By Rob Rubsam for Tom Tom Magazine
Allison Crutchfield has been playing music for a long time. Along with her twin Katie, Crutchfield has been a fixture of the DIY underground. She has been drumming in P.S. Eliot for a good many years, who set the tone for a melodic-punk boom that has only begun to peek its head up into bigger press outlets like The Atlantic and The New York Times. In recent years Allison has been making dissonant pop punk in Swearin’, for whom she plays guitar and sings. We went back and forth over email for a couple months about her origins as a musician, coming to punk, and what’s next.
Tom Tom Magazine: What are some of your earliest musical memories? Did you start on an instrument young, or did you not come to playing music till your teens?
Allison Crutchfield: I first started singing and playing piano in elementary school. I’ve sort of always been into the performing arts in some form or another and at a younger age that manifested itself in dance, choir, and musical theatre. As I got older, I started to become obsessed with alternative music and once my sister Katie started to play guitar and writing songs, I knew that we absolutely had to start a band and because I was sure we would be able to find someone to play bass, I would be the drummer. So at 14, after months of begging and playing along to songs on my legs and pillows, my parents bought me a drum set off of EBay. And Katie and I played together everyday after school for about 6 months before we ever played in front of people.
What was that first band experience like?
It was so fun! Looking back it feels almost like a teen movie. We had no real ambitions and no contacts and all we wanted was to play together as much as possible. The idea that we could actually play shows or make a demo was so genuinely exciting. At first we called ourselves the Glowworms but changed our name to the Ackleys before we ever played a show. We started out playing like straight up Guided by Voices rip off pop but sort of got a little more intricate as time went on and we learned our instruments.
Did you have any formative influences or experiences, good or bad, in your local scene that affected how you conducted yourself?
It’s funny because Katie and I never went to a proper punk ‘show’ until we were 15 and we were playing our first show! So we kind of dove right in to the Birmingham DIY scene that night. We played that (and most of our shows for the next 4 years) at an amazing all-ages space called Cave9. Because we were so young and didn’t really know how to tour or release a record, our friend Aaron Hamilton (who was the founder and main promoter of Cave9) sort of took us under his wing and showed us how to be in a DIY band. There were always women involved in the scene in Birmingham but at the beginning, there really weren’t a lot of female musicians starting bands in our community. Birmingham had always been predominantly the type of hard core that thrived on male camaraderie, which I find isolating now but at the time, I didn’t really know anything else. Then I went on tour. And started playing shows with amazing touring bands like Lemuria and The Soviettes and reading Doris and slowly developing my own politics based on my experiences. I feel like my feminist beliefs have been evolving over the last 10 years and kind of directly correlate with playing in bands.
Who were some musicians that had an impact on your band, as well as you as a musician and a drummer?
Katie and I were obsessed with Guided by Voices from the beginning. They were wild and learned to play their instruments as they went along and made amazing pop songs and recorded everything themselves. It was all super inspiring. “Teenage FBI” was one of the first songs we learned to play together. Also Bikini Kill, the Pixies, And Nirvana were huge for us. We also loved more contemporary bands like Rilo Kiley and The Strokes. Fabrizio Moretti’s drumming really influenced me when I was starting to play. And Maureen Tucker from the Velvet Underground. Aside from those two, Tobi Vail, Sara Lund, Pete Thomas, Mike Felumlee, and Janet Weiss are probably my top 5 favorite drummers.
At what point did P.S. Eliot come together?
Katie and I started PS Eliot right before we turned 19. I remember that it was then specifically because our friends from the So So Glos had just visited us right before Christmas and we started the band right after they left (our birthday is in January). The Ackleys weren’t really playing anymore because we were all in school and doing other things so we decided that we needed to start a band just so we could go on tour and hang out as much a possible. We taught our friend Katie to play bass and I picked up drums again and we wrote 2 songs, recorded them, put them on the Internet, and started booking a tour.
How did you come to record and release the Bike Wreck Demo?
We had only played like 2 shows when we decided to record that demo. At that point, we had a new bass player named Reena Upadhyay and were gearing up for our first tour. We recorded it in 2 or 3 afternoons on a little 8-track that was shared among many bands in Birmingham with each of us taking turns to hold the mic up because we didn’t have any stands. Katie mixed everything in Garage Band and we burned copies on to CD-Rs and made shitty artwork with pastel spray paint. Once it was finished Katie posted it on the Internet and mailed copies to our friends who lived far away. It felt like a bit of a rite of passage for me because it was the first recording I played drums on. I’m very attached to that demo.
You all moved to Brooklyn after awhile, right?
Yeah Katie and I did. Before that I had moved to Tennessee after a crazy 2-month tour so we were doing the band long distance for a while. I also started writing songs while I was up there so Katie and I decided to make a side project called Bad Banana, which is what we were mostly working on when we moved to New York.
Was that before, after or around the time of Introverted Romantic?
That was after. We recorded Introverted when we were all living in Alabama. Sadie was recorded when I lived in Tennessee. PS didn’t record anything new after Katie and I moved away.
So was that the time when Swearin’ started?
Swearin’ started right as PS was breaking up. And a few months after Bad Banana stopped playing. Kyle and I wanted to start a band together and had a couple of songs recorded. I sent those to Keith who I met because he was playing bass in a band called Big Eyes that was touring with PS Eliot. The 3 of us started playing together a bit and then asked Jeff Bolt to play drums because he had just moved from Michigan to Philadelphia
How soon after you formed did the S/T get recorded?
We actually recorded the s/t twice! The first time was when we were on our first tour in March, which was about 5 months after we started playing together. We weren’t really happy with how that turned out, mostly because it was super rushed and was recorded while we were out on the road and had serious deadlines. I think we rerecorded in early May? I can’t remember exactly but it was maybe a month after we got home.
What is it like playing guitar most of the time instead of the drums? Do you think you have a different ‘presence’ now?
At first the biggest difference was definitely my level of comfort. Drumming was second nature and I’d only been playing guitar for a year or so when we started Bad Banana. I’ve definitely gained the confidence that comes with doing and practicing a lot of anything but I still don’t totally trust myself with guitar like I do with drums.
Do you find time to play drums now, even if you only play guitar in bands?
I do a little bit. I’ve been playing drums in a band with my sister and friend Keith Spencer called Great Thunder, which I love. I don’t play as much as I would like to unfortunately.
How did Great Thunder get started?
Great Thunder is a project my sister Katie and her partner Keith started a few months ago as a side project. They have a rotating rhythm section but I have been playing drums for them live.
Is it at all different playing with Katie after a couple years out of P.S. Eliot?
No not really. Playing music with Katie always feels so natural because we learned to play together. I’m more comfortable playing around her than anyone else.
What’s in the future of any of your acts?
Swearin’ is currently just writing and demoing for our next record. I think the plan is to record this summer and release another album before the end of the year and we’re playing some shows here and there. And Great Thunder is going on a short tour in July!
Alright, just one more to close it out: any advice to other drummers, female and otherwise?
Learn how to play with other people who are learning to play their instruments! If that’s not an option, practice while listening to bands you like in headphones. I feel like mimicking other drummers was really helpful in the beginning. Also try to become really familiar with tuning, drum maintenance and equipment stuff from very get-go. It’s an important part of being a musician and will only make your life easier as you progress!