Q&A: Swearin’ Discuss Making Music With Friends And Their New Album Surfing Strange
It was only just a year ago that Band To Watch Swearin’ — featuring the prodigious talents of former P.S. Eliot band member Allison Crutchfield — released their excellent self-titled debut album. For fans of P.S. Eliot (in which Crutchfield played opposite her twin sister, Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield) the excellent Swearin’ not only helped soften the blow of P.S. Eliot’s demise, but it also let the world know just what kind of excellent songwriter — and super compelling performer — Allison Crutchfield had become. Next month the band returns with Surfing Strange, a sophomore album that ups the ante in terms of hooks and ’90s indie-rock fuzziness in all the best ways possible. I caught up with Crutchfield — along with guitarist Kyle Gilbride and drummer Jeff Bolt — to chat about Swearin’s evolving band dynamics and Crutchfield’s new musical life which, nicely enough, pretty much just involves hanging out with everyone from her old musical life.
STEREOGUM: How did things change after the last record came out?
CRUTCHFIELD: I don’t know — for us I don’t really feel like life changed all that much … though, we did move to Philly so we’re all closer together — I feel like it was probably, our relationship is less restricted as a band. We weren’t a band for very long when we made that record. I don’t know, you guys?
STEREOGUM: Were you surprised by the reaction to that record?
CRUTCHFIELD: Yeah … yeah! We just made a record and people liked it.
GILBRIDE: Yeah it was more of a thing like … well, we’d all made records before and done tours and stuff, but this got more of a reaction than anything else we’d ever done before. It was nice, but still … it’s not like it changed how we operated. We probably would have done the same thing regardless: come home and make another record.
STEREOGUM: That record had really long legs. I remember it coming out and it seemed like a quiet thing … but then enthusiasm for it sort of steadily grew.
CRUTCHFIELD: Yeah it was really exciting; it was nice that people really liked it.
STEREOGUM: So was the process for this new record different?
CRUTCHFIELD: I think that the first record, we recorded it in full while we were on tour and we scrapped it. We didn’t like the way it sounded, we weren’t happy with it — we were just very rushed.
GILBRIDE: We recorded it with a friend of ours in Michigan when we were on tour and we did it in like, a weekend. It was just a little crazy and we were in Michigan with a lot of buddies and we were hungover a lot of the time … so, it just didn’t go great. It was a lot of bad –
CRUTCHFIELD: Just a lot of bad vibes! And when we listened to it we could hear that, but at that point –
GILBRIDE: We sounded tired.
CRUTCHFIELD: — we already set a time where we needed the record to be finished, and we were like: “Well, shit we’ll just go and re-record it ourselves.” It was also kind of rushed but it was a lot more comfortable — whereas with this new one, we kind of had like a similar deadline, we had A LOT more time to kind of sit and stew. It still wasn’t very much time, but it wasn’t a weekend.
CRUTCHFIELD: And on the first record, all of the songs were finished, with this one, they weren’t necessarily finished and totally together .
BOLT: I just feel like with the first record when we recorded it was kind of at the beginning of the tour and a lot of the songs were still really new — over the course of that tour we would probably have the moment where we were like “Oh let’s do this song this way instead!” So that was nice. It helped us get a feel for the material.
CRUTCHFIELD: Yeah, it wound up being kind of perfect doing a practice run, and then –
GILBRIDE: A very expensive practice run.
CRUTCHFIELD: A very expensive — well, it really wasn’t that expensive at all but … we were able to go back and record the songs again in a better version.
STEREOGUM: That is great, that’s kind of a luxury that bands don’t often get.
CRUTCHFIELD: Yeah, and it was funny, too, because Kyle — when we started this band Kyle was very anti-recording our band.
GILBRIDE: I didn’t want to record.
CRUTCHFIELD: And now, I think that’s all we’ll ever do — record ourselves.
STEREOGUM: Why? What changed about it?
GILBRIDE: I didn’t feel like I would ever be satisfied with what I did with it — so then I thought that putting it into someone else’s hands would make me focus on just playing on it and make my thought process a little cleaner. I just didn’t really want recordings. We did it with our friends and we were listening to it and I was like, “I could do this and I could do that” and then I just had all of these ideas and then we got home and I was like okay I can just do it and we did it kind of haphazardly — recorded the drums in Philly and the guitar in Queens — we recorded the bass last cause we were on tour. It was kind of crazy, but all together it happened a lot better. And then I decided I liked it. The biggest thing is I think everybody is a lot more comfortable expressing their ideas when it’s just us doing it together instead of having another person involved — maybe it’s not the most objective way of making a record, but it’s definitely the most relaxed, comfortable way for people to offer their opinions — and I’m happy to do it, now. I think I had a little bit of a control freak issue after I didn’t do it and I wanted to gather it together and give it the love that I felt I could garner for it.
STEREOGUM: It’s a hard leap to make. I was talking to a band the other day that finally worked with a producer, which ended up being great, but there was a lot of fear of having someone else’s input, and what the dynamic was going to be and not wanting to offend the person if they didn’t like what they suggested. Songwriting wise — or the way that you make songs — has that changed a lot since you first started playing together?
CRUTCHFIELD: Yes and no, I think everything is a lot more collaborative now then it was when we started. I think when we started, Kyle and I had set songs that were like just written how we wrote them and now, especially with my songs on this new record, were really bare-bones and I just brought them to everybody and we all made a song together — not so much with Keith or Kyle’s songs on the record, but definitely with mine. Which is awesome, I feel like I work a lot better that way and it’s more interesting.
GILBRIDE: And the finished product always ends up being more collaborative. I think for me and Keith, the process goes — we kind of flush out the idea a lot more. I start with the core, melody but the whole band aspect of the song this round came forward a lot more of everybody — all the first round of things, like Keith’s bass parts, all the first round of things — I think everybody’s just offering their personality to things. And it sounds a lot more like four personalities than it does just one person’s vision … to my ears, at least.
STEREOGUM: At the time you guys made the first record, how long had you been a band previous to that?
CRUTCHFIELD: Like, six months or something maybe? Not too long at all. We had done a bunch — when we started the band we all made the agreement and commitment that we wanted to focus on the band and playing music together, so we’d already done a tour and we had done a bunch of shows in New York and we did a demo before we started recording the actual record.?
STEREOGUM: I know you guys have toured a ton; sometimes being on the road loosens up the dynamic of a band. That’s how you really get to know each other — by playing a million maybe not so great shows.
GILBRIDE: We were really bad at playing with each other when we first started.
CRUTCHFIELD: We were! It wasn’t like — I feel like every other band I’ve been in was so — it probably has to do with playing music with my sister and we were always very on, but with this, it took awhile to really feel like, comfortable, and that was an uneasy feeling, cause we liked the songs and we really liked playing with each other but it took us a minute to really get each other.
BOLT: I mean, I’ve known you for a while, and I knew Kyle a little bit, but I met Keith at our first practice. I rolled up and he was outside the practice space. I was like, “Hey.”
GILBRIDE: The first time that we were all in a room together was the first practice. The four of us had never actually been together in the same place –
STEREOGUM: Weird! How did it happen that way?
CRUTCHFIELD: Well, basically, Kyle and I kind of decided we wanted to start a new band together, we were on separate tours –
GILBRIDE: It was weird because we really loosely decided we wanted to start a band.
CRUTCHFIELD: It was something we had talked about for a really long time we had always made music together but we were like: “Let’s start a band.” And that came from when I was on tour with P.S. Eliot and he was on tour with Big Soda and we were texting and talking about it — like we want to do this and coming up with ideas and we both had some songs that we had been working on and my band P.S. Eliot was on tour with the Big Eyes from Seattle and Keith was playing bass with them and that’s when we started becoming friends and I mentioned to him that we were starting this band and asked if he wanted to play bass and he was like “Yeah, absolutely” and then we were thinking of someone to play drums and we weren’t really sure and we did our desperate search … it’s crazy, within any group of musicians or any scene there’s always very few drummers, they’re always few and far between.
STEREOGUM: There’s always a scarcity of drummers.
CRUTCHFIELD: Yeah, so, but we knew — I had known Jeff for a long time through touring and he’s from Grand Rapids, MI, but he had just moved to Philly — so my sister, actually, was like, “You should talk to Jeff Bolt, he’s gonna be around” and so we started talking to him and that was the scattered mess of us meeting and coming together.
GILBRIDE: it’s always that thing were you’ve gotta pounce on it also, like, you’ve got to pounce on a drummer when he’s in-between things or right when he moves to town.
CRUTCHFIELD: Yeah he had JUST moved to town and we were like, “Okay, let’s get Jeff.”
BOLT: I had been there for only a couple months and I was really bummed out that no one wanted to play music I was posting pop-up messages like: “Hey do you wanna start a band? I moved here to play music and no one wants to play music with me.”
STEREOGUM: If it took a while to suss each other out in terms of how to play together, what was it initially that made you think it was a good fit or that it would work?
CRUTCHFIELD: I think just that we all like hanging out together –
GILBRIDE: Personality wise …
CRUTCHFIELD: We weren’t really sure that — when we went to the first practice we weren’t sure that was the way it was going to be. We had worked together fine learning the songs, Keith and Kyle and I had and it wasn’t exactly what we wanted but we liked hanging out together and I feel like it was a good fit as far as our personalities from the get-go.
BOLT: Yeah, and I feel like we’re all hard to deal with in our own way –
CRUTCHFIELD: Yeah we all have very different personalities.
BOLT: I sort of felt, right off the bat, that we were on the same page more or less that we would kind of, jive, I guess.
CRUTCHFIELD: Yeah and it’s interesting, too, I think because we all, at times, have different ideas of what we want. It’s really fucking hard sometimes — but it’s always interesting.
BOLT: It’s never boring.
CRUTCHFIELD: We’re all different astrological signs too.
CRUTCHFIELD: It’s the first time I’ve ever been in a band where we are all different astrological signs. [Laughs]
STEREOGUM: I mean, so much that was written about the first record talks about how it really references the aesthetic and spirit of early ’90s indie rock. Was that even a conscious thing when you were making those songs?
CRUTCHFIELD: I don’t think so, I think — like, especially at that time — I mean, my favorite band is the Breeders, Jeff’s favorite band is Superchunk. I feel like you can still — that’s just what we like!
GILBRIDE: There’s always some weird talk about music — especially by people our age — doing what people consider the pastiche of ’90s indie rock but I think that’s just what we’re listening to — of course it’s going to be influenced by music that’s formative for us.
STEREOGUM: That makes sense.
STEREOGUM: All of you have played in a lot of other bands as well. Allison, I interviewed your sister when her record came out and a lot of our conversation ended up being about twins because there are a lot of — my brother and sister are twins, my best friend is a twin, who is married to a twin, I grew up with twins — I was surrounded by twinergy. [Laughter] So we talked about that a lot but I remember a lot of our conversation was like talking about when that band ended, the need for everyone to kind of forge their own identity and do their own thing — how was that for you?
CRUTCHFIELD: Well, P.S. Eliot, on that last tour … I knew that I didn’t want to do P.S. Eliot anymore and Katie knew she didn’t want to do P.S. Eliot anymore and it kind of came about at the same time, like “I don’t want to do this anymore, I want to do this whole other thing” — and it was a pretty smooth transition. I miss playing music with Katie but I think that as far as our main — I think doing our main musical projects separate from one another is way more productive for both of us and I also think our relationship is a lot better than it was when we were playing together — I just think it’s been a good thing.
BOLT: There’s still a lot of involvement
CRUTCHFIELD: Yeah she’s still very involved — she’s been with us the whole time we’ve been recording this record.
BOLT: I recorded the Waxahatchee record –
CRUTCHFIELD: Yeah … and we all live in the same house together. [Laughs]
BOLT: There’s a lot of exchanging of ideas.
CRUTCHFIELD: It’s been good. We do little things here and there with one another — I sometimes play drums with her and Keith’s other band Great Thunder and we both play on each other’s records so it’s definitely good and not like we’re not working together.
STEREOGUM: That’s pretty much what she said –
CRUTCHFIELD: Exactly the same?
STEREOGUM: It would be interesting though if it wasn’t — like, actually Katie said that …
CRUTCHFIELD: Actually, I hate her. [laughter]
STEREOGUM: So what will the next year or so be like for you guys? I assume you’ll be touring a lot?
CRUTCHFIELD: Yeah, we’ll be touring a bit, the next couple of months we’ll be touring a lot in Europe in October — the three of us have never been to Europe ever, so –
STEREOGUM: Really? So what’s the tour going to be like? Is it with someone else?
CRUTCHFIELD: It’s with Waxahatchee, of course! So it’s going to be great! It’s going to be really fun.
BOLT: Well the two bands have only six people all together so …
CRUTCHFIELD: And we all like, live together, so it’s going to be a fun family Euro-trip, and then we’re doing a tour after that in the U.S. and part of that is also with Waxahatchee and so it’s going to be a vacation, a really good vacation.
STEREOGUM: That’ll be fun, where are you going??
CRUTCHFIELD: We’re going all over the place — we’re going to be in the UK for a week and a half and we’re going to be in France and Germany and Belgium and Poland and Italy –
GILBRIDE: Stockholm and Norway
CRUTCHFIELD: Kind of everywhere — I don’t know what the dates are but I think we are going to all of those places.
STEREOGUM: That’ll be super fun.
GILBRIDE: We’re still making sense of the geography
CRUTCHFIELD: Which is funny because we have a giant map, one of those old school folding maps, of Europe on our living room wall … and we still don’t really know where we are going.