Feature interview: Swearin' at Ace of Cups

Joel Oliphint
Photo by Ali Donohue

Early last year, Allison Crutchfield released her debut solo record, Tourist in this Town. After years of playing support or co-leading roles in poppy punk and indie-rock acts such as P.S. Eliot and Swearin', it felt good for her to take creative control, writing and producing an album on her own terms.

But about a week into the five-week release tour forTourist, Crutchfield began to feel exhausted and anxious. “I love producing my own records and writing songs by myself. All of that feels really good. But from a performance and tour aspect, and having to be the one in charge and the focal point onstage, those things were really challenging for me,” she said recently by phone. “By the time the solo stuff was wrapping up, I was feeling depleted and realized I wasn't totally sure about being a solo artist only. That felt really daunting to me. I feel like I'm a natural collaborator. Being a twin, I think that's something that comes really natural to me and feels comfortable.”

While Crutchfield and her sister, Katie, reunited P.S. Eliot briefly in 2016, Katie was now busy writing, recording and touring with her own band, Waxahatchee. But scratching the collaboration itch in Swearin' was no simple matter. The band fell apart in the aftermath of Allison's 2015 breakup with Kyle Gilbride, with whom she co-led the band. It was difficult to be around him, much less put the band back together.

But Crutchfield's friends gave her hope. “When you're going through a hard time or a breakup, your friends are always telling you, ‘You have to give it some time, and once you give it some time it's gonna get better,'” she said. “That's the most frustrating advice to get, because you can't make time speed up. But that's really all it took.”

After a year or so, time began to do its work healing the wounds, and eventually Crutchfield, Gilbride and Swearin' drummer Jeff Bolt began talking about how they missed the band. At the record release show for Waxahatchee's 2017 album,Out in the Storm, the three bandmates had a drunken but serious conversation about what it would take to restart Swearin'.

“The first order of business was reexamining what was important to us and what wasn't. … We were working on a record when the band broke up, and Kyle really wanted to finish a third record. Jeff really wanted to do shows again because the last Swearin' show was so bleak,” she said. “The main thing for me was to do Swearin' as the person and songwriter and producer I am right now, as opposed to the person I was four or five years ago. I had grown a lot and gained a lot of experience and confidence. … We've all grown a lot. The relationships have evolved. They feel a lot more functional now than they did when we were a band back in the day.”

When Merge Records owner and Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan asked Crutchfield if Swearin' could play some shows with his band, the fire was lit. Swearin' got to work, along the way recruiting All Dogs' Amanda Bartley to play bass. “Having new blood in the mix was really great because we couldn't just slip back into the old power dynamics we had or the old roles,” Crutchfield said. “It's like when you're hanging out with your siblings and someone has a friend over. You're just not as likely to get into a fight as you would if it were just the three of you.”

With the rest of the band in Philadelphia and Crutchfield newly relocated to Los Angeles, the writing process functioned differently than it had in the past. Instead of starting with a basic vocal melody and guitar accompaniment, Crutchfield emailed fleshed-out demos with drums, bass and guitars. “When we got together to work them out, everybody knew what to do. We sort of Swearin'-ified everything,” she said. “On this record the songwriting is less collaborative, but the production is much more collaborative.”

The resulting record,Fall Into the Sun, chronicles Crutchfield's move west in deliciously distorted, hook-laden songs like “Big Change” and “Untitled (LA).” But “Grow Into a Ghost” finds the songwriter with her head pressed against the glass, staring down at the “infinitesimal city streets” in New York. “All the desperate people just like me/Breathe life into objects with certainty,” she sings.

Crutchfield and her sister were in NYC to give a talk as part ofNew York Magazine's Vulture Festival, and the fest provided accommodations at the Standard, a luxury hotel above the High Line. “It was a really weird contrast. They put us up in this fancy hotel, but I was really broke and feeling really strange about being in this place where I'm in this very expensive, very beautiful city, but feeling really lost and confused,” she said. “There's a million people eating brunch and you're running into models and rich people… I just felt very out of place.”

Crutchfield considers all sorts of contrasts onFall Into the Sun, especially when it comes to love. “It was important to me to explore different facets of love and of romantic relationships than I have on the last couple records I've written. ‘Oil and Water,' that's a straight-up love song. There's no sourness there. I don't feel like I write a lot of songs like that. There's usually some tinge of bitterness or anger or unhappiness. The main emotion that is getting passed around in any given Swearin' song is anger,” said Crutchfield, who explored the more bitter side of love on “Anyway,” at one point singing, “Unconditional love only exists in movies.”

“That's the one breakup song on the record, and it is a weird doozy. It's the song people have asked me about the most,” she said. “It's almost an unemotional breakup song. It feels like it was a letter to the person that it's about. … When I play the record for people, it's the one I'm always a little cringe-y watching people listen to, like, ‘Oh, this is kind of intense.'”

Ace of Cups

7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17

2619 N. High St., Old North


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