The first song that Allison and Katie Crutchfield collaborated on was called “Handstands on Antarctica.” It was the early 2000s in Birmingham, Alabama, and these mirror-image twins – then high schoolers, now 28 – would retreat to a corner of their parents’ sizable basement. Armed with Limewire and a few chords, they covered everyone from the Kinks to Guided by Voices with Katie on vocals and guitar and Allison on drums.
Before the Crutchfields became two of their generation’s most skilled, affecting songwriters – and eventually shared stages with heroes like Jenny Lewis, the Julie Ruin and Sleater-Kinney – their earliest audience was comprised of the family’s two dogs, Lucy and Scarlett. Illustrations of the Velvet Underground and the Beatles clipped from Rolling Stone hung on the basement walls. Friends would use paint pens to embellish the twins’ assortment of pawn-shop amps, scribbling the name of the Crutchfields’ first band, pop-rock four-piece the Ackleys.
When Katie began sharing her original songs, which were about her first high-school breakup, it felt, according to Allison, “super visceral.” “People always ask us, ‘Oh, can you guys read each other’s thoughts? If she gets hit in the arm, can you feel it?'” Allison says. “We can’t, obviously, but there’s a level of synchronicity that’s more emotional. I feel very attached to what happens to her. Something in our blood contributes to that. We share the same DNA, so we respond to things similarly a lot of the time.”
In 2010, Allison moved to Brooklyn; Katie soon followed. Before leaving the South, Katie recorded her debut under the name Waxahatchee, American Weekend, an 8-tracked acoustic LP full of aching details. Allison, meanwhile, left the drums behind, formed the now-defunct Swearin’, and eventually started playing keys in her sister’s band. Since the Ackleys’ first album 12 years ago – through self-booked punk tours, various bands and hundreds of disarmingly honest songs – the sisters have never stopped working. “We’ve been doing this for a long time,” Allison tells Rolling Stone. “I don’t necessarily think we’re different people, but we’ve lived now – quite a bit.”
In conversation, Allison is an open book, while Katie is more reserved. “I’m a sharer, I’m a crier, I need to talk about everything,” Allison says. “Basically, with me, what you see is what you get, and Katie is the opposite. Katie is more introverted and tactful. She always is thinking three steps ahead. I’m outside, she’s inside.”
“I feel very attached to what happens to Katie. Something in our blood contributes to that.” –Allison Crutchfield
Both Allison’s solo debut, Tourist in This Town, and Waxahatchee’s fourth LP, Out in the Storm – released by indie-rock bastion Merge Records in January and July, respectively – are breakup records. Tourist is a travelogue in the Joni Mitchell tradition, but filtered through synth pop (Allison loves Robyn). Out in the Storm, a rock record proper, contains Waxahatchee’s most refined writing; more than a couple of its songs show her admiration of Lucinda Williams. On “Sparks Fly,” she describes a night in Berlin: “When I see myself through my sister’s eyes/I’m a live wire/Electrified.” Katie says she wanted to honor the idea of sisterhood, both literal and figurative. “That song is about the hope that comes at the end of a breakup,” she says, “the autonomy and freedom, surrounding yourself with amazing women who lift you up.”
In both of their catalogs, there is an appealing sense of rootlessness. “Katie always says she’s married to the sea,” Allison says. “That’s how I feel also.” It helps, then, that they tend to travel together, and that they are each other’s biggest fans. They always send each other demos first. “It’s this high school feeling,” Allison says, “that at the end of the day, all we really need is each other.”