The title of the new Waxahatchee record, Ivy Tripp, refers to a type of personal quest for happiness that your parents might not understand. Then again, they might. It’s got nothing to do with job security, marriage, mortgages, or kids — and yet this freewheeling approach to living isn’t specific to the generation that grew up with unprecedented 24-7 high-speed access to a universe of alternative ideas and possibilities. “Honestly, people who are a lot older than me live their lives the same way I live mine,” says Katie Crutchfield, the acclaimed 24-year-old singer, songwriter, guitarist, essayist, and sometime tap dancer who’s been recording as Waxahatchee since 2012. “I don’t look at it as an age thing or a generational thing,” she adds, ready to get philosophical despite her 9:30 a.m. interview time with Refinery29. “I think of it more like two different ways to approach life. And, neither of them really makes you happier, necessarily, than the other would.” On paper, Crutchfield is a textbook ivy tripper. Born in Birmingham, AL — about an hour from the creek that inspired her stage name — she mapped her course as a teenager, when she discovered feminism and hardcore shows. From 2007 to 2011, she played alongside her drumming twin sister, Allison, in the pop-punk band P.S. Elliot, and since going solo, she’s made three Waxahatchee albums, achieving a the kind of indie stardom that gets you covered by NPR and The New York Times. This summer, while other people her age are taking their first vacations as gainfully employed adults, she’ll finish up a tour that starts tomorrow (April 7) in Washington, D.C., and winds through North America, Europe, and Australia before ending back in the U.K. in late August. Along the way, she’ll enjoy the support of her new label, Merge, the revered North Carolina indie that helped launch Spoon, Arcade Fire, The Magnetic Fields, and Neutral Milk Hotel. The nontraditional route has served Crutchfield well, in other words, and yet Ivy Tripp is neither an audio brochure for rootless adulthood nor a denouncement of the old-school American dream. “I don’t necessarily identify with either way of life,” Crutchfield says. “At this point in my life, I subscribe to aspects of both. It’s just more of an observation: living your life on this really firm trajectory and doing the same thing every day and having all this security, versus living your life in such a way where you’re really just trying to find happiness. You’re not really concerned with security or being responsible. You’re just going to do things to make yourself feel OK and happy.” Unlike the first two Waxahatchee records, American Weekend (2012) and Cerulean Salt (2013), which were written in short bursts of inspiration, Ivy Tripp came together over an extended period of time. Writing these 13 tunes, Crutchfield found she needed to let the music “breathe a little bit,” and whereas she would previously knock out lyrics in single sittings, she labored over these lines, crafting a set of songs that might be her least personal yet.
“They’re personal, but they’re more observant,” she says. “Cerulean Salt and American Weekend, both of those records are written about specific situations that happened [to me]. This is more about ideas or things that are a little bit more general.” To go along with the broader subject matter, Crutchfield has expanded her musical palette and moved beyond the singer-songwriter sparseness of those first two LPs. Ivy Tripp still features lots of grungy, strummy guitars and sweet, plaintive vocals, but there are also various keyboard and synth sounds. The electric organ on opener “Breathless” buzzes like a busted fluorescent light, and “La Loose” skips along to what sounds like a preset Casio dance beat. Though she stepped up her game, Crutchfield says her Merge debut wasn’t meant to be “poppier” than her previous efforts. She recorded mainly at the house in Long Island that she shared with her then-boyfriend, Waxahatchee bassist Keith Spencer, before moving back to her sometime home base of Philadelphia. The only outside work was done at a local elementary school, where she and engineer Kyle Gilbride tracked the live drums. “I knew I wanted it to be different,” Crutchfield says of the record. “I knew I wanted to take a step in a direction; I just didn’t know what direction I wanted to take a step in. We just tried a lot of stuff. A lot of those ideas — 'I want a Casio preset beat here' — didn’t happen until we were in the middle of recording. I had a lot of ideas, and Keith and Kyle had a lot of ideas. A lot of things we didn’t try to execute until we were in the middle of recording, which was kind of exciting and fun.” The excitement carries over to the songs — even as Crutchfield explores various tangled pathways through twentysomething existence, finding more pricker bushes than neatly mapped trails. For someone who wrote the record while in a relationship (she and Spencer split up after the sessions), she sings a lot about feeling suffocated by others, and in addition to “Breathless,” which contains the line “I’m not trying to be yours,” she’s got one called “Air,” which is all about ditching a guy who’s stood patiently by as she followed her muse. Contrast those with “Grey Hair,” in which she celebrates the shortness of breath one gets from speeding through life, and one might think Crutchfield is skeptical of true love. Could it be she’s an ivy tripper after all, and that the lifestyle necessitates romantic sacrifices and a lone-wolf mentality? “I don’t think so,” Crutchfield says. “In fact, all my friends would probably laugh at that question, just because of my history. But, I feel like that is something I do when I write. I’m a skeptic, I guess. Or, I look at the flaws in ideas like that. I think that is definitely something that inspires me, or something that I think about a lot. When those things do come up in my life, it’s something I immediately want to write about.”