually, if I love it, this energy is contagious.

Thank you for the interview!

Waxahatchee Tour:
30.06. Schlachthof, Wiesbaden
01.07. Molotow, Hamburg
09.07. Frannz Club, Berlin
10.07. Cafe Glocksee, Hannover
11.07. Artheater, Köln

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