Julia Jacklin’s sophomore album, Crushing, opens with a song about her boyfriend getting dragged off a plane for smoking a cigarette. On “Body,” the Australian singer-songwriter explains the incident over ominous chords and a steady drum beat that gains momentum when the narrator realizes she wants more: “I’m gonna leave you/I’m not a good woman when you’re around,” she sings. Like much of the album, the song battles conflicting emotions.
“Body” describes the end of the real relationship that inspired Crushing. Jacklin’s career took off in 2016, when she released her folk-country album, Don’t Let the Kids Win, at age 26. She wrote most of Crushing while on the road for the past three years and dropped the album in February, before kicking off another tour in late April, stopping for two dates in New York.
Speaking to me over the phone one day as she wandered aimlessly around Brooklyn, she sounded she sounded thankful for the opportunity: “I haven’t had this in a long time, I’ve been touring for the last two months.” We talked about her use of songwriting as personal redemption, the demands of tour life, and trying to make the musician lifestyle sustainable. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
JEZEBEL: I wanted to start by asking about touring. How did that play a role in your songwriting process on this album?
JULIA JACKLIN: My experience with music has always been: I write songs because that’s what I do, and then suddenly I have enough to make an album, and I’m like, Oh, I guess that’s what people do. I didn’t write for a long time after the first [album], which—I know that basically every songwriter that’s ever lived had this exact experience—but at the time, it felt very weird and scary. I’d just started my career as a songwriter, and I was writing no songs. Whereas before, when I wasn’t a career songwriter, I was writing all the time. So it was a bit like, Crap, what do I... do now? [Laughs]
But I think that came from the insanity of touring. My usual [songwriting] process involved having whole days to myself and having a room and house that was mine. The first couple of years of touring, I had no days off or space to myself. But then I think I settled into this lifestyle, and it started to make sense to me. The songs would just start coming in places. I’d be sitting in a tour van for six hours, and even though I was surrounded by people, that would suddenly be a place where I feel calm, and the lyrics would start coming to me.
It’s funny to hear you say you were worried about being unproductive while on tour, because touring is a form of work. Did you feel like you weren’t working hard enough by not also writing new material?
Yeah, definitely. It’s like, [when] you’re on tour, you’re doing all these interviews, everybody’s talking about you as a songwriter, but you’re not writing any songs. Everyone’s like, “Oh you’ve got this album,” and it’s like, “Yeah, but I wrote these songs like years ago.” You know? That’s not me right now. That’s kind of the nature of this job. You’re always performing a past version of yourself. You never fully [get to be] yourself in the moment. Which is really odd. And you’re kind of terrified all the time that you’re never gonna write another song again.
But then you did.
Yeah, then I did. [Laughs]
I read that you described the songwriting on this album as simpler than your previous album, and I was wondering if it was hard for you to pull back the impulse to over-edit or over-explain yourself.
Yeah, with this album, I wanted the first lyrics that came to me. I didn’t try to twist them or make them more tricky or cover them up with things. I was pretty tired when I was writing this, and I didn’t have it in me to do that. It was a bit weird. For half of the songs on this record, I think I was like, I don’t know about this, they seem a bit simple, like chill-but-sad songs for adult children, or something. [Laughs] But it was kind of nice; sometimes it’s nice to just sing pretty, simple statements onstage.
Was there a sense of relief in being able to say those things out loud?
Yeah, I think so. I’m questioning it now that I’m touring it every day. I didn’t share these songs before I recorded them, which I’d never done before. Performing them every night is kind of another ball game.
Does it feel different from touring the first album because the material is a bit sadder?
Yeah, it’s very different. People liked my first record, and it was nice. But I feel like there’s people who are coming to the shows and to the [new] material with like, some pretty heavy shit that I... I’m not sure if I’m doing a good job of representing. Or I don’t know—that’s the thing about being a musician these days: you feel like you have to be more than just a performer of songs, with social media and meeting people after the show. You feel like you’ve got to be a really articulate person who can say the right thing when someone tells you something really intense. So I’ve been figuring that out.
Right, and if fans are connecting over a particularly intense emotion that they hear in your songwriting, then maybe they feel like—
Yeah, yeah. And I’m performing it every day, and I take this job seriously, I guess—I’m not a super serious person but I don’t want to just get onstage like, ‘Wooo hey guys, whatever, here’s a song!’ I need to really honor each song and perform them in a way that conveys what they mean. Bringing up [those emotions] every night has been strange. But it’s cool—it’s an interesting way to live! I’ll give it that.
Do you feel pressure to be writing again now that you have released this record?
I don’t feel pressure from anybody else. I feel like, having two albums, people are like, alright, you’ve kind of proved yourself in some way. You can relax. I think the pressure is just myself. I mean, it’s bizarre. It’s such a bizarre thing: to live your life and then write these songs and then sing your feelings to melodies onstage. [Laughs] To all of these people you don’t know, and then you finish one and then you’re like, Okay! What do I have to say to a melody now? It’s just, it’s so strange. I don’t know what the hell it is.
Do you think you’ll take a break from touring soon?
I still want to play music and create things, but I want to play for other people, write for other people, you know, make music videos for other people. I love doing this, but doing it for long periods of time does strange things to your head. I think I’ll go back to Melbourne and get back into what I did when I first started this whole thing, which is playing around and doing other things.
Do you feel like you have a better grasp of touring now? You’ve said in a few interviews that it was tough at first and led to you feeling burnt out. Is it more enjoyable now? Do you have some good hacks on how to deal with it?
Yeah, absolutely. The thing about touring is that when you start, you’re so excited and confused about how it’s even happening, and then you’re suddenly doing it. Nobody talks about that, because we’re all supposed to be having the time of our lives, and that’s what you’re supposed to project. And of course it can be amazing and you have the best experiences ever, but I mean, it is a job and you’re just learning how to do it while you’re doing it.
I think the biggest thing is you’ve got to slowly stop caring about what people think. Don’t be a total jerk to people at all, but I had to learn to feel okay asking for a room to myself occasionally, or asking for space, or asking that people don’t come into the green room five minutes before I’m going to perform. I was an open door for two years. Anyone who wanted to talk to me, anyone who wanted to hug me, anyone who wanted to anything! I would just give give give. And then you get to the end, and you’re like, Oh my god, I am just a tiny shell [laughs] on the ground. It’s about trying to figure out how you can make it sustainable for yourself and feel okay about needing certain things in order to keep going.
Do you feel like, because you’re a songwriter and an artist, there’s an expectation from fans or the industry to be super honest and available to other people all the time? When actually, maybe you don’t need to be super authentic at your job all the time, because it is also just a job.
Ah yeah, totally. I think because I’m a woman and I sing about, I don’t know, the human condition [laughs], there is an expectation that I am doing some sort of service to people, or something. Yeah, I don’t know. [Pauses.] And then some days, I’m totally up for it. That’s the thing. I’m also just a normal human being who has a complex life; some days I’m totally fine to do it, and then other days I’m not.
Most press I’ve done for this album has been like, “Oh, do you feel really scared sharing this album? It’s so vulnerable.” And I was like, “Not at all!” Like, I chose what I was going to share with you guys. I didn’t just drop my diary on the floor and now I’m humiliated that everyone read my inner thoughts. Like, I’m a songwriter; these are stories, and yes, they’re honest in some ways, but they’re also dishonest in other ways, and it’s a craft. I’m not some like, victim of my emotions. I am totally in control of what I’m choosing to share with people. I’m not scared at all. I’m not worried about what people are going to think; I’m not worried about what the people who I wrote the songs about are going to think, because I wrote them. I spent a lot of money to put them on the record. [Laughs] You know what I mean? I hate that narrative, when people approach me like I’m an emotional wreck who’s a victim to my... you know, sad emotions. No man. Like, I’m totally good. [Laughs] I’m totally choosing to share this stuff.
Right, it wasn’t an accident. It didn’t happen without you.
On that note, do you feel frustrated with people trying to brand this as a political or feminist record when it’s just one that’s deeply personal?
I feel like everyone in the industry who’s not a white guy has to deal with that. It’s just lazy press points. People don’t think about it too much. And then sometimes when you’re tired, you end up playing into it yourself. Because you’re doing interviews and all the person wants to talk about is the MeToo movement. And it’s like, okay, cool... I wrote an album about my life...
I do find that a bit ridiculous. It’s like, “Oh this is a political record, you’re making a real statement.” And I’m like, “So you do think that a woman just talking about her life is a statement?” Okay, sure! I guess that says more about you than me. Everybody is talking about this stuff [the MeToo movement], which I think is great. It’s just that, from my experience, I always talked about this stuff. My mum’s always talked about this stuff. My sisters always talked about this stuff. It’s not blowing my mind when I hear records where women are just speaking about their experience.
When men speak about their experience, it doesn’t always have to be political. It can just be art or storytelling.
Right, they’re storytellers. I’ve been doing press for this record for a few months now, and I’m at the point where I don’t even know how to answer those questions when I’m asked them anymore. I’m like, “Sure, write whatever you want.”
Would you call your album a breakup album?
For me, it’s about drawing boundaries and then trying to convince myself to have enough confidence to enforce them continuously. It’s funny, this is going to sound super lame, but even when I sing my own songs, I—ugh, this is going to sound lame—sometimes I gain confidence from my old self, you know? Because it’s like, maybe I wrote these songs when I wasn’t particularly feeling a certain way, but I really wanted to feel that way. And then I hear them again later, and I’m like, Oh right, yeah! A lot of is just like, pep talks to myself.