Philadelphia songwriter creates bold solo debut out of band and relationship breakups

For the first time, Allison Crutchfield is in control.

After years of secondary or co-leading roles in bands, Crutchfield wrote and arranged an album — recent Merge Records release Tourist in This Town — under her own name.

“I love being creatively in control. I love being able to sit down, write a song, fully arrange it, add harmonies, subtract stuff and really just build something on my own,” Crutchfield said recently by phone, calling from “my boyfriend's sister's boyfriend's bedroom” in Oakland, Calif. “It felt so good and so satisfying to have this really clear vision of what I wanted and then be able to make it.”

Crutchfield is an Alabama native who formed high school band the Ackleys with her twin sister, Katie. The pair followed that project with pop-punk band P.S. Eliot, and then Katie went on to form Waxahatchee while Allison founded Swearin' with her guitarist boyfriend Kyle Gilbride.

When Gilbride and Crutchfield's romantic relationship ended in 2015, so did Swearin', but just two months after the breakup, Crutchfield joined Waxahatchee on tour.

“I was on tour pretty much the whole year. Touring is not easy for me. I have a lot of mental health stuff that is definitely sparked by being gone, and it can be really difficult for me on a good day, so it was really, really hard to be on tour while I was going through these breakups,” Crutchfield said. “Also, for the first American tour, my ex was doing front of house [duties] for Waxahatchee, so we were on tour together. It was really bad. I was feeling like absolute garbage, and just more down than I'd ever been.”

To help cope, Crutchfield began fantasizing about the solo record she wanted to make. It became the object into which she could channel her thoughts and energy and creativity. “When we were in Europe, I'd listen to the demos over and over again and take notes on them,” she said.

After returning home to Philadelphia, Crutchfield recorded Tourist in This Town with Jeff Zeigler, who bathed Crutchfield's confessional lyrics in a wash of analog synthesizers. Throughout the album, Crutchfield wrestles with endings, and she doesn't let herself off the hook. “I'm so narcissistic, I want you to be obsessed with me,” she sings on the meditative “Sightseeing.”

“I'm the type of person who walks into a room and everyone knows how I feel. … I'm obviously a little bit of an over-sharer. I love pure openness. I think that's something that, for better or worse, comes across on this record,” she said. “It was important for there to be moments on the record where I'm like, ‘Yeah, I'm fucking everything up, and I need everybody to know that a lot of this was my fault.' I think I was reckoning with that, and I can't exclude that. It's the truth.”