Waxahatchee Talks 'Saint Cloud' & Approaching Music From A Healthier Place


Photo by Molly Matalon


Waxahatchee Talks 'Saint Cloud' & Approaching Music From A Healthier Place

Ahead of her fifth studio album's March 27 release, Katie Crutchfield spoke with the Recording Academy about the importance of community, self-care, and her hero, Lucinda Williams

GRAMMYs/Mar 24, 2020 - 08:23 pm

In the past, Katie Crutchfield has used music as a "vehicle to heal." From singing musical theater songs alongside her twin sister Allison in their childhood Alabama home to mixing with Philadelphia’s punk and D.I.Y. scene, and emerging as the lo-fi leaning Waxahatchee in 2012, she’s looked to music to resound her truth. With Saint Cloud, her fifth album (out on March 27 via Merge), she’s turned that method on its head.

Written near her childhood home in Kansas City, immediately after her decision to get sober, Saint Cloud isn’t quite the sound of someone healed, but of someone who’s learned to behave more thoroughly and intentionally—independently of music. While Saint Cloud is the most at ease Waxahatchee has ever sounded; it continues her approach of making darkness sound light as it charts the difficult, erring, painful process of learning "to let stillness be."

Waxahatchee has never spouted platitudes and called it truth; finding one’s core self takes scrupulous and determined hard work. In her case, it’s been worth it. Saint Cloud is not only Waxahatchee’s best work yet, but it also comes to the resolutions her music has seemingly been driving towards for years. Ahead of its release, Crutchfield spoke with the Recording Academy about the importance of community, self-care, and her hero, Lucinda Williams.

A lot of people have already been calling this your best album. Do you share that view of Saint Cloud?

Yeah, definitely. I like to look at all of my albums as a direct representation of exactly where I was at at the time, and I think it makes sense as I age that my music will follow the path that I’m on. It feels a lot like I’ve been chipping away at getting as close as I can to my own truth, which is something I feel I’m getting closer to as I get older. When I hear it, there’s an ease to it, and I think a lot of that is because I’m not fighting with anything, I’m just letting it feel as natural as possible.

Would it be fair to say that this was your first time using self-care as creative fuel rather than self-destruction?

I would say that it’s not really a binary—I haven’t gone from one extreme to the other by any stretch of the imagination. I started taking initiative as far as self-care goes in my life, I feel like I really put that first. I took a lot of steps to take care of myself—physically, mentally, emotionally, all that stuff. I put that before making music, so when I finally sat down to make the record, I was approaching it from a healthier place. I think that’s what really translates.

In the past, I’ve used music as a vehicle to heal, and through doing that, I’ve ended up showing a lot of the cracks. With this album, I think there’s a lot of darkness too, that’s the thing people are having a hard time putting their finger on, because it isn’t this overwhelmingly positive album. There’s a lot of struggle that’s flashed-back to, but it’s being expressed through a calmer, more comfortable, more self-assured person.

"Fire," which is about pulling your car over to watch the sunset over Memphis, has got to be one of Waxahatchee’s hardest songs to sing along to. What made sense for you to sing it, and a lot of the songs on Saint Cloud in such a high register?

I don’t know, I didn’t realize just how high it all is until I began rehearsing with my band. In the past, I've kind of stuck to my comfort zone, but now I really have the danger of losing my voice with these songs. I have this backing singer in my band, Jacki Warren, who reflected back to me, like "this is high." I went back and listened the other day to the first voice memo I made of "Fire," when I first came up with the melody, and that’s just where it hit. I always try things in other keys, just to confirm that they're in the best sounding key, and I think I just liked how my voice sounded up there. It felt right. Slowly, over the past 15 years, I’ve been singing higher and higher. When I first started writing songs as a teenager, they were all way down. I think as I get better, and my range gets bigger, I keep wanting to push it.

I’m curious to know what your twin sister Allison thought when she first listened to this album?

She loved it. This is the most removed Allison’s ever been from a project, and that’s been a slow thing. With each Waxahatchee record, I feel like Allison’s had less and less to do with it, and this is the first time in years where she will not even be in my band. She used to really be around when I was writing my demos, and she’d often be the first person to hear new songs, but with this one, we lived in separate cities. We talk every day and we’re still close, but she just wasn’t as behind the scenes as she had been previously. So, I was kind of nervous and felt like she maybe wouldn’t connect with it, especially because I’m in the middle of the country, getting sober. I was worried she wouldn’t like it or wouldn’t relate. She came into the studio when I was making it by chance, she just happened to be in Texas where I was making it. She immediately reflected back to me that she thought it was my best record and has continued to say that, so it’s cool. I know as much as she’s rooting for me, she’s sort of unbiased because she hasn’t touched the album at all, so for her to say that, it’s pretty meaningful for me. 

Was the writing process quite private, or did you have anyone to offer feedback along the way?

My writing process is always quite private, I don’t usually involve anybody. I wrote a lot of the songs in Kansas City, where I live now with my partner Kevin [Morby], who’s also a songwriter. He would hear things first, and he’s so supportive and so positive. He was also there when I wrote "Fire" because we were driving over the Memphis-Arkansas bridge which goes from Memphis to West Memphis, over the Mississippi River. I was coming up with that song’s melody and lyrics in my head, and while I wasn’t dictating it to him or really involving him, he was present.

Has that been valuable to you, having a songwriter as a partner who you can potentially share ideas with?

Definitely. I mean, I’ve always been surrounded by songwriters as I’ve jumped around from scene to scene. We had a really tight-knit scene in Philadelphia for a long time, with Allison and her band Swearin’, and Sam and his band Radiator Hospital, but in the last three years, I have new songwriters around me, Kevin being one of them, and Lindsey Jordan [of Snail Mail] being another. I think that’s really important, for songwriters to find community with one another, and to have each other to reflect things back and provide a first audience before anyone else hears it.

I want to talk about Lucinda Williams. How has she affected your songwriting and your life more generally?

I mean, she’s just my favorite songwriter. I had always struggled with my Southern identity, but with Lucinda, and the way she portrays the South, it’s like everything I’ve ever wanted to do. Something about country music—traditional country music, like Loretta Lynn—when I hear that, it feels like family. I feel connected to those types of songwriters because it’s just how I grew up. The stuff they sing about is so culturally significant to me. I discovered punk rock and all this underground music that didn’t really gel with country music at all, it was like a totally different world. I struggled with that because it wasn’t cool to be Southern. But when Lucinda’s records started to come into my life, it changed all of that. It made me feel that I could start being myself wholly and completely, and draw from my experiences because they’re romantic and interesting and fodder for songs I’ve previously shut down. Lucinda’s ticked every single box that I didn’t even know I had. 

Has it been strange taking a year off tour? It must be a long time since you’ve done that.

I’ve never done that. Even then, since 2018, I’ve done eight weeks of touring in two years, which is really not much. It’s crazy but I needed to do it. It once would have been a nightmare to me; the idea of slowing down was really scary, but it really became the only option. I just needed to stop performing because I had never really taken any significant time off from touring between Ivy Tripp (2015) and Out In The Storm (2017). By the time Out In The Storm came out, I was really tired because I hadn’t stopped. When that cycle was starting to wind down after a year, I felt really spent and addicted to the restlessness. And also, from not taking any breaks, I hadn’t really been able to put any work into what my live band was going to be, or what the performance was going to look like. Not that I slapped it all together or anything, my band was amazing, but there was a lot of compromise. There was a lot of imperfection, in my mind, just because we had to go, go, go. I had started to get a clear vision but had no time to see it through. 

Did your relationship with music grow stale because of that relentlessness?

Yeah, I think that’s what I’m trying to say. It got stale because of the repetition and because I didn’t have time to make it exciting for myself, so that’s something I’ve really learned. If you put yourself on stage with the same people for long enough, your favorite songs will become your least favorite songs, that’s just what happens. Even going forward with the Saint Cloud touring, I’ll know when to stop and when to change it up. We learn from mistakes.

Are you worried that COVID-19 will affect the tour? [Editor's Note: Crutchfield announced on March 16 that a few spring tour dates had been postponed.]

I mean, I have no idea what’s gonna happen, no one does. Anyone who tells you that they do is lying. It is truly crazy, and it’s just a wait-and-see kind of thing. I just have to go with what people tell me to do. I don’t wanna put anyone at risk, and also, more than that, I don’t wanna panic and do something prematurely. I’m just praying every day and hoping for the best, that it won’t affect anything. I’ll be one of the people that if it’s possible and safe to play, I will play. I’m not a panicker, I’m not a hypochondriac. I’m gonna do my best to pull it off if we can. 

Do you have material for another album?

Yes! I have material and ideas I’m working on. It’s funny, I’m so excited about Saint Cloud, I love the record so much and I love the songs so much, that I’m weirdly not quite ready to move forward yet, but I’m collecting ideas like little pieces of treasure that I’m just tucking away, and when I’m ready to look forward, I’ll have them there.

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More



Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

Joan as Police Woman


Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors

GRAMMYs/Apr 7, 2020 - 07:21 pm

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, singer/songwriter Joan Wasser of Joan as Police Woman, whose forthcoming covers album, COVER TWO, includes tracks by The Strokes, Prince, Talk Talk, and more, shares her Quarantine Diary.

Thursday, April 2

[10 a.m.-12 p.m.] Went to bed at 4 a.m. last night after getting drawn into working on a song. Put on the kettle to make hot coffee while enjoying an iced coffee I made the day before. Double coffee is my jam. Read the news, which does not do much for my mood. Catch up with a few friends, which does a lot of good for my mood. Glad it goes in this order.

[12 p.m.-2 p.m.] Make steel cut oats with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, fresh ginger, fresh turmeric, a sprinkling of cinnamon and cardamom, and of course, coconut butter to melt on top. If you’re not into coconut butter (sometimes marketed as coconut "manna"), I’d suggest just going for it and getting it (or ordering it) and putting it on your sweet potatoes, your oats, anywhere you’d put butter. I’m not vegan but I do enjoy hearing the tiny scream uttered by a strawberry as I cut into it. 

Contemplate some yoga. Contamplate meditating. Do neither. Resume work on the song I want to finish and send today. I have a home studio and I spend a lot of my time working on music here. The song is a collboration sent to me from Rodrigo D’Erasmo in Milano that will benefit the folks who work behind the scenes in the music touring system in Italy. 

[2 p.m.-4 p.m.] I traded in a guitar for a baritone guitar right before all this craziness hit but hadn’t had the time to get it out until now. I put on some D’Angelo, plugged into my amp and played along as if I were in his band. Micahel Archer, If you’re reading this, I hope you are safe and sound and thank you immensely for all the music you've given us always. 

[4 p.m.-6 p.m.] Bike repair shops have been deemed "necessary," thank goodness, because biking is the primary way I get around and I need a small repair. I hit up my neighborhood shop and they get my bike in and out in 10 minutes, enough time to feel the sun for a moment. 

I ride fast and hard down to the water's edge and take in a view of the East River from Brooklyn. There are a few people out getting their de-stress walks but it is mostly deserted on the usually packed streets.

[6 p.m.-8 p.m.] Practice Bach piano invention no. 4 in Dm very, very, very slowly. I never studied piano but I’m trying to hone some skills. Realize I’m ravenous. Eat chicken stew with wild mushrooms I made in the slow cooker yesterday. It’s always better the second day.

[8 p.m.-10 p.m.] Get on a zoom chat with a bunch of women friends on both coasts. We basically shoot the sh*t and make each other laugh. 

Afterwards I still feel like I ate a school bus so I give into yoga. I feel great afterwards. This photo proves I have a foot. 

[10 p.m.-12 a.m.] Record a podcast for Stereo Embers in anticipation of my new release on May 1, a second record of covers, inventively named COVER TWO. Continue to work on music (it’s a theme).

[12 a.m.-2 p.m.] Tell myself I should think about bed. Ignore myself and confinue to work on music. 

[2 a.m.-4 a.m.] Force myself into bed where I have many books to choose from. This is what I’m reading presently, depending on my mood. Finally I listen to Nick Hakim’s new song, "Qadir," and am taken by its beauty and grace. Good night. 

If you wish to support our efforts to assist music professionals in need, learn more about the Recording Academy's and MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.

If you are a member of the music industry in need of assistance, visit the MusiCares website

Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

Hero The Band perform at the Recording Academy Atlanta Chapter Annual Membership Celebration
Photo: Marcus Ingram/WireImage


Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

How sound planning for a creative future in our urban areas makes all the difference for artists and musicians

GRAMMYs/Oct 24, 2019 - 01:27 am

The future, as they say, is now. And for music makers around the world, building a future for themselves often starts at home, in their local creative community and in the city where they live. While technology has expanded communication and made the world smaller, cities continue to grow, making planning for the future a critical cultural mission of the present.

To that end, a new report by global organization Sound Diplomacy titled "This Must Be The Place" examines, "The role of music and cultural infrastructure in creating better future cities for all of us." The 37-page deep dive into community planning and development highlights the importance of creative culture in what it calls "Future Cities."

"The government defines ‘Future Cities’ as 'a term used to imagine what cities themselves will be like," the report states, "how they will operate, what systems will orchestrate them and how they will relate to their stakeholders (citizens, governments, businesses, investors, and others),'"

According to the report, only three global cities or states currently have cultural infrastructure plans: London, Amsterdam and New South Wales. This fact may be surprising considering how city planning and sustainability have become part of the discussion on development of urban areas, where the UN estimates 68 percent of people will live by 2050.

"Our future places must look at music and culture ecologically. Much like the way a building is an ecosystem, so is a community of creators, makers, consumers and disseminators," the report says. "The manner in which we understand how to maintain a building is not translated to protecting, preserving and promoting music and culture in communities."

The comparison and interaction between the intangibility of culture and the presence of physical space is an ongoing theme throughout the report. For instance, one section of the report outlines how buildings can and should be designed to fit the cultural needs of the neighborhoods they populate, as too often, use of a commercial space is considered during the leasing process, not the construction process, leading to costly renovations.

"All future cities are creative cities. All future cities are music cities."

On the residential side, as cities grow denser, the need increases for thoughtful acoustic design and sufficient sound isolation. Future cities can and should be places where people congregate

"If we don’t design and build our future cities to facilitate and welcome music and experience, we lose what makes them worth living in."

For musicians and artists of all mediums, the answer to making—and keeping—their cities worth living in boils down to considering their needs, impact and value more carefully and sooner in the planning process.

"The report argues that property is no longer an asset business, but one built on facilitating platforms for congregation, community and cohesion," it says. "By using music and culture at the beginning of the development process and incorporating it across the value chain from bid to design, meanwhile to construction, activation to commercialisation, this thinking and practice will result in better places."

The report offers examples of how planners and leaders are handling this from around the world. For instance, the Mayor Of London Night Czar, who helps ensure safety and nighttime infrastructure for venues toward the Mayor's Vision for London as a 24-hour city. Stateside, Pittsburgh, Penn., also has a Night Mayor in place to support and inform the growth of its creative class.

Diversity, inclusion, health and well-being also factor into the reports comprehensive look at how music and culture are every bit as important as conventional business, ergonomic and environmental considerations in Future Cites. Using the Queensland Chamber of Arts and Culture as a reference, it declared, "A Chamber of Culture is as important as a Chamber of Commerce."

In the end, the report serves as a beacon of light for governments, organizations, businesses and individuals involved in planning and developing future cities. Its core principals lay out guideposts for building friendly places to music and culture and are backed with case studies and recommendations. But perhaps the key to this progress is in changing how we approach the use of space itself, as the answer to supporting music may be found in how we look at the spaces we inhabit.

"To develop better cities, towns and places, we must alter the way we think about development, and place music and culture alongside design, viability, construction and customer experience," it says. "Buildings must be treated as platforms, not assets. We must explore mixed‑use within mixed‑use, so a floor of a building, or a lesser‑value ground floor unit can have multiple solutions for multiple communities."

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Nearly 30 Years After Their Debut, Body Count's 'Carnivore' Is The Thrash-Metal Band's Most Fully Realized Album

Ice-T In 1993

Photo by David Corio/Redferns


Nearly 30 Years After Their Debut, Body Count's 'Carnivore' Is The Thrash-Metal Band's Most Fully Realized Album

Led by iconic rapper Ice-T, the L.A.-based seven-piece keep their socially conscious themes consistent and the music louder than ever on their seventh studio album

GRAMMYs/Mar 10, 2020 - 10:06 pm

In early 1992 Ernie Cunnigan visited the Burbank office of Howie Klein. The guitarist (who goes by Ernie C.) and the then-president of Reprise/Warner Bros. Records were listening to the upcoming self-titled debut from Cunnigan’s band, Body Count, fronted by his Crenshaw High School buddy Tracy Marrow, already famous as rapper Ice-T. Ice, with the savvy creative connectivity that guides his multi-hyphenate media career to this day, introduced his forthcoming metal band in 1991 via tracks on O.G. Original Gangster, his fourth album.

It's not unusual for high school pals to form a band. What was unusual, though, was that Body Count was a hardcore thrash metal band comprised of all-black musicians, with point-blank lyrics that were both insightful and incite-ful concerning racial and social inequities and the climate of America. Listening to the 18-track debut, Klein praised it, while voicing concern about the lyrics of "Momma's Gotta Die Tonight," a song about the matricide and dismemberment of a racist parent. Turns out it was the last track, a ditty called "Cop Killer," that should have given the executive pause. 

While Klein was and remains stridently opposed to censorship and is a dedicated free speech advocate, Body Count, per the era, was released with a parental advisory sticker (as was Original Gangster). Less than two months after Body Count dropped, Los Angeles exploded in fiery violence in reaction to the acquittal of four policemen in the beating of Rodney King, as well as the shooting death of black teenager Latasha Harlins by a Korean grocer. (The grocer was given only probation.) It was the worst possible climate for "Cop Killer," with lyrics including "Fk the police, yeah!" and shout-outs to then L.A.P.D. chief Daryl Gates, Ice's "dead homies" and King. The blowback went all the way up to then-President George Bush, and though Time Warner supported Ice-T in his fight against the song's opponents, he eventually pulled the cut from new pressings of the album.

Currently, streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music offer the version sans the group's most (in)famous song, replacing "Cop Killer" with "Freedom Of Speech" from Ice's 1989 solo album, The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech...Just Watch What You Say, edited to add samples of Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady" and the voice of political punker Jello Biafra. On YouTube, "Cop Killer" has more than 1.5 million views, with most of the comments thoughtful and positive, understanding the intentionally incendiary messages Body Count was delivering. Ultimately, if Body Count isn’t a classic record in the way that critics consider Nirvana’s Nevermind or Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back to be, it’s an important and groundbreaking one. As Ice-T has said, Body Count is: "a protest record,” not the norm in the metal world, but still the way BC's songs operate today.

Indeed, 28 years later, things haven’t changed. Biafra is also on Body Count's powerful new album, Carnivore. Police actions like "stop and frisk" (the NYC law enforcement program that was proven to disproportionally target black and Latino men) wasn’t legally discredited until 2014. Body Count’s one-time bassist, Lloyd "Mooseman" Roberts III, was murdered in South Central Los Angeles in 2001 in an accidental drive-by; in the last 12 months, 126 black men were killed by guns in L.A. County, as opposed to 23 white men. And Ice-T and Body Count are still raging against the machine.

Ice-T enjoys pushing buttons lyrically, and if they’ve sometimes been heavy-handed or misguided ("KKK Bitch" or "Bitch In The Pit"), Ice-T is a politically eloquent, passionate and personal songwriter, which can be too easily overlooked given Body Count's volume-heavy metal chops and Ice's delivery, a speedy vocal style that’s been traditionally more aggro-rapping than melodic singing.  

That said, Carnivore is Body Count’s best album to date; it’s the most fully realized musically, and there’s a cohesion to the vocals and music that led Body Count bassist Vincent Price to lay out the band’s growth in a Metallica timeline: "Manslaughter [2014] was basically Kill ‘Em All; Bloodlust [2017] was our Ride The Lightningand Carnivore’s our Master Of Puppets."

He's not wrong, and though Ice-T’s more than 20-year stint as detective Odafin "Fin" Tutuola on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit has precluded lengthy Body Count tours, the buzz is loud for this seventh album.

Ice-T may be the original gangster, yet he’s patient, articulate and fervent in explaining songs and motivations to audiences and the press alike. "When I'm Gone," featuring Amy Lee of Evanescence, was inspired by the killing of Nipsey Hussle. It’s a reminder, as he says in the tune, to "tell the people that you love, that you love them now. … Don't wait; tomorrow may be too fking late."

His prolific musical social criticism and seemingly left-leaning views are thoughtful and targeted, despite the vitriol of so many Body Count songs. In the nearly 30 years since founding his revolutionary band, Ice-T observes, "I think you’ve got less racism; less people, but more avid racism. It’s unnerving to think that we’ve come so far but there’s still so far to go." As he advised in a 2017 interview, "Don’t just be angry. Know what you’re talking about so you don’t alienate someone who should be an ally."