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The making of P.S. Eliot's Introverted Romance In Our Troubled Minds / by Liz Pelly

Editor’s note: Last month Don Giovanni released a double-disc compilation of every release by P.S. Eliot, the punk band Katie and Allison Crutchfield played in from 2007 - 2011. Along with the comp, the label also release an oral history zine that I wrote and edited documenting the band’s four years of existence. Featuring 24 interviews with members P.S. Eliot, Cheeky, Screaming Females, Hop Along, The So So Glos, and more, the zine tells the story of P.S. Eliot’s beginnings, recordings, and tours. It’s a zine that P.S. Eliot heads will enjoy, but I also think will be interesting to anyone who loves reading about feminist punk communities, small DIY scenes, or the all-ages movement. This is one of my favorite sections from the story, where Katie and Birmingham engineer Matt Whitson talk about recording P.S. Eliot’s excellent first album, Introverted Romance In Our Troubled Minds. -Liz

Katie Crutchfield (P.S. Eliot, Waxahatchee): We recorded Introverted at our house in Tuscaloosa in one weekend. Tuscaloosa is southwest of Birmingham. It’s the big college town, about 45 minutes from Birmingham, where the University of Alabama is. The big football team is from there. Allison went to school there. Right after high school, I went on tour, and Allison went to school in Tuscaloosa. So when I got home from that tour, I was hanging out down there all the time anyway, because Allison and I had just started P.S. Eliot, I was always working on music. We were always playing music together, and just like partying in Tuscaloosa. That was kind of where we were a lot of the time when we first started the band, and when we recorded the first record.

We recorded the first record with this guy Matt Whitson. He’s great. Around that time, I was super obsessed with The Thermals’ record The Body, The Blood, The Machine, and the first Titus Andronicus record. I sent him those records, but I don’t think it ended up sounding like either of them.

Matt Whitson: The first time I met the Crutchfields I was recording their previous band, the Ackleys, in my parents' basement. I hadn't seen or heard them yet, and I was honestly kind of blown away by how good their band was. I was 24 or 25 at the time and they were 16. The other two members, Michael McClellan (later of P.S. Eliot) and Carter Wilson (later of Coliseum and countless other bands) were 17 or 18. It's hard to say this without sounding condescending, but they just didn't sound or act like 16 year olds. I went into the session kind of assuming I would be nursing this group of incompetent high school kids through a really rough demo, and it ended up being one of my favorite records I had ever recorded. It was just really fun and exciting to be around them and watch them kick so much ass. My initial thoughts about P.S. Eliot were basically "Why the fuck aren't you doing the Ackleys anymore!?" It really took me a couple of years to finally come around and realize how much better P.S. Eliot was.

At that point, I'd been recording demos and records for punk bands since around 2001. I blew a bunch of money on a fancy computer and a bunch of budget gear to record my own band, and then started offering my services for cheap to friends. I sort of became "The Guy Who Would Help You Record Your Demo" for a lot of people in town. Generally, I tended to work with super loud punk, hardcore, and metal bands, and so I kind of only knew how to record bands in one particular way. Everything had big, powerful, roomy drums and thick guitars. P.S. Eliot wanted to record everything live, which I didn't have a ton of experience with, and with all of them in a smallish living room there would be too much bleed for me to use all of my little tricks to make things sound "big." The LP was mostly all recorded in two days. There's just not a whole lot of room for finesse on that kind of schedule. It's more like, "This sound ok to you guys?" "Yeop." "Cool. I'll start rolling when you're ready."

Katie and Allison with bassist Katherine Simonetti.

The plan was for me to drive over Friday night so we could get a reasonably early-ish start on Saturday. I think I got there around 10 p.m. and my thinking was that we'd hang out for a couple of hours and maybe make a plan for the session. When I got there, Granger let me in and then immediately went back to sleep. Turns out they were all in bed. So it was just me with a six pack of Busch (in hunting-themed cans, no less) in the dark on their couch trying to get tired. Also, this was 2008 before everyone had iPhones, so it was that old school kind of boredom.

The next morning, I woke up to a house full of people. They all made breakfast, so we hung out for a bit and then got to work. We set up to record drums, bass, and guitars live in their living room. Once the initial setup got done, they knocked it all out in three or four hours. Also, I hadn't realized this when we booked the session, but that Saturday was also The Iron Bowl, which is one of the biggest rivalry games in all of American sports.

Katie: Alabama-vs-Auburn is a huge game and it was happening all around where we were recording. Basically the craziest sports situation that you can imagine in this small college town. It just takes over the entire town. We had a few people over because the game was happening. Everyone wanted to watch the game, but the TV was right where I was going to record. So everyone was sitting on the couch watching the game on mute, and I was recording vocals in the same room, ten feet away. What the hell were we thinking?

The living room was this big, open room with high ceilings and wood floors, so it sounds really echo-y. I was smoking a lot of weed at the time, and got really high and recorded all of the vocal takes in one sitting. And then listened to them a couple hours later and had to redo everything.

Matt: Because of the football game, on that Saturday there are like an extra two or three hundred thousand people in Tuscaloosa. After we got done, we went to a succession of increasingly more and more insane parties. I can kind of only remember it in like this weird ’90s movie montage. Like, here are a bunch of young people at Mary’s apartment. Cut to everyone outside watching a guy barf in the parking lot. Cut to some dude’s house and everyone I know is here. Cut to Katie making out with some dude. Cut to a house in the middle of nowhere with 300 people standing in the yard. Et cetera. It was pretty crazy, and in the best possible way.

The next day we did vocals again, also in their living room. The thing that stands out to me the most about that day is that the only people in the room for most of the day were me, Katie, and the dude that Katie had dated through most of high school, but was no longer dating. They were still pretty close friends, though, and they still hung out a lot. As far as I can tell, most of the songs on that record seem to be at least tangentially about him, so it just felt really unbelievably awkward to me. Both of them seemed totally unfazed by it all, though.

The weekend after that, we did a day of mixing and overdubs at my house. At the time, I was living with this dude that had a lot of rad gear everywhere, and it was a lot of fun to just be like, "Here's an electric piano. Let's put electric piano on this thing."

Katie: They had a Wurlitzer at their house, which Allison played through this crazy amp with these effects, and that’s the weird sound that happens on “Tennessee.” Also Will overdubbed all of his guitars at Matt’s house too. That was at a time before I used any effects pedals at all. And I never tried to put back up vocals on anything really. It was just a really stripped down way of playing music compared to what I do now.

In terms of what the songs were about, it’s almost embarrassing to think about now. Situations with people I was dating, things not working out. Now as a 27 year old, reflecting on it, it’s like, yeah, obviously that didn’t work out. I was sort of underdeveloped emotionally. When I listen to American Weekend, or even Sadie, I still very much relate to that person’s voice, but with the earlier stuff, I don’t as much. It’s funny because now I’m so weird about syllables and vocal rhythms and all of that stuff. At the time, I just wrote all of these lyrics and then squeezed them into songs where maybe they didn’t quite fit. I was reading a lot, and I was into poetry.

I really liked Anne Sexton and was reading a lot of classic literature. I remember when the demo came out, some people calling it like, “English major rock.” But I actually kind of connected with that. I wanted to write smart lyrics.

P.S. Eliot 2007 - 2011: An Oral History is out now on Don Giovanni.

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