Allison Crutchfield's journey from fronting punk/garage rock bands into a burgeoning solo pop career was a slow and steady process that culminated in her debut solo studio album "Tourist in This Town," released on the venerated Merge Records this year.
The Birmingham, Ala., native emerged out of the DIY punk scene of her hometown behind several different projects. She co-founded P.S. Eliot with her twin sister Kate, then formed the now-defunct Swearin', the most prolific of her bands. The indie-punk/garage rock quartet put out two studio albums and an EP.
"It's been kind of a slow process," Crutchfield said. "At this point it's been a solid four or five years since I've written anything in that group dynamic. It's been a really, really slow process, but it's been really gratifying and really fun. Obviously, any time you do something yourself, for yourself, it's indulgent and it's exciting. It's been really positive."
"Tourist in This Town" opens with an ethereal vocal solo from Crutchfield, broadcasting her declaration as a newly minted solo artist. The perennial distorted rock guitars of her work with Swearin' have all but disappeared, with synthesizers taking their place and the occasional acoustic guitar helming a ballad.
It's a powerful and audacious solo debut for an artist who has spent the majority of her career co-writing songs with a rock band and in her solo work has dramatically retooled her sound. Crutchfield has formulated an entirely new identity, but perhaps not dramatically enough to ostracize previous fans.
"When I made this record, that's exactly what I needed," Crutchfield said. "Something about that is so satisfying. A big difference was bringing a song to a group of people and having them change it, or give their input. As opposed to having something that's unfiltered. This is an un-doctored feeling that I have, that I made into a song. I definitely like doing both. Right now, it's all about the solo stuff."
Five tracks into "Tourist in This Town" and you venture 30 years back in music. "Dean's Room" could have helmed any number of John Hughes films behind the upbeat 4/4 drums and long-tone synth notes, denoting a heavy '80s pop influence that's ever present on the album. The upbeat tracks are just as brawny as the quieter ballads, painting a complete picture of a dynamic and talented musician breaking out on her own.
The foundation for Crutchfield's debut solo album was built on a 2014 solo EP, "Lean In To It," released the same year Swearin' dropped their final EP. "Lean In To It" highlighted her new direction into synthesizer-based pop music.
"I construct on different things for sure," Crutchfield said of solo songwriting. "I don't necessarily think the songwriting process has changed. The only thing that really changed was that while I was in the middle of it, I knew I wasn't going to have to bring this to a band. Knowing that the end product was just for me, or just for me to sing, and arrange, gave me a different feeling that I didn't have with Swearin' or other bands.
"This project has always been a synth-based project. Although some of the songs were written on guitar or are guitar-driven, there is synth on everything. Knowing that was helpful. Knowing that it was going to be something different was great. I think of it as a synth project in a certain sense. But it's also just a pop project. It's just pop music."
After signing with Merge Records, Crutchfield had a basic idea of the direction for her solo debut, but still required help filling in the gaps. For a project based mostly on synthesizer, there is probably no one better she could have turned to than Jeff Zeigler, the so-called "synth-whisperer."
Zeigler's credits are vast. Dating back to the early 2000s, he's produced and engineered records for The War on Drugs, Strands of Oak, Kurt Vile, Steve Gunn and Nothing, to name just a few.
"It was great! He's the best," Crutchfield said of Zeigler. "I've described him a couple of times as Bob Ross-esque. He's definitely like a Bob Ross engineer. He's a very low-key expert. He's very humble, but just knows his stuff.
"He's so positive and calm. He's exactly the person I needed to make this record. He immediately got what I was going for. He could see this vision before we had really done much, when we just had demos. He really helped me fill in the blanks a lot, which is exactly what you need when you're making your first solo record."
Crutchfield tours with a complete four-piece band, working to recreate the sound of her album as closely as possible. But given her background and venue for Savannah Stopover (The Jinx), the live show could teeter more toward a rock concert than a pop show.
"It's kind of like a rock band with keyboards," Crutchfield said. "We try to make it as much like the record as possible, but I don't ever want to play with backing tracks or anything. I need it to be kind of a live energy."
Midnight March 10
The Jinx, 127 W. Congress St.