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Feature:

When the Light Flickers and Fades

Allison Crutchfield on loss, self-love and personal style

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words by sammy maine

“I get off the mattress on the floor.”

The first line from Allison Crutchfield’s “Dean’s Room” signals a certain strength; an optimistic attempt at moving on when all you want to do is hide away from the world. And it’s that optimism that filters through her debut LP Tourist In This Town – a “feminist break-up record” that is unashamedly raw and often overwhelming in its sadness but it’s through this candid approach that an unequivocal hopefulness arises. It proves there’s life after the death of everything you once knew, even if it takes you a little while to get there.

“There was a fearlessness that came along with feeling as raw as I did,” she explains ahead of the album’s release. “I wanted to write down exactly how I was feeling without thinking about the repercussions or thinking about how anybody else would take it or how it would affect anybody else, which was good and bad in retrospect. But I’m really proud of that; I think I was really able to tap into this fearless place. I was very very upset and low and just really struggling with my mental health but I was not ashamed of it and I fully acknowledged it and I think I just embraced that feeling in order to write this record, which I’m proud of. I feel like I was able to tap into something that I haven’t before, as a writer.”

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Crutchfield had been in a relationship since her early twenties and through its demise – and the subsequent break-up of Swearin’ – she, understandably, found herself a little lost. “It was definitely a pretty major low point for me and writing the record was certainly me coping with all of this change,” she adds. “I didn’t feel like I had anything left when those things fell apart; I didn’t know what the fuck to do. I had to move out of the house I was living in and I had to scramble and cope and figure out everything; I was kind of couch surfing with my sister [Katie Crutchfield] and at the time she was living with Cleo from Girlpool and thankfully, they took me in and took care of me.”

Through this jarring alteration of her surroundings and her relationships, Crutchfield was forced to look at herself and the world around her with a fresh perspective. Describing herself as a person who finds it hard to deal with change, she says going through the year 2015 moulded her into someone who can adapt a little bit better, proving herself to be a little braver than she had previously thought. However, being on tour during this time of change and retrospect proved difficult. “I had this person that I saw and spoke to every day for five years and then they became this weird ghost. It really felt like I had lost this person. I was on tour for 10 months of that year and travelling all over the world and it was wonderful and fun but also it got pretty dark. It really was a dark time for me.”

But through this darkness emerged an LP that sees Crutchfield fully come into her own; Tourist In This Town is sonically and lyrically fearless. In all its emotional candour, it’s a record that serves as a friend when you need it most and proves Crutchfield as an artist that can evolve her sound without losing the approach that made her resolutely and wonderfully distinctive in the first place. “I always knew from the get-go with this record that I wanted it to be big and I knew that I wanted it to be varied and I wanted there to be a lot of different kinds of songs but for them to all fit together, which was the main goal sonically and I think that we did a good job,” she says. “It was really incredible working with Jeff [Zeigler]; I just absolutely adore him. It was interesting because I didn’t really know him very well going into the studio, I had only met him once before we started. He just really got it; I was able to trust him. I want to make every record I ever make from this one forth with him, that’s how I’m feeling. It was that good of an experience.”

The first two singles from Tourist in this Town – “Dean’s Room” and “I Don’t Ever Wanna Leave California” – were presented with videos that above all, showed Crutchfield’s sense of style. While on tour last year, her tour van was broken into, with the thieves taking not one but two suitcases of Crutchfield’s clothes. As someone who is so passionate about fashion – and someone who was already going through a hard time – this was a difficult blow for Crutchfield to process. “I’m a person who needs a certain amount of routine in my life and when you’re on tour, you don’t really get that so part of the little tiny routines that I set for myself when I’m on tour is getting to the venue and picking out an outfit to wear when I play and changing into it, yknow, organising it.”

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“It was something that I truly never imagined would happen but in some ways, it was a good thing because it had made me come home and go through everything that I have. It’s made me feel like I can detach from material things a little bit that I maybe would have been afraid to otherwise but that said, I also am like, still feeling a little lost from it and feel like when I’m trying to get dressed that it’s taking me a really long time and I’m feeling really self conscious about it.

“It was two suitcases that got stolen. It was a lot of stuff. It was all my favourites. I usually bring a suitcase of stage clothes and a suitcase of van clothes on tour, I have both and keep them separate and that was the one day that they were both in the van. It’s been tricky but I feel like I’m slowly rebuilding; it really has changed the way I think about my wardrobe in a lot of ways. I think that I’m really trying to get back to basics a little bit and really only keep the things that I wear regularly. In some ways, it’s changed the way I think about my clothes, a little.”

Crutchfield says her style has always been the same since she was a teenager. While most of us grimace at the thought of Facebook memories popping up with a particularly bad outfit from 2004, she says she’s mostly into what she wore as a teenager; “I think I’ve been influenced by the same things stylistically for a long time,” she says. “It’s not completely rooted in music. Honestly a lot of it is rooted more in movies and in street style but there are definitely a few musicians who are the obvious style icons for me.

“I went through a big phase where I was super into the British mod look and I think that that’s still something that’s really influential for me but then also I love like a very brightly coloured, 80s, sort of ‘Heathers’ blazer look. I wear so many blazers and trench coats and weird monochrome. It varies. It goes anywhere from my favourite movies to a complete music subculture to specific people. It’s very fluid and there are definitely weird influences and then there’s just what I like to wear.”

0008598378_10Personal style is an important tool for people. As Crutchfield continues, she explains that although it may be a frivolous aspect to some, it’s a detail of her identity that allows her to care for herself and to express herself in a way that she may not be able to otherwise. “It is such a huge part of who I am and how I want to present myself to the world. For me, it’s like staying hydrated. More than anything, it affects my mood; that’s the main key. It can make me feel a lot better about myself at any given moment. When you’re touring as much as I do, I feel like you develop these little tricks and these little ways to make yourself instantly feel a little bit more stylish. I think those are really important to come up with too. For me, if I’m feeling really gross, I’ll just put lipstick on and if I put a weird lipstick on I instantly feel like any outfit I have on looks instantly cooler.”

“It’s something I’ve definitely had to develop over the years of touring so much,” she continues. “It’s a way to really instantly improve the way that I’m feeling about myself. You really run yourself ragged, I mean, you don’t sleep enough, you drink too much, you don’t drink enough water, you don’t eat right, you’re just like really exhausting yourself. It’s definitely a way in which I can make myself feel a little more grounded, in a weird way.”

This aspect of self-care has also allowed her to let go of items that no longer fit her – “like, ‘no, I’m just going to donate this to somebody who it will fit and just be happy in how I am’” – that has allowed a self-love to flourish. “I think that self-love and self-care is something I’ve really learned in the last couple of years after all the events that eventually led to me writing this record.”

Crutchfield worked with a stylist for the first time on the “Dean’s Room” video – “I was pretty upfront with the director and the stylist; there was a stylist there but I am going to be picking the clothes” – and as the “I Don’t Ever Want To Leave California” was such a last minute decision, Crutchfield saw the clothes as a way of adding a splash of colour to the visuals. “They both were definitely fun to style. The “Dean’s Room” video sometimes makes me sad to watch because there’s a couple of things I’m wearing in that that got stolen. At the end, I’m wearing these really great high-waisted pants and they’re no longer with me. It was really a bummer; those pants, I am the saddest about because it took me forever to find those pants because they fit so well!”

While her personal style may not have been at the forefront of her previous projects, it’s always been a huge part of her performance. “It’s a new territory for me as a person who has been performing for a long time. This has always been a huge part the creative person that I am so it’s nice to be in a position now where I get to present that in a more overt way.”

Tourist in this Town is presented with a simple photo and although Crutchfield isn’t wearing one of her signature blazers, this stripped-back showcased of her personal style echoes the vulnerability heard throughout the record. “It’s funny talking about what I’m wearing on the cover because it’s just this nightgown that I had that I just really liked the way it looked. I’m always really into a wrap dress – it’s something that I find really flattering – and the moment I saw it, I just thought that I wanted to wear it on the cover.”

Crutchfield’s friend Jesse Riggins took the photo, with Merge in-house designer Maggie Frost adding the rays. And as Crutchfield concludes, it ended up serving as the perfect metaphor for the album’s content. “Something about that was just really beautiful and I think it was really emblematic of what I was saying about it being this feminist break-up record; the city looking like it’s on fire and me appearing strong and stark. It turned out really beautifully and I’m so happy with how it came out.”

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“Tourist in This Town” is released on February 3rd, via Merge Records

Order the album here

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