Swearin’ | photo by Alexander Rotondo | courtesy of the artist
Falling Back Into It: Allison Crutchfield on the new era of Swearin’
It wasn’t long ago that Allison Crutchfield swore off the possibility of a future for Swearin’.
The band she co-founded with singer-guitarist Kyle Gilbride and released two albums with dissolved not long after the songwriters’ romantic relationship did. Swearin’s breakup, perhaps inevitable at the time, gained a sense of finality as the years stretched on.
“We really had an idea about how this band was just gonna be,” says Crutchfield now, looking back on the events that led to Swearin’s end. “And so when we broke up, it was because none of us could imagine the band existing in the way that we were.”
Until recently it didn’t seem likely that Swearin’ would be revived. Its members moved on to other projects, and Crutchfield released her first solo album, the fantastic Tourist in This Town, last year. But then a conversation between Crutchfield, Gilbride and the band’s third core member, drummer Jeff Bolt, led each of them to admit they missed Swearin’. Weighing what it would take to do the band again, they realized it could be possible — just with a different approach than before.
“What’s the point of forcing ourselves to do it in this way that doesn’t feel good if we could do it in a way that would?” Crutchfield says. “It was really as simple as that.”
Today, Swearin’ releases its first album in five years, Fall into the Sun; it’s also their first release on Merge Records. Crutchfield and Gilbride wrote the songs on the new record independently of each other — a necessary creative distance made easier by the fact that Crutchfield recently left Philadelphia, her home of several years, for Los Angeles.
Crutchfield says that the two songwriters discussed the combined narrative they wanted the record to convey, but says they “wax and wane with each other” throughout its eleven tracks in a way that allows their distinctly different lyrical styles — hers wordy and concrete and his concise and abstract — to shine through.
“He’s singing about space and I’m singing about love — it’s weird stuff that kind of goes together, but there are moments where it really doesn’t, but it still kind of works,” Crutchfield says. “That’s just very much our band. I feel like we’ve always been that way.”
Fall into the Sun marks a personal shift in Crutchfield’s own songwriting too, especially following Tourist, which she says was “drenched in anger and sadness.”
“I feel like 85% of the songs I’ve written in my life have been breakup songs,” Crutchfield says. But as for her new songs with Swearin’, “they’re about the punk scene, they’re about moving, they’re about love but in a way that I haven’t written about love. They’re very hopeful love songs. It’s a whole different thing.”
Even on the phone from several thousand miles away, Crutchfield seems eager to embrace this new era of Swearin’. The way she speaks is not unlike the way she writes songs — talking quickly and animatedly, she strings together Swearin’s story, from the band’s breakup, to her move across the country, to the decision to regroup and make the album that was never supposed to exist.
Read our conversation below.
The Key: It sounds like the decision to do Swearin’ again came pretty easily, but was it a challenge to actually make it happen?
Allison Crutchfield: Not really. It was actually weirdly easy to get back into it. I think the challenges were all ones that we knew were going to happen. When we had this conversation, I hadn’t moved out here yet, but I knew I was going to. That presented a little bit of an issue, but in some ways I think it was helpful. When we were a band in Philly and 75% of us lived under the same roof, we still never practiced. It was difficult to get us to do anything when we were all together. So in some ways, having to plan everything and make everything organized around the fact that there’s thousands of miles between us helped light a fire under our asses a bit.
TK: Fall into the Sun was recorded in both Philly and LA. Were you all together for the recording process?
AC: To an extent. Kyle records everything for us, he’s the engineer for all of our records. The first thing we did was track the drums in Philly, so I flew to Philly and we basically set up mics around the drum kit at the old rehearsal space. We’ve recorded drums for various other records in this same recording space; it’s like this weird sort of hallowed ground. I would teach Jeff my songs, we’d go through it once or twice and then Kyle would just track it. The energy was interesting. It was very like, okay well, whatever we get is — that’s it. It was helpful that for this record I had more completed demos that I was sending to the band, so they had an idea of what I wanted the drums to be, and it wasn’t a ton of figuring things out. It was pretty easy.
I think it sounds a little bit like it has the potential to be sloppy, but it wasn’t. It was a really good energy because we got the most organic version of [each] song. That was the first and last time we were all three in the same place in the process of tracking. Kyle recorded all the bass and his guitars in Philly and then he flew to LA and we finished all of the other guitars and all of the vocals. We made a little makeshift studio in my house in LA. So it was recorded between the two places. I felt like it made sense for the record to have both.
TK: It’s noticeable that there are two very distinct songwriters on the record, and for the most part your songs and Kyle’s songs alternate. Was that structure intentional?
AC: Yeah, I think it was. I liked the idea because this record is a lot more even-split as far as how many songs each of us wrote. And we kind of did that on purpose. Because it’s the first record in so many years we were like, okay, we’re just going to try to write the same amount of songs. Kyle wound up dropping one of his so that brought us to eleven. In the interest of flow, it just made sense to alternate. There’s one place where there’s two of my songs, but for the rest of the record it’s just back and forth and back and forth — and part of that is because I have a tendency to go a little bit poppier and to go a little more fast-paced with Swearin’, and then Kyle has a tendency to be a little dronier and a little more guitar-heavy. In the interest of keeping people’s interest, we just kind of weave those two things together. I’m all about track list, that’s very important to me — every record I’m part of, it’s something I think a lot about and I always want to keep people’s interest with the track list.
TK: How much collaboration was involved with the songs themselves? Did your songs turn out similar to your initial vision or did the band have any input?
AC: Well, you know, it’s funny. With this record, as far as the songs go it was way less collaborative than it has been in past, but with the production it was a lot more collaborative. Because I’m so far away and because we weren’t really getting a chance to rehearse at all, I would send Kyle and Jeff completely finished demos that would have bass and lead guitar and drums and backup vocals. They were just, like, done. They were very weird versions of the songs, but they were finished. I would send them to the boys and then they would learn them and add their own flair, because Kyle has a really specific guitar style and Jeff has a really specific drum style. Same with Kyle’s songs, I would sort of add a little bit here and there but it was mostly finished.
I think that the collaborative portion of this record really came through with producing it. In the past Kyle was very much the producer of the records, and that was very much a part of the way those records sound. This time, because I’ve had so much more experience at this point, producing my own solo record and stuff here and there, I felt more like it was a co-produced record where we were both doing it. And he would definitely agree with that. It was collaborative more in that way and less in the songwriter way. At least for me personally, I feel like I’ve gained a lot of confidence as a songwriter and producer over the last few years since we made the last Swearin’ record. I felt more inclined to be involved on the production side, and felt a little less inclined to ask for opinions on the songwriting side.
TK: After deciding to do the band again, how long was the process of writing and recording Fall into the Sun?
AC: In hindsight it was kind of a while. It was like eight months from when we decided to do the band again to when we handed in the record. I had a couple of songs — I think I had “Big Change” and “Grow into a Ghost.” I had both of those written when we agreed to do the band again; I already had those kind of put away. And it was one of those things where I wrote both of those — like literally I wrote one one day and I wrote the other one the next day. I wrote them back to back and they were these weird little rock songs. I was like, I don’t know what I’m going to do with this, these feel like Swearin’ songs but we’re not really doing Swearin’. I just kind of had them in a little folder in my brain, and then when we decided to do the band again I was like, oh, these are so obviously Swearin’ songs. Subconsciously I was thinking we were going to do that again.
TK: After working as a solo artist for the last few years, does stepping back into a band environment and not having total creative control ever become difficult?
AC: I think that it did maybe a little bit more back in the day, but now I love the collaboration. The main collaborators in Swearin’ — especially musically, but also as far as the aesthetic and everything else goes — are Kyle and me, and he’s really easy to work with. I think that he really respects the vision that I have for what I want, and I really respect the vision that he has.
It’s interesting, he and I dated for many years when the band was originally happening, and something about our friendship and relationship now, it’s so much easier for us to communicate and work as collaborators and there’s a level of respect and understanding there now. It was there before but it was clouded with all the other stuff that was going on in our relationship. Now it’s easy for us to have a conversation about stuff. I also think we’re often on the same page about our band, so it winds up being pretty easy. And I like having a team. I’m a twin, I’m like a natural collaborator. I thrive in that atmosphere more so than if all eyes are on me.
TK: When you first decided that you would do Swearin’ again, did you have any expectations for how things would go? Has it unfolded how you hoped?
AC: It felt a little like I was jumping into something without really knowing what to expect. I had a lot of talks with my partner about it. We didn’t know each other when Swearin’ was a band, so it was nice to have someone on my side who didn’t really know that part of my life, so he had a very objective viewpoint of it. That felt good. Having someone in my corner that was just in my corner to talk about stuff with helped me come into doing Swearin’ again with a more objective viewpoint. I can kind of check all of my hang-ups at the door and just go in and be like, okay, let’s do this new thing.
I had anxiety about it because at Swearin’s worst, there was some very toxic dynamic stuff floating around. I was like, this has the potential to make me feel bad about myself and to not be fun. But it just so wasn’t like that. I think the three of us have really good communication and the three of us all wanted the best out of this. It wound up being really easy. There were moments where we kind of had to stop and talk about things, but it was so much easier than it was five years ago.
TK: Are you excited for the record to be out in the world?
AC: I am. I’m really excited. Writing music, for me personally, is like the most selfish thing on earth. It’s completely for me.The period between when I finish a record and when it comes out, I’m very excited about it and I feel like listening to it a lot. I’m doing a lot of reflecting on it and feeling really really excited about it, and it’s kind of a weird thing — when it comes out, it sort of becomes not my thing anymore and it’s more for everybody else, and that’s great and I get excited about that, but I kind of detach from it a little bit. This is just how it always happens every time I release a record. And I’ll usually come back around to it. There was a period where I couldn’t listen to any Swearin’ and now I’m going through a thing where I have a hard time listening to solo stuff. And not that I’m only going around listening to my own music, but it’s a little hard to revisit. And so I feel a little anxious about that because I’m like, okay, that time is coming where I’m going to detach from this record a little bit and it’s going to become more of everybody else’s.
TK: But at the same time you’re going to be on tour and playing these songs all the time.
AC: Oh, it’s so bizarre. It’s the most bizarre feeling. I’m curious to see how it goes with Swearin’. It happened really intensely when I put my solo record out, as soon as it came out and I started playing the songs every night — and I was going through a lot of other stuff at that time as well. I was kind of going through a breakup and I was thinking about moving; all these things were happening the whole time. I was just going through a lot of changes. I kind of hated playing on that tour because I felt so detached from those songs. But I feel like solo music for me — the experience of performing as a solo artist is so, so different from doing Swearin’ and I love playing in Swearin’.
TK: Does Philadelphia still feel like Swearin’s home, or would you rather not be considered a Philly band anymore?
AC: I’m fine with it being a Philly band. I think if you’d asked me that when we first started making this record, I would have not said that. I think I would have been like, no, we’re bicoastal. But I don’t know. I’ve lived in LA for about a year now and I love it here. It definitely feels like home. When I moved [I was] so done with Philly, but now that I’ve been gone for a year, I’ve turned over a new leaf with it a little bit. I feel very nostalgic for it and I’m very excited to come back and play a Swearin’ show in Philly. And I think that — even though we didn’t start in Philly, and even though not all of us live in Philly, and even though there might come a time in this band’s life where none of us live in Philly — I think we’re a Philly band. It feels like our home as a band.
Swearin’ plays a show at the First Unitarian Church on October 10. Find more information on the XPN Concert Calendar.