Interview: Julia Jacklin on “Crushing”

In February, Australian singer/songwriter Julia Jacklin released her second album Crushing, full of beautiful songs about bodies, breakups, and bad parties. The day after she played a sold-out show at Rough Trade, I got the chance to sit down with Julia in a coffee shop in Brooklyn, where we talked about the record, her creative process, and learning not to say “thank you” all the time.

 

HC: Thanks for sitting down with me! I interviewed Stella Donnelly the other week and she said really lovely things about you! We talked about you directing her music video; what was it like for you to be behind the scenes and work on that side of the creative process in music?

Julia Jacklin: It’s something that I’m becoming more and more interested in, being a bit more behind the scenes. I directed it with my friend Nick [Mckk], we do all of my music videos, so it was kind of cool to take myself out of the equation, out of the camera. Music videos can be so overwhelming and stressful -- there’s this expectation that just because you’re a singer-songwriter you’re going to be comfortable in front of the camera, which is outrageous because a lot of singer-songwriters are introverted, shy people, but you’ve got to make music videos to get the views! So I feel like I have a unique perspective on how it feels on the other side. But Stella’s incredibly charismatic and her energy on camera was just so fun. My style with music videos is that I just think if you have a good location, a very simple idea, and someone who’s willing to make a bit of a fool of themselves then you have a good music video [laughs], and she was just so open to doing it and it was such a joy to work with her. She’s awesome, she’s such a genuine person.

HC: She said the same thing about you!

Julia: It’s cool, because it’s hard with this job, you’re doing the same thing as a lot of other people but you don’t actually end up meeting them because you’re all touring. So it’s really nice to connect with other people who are doing the same things, and who are doing it so well and right... I actually got to Rough Trade last night and Stella had sent me a humidifier to meet me at the venue, which was so sweet.

HC: Congrats on the tour and the album by the way! You spoke about being an introvert before, and I like how that’s explored in “Pressure to Party.”

Julia: That was about specifically, but not necessarily, post-breakup, and the pressure to ‘seize the day’ and ‘seize your singledom’ and just go out there. I think it was compounded by the fact that I'd been on the road for a couple of years, and my friendship group at home and kind of dispersed, so I felt even more pressure to make sure I was going to  every gig and every social thing to make sure that I didn't end up having no one in my life [laughs]. There’s kind of nothing worse, I mean there’s a lot of worse things, than the feeling of being out and your motivation for being there is purely because you don’t want to not be there. It’s nice to express that feeling because you realize that when you go out to those things you might be in a conversation with seven people, and probably four of them feel exactly the same way you do, but you’re all just putting on this ‘fun times’ face.

HC: I also really love the song “Body” -- it’s kind of haunting but there’s also something really present about it. I was listening to it on the subway on the way here and I felt like I was in my own world despite everything going on, is that how it felt to make the record?

Julia: Yeah! With the first album I had been playing it for years, those songs had been played for people many times, whereas this album I didn’t really share the songs at all, I kept them really close to me. Once you sign label deals everyone wants to hear the material and give feedback, but I can’t let that stuff into my creative process because sometimes people just don’t know what they want and they might hear something that doesn’t resonate with them in that moment. But if you share your music with the wrong person and they say one thing it can make you question your own instincts. So I kept it really to myself, and in the studio it was just my band who I’ve been friends with for years, which was insanely wonderful to do that as well, to have such a unique recording experience being in a little bubble for three weeks, because I know that’s not most people’s experience with recording. That was amazing, so it’s been weird to just spring that open now, which has been a bit hard to figure out.

HC: Has that been a learning experience, to not feel the need to get feedback or share your work immediately?

Julia: Totally, I think I’ve learned so many times that I have to just make sure that I’m making music that I want to hear, and not what other people want to hear, which I feel is a really obvious point but it’s really easy to get excited about something and want to share it. I remember playing “Don’t Let the Kids Win” to one of my best friends, who’s amazing, but it was just a weird time. We were in the kitchen and she was cooking dinner [while I played it] and she was just sort of like oh yeah, it’s okay! Then I put it on the record and it’s one of my favorite songs and the song that people really like. I feel like that process has been valid, where I’ve done stuff and haven’t shared it and then people have liked it, but it took me a long time to get there.

HC: I feel like there’s a lot of popular literature about bodies right now, a lot of women writing about their relationship with their bodies. It’s such a personal thing but it’s being written about a lot right now in a lot of different ways. You carried in a couple of books in today, were you reading anything that influenced the record?

Julia: It was one of those surprising things where I finished the album and listened back and realized I mentioned it many times. I approached every song so individually, but didn’t really see how it would look as a whole body of work. I think it was just something that I was really conscious of. I felt more detached from my physical self on tour more than I ever have in my life, because of just constantly being in confined spaces with bodies all the time and just always feeling like the boundary around me was either nonexistent or so fragile. I felt like I had to be available all the time and put myself last in terms of asking for space around me, because when you initially start touring there’s not much money, and there’s not much time off. I felt like my legs were moving around but I didn’t really feel it myself.

HC: Is it a different experience to tour at home in Australia? Do you feel more connected there?

Julia: America is my favorite place to tour.

HC: Why?

Julia: I don’t know, I’m trying to figure this out, I think because I feel more anonymous here. It feels a bit fresher here, it’s a bit more challenging, like I have more groove [laughs]. When I was younger I came here and just caught Greyhounds around for a couple of months, twice. And they were the most formative trips of my life I think. I was like 21/22/23, traveling around and playing open mic nights and meeting musicians and I was just so starry-eyed and open to everything. So I think there’s something about coming back here as a real musician that’s cool.

HC: Was there a point in your career where you felt like you became a real musician? Is it a confidence thing, an experience thing?

Julia: I think it changes all the time. I think this album has made me feel like I’m a proper musician. I don’t even know, “musician,” like that’s a weird word. Because I play music obviously, but I guess it’s hard to shake the fact that I didn’t grow up playing music. I loved music and I sang a lot but I didn’t pick up a guitar until I was 20 years old and I never really learned anything properly. You still have that feeling when you’re in a room with a whole bunch of dudes who can just like shred. Like, am I a musician? Because I can’t do any of that stuff! But now I’m like yeah, I’m a writer and I write songs and I can sing them well enough. I feel confident now in what I do, and I don’t feel the need to constantly thank everybody all the time for this opportunity, I don’t feel the need to talk about how grateful and surprised I am that this has happened to me. Of course that’s true, but I think you also get to the point where you’re like okay, I’ve actually worked really hard and made some good music, and now I’m doing the work. I don’t need to constantly diminish myself. You’re constantly thanking the industry people all the time for giving you this opportunity and then you realize this whole business is run by people finding musicians making good work and that’s why they’re employed, we’re all doing our part.  It’s not like they’re charity givers to all of these sad sacks who want to write music, we’re all playing a role.

HC: I go to a women’s college, and we constantly have professors telling us not to apologize for our work or basically apologize for existing, so it’s nice to have that reminder that you’ve earned your place and that your work is valuable. Do you think that’s [the need to say yes to and thank you for everything] a gendered thing? You mentioned not feeling like a “real” musician earlier on when you were in a room of “dudes shredding,” and I bet they’re not saying thank you for everything.

Julia Jacklin: Yeah, for sure, I think there’s more expected of me from everybody to be more. I just feel like male musicians at my level… they aren’t asked the same interview questions, they’re not constantly having to dissect their humanity to people all the time. I think they’re allowed to be a bit more aloof and cool and distant and they’re allowed to be a bit difficult. Whereas I do feel from my experience with a lot of the women I know is that you do have to give a lot, and when you pull back it’s problematic.

HC: That’s why I started this series, because I was tired of those stupid questions that tried to sum up being a ‘woman in music’ as one thing. But as I was telling Stella, for me it’s about trying to find a balance between asking questions about art and asking questions about being women because I don’t feel like any woman should have to answer those questions just because of their gender. But I do think it’s important to talk about.

Julia: It’s good to talk about, I think it’s on journalists to make sure they’re being thoughtful about these questions, because me and a lot of women do so many interviews where the questions are just shit and simple. It’ll just be like so, how crazy is it to be doing stuff? And then the next questions will be what’s it like being a woman? It’s like -- I’m taking my time out to talk about myself and I appreciate that you want to write about me, but can we not just spend like five minutes thinking about these questions? And if you do want to ask me about being a woman, can you maybe do some legwork and think of a way to phrase that that is not just lazy and simplistic, like what kind of answer are you looking for? Do you want me to say something controversial and inflammatory that you can put at the top of the article? I don’t even know what the answer to the question is -- I’ve never been a man, I’ve never been anything other than a woman in music so I don’t have the perspective to answer. I used to try to answer that question, but now I’m not.

HC: I feel like there’s so many articles now that ask questions like how is your music different in the #MeToo era? Like what the fuck does that mean!

Julia: [Groans] I know! It sucks as well because I feel like when there’s so much focus on that me and a lot of women try and distance ourselves from it because we don’t want to be made to feel like we’re making music to jump on some bandwagon, because that’s always the way it’s phrased, you know? I noticed me, Stella [Donnelly], Courtney [Barnett], all have had interviews that were similar where we’re asked those kind of questions and we have to go well I actually wrote these songs before that all kind of kicked off, but then you also appreciate that it kicked off, and it’s amazing that women can have these kinds of conversations, but let’s not feed into this idea that it’s a fad, that it’s just this current, cool thing that’s going on. So when men ask me those questions, I’m like, I just feel like you live in an alternate universe to me, because I’ve been having these conversations for my entire life. I’ve been having these conversations with men in my life. I don’t exist in this world where suddenly we’re talking about these issues, it’s been my reality. Women have been singing about our experiences and minorities have been singing about their experiences since the dawn of time.

HC: But now it’s a hashtag so…

Julia: Yeah exactly! Now people come to me like oh you’re doing it because of the current political climate and it’s going to give you more clout. That’s annoying. It’s an annoying line of questioning and it diminishes my work, and diminishes their work, and it’s just a simplistic way to look at this whole thing. It sucks because on one hand I’m happy to be alive right now while we’re actually talking about this stuff, but then on the other hand I also just want to be a songwriter. I’m not trying to lead the charge.