Big Change: Swearin’s Allison Crutchfield on Growing Up and Fall Into the Sun

Interviews
10/30/2018
Dusty Henry
photo by Photo by Alexander Rotondo
Transcription by Patrick Milgram

Growing up sometimes means taking a step back from the life you’re living. A moment to take stock, re-align yourself, and question your values and why you pursue your dreams and desires. After the beloved Philadelphia indie rock outfit Swearin’ called it quits in 2015, vocalist/guitarist Allison Crutchfield found herself with some of these thoughts in mind. Having recently ended a romantic relationship with Swearin’ bandmate Kyle Gilbride, Crutchfield took up a life of musical sojourn. She toured as a backing player for her twin sister Katie Crutchfield’s band Waxahatchee, recorded her first solo album Tourist In This Town, and left Philadelphia for a new home in Los Angeles. It was a period of exploration, self-realization, and maturation. When she and her bandmates decided to get back together, they too had gone through their own “growing up” process and a wealth of personal and musical life experiences to draw from.

Fall Into The Sun, out now on Merge Records. is the band’s first record since 2013. You can feel those wayward years and the passage of time in the music, perhaps maybe the album’s greatest strength. From the opening moments of “Big Change” detailing Crutchfield’s move from home to the past-self reflections of “Grow Into A Ghost,” we get intimate recollections of what happened while Swearin’ ceased to be. Flocked by riotous and rapturous anthems from Gilbridge like “Future Hell” and “Dogpile,” the picture begins to come into focus of the individuals in the band and the pains of growing up and what it means to be an “adult.”

In conversation, Crutchfield is as transparent as she is in her music. She talks about overcoming the perceived pressure of the music scene and coming to terms with aging within a band, finding power in maturity, and how being away from Swearin’ gave her and her bandmates an appreciation for what they’ve created. Swearin’ isn’t the same band they were before, how could they be? Everyone in the world is constantly changing whether we want to or not, but the essence of who we are will always remain. That’s what listening to Fall Into The Sun feels like. It’s akin sitting down with an old friend, hearing their stories of where they’ve been and who they’ve become. Change and growing up can be scary and bumpy, but Fall Into The Sun offers a reminder that it doesn’t have to be so bad. The trials of evolution are just there to inform us, as they’ve informed the powerful guitar anthems that make up this record.

 

KEXP: So a lot has happened with you since Swearin' broke up in 2015. You went on tour with your sister's band Waxahatchee, you recorded a solo album, and you moved away from Philly. How did that time away from the band change your perspective on life and the band?

Allison Crutchfield: Yeah, it sort of changed. All of the things that you mentioned contributed to the way that I'm feeling about Swearin' right now. I think that the move was pretty crucial. I think being far away from them forces us to make everything that we do with the band really intentional. When Swearin' was kind of in our heyday and our most active time, we were all loosely living together, or like Jeff lived down the street from us. So it was like we were all literally in the same place all the time so everything felt like it could be easy but something about that made us have a harder time actually doing anything [laughs]. We were just like, "Oh, we can just do it tomorrow." So moving far away means that if I have to drive there to do anything, or they have to fly to the west coast, we have to do phone check-ins which is really nice because then we can all catch up with each other and then check in about everything. I think it's making us more decisive and more productive. And part of that's just getting older too, but I think that that really helped in that way.

I think that playing with Waxahatchee made me feel like a more capable player. I think that just having to play, even if it's a simple guitar part, like playing the same part every night and just spending so much of my life holding a guitar way more than I normally do. And singing too, singing with my sister which is not easy, I feel like it forces me to practice those two things in a way that maybe I wouldn't. And then with the solo record, I think that was a way in which I sort of was forced to build my confidence and gain experience as a producer and that I'd definitely say I brought to the new iteration of Swearin'. And again, all of these things are things that would have maybe happened in their own way just getting older, but I can definitely look to each of those three things that you listed and find ways in which they have caused me to grow as a musician and songwriter. Yeah, I think that the solo record definitely was more on the production end.

It’s interesting looking at you both making a solo record [2017’s Tourist In this Town] and then also being a touring band member. It's almost two different, seemingly opposite roles. In one, you're supporting someone else's songwriting and one you're literally the songwriter. Did that give you any perspective in terms of your songwriting or performance?

Absolutely. It was really hard for me. I think it was really unnatural for me and that's part of the reason why I think, I finished the tour that we did, we did a quick Euro tour with Waxahatchee as well but, I finished the main tour for Tourist In This Town and I kind of was just like "I'm done." Like, I don't think I should do this anymore right now at this juncture in my life. It wasn't really very natural for me as a performer to just go out and be the person at the forefront. And part of that is because the songs I write as a solo artist are the songs that are my most personal, and raw, and intimate, so it can definitely be both unnerving but also a little bit like embarrassing. You know, it's a weird combination of things that are going on in my head at any given moment when I'm playing solo shows, or, at least at that point when I was playing solo shows. So I think that it made me really miss doing Swearin' where I have that to an extent but I feel like because I'm in Swearin' I'm singing on behalf of a group of people. I think that causes me to alter the types of things I'm talking about. And so when I'm writing songs for Swearin', I'm not writing the types of songs I'm writing as a solo artist because maybe I don't want to sing this line and have to be representing a team. Like, this is something that is so personal to me. I don't know if any of that makes sense but it became really hard and it became that thing that I was not totally sure was for me. I want to do more in the future and I loved writing that record and recording that record, That experience was so dear to me and I will always value the time that I spent making that record. I'm very proud of it sonically and I feel really, really good about it and I can look back to that moment and be like "that's when I came into my own as a producer of music." And I feel like I've brought all those skills to the new Swearin' record, but something about being a solo performer versus like either playing in someone's backing band or being in my own band where I'm a member of a team. It's just a totally different experience.

 

I don't really think about that often. You listen to a band and hear the lyrics and just assume "oh they're just singing about their personal experience" but you're approaching it thinking about you representing this group of people. But it does feel personal too. How do you strike that balance, with the new record especially?

Right, it's funny. With the new Swearin' record, I snuck in one break up song, a really freaky one that's at the end, but I try to stay away from those types of songs. I look back on the first few records and there are songs that are kind of like break up songs or relationship songs – and there are a couple of love songs on the new Swearin' record – but specifically, those intimate breakup type songs that. I definitely on this record tried to steer clear [of those types of songs]. If I look back, there are a few of those but that was because the dynamic of Swearin' was different and I was dating a member of the band for, you know, the entirety of the band's life before we took a break. I think I have to really search for other avenues of emotion and other things that I feel passionate about and other things that give me the type of anger and sadness or whatever is moving me, mostly it's those two things, to write. I have to look for other ways to sort of rally that and with a solo record it's just like, "I'm angry at this person for this reason or I'm sad about that person for this reason so I'm going to write about it in very vivid detail" and with Swearin' I just have to figure out another thing that's going to make me feel something. Because, as a writer, I'm obviously very motivated by love and relationships so with this new Swearin' record I wrote about that but I had to write about it in different ways. So that was sort of a challenge I presented to myself.

You mentioned that you and Kyle had dated for the duration of the band prior. That's got to be a factor, right?

Oh yeah. Well, I would say not really a factor anymore. More so a factor when we were dating. I think it was maybe a little tricky for me to write a song about being mad at him about something when we were dating. But we were really good! We had like a strict "you can't ask what a song is about" policy when we were in the band together. We'd play each other's songs and it was like, "okay great" but we weren't allowed to be like, "what was that line about?" Which is interesting to think about now. It's so funny how it is so not a thing between us at this point and how we have really been able to transition from dating for a long time to being friends and collaborators. I think the main thing, the big thing, is that we just took a lot of space and we weren't really friends for a few years. It was pretty much the time between when we stopped playing and started playing again. We had probably like a year of time when we started talking again and being friendly and that was when we started talking about doing the band again. That was really all it took for the two of us. I think knowing our relationship, it makes sense but it's pretty amazing. I feel really lucky that it's been as easy as it's been for us to just completely drop that aspect of our relationship and just be friends and collaborators.

That's so good to hear. So, at what point did you guys decide to get the band back together?

I keep telling people this because I can pinpoint the exact moment which was backstage at the Waxahatchee record release show for Out in the Storm, which was last July. Katie [Crutchfield] had a big party at Union Transfer in Philly. Afterward, we're hanging out and talking and the three of us found each other in a corner and, at that point the three of us were all on really good terms, so we had kind of jokingly talked about doing it again. Any time we'd see each other we'd be like, "well, I'd do it again." And it was true. I mean we were all really missing the band, so we just had a talk about like what it would take or what we would want as a band if we did it again and how we would go about it.

When we were a band we had these really hard line viewpoints about what our band needed to be and how we wanted to go about things. Something about that staunchness and lack of fluidity made it really hard to imagine doing it again for many years. So then when we had a few drinks in us and we were in this corner talking we were like, "What if we just do it not like that? What if we drop some of these things like hard opinions that are kind of pointless? What if we do it this way? What if we do it that way?" That's kind of all it took for the three of us to just be like, "I really miss doing this and I really want to do it again." Just relinquishing some of the ideas that we had as younger people about how to be in a punk band and to just be like, "yeah three of us can be this and it will feel really, really fun and that's all it will take." So that was kind of the vibe. It was just like, "Okay let's do it like this, but Allison's moving to LA, and we're going to do it just the three of us, and we're going to have to do this and do that."

Kyle really wanted to make another record – that was his main objective of doing the band again because we had been working on a record when we broke up initially. That was the main objective. Jeff said he wanted to play some more shows because our last show was just really, really trainwrecky and depressing and horrible [laughs]. At that time we didn't know it was going to be our last show. So, we'd always kind of had some sadness about that. So those were the two things. And then while I was still on tour with Waxahatchee I saw Mac [McCaughan] from Merge a few days later, and I knew that he was a Swearin' fan, so I told him that we had talked about being a band again. And then about a month after that, he texted me and asked if Swearin' would want to go on tour with Superchunk in April. So I think that he asked in September and that gave us like a six month period. We made the goal ourselves to be like, "okay by the time we go on the Superchunk tour we're going to write and record a new record." So we made that decision and two months later we had all of these deadlines. Like, we have a deadline to be ready to play shows and then a deadline to have a record finished. We function really, really well with deadlines so that was good [laughs].

 

You mentioned that you were working on an album before you broke up. Did any of that material crossover to Fall Into the Sun or did you guys start from scratch?

For the most part, we started from scratch. Kyle brought two songs that we had worked on but he had completely reworked them. Because he also does his solo band and he'd taken those songs at the end of Swearin' and morphed them to be more like his solo band, and then he took them from the solo band and was like, "What if we make these Swearin' songs again?" At the end of the day, one of them made it on the record. It's that song 'Dogpile,' which is the second song on the record. But everything else was completely new for the fans. Two of the songs that I wrote for the record I had written maybe a couple of weeks before we decided to do another record, not really knowing where they were going to go, but knowing that they weren't right for solo music. I think that was also what was getting me excited about doing Swearin' again and is possibly the reason why we had the conversation when we did. It's because I also had a couple of rock songs I was really excited about and I was like, "I don't know what I want to do, I don't want to start another band, I really miss doing Swearin', and these two songs feel right for Swearin'." So, it was mostly completely new and I think that's the only way we could have done it. I think that if we tried to revise some of the stuff we had for the original LP3 it just would have felt wrong. I think it would have not felt representative of who we are right now.

You open the record with 'Big Change' which kind of like addresses a bit of the gap between the last record and now –where you've been, and the things you've been you've been up to. Did you want to be direct at the start of the album about where you guys are and just addressing that directly?

I think that's kind of always my vibe. I'm always into being direct with an audience and with the people that are listening. I like it when artists do that. I like being able to listen to a record from a band that I love and have them like name check the place they are or like a time in their life. And I know about them so I know what they're talking about and that's just what feels most natural to me as a writer. I occasionally write from someone else's point of view and will kind of be a little more character driven or write with a different type of narrative but, for the most part, I'm just always like autobiographical to a fault [laughs]. Yeah, so that song felt like the only song that could open this record. It's such an obvious opener to me because, not only is the progression of it being really quiet to really loud a good way to ramp up into a rock record and all, but the subject matter very clearly states like the thesis of the album.

You've also called this like "the adult Swearin' album" and to hear you openly processing about your life, it sounds you're coming upon some revelations throughout the record with this really, really cool narrative style writing that you do. What does growing up and becoming an “adult” mean to you? Did you feel like making this album helped you come to terms with any of that or come to any conclusions?

I don't know if it did in a way that I noticed, it might have been like subconsciously [00:20:35] informing me growing. But I don't know. Do we ever really feel fully adult? I do most of the time, but I have these adult moments all the time where I'm just like, "Is this normal? Is this the normal thing that's supposed to happen when you get older? Am I supposed to be constantly stressed about money? Am I supposed to be constantly busy? Am I supposed to be like this or that?" You know, those types of things where you're like, "I think this is normal but is it?" So I still struggle with that all the time. I'm going to be 30 in a couple of months. I'm 29 at the moment but I feel like I'm an old 29 and feel very much like an adult person. I look back as a person who was writing songs for Surfing Strange – specifically, the person who wrote songs for the first Swearin' record – and that person was not an adult. That person was just a different thing. You’re not a teenager when you're in your 20s, but you're also not fully an adult. I feel like there needs to be another name for that gap of age. It feels adult, I think just because we are at a point now where we have a different perspective and the perspective as outsiders looking into the music scene that we were once really fully immersed in. Specifically, the Philly DIY scene and stuff. Not like that's what the entire record is about because it's obviously about moving, and it's about relationships, and it's about this, it's about that. But that's a part of it, I think.

You know, you go to shows your entire life and then all of a sudden you look around and you're the oldest person in the room. That's a thing when you're younger, you notice that person and then you become that person. It's a bizarre feeling. And I think the record is about coming to terms with starting to be one of those people and starting to shift the way that you relate to music and the music business and music scene accordingly. And not being afraid of it, just truly accepting that. And letting things change especially, just letting yourself not participate in the way that you wanted and not feeling guilty about it. You know, still being involved in music in your own personal way but not just accepting or going along with what's expected of you as like a “punk” because you're supposed to. Just like stay home if you want to stay home, or don't go out if you don't like go out. As simple as that.

I feel like, in that way, [the album’s] about growing into an adult and accepting that but also sonically I feel like there's a very obvious break away from the other records. I think it still sounds like our band, but we are looking at our band in a more self-aware way. In a way where we took five years between making records and we came back to our old records and started to really appreciate them, but we didn't want to copy them… I don't know if I can explain it properly, but I think we were really fortunate because we could look back at these records with a level of appreciation and self-awareness about this sound that we had that feels very specific to our band. But we're looking at them in hindsight and we're bringing what we've learned over the five years that we've taken to make a record for this band that had a really specific thing. And we're not at a point where we're insecure about it, or we're feeling weird, or like we want to make a crazy break in the other direction. We know what this band is and we're proud of it. We love it and now we're doing it as grown adult people who have experienced other ways in which to make music.

I think that it's really fun to parallel that as a listener too because you know people who have been fans of Swearin' have maybe been following that sort of the same path. We all get older and we all have these different experiences, so it's just cool to listen to those records and appreciate them as a fan and see where you guys are going now. It’s a cool mirroring experience

Well great, thank you. I hope. I hope so. I hope people like it. There's a little anxiety to be putting out a record five years after we put out our last one. I just hope that people like it. Not that it meets everyone's expectations, but on my end as a person who participated in making it, it feels very genuine and authentic and not like we were trying to just make another Swearin' record. It sounds like we evolved I think into something that feels like very natural for us. It still sounds like Swearin' but it's definitely like a new version of Swearin' that I think feels good.

We've touched on this a little bit but, what have you enjoyed about being back with the band again? Or, what feels different this time that excites you?

I think performing has felt really, really great. I think it's partly because the last time I was performing as a front person, I was doing solo music and touched on that earlier about how that was really difficult for me. I was so in my head during most of those performances, it was difficult for me to feel relaxed and enjoy it. And with Swearin' I feel just really excited and really engaged and really confident. It just feels really, really great. It maybe never felt – not to be like dramatic and hyperbolic about it – but I don't know that I've ever felt like I had found my place as a performer. I think because I'm a twin and I've backed my sister up several times, I just moved around a lot as a musician. I just feel like I really found my place in the world as a performer with Swearin' and I didn't necessarily feel like that when first did the band. But doing all the shows that we're doing now makes me really happy to play live which is not something that I'd normally experience playing live. It's just felt very fulfilling.

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