Julia Jacklin thought she’d be a social worker.
Growing up in the Blue Mountains to a family of teachers, Jacklin discovered an avenue to art at the age of 10, thanks to an unlikely source: Britney Spears.
Jacklin chanced upon a documentary about the pop star while on family holiday. “By the time Britney was 12 she’d achieved a lot,” says Jacklin.”I remember thinking, ‘Shit, what have I done with my life? I haven’t achieved anything.’ So I was like, ‘Mum, as soon as we get home from this holiday I need to go to singing lessons.’
Classical singing lessons were the only kind in the area, but Jacklin took to it. Voice control was crucial, and Jacklin flourished. But the lack of expression had the teen seeking substance, and she wound up in a high school band, “wearing surf clothing and doing a lot of high jumps” singing Avril Lavigne and Evanescence covers. It wasn’t much but she was hooked.
Jacklin’s second epiphany came after high school. Travelling in South America she reconnected with high school friend and future foil Liz Hughes. The two returned home to the Blue Mountains and started a band, bonding over a love of indie-Appalachian folk trio Mountain Man and the songs Hughes was writing.
“I would just sing,” says Jacklin. “But as I got my confidence I started playing guitar and writing songs. I wouldn’t be doing music now if it wasn’t for Liz or that band. I never knew it was something I could do. “
Inspired, Jacklin began educating herself. From Fiona Apple she learned to be bold with words; from Anna Calvi, the cut and presence of electric guitar; and from Angel Olsen, that interpretation triumphs over technique. Now living in a garage in Glebe and working a day job on a factory production line making essential oils, the 25-year old found time to hone her craft – to examine her turns of phrase, to observe the stretching of her friendship circles, to wonder who she was and who she might become. That document is Jacklin’s masterful debut album, Don’t Let The Kids Win – an intimate examination of a life still being lived.
Recorded at New Zealand’s Sitting Room studios with Ben Edwards (Marlon Williams, Aldous Harding, Nadia Reid), Don’t Let The Kids Win courses with the aching current of alt-country and indie-folk, augmented by Jacklin’s undeniable calling cards: her rich, distinctive voice, and her playful, observational wit.
You can hear it in opener ‘Pool Party’, a gorgeous lilt bristling with Jacklin’s tale of substance abuse by the pool; in the sparse, ‘Elizabeth’, wrestling with both devotion and admonishment of a friend; in detailing the slow-motion banality of a relationship breakdown in the woozy ‘L.A Dreams’; and in her resolve to accept the passing of time on the snappy fuzz of ‘Coming Of Age’. The album hums with peripheral insights, minute in their moments but together proving an urge to stay curious.
“I thought it was going to be a heartbreak record,” says Jacklin of Don’t Let The Kids Win. “But in hindsight I see it’s about hitting 24 and thinking, ‘What the fuck am I doing?’ I was feeling very nostalgic for my youth. When I was growing up I was so ambitious: I’m going to be this amazing social worker, save the world, a great musician, fit, an amazing writer. Then you get to mid-20s and you realise you have to focus on one thing. Even if it doesn’t pay-off, or you feel embarrassed at family occasions because you’re the poor musician still, that’s the decision I made.”
In person Jacklin is funny, wry, quick to crack a joke. It makes the blunt honesty and prickly insight laced through her songwriting disarming, a dissonance she delights in. “Especially coming from my family,” says Jacklin. “They don’t talk about feelings at all. I love writing songs about them and watching them listen and squirm. To me that’s great. I enjoy it.”
The title track was the last song Jacklin wrote for the album. “My sister’s getting married soon,” she says of the closer. “And it hit me – we used to be two young girls and now that part of our lives is over. Seeing her talking about wanting to have a baby and…it’s like, man I can’t believe we’re already here.”
Don’t mistake this awareness for nostalgia. “It’s not that I want to go back to that time at all,” says Jacklin. “It’s trying to figure out how to be responsible when you don’t identify with who you were anymore.”
“All my friends at this age are freaking out. Everyone’s constantly talking about being old. “Don’t Let The Kids Win” is saying yeah we’re getting older but it’s not so special. It’s not unique. Everyone has dealt with this and it’s going to keep feeling weird. So I’m freaking out about it too but that song is trying to convince myself: let’s live now and just be old when we’re old.”