“Place and setting have always been really huge in this project,” Katie Crutchfield tells Apple Music of Waxahatchee, which takes its name from a creek in her native Alabama. “It’s always been a big part of the way I write songs, to take people with me to those places.” While previous Waxahatchee releases often evoked a time—the roaring ’90s, and its indie rock—Crutchfield’s fifth LP under the Waxahatchee alias finds Crutchfield finally embracing her roots in sound as well. “Growing up in Birmingham, I always sort of toed the line between having shame about the South and then also having deep love and connection to it,” she says. “As I started to really get into alternative country music and Lucinda [Williams], I feel like I accepted that this is actually deeply in my being. This is the music I grew up on—Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, the powerhouse country singers. It’s in my DNA. It’s how I learned to sing. If I just accept and embrace this part of myself, I can make something really powerful and really honest. I feel like I shed a lot of stuff that wasn't serving me, both personally and creatively, and it feels like Saint Cloud's clean and honest. It's like this return to form.” Here, Crutchfield draws us a map of Saint Cloud, with stories behind the places that inspired its songs—from the Mississippi to the Mediterranean.
WEST MEMPHIS, ARKANSAS “Memphis is right between Birmingham and Kansas City, where I live currently. So to drive between the two, you have to go through Memphis, over the Mississippi River, and it's epic. That trip brings up all kinds of emotions—it feels sort of romantic and poetic. I was driving over and had this idea for 'Fire,' like a personal pep talk. I recently got sober and there's a lot of work I had to do on myself. I thought it would be sweet to have a song written to another person, like a traditional love song, but to have it written from my higher self to my inner child or lower self, the two selves negotiating. I was having that idea right as we were over the river, and the sun was just beating on it and it was just glowing and that lyric came into my head. I wanted to do a little shout-out to West Memphis too because of [the West Memphis Three]—that’s an Easter egg and another little layer on the record. I always felt super connected to [Damien Echols], watching that movie [Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills] as a teenager, just being a weird, sort of dark kid from the South. The moment he comes on the screen, I’m immediately just like, ‘Oh my god, that guy is someone I would have been friends with.’ Being a sort of black sheep in the South is especially weird. Maybe that's just some self-mythology I have, like it's even harder if you're from the South. But it binds you together.”
BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA “Arkadelphia Road is a real place, a road in Birmingham. It's right on the road of this little arts college, and there used to be this gas station where I would buy alcohol when I was younger, so it’s tied to this seediness of my past. A very profound experience happened to me on that road, but out of respect, I shouldn’t give the whole backstory. There is a person in my life who's been in my life for a long time, who is still a big part of my life, who is an addict and is in recovery. It got really bad for this person—really, really bad. ['Arkadelphia'] is about when we weren’t in recovery, and an experience that we shared. One of the most intense, personal songs I've ever written. It’s about growing up and being kids and being innocent and watching this whole crazy situation play out while I was also struggling with substances. We now kind of have this shared recovery language, this shared crazy experience, and it's one of those things where when we're in the same place, we can kind of fit in the corner together and look at the world with this tent, because we've been through what we've been through.”
RUBY FALLS, TENNESSEE “It's in Chattanooga. A waterfall that's in a cave. My sister used to live in Chattanooga, and that drive between Birmingham and Chattanooga, that stretch of land between Alabama, Georgia, into Tennessee, is so meaningful—a lot of my formative time has been spent driving that stretch. You pass a few things. One is Noccalula Falls, which I have a song about on my first album called ‘Noccalula.’ The other is Ruby Falls. [‘Ruby Falls’] is really dense—there’s a lot going on. It’s about a friend of mine who passed away from a heroin overdose, and it’s for him—my song for all people who struggle with that kind of thing. I sang a song at his funeral when he died. This song is just all about him, about all these different places that we talked about, or that we’d spend so much time at Waxahatchee Creek together. The beginning of the song is sort of meant to be like the high. It starts out in the sky, and that's what I'm describing, as I take flight, up above everybody else. Then the middle part is meant to be like this flashback but it's taking place on earth—it’s actually a reference to Just Kids, Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe. It’s written with them in mind, but it's just about this infectious, contagious, intimate friendship. And the end of the song is meant to represent death or just being below the surface and being gone, basically.”
ST. CLOUD, FLORIDA “It's where my dad is from, where he was born and where he grew up. The first part of ['St. Cloud'] is about New York. So I needed a city that was sort of the opposite of New York, in my head. I wasn't going to do like middle-of-nowhere somewhere; I really did want it to be a place that felt like a city. But it just wasn’t cosmopolitan. Just anywhere America, and not in a bad way—in a salt-of-the-earth kind of way. As soon as the idea to just call the whole record Saint Cloud entered my brain, it didn't leave. It had been the name for six months or something, and I had been calling it Saint Cloud, but then David Berman died and I was like, ‘Wow, that feels really kismet or something,’ because he changed his middle name to Cloud. He went by David Cloud Berman. I'm a fan; it feels like a nice way to [pay tribute].”
BARCELONA, SPAIN “In the beginning of* *‘Oxbow’ I say ‘Barna in white,’ and ‘Barna’ is what people call Barcelona. And Barcelona is where I quit drinking, so it starts right at the beginning. I like talking about it because when I was really struggling and really trying to get better—and many times before I actually succeeded at that—it was always super helpful for me to read about other musicians and just people I looked up to that were sober. It was during Primavera [Sound Festival]. It’s sort of notoriously an insane party. I had been getting close to quitting for a while—like for about a year or two, I would really be not drinking that much and then I would just have a couple nights where it would just be really crazy and I would feel so bad, and it affected all my relationships and how I felt about music and work and everything. I had the most intense bout of that in Barcelona right at the beginning of this tour, and as I was leaving I was going from there to Portugal and I just decided, ‘I'm just going to not.’ I think in my head I was like, ‘I'm actually done,’ but I didn't say that to everybody. And then that tour went into another tour, and then to the summer, and then before you know it I had been sober six months, and then I was just like, ‘I do not miss that at all.’ I've never felt more like myself and better. It was the site of my great realization.”