It’s strange to envision Katie Crutchfield—aka Waxahatchee—playing to a large crowd. Her music is so deeply personal, so sweetly intimate, that hearing her plead, “Won’t you just let me pretend this is the love I need?” feels like a secret that shouldn’t leave the pages of a journal entry, let alone the confines of a tightly packed basement show. Yet despite the wishes of every Pitchfork-reading indie music lover, Waxahatchee’s reputation is growing, as evidenced by her show at Morgan’s Pier, where she will open for punk rock patriarchs Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. Still, despite the popularity surge and increased album sales these larger shows can undoubtedly bring to a budding musician’s career, Crutchfield admits she’s not all that excited to play—anywhere. As the confessional nature of her lyrics might imply, she’s completely, unconditionally honest.
“It’s sort of awkward for me to play in front of people,” she says. “I don’t have stage fright really; it’s just that I don’t feel like I was born to be onstage. I like writing songs and making records, and [being onstage is] part of what I have to do in order to do that. I guess I could never play shows, and that would be fine—but it’s part of the whole package.”
That she should dislike performing live is a bit surprising because Crutchfield, though just 24, is no spring chicken in the music world. Growing up in Birmingham, Ala., she and her twin sister, Allison, who now fronts the punk band Swearin’, began playing in bands when they were 14.
“As soon as I got into underground music, it was immediately punk, especially riot grrrl punk, like Bikini Kill,” says Crutchfield. “And then I started to get into R.E.M. and the more classic indie rock bands, like the Pixies. I think that kind of music really shaped me.”
After playing in a few bands in the Birmingham area—most notably the blogosphere-adored P.S. Eliot—the sisters decided to move east, first to New York City and then to Philadelphia. “The scene of Birmingham was sort of male-dominated. And we were really active in the punk scene at large, and it sort of felt like we didn’t fit in with our local punk scene. But we knew that there were local scenes in the country that we could fit into better,” Crutchfield says, quickly adding that Birmingham has “gotten a lot cooler” and “less bro-y than it used to be.”
Despite moving on to their own respective ventures, Katie and Allison are as close as ever. They now live together in West Philly, a prime location for any up-and-coming artist. “It’s ideal for a musician that tours, that isn’t like fucking Green Day or something,” she says. “It’s affordable. You can live in a house with a basement where you can practice, and there’s a lot of great bands all over the city.”
Financial worries aside, she’s not exactly slumming it with the critics. Her first album, 2012’s American Weekend, is a triumphantly bare-bones achievement; it’s just her voice and her acoustic guitar, with a four-track recorder. This year’s follow-up, Cerulean Salt, retains the same lyrical earnestness that made her debut so appealing, while bringing in a full band to add a newfound urgency to her sound. Cerulean Salt has earned rave reviews, including a coveted “Best New Music” distinction on Pitchfork. The wordsmanship, in particular, has been the subject of much praise; Crutchfield seems bruised and battered and beautiful—and you’ll love her for it.
While it may be a stretch to say that Waxahatchee will ever reach Green Day-level fame, Crutchfield better get used to playing at places like Morgan’s Pier, since it looks like her star is only rising.
“Up until six months ago, the only people that really heard my record were my friends,” she admits, reflecting on the surreal nature of performing for throngs of fans. “[Fame]’s something I might have to navigate in the future.”
Wed., July 31, 9pm. Free. With Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. Morgan’s Pier, 221 N. Columbus Blvd. morganspier.com
PW's Music Issue 2014