Waxahatchee on How Alabama Inspired Her New Album's Understated Indie Splendor

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It's easy to think of indie-guitarist Katie Crutchfield writing music by Alabama’s secluded Waxahatchee Creek, enjoying the stillness, quiet and calm. Here’s what really goes down: A pontoon boat blasts full speed across the creek, Crutchfield is driving, the passengers are boozing it up (Crutchfield will booze it up later), and party is going down. There may or may not be fireworks. The cast of Thunder in Paradise is put to shame.

“You go swimming and biking,” says Crutchfield, commenting on her Waxahatchee Creek related activities. “My dad has a pontoon boat. You drink and do stuff and just kind of hang out. It’s nice and sunny and hot. It’s half vacation and half camping.”

Hive catches up with Crutchfield the day before she makes her way back to the creek, the place that both lends its name to her solo pseudonym and informs her new record, Cerulean Salt.

Cerulean Salt is a brisk affair, finding her zipping through guitar driven songs in less than two minutes. But because her lyrics are so mysterious, they lend a sort of heaviness to the airy sound. And of course, every now and then, the bright, '90s indie-rock sound drops into darker waters, be they fed by the Pixies or My Bloody Valentine.

The record brims with cloaked messages, such as “Coast to Coast’s” lyrics -- “Chest seat is empty, blood on the back sea/ Lives in disgrace, scarface, he doesn’t need.” And some of the creek's imagery seeps through, too. The cover features Crutchfield submerged in water. The video for “Coast to Coast” features band members going for a swim in the creek.

“That’s all quite literal,” Crutchfield explains. “Cerulean Salt is partly about me wanting to write about something that wasn’t a relationship or heartbreak, because that’s what I had written about up to that point. But a lot of my lyrics are personal enough that if I delve into them too much, I’ll reveal things about my personal life that I don’t want to share. I’m very happy to be vague about some things.”

Even so, Crutchfield’s personal life is imbued in the record. Her boyfriend, Keith Spencer, even drums on the record. Moreover, Crutchfield’s other (sort of secret) band, Great Thunder, is just she and Spencer.

Hive mentions that playing music with a romantic partner can yield some deeply emotional, resonant work (i.e. Fleetwood Mac) but it can also lead to straight up nastiness and unpleasantness (i.e. Fleetwood Mac). And Crutchfield replies, “Right now, playing together makes our lives easier. When we first started dating, I went on tour for the first Waxahatchee record. We were separate for two months and it as so hard. But, he’s in Swearin’ [which includes Crutchfield’s twin sister, Allison] so we usually go on tour together.”

Does the closeness mean that Crutchfield and Spencer can communicate on a level that other people can’t reach? “I sort of have tried to analyze it, a little bit. Before we started making music together, I had never been great at collaborating. In my previous band, P.S. Elliot, which also included Allison, I wrote everything, and even in my other bands, it sort of became a power struggle.”

“Before recording Cerulean Salt, I was really at an existential crossroads at a point in my life,” Crutchfield says. “I was working at a shitty coffee house and not really touring or doing anything socially or musically. I came to Alabama and there was a lot of things going on that just put a lot of things into perspective. It all sort of just clicked.”

Cerulean Salt is out now.