Photos by Sonny Malhotra.
If you listen to an artist long enough, one that lays herself bare through shattering, sobering lyricism, you start to believe you really know them. I’m probably guilty of doing that with Allison Crutchfield. From the rampant venom of Swearin’ to the intriguing pairing of the Crutchfield siblings themselves (Allison and sister Katie, of Waxahatchee fame) in Bad Banana and PS Eliot, she provided support during choppy teenage years, a defiant soundtrack to the fucked up bewilderment of growing up. I don’t just plaster stickers of any old band over my belongings, you know…
But 2014’s Lean In To It, a tentative debut stab at solo work, offered a far more fascinating proposition. While it was still lyrically stinging, gritty and instantly familiar, Crutchfield incorporated synths alongside the snarl of prickly guitars and percussion.
Thankfully, the intoxicating melodies remained and naturally became slightly more expansive. Is Tourist In This Town, the first full-length released under her own name, a direct extension of that EP? “Well, it’s different to Lean In To It which was shitty drum machines and very lo-fi. I think of it as a work of fiction and Tourist In This Town as absolute non-fiction, completely autobiographical down to every detail and that was kind of obsessive on my part. I wanted it to be raw and very real, like a scrapbook, and very detailed. The new record is…” she pauses, before adding: “big.”
“I wanted it to be raw and very real, like a scrapbook.”
An accurate assessment, if perhaps not complimentary enough. On first listen, it’s a jarring, powerful experience: as Allison declares, big. But it takes less than two minutes before her voice melts into ‘Broad Daylight”s joyful synth hook and it’s clear she’s crafted something extraordinary once again. “The idea was to do a synth record but have live drums, live bass, live energy but also keep it very eighties-sounding,” she confirms, ‘Mile Away’ and ‘Secret Lives And Deaths’ proving to be impeccable melding of styles.
These are arguably the finest clutch of songs Crutchfield has released and, away from “Swearin’s very strict no keyboard policy”, she repeatedly references a newfound freedom when discussing its development. “Writing for Swearin’ was always tricky for me and that had a lot to do with the dynamic. When I started in the band, I was a woman, I was younger than everybody else and I think I was still feeling a little insecure or at least seeking everyone’s approval.”
Perhaps those difficulties established a better songwriter in the long run, I ponder. “I would be backed into a corner by my own self-consciousness, definitely,” she admits, “and I think that something about writing for myself is really different. I’m the only person I have to answer to. I can just write a song I enjoy, not having to stress about people going through my lyrics and deciphering them and wondering if I’m saying stuff about them. I was really in my own head and that’s not the case anymore – it’s nice.”
Despite the presence of keyboards throughout, Allison considers Tourist In This Town to be crafted in the style of a folk record, mostly due to its “pretty apparent” themes. “It’s obviously a break-up record but I think of it as very much a feminist break-up record. It’s about being at your worst and accepting yourself, knowing you can be that person for as long as you need to be.”
While the heartbreak and alienation that litter the album still lingers, Allison remains resolute: “for the first time, I’m doing it 100% for myself and not speaking on behalf of other people.” On Tourist In This Town, it shows.