Songs about heartbreak are not exactly thin on the ground. Let’s face it, amongst all the bangers on your Spotify playlist, there are a few tucked away that always drag your thoughts back to someone in particular. But what if you’re the one who walked away?
Julia Jacklin found herself struggling with that very human experience as she went through the relentless cycle of the two-year tour that followed the success of her debut ‘Don’t Let The Kids Win’. Allied with a sense of claustrophobia and a very literal struggle for personal space while on the road, the daily entries into the journal that she had kept for nearly her entire life became full of thoughts and ideas that have led to a stunning follow-up.
Written largely on tour, ‘Crushing’ is a candid window into life on the road.
“It was kind of my first time touring, and it was a bit like a baptism of fire I guess,” explains the Australian singer over the phone, deep in the middle of a New York winter. “Not having any personal space, and not feeling strong enough that I could even ask for it. You just say yes to everything, you put up with a lot because you’re just so happy to be there.”
Such was the success of ‘Don’t Let The Kids Win’, Julia only had brief breaks for the entire time, something that undoubtedly affected her as time went on.
“As a solo artist, you’re doing all of the talking, all of the ‘face-to-face’ work, all the performing and you’re also running the band. It’s like running a small business, y’know? A lot of balls in the air, and you only just start learning it on tour when you’re not at your best mentally.”
Exacerbating the issues, as a woman performing largely alone throughout that time, she regularly faced a subtle form of sexism.
“It is a different experience for women, just in terms of most of the time, you are the only woman in the room. And y’know, the way that people interact with you is different. It just is. Even the way that people touch you when you meet them is different.”
Finding herself often talked down to by people in venues, “People just kind of assume you don’t have knowledge of sound for example. Not all of the time, but a lot of it. And if you don’t have any other women around to reflect and talk about that experience with, you do feel like you’re going a bit crazy.”
For Julia, these feelings began to internalise and solidify into much of the material that ‘Crushing’ is built on.
“I stopped talking about it because I didn’t want to seem ‘hysterical’ about it. I felt isolated and voiceless because the music world is 100% a boys club. It’s changing, but on the ground it still is.”
In a tactic familiar to women all around the world, Julia ended up “trying to be the funny girl, laughing it off.” ‘Head Alone’, with its lyrics of “I raised my body up to be mine” came from a combination of general music industry types wanting her to be a ‘personality’ rather than giving her the space she needed, as well as relationship issues that she is understandably reluctant to discuss too much.
“It’s quite hard to talk about it specifically, it’s quite personal,” she explains honestly, before describing songs like the jaw-dropping closing track ‘Comfort’ as part of her mission in showing a different side to a familiar subject.
“There are so many songs that you can hear that are all about being broken up with or wanting someone back, or telling someone to go away,” she reflects. “I just found myself struggling to find songs that talked about how, maybe, if you ended the relationship then you don’t get much sympathy or understanding because people just assume that you made the decision so you must be happy.”
‘Comfort’ and ‘I Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You’ tackle that aspect head-on, starkly honest depictions of someone struggling with the aftermath of their own decision.
“It can be equally painful, if not worse sometimes, than being the person broken up with.”
That honesty runs through every second of ‘Crushing’, where an unwillingness to use the kind of poetry or metaphor that made her debut stand out brings the listener closer to her world. Even more significantly, there is a literal attempt to get close – at points, such is the stark production that you can hear the click of a dry throat and every single noise from the studio.
“I was listening to a lot of Bill Callahan and Neil Young, those kinds of records where the vocals come straight in the middle and smack you in the middle of the head.”
The topics lend themselves to this musical honesty.
“I just really wanted you to hear everything and not hide behind anything,” she explains, her choice of producer Burke Reid resonating with her admiration for his previous work with the likes of The Drones. The majority of the recording took place in the middle of the night, and you can tell.
“I recorded most of the vocal takes between 1am and 4am, so I was really tired most of the time. And it was dark; I was very weird about making sure that it was pretty pitch black in there except for maybe a very distant lamp in the corner.”
It all adds to a sense of someone running on empty, an artist pouring her heart out in a series of brutally candid moments.
When she’s asked how she feels about bringing these songs out into the open in front of a roomful of strangers every night, she pauses.
“It’s funny; I just didn’t think about it honestly for a second. At all. It was only when we were re-learning the songs for tour that I was like, okay, this is going to be intense.”
With most songs scaling untold emotional heights, there is a realisation that these shows are going to be powerful but tough on Julia.
“The way that shows are, you can’t take five minutes in between each song, you just have to finish and go, ‘Great, here’s the next song!'”
Having overcome everything the world can throw at one person in the last couple of years, however, there is no doubt that she is more than up to this challenge.
“I’m so much more confident now; I am ok with just having a minute after a song. I used to feel like I have to entertain for every second of every show, but I feel like the crowds that come to my show are really respectful of that.”
As her UK tour draws near, it’s time to steel our hearts before Julia Jacklin steals them away.
Taken from the March issue of Dork, out now. Julia Jacklin’s album ‘Crushing’ is out 22nd February. She tours the UK from 26th March.
Words: Jamie MacMillan