Waxahatchee Got Sober and Made the Best Album of Her Career

Photo: Molly Matalon

BY Sarah MurphyPublished Mar 25, 2020

Katie Crutchfield channelled her angst into poetic lo-fi garage rock as Waxahatchee for four albums, gaining a loyal following and a reputation as a troubled, modern-day trobairitz.

On Waxahatchee's new record, Saint Cloud, Crutchfield ditches the distortion and chemical dependence that fuelled her previous records, opting instead for an Americana-laced sound unlike anything she's ever released. She also made the life-altering decision to get sober.
"I had built up a mythology about myself, in my own mind, as a person who lives a little bit recklessly or has substance abuse problems," Crutchfield tells Exclaim! "I was scared that being sober, or being healthier mentally and physically, would negatively affect my work because of that mythology."
Not to mention the big risk of changing her sound so drastically — but luckily, it pays off perfectly. Her voice has never sounded more self-assured and her writing never better, as she tackles themes of addiction and co-dependency.
"Through making this record, it was really me proving to myself, 'Oh no, I can make great art still and it isn't about what I'm putting into my body. With a clear head, I could potentially make my best record ever.' That was the thing I was trying to prove to myself."
She may have just done exactly that, but it doesn't mean Saint Cloud is an easy listen. On "Arkadelphia" she vividly recounts her struggles with living as a musician, her sobriety and the legacy of her songs: "If I burn out like a light bulb, they'll say she wasn't meant for that life / Put it all in a capsule and save it for a dark night," she sings.
It finds Crutchfield imagining the worst if she had continued living as hard as she was.
"It's sad to think about, but is this gonna be another sad story in music of somebody who did burn out too young and people just save their albums for sombre times in their lives?" she ponders. "That's such a common storyline for a lot of musicians."
Since getting sober, though, she's noticed that more fellow musicians are making the same decision.
"For me, even a few years ago, the thought of it was so crazy — the thought of being able to make that shift — because everyone was drinking," Crutchfield says. "It seeped into every single avenue, and I just wasn't there yet in any way, shape or form. In the last few years, I have opened up to it more and also just the people around me — I feel like I know so many sober musicians. It's almost like the more we build up our numbers and our community bulks up, the more people realize 'I can do that, and maybe my life would be easier.'"
Despite the newfound calm in her life, she doesn't negate any of the work she previously released — at least not because she's sober now. Her perspective on past records has always been somewhat detached by the time the music is out in the world.
"With every album, I go back and I listen and I don't really recognize that voice anymore, and I don't recognize that person because that's just what life is — we're constantly reinventing ourselves, we're constantly changing, we're constantly letting go of our former selves," she says. "I never relate to that voice that much anymore. It's a snapshot of a time, and I'm grateful that I have that, it's cool to have documents of a time and a place. But I would view it differently with or without the decision to get sober."
Nevertheless, Saint Cloud is sure to be a record that means a lot to a lot of people for years to come.
Saint Cloud comes out March 27 on Merge Records.
Read Exclaim!'s feature with other musicians about their struggle to get and stay sober in the music industry here.

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