Julia Jacklin On The Joys And Pains Of Crushing Hard

"You know that kinda crush, where you're just like, 'oh my God, if this doesn't happen, I might just die?' That influenced a lot of the intensity of my vocal takes."

Julia Jacklin

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Julia Jacklin has stopped talking, and we sit in silence for a few seconds.

We’re chatting about Crushing, her sophomore album, while sitting in the shade on an outdoor bench in Surry Hills. It’s a relentlessly hot January afternoon, and the cicadas are letting themselves be heard — but it’s an ant crawling across the table that catches our attention as it runs towards my dictaphone. Well, truthfully, it catches my attention, then, perhaps to be polite, it catches Jacklin’s too.

The moment goes, and we jump back in — Jacklin is remarkably open in conversation, to the point where its easy to feel too comfortable, and, say, stop mid-way through a question to stare at an ant.

At times, it’s a little more like a D&M than an interview, but Jacklin promises it was a very different story in 2016 when she released her debut album Don’t Let The Kids Win.

“Back then, I’d spend so much time going over everything I said, worried about how I came across. [I’d] constantly feel like I needed to email people and say, ‘Hey you know how I said that thing? You think you could just-‘ it was exhausting. ‘Cause now I’m just like, ‘I’ll probably say a whole bunch of dumb stuff but who cares?'”

That confidence comes through on Crushing. Where Don’t Let… was densely packed with lines that took many listens to decode, Crushing‘s clearer in intent.

“It’s sometimes easier to write a line that’s is covered in metaphors and poetry and trickery,” she says. “It’s a bit harder to just write a line that’s pretty direct. There’s not as much to hide behind, I guess.”

Crushing was written largely on the road. Jacklin has toured extensively since 2016, and in that time, she’s has had to fight for her autonomy across stages, merch tables and parties across the globe — and relationships, too. As a result, Crushing covers a lot of emotional ground, from heartbreak (‘When The Family Flies In’), frustration (‘Head Alone’, ‘Pressure To Party’) and, at times, resignation (‘Body’).

“I had someone the other day ask, ‘Have you ever tried an acoustic guitar?’,” she told me. “Of fucking course I’ve tried an acoustic guitar. I’m a guitarist… But then they’re being nice, in a way, and so you’re like, ‘is this a battle I’m willing to fight?'”

Crushing is a swirl of complicated situations, distilled into a beautiful and at times menacing listen. Chatting to Jacklin, we give up on trying to untangle the joys and pains within — they all come at once.

Crushing is a really visceral word and one that appeals to me personally a lot. How did you land on it?

I had like a deadline for the album title, so that was motivating. [Laughs]

My label and my manager said “You gotta call the album ‘Body'” and I was like “Hell no”. I just felt like that it was going to open me up to all this questions about ‘My Body’ and ‘Feminism’, which I’m up for talking about most of the time, but I didn’t want to bring even more of that into my own world.

So, yeah, I couldn’t. None of the [song] titles made sense as an album like my first one, and that word just kept coming back to me, “Crush”. Initially I was going to put “Crushed”, [but then I thought] ‘that sounds a little too intense’.

Crushing just made sense to me. It’s a really intense word that can be taken positively, negatively, and my kinda the copies leading up to this record were like, really intense. Massive highs, massive lows in a way I had not experienced before.

And just diving deep into the word ‘crushing’ – sorry!

Oh, go for it.

There are three elements to it, right? There’s love and limerence. There’s crushing like, ‘I’m crushing it, I’m killing it’, and finally, the physical sensation of being crushed. Is the album a confluence of all those three things, or for you is it one in particular?

No, it’s all of them. When I was making the album I was crushing so hard on someone, [like] where you just wanna pass out.

You know that kinda crush, where you’re just like, ‘oh my God, if this doesn’t happen, I might just die?’ I think that influenced a lot of the intensity of my vocal takes, just trying to channel that energy into something else.

“You know that kinda crush, where you’re just like, ‘oh my God, if this doesn’t happen, I might just die?’ I think that influenced a lot of the intensity of my vocal takes.”

And then, also just kind of like crushing it — ’cause people are like, “Oh you’re doing so well! Everything must be going so great.” [but] you look back and you’re like “Well, maybe.”

Also, some of the experiences I wrote about were very crushing emotionally, as is very obvious in the record.

It was just all of those words smashed together, I think you can listen to the record and take whatever meaning you want to work.

So now I’m gonna ask about ‘Body’. That’s a song you described to NPR as “a very long and exaggerated sigh”. But what kind of sigh is it — a release, or a lament?

As opposed to ‘Head Alone’, where I have the strength [to] actually ask for what I want, ‘Body”s the other side of being female sometimes — or just being a human — in that you’re not always up for the fight.

‘Body’ is about accepting the way that things are and having to just work within those parameters and accepting that maybe, right now, people don’t particularly have that much respect for women’s bodies and women’s lives and there’s kind of no amount of me ranting to my friends is going to make an ounce of difference, I guess.

It’s also an acceptance of realising that in life, you’re constantly like giving parts of yourself to people — whether it’s friends or family or romantic interests. And you can’t kind of like tie every moment neatly up at the end and be like “Well that happened, but we resolved this.” It’s always gonna be messy.

And you’re always going to have this weird time period where you just kind of go, “Oh God they know that about me! And they’ve got this”. And there’s all of these things that have from me that I can never get back. To be able to move on you have to just let it go, you know?

As we kind of touched upon before, the first five songs of the album mention the body. Was that something that just naturally happened, or did you actively weave that in?

No. After we finished the album, I probably listened back to it like two weeks later and I was like “Huh. Okay. You’ve referenced your body in the first five songs. That’s interesting Julia. What’s going on?”.

That also why I didn’t wanna name it ‘Body’, because it wasn’t a conscious decision to make that record. And I don’t think that’s what the whole record’s about.

What other ideas kind of fell into the forefront while you were writing the album? You were touring?

I was touring, wrote most of it on the road, in the car. Yeah, it’s really hard to talk about…

But I think just trying to accept that I was going to make a heartbreak record, and [that] that’s okay. At first I was a bit self conscious about being like “Does the world really need another sad, heartbreak album?”.

And it’s like, ‘Well, no — but I’m going to do it anyway’. On the one hand, heartbreak is so easy to write about because there’s been so much written to. So you have this whole catalogue of music of the world to draw upon — but then that’s what makes it also incredibly difficult because how can I say anything in a way that has not been said a million times before — and a lot better?

[I tried] to write a heartbreak record which maybe looked at it from a slightly different angle, about the tragedy of how actually boring it is, because it’s so common.

[I tried] to write a heartbreak record which maybe looked at it from a slightly different angle, about the tragedy of how actually boring it is, because it’s so common.

And also the tragedy of how falling out of love can feel. There are so many songs that are about someone cheating on you, or  being broken up with and you being like, “Oh I’m so sad. Why’d you leave me?”.

But there aren’t many songs that are from the other side — about how it can be equally as difficult to stop loving someone. And you don’t get the same amount of support from the people around you, as you would if someone breaks up with you.

You wrote your first album while partially working at an essential oils factory. How different is it now to approach writing and music as your job?

That definitely freaked me out at first, ’cause my first record was so much about wanting to be a songwriter but not being one… just feeling I was never gonna amount to anything.

So then, once I became a songwriter, I [asked] ‘What do you write about now? Do you write songs about, how everything worked out?’. You know that sort of rap bravado, which doesn’t really work with folk music.

[But] this record is about my relationships with the people around me. Once you start touring, that just becomes more intense — my relationships all intensified in every way, because you’re either away from people for a really long time or you’re with them every second of the day for months on end.

I just made sure that I just pulled myself out of it as often as I could, ’cause you can get in such a bubble on the road. And you forget that 99 per cent of the world does not give a shit about the indie music touring circuit, you know?

You journal to work through ideas. How do you do that on the road, and physically separate yourself from your bandmates?

You’ve always to try to wake up early, go somewhere, write backstage. Yeah, I’m still figuring that out — I realised after a while that, “Oh, the only way you’re getting more privacy on the road is if you have more money”. That means you can afford to pay for an extra room or just have a bigger vehicle so you’re not all just sandwiched together.

…I love writing in a diary, it’s so important. And then, it’s the worst thing to do on the road because I’m so tired all the time. I just fucking leave it everywhere and it’s full of my deepest, darkest secrets.

One time I left it in an AirBnB in Poland. I was just like “Oh my God this is humiliating. This guy’s gonna read it.” There’s no filter when it comes to a diary. There is with my music, but the stuff in that diary … It’s another world.

I literally carry mine around with me at all times.

That’s what you gotta do. ‘Cause my mom used to read my diary when I was a kid and get me in trouble. And I was always thought, “This seems like a deep injustice here.”

Yeah, that’s not fair.

I finally just gotta tie it to a belt.

The worst thing I’ve done a couple times is I’ll write myself the setlist in it, and then I’ll have it onstage and, well, someone always grabs the setlist after the show. One time I saw someone grabbing my diary. I was like, “Oh my God Julia, that is the worst thing you’ll ever do. Tear the page out!”

You only make that mistake once.

Oh yeah. Never again.

Julia Jacklin’s sophomore album Crushing is out now.

Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. Follow him on Twitter.

Photo Credit: Nick Mckk