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Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield and Jess Williamson Debut as Plains


Though they first met only five years ago, the musicians Katie Crutchfield and Jess Williamson have long walked parallel paths.

Each grew up in Southern states where country music was omnipresent (Crutchfield, who records as Waxahatchee, in Alabama; Williamson in Texas). Coming of age within the late ’90s, they were shaped by mainstream country radio’s strong but ultimately fleeting embrace of powerhouse female artists: Williamson pored over the lyric booklets to the Chicks records; Crutchfield hummed along to Shania Twain, Martina McBride and Trisha Yearwood songs behind her parents’ automobile.

As many teenagers do, they later rebelled by entering into punk and indie-rock. But as they grew older and matured as artists, each found themselves reconnecting with their country roots and attempting to make sense of their contradictory feelings about their Southern heritage, finding kindred spirits in elders just like the individualistic outlaw songwriters Townes Van Zandt and Lucinda Williams.

Crutchfield and Williamson finally crossed paths in 2017 — introduced by Crutchfield’s boyfriend, the musician Kevin Morby, at a restaurant in Austin — and have become fast friends. “I just immediately was like, ‘This person is for me,’” Crutchfield said on a video call from an instrument-strewn room in her home in Kansas City, Kan.

On the decision from Marfa, Texas, in a floral-printed dress and a silver crescent-moon necklace, Williamson remembered one other prolonged stretch of bonding time in Los Angeles just before the pandemic: “We’d be at parties and it could just be me and Katie within the corner talking,” she said.

In spring 2020, each released piercingly introspective, career-best albums — Waxahatchee’s cleareyed “St. Cloud,” and Williamson’s enchanting “Sorceress” — but were unsure once they’d find a way to tour. They shared their frustrations and artistic aspirations over long telephone calls during walks within the early months of the pandemic, and someday Crutchfield blurted out, “That is making me want to start out a band.” Easy as that, Plains was born.

For Williamson, Plains’ debut album “I Walked With You a Ways,” out Oct. 14, was something of an aesthetic continuation of her previous solo release. “‘Sorceress’ was probably the most I’d ever leaned into country sounds, and I felt like I had unfinished business,” she said, describing the project as a technique to “channel these influences that we love,” like Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris’s records as Trio.

Crutchfield envisioned Plains, though, as something of a palate cleanser after a rewarding but emotionally intense album cycle. “‘St. Cloud’ was a extremely big record for me in so some ways,” she said. “I got sober right before I made it, and I needed to work backwards to acknowledge myself again and learn tips on how to write songs and make records again.” She said she wasn’t quite able to make one other Waxahatchee record, “but I had all of this energy to do something, so I feel like this project was such a godsend.”

A self-described “harmony head,” Crutchfield isn’t any stranger to collaboration: All her life she’s sung and made music along with her twin sister Allison, most notably with the precocious, now-defunct pop-punk group P.S. Eliot. Williamson, then again, had mostly worked as a solo artist, so the Plains experience meant opening herself as much as recent techniques: Crutchfield wanted to attain a loose, spontaneous feel by tracking their vocals in as few takes as possible, for instance.

Crutchfield and Williamson each brought five songs they’d written individually — counting on the opposite for some “in-the-room punch-ups” — and so they found their styles to be quite complementary. “A whole lot of Jess’s songs were these old-school country waltzes, which I really like,” Crutchfield said, “and it was a pleasant juxtaposition to the songs I used to be bringing in, which were a bit more ’90s pop-country or Southern-rock feeling.”

Williamson’s vivid songwriting and keening voice shine on “Abilene,” a heartbreaking, poetic ballad that harkens back to Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. Crutchfield’s soulful “Hurricane” filters the take-me-as-I-am swagger of the Chicks through the sharp self-examination of her own songwriting, as she croons in her dusty drawl, “I are available like a cannonball/I’ve been that way my whole life.” When their voices entwine in harmony, though, as they do on the sprightly opener “Summer Sun,” all of those disparate, cross-generational influences unite to form a timeless sound.

They hope their upcoming tour together can be as light and carefree because the project itself. “Once you’re touring on your individual record, your solo project, your life story, there’s a lot pressure,” Williamson said. “This project just feels really fun and celebratory. It feels universal, in a way.”

For each artists, the sound of Plains represents a form of homecoming, for the reason that evolution of their singing voices has reflected their very own personal reckonings with their pasts.

“In case you only knew how hard I used to be attempting to suppress that Southern accent for thus long,” Crutchfield said. “It’s sad, I hearken to the affectation on a few of my earlier records and I’m like, I’m really trying hard to cover that up.”

The palpable sense of self-acceptance and hard-won confidence that attracted listeners to “St. Cloud,” though, courses through “I Walked With You a Ways” as well. Crutchfield can hear that maturity in her own voice. “People grow as singers over time,” Crutchfield added. “You develop your voice and chip away at what it’s really speculated to see. So far as I’ve seen, I feel that all of us recuperate as we age. So I feel that just attempting to chill out a bit has helped me so much.” She set free a deep sigh. “It almost seems like I’ve taken my bra off.”

Williamson was delighted with the metaphor: “I like that image, Katie,” she said. Then, as tightly in unison as they’re on their record, they laughed.

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