Even by the lofty standards of a November in Manchester, it’s cold. The kind of savage cold that briefly causes you to go into shock when you re-enter it having taken refuge in any kind of warmth. For someone used to the warmer climes of her native Sydney, Julia Jacklin’s taking it in her stride with an affable nonchalance as she beams as she describes how “it’s brutal! Easily the coldest we’ve had on tour…” (she’d later come on stage to Crowded House’s’ ‘Weather With You’. Well played. Very well played.)
We’re speaking not only as said touring begins to wind down, with her having but a handful of international dates left, but also on the eve of the American election. With us both welcome of a distraction from events Stateside (as someone who holds both Australian and British passports, she’ll admit her political year has also been coloured by post-Brexit uncertainty), we sit amid the hustle and bustle of the venue’s bar to reflect on her breakout year.
And what a year it’s been, filled with international touring and deserved acclaim for her country-tinged debut Don’t Let The Kids Win – not that she’s had a lot of time to bask in it. “I’ve been on tour for a while,” she says in the rich Australian burr that replaces the swoops and twangs, more Nashville than New South Wales, that pepper her album, “so in a way it’s quite difficult to gauge how the record has been received. I think when it’s all finished and I get some time off and some time to reflect on the last year then I’ll be able to feel what’s happened. It’s been a totally different experience to what I was expecting, but that’s a given.” She admits that Britain is one of the first places that really ‘got’ her album, and concedes it was in part thanks to pushes from her British (and first-ever) label and heavy rotation from 6Music. Nonetheless, “it’s been amazing to travel over here and have people in Newcastle singing along to ‘Pool Party’ or something.”
Th record is the result of what has arguably been a lifelong voyage of self-discovery that began when, as a ten year-old, Jacklin saw a Britney Spears documentary which left her questioning what she had achieved in the first ten years of her life versus what Spears had accomplished in the first twelve of hers. Singing lessons immediately followed, as did stints in a high school covers band singing Avril Lavigne and Evanescence covers. But it was reconnecting with an old high school friend while travelling in South America that cemented the idea of being a musician, the pair playing together providing the environment for Jacklin to find her feet as a songwriter.
The album started to took shape while Jacklin was working on a production line at an essential oils factory, with a clear goal in mind. “I just had a collection of songs that I wanted to record before I was 25” she says, swiftly adding that “I don’t know why I had the whole 25 thing in my head. Time just ticks by and everyone knows that it can just speed by you if you’re not careful. It feels not that long ago that I was an eighteen year old thinking that I might be able to put out a single one day and I knew that once I hit 23 that I had to set and absolute deadline because time could just get away from me. I just wanted to get a record down before I hit that age.” For her, making and releasing the album has proven to something which has reinforced and validated the decisions she’s made and the path she’s chosen, as she admits that “for the first time I can say I’m a musician and that’s really nice because when you’re younger people always ask you what you do and you have to say you’re a waitress but you’re studying and hoping to do this or that. You end up being so many versions of yourself so now it’s nice to finally be able to confidently say that I am this particular thing”.
Don’t Let The Kids Win, even down to its title, is a whipsmart rumination of ageing and finding a place in the world. On the chorus of the title track Jacklin repeatedly asserts that “I’ve got a feeling that this won’t ever change/We’re going to keep on getting older, it’s going to keep on feeling strange” while opening lines of ‘Same Airport, Different Man’ strike at the heart of the uncertainty almost all of us have had in our early twenties as she sings “Same airport, different man/I’m starting to think I don’t quite know who I am”.
“I feel very different to how I felt even a couple of years ago,” she says, contextualising the songs within her own personal development. “I think a lot of people do when they’re in their twenties, you grow a lot in a very short space of time. It was a really transitional period, having just finished university and then having this time afterwards where big decisions had to be made and I didn’t know which direction I should be heading.”
“I wouldn’t say that I’m that emotionally open,” she continues, “but I do see the importance of being open even though it can be difficult and can feel bad. I’ve found that my friendships and relationships and relationships with my family that only positive things have come from being honest and so I guess I feel the same about my music.”
Whilst an emotionally open and honest record, it’s allied to a rich, punchy sound for balance. ‘Coming Of Age’ is a precocious fuzzy stomp, ‘Leadlight’ a chiming, charming waltz. “I grew up in a folk scene,” she recounts, “and I found that I became less connected to music that was continuously sad and was heavy both lyrically and musically. It began to lose its effect. I found that when I started listening to Father John Misty and Leonard Cohen – who managed to sing about quite heavy and personal things and add a hopeful element, whether that be through a phrase in the song or the instrumentation lifting it – it hit me a lot harder. It doesn’t leave you destroyed, it leaves you thinking ‘oh, we’re all going through the same shit and at the end of the day it’s probably going to be alright’.”
That balance, she says, also stems from a national culture: “In Australia, and I think it’s quite similar to over here, if you love someone you take the piss out of them. In can be quite negative because you’re being steered away from getting too bogged down in your emotions – ‘buck up, it’ll be alright’ – but it can also be positive because it doesn’t allow you to wallow and it lets you see the funny side of things. Courtney [Barnett] and Fraser [A. Gorman] and all that gang are a great example of that.” But if the culture of her homeland has shaped her emotional outlook – and attendant artistic output – she’s quick to point out that its resurgence has afforded her opportunities, magnanimously singling out, unprompted, one standout in particular as a help. “I think Courtney Barnett has helped me a lot and a lot of other songwriters in the way she brought the focus back onto songwriting and lyricism,” she claims “I think it’s helped Australia as a whole, too. People have cottoned onto her and thought ‘I wonder what else is going down in Australia’ and then gone on to check out Fraser and the rest of Milk! Records or whatever and it’s just gone on from there and it all spreads out.” She doesn’t think it’s the sole preserve of new and emerging artists either, adding that “I think there’s been a resurgence in praise for the likes of Paul Kelly and Darren Hanlon too, and it’s all very exciting.”
Jacklin arguably arrives at a time where there’s an array of Australian songwriters documenting the struggles of a certain generation as they try to navigate the pitfalls of early adulthood. The Goon Sax sing about the tribulations of being a teenager, with Fraser A Gorman and Alex Lahey and Barnett all astutely documenting the plight of those facing the uncertainty of their twenties.“I definitely think I’m in the same canon as that,” Jacklin says. “It’s something that’s probably been written about since the dawn of time but it’s been cool to see people bring the anxieties of being in your twenties in the modern day world in Australia and being okay to sing about that. For a while there’s been this cultural cringe in Australia where it’s always been ‘don’t speak about being from Australia, talk about the hills of Dakota or the railways of Ohio’ and trying to not really identify with being Australian too closely and it’s been really cool to hear songs that people of my age can listen to and place us in Australia.”
“I think we’re just so isolated,” she continues “and we have a bit of an identity crisis in terms of the music we make and what we put into the world as ‘our’ music so I think a lot of the time it takes you getting some traction overseas for Australia to be ‘cool, this is good!’ so I think me getting traction over here has certainly helped my standing back home”. But is cultural cringe still a part of the her homeland’s culture and if so, is the next generation overcoming that at all? “I think that cultural cringe is definitely still a part of the national psyche but you have a lot of young people are really embracing being Australian and how it’s very different to what it would have meant fifty years ago. It’s very exciting.”
As seems to be the case with anyone that gains the slightest bit of traction these days, the questions is invariably ‘what next?’. Fittingly for someone who has made a powerful document of finding her place in the world and not wishing your life away, Jacklin is careful to not get caught up in the ever-moving industry treadmill. “For a while, before I had a manager and a label, I was freaking out about my next record literally a month later”, she admits. “It really screwed me around because I found myself asking ‘what if this isn’t received well, am I going to need to go and make something else really quickly?’. It’s really hard in this business to live in the present and to actually stand on a stage and think ‘holy fuck this is incredible’ because you’re always thinking ‘have I finished that interview? What time do we need to get up in the morning? Have we sorted the accommodation?’…”
She catches herself, keen not to be seen to be complaining. She shrugs and smiles as she adds “I’m now touring with this incredible band that I love and trying to tell myself ‘this is amazing, enjoy it’ because I feel we have a tendency to focus on the future so right now I’m just enjoying the moment. I think once I get home and tour Australia and I have some Christmas with the family then maybe I’ll start thinking ‘right, what’s next?’
Live: Scala – 2nd March.