Who Are…Swearin’

Patrick Rapa

By Patrick Rapa

on 11.06.13 in Who Is...?s

File under: Neat, sweet, noisy guitar pop

For fans of: The Breeders, The Get Up Kids, and Built To Spill

From: Brooklyn/Philly/Alabama

Personae: Allison Crutchfield (guitar, vocals), Kyle Gilbride (guitar, vocals), Keith Spencer (bass), Jeff Bolt (drums)

Twin sisters Allison and Katie Crutchfield first turned heads in Alabama junior high pop-punk band P.S. Elliott and kept them spinning in lo-fi Brooklyn duo Bad Banana. But it’s worth noting that their current, most lauded and longest-running musical endeavors a) sound like none of the above and b) enlist only one twin per act.

Katie’s over there doing shimmering acoustic folk under the name Waxahatchee. Allison’s fronting the double-caf, four-on-the-floor rock band Swearin’. And while the two can’t seem to stop living together and touring together for too long, they are not, at this present moment, playing together.

Up until recently, both twins (along with most of Swearin’) shared a big ol’ house in West Philly, writing music, recording music, taking out the trash, etc. At the time I spoke to Allison on the phone, the band was suffering through the calm before the storm of a three-month tour across Europe and the U.S. Their stuff was in storage and everybody was scattered: Allison and her bandmate/boyfriend Kyle Gilbride were living with his mom in New York. Bassist Keith Spencer crashed with the fam on Long Island. Drummer Jeff Bolt hid out in Philly.

Sitting on a Brooklyn rooftop, Allison sounded so relaxed she didn’t know what to do with herself. The dates were booked. The transport was arranged. After a year playing only local shows, Swearin’ was ready to drop their second record, Surfing Strange — the follow-up to last year’s self-titled debut — and reintroduce itself to the world.

This new record’s dynamite, the sound of a band that’s found its purpose: soft verses blooming into lush choruses, heavy strums coupled with wandering-soul vocals, a little fleck of gorgeousness under every rock and in every crack. “Dust in the Gold Sack” sounds like a hit from another time, until you remember some of the best old bands it reminds you of — Velocity Girl, Superchunk — weren’t exactly hitmakers. Anyway, all the ’90s comparisons will only get you so far with this band. Swearin’ sounds like here and now. Allison’s proud of the music she made with her sister and she’s also proud of ending those bands when she did.

“I used to always use this comparison, and now I can’t anymore which is a bummer, but I used to always say that I loved the way the Pixies put out their albums and then when they were done they were just done,” she says. “Then they did, like, a reunion tour and now they’re putting out a new record, and they’re terrible.”

She sighs. “I like that grace of being able to acknowledge when you’re done with something, because the worst thing about some of my favorite bands is that they didn’t do that, or they don’t do that, and they just can’t be done with something and they want to keep it going. There’s a certain beauty in just, like, acknowledging the end. I’ve always been a little wary of that, and my sister is, too.”

On being a twin:

We don’t have superpowers. People ask us that all the time — if we can, like, read each other’s minds, or if one of us gets hurt the other one gets hurt, something like that. I do feel like we’re very in tune with each other obviously, very in tune with each other’s emotions, but we’re not the Wonder Twins.

On playing in a band with her boyfriend:

Our relationship is kind of compartmentalized — as compartmentalized as it can be. Kyle and I, as musicians, really understand each other. We’ve been playing music since we started dating, so I feel like it’s a completely different aspect of our relationship. I think that’s why it works.

On touring with/opening for Julie Ruin:

Like getting to meet some of my heroes. The shows were all amazing, just very positive. A dream come true.

On her rock idols:

Kathleen Hanna’s certainly one of them, politically. And especially after meeting her, I think she’s amazing. Kim Deal is a huge role model of mine, too. Mary Timony is a goddess. She started following us on Twitter and it was a good day for me.

On her rock peers:

Screaming Females. They’ve done everything super DIY and they’ve really stuck to their guns, which I find impressive, especially for being a band that’s been doing it a really long time. They’ve done a lot of really cool stuff and they’ve stayed punk. They’re friends of mine now and they’ve definitely helped us in a lot of ways. We’ve gone to them for advice.

On Riot Grrrl:

I’m 24, so when I got into Riot Grrrl it had been over for 10 years. I had heard about Bikini Kill and looked them up, and thus got into all the other Riot Grrrl bands like Bratmobile and LiLiPUT. Just looking at how it happened with me, I feel like that’s just one of many tiny little punk infrastructures that I became really invested in. I think pretty much all the millennial bands are the same way. I got into all the different bands because I had the means [the internet] to do so.

On coming up in the punk/DIY scene in Birmingham, Alabama:

There was a really amazing all-ages venue there for many years called Cave 9 where we [my sister Katie and I] played all of our first shows. We volunteered there, so we learned how to book shows and run door and run sound. The founder Aaron Hamilton, when Katie and I started our first band, kind of took us under his wing, — ’cause we were 14 or 15 and never had played shows and never had gone on tour — and he taught us how to be in a band. He took us on our first tour and he released our first record. That venue, and Aaron specifically — if we hadn’t found them, we would not have learned. I owe a lot of what I do now to him and to that venue.

On becoming a young feminist in the south:

Our feminist ideals were really starting to set in, and we were starting to learn more about feminist theory and — because we were were pretty outspoken, and had been playing shows at that point for three or four years, and people knew our bands and stuff in Birmingham — I think when we started to shift into that whole realm, it’s not that it was unwelcome but it was definitely mocked a little bit and — Uh, it was kind of unwelcome. Or we felt that way.

On leaving the south:

I try to get my friends, when they go on tour, to go through Birmingham, but at the time when we first started making music, Katie and I were some of the only women involved. … And that felt, at first, normal and then became — after we started touring and we started meeting a lot of different people, and our political ideas were forming in our young brains, it started to feel — we started to feel very isolated. … Birmingham will always be my home. I think a lot of that feeling of isolation is in my own brain, but I do love the northeast.