Illustration by Leesh Adamerovich
This article appears in AdHoc Issue 14. You can pick up a copy at AdHoc shows around NYC. If you'd like to order a copy, you can do so here for a physical edition; you can download the PDF here. You can also find physical copies at the following locations in New York City:
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Long before they broke out with their own projects, back in their Alabama hometown, Philadelphia-based twins Allison and Katie Crutchfield played in a fourpiece band called P.S. Eliot. The sisters—now known for their work with Swearin’ and Waxahatchee, respectively—had been making music together since middle school. In early 2008, just before P.S. Eliot went on tour to support their self-released debut EP, Katie wrote a blog post that seemed to sum up the band’s ethos: “We have the time and we have this sort of super-zealous, enthusiastic outlook on doing a lot with what we have right now, so why not?”
That excitement extended to the music they were making, which was raw, emotionally charged, and recorded in intense spurts. Newly formed and fresh on their instruments, the 19-year-old siblings embedded a message of strength and resistance in their music—one that would later expand to encompass their efforts for inclusion in, and reform of, spaces dominated by men. Conceived at a time when bands of their size rarely benefitted from the help of publicists, P.S. Eliot prioritized connecting with listeners through their shows and writing smart, aggressive lyrics that would resonate with audiences who valued respect and openness just as much as they did.
In the group’s four-year run from 2007 to 2011, they released two EPs, a powerful, wide-open pop album called Introverted Romance in Our Troubled Minds (2009), and an equally revered full-length called Sadie (2011). Today, those records show the seeds of the mature yet equally adventurous output the twins would go on to produce in their solo careers. Speaking on the phone in advance of P.S. Eliot’s reunion tour this fall—their first shows together in five years, with former guitarist Will Granger and bassist Katherine Simonetti—Allison and Katie couldn’t help pointing out how much the landscape of DIY has changed in the nine years since the band’s formation. In the following history of the group, they talk about the Birmingham, Alabama DIY scene where they got their start, building a grassroots following, and how P.S. Eliot was a feminist band at its core, even before they knew how urgently their efforts were needed.
It Started with Two Songs
Katie Crutchfield: [P.S. Eliot’s] first few band practices meld together for me. Allison hadn’t played drums in a while. She started to play drums when we first started playing music, switched instruments for a while, and then came back to it. Also, our first bass player didn’t play bass at all. It was a lot of troubleshooting.
Allison Crutchfield: It was rocky for sure, but I remember we left the first practice with two songs down.
KC: I’d never stopped writing songs—we had a band before, and I also had a solo project, and I think I just had these two songs that were sort of ready to go. Those were the days of Myspace music profiles, so we started that up really quick and recorded the songs and uploaded them. In P.S. Eliot, the name of the game was to tour and to do everything we could to be able to play music as much as possible. When we toured before, we always had someone older than us on the tour who would book everything and take care of everything. When we started P.S. Eliot, I was ready to do it myself, because I saw how it was done and that we could probably do it. Nothing sounded more fun to me than traveling the country and making new friends and partying and playing our music.
The Introverted Romance in Our Troubled Minds Sessions
KC: It was a really unique recording process. We had made the demo, which I had recorded at my parents’ house, and we had toured a little bit on that. By the end of that tour, we had lost our bass player. We got a new temporary bass player named Michael who had been in our high school band, and we made the record at our house in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, during one of Alabama’s football games. We recorded it in this big open room, and we played it all live and were still working out the songs while we were making the record, which is something I still do to this day. I think we recorded it in two or three days.
AC: That record is so specific to the actual space, because it’s so roomy and sounds so big. The album also sounds kind of messy and like we hadn’t practiced a ton—which we hadn’t.
The Birmingham Scene
KC: On the one hand, Birmingham was really great. There was this great DIY space [Cave 9] that we talk about a lot in the oral history [that Liz Pelly put together for Don Giovanni’s P.S. Eliot anthology, 2007-2011]. It was a really cool all-ages venue whose main objective was to provide a space for young people to make music. We started playing music right when Cave 9 was starting to be a thing. The guy that ran the space [Aaron Hamilton] was really great and basically taught us how to be a DIY band. If we hadn’t met [the people who ran the space], who knows what our lives would look like.
On the other hand, the other kids our age—and when I say kids, I mean mostly white dudes—were into super lame, jocky hardcore. That still exists, I guess, but it’s really not a part of my world anymore. We were playing power pop music. We were young and focused on what we were doing and didn’t notice the sexism that was at play for a while, because we also got more respect than a lot of the other women in that scene because we were playing music. And then over time, and as we got a little older, we realized, like, “This sucks.” As we started to tour and make friends with people in other scenes and saw how other communities were thinking and speaking—saw the dialogues that were happening— we were like, “Oh, where we come from is kind of fucked up.” That took a toll over time.
AC: That was a huge part of it: touring and seeing other communities function in a more inclusive way, in a way that was a little more radical and thoughtful.
KC: The more we played outside of Birmingham and developed these politics and tried to apply them in our lives in Birmingham, the more we were met with… bullshit. A lot of jokes about the band, a lot of fighting back. I tried to start a feminist collective that was literally just a time and a place where women in Birmingham could sit down together in a safe environment and talk about these issues, and it was met with so much backlash. It was so horrible. I think about it now, and it’s crazy that people were so defensive about that.
AC: Right, and I think that it has affected our relationship to Birmingham as a city. It’s still complicated for us to play there.
KC: I don’t want to shed a negative light on Birmingham—I think we’ve spent so much time focusing on the negatives, when it isn’t all negative. I have such a connection to that city still, but in that period of time when we were doing P.S. Eliot, it was basically… there was a lot of friction between us and our objectives as a band and our politics. And that’s why we toured so much and we didn’t play there that much, and why we eventually moved.
Life Before the DIY Recession
AC: It’s funny—with P.S. Eliot, I don’t really think we ever felt like we were gaining any kind of notoriety as a band. That was never really the point of the band, and it was not something that really happened in the way that it does with DIY bands today.
KC: DIY seems to be in a little bit of a recession right now. We never thought about getting a publicity agent or signing to a different label or anything like that. We just literally wanted to make records that we loved and go on tours and do our own thing. We were never thinking at all about a career or about being anything more than we were.
AC: Something that happens with a lot of DIY bands today is that they get written about in major publications. That didn’t happen even five, ten years ago—and it really didn’t happen with P.S. Eliot. Maybe it did and we didn’t see it, but we were never scouring the internet seeing if anyone was writing about our band, or feeling like we were gaining any real following besides people coming to our shows and seeing us on tour.
KC: At the time, file-sharing was still a thing, so people could post MediaFire links and share them ‘till the cows came home and it was not a big deal. That definitely helped people find out about our music, but there was never a huge publication that talked about us. Music blogs would post a link to our album, and people would download it for free, and it was a domino effect from that point.
P.S. Eliot's Last Show
AC: I moved to Chattanooga right smack in the middle of P.S. Eliot, and then we both moved together to Brooklyn. P.S. Eliot was still a band, and we made the record Sadie. It was the last thing we recorded, and [after that] our guitar player, Will Granger, quit the band kind of abruptly. Relationships were strained. I think he thought he would quit and we would break up, but I refused to do that after we made a record.
So we kept being a band, but we didn’t really do anything after that. We did one tour that was really short, with the band Big Eyes from Brooklyn, with people filling in—and then we played a handful of last shows, the last one being in New York, at Death By Audio [on December 9, 2011].
Playing it for My Sister
KC: I’m in the middle of working on a new Waxahatchee record right now, and I am still sending Allison demos. Allison’s probably not going to play on the record, but I tell people that are playing on it that I usually send the songs to Allison, to get her feedback first.
AC: I made a solo record at the beginning of the year that’s coming out in a couple months. I was writing the songs all last year when we were on tour with Waxahatchee, and Katie was always the first person I would send them to as soon as I was finished. It’s cool for us to be able to do things separately from one another, and I think we’re in a place in our lives where it doesn’t always make the most sense for us to collaborate creatively, but we’re still such a huge part of each other’s projects.
Sadie Comes Back from the Dead
AC: Joe [Steinhardt] from Don Giovanni wanted to do this discography—it’s been a project he wanted to do for a really long time. Katherine [Simonetti] was the main bass player in P.S. Eliot and plays in Waxahatchee as well, and the three of us—Katie and Katherine and I—all play music together really regularly. But we hadn’t played with Will Granger in a long time. It was one of those things where he quit the band, and there was never a lot of bad blood, but it always felt like we would never really play music together again—and then it came up that maybe it was something that would feel good for us. This is the first time the main lineup of the band, the one that did all the records and stuff, is getting back together.
KC: He quit the band right after we made a record, and then we never got to play those songs—we never really got to tour on that record at all. I’m really grateful that we get this chance to have some closure with that band and with those songs. We all get along, we all love each other, we all loved being in that band.