Allison Crutchfield: 'That’s obviously super-freeing, to be totally self-reliant’

The former Swearin’ and P.S. Eliot member releases solo debut, performs at Savannah Stopover

AFTER YEARS as a patron saint of DIY music, Allison Crutchfield is striking out on her own with Tourist in this Town, her Merge Records debut.

The 28-year-old began playing music alongside her twin sister, Katie, when they were teens. Together, the Crutchfield sisters formed The Ackleys, making their mark on their hometown’s DIY punk scene through countless all-ages shows, one LP and one EP. The young band paved the way for the Crutchfield sisters’ future musical endeavors, including the beloved pop-punk band P.S. Eliot, which was active from 2007-2011 and reunited for a tour in 2016 (Don Giovanni Records released the band’s complete discography that same year).

click to enlarge Allison Crutchfield: 'That’s obviously super-freeing, to be totally self-reliant’
Allison Crutchfield and The Fizz perform at Savannah Stopover this weekend.

Despite shared DNA and shared projects—Allison performed as a part of the touring band for Katie’s project Waxahatchee, Katie sang harmony on Allison’s album—the sisters’ work and careers manage to be completely distinct.

Crutchfield began writing the follow-up to her solo debut, the 2014 EP “Lean In To It,” right after Swearin’, the band she performed in for three years with partner Kyle Gilbride, disbanded in 2015. Tourist in this Town is an impassioned, cathartic, contemplative, sunny, piercing record chronicling the dual dissolution of her relationship with Gilbride and the band they co-founded. Themes of relearning, anger, alienation, disassociation, and the realization of self carry throughout the record, pushing stand-out tracks and holding together a beautifully cohesive work.

Something about Tourist in this Town feels like a short film; Crutchfield’s taking us through the grief right with her, holding on to the bright earnestness in her voice. The record is expertly paced, its quiet moments stinging, its bold moments, like “Mile Away,” bursting forth like a revelation. The ebb and flow of the songs was a conscious thought for Crutchfield while she wrote.

“I definitely thought about the track list right out of the gate, and in some cases wrote the songs in order,” she explains. “It all felt really natural, honestly, and the record always had a level of cohesiveness for me.”

Legendary indie label Merge Records picked up the album, a career-defining move for Crutchfield. Releasing something as an individual instead of as a part of a band has “been really different, for sure,” she attests.

“On one hand, I have complete creative say,” she notes. “And that’s obviously super-freeing, to be totally self-reliant. But it can be tough too, like not having a group of people to bounce things off of and to kind of help me get through the parts of releasing music that causes me to overly self-examine. I like doing both.”

Lyrically, Tourist offers lines that are both gorgeously poetic and seemingly ordinary. There’s the beacon of lost love’s flicker on “Broad Daylight” (“Cry my eyes out the moment we leave town/Hear the crack of your lighter again/But I’m, I’m the one who can’t slow down”) or the aching logistics of ending a relationship when you share a home (“Fallin’ sensation in your sleep tonight/We sleep in the same bed at the opposite times”). It’s Crutchfield’s use of synthesizers that drives the hopeful, glowing tone and defines the album.

“This project has always been kind of synth-based, mostly because I started at a time when Swearin’ was still a band and it felt like an easy way to differentiate,” Crutchfield explains. “But I definitely have [producer] Jeff Zeigler to thank for the more textural aspects of the synths on this record. He has such a beautiful collection and just got what I was going for from the beginning.”

She will flesh out these songs with her band, The Fizz at Savannah Stopover as a part of a lengthy winter-into-spring tour. Though she’s playing all these stages in support of a record about endings, one thing is clear: Allison Crutchfield is just getting started.