Plains | The Haw River Ballroom, Saxapahaw | Monday, Nov. 7, 8 p.m. 

When the musicians Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee) and Jess Williamson announced, this past summer, that they’d joined forces as country music duo Plains, it was news that just made gut-level sense, as if it had always been meant to be so. With voices twining in distinctive harmonies—waltzy and twangy, earthy and diaphanous—the pair evokes the familiar, storied sound of decades ago, when Wynonna Judd, Martina McBride, and Shania Twain ruled supreme.

Not coincidentally, that era was also when Crutchfield and Williamson, who grew up in Alabama and Texas, respectively, were first falling in love with music, in adolescence, before setting out to build impressive careers in indie-rock. Plains—a one-off collaboration, the pair says—represents a spirited, surefooted reentry into the genre, a door creaked wide open to the plains and horizon beyond.

Ahead of the band’s performance at the Haw River Ballroom, where both Crutchfield and Williamson have performed as solo artists, INDY Week spoke with Williamson about ’90s music videos, performing as a duo, and finding a way back into country music. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity; a shorter version is available in print. 

Now that you’ve been on the road for a few weeks, what’s it like performing as a duo? 

It’s so much fun. I think going into this tour, me and Katie both had the intention of having the shows feel light and fun like a party. The nature of it being a collaboration just inherently takes some of the pressure off—I’m not singing the whole time! On the songs that Katie sings lead and I’m singing the harmonies I get to like, sit back a little bit and just like watch her dance. 

Can you tell me a bit about where the band name Plains came from?

It’s funny—we just had a running list and did some free association and that was on there. It was kind of one of those things where it just stuck. I grew up in Texas and she lives in Kansas City, and it felt like, the plains of America. We both feel this familiarity with it. 

What about choosing to name the album I Walked With You A Ways

Well, the album name is the name of the last song. I wrote that song knew it was going to be on the record, and I think it was Katie’s idea—she was like, “What if we name the album I Walked With You A Ways?” and I loved it. It makes so much sense with the tenor of the album. It’s a lot about leaving, it’s about things not working out and kind of trusting yourself. I think ending the album with that song and titling the record leaves it on a positive note because that song is about how not everyone is going to stay in your life, but that doesn’t mean it’s a mistake. And we learn and we grow from those people that come in and out of our lives and they’re there for a reason. 

Something I haven’t gotten to talk about yet in an interview is that the song is inspired by a labyrinth in Santa Fe. There’s this church in Santa Fe with a labyrinth in front of it, and I don’t know if you’re familiar, but there’s a starting point and you go all around it. It’s a walking meditation and you end at the center and it speaks metaphorically to the path of life, how you can think you’re getting close to your destination but you veer seemingly off course and then end up right where you’re supposed to be. I’ve been thinking about that a lot as I wrote this song. 

I kind of feel like the music video y’all did for “Abilene” kind of speaks to that—you and Katie are both in the video like these grounding angels in the background, beside this person but they don’t know it. What was the vision for that video? 

We were really inspired by  90s country music videos where you see the story being acted out, like in the music video for “Goodbye Earl” that the Chicks did. You see these scenes being acted out and then the band is just there singing, and being into it, but you see this other story unfold. And then what you picked up on, of us being these guardian angels watching everything go down, really feeling for the central character and having her back—that was absolutely the vibe.  

How did you get connected to Adriene Mishler [who stars in the Abilene video]? Have y’all been friends for a while? 

Yes, she’s a good friend of mine. I lived in Austin for like a decade—that’s my hometown and where I started to play music in a serious way. Adriene and I became friends in Austin and not only are we good friends, but I do her other videos all the time. And when we were recording the album, I was doing her yoga videos every day. I knew she was also an actress, and people don’t always know that about her—that yes, she’s this brilliant yoga instructor but she’s also a brilliant actress. I was telling Katie that, and we got the idea of her being in a video. 

It’s funny because, especially during the pandemic, she’s kind of been a guardian angel for other people with her yoga videos. It’s cool to see that role flipped. 

I love that. And she cried real tears when we were shooting, that’s how good she is. 

What was the experience of writing more character-driven songs like? 

You know, it was really freeing. In the past, when I’ve been writing for my own records, I get hung up on keeping the details aligned with what really happened. But when I was writing this with Katie, the details of our individual lives were less important than speaking to a greater truth of what happened, that anyone can connect to. I think being a little more universal can let people in.

“Abilene” is such a great example because it is my story; it’s something I lived through. But the details have changed. I found out that Abilene means “city of the plains” and I just love the way that it sounds. My story happened in a different small town in Texas, and some of the details are different, but in writing this song I just sort of thought, “What can I do with my story to make it feel universal but also special?” 

You and Katie have talked in interviews about growing up with country music. What drew you back into it? 

That’s such a good question—I think it was gradual. The experience of making my last record, Sorceress, was the first time I really leaned into country textures. There’s a lot of pedal steel on it, for example. I just really felt like I had unfinished business. I had a blast incorporating more country sounds, even just in the way I was writing it. I was thinking that the next album I wrote would go even farther in that direction, and then when Katie and I started talking about working together, it felt like, “Okay, this is a chance to go all the way in.” 

If you try to do a big pivot as a solo artist sometimes it’s tricky, right? But when it’s a new thing, a new container, and it’s a collaboration, the whole point is to explore a genre. We both felt a little freer and for me, it was this really natural thing. I felt like, “Oh, I’m finally making the kind of music I grew up loving.” I kind of felt like I wasn’t allowed to go there, if that makes sense. I think it was gradual and there was a permission slip element of it being a side project where I’m not doing a total rebrand—we’re just going to play with this for a while and see what happens. 

Well, on that note, I was sad to hear this is a one-off project. Is that right? 

That’s the plan, though anything can happen. I have a new record already done that is coming out next year, and Katie is going to be going into the studio soon for her album. I think we both have so much creative energy going toward our next solo projects. Calling it a one-time thing I think just frees us up to put energy toward our own next things, cause I’m gonna do a whole campaign for my next album. But who knows what the future holds? We’re having so much fun, I’m certainly open to it. 

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