Ever since Katie Crutchfield and her twin sister, Allison, formed their first band as teenagers in Birmingham, Ala., the singer-songwriter has been supported by the creative-minded college students, punks, and assorted other young bohemians who make up the DIY underground. Now, as Crutchfield brings her latest solo venture, Waxahatchee, to Allston’s DIY-haven Great Scott on Wednesday, the 24-year-old finds herself between stages in more ways than one.
“If this was two years ago and I was going to Boston,” she says, “I’d play in someone’s basement with, you know, a [bad] P.A., and the show would be all ages and things like that. So I think it’s kind of like a blessing and a curse. Whereas, like, those years of playing in basements were the best years of my life — that can’t be denied by me at all, that’s undeniable. But I also I realize that my music has more reach now.”
That reach has largely come from Waxahatchee’s second full-length album, “Cerulean Salt.” Released last March, the album has been celebrated everywhere from underground-rock websites to National Public Radio. In large part, the praise centers on the stark melancholy with which Crutchfield looks back on ruptures in her life. From the country wedding of an old friend where guests drink from Dixie cups and jars, to a night spent sitting in a hospital with a loved one who has overdosed, Crutchfield looks back to a time whose excesses she seems to have left behind.
“It’s just about leaving something, anything,” Crutchfield says. “It’s not exclusive to, like, leaving the South or leaving Birmingham. It’s just, you know, leaving in every sense.”
Thematically, that makes the record an extension of Crutchfield’s first Waxahatchee album, “American Weekend,” which was recorded right after Crutchfield had returned to Alabama in the wake of a failed romance and features little more than Crutchfield’s acoustic guitar and her pained, girlish voice delivering lines like, “I’ll drink until I’m happy/ And I’ll wonder what you’re doing, but I won’t call.”
In their simplicity and intensity, both albums feel like earnest reports from a subcultural front, something like Nan Goldin’s series of unstudied Kodak photos from the rock ’n’ roll underground in the 1970s and ’80s. Although “American Weekend” made enough of an impact to land on a New York Times top 10 list in 2012, it didn’t much change Crutchfield’s life as she toured solo on leave from her various jobs as a nanny or barista.
“I remember Waxahatchee was nestled in between Procession, who are sort of like a shoe-gazy band from New York/Michigan, and Foreign Objects, a more melodic punk band,” says Christa Hartsock, a Los Angeles-based Web designer and photographer who was a Harvard undergraduate when she helped bring Waxahatchee to Boston for Ladyfest in 2012. “She’s a great lyricist, and writes on themes that many people can relate to. . . . It’s something that I think is very personal and is hard to generalize.”
Even so, “Cerulean Salt” has affected enough individuals to now lead to a full-time career in music. While both Waxahatchee albums speak to the romantic excess of bohemian youth, the later album is broader both lyrically and musically.
“If anything, my last record, ‘Cerulean Salt,’ is about nostalgia,” Crutchfield says. “[It’s] about longing for your childhood, and wishing that you didn’t have to be accountable for things and you could just be this simple, happy person that you were as a child.”
It just so happens that much of Crutchfield’s late childhood was spent writing and performing in Birmingham’s extensive punk scene. If the lyrics look back to that entire scene, the music looks forward, to something bigger. Balancing raw emotions and dark undertones against catchy riffs, memorable melodies, and varied arrangements, the album has the sweet-and-sour appeal of basic yet ambitious underground rock like Liz Phair’s “Exile in Guyville,” a 1993 indie-rock manifesto that was something of a model for “Cerulean Salt.”
“I just like how every song [on that album] sounds like it could have a different band or a different set of instruments,” she explains. “And it’s all from her, and you can just really feel that it’s her record, but there are other minds in there trying to make the song exactly what it’s supposed to be.”
Working with boyfriend Keith Spencer on guitar and drums as well as other musicians, Crutchfield continues to pursue the next stage of life even as she makes the most of the current one.
“I feel like ‘Cerulean Salt,’ the song structures were similar, but it sounded completely different, and it was just a progression into a certain direction,” Crutchfield says. “And now I want to go in another direction. . . . I’m trying to remind myself that there’s no rush.”Franklin Soults can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@fsoults.