Waxahatchee Likens New Album ‘Tigers Blood’ to ‘A Great Slice of Homemade Bread’

When Katie Crutchfield, the 35-year-old singer-songwriter better known as Waxahatchee, released her country-tinged fifth album, Saint Cloud, in March 2020, its intimacy connected with listeners in early-pandemic lockdown and it topped Billboard’s Heatseekers Albums chart. “I didn’t expect for Saint Cloud to mean as much to people as it did,” she says. “That was obviously a beautiful thing; that’s still, to this day, the thing I’m the proudest of.”

But for her follow-up (and ANTI- debut), Tigers Blood, out March 22, Crutchfield kept a healthy distance from the acclaim of Saint Cloud. “Internalizing people’s praise is just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than internalizing criticism,” she says from her Kansas City, Mo., home. “I really try and shut all of it out.”

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Tigers Blood carries on in Saint Cloud’s alt-country vein, and like that record, it was made in just two weeks at Texas studio Sonic Ranch with producer Brad Cook (Bon Iver, Snail Mail). But the album has a character all its own, thanks in part to Crutchfield’s new backing band: Cook’s multi-instrumentalist brother Phil, drummer Spencer Tweedy and ascendant rocker Jake “MJ” Lenderman, whose vocal harmonies and guitar leads course through the songs. “With Brad, my records are like a great slice of homemade bread with a fresh slice of tomato, a little olive oil, salt and pepper,” Crutchfield says. “The ingredients are so simple. Why overthink it?”

Allison Crutchfield, your sister and longtime musical collaborator, is an A&R executive at your new home, ANTI- Records. What was that signing experience like?

It’s a crazy situation, right? And it feels so correct. She has always been my most trusted confidant. When she started working A&R at Anti-, she really stepped into that role so naturally, and like has such a unique sort of flair, and like take on being an A&R person. When my [Merge] contract was up, I knew I wanted to make a change. I considered my options, but I’m not going to have that type of connection with anybody [else]. And I already just loved ANTI-, their roster and their ethos and approach.

What has Anti- been like as a label partner as you’ve been getting this album off the ground?

They’ve been so perfect. It’s crazy how well it suits me. The team is just so enthusiastic and hardworking and pure of heart. The president of Anti-, Andy Kaulkin, is such a visionary and such a unique person in the music business – like, a true head. He really cares about music and he just wants me to be an artist; he doesn’t want me to be anything I’m not. There’s a lot of mutual trust there.

Saint Cloud was a creative risk for you in how strongly you embraced country sounds for it. How did you decide to continue in that stylistic direction with Tigers Blood rather than making another hard pivot?

With Saint Cloud, there was no pressure; we were doing something totally new and just going for it. With Tigers Blood, early on […] there was some pressure that Brad Cook and myself were feeling. There is such a weird allure to reinventing yourself – like, that is sort of looming when you’re thinking about what to do next, you’re like, “OK, what pivot am I going to take?” We ultimately landed on the confident choice [being] to double down on what we did before and change a couple of little, small elements and just trust that it’s going to feel new.

Brad Cook is a longtime collaborator who you worked with on Saint Cloud as well as 2018’s Great Thunder EP and your collaborative 2022 album as Plains with Jess Williamson. How has that relationship evolved?

He’s one of my very, very, very best friends now. Finding exactly the type of collaborator that he is has been a lifelong goal of mine, something that I’ve been subconsciously searching for. Since I’ve been working with Brad, I’ve learned a certain amount of self-awareness about exactly what it is I bring to the table. I bring the songs, I bring the voice, I bring a certain amount of vision, of aesthetically how I want this to be. Brad brings a lot of the other stuff — he is a person who knows how to execute a vision. There is this complementary dynamic to our whole thing. We’ve really built this shared world and this shared taste. It just keeps getting easier and better the longer that we make records together.

Jake “MJ” Lenderman has also had a successful few years as a solo artist and as part of the band Wednesday. What did he bring to these sessions?

Brad and I, when we talk about music, a lot of the time we use food metaphors. And he was like, “Jake is a really potent spice — you’re going to taste it.” I really liked that. It’s kind of fun to throw that spice in the mix — that mixes things up for us, too. He just has amazing taste and this great, exciting, youthful energy that we really fed off.

He came on the Plains tour [in 2022] and opened. I came up in this small DIY scene and I had always approached my music career as like, the main thing is artistic integrity and creative integrity – it’s all about the work and it’s about being close with my people and just like having fun with it. And then having this big year with Saint Cloud, this big year with Plains, not that I like got so far away from that, but I got pulled away from it a little bit. I didn’t even totally see that. So when I was on that [Plains] tour, before we made Tigers Blood, with him and his band and seeing how alive their set was every night and how they built this sweet community and they’re in such good spirits and having so much fun with it – and there’s all this buzz around him and his band, but they really don’t see it or care about it. That really realigned me with my own values. I just really appreciated it. My record wouldn’t have landed the same or been the same had I not had that experience.

Tigers Blood is the second consecutive Waxahatchee album recorded at Texas’ Sonic Ranch. How did the studio impact your headspace while working on the album?

You feel like called home or something – that’s how I feel at Sonic Ranch. It has worked so well for me to be that removed from my own life. It’s just so beautiful and so expansive and the environment is really conducive to being focused on what you’re doing. It’s like summer camp or something, too, because it’s like a compound; Sublime was working on something right next to us. There is this sense of community but there’s also privacy. I wish I had more excuses to go there. I’m jealous of someone like Brad who gets to go there a lot.

Tell me about your reverence for country music and how that has increasingly bled into your own.

It’s foundational to my songwriting. I grew up on Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn and George Jones and all these great country duets and classic country music. And I grew up in the ’90s, when pop country was so huge. All of those things are imprinted on my songwriting DNA. For all the early years, I really rejected that — and so I have been on a journey to reconnect with that. The big artist that helped me bridge that gap is Lucinda [Williams], who is still, to this day, my very favorite songwriter. I’m on a journey with it. It works its way in, always.

How excited are you to tour this record? Is MJ going to join?

I’m really excited to go on tour. MJ is not going to be on the tour. He will pop up here and there. He’s going to have a very busy year himself. He’s gonna do his thing, but of course, he knows there’s an open invitation. And we have a couple of little things planned, so I’m really excited about that. My band this year is really exciting: Spencer’s gonna join me on the road, and the person that’s going to fill the Jake role is Clay Frankel from the band Twin Peaks.

What was the most fun moment of the Tigers Blood sessions?

It was like so magical. We just really bonded. We all lived in this little house on this other side of the property of Sonic Ranch. We were cooking meals for each other and watching basketball and jamming and staying up late and talking and just having the best time. I miss it a lot.

This story originally appeared in the March 9, 2024, issue of Billboard.

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