In Under The Influence, The A.V. Club asks a musician to pair three of their songs with a non-musical influence.
As a member of Swearin’, P.S. Eliot, Bad Banana, and a touring member of Waxahatchee, Allison Crutchfield has a deep résumé. After starting out playing drums, she made the Dave Grohl-like transition from drummer to frontperson with ease, using Swearin’ as a vehicle for her most potent punk songs. In 2014, Crutchfield released Lean In To It, an EP that broke from the punk-meets-indie sounds she’d become known for in favor of a lo-fi bedroom-pop record. Following a tour with Waxahatchee, and the breakup of Swearin’, Crutchfield took to making her debut as a solo artist. Coming January 27 on Merge Records, Tourist In This Town shows every side of Crutchfield, from danceable electro to teeth-baring punk. The A.V. Club spoke to Crutchfield about three of the songs from the record, each one shining a light on the experiences that brought Tourist In This Town to life.
Song: “I Don’t Ever Wanna Leave California” (Tourist In This Town, 2017)
Influence: Briefly wanting to move to Los Angeles
The A.V. Club: What about California was so appealing to you when you wrote this song?
Allison Crutchfield: I think the thing that was most appealing to me about Los Angeles at that moment was how far away from Philly it was. That was the main attraction at the time. I actually know, because I’m a freak and I date things, but I wrote it on the Fourth Of July of 2015, which was right when I got home from a big chunk of Waxahatchee touring. This whole record was written in my break from Waxahatchee after Ivy Tripp came out. But a lot of this record, and specifically a lot of this song, came from notes I was taking while I was on tour. It was just a really bizarre time because I look at it now, and I love L.A. and love visiting there, but I don’t think I could ever live there at this point. Which is funny. Two years ago I was fully convinced I was going to move.
Like I said, it’s mostly about the distaste I had for Philly. Specifically, I was going through a breakup and there were also other people I was seeing and those were all kind of going rotten, and that was basically my relationship to the Philly scene. It was deteriorating and feeling really sour. The idea of starting over in a place that was really far away and was always sunny, and that I could just drive around in and hang out with friends, was just very appealing at that moment.
AVC: Philadelphia has been so romanticized as this bastion of DIY culture over the past few years, but it’s easy to see how you grew disenchanted with it. How did you go about reigniting that spark?
AC: It’s been slightly challenging, but I do feel like I’m on an upswing with Philly. My excitement and my connection to Philly was about Swearin’ and about the relationships I had because of Swearin’. And when Swearin’ broke up, and when Kyle [Gilbride, Swearin’ guitarist-vocalist] and I broke up after dating for a long time, those relationships were really, really tremendously strained. That’s, again, why I was thinking, “I’m just going to move away.”
That’s kind of always been my bag. I’m a mover. If I need a change, that’s kind of my initial idea is that I’m going to just change my environment and be around different people. I think that’s something I’m seeing now, and something I’m recognizing and feeling, is that I’m ready to stay in the same place for a little while. I think that was something really difficult for me for a long time because, like I said, my relationships were strained with a lot of the people in the Philly scene that I was so close with and who meant so much to me. And something about the monotony of seeing them all the time when I was going through this breakup, and really feeling like I was going through a lot of changes, was difficult. I was really just not prepared for it.
But that said, time really does heal all, and I feel like my life is so different than it was even two years ago. I’ve changed a lot in the last couple of years, and I think that now I’m in a place where—and maybe it’s just getting older—but I feel like my relationships and friendships have a lot more purpose. I’m a lot more conscious, and there’s a lot more upkeep involved. Because of that, and because of that energy that’s expelled, I have fewer close friends. I think when I was doing Swearin’, we were first moving to Philly, and it was so exciting. I was just friends with everybody. I would go to a place, and there would be like 100 people and I kind of knew everybody. It’s just different now. But I also go to less shows and I go to less parties. I just meet up with a friend for dinner and see this person, and we make a plan to do that. Something about doing that has felt really good for me, and it’s sort of reenergized me in a lot of ways.
AVC: Was that the impetus to start releasing music under your name, to kind of distance yourself from the insular nature of the Philly scene? Do you feel like you’ve gotten support from those people now that time has passed?
AC: Writing solo music has felt really freeing, and actually making this record felt incredible. It was the most cathartic, creative experience I’ve ever had. Swearin’ had a super-complicated dynamic, and we operated in this very democratic way—as far as making band decisions—and we’re all such different people and want different things, and we all come from punk but in different ways.
I also think that something I always forget about Swearin’ is that, when we started that band, we had no clue that anyone would ever care about it. We just put a record out, and then people started writing about it and people started coming to our shows. It was really exciting, but it wasn’t really the goal. It just kind of became a part of the band. That was the band where we hired a booking agent, we had someone doing press for us, and we were doing all these things that were new experiences for us.
It’s funny because now, obviously, I’ve signed with Merge and I’m doing a record with a pretty big indie label, and I feel prepared to do that because it was such a weird, slow transition between doing things completely, 100 percent on our own. P.S. Eliot and Bad Banana and all the bands that Katie [Crutchfield] and I have done operated in this very pure, DIY way. Swearin’ starting was really the tipping point where it became a thing where we started to do in a way that was, for lack of a better word, more professional. That was always a struggle for us as a band, too. I think we really wanted to be a DIY band, but we also wanted to be a band that could pay our rent by playing shows. I think that was appealing to us because none of us had ever done anything like that before. So I think maybe in some ways, losing that sort of anxiety or self-consciousness that Swearin’ had as a collective, I kind of know what I want to accomplish as an artist, and I feel really fortunate that I get to do this. And only having to answer to myself, that feels really good. Not having to do the emotional work that I maybe had to do with being in a band like Swearin’ is really refreshing. But also, it being just my name can be a little stressful sometimes. But that’s also because it’s weird to see your name on stuff. That aspect of it is a little cringe-y for me and probably will always be, but at this point, it is what it is. I can deal with it.
Song: “Dean’s Room” (Tourist In This Town, 2017)
Influence: An obsession with mini-landmarks
AVC: What do you mean by mini-landmarks? Are these smaller, personal places that you have an attachment to?
AC: It’s funny, because I got into this weird habit in the songs that I write, usually once or twice a record, I will sing about something that I feel like the only people that will pick up on it are people who either just travel a lot within the punk or indie-rock circuit or are touring musicians. For this song, it was actually [Quarterbacks’] Dean [Engle]’s room. A couple years ago, whenever Quarterbacks was making a record, they made a record with Kyle, who I was dating at the time, and I went up to New Paltz with him and was writing some solo music while I was up there. Dean just had this really incredible apartment that bands always stayed at, so I remembered taking note of that and being like, “I kind of want to sing about this apartment someday because I’ve spent so many great times here, and it’s just a really magical place.” It’s just a weird studio apartment in the middle of New Paltz, but he had this—and I don’t know if he’ll get mad at me for saying this or not, but I don’t really care—this shrine to Jonathan Richman in his medicine cabinet. One time I was there and looking for toothpaste, and I opened it up and there was this Jonathan Richman shrine.
AVC: Oh man, what a thing to stumble upon.
AC: It was crazy! I remember Girlpool was staying there for the first time, and I was like, “You have to look in the medicine cabinet.” They texted me and were so excited about the medicine cabinet.
So yeah, the song has nothing to do with him, aside from the fact that I just wanted to sing about his apartment and I got the idea for the song at his house. But I’ve done it in lot of other songs, where I’ll sing about something, even if for just a second, about some kind of mural in a city or a punk house or a person that books shows in a city. I like singing about those types of things because I like for people who tour a lot to have a moment. I always loved that. When I was growing up hearing songs and someone singing about something really specific but knowing what they’re talking about. Or looking for it in the future. You hear them sing about it and you’re like, “Oh my God, that’s that saying from the song!”
AVC: What was in the Jonathan Richman shrine? Was it just an original copy of The Modern Lovers record?
AC: It’s been so long since I’ve seen it. I feel like it was just a big picture of Jonathan Richman and maybe some crystals and maybe a couple of candles. If I remember correctly. It’s been a while. I wish I had taken a picture of it. But it felt like a really holy place, and I didn’t want to invade his privacy too much. But I told you, so I’m sure he wouldn’t care. I think I talked to him at some point, but yeah, it was just a really miniature, medicine-cabinet shrine to Jonathan Richman.
Song: “Mile Away” (Tourist In This Town, 2017)
Influence: The posturing of male feminists and “sad bastard music”
AVC: These lyrics are pretty direct and recount situations that are, unfortunately, very common. Was there a specific instance that made you write this song in particular?
AC: It’s really about my specific relationships with men, romantic or otherwise, and about having to reckon with disappointment or having to feel like I have to be a teacher to a lot of people when that shouldn’t be my responsibility. It’s a really angry song, and a lot of it was sparked by a specific relationship and a specific man who I was friends with. He took weird joy out of making me feel like I was being a bad feminist, or I was not performing some kind of duty I was supposed to, and in the process dehumanizing me or other women that I’m friends with. So that’s where the song comes from, the nuances of those types of relationships and feeling really frustrated by that. I feel like it’s probably a little obvious, but I’m a pretty outspoken person and I have an easy time telling people to fuck off. So even with this song it was definitely a toned-down version of how I feel like I react to these types of things in real life. The lyrics of the song were there for me for a really long time. They weren’t necessarily all written when I was making this record. A lot of these lyrics were for a different song that I wanted to make for Swearin’ but was never quite able to get it done, and when I started writing this record and was really feeling all of these feelings, I finished it, which I was really happy with.
AVC: You say in the song, “You assume you understand because your voice is the loudest while you borrow our reality.” How often do you see men adopting these ideologies and then using it as a means of asserting dominance?
AC: I think it happens all the time. I can only speak to my experience, but I think that I had a few different relationships with people—platonic or romantic—that inspired this song. I’m happy to say that those relationships have all kind of ended, slightly because of this. But that line is specifically about just actually having a conversation or a discussion about feminism, and about my experience as a woman, and literally being talked over by a man who had not had that same experience. And that was really difficult for me.
I feel a little bad calling him out on this, but I had a really hard time watching that show Master Of None. I like Aziz Ansari, but the feminism episode of that was so hard for me to watch. It didn’t necessarily inspire this song, but that is something I can point to where it’s like, Aziz Ansari just gets feminism all of a sudden and is just yelling about it from the rooftops. I feel like a lot of people, a lot of men, want this pat on the back for correctly identifying how they feel about feminism, how radical they’re being and how much they “get it.” That is just really gross to me. That’s what that line comes from. It’s about feeling like I’m surrounded by these people who really think they’re doing the right thing but they’re completely socialized to scream over women who are trying to talk to them about their actual experiences and also sort of borrowing the reality of a woman’s experience.
AVC: There’s another line, which kind of relates more to the “sad bastard music” thing: “You’re blaring Nebraska while she tortures you from a mile away.”
AC: Let me preface this by saying I do love Nebraska. I do love that record.
AVC: I love Bruce Springsteen too, but it’s such a good line.
AC: There are a couple lines on this record that are about a specific person, and when I was writing it, I had this sort of vindictive idea that this person was going to hear it and be like, “Oh shit, this is about me.” So that’s part of why that’s there. But I also think it’s a pretty general term. It’s like a frustration with even the term “sad bastard music,” but also the idea of a person taking up this space in a discussion, or trying to be so involved and so vocal about a certain social thing, and then missing the point and not listening.
It’s just this idea of this person trying to be really forward-thinking and really radical and really present in those radical conversations but then going home and becoming this socialized stereotype of a sad bastard and pining after a person who’s maybe told them they need space or told them they don’t want to have this conversation anymore. And taking that sort of forward-thinking energy and reverting back to that. Does that make sense?
AVC: That makes perfect sense. It doesn’t read as a dis on Nebraska, but it’s addressing these totems in that world, and how so much so-called “sad bastard music” glamorizes pain and isolation in a very performative, disingenuous way.
AC: I sort of see it as ringing hollow. I’m over it, personally. I think that is a story that’s been told in rock music since it began. So I think we need to move on. And I think that’s what’s so frustrating about it. Yeah, Nebraska is a great record, but we don’t need to be hearing those same stories and points of view anymore. That’s what can be so obnoxious about that attitude and when it comes from people who really want to be forward-thinking and really want to be feminists. Well, then basically shut the fuck up and let other people speak about what they’re going through. That’s where that comes from.