Julia Jacklin On How Robyn, Throbbing Gristle, & More Shaped Her Stellar New Album PRE PLEASURE
Julia Jacklin knows how to write a song that can turn you into a puddle. 2019’s Crushing opened with a sinister retelling of coming back to oneself after an unbalanced relationship shifted a sense of autonomy and self-awareness. The tracks that followed detailed social anxiety, familial intervention, and the emotional ruins left in heartbreak’s wake. But on her third album PRE PLEASURE, out this Friday, Jacklin didn’t want to sit in her feels anymore.
There were no plans for the follow-up, except to steer towards unfiltered joy. The Australian musician reveals over our Zoom call that there’s never a distinct map of an album until the final day. “I think that’ll come in the future when I’m older and wiser, when I don’t feel as much pressure to be pumping out records on a good timeline,” she says. “Maybe when I have a bit more time, I’ll come in with real intentions. But at the moment, whatever happens is what the record is.”
In order to turn away from the emotional rivers of Crushing, Jacklin looked to music associated with her younger years, when connecting to music unlocked new emotional layers unimagined in a malleable mind. “I’d been in the indie singer-songwriter world for so long. It’s music that I enjoy, but it’s not exactly the music that you go to if you want to feel joy. It’s more the music you go to if you want to feel the weight of humanity or something, which is not something I want to feel all the time or anyone wants to feel all the time. I tried to inject that into the record.”
There are still moments on PRE PLEASURE where Jacklin finds herself digging into the recesses of darker human complexities — the dissolution of a friendship or familial distance. Still, Jacklin taps into a strange current of electricity; songs such as “I Was Neon” and “Love, Try Not To Let Go,” hold a sense of wonder and anxiousness that feels both free and untamed. On PRE PLEASURE there are still tears to be shed, but more from euphoria rather than loss.
In our interview, Jacklin discussed shaking off the cringe with a new instrument, unexpected industrial influences, and writing a song for a part of her life she’s never reflected on before. Read our conversation below, where you can also hear today’s new single “Be Careful With Yourself.”
Putting Down The Guitar And Picking Up Piano
Was it difficult to have that feeling of putting out an album and feeling that pressure after putting out Crushing?
JULIA JACKLIN: It’s a thing that you have to get used to, and understand that your relationship to creativity is going to change. And I think that was one of the hardest things to accept, because I think a lot of people start making their music from a place of being a music fan, and wanting to be part of the fun. You want to have your go of doing what all of your heroes are doing or whatever. It is a bit of a trade off, if you become successful in music. It’s obviously amazing, and I’m so grateful for that. But it does come at a bit of a cost of your own relationship to music and being able to feel uncomplicated joy or uncomplicated inspiration from other people’s music, because it reminds you of work in some weird way.
Like, I was thinking about how I wrote a lot of this record on keys, which I’ve never done before. I’ve been asked in a few interviews, like, “Oh, is that some sort of like sonic palette idea?” Honestly, I really felt I did not want to even look at a guitar after touring Crushing for so long. It felt attached with a lot of weird feelings and pressure. It can get to the point where you put the guitar in your lap, and it’s like a thousand screaming voices of pressure of what that what that act is supposed to produce or something. The keys literally psychologically helped me to feel a bit like a novice. Like I used to feel when I played guitar and I had no idea what I was doing. I was just trying to make any sound at all. That was a really helpful way to fall back in love with the creative process and not feel as much pressure — doing this small thing of changing an instrument.
You enjoyed the new challenge?
JACKLIN: Yeah, but it didn’t feel challenging; it felt exciting. It gets your brain moving in different ways because the sound is so different and you’re not stuck in the same rhythmic patterns, chord shapes and chord progressions that I always gravitate to. It made me not cringe at myself every time I tried to write a song [laughs].
Was that pressure uncomfortable with the guitar because of the past songs you’ve written on it or related to their emotional weight?
I think it was more frustration at my own limitations with that instrument. I guess, I need quite a lot of dopamine [laughs] to get my mind going. I know if I got guitar lessons and really dug in I’m sure I could learn to use the instrument in crazy, new ways. At the time, I was so bored with my own ability on guitar. I love watching other people play guitar. I really admire people who have a mastery of that instrument. But the guitar, I just find it a very difficult instrument. I mean, I find all instruments quite difficult. It doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s something I really had to fight to get okay at. It was more kind of not hating myself every time I picked up a guitar. When I sat down at a keyboard, I didn’t have any expectations of myself. Whatever you do, is gonna be exciting. It was more helpful for my self esteem, I guess.
It sounds like having no expectations was the key.
JACKLIN: That’s the biggest thing. The biggest hurdle is trying to remove expectations out of the way when you write music. Especially two albums in, you know that people are going to listen to the songs. There’s going to be a certain amount of people that are gonna listen to the songs. I was pretty good at shutting that out when I went to the studio because it was very insular.
These songs feel more melody-based and upbeat. Was that an intentional choice or happened because you were writing on a new instrument?
JACKLIN: I think it was both. I wrote a lot of the stuff with a simple drum machine and keys. Writing to a drum machine is interesting because it’s not loose. You have to lock in the phrasing and think more about the feeling of the song and less about the lyrics or the mood. Also, I was very adamant at the beginning of the process to everyone, I want to keep at least 65% of this album feeling joyful. I kept reminding everyone if it starts dipping down into tragic territory, keep pulling it back up and pulling it back up. Obviously, that’s kind of what I gravitate towards; I love tragedy [laughs] But wanting to have more feelings and moods on the record and in the show that are joyful for me to sing and play. I know now from touring so much I wanted to have some songs that felt you could almost dance to them on stage. A lot of my shows are me, a guitar, and a lot of melancholy rock moods. I don’t want to do that for the rest of my life. [laughs]
Robyn’s Live Show And Tapping Into Teenage Joy
Were there specific things that initially inspired joy that you kept coming back to to stay in that feeling?
JACKLIN: I saw Robyn play at Austin City Limits when I played in 2019. It was so great because it was the first festival I’d actually been able to hang out at and see bands. It was such an incredible lineup, especially being from Australia we don’t get lineups like that. Robyn’s set specifically was one of the best things I’ve ever seen. I felt there was truly a connection between me and my teenage [self] — the time in your life where you feel unadulterated joy from music because you haven’t seen it before. You’re discovering it for the first time, and you do lose that as you get older unfortunately. That’s just life. I really felt in that concert watching Robyn — I feel like I’m still riding the high from seeing that show. It was so beautiful, and it was so generous to the audience, and it was so considered. Everything was so considered. Obviously, she’s playing a headline set, and there’s a lot of budget, but I was just like, thank you, Robyn. That was pure, pure joy.
All of the inspirations for this record and the things that I was listening to and referencing to the band, I don’t think sound anything like the record. Initially it was Robyn and Céline Dion and Luther Vandross in terms of it sounding joyful and warm. It’s allowing itself to be beautiful and almost cheesy. It’s not getting bogged down in getting cool and minimalist. Which is something that I’ve always done — very sparse and serious stuff. I’m sure there’s going to be some like hardcore fan bros of these bands that are going to be like, don’t mention their names, but — then I was listening to Silverchair. While I was making the record that was really helping me connect with teenage joy, because that was a band that was huge for me as a teenager and it reminds me of home. The album Diorama is very orchestral, beautiful, heart-on-the-sleeve, but really melodic and obviously still in the rock world.
Throbbing Gristle And Goblin
JACKLIN: Then the two bands that I was kind of bringing up a lot were Throbbing Gristle and Goblin. I definitely didn’t end up going here really at all, but it was more in terms of some of the songs trying to have a bit more of an industrial sound or a gritty sound that is a bit synthetic and raw, not in the pop or in the folk world. It helped round out the sonic palette in my head. But it doesn’t make sense. I’m sure you listen to the record and you’re like, none of this sounds like this record. But I think it’s so important to do that and to not be listening to your peers. Of course I could listen to Gillian Welch and Leonard Cohen until I die. But I think in terms of making records, it’s beneficial not to listen to stuff that is in what you make and see how that ends up influencing your own music. That’s kind of the spectrum of things that really helped me make the record anyway and made me feel kind of connected to music and connected to joy and experimentation.
I noted that “Be Careful With Yourself” sounds like a grungy Sheryl Crow song. It has the pop aspect with some grit snuck in there.
JACKLIN: [Laughs] That was what I was trying to do.
And “Love, Try Not To Let Go” has those influences.
JACKLIN: That’s a perfect example of those influences: the piano with the really melodic line and beautiful harmonies, but then the loud chorus. I was really happy with that one. I think with that one I managed to pull from every inspiration and actually put them all together in one song. Whereas the rest are a bit of a buffet of sorts of all of those things.
Those pop references hold so much emotion, and a major theme on this album is love in general and how it can be too big to hold or almost act as a superpower.
JACKLIN: I was really excited when I wrote “Too In Love To Die” because that was the first love song I’d ever written. I played it a couple times at some solo shows earlier in the year, and people are like, “That song is so sad.” And I was like, “Ahhh! I thought I wrote a love song.” [laughs] But I think feeling really in love is so tied to feeling terrified of losing that person. In any kind of relationship, when you really care about somebody, it’s a beautiful feeling but it’s so closely tied to the fear of loss. I think worrying about someone’s gonna die is really romantic. It’s not meant to be that you’re a stressed person who has — I’m not someone who’s super stressed about everyone in my life dying. I mean, you know, we all are. [laughs] But to me that is such a true expression of love when you can’t imagine someone not being there anymore. I felt that was the only way I could write about love in a positive way. [laughs] That’s why it can be a struggle to be close to people. When you are really close to people, then you suddenly have a lot to lose. And if you just kind of like a lone wolf, who doesn’t give a shit. It’s, well, I have nothing to lose. [laughs]
It’s having this thing so precious that your existence doesn’t really make sense without it.
JACKLIN: I feel like a lot of people are gonna skip that song. If they’re listening to the record, they’ll listen to it once. I mean, I skip that song at this point. What’s really nice about this record is it’s the first record I’ve made that I feel kind of excited to listen to. My last two records, literally I recorded them and I’m never listening to that ever again. I think they’re both great, and I’m proud of what I did. But, I don’t know, it’s too weird or something. Whereas this one, I’ve been enjoying listening to it.
One of the standouts on the album is the final song, “End Of A Friendship.” It’s a different kind of breakup song that also feels like a magical preservation of love. What influenced you to write a song like that?
JACKLIN: I really wanted to write a song about friendship in that way because it’s such a hard thing to write about and have people not assume it’s about a romantic relationship. I had a song on my last record called “You Were Right” that was about a friendship breaking up. Fair enough, every single review people just assumed it was just another romantic breakup. I kind of strategically called this one “End Of A Friendship” so it was really obvious to the listener what they’re listening to and [to] guide them through that instead of having to figure out what the song is about. We naturally assume when someone’s singing about an emotional relationship breakdown, it’s gonna be romantic. I wanted to be very explicit that it wasn’t. Also, I really wanted to record a song that also felt incredibly dramatic and it gives weight to that feeling, because it’s really devastating. Friendship breakdowns are so uniquely traumatic, because we don’t have the same kind of language around it, the same kind of infrastructure and communities. We’re not going to support a friend through a friendship breakdown in the same way, we’re going to support a friend through a romantic breakdown.
So many people I know are walking around with so many wounds from friendships ending or fizzling out or whatever because you don’t get a similar kind of closure a lot of the time. I think the chorus, I was really trying to speak to my own inadequacies in friendships of feeling like I do have so much to give but being quite unsure how to give it. You feel like you’re bursting with love for people in your life, but actually showing that and showing up for people and putting that into practice. We’re all busy doing things and it’s hard to maintain those things. It’s putting words to that feeling of being so full of love and incapable sometimes of giving it to people in the ways that you really want to. I really wanted the record to end in that way where it feels beautiful and dramatic and uplifting.
There is an expectation that friendships are supposed to last forever. If they don’t, it can be confusing and hurtful. It’s a lot less defined. I think there’s awareness around. There’s Instagram infographics telling you a whole bunch about friendship, but it’s not really how we will operate in the world on a day to day basis. You can’t just say to someone, like, “Hey, look, it’s not really working. You seem cool, though. I hope you have lots of other friends.” It’s normalized in romantic relationships. It’s kind to do that in romantic relationships to be like, “Hey, like, you seem cool, but this isn’t really working for me.’ [laughs] It feels like you’d be a psychopath if you did that to a friend.
It almost feels cruel that someone has to be in your life forever because you have a different kind of bond.
Religious Shame Pushed On Kids
JACKLIN: Over the last few years, I’m sure a lot of people have this wish that they did believe in something. It would maybe sound quite nice. It sounds like it would be quite comforting in many ways. But I’ve seen too much. [laughs] I was thinking a lot about how, as an adult, when I’ve been able to make any decision, I’ve managed to somehow stay completely out of any kind of organized religious spaces. But when I was a child, and I had no choices, I was surrounded by religion. In a time when you’re trying to develop your own thoughts and opinions and you’re starting to learn about sex and your body and shame and and relationships and the difference between right and wrong. It’s like you’re kind of without your own consent, being pumped full of religion. I think a lot about that because a lot of those spaces aren’t safe for children and it’s incredibly toxic.
Those spaces can be teaching children problematic worldviews and imparting buckets full of shame for everything. Shame on top of shame that I thought I would naturally shake off as I’m an adult, you know. And I didn’t grow up in a religious family that’s important to know. But even though I grew up in a country that pretends it’s secular and grew up in a non religious household, I was still in these spaces all the time like “Why am I here?”As an adult, I think about it a lot and how that shaped who I am and how those things kind of like stick on to you in ways that you don’t really think about until you’re older.
So many people I know have some sort of religious trauma. Even if they were raised in a religious family, or if they went to a religious school, or if they were pulled into local youth groups, whatever it is, a lot of that stuff happens in childhood. When you’re an adult, you can make your own decisions and you can choose to not be in their spaces. A lot of my friends and how it’s something that many people into adulthood, kind of still still dealing with and trying to figure out what their own thoughts are.
Is Catholicism the predominant religion in Australia?
JACKLIN: No, I went to a Catholic school for primary school, not for high school. I went to a public high school, but my mom is a Japanese teacher and she was teaching Japanese at the high school, which was next door to the primary school. It was easier to drop me and my sister off and go to work. My grandparents are religious, but my stepdad is a staunch atheist, and my mom, she doesn’t care. I also feel like there are so many other songwriters who legitimately went through like, hectic religious trauma shit from their childhood. That’s not my main thing that I’m unpacking as an adult. I wanted to give a little bit of a nod to that time of my life because I don’t think as a songwriter I’ve ever even thought about my life before I was 16. We think a lot about unpacking being a teenager and all of the shit that comes with that, but I’d never really given much time and thought and grace to my little preteen self who’s just like trying to figure out what was going on. “Lydia Wears A Cross” was my little offering to that little girl.
PRE PLEASURE is out 8/26 on Polyvinyl.