Julia Jacklin is in bed when she’s connected to Music Feeds on a Thursday morning. The exhaustion has definitely set in – “it’s too early for this” she groans with a laugh, “and it’s not even that early”! No judgement here, of course – not only is that where all of us would rather be at any given point in time, she’s also earned any and all downtime she gets. Between the release of her smash debut, 2016’s Don’t Let the Kids Win, and the release of Phantastic Ferniture’s long-awaited debut in July of last year, the 28-year-old has barely had a moment to herself.
She’s been an in-demand touring artist all while piecing together what would become her second solo album. Entitled Crushing, it’s a sharp and smart development from the sound established on Don’t Let the Kids Win that makes no bones about its subject matter and the direct, personal nature in which it’s tackled.
Crushing is finally available for your listening pleasure wherever you get music from, but prior to its release Jacklin contemplated Second Album Syndrome, the nature of personal songwriting and having a member of Gerling behind the mixing board.
Music Feeds: They say you have a lifetime to write your debut album and three months to write your second. Where did the creative process for Crushing begin?
Julia Jacklin: It’s not really linear, I don’t think. I don’t write on a project-by-project basis – I’m not sitting down and saying, “This is for this album, that’s what I’m writing now”. I think that’d be a bit terrifying, to be honest [laughs]. I wrote a lot of this album while I was touring the first one. There wasn’t a massive deadline for the second album, just because I was touring Kids for so long. Everyone knew I was too busy for it to happen, anyway.
The next batch of songs I wrote wasn’t with anything in mind, either. It was just because I was going through some stuff, and I guess that’s how I’ve written for awhile – to be able to say things I wouldn’t be able to say in person. I mean, it’s something to do, isn’t it. [laughs]
MF: What kind of headspace were you in when the lyrics were being written for Crushing?
JJ: I think it’ll be pretty obvious when people listen to the album. It’s not as if I’m holding much back. At the time, I was on tour so much – I hadn’t been home in a long time. When I did go home, everything was quite different. It’s an album about growing up, and realising things I didn’t realise in my early 20s – as we all do, I suppose. A lot of it came from the claustrophobia of touring – especially towards the end of the run. I like it most of the time, but when you’ve been doing it for nearly two years straight, you really start wishing for a room of your own.
MF: Were you surprised at the reception and subsequent demand that came with Don’t Let the Kids Win? Normally the cycle tends to be a lot shorter, but by your own admission the demand to see you perform kept you out there on the road for quite some time.
JJ: Definitely. I guess it was something I wasn’t thinking too much about at the time – it was just the natural progression onto the next thing as it came up. You just keep accepting things, and things keep popping up. My schedule just kept extending, which was great, but your life keeps changing and you don’t exactly have a great amount of time to adjust to it.
MF: Crushing is a great title, as there’s a real scale of meaning to the word on its own. It has these cutesy connotations – crushing on someone – but it can also describe something really intense and hurtful.
JJ: It took me awhile to figure out what to title the album. None of the song titles really fit, nor did any of the lyrics on the album. I made this record at a time where I was experiencing massive highs and massive lows. It was a very intense time emotionally – there wasn’t much levelling out, or anything you’d really describe as “normal.” Crushing just seemed to really encapsulate that. [pauses] Y’know, I’ve been asked about the title a lot, and I’m still not entirely sure what I’m saying. [laughs] I guess it’s more of a feeling. It felt right. It feels like you can attach your own meaning, depending on what song you’re listening to or what mood you happen to be in.
MF: Do you feel as though there was any track on the album that properly served as the catalyst for the rest of the songs when you were writing Crushing? Was there any particular moment in the process that influenced how the rest of it would sound?
JJ: Not really. These are kind of just songs I wrote over a period of time. Because I was writing in this weird, patchy way on tour, I never really created a whole. That didn’t really happen until I booked the time in the studio with Burke [Reid]. About a week before, I was going through all of the songs I was going to record, and it was like, “Oh, cool! These are all coherent in some way”. If any song kind of steered how the album was made, I guess it would be ‘Body’. It was definitely something different that I’d never written before. Maybe that kind of opened a door to a kind of vibe that I normally wouldn’t go with. That song made me a little more courageous, in a way. Not trying too hard to write songs that were going to make people happy, but instead making something that I wanted to make first and foremost.
MF: Burke Reid has really made an impression as a producer in the last few years. What did you get out of working with him on this record?
JJ: He was incredible. He’s such a humble person. He has no online presence. He’s achieved all of these amazing things as a musician and a producer, but he never talks about it and you’d never really know about it. When you’re making a record with him, he’s all yours. He’ll work night and day – you have to force him to go to bed. He’d spend all this time working on tracks, trying different things out… the band and I felt like the parents, and he was the kid. [laughs]
He’s really dedicated to getting the best sound he can out of the song. There’s never a sense of trying to sound like what’s popular or fitting in. He’s not really clued in on what’s going on right now in music, so he just approaches every artist’s work with a fresh perspective.
MF: What kind of stuff did you two connect over?
JJ: We were both influenced by a lot of Bill Callahan records – those vocals high in the mix, the very minimal production, the way it would hit you really hard. We also both had this moment where we bonded a lot of over ‘Out on the Weekend’ by Neil Young. It was funny, actually – that’s a song that I had in my head for about a year in terms of what I wanted production-wise for Crushing. I wanted it very dry, very minimal – the kind of track where you can put your headphones on and you can hear the room when you’re listening to it. I didn’t mention it to Burke, just because I thought it might be a bit too obvious. Surprise, surprise – this folk singer comes in and is like, “I wanna sound like Neil Young”. It’s like, “Cool, man. No shit. Everyone wants to sound like Neil Young” [laughs].
I didn’t bring it up, because I didn’t want to be embarrassed. Later on, though, we were having this conversation about how the record should sound. Out of the blue, he was like, “I feel like we should put it a bit like this”. He put on ‘Out on the Weekend’, all without me even mentioning Neil Young. It was actually kind of spooky! [laughs] I think it was then I knew that I could really trust him to make the best sounding record possible. We had this connection now.
MF: You’ve obviously invested a lot into the making of Crushing. Were you ever presented with a feeling of reticence along the way – any hesitation in terms of singing something or saying something on the record, knowing that a particular person might hear it?
JJ: I mean, obviously, that comes into my head a lot. Unfortunately, that’s just the nature of the beast – especially in my genre of writing. I’m definitely not the first person, nor the last, to write a personal record that talks about certain people in my life who will know it’s about them. It’s not something I even really think about until I start doing press and questions like this come up. I’m like, “…maybe? I dunno” [laughs]. I think, for songwriters and people in my creative world, it’s not that shocking. It’s cool. Everyone’s writing about one another, everyone’s throwing one another under the bus occasionally. It’s just kind of the way it goes. If you tried to censor those feelings, I don’t feel like the records would be as good. Sometimes, you’ve just got to throw yourself into it, and just hope people won’t hate you too much.