To an American, singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin’s youth sounds romantic. She grew up in the Blue Mountains of Australia, going bushwalking with her family, and began singing at age 10. The reality, according to Jacklin, is of course less “mystical.” The Blue Mountains may be beautiful, but she says her youth there was an average suburban experience. She picked up the guitar after a high school friend, a metalhead, introduced her to it. She thought she’d become a social worker, and after taking a gap year backpacking, went off to study social policy at university in Sydney. She completed her degree, played in a folk band with some friends, and started working at an essential oil factory. Then, a realization: The band wasn’t the right fit. She started performing and recording under her own name, and now, is set to release her debut album, Don’t Let the Kids Win (Polyvinyl Records) on October 7.
“When I was writing this record, and when I recorded this album, I had no contact with the industry,” Jacklin tells us. “I was very fresh and naïve about it. I kind of finished it, had this album, no money, and was back at the factory thinking, ‘Crap. What do I do now? What if nobody wants to hear it and I don’t get any help?’ That worried me a lot and I thought maybe I had run out of time or something, but I feel okay about it right now.”
Jacklin blends folk and rock ‘n’ roll, embracing the former’s lyricism and the latter’s grit. On “Coming of Age,” her forthcoming LP’s third track, which we’re pleased to premiere below, she sings over a driving guitar about the fear of growing older and of being too late.
Next week, Jacklin will begin an international tour, but before she left Sydney, we spoke over the phone about “Coming of Age” and how a Britney Spears documentary scared her into taking singing classes.
NAME: Julia Jacklin
BORN: Blue Mountains, Australia
BASED: Sydney, Australia
“COMING OF AGE”: I was listening to another singer-songwriter a while ago, I think it was Sharon Van Etten, and I was like, “Oh no, I’m running out of time to put music out,” and I freaked out about that. That’s the theme of the record, in a way, just worrying that time was going to slip by. I always get deeply obsessed with artists for a short period of time, and the song also turned into a song about trying to find that next person because I felt a bit starved for inspiration—really wanting another artist to throw myself into.
HER DEBUT LP, DON’T LET THE KIDS WIN: The songs felt like really clear choices. I’d been playing them for about two years—I wrote a few just before I recorded—but they’d been road-tested. I think I’ll probably feel more pressure on the second record than I did on this. With a debut, you’ve just got to do what you’ve been doing and see if people like it. Expectations rise once you’ve released something. I think you can get so bogged down by [every choice]. Obviously I’ve definitely done that too, but I think you just run out of time. You can hold onto things forever and never get anywhere. You’ve got to go, “Well, that’s what it is. That’s the way I was writing at the time. That’s the way I decided to record it.” Then you just move on.
IT BEGAN WITH BRITNEY: I started singing lessons when I was around 10. I was on a family holiday and watching a Britney Spears documentary. [laughs] I was very freaked out by how much she had achieved by the time she was 10. I begged my mom for singing lessons and then I did them for about eight years, training. But I didn’t pick up the guitar until I was about 19. I didn’t start writing music until I was about 20.
LYRICAL FRAME OF MIND: When I’m really stuck, I have to listen to music. Sometimes I can create in a vacuum based on how I’m feeling, but if I get writer’s block or if I get really stuck, I also like to read artists’ lyrics. I read a lot of Leonard Cohen’s lyrics, I just love the way he writes—as does everyone—and seeing his turns of phrase. I also listen to a lot of Gillian Welch, because she just has these incredible song structures that blow my mind. If I’m stuck I listen to her music to see how she structures it. I think it’s a healthy thing to do.
STUDYING TO BECOME A SOCIAL WORKER: That was the big plan, I don’t know, it still might be a plan eventually, we’ll see how this goes. I kind of struggled through uni. I did well, but I took a few breaks when good things started happening with music. I finished my degree, but I guess I was always a bit naïve thinking that I could do both at the same time. Then I realized, to actually have a music career, you kind of need to charge ahead—at least for a certain time. I think maybe once you have established yourself and you can take breaks and pursue other things, it might be easier. Definitely in the beginning you need to make a lot of sacrifices.
WHEN SHE WAS IN A FOLK BAND: I was listening to a lot of folk music. I think one of the first songs I wrote was a very generic song about a sea captain, borrowing some overused folky themes. The more I wrote, the more I brought it back to my own voice and opinion. I started in a folk band. I was in this band with two of my best friends and we released an EP when I was younger and then we went to make another EP and halfway through doing it we all just realized that we didn’t really like the music anymore. We were kind of playing Appalachian folk music, we fell into playing that, but we didn’t really like playing it. We decided to break up and do our own thing. The other girl that I was in the band with is a singer-songwriter as well, so it was one of those bands where you’ve got two songwriters, so the set is always a bit weird because the songs are quite different and you have two lead singers. It was like we were doing our own thing anyway, but we were just putting ourselves together on stage.
HITTING THE ROAD: I quit my day job [a few] weeks ago. I’m very excited about that. I was working at an essential oil factory for two years. It was a good job, great people, they were super flexible with me going on tour and having time off to record and whatnot, but it was pretty repetitive work to say the least. I’m leaving on the 22nd of August and then I’ll be away until the end of November. I went backpacking in my gap year for seven months, but it’s definitely the longest time I’ve been away since then. I’ve never done this kind of touring, show after show after show. I’ll see how that goes. I’ve been waiting to do this for a long time. Until next year, my life has been planned out, so I’m just going to ride that wave and see what it’s like.