The folk-rock artist released her debut album last October, and we’re still not over it.
After listening to Julia Jacklin’s debut album for almost a year, I’m really struck with how easy it is to sink into her songs. “Don’t Let The Kids Win” is filled with relatable, searching observations about growing up, nostalgia for the past, and aching heartache, and Julia’s thoughtful lyrics completely engulf you within her narrative. Apart from her dreamy voice, the Australian singer-songwriter’s strong point definitely lies within her compelling storytelling.
Julia’s been busy touring the world non stop since the album’s October 2016 release, and she’s finally taking a short break. When I ring her up for our interview, I can hear waves crashing in the background: “I’m just sitting by the ocean in Croatia!” She tells me she’s taking “some serious alone time in spaces on earth that are very far removed from bars, venues, and festivals. I just wanna smell fresh air, climb some trees, hike up a mountain, and do all those clichés,” before heading back home to relax. The Blue Mountains-born musician will be returning back to the exhausting world of touring come November, and I personally CAN’T WAIT.
We chatted about the magic of Leonard Cohen, the fear of time slipping by, and the process that goes behind her crafted lyrics.
How did it all begin? You were studying to become a social worker. What made you switch careers? When was the moment you realized music was your true calling?
I don’t think I ever really realized it was my true calling until things started working out. I think at the beginning I was trying to balance lots of different things, because I was scared of it not working out after having said to all my friends and family “I want to be a musician.” I finished University and just thought okay, if I don’t give it a go then I will always regret it. So I put my head down and played every show I was asked to do, and emailed everyone I knew, and I just dived in, and it all worked out.
You were working in an oil factory for a couple of years before your music began to kick off. Has life drastically changed now that you’re a growing, successful musician?
Yes. It’s completely different. I didn’t know that it was going to be this different at the beginning you know? You kinda think, oh I’ll be a musician but I’ll also still have the same friends, I’ll still be me, and do the same kind of things…but it really just drives you into a different kind of existence. It’s not like a 9 to 5 job where you can just switch off at the end of the day. You’re so far removed from a lot of people back home but you’re also with a group of people relentlessly for a year and a half. I just finished touring. I’ve been touring since I put the record out without much of a break. I’ve got two months off now and I think right now it’s started to dawn on me how much things have changed, but when you’re in it, you’re just trying to not screw up, so you just don’t think about it too much.
I read somewhere that you started singing lessons when you were 10, learnt how to play guitar at 19, but didn’t start writing music until you were 20, which I find so surprising because your lyrics are so thoughtful, it sounds as if you’ve been writing songs forever.
I’ve been writing for longer than that, but not songs. I’ve been writing stories since I was a kid. I naively thought I was going to be a novelist, but then I felt like I didn’t have the patience for that kind of long form writing, so then I thought, okay I’ll be a journalist, but then I didn’t really feel that kind of passion. It was kind of funny that it took me so long to be like, why you don’t just write songs, you can sing and you love words. Songs are so great because they’re short and you can really work at an idea and it doesn’t need to be length of a novel, it can be in 3 minutes or like half a page. I never wrote poetry or anything like that. I just enjoyed playing in a band and I liked to sing, and it was just the next step.
Tell me about your writing process.
It’s pretty varied. I write every day in some form. I’ve kept a diary since I was 10. I’ve kept them all, and they’re really amusing to read back on them. I try to avoid the 13 to 16 ones because they’re pretty horrific. I’ve been on tour for a while now, so it’s like I’m suddenly free and I’m just really excited. I spent all day writing today, and all day yesterday. I need space to write. I need to be able to sit down on a train and not have to worry about getting somewhere and playing a show. It’s really nice not having anything to stress about right now, and to just observe.
The album came out in October. What has the general reaction been to it?
It’s been really good. I’ve been pretty lucky. I don’t really write diversive music or anything that’s going to make people angry or hateful. It’s been pretty amazing to have people connect with the songs. It’s so hard to explain in words what that feeling is, you writing some words about yourself and having people know them and respond. It’s unfathomable when you write music that that will ever happen. It’s quite strange, but wonderful.
I’ve heard that you direct your own music videos, which is really cool. Is your approach in any way similar to how you write your lyrics? Does it force you to view your songs in a different light to how you originally wrote them?
I feel like I think about music videos more than I think about songs sometimes. I will dream up this music video idea before I’ve written a song for it, then I’m like, oh I need a song that’s going to suit that. I just really love film. I always have very strong images, and I daydream a lot and end up coming up with these ideas. I have this friend of mine who is great behind the lens, and we’ve just worked together ever since. It’s been really refreshing for me, especially when I start to feel a bit over the songs. Sometimes it’s nice to think about them in a different way. If I’m trying to think of a concept I listen to them then go for a big walk and just let my mind run wild, then come home and I’m like OKAY, I wanna do this, this and this, and then I realize okay no, you have a very small budget and you’ve got a two man crew, what can you do!? It’s just about downsizing the dream, but I feel like it’s something that works.
The main themes on your album are revolved around the idea of time slipping by before you have the chance to do all you wanted to do and feeling nostalgia for the past. I can completely relate to this. Do you think this is a general feeling people deal with in their mid-twenties?
I think so. I feel like I might do it a bit more than some people around me. My guitarist Eddie the other day was like, “You’re always talking about your youth! Do you not like the present?” And I was like, “No!” It’s not like I don’t like the present. But it’s hard to talk about the present sometimes. I just feel like I had such a rich and interesting childhood and I feel like I’ve gone through so many different versions of myself to get to where I am now, and some of those versions were pretty shitty. I wasn’t a very nice teenager. So sometimes I look back on those moments and I feel really intensely connected to those times. And I am proud of who I am right now, because I’m like okay, I haven’t always been the greatest person, but I think that I’ve finally learnt some really great lessons. But yeah, I think a lot of people our age look back at that time. But it’s so easy to look back at those times and see the good parts, all the excitement and the mystery, you know, when you finish high school and you just feel like the world is this beautiful thing which can be taken on. But yeah, you can gloss over the parts where you’re incredibly insecure and unhappy, and you didn’t have the greatest friends, and you hated your body, you know? All of those things can be forgotten when you look back.
You were classically trained. What do you think made you fall into the genre of alternative country folk-rock?
I really enjoyed classical training but I guess it’s not really something for a late teenager. I wasn’t particularly disciplined so it wasn’t ever going to be a viable career for me. You have to be incredibly disciplined. I met this girl, who is now one of my closest friends, and she knew I could harmonize well and she was like, “Do you wanna join my band?” She played folk music. So I started singing with her. I think for someone who never really played an instrument or always felt like rock music or any kind of music with an instrument wasn’t ever going to be something that was possible to do, folk music just seemed like a calm and nice entry point. Not to put down folk music, but it doesn’t require a massive level of skill. It’s more about your tone of your voice, it doesn’t have to be a great voice, it’s just about your emotions and your writing, and you don’t have to be some incredible guitarist. I just felt like it was a really easy entry point and I’ve just kind of stuck with it ever since.
What artists inspire your sound?
I was reading an interview with this artist Courtney Marie Andrews, she’s just released this record I really like called “Honest Life”, and I think when you listen to it you could say she’s a country singer, but she says in this interview that she doesn’t consider herself to be a country singer, she considers herself to be genre less as a lyrist. Sometimes I’m just really influenced by strong songwriting, and I think that transcends genre. A lot of the time I can be influenced by things that don’t sound anything like what I write. If someone has a clear voice, that’s what I’m really drawn to. At the moment I’m loving Japanese Breakfast. She’s really inspiring me.
I saw you cover Nick Cave and the Bad Key’s “Skeleton Key” and The Strokes, “Someday” on Youtube, both of which are really gorgeous covers. If you could take ownership of any song in the world, what would it be and why?
Aw, thanks. It would be “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen. That is hands down my favorite song of all time and has been the number one song of my life for a very long time, and I don’t think that’s ever going to change. I tried to learn it a few years ago, and I just stopped because I thought, I don’t want to know how this works. I don’t want to be able to play this. I don’t even let myself listen to it that often. I listen to that song maybe like once a year. It’s like this musical treat for me. It’s just the perfect song. It’s incredibly moving. The lyrics are just amazing, they’re really personal. He just talks about things you can image picking up and eating and doing yourself while throwing in some pretty deep, philosophical ideas. The guitars are amazing, the melodies are amazing. It’s just the best song in the world, I think. I wish it was mine, but I’m glad that it exists in any way.
Do you only listen to it once a year to keep the magic of the song going, kind of thing?
Yeah. I don’t want to ruin it. I feel like these days you can access music so quickly and easily, and you can forget how good it is. I don’t ever want that to happen with that song for me.
I’m watching you play in November. Couldn’t be more excited. What’s your favorite song to play, and what song usually gets the most response from the audience?
Aw, great! At the moment the biggest response is usually “Don’t Let The Kids Win”, just because I guess people can see themselves in that song pretty easily. I have really nice conversations with people after the shows about that song, which I really cherish. I’m really enjoying playing my new song, “Cold Caller”. I wrote it recently after my sister gave birth. It was one of those life moments that I never thought would affect me so much. I was always like, oh yeah people have babies what’s the big deal. But then when someone you’ve grown up with who is so close to you does it you’re just like whoa, you’re amazing. You are just incredible for being able to do that. So when I play that song I think about my sister and what she’s done and I really enjoy playing that at the moment. Makes me feel like I’m at home.
What’s the last gig you went to? Do you feel yourself watching other musicians in a different way now that you’re an official artist yourself?
It is different. I think I’ve gotten to a point now where I can watch gigs and I can really appreciate what they’re doing and the fact that they’re probably very tired and the fact that they’re doing it so well is great. I think there was definitely a time before I released my record where I felt quite anxious at gigs because I’d be going, “Julia get home and write better music because you wanna be up on that stage!” Whereas now I can just appreciate what we’re all doing together, especially during the festival seasons where you see the same bands all the time and everyone’s working really hard. I saw Solange recently at Primavera in Barcelona, and I just ran there after my set and ploughed past all of these people to get to the front. I really needed that because she was so incredible, it was so inspiring. Sometimes when you go all these festivals you can just be like I’m just gonna sit in my shitty trailer room, eat chips and not go see bands. It does depend on how you feel I guess, but seeing Solange, I just felt like a teenager again, with that same kind of wonderment and excitement.
It must make you feel so refreshed and ready to get back on stage after you’ve seen someone great.
Aw man, it energizes me and it also makes me just go don’t ever get on stage and take it for granted, or don’t get on stage and be lazy with your audience. Don’t check out. I think when you’re doing it night after night for months on end it can be hard to bring it every single night, but I think when you watch an artist who is just so incredibly commanding and powerful on stage it makes you realize there are no excuses, this is your job, just do it well. There are people in the audience who are going to be moved from this so don’t let them down.
Have you begun writing for your next album already? Have you found yourself writing in a completely different vibe from your debut album?
I have written most of the record kind of. That’s kinda what I’m doing this month. I haven’t had time to fully flesh out the songs with the band so I don’t feel like I know exactly what they sound like. I always think about songwriting in the same way that people think about giving birth. You know with that hormone that makes you forget about giving birth so you do it again? That’s totally how I feel. I don’t remember writing my first record at all. I don’t even know if the songs I’m writing now are different from the songs on that record. I think it’s really hard as a songwriter to be able to see the difference. I’m trying not to think about it.
Watch Julia play in LA on November 21 or check out her website for more.