Julia Jacklin, Emotional Warrior

The singer/songwriter on the songs that make up Crushing and asking for space when you need it

Music Features Julia Jacklin
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Julia Jacklin, Emotional Warrior

The first song on Julia Jacklin’s new album Crushing doesn’t have a chorus. It doesn’t have a bridge, either, or really any conventional song structure at all. It’s a winding narrative that culminates in what might constitute a chorus in a more traditional ballad: “I guess it’s just my life, and it’s just my body,” Jacklin repeats over and over until the flatline guitar suddenly snaps off. It sounds like giving up.

But that track, “Body,” isn’t a surrender—it’s a flex. It’s about having the guts to know when enough is enough. There’s a point where you’ve exhausted yourself and your ability to withstand negativity, ignorance and hate. And Jacklin found power in stepping back.

“Some days you’re up for it, and some days you’re just so resigned to the way the world is that you don’t have it in you to fight against what sometimes can feel like a never-ending tidal wave of bullshit,” Jacklin says over the phone late last month, describing the aforementioned lyric. “You can spend all of this time and energy trying to advocate for yourself and your friends and you can call out shitty behavior, but maybe some people in your life are just never going to respect you. And maybe there are some people out there that are never going to respect women and women’s bodies and there’s nothing you can do. There’s no amount of communication, there’s no amount of statistics, there’s no amount of anything that you can show them and no amount of showing your humanity to them will ever change their mind. That’s why I find that line some days depressing, but other days liberating, because even though that can be really sad, sometimes it’s nice to just be like, ‘Oh, there’s nothing more I can do.’”

The Australian singer/songwriter and indie-rock frontwoman, who makes assured, vivid songs ranging from strident rock ’n’ roll to slow-burning balladry, found new agency—both artistically and personally—while writing and recording Crushing, the follow-up to her 2016 debut Don’t Let The Kids Win that came out in February on Polyvinyl. On top of that, she also found time in 2018 to release an album with her side-hustle band Phantastic Ferniture (or “Phan Fern,” for short). The band’s self-titled record, a cruising, exorbitant party full of upbeat yet laid-back rock songs, was constructed across three years and as many studios.

But this time around, she recorded Crushing in one three-week period, in one studio (which Jacklin and her crew, including producer Burke Reid, typically inhabited from 6 p.m. to around 3 a.m., a schedule she describes as “a lot unhealthier, but kind of in a good way” that included “a bit more drinking” and a lot less sleep).

“I don’t even think about them in the same life,” she says of the two projects. “I sometimes forget that I’m the same person who did both. As a pretty regular human being I have many different feelings and emotions that I want to express. I think sometimes people think that I’m all darkness if they just listened to my solo work or think that I’m just a very heavy, emotional person, which I can be, like most people can be. But that’s one version of myself that I expressed through my work, and then Phan Fern was kind of more of the playful, not really caring too much side of myself.”

On Crushing, Jacklin seems to know her every angle on a deeper level, likely because she’s a more confident musician and writer now. And she says as such—she was less timid in the studio and didn’t play any of the songs for anyone prior to recording them, in order to avoid extraneous opinion. “When I made my first record, I was very inexperienced in the studio,” she says. “I was very unsure of my own talents. I felt very inferior in that space, had huge imposter syndrome where you’re just kind of going, ‘I don’t belong here, and any moment someone’s gonna find out.’ So I think that made me just a bit of a passenger in my own life in so many ways.”

So maybe part of Jacklin’s newfound confidence is owed to finally gaining the courage to hop into the driver’s seat. She wields two swords on Crushing: In some instances, she finds strength in release, but in others, it feels more like confrontation, or perhaps taking control—of her own life, body or feelings. The same song where she proclaims, “It’s just my body,” she also confidently sings the line, “I felt the changing of the seasons, all of my senses rushing back to me.” Later, on what Jacklin says is its sister track ,“Head Alone,” she asks for the space she needs. However, so much of Crushing goes beyond romantic splintering: Jacklin consistently advocates for her own autonomy and emotional well-being.

“[‘Head Alone’] was more like being on tour for two years, being in a relationship, feeling like I had to give so much of myself every day in order to keep the peace,” she says. “My fist was clenched for a long time. And that [song] was me just unclenching my fist and actually saying all of the things that I was bearing down. I wrote the line ‘I don’t want to be touched all the time/ I raise my body up to be mine.’ I was like, ‘Oh, I can’t say that in a song ’cause it’s a bit too obvious, it’s a bit too literal.’ I just thought it might come across as a bit cheesy. But then I was just like, ‘No, but this is the point.’ I’m too fucking tired to not ask for space anymore because not asking for space is making me more exhausted than actually bringing up something and risking a bit of conflict.”

Not only did she feel more accustomed to the studio this time around, Jacklin also found herself feeling comfortable losing the filter. “I Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You,” a song whose title offers more explanation than I could twirl up on my own, is about as straight-forward as it gets in rock music. There’s no beating around the bush or collapsing into excessive similes here—just plain, conversational English, like Jacklin asking, “Who will I be now that you’re no longer next to me?” Her fans have really taken to it.

“When I wrote it, I was a bit worried the lyrics were too simple and direct, and I liked that, but I thought other people might not, that they might be expecting a bit more poetic imagery and metaphors and things,” Jacklin says. “And I just thought, ‘Has my writing changed and become too stripped-down to the point of it not being very artistic or something?’ I just remember being like, ‘Whatever, this is how I felt and this is what came out and I’m just going to honor that and put it on the record.’ So I’m glad I did because people seem to really like that song. There’s something really special about getting on stage and just being pretty direct lyrically. There’s something very weird and powerful about that I didn’t expect.”

Upon first listen, it’s easy to think that Crushing is exclusively a breakup album. It tracks the downfall of a relationship, sure, but there’s no easy fix or beam of light at the end of the tunnel—it’s more complicated than that, offering no streamline resolution to the losses that dot our individual timelines. “When The Family Flies In,” a track many critics have interpreted as a breakup song, is actually a goodbye to Jacklin’s friend who passed away, the same friend to whom she dedicated Don’t Let The Kids Win.

“Not all of the songs are about a breakup,” Jacklin says. “A big part of the songwriting for me was trying to write songs that fit in the gaps of traditional breakup or love songs. When you break up with someone, it’s not black and white. Maybe a week later you feel like the worst person in the world and you feel incredibly sad and lonely, and maybe a week after that you want to go out and sleep with someone new. Then maybe two weeks after that you think, ‘Oh my gosh, I made the biggest mistake of my life.’ It’s always a bit up and down until finally you have to make a decision whether to keep going back and forth or not.”

There’s quite a bit of comfort to be found in Crushing. To that end, I ask Jacklin if she turned to any favorite heartbreak albums of her own to help her through the awful times documented on her record. She can’t think of any on the spot, so she instead offers her go-to album of the moment, Kacey MusgravesGolden Hour, what’s probably the farthest possible thing from a breakup album you can get. “Last year I would’ve just been like ‘No way, I need to hear sad, depressing songs that align with how I feel,’ she says. But we agree that sometimes you have to find albums at the right time in your life. And right now it seems like Jacklin herself is feeling a little less crushed and a little more hopeful.

“Now I love that album because it makes me feel even though I’ve been through it, and you lose hope for love and all that kind of stuff, and then it’s nice to listen to a record that makes you go ‘Well, maybe even though I’ve experienced these bad things, maybe it is simple. Maybe I’ve just been overthinking it.’”

For those feeling a little more hopeless, though, Crushing might be just the ticket:

“Maybe if they go through it it’ll come to them at the right time.”

Crushing is out now on Polyvinyl. Julia Jacklin is on tour now, and you can find those dates right here. Below, watch her full three-song performance in the Paste Studio.

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