Julia Jacklin’s Year Of Relentless Touring

A FEW songs into Julia Jacklin’s set at Øyafestival in Oslo, a fan states the obvious. “You’re wearing a Sydney shirt!” he yells. “I’m wearing it to remind you I’m from Sydney,” she says. Then, more quietly: “Also to remind myself.”

Julia has played about 140 shows since ‘Pool Party’ came out in March 2016, the first single off her debut record Don’t Let The Kids Win. This year, she’s done triple j’s Like A Version, South By Southwest and a Tiny Desk concert for National Public Radio.

About 20 of her recent shows have been on a summertime loop of European festivals, including Norway’s biggest festival, Øya. That’s where I see her play in August on a bill with Lana Del Rey, The Pixies, The xx and Danny Brown. The next day Julia and others, including Feist, will bus it to Gothenburg, Sweden, for the next festival.

Julia popped back to Australia in July for Splendour In The Grass but had returned to Europe by the time she won an APRA professional development award, worth $15,000. Her mum picked it up for her. “I make a lot of Julia’s clothes,” she told the audience, as reported by The Australian. “So maybe now she’ll be able to afford to buy some of her own.”

I liked that. Julia, like me, is a Sydney transplant from the lower Blue Mountains. My mum didn’t make my clothes but I recognised the enduring lack of pretension. The clip to ‘Coming Of Age’ is set in the mid-mountains town of Springwood where Julia spent her “teenage years wandering the streets”. Yeah, me too.

“Not everything you sing is how you feel in the moment.”

“Helloooooo,” Julia had said to the sizeable Øya crowd. “My name’s Julia and here’s some songs I wrote.” They sway and sing in Nordic accents. Julia does well in Scandinavia, apparently, which makes sense given she’s visited Oslo alone four times in a year.

“When you travel so much, it’s really nice to know a city enough to recognise things,” she says after the show. “It’s been cool to come back to Oslo … and see the audience growing.”

The Exhaustion Is Real

DON’T Let The Kids Win was released last October. Its country-rock songs have a worn-in, old-timey quality that fools you into thinking Julia’s been around for a long time. In reality she is 26 years old and her first festival was Fairground in Berry, NSW, in December 2016.

“It’s been a huge learning curve,” she says. “In the beginning [at festivals] I was very timid. You don’t want to admit you don’t know much so you say, ‘Yeah, everything’s great’, even when it’s not. I’d spend an entire gig blowing my voice out because … I didn’t want to keep asking for more vocals.”

She learnt fast. “Little things, like I used to say ‘give me whatever’ for my rider. Then I realised there was something comforting about having the same rider everywhere. A bit of routine in a life that lacks any anchor.”

Julia makes it clear she feels “so lucky to perform these songs to people who listen and care”. But the exhaustion is real. My admission that I’m crazily jetlagged isn’t an intentional way to bond with her – but it sure works that way.

“Oh, I’m gonna be very scattered too,” she says. “Recently in Latvia … we were so tired and my mind just drifted. Suddenly, I was in this song, ‘Motherland’, and I could not for the life of me remember the second verse. So I was going ‘da, da, da, da’, looking at my bandmates going ‘Give me a clue!’ We were on live TV too.”

Julia’s fatigue isn’t apparent. She has a measured, melodious talking voice with little of the rising inflection that makes other Australians sound like everything they say is up for debate. You can’t see it in the videos  so forgive me the cliché  but her eyes resemble the clouded blue swirl of oceans seen from space. Though she sings on ‘Eastwick’, “I really hate showing my legs/even when the Sydney summer begs me”, she is showing them now in a short, plaid skirt.

“I wrote that about two, three years ago,” she says. “When I never would wear a short skirt because I used to get teased at school for having knock-knees … You know how families think it’s light-hearted but it bores into your soul? And you develop this intense complex.”

She overcame it by filming the ‘Pool Party’ video in a short skirt her Auntie wore as a teenager. “I really loved this skirt, it was the right aesthetic. And I watched the video and I was like, ‘Your legs are fine. They’re normal legs. Get over it.’ Not everything you sing is how you feel in the moment.”

Which can make it hard touring older songs. Julia wrote the bulk of her album between 22 and 24 years old, playing at venues like The Union Hotel in Newtown. “26-year-old Julia performing 22-year-old Julia … can feel like a weird kind of cabaret. But I realised every songwriter has had that exact feeling at one point, if not many points, in their life.

The Pressure Of Age

LIKE many before her, too, writers’ block hit hard after the first album. “You’re constantly given advice that’s conflicting. Some people are like, ‘Oh, you’ve gotta be like Nick Cave. Get up. Sit at a piano at 10am to 7pm. Treat it like a job.’

“And then nothing happens and you feel like shit. So someone will say, ‘You need to take a month off. Don’t even listen to music or think about music. Just walk around and be inspired by your surroundings and eventually, things will happen.

“And nothing happens and then you realise … it’s never going to be easy. The creative side is not just going to fall into place while I get some cruisey lifestyle where I travel around and write hits. It’s just not like that.”

The touring life doesn’t lend itself to the songwriting life, says Julia, “but you have to do it to be a songwriter. And people want things like this – “ She snaps her fingers. “A week after I released my record, in interviews people were asking, ‘What’s next?’ And it’s like, ‘Dude! That record took years to write and a long time to make enough money to record. Now it’s here, I just want to enjoy that for what it is.”

Feeling pressured to produce new music to capitalise on your buzz is another common predicament. Yet women – especially young women starting out – must also grapple with a deeper, less resolvable urgency. “I’m 26 and I’m already feeling the pressure of age. Like, how long do I have?”

Her comment hits hard. It’s what people say when they’re diagnosed with a terminal illness. Then again, age and its milestones are things Julia ponders a lot.

In mid-September 2017 she released a 7-inch with a b-side called ‘Cold Caller’, written after news of her sister’s pregnancy. “I know people get pregnant all the time but this was different, this was my sister,” Jacklin has said. “The one who explained tampons to me, told me what kissing felt like, convinced mum to let me shave my legs.”

Again, I identify. I was living overseas when my sister fell pregnant too, with twins, and I felt the same excited incredulity. Were I a songwriter, would I have claimed the feeling as my muse, as Julia does, with such ease? I’m not sure.

Laura Jean etches a similar scene, so tenderly, on her song ‘Sister All I Have Are My Arms’. I love these ordinary, yet extraordinary, milestones shared between women and sisters, being the subject of songs. It represents feminism’s constant, quiet underside – a solidarity that’s always been there, if not explicitly.

 

“I’m 26 and I’m already feeling the pressure of age. Like, how long do I have?”

Speaking of age – don’t call Julia an old soul. She hates it. “It’s a cliche thrown on anyone who shows insight in their songwriting who’s below 30. They say ‘And whose lyrics belie their age.’ And I’m like, ‘But do they?’

“As a 26-year-old woman, what should I be writing about that’s age-appropriate? I write about being young. I write about being female. I write about my experience with boyfriends and with my mom. I talk about being online. So how do my lyrics belie my age? How am I an old soul?

“The music industry is so obsessed with people who are apparently more talented than their age suggests. So what happens when you’re actually as talented as your age? Do people then not give a shit? It’s scary. Like if I’m 35 and no one can say ‘Oh, she’s only 22, oh, she’s only 25’.”

With constant touring comes constant interviews – and some pretty stupid questions.

“Sometimes I think, ‘What on earth do I say to this?’ Especially, ‘What’s it like to be a woman in the music industry?’ I don’t know what it’s like! I’ve never been a man in the music industry so I have nothing to compare it to.

“I know people want some feminist soundbite at the top of the article to brand me as a feminist singer/songwriter, but what do you want me to say? Like ‘men are the devil’? I don’t want to do that.”

“26-year-old Julia performing 22-year-old Julia … can feel like a weird kind of cabaret.”

OUR original plan to walk around Øya festival is long ditched. Julia nips back to raid the rider and we reminisce about the Blue Mountains over cans of Norwegian ale.

We’re 14 years apart but in the way of small-town histories, we both frequented all-age gigs at Lawson Town Hall, a town about three-quarters of the way up the mountains.

“All the odd, mysterious boys in indie bands … were the coolest people in the world to me,” she says. “I just did musicals, classical singing, stuff like that. Watching them on stage I was like, ‘I will never be this cool in my entire life.’ I had dreams I’d move to Katoomba after high school, get dreads, get really into African dancing … I wanted to live up there, be a stoner, you know?” Yes, I assure her. I know.

She didn’t move to Katoomba. A few key venues closed and the sheen dimmed. “I knew I wasn’t going to live the Bohemian lifestyle I imagined so moved to Sydney and went to uni. I’m really glad I didn’t have the white girl dreads stage!”

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