As Waxahatchee, Katie Crutchfield makes music on her own terms

Katie Crutchfield performs at the Black Cat Friday as Waxahatchee. (Cardinal Robinson)
Katie Crutchfield performs at the Black Cat Friday as Waxahatchee. (Cardinal Robinson)

Don’t call Katie Crutchfield a millennial. The Alabama-bred alt-folk prodigy behind Waxahatchee just turned 25, but her sound borrows more from Cat Power’s perennial melancholy than Lena Dunham’s ironic smirk. Heart-wrenching and simple, Crutchfield’s chord-driven confessionals are as earnest as a whispered conversation between close friends — and she’s been cranking them out for more than a decade.

Kid Rock

As teenage fans of riot grrrl and grunge bands, Crutchfield and her twin sister, Allison, took up instruments (keys and drums for Allison; guitar for Katie) and started a pop-punk quartet, The Ackleys. The sisters spent their high school summers touring the basements and warehouses of the Southeast’s DIY-show circuit.

“My parents must have been out of their f—— minds,” Crutchfield says. “But I think it taught us a lot about independence and responsibility.”

Growing Up

The Crutchfield sisters found a broader audience in the late 2000s with another pop-punk group, P.S. Eliot. As the band’s lead singer and songwriter, Katie’s voice matured in sound, with a much wider range, and on paper, with lyrics that transcended The Ackleys’ high school angst. “Maybe I’m right, maybe fidelity is obsolete/ Maybe we confuse love for remission/ Or complacency for defeat,” she sang on “Acid Flashbacks.”

On Her Own

“I see myself as being really difficult to work with,” Crutchfield says, of P.S. Eliot’s amicable dissolution in 2011. “I thought, ‘I want to do this myself so … I can make it sound how I want it to sound without hurting anyone’s feelings.’ ”

Snowed in, alone, at her family’s lake house near Birmingham, Ala., she spent a week writing and recording her first solo album as Waxahatchee, the name of a nearby creek. “American Weekend,” released in 2012, is a lo-fi, acoustic tally of broken hearts. The crackle of the eight-track tape and the snap of Crutchfield’s guitar pick give her songs the warm, scratchy folds of an old woolen blanket.

‘Cerulean Salt’

Overwhelmed by the success of the critically acclaimed “American Weekend,” Crutchfield wanted to take a break from spontaneous solo recording and think more intentionally about creating a lasting sound. She decided to try working with a band again — this time, with veto power.

For “Cerulean Salt,” which dropped last spring, she recruited her boyfriend, Keith Spencer; her twin, Allison; and Kyle Gilbride, all of Philadelphia-based rock band Swearin’, to play backing instruments with one disclaimer: “Everyone’s creatively involved, but it’s my thing.”

While the added drums and bass give “Cerulean Salt” a backbone that makes for catchier choruses, Crutchfield’s honest, vivid storytelling is still the star.

“There isn’t a whole lot of music being made right now that’s going to hold up for years and years,” she says. “I want to make something that’s not totally drenched in reverb, overly stylized. Songs that stand on their own.”

Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW; Fri., 9 p.m., $13; 202-667-7960. (U Street)

Christina Cauterucci is Washington City Paper's arts editor.

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