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Allison Crutchfield on Swearin’ breakup, Trump, & new LP (which is streaming)

Photo by Jonathan Purvis
Photo by Jonathan Purvis

Allison Crutchfield started her solo project under her own name back in 2014 with the EP Lean In To It. In the time since then, her band Swearin’ broke up, she toured as a member of her sister Katie’s band, Waxahatchee, and she and Katie reunited their old band PS Eliot. Now Allison is signed to Merge (like Waxahatchee) and is releasing her first solo album Tourist In This Town next Friday (1/27) via that label.

Her new album is a departure from the gritty punk of past bands she’s been in, instead featuring catchy, dreamy pop songs that capture the time in her life post-Swearin’, which she describes to me as a “scrapbook of that time.” She will also be heading on tour next month accompanied by her backing band the Fizz (featuring Radiator Hospital’s Sam Cook-Parrott) in support of the new record. The tour hits Brooklyn’s Sunnyvale on February 9, which also has Radiator Hospital opening and a set from Pinkwash. Tickets for that show are still available.

Allison and I caught up to talk about her new album, post-election self-care, Swearin’, and her Birmingham DIY roots. Head below to stream the album (via NPR) and read our chat.

One thing I noticed about this new album is that you talk a lot about heartbreak. What are some of the experiences that inspired you to write about that?

I went through a big breakup. It happened in February of 2015. I was dating Kyle [Gilbride] from Swearin’. We dated for five years and broke up; subsequently, our band broke up. I had to move out of my house and then I also was going on tour with Waxahatchee so it was just this really wild time for me, because I’m a person who just doesn’t deal well with change at all—or at least didn’t up until that point. It was literally like my world was turned upside down. There were subsequent small heartbreaks along the way, but that was the big one that really sparked the energy that lead up to this album.

How does it feel performing those songs after moving past that phase in your life?

Now, it’s fine. I think that when I was making the record—because it was [recorded] in March of last year, so it was a year after Kyle and I broke up… we weren’t on great terms so it was tough. I also wasn’t on great terms with anybody who I had written a record about, which was a handful of people. It was definitely a weird emotional time, where I had kind of done a lot of emotional work on myself and felt really good about where I was at, because I had written this record that I was really proud of and I was really, really excited to go into the studio and make it, and to do something for myself.

But then, when I was recording vocals and singing those songs over and over again, it was hard. I would just go home and be exhausted, just feeling really shut in. It was tough. But now…I think I’ve gotten to a point where it’s fine. A lot of time has passed. I have reconciled a lot of the relationships that were completely on the fritz, so I feel very zen about the whole thing, so it’s easier.

That said, I’m curious about how it’ll be during the tour. It might be a little tough but I think I feel a lot better about it now.

It’s your first time performing as a solo artist — what has it been like for you to have the freedom of full control over your music for Tourist In This Town compared to your work in your other bands?

Swearin’ was so bizarre and democratic and collaborative that even the songs that I wrote, they were kind of doctored and pulled apart and changed while writing them with the band. Then with the stuff with my sister, Katie and I never really collaborated in the real sense. It was more like we both brought songs to the table depending on the band and played them exactly how we wanted to. And then with Lean In To It, Sam [Cook-Parrott] was a part of that process. I felt like I had a lot of control there, but I also had another person who was pushing me and helping me. But Tourist is definitely me in every sense of the word. It’s 100% my feelings, which feels good. It was important in the story of my life as a performer for me to make that record.

How do you think you’ve grown as a solo artist since the release of Lean In To It?

I think I just have a lot of confidence, really. That’s been a very big thing and I don’t really know where that comes from. I’ve kind of explained the record this way a few times, but I think of this record as a feminist breakup record. A lot of it is because there was this level of fearlessness…being as low and as depressed as I was and as broken down as I felt where I just didn’t give a fuck what anybody thought about me. Some of that was terrible because it was detrimental to some intricate relationships in my life and I think I did a lot of damage in that time.

But I also think that since I felt this much rawness, I was able to really feel confident in the work I was making, because I was like “You know what? I’m going to write about these people and I don’t care what they think.” While I feel proud of that, that I tapped into something that was really special, now two years later, I have to do a little damage control. So with the people I’ve repaired my relationships with, I have to be like “Hey, just so you know, here’s this record. Maybe you want to listen to it. Hope it’s okay!”

Mostly that’s just Kyle and he and I are on great terms now, so it’s fine. I think tapping into that gave me a level of confidence that I didn’t have before. I don’t think I recognized it while I was writing [the record]. Now I look back and I think I got to this really cool place that I didn’t even know I was in.

That’s amazing, though.

Yeah, I mean, it was a pretty terrible time for me but I had to acknowledge a lot of issues I was having. I went to really intensive therapy for the first time in my life and it was wonderful. It was exactly what I needed and I feel like I’m on the other side of it now. I’ve done a lot of work on myself and I’m in a happy, truly content place for the most part.

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As someone who has been vocal about social issues with Trump’s presidency looming, how are you planning to focus on self-care during this difficult time?

You know, it’s funny. I feel like I was really plugged in, it was important to be really informed and active during the election. Then when he won, I detached. I was like “I can’t even think about what this is going to be like” and I feel like with the march happening, I’m going to be in DC… but I’m going to have to be able to draw the line between being able to detach and also be really active and self aware; be present and do what I can and use the platform that I have, the voice that I have and the privilege that I have to fight. That said, I haven’t gotten there yet. I’m starting to feel energized but I think that it’s taken me a while to make sense of the election.

What’s your tour life like?

It’s hard. I don’t do great. I think it’s a little…it’s tricky. I have to really come up with rituals and take as much time for myself as I can. I think that’s the hardest part for me. I like to spend a lot of time alone and you don’t get any time alone. I need at least eight hours of sleep every night and I need to have groceries and I usually don’t get any of that stuff. I think in another life, I was a person who had a 9-to-5 job who never traveled, which is very much the Capricorn in me. I need repetition. I feel like a brat every time I say that, because so many people would love to be doing that. I do love what I’m doing.

I do love working and traveling but it’s just the in between… I think that shows every night is hard for me. At home, I don’t even like going to shows anymore. I still go because I want to be supportive, especially of the DIY community in Philly and I want to show support to my friends, but sometimes the social aspects are hard for me. So I make a point to take time to myself and establish rituals and make sure I have a routine. It wasn’t always that way. When I was younger, it was easier and it was fun. Again, it’s still fun though. I’ve been doing this for a really long time and it has really changed from when I started doing it in DIY bands to now.

Do you still have close roots to the Birmingham DIY scene?

Yes and no. It’s changed a lot. There was a space there when I was growing up called Cave9 that was really important to Katie and me. We played our first shows there. We played our first PS Eliot show there. When I was in college, it closed down for five or six years. I do have some connection to it, I have a connection with the people who ran that spot and a lot of my friends who are still there. I also feel like I built new connections with the people who are doing new things there. There are definitely more house shows there than there were when I was living there and more DIY spaces.

There’s still a healthy contention that a lot of people have with the places they’re from. I do love it and I love going there. I think Katie and I were really outspoken about some of the issues that we had with it right off the bat. As soon as we started talking about it to journalists at all, it was met with distaste from people who we grew up with, which is understandable.

What were some of the issues?

I think some of the issues are the same issues that people had when we started to talk about trying to organize any kind of feminist community there from the get-go, which is that people don’t think that that’s true—men don’t think that that’s true that those things were happening. It’s still socially acceptable in Birmingham within a punk scene for people to be shitty about that and have a weird insecurity about that. I’m thinking about literally 2 or 3 people who have talked shit about us. We did a big article with the New York Times around four years ago where we talked about that in detail and it was met with resentment from a few people there and it got back to us.

It’s funny because it’s the exact same… it reminds me of how we felt alienated as young women who were trying to start a feminist collective and doing all these things that felt important to us at the time. I definitely think that Birmingham as a whole would embrace that at this point and a lot of women from there have talked to us about it, saying “This is real and we feel this way.” I think a lot of women have also felt more visible and safer, like they have more of a place in the scene than Katie and I did when we were young. That said, there are still people who are frustrated with us. That’s mind-boggling to me.

The Philly scene seems to have many bands championing for inclusive spaces. What is it like for someone who is a part of it?

I have a hard time talking about Philly because I’m not from there. The Philly punk scene is incredible and it has been forever—or at least for 15 to 20 years. There are also these amazing music communities. I don’t feel good as a person who isn’t from there even speaking on behalf of it, but I do think it’s an incredible scene. It’s very special. I’m not talking about all the people, including me, who have moved there and made it whatever it is now. That’s just people moving to the city. I think the queer punk scene that is still super underground is really magical and the people who are part of it have done a really good job at keeping it underground to nurture it. I feel lucky to be a part of it by going to shows.

Do you ever miss Swearin’?

Yeah. To an extent. I miss the energy that we had as a band. It was something I had never really experienced before. Something about our energy when we played together was really special. But I think dynamically it was really complicated and that was not always the most… not on purpose, I don’t think it was them, I think it was more who I was at the time. I think maybe it wasn’t the most supportive place for me creatively for a lot of reasons. I think it also has to do with being a very young songwriter when I started that band.

Also when we started, we didn’t expect anyone to hear that first record. We made it and someone told us “Oh, you got reviewed on Pitchfork” and we were like “What?” None of us… we had no idea. That was completely outside of the community that we were a part of, which is bizarre now because it’s not anymore. We were being reviewed in all of these places and we were like “How did these people even get it?”

I miss that simplicity that we had earlier on and the energy that we had later on, but I’ve always admired bands that quit when they should quit, you know? I think we just really needed to quit. We thought about keeping it going but it would’ve been rough. I do love those records and I am really proud of those records. Sometimes I miss being in a rock band like that, and it was that collaborative. It’s always exciting for me to see a band that has people bringing different things to the table. I love when different personalities come together.

Now that you signed with Merge, what’s your next milestone?

I don’t know. Something like writing a musical or writing a song for somebody else. Something that’s not this personal. I think that’s just my nature and I’m realizing that maybe I need to be a little more reserved for my own self-preservation in the future. I think anything else on my horizon as a performer and as a creative person is something where I’d like to take myself out of the equation a little bit, even though I just started doing solo music. I still have a lot of ideas for another record but I think that doing something else sounds cool to me right now.

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Allison Crutchfield – 2017 Tour Dates
Feb 02 Washington, DC – The Black Cat *
Feb 03 Carrboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle Back Room *
Feb 04 Richmond, VA – Strange Matter *
Feb 06 Jersey City, NJ – Monty Hall *
Feb 07 Boston, MA – Great Scott *
Feb 09 Brooklyn, NY – Sunnyvale *
Feb 10 Philadelphia, PA – First Unitarian Church *
Mar 02 Baltimore, MD – Ottobar ^
Mar 03 Harrisonburg, VA – The Golden Pony ^
Mar 04 Asheville, NC – The Mothlight ^
Mar 06 Atlanta, GA – The Earl ^
Mar 07 Gainesville, FL – The Atlantic ^
Mar 08 Tampa, FL – New World Brewery ^
Mar 09 Orlando, FL – Will’s Pub ^
Mar 10 Savannah, GA – Savannah Stopover ^
Mar 11 Birmingham, AL – Syndicate Lounge ^
Mar 14 New Orleans, LA – Gasa Gasa ^
Mar 20 Phoenix, AZ – The Underground ^
Mar 22 Los Angeles, CA – The Echo ^
Mar 23 San Francisco, CA – Rickshaw Stop ^
Mar 25 Arcata, CA – All Ages Arcata Project ^
Mar 26 Portland, OR – Mississippi Studios ^
Mar 27 Seattle, WA – Vera Project ^
Mar 31 Chicago, IL – Schubas ^
Apr 01 Columbus, OH – Spacebar ^
Apr 02 Cleveland, OH – Beachland Tavern ^
Apr 03 Grand Rapids, MI – The Pyramid Scheme ^
Apr 04 Detroit, MI – Marble Bar ^
Apr 05 Toronto, ON – Silver Dollar ^
Apr 06 Montreal, QC – La Vitrola ^
Apr 07 Burlington, VT – The Monkey House ^
Apr 08 Portsmouth, NH – 3S Artspace ^
* w/ Radiator Hospital, Pinkwash
^ w/ Vagabon

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