Allison Crutchfield is on tour for the first time in Trump’s America. “I’m definitely anxious,” she tells me a few days before leaving, over dinner at a ramen bar in West Philadelphia’s University City. It is also her first time on the road since the release of her debut solo LP, Tourist in this Town, a record she made after over a decade of working on music with other people. “I think I have a different outlook because I’m from the South. No matter what the political climate is, I have a sense of responsibility to make sure everybody feels comfortable and safe. I’ve always felt anxiety about that.”
Even when talking about her anxieties, Crutchfield speaks with the confidence of someone who’s been through some shit. The road to her first successful solo effort has been long, and at times, challenging on her relationships. But in a time when it feels like progress has come to a halt, the Philly-based singer-songwriter has learned to embrace change. And now she’s armed for whatever comes next.
Before we order hot noodles and Sapporo, Crutchfield arrives to meet me with refreshing candor. “Give me one drink and I’ll tell you literally everything about my life,” she says laughing.
There’s a lot of ground to cover. Like how a year ago, Allison and her band the Fizz opened for the Julie Ruin, an electro-pop political act fronted by Riot Grrrl mother and feminist icon Kathleen Hanna. The stint ended in the days leading up to the 2016 election. “We got home right before. I was very happy,” Crutchfield stops herself before breathing a sigh of relief. “I had a few friends who had to go out right after who were really, really stressed and struggling.”
Crutchfield was raised in Birmingham, Alabama, where she and her twin sister Katie spent most of their free time making music and dreaming big. When they were 15, they formed the Ackleys, a pop-punk band that enjoyed minor local success, and in 2006 joined the traveling emo festival Warped Tour. When they were 18, they formed another project, one that bolstered a cult following within the DIY feminist punk scene, P.S. Eliot. They called it quits in 2011 and the next year, they were back with a band in a similar vein: Bad Banana. That, too, had a short shelf life and eventually the twins split up to focus on their own projects: Katie pursuing solo material under the moniker Waxahatchee and Allison forming the punk band Swearin’ with her then-partner Kyle Gilbride.
The pair moved from New York to Philadelphia, and in 2015, after five years of dating, broke up. Crutchfield moved out of the room they had been sharing (“Kyle still lives in that house. It’s this weird, haunted house. I don’t like to go there,” she reveals) but stayed in the band, trying to salvage the thing that had been their focus for so long.
“We did a few shows after we broke up and it was fine but it was tough. There were a lot of other things that contributed to Swearin’ not being a band anymore. I think that Kyle and I were just like, ‘This is not going to work. We’re not going to be able to do this and be friends, ultimately,’” she explains. “I’ve always really respected bands that ended when they wanted to end, when they felt they couldn’t bring anything else to the table. Swearin’ never wanted to be the band that we became.”
The blow was devastating, but Crutchfield explains how her solo career came up on the strength of Swearin’. She tells me that playing music has been her dream “since like, age 13… That’s what I do now. Moving more into that world made it possible for us. Now he’s working on a solo album and I just released mine.”
Tourist in this Town was made in the space immediately following the end of her relationship and the subsequent demise of Swearin’. With some help from engineer Jeff Zeigler, her first full-length foray into solo work is dynamic: Tourist in this Town is a mostly synth record written from the perspective of someone who has spent over a decade in rock bands. Crutchfield uses her voice in ways previously unheard—the gospel specificity of the opening prologue channels her hero Jenny Lewis in a way that stands out from her catalogue. “My favorite songwriters are really detailed and very specific. That’s something I’ve always aspired to do,” she says. “For this record it’s intense. It’s a little excessive.”
The particularity arrives most distinctly in geographic locations. She questions her Philly home in “I Don’t Ever Wanna Leave California,” she can’t enjoy Paris because he’s in the hotel in “Sightseeing,” bedrooms lose their solace and become haunted in “Charlie.” Tourist in this Town is an autobiographical release wholly unafraid to share the most intimate moments when everything changes. For Crutchfield, it’s nothing to glorify, but rather, something she needed to experience. After the end of Swearin’, she says, “I went crazy. I basically had a nervous breakdown. I lost so much weight. I ruined so many friendships and relationships. It was bad.”
Crutchfield went into extensive therapy while she was on tour. “I eventually got healthier. I learned a lot about myself in the process,” she says, and then pauses. “It’s really a record about change and my resistance to change. Everything just exploded. I needed it, because they were all things I wanted to happen but I didn’t really know how to make happen. It really felt like a house of cards. If I changed anything, it would all come tumbling down. It did. Everything crumbled. And I’m a lot happier now.”
I walk Allison to her car down the street, just a few blocks away from her new West Philly home with her new partner. Her building sits just a few blocks away from the home she shared with Gilbride, too. They don’t avoid each other anymore. With time, the proximity becomes coincidence, not a detour.
With that in mind, it’s easy to see that Tourist in this Town isn’t vengeful. It would be unfair to call it a breakup album. Or rather, it would be unfair to call it a traditional breakup album. Crutchfield explains in an interview with Fvck the Media: “At its core, I think this is a feminist break up record” that embraces “the idea of curing your own anger and sadness by just fucking feeling it, by just letting it happen.”
Tourist in this Town is a thoughtful recording that possesses healing power—it’s the sound of someone identifying an issue, working through it and finding love in the end. In an uncertain political landscape, it’s important to spend time on self-examination. Allison Crutchfield knows a thing or two about that, and we would be wise to listen.