Katie Crutchfield doesn't remember the first song she wrote; she can recall the notebook and the room she was sitting in, but the melody and title are lost. "I just sort of wrote a little part. It wasn't even a full song," says the singer-songwriter – who just released her second album, Cerulean Salt, under the moniker Waxahatchee – with a sheepish smile. "I would be just horribly embarrassed to hear that today."
For Crutchfield, that little melody helped pave a path that brought her to Austin, Texas, and a packed run of shows at the recent SXSW festival. Crutchfield and Waxahatchee drummer/bassist Keith Spencer (who's also her boyfriend) sat down at a picnic table to chat with Rolling Stone about their pivotal second record.
Waxahatchee's origins can be pegged to a week in January 2011 when Crutchfield wrote and recorded her debut, American Weekend, in her parents' house in Birmingham, Alabama, a place near Waxahatchee Creek. An entirely acoustic guitar affair (save for one piano), Waxahatchee's song-stories of stunted love and 20-something uncertainty were released on the venerable New Jersey label Don Giovanni one year later. By then, Crutchfield had already begun working on the songs that would appear on Cerulean Salt.
As the new record's title suggests, it is a slightly cleaner, clearer effort that lingers with each buzz of a guitar riff and granular cut of lyrics. Though Crutchfield says there's a country influence in her vivid songwriting, borne of a love for Loretta Lynne and Tammy Wynette – "the scorned, sad, heartbroken," as she puts it – she says her songwriting comes through an intuitive path. "It's hard to even say where it comes from. It just comes from this weird place and space that just happens," she says.
While American Weekend was, as Crutchfield says, "Sort of a time-and-place thing," Cerulean Salt came together over a year and a half as she toured, as well as moved from Alabama to New York, then to West Philadelphia. She knew she wanted to move the project in a new direction with sparse additional instruments, so she and Spencer returned to Alabama in April, where they cut a version of the LP that was far too blown-out for their liking. Cerulean Salt came together months later in the basement of their Philadelphia home with the help of a few friends, including roommate Kyle Gilbride, who plays in the band Swearin' along with Spencer and Crutchfield's twin sister, Allison.
Cerulean Salt marks the latest turn in Crutchfield's young, but already diverse, career. At age 13, she and Allison began practicing in their parents' basement, which led to the formation of the rock group the Ackleys when they were 15, then the punk band P.S. Eliot about three years later. (They split in 2011.) Since, neither sister's creativity has sputtered: Swearin' released their hook-littered, self-titled debut last year, and along with the praise for Cerulean Salt and the increased attention around Waxahatchee at SXSW this year, Crutchfield has also turned her focus towards another project. She and Spencer are currently working on a new full-length for their other band, Great Thunder, a group rooted in Spencer's love of "very glamorous, shambolic drug rock" that, as he puts it, "is a good excuse to do whatever we want."
"I feel like after you've been writing songs for X amount of time, you start to get bored and it's sort of a natural process, progressing and growing," Crutchfield says. "But I mean, it's all in the same neighborhood." From her first scribbles in a notebook to Cerulean Salt, that area continues to expand.