Julia Jacklin had a goal to make an album by the time she turned 25. The result, 2016’s Don’t Let the Kids Win, felt more like a record from a seasoned songwriting pro than a debut, and positioned her among some of the most exciting young artists of this generation. Jacklin’s poetic lyrics are comprised of anecdotal scenes brimming with childhood memories, earnest observations, deeply-felt stories, and powerful subtext; listening to them, it is clear that she is in command of her voice and has something meaningful to say with it.
Ahead of her sophomore album, the title of which has not yet been revealed, I met with Jacklin on a park bench in Greenpoint outside of Brooklyn Steel, where she opened for folk-duo First Aid Kit later that night. We discussed her creative oeuvre, from songwriting, to directing her own videos, and finding the space to be herself in a highly manufactured industry.
What is your creative process like?
I have to be alone. And I have to be alone for a few days, usually. I feel like it’s one of those things where, I like, I need to spend the whole day processing and taking it easy and thinking, and then I’ll start writing at around 4 in the afternoon. Me and my drummer were talking about this the other day, that sometimes when you start to write something and it feels good, it almost feels like you drop into some sort of drug trip and then you emerge like 8 hours later, just like, “whoa, this is cool.” That’s so beautiful but it’s very rare these days for me because I’m always touring.
I write in a diary everyday and I have since I was 10, so that’s a huge part of my process as well, because I journal what happened in a day and little scenes and stuff like that, and I’m constantly referencing back through it.
With Don’t Let the Kids Win, you began with no formal contact with the music industry. Do you think that actually benefited you in anyway?
I was able to create my first album completely separate from the music industry. No one was questioning my songs or questioning me about updates, and to me, that was essential. Everyone can work in different ways, but for me that was wonderful because for one, I didn’t have any expectations on what it was going to be… I honestly just felt like nothing was going to happen from it – not in a negative way, but the realm of possibility that I would be doing this kind of stuff didn’t even enter my head.
Now that I’m in it and as much as I love it and I benefit from it, you definitely have so many people coming into that world and making you question your process and your talent in a way that I never had before. I just always felt quite sure of myself and just was like, “well, I like this, so I’ll make this, and this all I can do.” Whereas, I think once you have people coming in, the question becomes, “will other people like this? Is this going to sell?” It was nice to not have to worry about that at the beginning.
It’s already so hard to trust that inner voice. There are so many times where I just have to be like, “No, Julia, you know this is right. You know that it’s good.”
I can’t even imagine what [being managed from the start] would be like. It’s already so hard to trust that inner voice. There are so many times where I just have to be like, “No, Julia, you know this is right. You know that it’s good.” And that’s really hard at the best of times, even for someone who has had validation and who feels pretty confident.
How would you articulate the relationship between your musical style and your visual style as a performer?
I think because I write pretty heavy, emotional stuff, I never want my aesthetic to also be heavy. I feel like I’m a pretty approachable person and I’m very happy to like, interact with people and I really love that part of being a musician – of being able to meet different people. For me, being able to play with the aesthetics and make music videos that are like colourful and playful, is a way for me to express my personality in a way that I feel I don’t express in my music.
Is thinking about the visuals – the clothes, the album covers, the props, the videos, the ‘branding’ so-to-speak – distracting, or do you find that you can enjoy it?
I find it’s the best part – sometimes even more fun than the music. I think what’s really important with having control over that for me, is that means I can interpret and see my music in other ways. And when you only write songs and just perform them, and never get to try and visualise them or push them into some other kind of art form, I personally, just get a bit over it. For me, it rejuvenates my love of a song I’ve written. Like, I’ve just made a new music video for a song off my new record, and I’d listened to that song a lot, and so I was kind of getting to the point where it wasn’t really moving me anymore. But then when you go to the process of asking – “how can I represent this visually?” – that makes me fall back in love with the song again. That’s probably my favourite part of this whole process.
I’m sure you get asked a lot about your musical influences, but on that note, where do your visual influences come from?
I’d say the biggest one I’ve had is a Swedish photographer called Lars Tunbjork. I feel like he’s someone who I look to with everything I do aesthetically. He does like really cool flash photography, a lot in the 70s, 80s… he kind of does things where it’s like a really mundane scene but he just manages to capture and set things up in a way that makes things completely magical. Everything I do, I want to look like a Lars Tunbjork photograph.
"When you go to the process of asking – “how can I represent this visually?” – that makes me fall back in love with the song again."
How about fashion – do you get help with styling, or do you find your own clothes? You’ve had some really great looks, like the blue dolphin-print matching set, and the black velvet number from Leadlight.
Whenever I go into a shop, I’m looking for something for a music video. Especially on tour, because you always stop at a service station, and then stop at a Goodwill, and then just wander around, so, yeah, I tend to base a lot of things off of just something I’ll find. That blue outfit was something I had in my head, and I found it at a fabric store and my mum sewed that together. My mum’s really good at sewing, so she’s helped me out over the years.
Is there any particular era that you’re inspired by?
No particular era. I feel like it all looks kind of nostalgic, but I never want to come across as a nostalgia act. I always want to make sure that I’m being true to what it’s like to be a young person in 2016, 2017, 2018…. It’s funny, because when I was thinking of the new aesthetic for the album, I was trying to think of decades that don’t get covered, but every decade is kind of getting covered now in some way. Me and my friend were even like, “what were people wearing in the 1770s?”
What were you listening to while you wrote this new album?
I went through a weird phase because I was touring a lot and not listening to that much music because I was surrounded by music all the time. I think I was really influenced by the people I toured with – like Mitzky, Andy Shauf, and Whitney. I felt like I was in a music school. Also, I listen to Grimes, like everyday of my life, so that’s probably weaseled it’s way into there somewhere.
Is there anything that you can share with us about the album?
I’m putting a song out [called Body] and we filmed the music video on the Hay Plain in Australia, which is this really flat part of Australia. Now I’m kind of just working on the aesthetic stuff which is really exciting. I work really well under immense pressure, so there’s actually not much to say right now… I’m kind of in the midst of my team around me being like “Julia, we need this,” and I’m like, “guys, it’ll be there, it’ll be great, just trust me.” [laughs]
Finally, I feel as though maybe we can guess, but what are you most looking forward to before the end of the year?
I almost feel like although this is my second album that I’m releasing this soon, it almost just feels like my first album with a different version of myself. I know that sounds sort of whimsical, but I feel like it was a different person who made that first album, a person who I love, but I feel like I’ve gone through 2 years of a very different existence.
So I’m just really excited to do the whole album cycle again feeling way more confident in my ability to back myself and manage a band and all of these things. For the first one, I had no idea what was happening yet. I got pushed around a lot and there were a lot of times when I wish I had stood up for myself a little bit more and now I know how it works, I know what’s right, what’s wrong, and so I’m excited that I don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff this time. I’m really excited about the music I’ve made and I’m excited about to just be able to put it out and have fun.
"It almost just feels like my first album with a different version of myself [...] a person who I love, but I feel like I've gone through 2 years of a very different existence."
All text and images by Tia Elisabeth Glista