Julia Jacklin is often asked the same question in interviews: Is it scary to be singing such vulnerable songs? For the 28-year-old Australian singer-songwriter, the answer is no. “I made a conscious decision to share these with people,” says Jacklin. “I wrote them, I spent money to record them, I pressed it into a record, and now I’m touring the world with it. I’m not some delicate flower who is getting onstage like, ‘Oh no, people are listening to my heart!'”
Jacklin is sitting in a coffee shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with a bottle of sparkling water, a few weeks after the release of her intimate, introspective new album, Crushing. She adds that it’s a mistake to assume that all her songs are strictly autobiographical: “I don’t like talking about whether things are real or not.” Either way, the songs speak for themselves. On the opening track, “Body,” Jacklin repeats, “I guess it’s just my life, and it’s just my body” over and over in a sea of sadness. In the gut-wrenching “Pressure to Party,” she sketches a painful realization: “Nothing good can come of me drinking/I would run, shoes off, straight back to you/I know where you live, I used to live there, too.”
“I don’t particularly like singing and I’m not a great guitarist,” Jacklin admits. “But writing a song is what I like doing.”
Do you enjoy performing?
Most of the time. I think it’s pretty weird for your brain to every night — months on end — get in front of people and sing songs. Some people are really cool, and they just go onstage and they don’t say anything to the audience, and they get off and people still love them. That’s great. But I’m definitely not like that.
You definitely have a stage presence.
I like talking. I reckon a lot of artists feel way more nervous about in-between songs than the actual songs themselves, but I find that talking breaks the ice. Once I get up there and look into a few people’s eyes and I realize that we’re just all here to listen to music and have a good time, it takes away the pressure. It’s like, all right, you’re some humans, we’re some humans. We’re just trying to do a thing. We’re all here, we’ve all spent money to be here…it’s not the biggest deal in the world.
Has the reception for Crushing felt different from your debut, 2016’s Don’t Let the Kids Win?
Selling out two shows in New York is a bit mind-blowing. People liked my first record, and that was good and nice, but I guess the nature of this one, the subject matter is attractive. I feel like it’s put me in a role — a strange position that I wasn’t fully prepared for.
In what way?
The nature of the songs, and what it brings up in people that they weren’t expecting. The shows can be pretty intense, and I don’t feel like I can clock out as much. I can’t at all be half-hearted about this. I feel like people who are coming to the shows are feeling a lot of feelings, and I want to make sure that I’m doing justice to that and not dismissing, just because maybe I’m not feeling it at the moment.
How would you describe the themes of Crushing? A break-up is hinted at, but it feels like there’s more to it than that.
I think if you listen to the record once, you might be like, “Oh, it’s a break-up record.” But for me, it’s more about my growing confidence, but also growing fear of introducing boundaries in my life and then having to reinforce them continuously, and how much emotional energy is required in that. I’m kind of looking at myself in a mirror and giving myself a pep talk. I don’t feel like this album lands on any definitive answers.
You sing about the idea of the body consistently throughout the record.
Yeah, that wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision. I listened back to the album and was like, “Oh. Okay. That was a theme, I guess.” I wrote it on the road when I was touring in a pretty intense way, not having any space to myself and just feeling very spread thin, trying to please the band and your partner and people at home and people in front of you every night. Feeling like you’ve got to let everyone into your space all the time, otherwise it’s all going to disappear. You’ve got to be the most giving and grateful person in the universe. A lot of songs were written in that space when I felt like I was just trying to emotionally push things back.
How did you come up with the album title?
It was a last-minute thing, ‘cause I just couldn’t figure out what to call it. A few people were like, “You should call it Body.” And I was like, “Hell no!” Especially in this current political climate. I know I’m already going to be asked about the nature of the record in every interview I do. I’m not going to bring even more of that to myself by calling the album Body. Because it wasn’t an intentional decision, and I feel like that would imply that I’m making this statement record.
As if it was a concept album on the body.
Exactly. Crushing was something that just kept coming into my head because it was such an intense period when I wrote it. That word can be used in so many different ways. I was experiencing huge highs and huge lows, and that term is constantly used for both of them. I felt like it made sense.
How long did this album take you to write?
It was like a year and a half of bits and pieces. I wrote “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You” in a van driving to the L.A. show, and I remember testing it out in soundcheck. I wrote “When the Family Flies In” in a Motel 6 in Nashville.
What is “When the Family Flies In” about?
I don’t talk about it too much. I lost a really good friend of mine a couple years ago and so I guess it was just about the small moments of grief. That’s such a difficult thing to write about, because a song seems almost too small for how big that situation is.
Nick McKinlay takes your photos and directs all of your videos. What’s the spark behind that collaboration?
We went to high school together — he’s like my best friend. I’ve worked with him since the beginning. He took my first album cover. That’s one of the hardest things about being a musician nowadays. You write music and then you perform it, and you’re like, “Job done!” And that’s like, 20 percent of the way. The rest is just providing content for the internet.
It can be really hard. Just because you’re a good songwriter doesn’t mean you know how to represent that aesthetically. That’s so important these days, to get people to even pay any attention to you. It’s really hard to find people that will genuinely listen to you and let go of what they want and experiment with you. So I’m so lucky to have met Nick.
When did you first get into music?
As a kid, I was lost in terms of my musical life. I was trying everything on, trying to figure out what stuck, and I was never very good at anything. I was never the star of any kind of show. Then I went to a music high school, which knocked me down a few more pegs, ‘cause everybody was doing music and I was definitely not a super-extroverted kid…I’m still not that extroverted. It wasn’t until I was 19 or 20 that I started playing guitar and slowly started playing in some bands. It took me a really long time to figure out where my place was as a musician.
Who were your biggest influences growing up?
Doris Day or the Andrew Sisters when I was really young. [Note: This interview took place before Doris Day’s death on May 13.] And then throughout my teens, I just desperately wanted to be Fiona Apple. She still inspires me, she’s great.
Stella Donnelly recently told me about a conversation you both had about the way female songwriters are expected to write diary-like songs, whereas men can be praised for writing basically anything.
I never really understood it. I remember Mitski saying something like that with her new album. And it wasn’t until I released this album that I was like, “Oh yeah! That’s right.” The underlying idea around that kind of questioning of women is that people think we’re victims of our own emotions, that we are these emotional beings who just write these fragile songs about our feelings and then accidentally put them on the internet. No, we’re intentional artists who make decisions about what we want to create and what we want to share. I’m a songwriter. I’m actually good at what I do.
In an Instagram post from the other day, you wrote that Crushing should be viewed as an album in and of itself, and not as a step on a ladder to some greater success. What did you mean by that?
Yeah, I don’t know why I wrote that [laughs]. It was something that just started to really irritate me at shows. People like to give you all of this, “You should keep going, kid!” And it’s like, I literally am going. I am doing this for a living.
I’m a 28-year-old singer songwriter who writes five-minute, slow-tempo songs. I don’t particularly write big radio hits or anything. I think the fact that I’ve done this and I’m at this level is really rare. I think I made a good record. People like it. I’m making a living. I’m able to employ my friends. That’s cool.
Do you think about the future at all, then?
This is a fickle industry. People always say, “You’ve got all the time in the world!” Well, that’s ridiculous. We don’t have all the time in the world at all. This is a young person’s game, especially for women. And as much as I’m definitely going to keep creating for my whole life, I understand that the music industry itself has perimeters. You’ve got to work within them. That’s a pessimistic way to view it, but still. I don’t want to have to look back on this period of my life and go like, “Oh, damn it! Those were the times.” I want to just feel it for a moment right now.