Julia Jacklin on Teenage Fandom and Nailing Talent Quests

Photos by Sam Brumby

Britney, Evanescence, and Julia Jacklin walk into a bar…

When I first heard Julia Jacklin’s song ‘Don’t Let The Kids Win’, I felt like someone was reading my diary out loud again. The first time that happened, I was seven and my brother stole the key to my secret diary lock, opened it on my grandparents’ deck, and proceeded to read out an early April entry declaring my love for Timothy Rook to my entire extended family. Needless to say, tears were shed that night.

Now to this second, albeit metaphorical diary reading. I was in my car, stopped at a red traffic light at the intersection of South Dowling and Flinders St. ‘Don’t Let The Kids Win’ came through the speakers, and I was stunned. Every verse got me, but nothing quite like the one about Jacklin’s mother. It goes:

“Don’t let the time go by / Without sitting your mother down / And asking what life was like for her / Before you came to be around / And tell her it’s okay if she puts herself first / Us kids we’ll be alright if we’re not the centre of her universe.”

That night, I drove to my parents’ house and asked my mum just that. Less than a year later, I’m seated next to Jacklin at a Surry Hills café, asking when or if she spoke to her own family about the song. “No, I haven’t! I was just thinking about that the other day,” she says. “I think my mum doesn’t hear lyrics, you know? She’ll be like, ‘that’s catchy.’” What about her younger brother then, who she also masterfully muses about on the same song, singing, “Don’t let your brother / Stop thinking you’re cool / Yeah I know he’s got a girlfriend now and he’s taller / But that don’t mean he stopped looking up to you.”

“My brother hasn’t said anything either—I think maybe it’s embarrassing or something. It’s awkward sometimes to talk to your family about personal things and express those kinds of emotions, and that’s why I wrote a song about it instead, to save talking to them about it,” she says.

26-year-old Jacklin grew up west of Sydney in the Blue Mountains. Her debut album, Don’t Let the Kids Win was released in October of last year, receiving immediate, widespread acclaim. Jacklin had just returned from a transformative trip across America when she emailed Aldous Harding’s producer, Ben Edwards, to ask if they could work on her first record together.

While she was in the US, Jacklin spent a lot of time on the infamously shady Greyhound buses. “Probably the strangest thing that happened on a Greyhound was when we were going to Nashville and the woman in front of me, her water broke. And it went on my bag and then we had to stop the bus and she was going into labour, it was really intense. No one on the bus knew how to handle it, she was alone and only like, 17. That’s probably the craziest thing I saw.”

Whilst it took a trip to America to kick Jacklin into gear for her first album, she’s not waiting for another eureka moment to get working on her second. “Me before I made my first record and me now are extremely different people. Before, I wasn’t a full-time musician; I was a completely different person creatively because I was making music as a hobby after uni and kind of not expecting it to do anything good. Now, I’m doing it full-time and it’s a totally different feeling—it feels a bit harder now, I’m questioning everything.”

While the success of the album has led to sold-out shows in Australia and multiple tours across the US and Europe, Jacklin still can’t help but reflect on simpler times. Like the golden days of high school, when her old band performed Evanescence covers. (Yes, they did that song). “I wish so, so much, that I could go back in time, and force my mum to buy a video camera, and film me singing that song. I sung that at the band competition at this really bad music festival called ‘Weststock’ which is like Western Sydney’s Woodstock. It was like a sausage sizzle with a jumping castle and a stage with local kid bands.”

It’s at this point of the conversation that I realise Jacklin and I are very different people. Personally, I feel nothing but enormous relief knowing most of my creative output from my teenage years has gone undocumented. The reason for this is simple: In year 12, as my final artwork, I made a screen print of Jesus crucified at the stock exchange holding a shopping bag and wearing an army tag. The work was aptly titled, ‘Why?’

Needless to say, Jacklin is different, most obviously because she’s talented—an attribute I personally dodged at birth. “I covered Evanescence again at the talent quest at my school, and I have a memory that I fucking nailed it,” she says. “But then again, maybe I didn’t. I remember people after it coming up saying, ‘that was fucking great’ though, so I dunno.”

While we’re digging up old skeletons, it’s worth mentioning that Jacklin grew up a die-hard Britney Spears fan. Though you may not hear much of her influence in Jacklin’s songs, Britney is actually the reason she took up singing lessons at 10-years-old. “My fandom has wavered recently, though,” she says. “I saw a music video where she seemed to cram like 10 million product placements into it. I’m like, come on dude, you’ve got a lot of money. I’m obviously in a very different realm as a musician, but I still don’t understand that product placement thing. It takes away from the joy of a music video.” Does that mean she’d turn down a meet and greet with the princess of pop? “I’m very hesitant to meet my heroes. I think that it’s not the best idea, usually.”

Is that ‘usually’ a reference to a personal, grossly embarrassing experience? Of course it is. “When I was about 13, I was obsessed with Grinspoon. I went to the ARIAs to watch, and I was on the red carpet and Phil pulled up in a Cadillac and I didn’t know what he looked like or anything because this was pre using the internet, and I was like, ‘Who are you?’ and he said, ‘We’re Grinspoon’ and I just screamed my head off for about five minutes until he left. I just think you can never be as composed and articulate and say what you wanna say—I think if I was gonna meet a hero I’d just want it to be casually, like, in the same toilet line.”

Talking to Jacklin, I note how naturally she weaves clever insights into casual conversation —just as she does in her lyrics. Every track on her album is effortlessly peppered with insightful, heartfelt musings on everyday occurrences, making her music a rare mix of smart, relatable and accessible. Jacklin also possesses the ability to drop contemporary, cultural references in her songs without coming across as tacky or cheap. It’s like she’s making classics of her time, instead of timeless classics. It’s lines like “I’ve been keeping my eye for when you come online, and you need me, emotionally” on ‘Hay Plain’, or “Zach Braff, you look just like my dad, back when I thought I had the best one”, on ‘Small Talk’ that make you feel like you’re reading a text conversation with your best friend. But is it a conscious thing for her to drop current references in her music?

“Yeah, I think it definitely is,” she says. I think especially with folk music, and the genre I write in, it’s really easy at the beginning to just fall into really classic folk tropes, you know, and just sing about mountains and rivers and the country and stuff and it doesn’t feel that good to sing because I feel like a bit of a fraud. I dunno, it’s nice to sing about current things and being a young person today, because a lot of people don’t like to sing these things because it’s not the way songs are supposed to be written.”

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