Music by VICE

Hitting a Low to Come Up Fearless: Allison Crutchfield’s Next Chapter

From the rubble Philly band Swearin'—and the biggest heartbreak of her life—the 28-year-old singer returns with her debut solo LP: her most searingly honest work to date.

by Ilana Kaplan
Feb 19 2017, 4:46pm

Allison Crutchfield still isn't entirely comfortable conducting interviews solo. The 28-year-old kicked off her career almost a decade ago, forming P.S. Eliot and latterly, Bad Banana, alongside her twin sister Katie (now best known as Waxahatchee), before going on to found scuzzy, 90s-leaning indie act Swearin' with longterm boyfriend Kyle Gilbride. The quartet broke out of the Philly underground in 2012, touring with Perfect Pussy, Potty Mouth and the aforementioned Waxahatchee, releasing two albums and one EP. They were on the up and up, and then, in 2015: finito.

"Yeah, we're done," says Crutchfield, nursing a cold brew in a cozy corner of a Williamsburg cafe, where we meet to discuss her newly released solo opus  Tourist in this Town. "I guess I mostly made a solo record because Swearin' broke up. We haven't really [said anything], so I've been taking this opportunity to say we're over." Truly, it was a dissolution that took years, with the cracks beginning to form around the time of her 2014 solo EP,  Lean Into It. "I was having a really hard time writing as Swearin' at that particular time," she Crutchfield. "I think I was feeling stifled by the constraints of that band and the way that we worked together."

The following year, in 2015 after five years together she and Gilbride split. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't easy for them, and it wasn't easy for the band either. "It wasn't like, me and Kyle broke up, so the band broke up," she explains. "After we broke up, we still played a handful of shows together. We had plans to keep going with the band, but after the initial shock went away, and it started to sink in, we realized we couldn't do it."

Since the band was a democracy, swift decision making wasn't exactly their MO, which is perhaps why their disbandment wasn't instant. The Philly four-piece played their last show in 2015 at Brooklyn's Gigawatts Festival, opening for Braid. By this point the ex-couple's relationship was extra frayed. One brutal car ride with her bandmates and one show later, Crutchfield decided she couldn't do it anymore. But there wasn't really a "we're broken up moment." She says: "It wasn't dramatic: it was just the end."

Although Swearin's split was bittersweet, the timing proved to be perfect for Crutchfield—she could finally commit to fully developing her own sound. Anytime she wasn't on tour with Waxahatchee, she was working on her solo music, which evolved into a marked departure from Swearin's rock-tinged rhythms. In Swearin', she'd write a song, demo it, and bring it to Gilbride who would change the chords up and add a crazy guitar solo. "It's a lot poppier," Crutchfield says of her solo LP. "These are the barebones songs that I would write. They were written in sort of a similar way [to Swearin's music], but the one major difference is that I arranged them instrumentally, which is something I didn't do in Swearin'."

Additionally under her solo guise the singer felt lyrically liberated. "In Swearin' I would write for me, but I was also writing for four other people," Crutchfield adds. "For instance, I couldn't write about wanting to break up with someone or having a crush on someone. I couldn't write that in a band with people I was so close with."

If  Tourist in This Town feels like a diary entry, it's supposed to. Written during 2015 and recorded in Philly with producer Jeff Zeigler (Kurt Vile, Steve Gunn), the collection is a reflection of Crutchfield at her most raw. If you hear a little bit of Joni Mitchell in Crutchfield's songs, it's no accident. "I was very influenced by  Blue because it's a breakup record about traveling through Europe, and I was doing those things in a way less glamorous way," she explains. She wanted Tourist in This Town to be more than just a pop record, so she pulled folk elements from Mitchell to inspire the narrative arcs.

"There's a level of fearlessness because I was in such a low place, and I didn't have to care about what my bandmates thought," Crutchfield continues. "It was purely self-indulgent: it was purely me." But the (synth)pop-fueled record was also precipitated by anxiety. "There was a lot changing, and I'm not a person who does well with change," she confesses. She had gone through a breakup, then the subsequent breakup of the band, then she moved out of her home; Crutchfield was in the midst of a major identity shift. However she could feel that her solo foray was something she had to do. Every hazy, dream-pop-filled piece of the record fits together like a  puzzle because every song, lyric, and confession was intentional. "I knew I had it in me but I was so sad and so low and blowing up my whole life that I didn't know who I was at that moment," she says. "Having that [intention] helps you deal with the day-to-day sadness and anxiety. I don't want to say it saved me because it definitely didn't, but it's something that drove everything—knowing that I was going to go home and make this [record]."

Crutchfield's distress and anxiety is characterized most discernibly on gospel-influenced opener "Broad Daylight" ("I look at my reflection in the glossy table / I'm selfish and I'm shallow and unstable") and throughout "Expatriate." One of the last songs she penned, with her line "I can't be involved in this, you were my only family / Now you feel foreign in a way, an expatriate," she succinctly and accurately nails the dissolution of a long-term romantic and creative partnership.  "[I wrote] 'Expatriate' when I was having a really intense moment dealing with stuff with Kyle. I went back to a time where we were both on tour with Waxahatchee together and it was so, so difficult. It was a really bizarre feeling to be so horribly sad, be on tour with my ex and watch this person change from being this partner I've been with for a long time, into being this single person who is also really sad and actively pulling away from me," Crutchfield admits. Still, time heals and she insists the two are friends now. "We can laugh at it at this point, but it was no laughing matter at the time," says Crutchfield. "After that tour I was in very, very intensive therapy."

While Tourist in This Town is finally out, Crutchfield was apprehensive prior to its release: "I'm proud of the record, but was nervous for people to hear it." Regardless of its reception, the singer's first LP under her own name surely won't be her last, but her love for songwriting may just lure her behind the scenes. "I'd love to write for Solange or Adele: people with huge personas and voices who really trust independent artists," Crutchfield says enthusiastically. "Something I really love about the pop world is that pop stars are turning to independent artists and producers and putting their faith in them. I love that they're giving visibility to independent artists."

For now Crutchfield will be taking her unflinching confessionals and her bleach blonde pixie crop on the road—traversing the States for the month of March—joined by newcomer and fellow member of the ever-burgeoning Philly scene, Vagabon. Who knows if Crutchfield will end up writing for the world's biggest pop stars, but this solo sojourn being another installment in her already diverse oeuvre. "I feel really lucky that I can do this now," she admits. 

Ilana Kaplan is a writer living in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter.