Interview: The Kids are Alright: Julia Jacklin

The Kids are Alright: Julia Jacklin

Trading in essential oils for quick-smart songwriting, this Aussie is taking the world by storm.

It’s the hottest September day in the UK since 1911 and Julia Jacklin is feeling the heat. Sweltering in a burger joint in Peckham, the Australian - who grew up in the Blue Mountains and now lives in Sydney - jokes that her father’s British genes are to blame. This is a rare moment of calm for Julia. It follows a two-week stint which has seen her gigging in America, the UK and around Europe, and then travelling back to the UK, before she embarks once more to Canada and the USA. 

“What just happened in the last two weeks of my life?” she laughs, understandably dazed from all the country-hopping. “I was feeling super-wrecked when I finally got in so I just went to my hotel room and watched all of ‘Stranger Things’,” she says, recalling a regrettable binge. “It was such a bad idea because I was in this really tiny room by myself and it was really dark - my hotel was really dingy - and then I just had nightmares all night.” 

Netflix-related nightmares aside, Julia has recent experience of dreams crossing over into real life. Her face lights up as she reflects on an encounter a few days earlier. “The last week I’ve just been cranking this album by Big Thief [‘Masterpiece’],” she begins her story. “I spent three days on trains and planes and stuff just listening to this album over and over again. The songwriting is just so incredible.” 

She then couldn’t believe her luck when she received a phone call from her manager, apologising for a “muck-around” and explaining that a gig in Germany wasn’t actually her headline show. Rather - he said - she would be “supporting this band called Big Thief”. 

“It was so cool!” she enthuses, with the fever of a music obsessive. “I could sing along to every one of their songs. I’d watched all their YouTube videos as well. And then suddenly I’m in a tiny bar in Germany with them.” The next day, they drove to Amsterdam together. Julia and Adrianne [Lenker, Big Thief] discussed songwriting en route. “It was one of those moments in music where you go, ‘This is the cool part!’”

“I need to feel worried to make music.”

Julia Jacklin

Such episodes are all the more dream-like considering Julia had been holding down a “very monotonous” day job for two years on a factory production line until two weeks prior to this tour. Swapping essential oils for music has been liberating.  “Honestly, I never thought I’d be able to do it full-time so it’s really cool,” she gushes. 

The immediacy with which Julia’s life changed caught her off-guard. There was no momentous departure from the factory. “I didn’t actually realise I quit! It was more like I needed a week off to go to do some Australian stuff and then I realised this trip was coming up…” she trails off, before adding, “so it was a bit of an anti-climax!” The dedication to her colleagues in her debut album ‘Don’t Let The Kids Win’ will surely make amends for not yet getting the opportunity to say goodbye. 

Fears familiar to a ‘quarter life crisis’ generation permeate the album. After studying Social Policy at university in Sydney, the feeling of time slipping away became an acute source of concern. “I was a bit like, ‘Oh! Was that a good idea to be at uni for like four and a half years when you knew the whole time you wanted to be a musician?’” 

The answer was to set herself the goal of recording an album before she reached the age of 25. Her anxieties provided food for thought as she converted her feelings of self-doubt into song form. “It’s a nice way to be productive with them and not just whinge about them all the time!”

On ‘Motherland’, for example, she admonishes herself for being hesitant (“these new lines on my face, spell out girl pick up your pace, if you want to stay true, to what your younger self would do”). By the closer, the album’s title-track, she appears to have found some acceptance in the inevitability of ageing (“we’re gonna keep on getting older, it’s going to keep on feeling strange”). 

Sure enough, before she hit 25, Julia’s restlessness had spurred her on to achieve the target she’d set for herself. “I need to feel worried to make music,” she confesses. “It’s shitty but I do need to feel a little inadequate in some way to drive me to produce I guess.”

“I grew up listening to a lot of folk music and you think you have to sing about rivers and mountains and stones and bones and stuff…”

Julia Jacklin

Lyrically, it’s an album that can veer from funny to heartbreaking quicker than you have time to reorientate yourself. One moment she’s slating the basketball abilities of three year-olds, and the next she’s confronting the regret of never being able to say goodbye to a grandmother because of a “cheap trip to Thailand”. She certainly knows how to toy with emotions. 

“I grew up listening to a lot of folk music and you think you have to sing about rivers and mountains and stones and bones and stuff that doesn’t really mean anything to you, but you’re just kind of using the same tropes. But then I started listening to some artists that inject a bit of humour into it and it just felt a lot more natural for me. I realised that I was allowed to do that. I didn’t just have to sing pretty words.” 

Leonard Cohen was a revelation in that respect. “He manages to be super heavy-hitting with some of it, like really melancholy but also just quite hopeful and I think it’s to do with his sense of humour.” Father John Misty and Fiona Apple are others she name-checks as writing inspirations.

Despite her sharp wit, Julia’s talent is no joke. Earlier this year she caused quite the fuss both sides of the Atlantic at SXSW and The Great Escape. At the end of August, she sold-out her headline show at The Lexington. “It’s hard to flip your head around things like that,” she says of the London gig. Her disbelief at the ticket sales had her looking for alternative explanations (“I’ve got a UK label, maybe there’s just a lot of guest-list,” she hypothesised). It took a pre-set pep talk from her manager for her to grasp the reality of her fan-base. “He was just like, ‘Julia, these people are here for you! So stop being a little idiot and being like, ‘Who are these people?’”

With her ace debut ‘Don’t Let The Kids Win’ now out in the world, you imagine Julia Jacklin will soon have even bigger audiences to comprehend.

Julia Jacklin’s debut album ‘Don’t Let The Kids Win’ is out now.

Taken from the new, October 2016 issue of DIY, out now. Subscribe below.

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