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Grooming: Lavonne Anthony for Dior at Next Artists / Hair: Kyle Malone for L'Oreal at Next Artists

It was a wicked case of writer's block that got Katie Crutchfield, aka Waxahatchee, started on her solo career. After cutting her teeth in the Alabama punk outfit P. S. Eliot with her twin sister Allison, Crutchfield became a typical Brooklyn musician -- couch surfing, working in a coffee shop, too distracted to finish a song. "I was frustrated. So I called my boss one day, quit, and just got in my car and drove the 15 hours to Alabama." When she finally got to her parents' house on Waxahatchee Creek -- from which she borrowed her band name -- she finished the song. She wrote four more in the next two days, and by the end of the week had the collection of 11 cathartic songs that would become her first solo album, 2011's sparse, lo-fi American Weekend.

Waxahatchee's mournful twang and weary creak evoke early Cat Power. "When I was writing the album, I remember thinking, 'I just really need to be as completely honest and raw as I can be.'" Though "honest and raw" could be the insignia on the crest of every singer-songwriter, the beauty of Crutchfield's music is in her subject matter. Be it the aftermath of the breakup that inspired her first album, or the childhood struggles that are evident on this year's impeccably crafted Cerulean Salt, it's easy to wallow with her. "Everyone is going to think I had a really fucked up childhood!" Crutchfield says of the revealing material on songs like the emotionally gutting "Peace and Quiet," in which she howls, "Blame my hardworking father / For harm you cannot atone." But her lyrics, she says, are mostly about having to grow up: "I had a really lovely childhood for the most part. It's more about nostalgia and how people grow and things change. It's looking back on time and thinking, 'Oh that's over and that's never going to happen again.'"

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