Interviews Music

Folk Singer Julia Jacklin Likes a Little Room to Breathe

Julia Jacklin needs space. Space to think and space to write. So it’s fortunate, then, that she should get a Sydney sharehouse garage all to herself. “It’s just very cold and very hot,” she says. “But it’s been great because it’s really cheap. And it gives me privacy, which isn’t that common in shared living situations.” Although she’s grateful for her housemates (all five are musicians; one is her drummer), it’s while cooped up alone in her garage-bedroom that she tends to write her songs. In fact, it’s where she wrote the majority of her debut album, Don’t Let The Kids Win.

“I wrote the songs over a two year period,” she explains. “I was finishing uni, studying social work, and feeling very conflicted about what I wanted to do. And I’d just been in this relationship with an American guy, so I was kind of like, Should I be a social worker? Should I move to America and be with this person? Or should I stay in Australia and try to pursue music?” While the States offered opportunity on the music front, Julia was afraid of getting lost, without any friends or support network to back her up if she went over there. So she made her choice: she broke up with the American.

For work, Julia pulled shifts on the production line of an essential oil factory. Initially, she listened to podcasts while on the job, but her bosses put an end to that. “So then it was a year of Smooth FM,” she says. “Smooth FM and being way too much in my own head.” The repetitive tasks – capping, labelling, folding boxes – were therapeutic, but only to an extent. She explains: “When you’re doing it five days a week, it’s not therapeutic any more. I used to run through lyrics in my head, but after a while, your mind legitimately goes blank. You just sit there and focus on what you’re doing.”

Still, she loved it. “There were hard times,” she says, “but the whole time I was there, I worked in a small room with two Cambodian women and a man from the Philippines, and they just became my family.” Her bosses, likewise, offered her nothing but encouragement when it came to pursuing her musical career. “They were so excited about my music,” she says, “so they were really flexible with me, if ever I needed time off work.” She now needs permanent time off work; she’s touring the world.

Her music’s a far cry from the Avril Lavigne and Evanescence covers she played in high school. It’s also a far cry from her first attempts at folk. “I started writing originals around 20,” she explains. “They were just really bad. I was borrowing overused folky scenes, like about a fisherman or a mountain. It was stuff that didn’t mean anything to me. But I thought, If I’m going to play folk music, I’ve got to sing about rivers and mountains and earthy things.” She also assumed that she had to sound pretty. “Because I was trained as a classical singer,” she says, “I thought I had to sing in this really pretty way and sing about pretty things and not say anything that would offend my mum.”

She’s since written songs that more honestly explore her relationships, including her relationship with her mum. “It opens up a conversation,” she says. In this way, she’s creating space. Space to talk and space to wonder. But it’s the space of her backyard back home in the Blue Mountains that she craves more than anything. It’s why she goes there every week, revisiting the bush and the valleys. “And to hang out with my mum and my brother,” she says. “I sit with my brother on the couch and we watch Dawson’s Creek. He’s 18, but for some reason we both just love Dawson’s Creek. We’ll sit down for hours watching episodes and yelling at the TV. It’s great.”

This article first appeared in frankie magazine issue 74 (Nov/Dec 2016).

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