“Our love is unquestionable, our love is here to die,” Allison Crutchfield laments on the a cappella intro to Tourist In This Town.
A chorus of Crutchfields (including Allison’s sister and Waxahatchee leader Katie) harmonize on the macabre final word and, with a moment of silence, the ailing relationship that spurred 2014’s Lean In To It is finally laid to rest.
The silence lasts no longer than a second.
Synths begin whirring and chirping to life. With the crack of a lighter, Crutchfield leaves town in a fuzzed-out blaze of pop glory on “Broad Daylight.” The chorus’ centerpiece of “because it isn’t black and white / it’s gray!” will assuredly become another essential lyric amongst Crutchfield’s fans, who have followed her quotable struggles and triumphs in P.S. Eliot, Bad Banana, and Swearin’ over the past decade. With her penchant for unsinkable choruses and emotional candidness still intact, Crutchfield is still the same songwriter even as more polished production and synthesizers accumulate on Tourist. At the same time, her Merge Records debut is arguably both her most self-assured and self-doubting record yet.
Case in point: first single “Dean’s Room” is an ecstatic break up anthem that soars higher than its new wavy synths with empowerment, but the next song (“Sightseeing”) finds Crutchfield paring down to an ambient track, wrestling with the inability to “enjoy Paris because I can’t get away from you.” Tourist confronts a touring lifestyle, reclamation of identity, and failing relationships with a sobering gaze that even its creator calls “fuckin’ sad” in conversation with us. Even still, every uplifting chorus and ray of light emanating from Crutchfield on the album cover seeks to defy complacency in that “fuckin’ sadness.”
Few things on Tourist In This Town are black or white, but it’s Allison Crutchfield’s ability to find something redeemable in the gray that allows Tourist, an album rooted in rootlessness, to feel so much like home.
Read our conversation with Crutchfield below.
Allston Pudding: I read in The Le Sigh that “sadness and anger” have guided a lot of your songwriting, but the songs on Tourist feel optimistic and somehow content even in their darker moments. Is this an intentional shift on this album or do you feel there’s always been some level of contentment in each of your records?
Allison Crutchfield: Wow, I don’t know! I feel like this record is so depressing. [laughs]
That’s good to hear though because I definitely feel a little more content now, maybe more so than I did making this record. Maybe it’s been there all along, but I don’t really ever see myself being content. I’m such a weird perfectionist. Like, I’m always very goal-oriented, always lacking satisfaction in a lot of ways. That’s really interesting though; I like that you said that.
It was written in a time where I was very, very depressed. I was stressed, touring a lot, traveling, not taking care of myself in a lot of ways, so I don’t think of it as being [optimistic], so that’s interesting. There’s definitely some songs where I’m looking on the brighter side and things are kinda looking up, but it felt like I was embracing being at a really low point. Like, allowing myself to be really down and sort of work through things from the ground up. I guess, in that way, the record is a little about me feeling okay about being as fuckin’ sad as I was. [laughs]
AP: I mean, I definitely should clarify that I picked up that this must’ve also been an emotionally exhausting record to write, but the music almost deceives that in how upbeat it gets.
AC: I definitely think that comes from being such a big fan of pop music. There will always be some kind of pop sensibility in everything that I put out there; it’s such a big part of how I write and listen to music to a point that it’s almost embarrassing. Like, I have a hard time getting into music that doesn’t have some pop element or isn’t super catchy. It’s something I feel a little nerdy about; like, I have a hard time getting into noise or hardcore, which is definitely something a lot of my friends are into and I like to an extent. It always has to some kind of pop element to grab me though.
AP: Who are some pop songwriters or artists that you really latch to?
AC: Ooh… I tend to love more underground pop writers like Matthew Sweet, who I started listening to before I started making this record. I love Rose Melberg and every band she’s been in obviously… y’know, stuff that’s more indie pop, but I also love more mainstream pop. Everything that Dev Hynes [Blood Orange] does, like all of his projects and everything that he produces. I fucking love the new Solange record so much. I was a huge fan of 1989, the Taylor Swift record, unabashedly. I think it can get really all over the place.
AP: I definitely get the “all over the place” mindset. The sung intro to “Broad Daylight” felt kinda awesomely unexpected in that sense, especially with how the rest of the song is just this massive pop song. Was that always how the song and album was going to begin?
AC: Actually, no. “Broad Daylight” was written completely separate of that. Honestly, the whole record was finished when that intro was added. We went back in to mix it and we went back in to add that a cappella part because it was a loose idea that I had always had in terms of an intro for the record. I tried it a lot of different ways, but it was always really stripped down or a cappella. While we were in the studio, I kinda got this weird idea and wrote those lyrics as a callback to the song “The Marriage” on side B. It was one of the days that my sister was around when I was making the record, so I got her to sing it with me. We recorded it standing next to each other, which was really cool.
I felt like the record needed some kind of introduction, but also a callback to later in the record. I wanted to tie it together a little bit further and I’m happy with how that turned out being so last minute.
AP: Speaking on Katie and frequent collaborators, I really loved the sentiment of “friend-muses” that you used to describe Sam [Cook-Parrott]’s involvement on Lean In To It. What were some of the friend-muses of Tourist in this Town and how did they inspire you?
AC: I mean, my sister is always a muse. My sister is always the person that is my harshest critic and biggest cheerleader. She’s the one that’s always pushing me to do and write more. Like I said earlier, doing press and promoting a record like I’ve done with this one is all new for me, so she’s been a person that I can call and talk me through it. I also think my other Waxahatchee bandmates are friend-muses. Like, Katie, Katherine Simonetti, and Ashley Arnwine… we were all on tour together all of last year, so they became a huge support system for me.
I also think this record was so different because it was written in a very solitary way. When I was making Lean In To It, Sam was way more involved. With this one, it was such a breakup record and personal statement that I would say it had to be a solitary experience.
AP: For sure. As a musician that tours regularly in multiple bands each year, are there certain places that feel more like home to you?
AC: I mean, when I’m in Birmingham, [Alabama], that’s always nice. We always make sure we take a day off there. I love to stay a few days in Grand Rapids, especially when Sam [Cook-Parrott]’s on tour with us because that’s where he’s from and his family’s really wonderful. And I know the song just came out, but I love California. I love being in the Bay and Los Angeles… really, the whole West Coast is nice. There’s a lot of friends, a lot of places we go back to a million times out there… my favorite places are usually someone else’s home we get to relax in for a little while.
AP: I feel like the video for “Dean’s Room” really touches on the album’s sentiments of finding home in other places and, specifically, the feeling of anxiousness in your own surroundings. With this being the first music video under your solo project, how was the process of working on this video?
AC: It was kind of insane! It was incredible and fun, but totally wild for me. In all the Waxahatchee videos and any of the other videos I’ve done, I’ve never been a part of a video that was that much of a production. Everyone that worked on it was really excited; I flew out to Portland to make it and my friend Marley Cook-Parrott, who is Sam’s sister actually, is the dancer in the video.
AP: Whoa, no way!
AC: Yeah! We flew out together and didn’t know what to expect! Laura Gallagher, who made the video, is just so talented and I couldn’t have asked for someone who is more supportive and incredible. It was a little stressful at first, but I got the hang of it with her help. I really wanna make another video with her!
AP: I especially liked how some of the elements in the video could tie in with the album cover like the white dress. The cover itself almost reminds me of an image on a votive candle with the rays around you… what were some of the visual inspirations for that?
AC: I think that was definitely a part of Maggie, the graphic designer who helped me make the cover’s vision. It definitely was a part, maybe not the full vision, but a part of it. It’s funny because that shot really wasn’t my first choice. I really had to be talked into it because everyone else who saw the photos was like, “this is the cover” and I was like, “alright, I accept that.”
AP: [laughs] There’s definitely something that could be said with having such an exalted-looking image as your cover considering the influence you and your sister have had on the DIY community over the past decade. Would you say “DIY role model” is something you embrace with this album cover?
AC: I dunno! I never thought of [the cover] that way! We’ve been so fortunate to have so many incredible fans and it’s something I don’t take lightly. I guess I don’t really think of myself that way if that makes sense. I feel so much that I’m still figuring it out in so many ways! [laughs]
That being said, I’m so grateful that I’ve gotten to do all the things I get to do and that there are so many people that, quote-unquote, “look up” to me or Katie. It’s really incredible and I’m so appreciative.
AP: Absolutely. Last question: If there was a candle of yourself with a message or quote of affirmation, what would be written on it?
AC: [laughs] Ooh, I’m not sure… “don’t read the comments,” maybe? I’d have to think about it.
AP: I think we all need to follow “don’t read the comments” more this year.
AC: I do too! It’s good advice I don’t always follow. Today, I’m definitely trying to!
If you’re excited to see Allison Crutchfield and The Fizz plus Radiator Hospital and Pinkwash (duh, of course you are), but haven’t scooped up tickets yet, we potentially have you covered! Fill out our ticket giveaway form below to enter to win a pair of tickets to the show!