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April 2020
Feature

With 'Saint Cloud', Waxahatchee has produced probably her best work to date

Not afraid to take on the subjects close to home, a recently sober Katie Crutchfield's latest album tackles addiction head on.
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Published: 9:56 am, March 26, 2020Words: Charlotte Croft. Photos: Molly Matalon.
With 'Saint Cloud', Waxahatchee has produced probably her best work to date

“The big themes on the album are addiction and codependency. I really jump around to different states of those two things, sometimes I’m deep in the throes, and sometimes I’m more recovered and reflective.”

Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield is no stranger to baring her soul to sound and her fifth LP, ‘Saint Cloud’, is no exception. She was ‘Out in the Storm’ with her last record as she braved the emotional turbulence of a breakup, but is now looking up to the skies for change and possibility as she embarks on a new chapter, one of sobriety. Her raw return offers the affecting narrative of addiction, the havoc it can have on those closest to you, as well as the admirable journey of overcoming it.

Lead single, ‘Fire’, beautifully depicts a truthful tale of self-acceptance, learning to love oneself after a period of shame afflicted by addiction. When explaining the inspiration behind the track, Katie reveals, “I wrote it while driving over the Mississippi River in Memphis, sun beaming on the water. It’s a mix of abstract poetic tricks and a super direct pep talk to myself. It’s the first song I’ve ever written without an instrument, I sort of just channelled it on a long beautiful drive through the deep south.” ‘Fire’ has a poignant stillness to it, a signifier of the contentment you feel once belief of a brighter future takes hold. Her powerful vocals break this stillness, the words cutting through with purpose as she exclaims ‘If I could love you unconditionally / I could iron out the edges of the darkest sky’, illustrating the feeling of self-worth we reach out for in our most trying times.

The second track to arrive from the record, ‘Lilacs’, showcases the irrational and negative thoughts we sometimes entertain, a scenario we might know all too well at some point while in a relationship. Katie admits, ‘I get so angry, baby, at something you might say / I dream about an awful stranger, work my way through the day / I run it like a silent movie / I run it like a violent song / I run it like a voice compelling / So right it can’t be wrong’. The accessibility of her lyrics shines through once again as it’s a thought pattern we know all too well, the lilacs representing how we feed these all-consuming thoughts: ‘& the lilacs drank the water, & the lilacs die’.

“To tell the story, you have to talk about the darkest dark”
Katie Crutchfield

The positive reception of those relatable lyrics can be seen during Waxahatchee’s tour dates, as audiences fill up venues across the globe, but isn’t it hard to maintain this openness when performing live? “Once the songs are out in the world, and you’re singing them, every night they start to feel like they belong to everyone else, and it’s easy to compartmentalise,” Katie muses. “That’s why I find it important to really enjoy the moments before the record’s out - it’s still just mine for a little bit longer. Once it’s out, I’ll start my sorta quiet, secret love for the next batch of songs.” This tender transaction of songs and the meaning behind them shows the phrase ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ still heavily applies to music, as long as you’re willing to immerse yourself in the experience.

‘Can’t Do Much’ is a love song of codependent behaviour, alongside sounds leaning more towards the realm of Country/Americana. “Singing like that and using colours from that palette are really what drove the record,” Katie explains. That shift in style is also a result of a different approach sonically, one that is more stripped back to allow those vocals to shine through, as well as the poignancy of the lyrics. “I’d say the [creative] process was a lot slower [this time]. I really took my time writing the songs, and I started demoing with other players before they were fully formed, which in turn informed the lyrics. My vision was pretty clear as was my overall state of mind, which I think really bleeds into every aspect of the album - clarity is pretty key.”

While the album dissects difficult subjects, the intention was to show personal growth, but with a happier outcome. “The big challenge on this album was expressing more positive feelings without sounding cheesy. That’s been a challenge I’ve stared down my entire life as a songwriter. I feel like I balanced it out by showing you how I got there, but I did find it really nice to sing about things like gratitude and self-love and those kinds of things.”

“It’s a record about a very big shift toward the light, and to tell the story, you have to talk about the darkest dark.” As we approach spring, a season for change, ‘Saint Cloud’ comes as a reminder that those rays of sunshine we crave are coming and can soon be within your grasp; let the light that surrounds Waxahatchee lead you there.

Taken from the April edition of Dork, out now. Order a copy below. ‘Waxahatchee’s album ‘Saint Cloud’ is out on 27th March.

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