Laneway Folk Artist Julia Jacklin on the Enduring Influence of Britney Spears, Post-Lockout Laws Sydney and Finding Your People
The gloomy yet dreamy folk singer-songwriter began making music after she was prematurely struck by existential crisis as a 10-year-old child.
Britney Spears is notable for many reasons: her song '...Baby One More Time' is one of the best selling (physical) singles of all time, the album by the same title was the best selling album by a teenage solo artist, she's gone through public breakdown and emerged triumphantly (becoming the patron saint/meme of weathering 2016), and she inspired a young Julia Jacklin to become a musician.
The gloomy yet dreamy folk singer-songwriter – who has played at SXSW; was nominated in 2016 by Australian radio station and tastemaker Triple J for Unearthed Artist of the Year and Australian Album of the Year for her debut Don't Let the Kids Win; and who will be playing at Laneway next year – began making music after she was prematurely struck by existential crisis as a 10-year-old child. She had watched a Britney Spears documentary and was amazed by how much Britney had already achieved by the time she was 10. Once back from holiday Jacklin promptly started singing lessons in order to start racking up some of her own accomplishments.
Concrete Playground talks to the Sydney-based artist about the career that has sprung from that faithful documentary viewing.
Concrete Playground: In almost every interview you do the fact that Britney Spears inspired you to play music crops up as a talking point. Has she continued to influence you and your music after that initial inspiration?
Julia Jacklin: It was definitely just kind of a push in the right direction when I was younger. But it's always been kind of one of those things that runs parallel with my fandom of other music. It's never really crossed into what I write or what I stand for as an artist though.
You were never like 'I need to wrap a snake around my body and sing about being someone's slave, this is where I need to go with my career'?
It's just one of those things where you latch onto and love an artist even though they don't do anything that you would do – as an adult anyway. As a kid, obviously, I would've been happy to be a pop star on a TV show, definitely not anymore. I'm glad my career's quite different.
Besides Britney Spears, what music were you listening to and inspired by while growing up in the Blue Mountains?
When you're young you just listen to what's on the radio, on Top 40 or whatever. But I also grew up with Doris Day, Andrews Sisters and musicals and like a lot of Irish folk music, Billy Bragg – just an old mix.
The Blue Mountains is kind of really big with Aussie hip hop and like neo-soul. That's kind of the gigs I grew up going to – but that's not really my style, obviously. It wasn't until I moved into the city that I got into folk music, which is kind of weird.
What's your songwriting process?
I usually write my songs away from the guitar. Usually it's when I'm driving. That's a big, big thing for me – when I'm driving by myself I kind of just think of phrases, things, work on different stanzas or whatever – and then I just kind of go over that in my head for a while, and it's not for a long time until I take it to a guitar and try to make it work with an instrument. It always starts away from the guitar. I do find you have a bit more freedom when you start it away from the guitar, every time I start with a guitar and I'm strumming chords I'm thinking 'what can I sing over the top of this strumming pattern'.
You wrote your first album, Don't Let the Kids Win, away from the industry. Is the new music you're currently writing influenced at all by being in the industry now – you know, whether the song's radio friendly or doing more writing for live performances etc.?
Totally, but I think I'm trying to push it away as much as I can. It's just so different creating in this environment than it was to creating in the environment I made the first record in. It was completely out of the industry, completely naïve, I wrote the songs over a two year period and just because that's what I liked doing and was like 'ah okay, I have enough to make a record, I'll make a record'.
Whereas now it's so different. It's kind of like, 'okay, you've got this time period where you can record your next record, you've only got a certain amount of time to write it – you know, you've got to think about what people want but also what you want, it's a bit scary, I think. I'm trying to just not let it get to me because I don't want to make a second record that's too based on trying to please people or do something that would be an illogical step. But who knows, I could make a Britney Spears pop record next, completely sell myself out.
You started out studying to be a social worker and then ended up working in an essential oils factory and now you're a folk singer. Take us through that journey.
I think it just comes down to not really thinking that music was going to happen for me. Or not really knowing. It's something that you dream about but it's almost completely unrealistic. So I think I went to uni because I always did want to be a social worker, but I also felt that it was just something that you do – you finish school, go for a gap year and then you knuckle down and you study something.
I started studying English literature because I wanted to be a writer but then that thought process came into my head again and I thought I had to do something that was actually going to get me a job – so that's why I did social work. Then when I finished my degree, I was like 'okay, you kind of didn't do super well in your degree because you spent your whole time gigging and writing music, so maybe you should just give yourself a couple of years to do music and get it out of your system and just write a record'.
Yeah, so I'm kind of in that phase right now and it's going so much better than I was expecting it to go, so yeah.
What do you think about the Sydney lockout laws? How's the music community dealing with it over there?
It's pretty hard in many ways because not only is it restricting us from gigging in our home city. It also makes you feel like the culture in Sydney is just anti-art. I go on tour and go to these cities that are just so vibrant with culture and art and music – they obviously prioritise that and understand that it makes a great city by having that there, whereas Sydney is now like – it just feels a little ignorant to think that by shutting out a whole musical community and a big art community is a good idea and that it's not going to have massive repercussions for our city as a whole. As a great place to live, to visit – it just seems a bit short sighted.
It sucks but I think it's made a lot of young people in Sydney go 'wait a minute, me actually protesting, me actually pushing against that, me actually putting on house concerts or me actually getting involved makes a difference', instead of just being on like Facebook sharing lockout law posts going 'oh, how crap is this'. People know it's a good thing, that actual physical action makes a difference. Now there's heaps of warehouse shows and home gigs – the community is now trying to create a community for itself outside of designated venues.
What's kept you doing music all these years?
I'd say that my friends are a big part of it. I didn't have stupid great friends in high school – I mean I had friends, but I didn't have musical friends – they were all interested in other things. And then I left school and met a big group of musicians and I was like 'oh wow I've found my group of people', and they're all still my closest friends – we've been in lots of bands together, we're constantly encouraging each other and pushing each other up, so I've just found a really great community of music.
To me, that sense of community, that sense of belonging, of supporting your friends in a way that is very tangible is just very satisfying to me and gives me a sense of purpose. Obviously I also love writing so I couldn't imagine not doing it now.
Catch Julia Jacklin at St Jerome's Laneway Festival on Monday 30 January, 2017.
Published on December 21, 2016 by Laetitia Laubscher