Growing up with the Internet means never leaving your former self behind. For Katie Crutchfield, there's Own It in an Instant, the mini-documentary about the Ackleys, the band she fronted as a teenager in her hometown of Birmingham, Ala. It's easily found on YouTube.
Luckily, she has nothing to be embarrassed about. Shot at an all-ages punk venue called Cave 9 in 2006, it features the then-17-year-old songwriter talking about her influences and aspirations in a Southern twang.
The Velvet Underground tops the list, and "Guided by Voices are always a really big one," she says in the video. "I write a lot of songs, good and bad."
Crutchfield and bandmates, including her identical twin sister, Allison, were looking forward to playing live shows "as far as Richmond, or maybe Philadelphia. The goal is to be able to pay our bills from touring a lot. That's the ultimate dream."
Nearly a decade later, it would seem Crutchfield is living that reality. On Tuesday, the now-Philadelphia-based songwriter releases Ivy Tripp, her superb third album under the nom de rock Waxahatchee (Merge nolead begins ***1/2 nolead ends ). She took the name from a creek near her parents' Alabama country house, where she still goes to get away and write.
On Wednesday, Waxahatchee will headline at Union Transfer in support of Ivy Tripp, a self-assured 13-song album that's her first for Merge, a North Carolina label she's "so thrilled" to be on. It's home to esteemed acts such as Arcade Fire, Spoon, and Neutral Milk Hotel - company she clearly belongs in, judging from the lines at her shows at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, last month.
On a recent day after a blizzard in Philadelphia, Crutchfield and her dog, Franny - whose bark is heard on Ivy Tripp's strummy "Summer of Love" - welcomed visitors to the Powelton Village rowhouse she just moved into with Cleo Tucker of the indie-rock duo Girlpool.
Everything is as yet unpacked, but key signifiers are in place. Four guitars and a keyboard are neatly arranged in a living room corner. A modest bookshelf is lined with poetry (W.B. Yeats, Stevie Smith), Southern literature (Flannery O'Connor, William Faulkner), and true crime.
She's reading Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, and her abiding interest in the 1960s is reflected in the pictures on the wall of John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy, Manson family victim Sharon Tate, and, of course, Lou Reed and the Velvets. Crutchfield is wearing a Smiths T-shirt. The Beach Boys' lyric "I guess I just wasn't made for these times" is tattooed on her right forearm.
"A Southern accent," Crutchfield says, with a laugh (and not a trace of a Southern accent), reflecting on her teenage self. "It went away. I'm kinda bummed about it. I think it's from traveling, and from being around people from New York. I miss it."
Starting with Nirvana, Crutchfield got turned on to underground music when she was 13, and early '00s file-sharing services like LimeWire quickly opened up her world.
"When I was 14 or 15, Allison was learning to play drums and I was learning guitar," Crutchfield remembers. After photos at home, she's moved on to beer bar Local 44, where she's drinking a whiskey sour while explaining how the sisters wound up in West Philadelphia.
"We would just go home from school and eat a snack and practice. We were making T-shirts, painting her bass drum cover, playing R.E.M. covers. It's all we did, it's all we talked about."
Before Waxahatchee and Swearin' - Allison Crutchfield's Philly band, which she fronts with Kyle Gilbride (who also plays on and coproduced Ivy Tripp) - there were other sister acts.
After the Ackleys split, the siblings released two albums as P.S. Eliot, which featured Katie-penned tunes often marked by what she calls "that unnatural marriage of sad lyrics and happy music." (It's a trick she works wonders with on catchy Ivy Tripp tracks like "Dirt" and "La Loose.")
That band was followed by Bad Banana, a team-up in which both sisters wrote songs. "Our dynamic shifts," says Katie, who's two minutes younger than Allison. "In most things, she's better than me. She can play every instrument. But I was always more into writing the songs and booking the tours. I'm more motivated."
After a breakup, Crutchfield recorded American Weekend, a searing, emotional solo record, as Waxahatchee during a rare Alabama snowstorm in 2011. Shortly thereafter, the sisters went north to Brooklyn, where Allison had formed the punky Swearin' with Gilbride.
Both bands moved to Philadelphia the next year, lured in part by friendships, but mostly by economics.
"I really don't know how so many bands come out of New York," Crutchfield says. "It's impossible to tour a lot when you have to pay that much to live.
"So it was: 'Let's all go to Philly. We can live in a big, dreamy old house and have a basement we can record and play in.' We moved to 47th and Hazel, and it was amazing. Everybody together making music. It was like we were meant to be here."
Cerulean Salt, the second Waxahatchee record, featured backup support from Gilbride and Crutchfield's then-boyfriend, Keith Spencer, and was recorded in that house.
Cerulean was enthusiastically embraced by tastemakers like Pitchfork and NPR, and Crutchfield quit her day job as a nanny and started earning enough money to put her parents' minds at ease.
To record the follow-up, Crutchfield, Gilbride, and Spencer temporarily moved to Spencer's hometown of Holbrook, N.Y., on Long Island. The couple broke up during the making of, but Spencer, whom Crutchfield calls "an idea guy," is still in the band. (The two also work together in Spencer's side project, the Great Thunder.)
The Crutchfield sisters aren't living together anymore, either, but they remain close. Comically, they were hanging out before this interview and took each others' keys by accident, only to realize they were both locked out of their own houses.
In the notes to Ivy Tripp, which Crutchfield says is her least autobiographical album, she writes, "My life has changed a lot in the last two years, and it's been hard for me to process my feelings other than by writing songs.
"It has," she says. "I've gone from working day jobs and playing music in what spare time I have, to doing it all the time and having a lot more visibility publicly. And I'm grateful and it's awesome, but it's unnatural and strange, too."
She manages herself, and looks to artists like alt-torch singer Neko Case as a career model. Ivy Tripp's enticing melodies make it likely the album will reach a larger audience, but "I don't want to blow up," she says.
"It's funny, because I've never really looked at it as a career. I've just been very passionate about it. I kind of just want to find my people and have a sustainable thing for the next 30 years. That's my goal. We'll see how that works out."