Singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield has gone from punk rocker to indie artist, but the next step in her musical metamorphosis involved embracing a part of herself that she’d previously shied away from: her Southern country roots.
“In my 20s — when I was super punk, underground and wanted to be as avant-garde as humanly possible — I didn’t want that to be a part of my story,” Crutchfield said during a recent phone interview. “It’s been really freeing to circle back and be really honest about how at the very foundation of my music, this is what’s there.”
Crutchfield, who performs under the moniker Waxahatchee, named after a creek from her childhood home in Alabama, will perform alongside country and Americana acts at the BeachLife Ranch festival in Redondo Beach, Sept. 16-18. She’ll also perform with her new country project Plains, which features singer-songwriter Jess Williamson, at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Oct. 26 and Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown on Friday, Oct. 28.
“At a Waxahatchee show, I go into it as a place for folks to have a lot of feelings and have a good time,” she said. “With Plains, I want people to come out and have a good time. We’re going to play covers, some Waxahatchee songs, some Jess Williamson songs and the entire Plains record. It’ll just be a very fun evening.”
Simplifying the sound
Crutchfield released “Saint Cloud” in 2020, an album that provokes imagery of a warm, scenic country hillside with lilacs, Memphis ember skylines and old Ford pickup trucks. It is driven by clean acoustic guitar licks that celebrate the basic foundations of music that exist without being saturated by distortion effects. The calmness and yearning of the album serve as an insight into what a simple life in the country might be like, in contrast to the loud noises of big cities.
Part of that was inspired by the Detroit band Bonny Doon, who Crutchfield toured with in 2018. She said that hearing the band play her old songs and trusting them with her new material set the path for how she wanted “Saint Cloud” to sound.
Life experiences, such as getting sober, rebuilding her relationship with herself, taking some time away from touring, and moving to Kansas City, Kans. with her partner and fellow musician Kevin Morby, all naturally laid the groundwork for the themes of the finished album.
“I feel like I just relaxed a bit and got to know myself in a deeper way,” she said.
With previous albums, Crutchfield said she would try harder to create an aesthetic and guide the listener to an established genre, whether rock or indie, but Brad Cook, producer and collaborator for “Saint Cloud,” helped steer her in another direction.
“I think the intention with ‘Saint Cloud’ and with Waxahatchee in general from this point forward is not to try to be anything and just write the songs,” she explained. “We tried to go in and just let the song tell us what it is.”
The album was a success and well received by fans and critics alike, with Rolling Stone putting it in the top 10 albums of 2020 and Pitchfork declaring it the second best album of that year. Crutchfield said she felt good about having her work reaffirmed with this success while returning to her roots. She said without “Saint Cloud,” she doesn’t think the Plains project would exist.
A new frontier
Williamson and Crutchfield first met at a social mixer that her partner Morby and she hosted for each of their friends to attend. Crutchfield said that the pair clicked immediately and became fast friends based on their mutual interests.
“I grew up on country music,” Crutchfield said. “All my earliest memories of music are all ’90s country radio like Trisha Yearwood, Alan Jackson, Loretta Lynn and George Jones.”
Williamson and Crutchfield exchanged albums that they both released during the pandemic. They were fans of each other’s work, which sparked the idea for the collaboration that would become Plains.
“Jess and I thought it would be really fun to release a record that leaned all the way into the country aesthetic,” Crutchfield said.
The new record, “I Walked With You a Ways,” is set to be released on Oct. 14. It sounds like something you’d listen to on a porch overlooking vast open plains while watching the sunset. It’s also a nod to some of the genre’s biggest stars like Dolly Parton, The Chicks, The Judds, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.
Crutchfield said that although she’s tired from touring, she’s grateful for how things have turned out and ready for whatever is next.
“I’m very excited and don’t want to give too much away, but I’m deep into writing the next Waxahatchee album,” she said. “I think in hindsight, I’m going to feel so happy with how everything has gone.”
BeachLife Ranch Festival
With: The Lumineers, Dierks Bentley, Brandi Carlile, Daryl Hall & John Oats, Ashley McBride, Wilco, Lukas Nelson, Old Crow Medicine Show and more.
When: Friday-Sunday, Sept.16-18
Where: 137 North Harbor Drive, Redondo Beach.
Tickets: Single-day tickets start at $159; three-day passes start at $299; Three-day VIP tickets are $699. All passes are available at beachliferanch.com.
Also: Plains will perform at 7 p.m. Oct. 26 at The Belasco, 1050 South Hill St., Los Angeles. $30 at Livenation.com; 7 p.m. Oct. 28 at Pappy & Harriet’s, 53688 Pioneertown Road., Pioneertown. $37.99 at pappyandharriets.com.