“DO you still have that photograph? Would you use it to hurt me? Well I guess it’s just my life, and it’s just my body,” sings Julia Jacklin on ‘Body’, the opening track of her aptly titled new record, Crushing.
The photograph in question is a naked image shot by an old boyfriend in the early days of a relationship. Somehow, in a single verse, she manages to describe the immense hopelessness that accompanies the loss of a woman’s right to bodily autonomy.
It’s as if she has found a way to vocalise a gesture; that sarcastic shrug of the shoulders that says, “Welp, I guess that’s just the way things are”, right before admitting defeat. “It’s just so boring and hypocritical when women are criticised for those photos”, she says.
When Julia arrives for our early morning interview at a café in Sydney’s industrial hub of Alexandria, the room immediately feels too big. It’s a huge open plan space with a concrete floor and ceiling to match. There must be more than 30 tables here, and at 9am, 25 of them are empty.
Julia seems unfazed by this fact, more worried that she’s running a few minutes behind schedule. “Sorry! It took forever to get here”, she says as she slings her soft guitar case from her shoulders.
Within a minute of her arrival, she orders a soy flat white and begins to talk about the music on her new record. And just like that, the room suddenly feels too small for her.
Much like her 2016 debut, Don’t Let the Kids Win, Crushing is a collection of anecdotal and deeply personal songs that somehow feel equal parts timeless and contemporary.
To use the quip, “It’s as if she read my diary”, to explain my affinity to this record might sound a little naff or contrived, but for me, there’s no better way to describe it. I assume it will be the same for many other women.
Inspired by Julia’s lack of personal space as a touring female musician and the breakup of a long-term relationship, Crushing tackles everything from privacy to self-governance to good old-fashioned heartache.
“The word ‘crushing’ and ‘crushed’ and ‘crush’ just kept coming to me, because I think it has many meanings. It’s a very intense word -and I think it’s an intense record – but for me it has hope and is a joyful in some ways, too, even though it is very crushing emotionally,” she says.
Following from ‘Body’ is Julia’s second single, ‘Head Alone’, a powerful petition for physical space both in her work and personal relationships.
The standout lyric, “I don’t want to be touched all the time/I raised my body up to be mine”, is about as pertinent a statement as you can get in the #MeToo era, but Julia is wary of becoming the face of a hashtag movement.
When I ask how much of the current climate influenced the record, she takes a long pause before responding.
“I’m sure it did, but I think what’s funny about that is that for me, talking about these issues is something that me and my female friends, and me and my sister, and me and my mum, and even me and my male friends have always done. It has been part of my life forever.”
“I write songs because I need to put my feelings and thoughts and ideas about the world down in tangible ways.”
As we talk through the new album, it’s interesting to hear how Julia’s lyrical intentions differ from my own interpretations. But when it comes to our shared experiences as women – groped in the mosh pit, shamed for old images, dismissed in male dominated industries – we unwittingly find each other on exactly the same page.
This record feels like a response to the times we are living in. Do you think the current political and social landscape influenced your songwriting?
It probably did, but I wrote most of this record before the Harvey Weinstein thing dropped, but I think it’s been so encouraging to be putting out a record now where it feels like the conversation’s already happening. But I think for me and my experience, even though it’s been really encouraging, I’ve been talking about this and having these conversations forever – I mean we all have – so it’s more of a shock to men who haven’t had this conversation, but for me it’s very normal to be discussing my body and my body autonomy and my being treated shittily by men.
I wanted to talk about the opening track, ‘Body’, which details a shitty flight with a shitty person before delivering a pretty powerful message about a woman’s right to control their own body and future. How important is that message for you to get across?
I don’t want to ever be a “message-y” artist, I never want to be preaching to anyone—I write songs because I need to put my feelings and thoughts and ideas about the world down in tangible ways. So, I would never ever say my music is “important” in that way. I just guess for me it was important to say that because ‘Body’ is more a song that I wrote from a moment when I felt very disillusioned and not very hopeful about the way the world is and the fact that sometimes it just kind of feels like it’s a losing battle. I don’t know, I think at the time I was just in a headspace where I was trying to make everyone around me happy and control the way people saw me, and you just can’t do that.
In ‘Body’, you also reference a naked photo and the fear of someone using it to hurt you later. Was including such a personal anecdote something you grappled with? I ask because I think it plays into this deeper issue of shame around something that the majority of us have done, but is still so stigmatised.
I think what’s funny is that we live in a world now where a lot of our communications and relationships are conducted online. Even if you are in a relationship, for someone like me who travels a lot, that’s the way we communicate and that’s a really beautiful thing. I think it’s a really amazing way that we are able to stay intimate with people, and that goes not just for intimate relationships – you know, I have whole message threads from friendships that have divulged all these secrets; there’s so much of our lives in this fragile thing called “The Internet”. In terms of photos being exchanged, when you’re young and in love, it’s such a beautiful time and you just trust someone you are with wholeheartedly, and you can’t imagine a world where you wouldn’t. That’s something to protect and try to hold onto and I hate getting older and feeling like you can’t be as trustworthy.
"When I was a teenager I used to go to gigs all the time and push my way to the front of the mosh and just be groped the whole way and that was just normal."
Yeah, it gets really tainted.
It gets so tainted, and I think it gets tainted because people are ashamed after the fact. And it’s just so boring and hypocritical when women are criticised for those photos, cause it’s just like, as if the guys criticising them have not either sent images themselves or haven’t received images of naked women or, like, spent most of their adolescence or life watching pornography.
In a similar vein, ‘Head Alone’ deals with setting physical boundaries, particularly the closing line, “I’ll say it till he understands, you can love somebody without using your hands.” I don’t want to make the record sound gender divisive, but what do you hope some of your male fan base take from these first few songs?
Well, that song for me is not just talking about a personal relationship, but just me existing in a very full space – the music industry. So I’m always in venues and small spaces, and a lot of this record came from me needing to get out of those small spaces and feeling like I had no room of my own. And I think, for women, especially in those spaces, that space is even smaller than the men’s that you are next to. So they don’t see the little microaggressions, and your space being pushed. And what’s frustrating for me, being a touring musician for so long, I saw a lot of behaviour and I felt different ways I was touched by people in the industry and fans or whatever. But in the moment it seems not significant enough to talk about, because I’m used to that – we’re all used to that. When I was a teenager I used to go to gigs all the time and push my way to the front of the mosh and just be groped the whole way and that was just normal.
Yeah, that was just you getting to the front.
It was just me getting to the front! It was just normal. So therefore even as a progressive feminist adult, I still need to shake that that isn’t okay.
Do you also kind of get that ridiculous feeling that you don’t want to be seen as another woman complaining over nothing?
Yeah, especially if you’re the only woman in the space, which is most of the time. I know people are saying there’s a lot of female representation in the music industry, but there’s not when it comes to people at venues, promoters, sound guys, engineers, lighting people … You’re walking into a male space and so if nobody else is having the same experience as you, you do feel like you’re just bringing the party down. But I think for me, because I internalised it for so long, it just kind of exploded onto the record.
But I want to say that I’m encouraged by my male friends and I have some great people in my life who genuinely, genuinely understand and recognise bad behaviour without me having to point it out.
The song ‘Pressure to Party’, like most on the album, is so relatable. We’ve all been in this post-breakup situation. Is relate-ability an aim for you when you write?
No, but it’s been interesting putting out these songs and people being like, “This is exactly how I feel!” I guess my experiences are not very special, like in a good way, and that’s why people can relate.
What do you mean by “not special:”?
Well I just mean I went through a breakup. What I find sometimes is the most tragic thing about breakups is that they’re so not tragic, because they’re so normal, and commonplace. So, unlike other devastating things that happen to you in your life, the level of sympathy there is non-existent. There’s empathy, but people aren’t very sympathetic which is sometimes what you want. I think that’s what makes it so sad and so isolating: we all go through it.
"When you’re young and in love it’s such a beautiful time and you just trust someone you are with wholeheartedly, and you can’t imagine a world where you wouldn’t."
As much as the album deals with heartbreak, it deals with the healing process too. The closer, ‘Comfort’ is aptly crushing, but I feel like there’s some resolve in there too. Have you come out the other side, do you think?
Yeah! I think that song is about being a grown up in those situations and I think a lot of the time we’re scared of how world changing it can feel that we treat each other poorly after, because you try hold onto things that you know you have to let go of. But letting go can be really weird and scary, and I think when I was younger I definitely wasn’t the kindest person after a break up because you’re immature and you’re hurt and you make stupid decisions. I think that song is just about accepting and sitting with your decisions and backing yourself in them.
On that note then, what advice would you give to anyone going through heartbreak right now?
My friend Liz [Hughes from Phantastic Ferniture] always laughs at me because my advice to everyone all the time is just like, ‘Well… guess we’ll just have to wait and see!” It’s like I just have this real generic advice, but it’s kind of true for most things—you kind of have to wait and see how you feel. When you go through something, in that pain and confusion, people try to find ways to make themselves better or understand what happened but you cant when you’re still in that headspace. I think it’s really important just to be there for your friends, don’t dismiss their feeling just because you’ve felt them before or you feel like your breakup was more tragic than theirs. Everybody’s personal experience is intense. So yeah, just be a good friend.