Julia Jacklin - an extraordinary new voice of young folk

The classically trained Australian singer-songwriter only picked up a guitar and the songwriting buzz a few years ago

There are times when Julia Jacklin sounds surprised when she talks about the year she's had to date. The Australian singer-songwriter has seen her melancholic, folky-flavoured, bittersweet songs find fans far and wide, thanks to her bewitching debut, Don't Let the Kids Win.

What’s striking about Jacklin is that she’s a relative newcomer to the game. The 25-year-old may have trained as a classical singer, but she only picked up a guitar and the songwriting buzz a few years ago.

“I couldn’t play an instrument, but I used to write stories”, she says. “I suppose I had stuff to say at this stage of my life because I’d lived, I’d had experiences. So many of the early songs I wrote were pretty bad. They were copies of what other people were doing. I didn’t know what I wanted to write about or how to turn my experiences into lyrics. I just looked to very generic dodgy themes and tried to make something authentic out of that which didn’t work.”

Jacklin's initial songwriting leaned heavily on the folk music she was listening to at the time. "You're singing about things which you clearly didn't experience. You're a teenager in 2010 in the Blue Mountains in Australia and you're singing about the coming of the railroad to the American midwest or some horrific murder. It took me a while to feel okay to find my voice and be comfortable about writing about my own life and modern experiences."

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Luka Bloom

One of the singers who probably had an unexpected impact on her was Irishman Luka Bloom. "My mom and stepdad are huge fans of Luka Bloom – I think she's seen him about 30 times at this stage in Australia – and I grew up listening to his music. When I was a kid, I hated him because they'd play it on every car trip and my stepdad would sing along at the top of his lungs. Now that I'm older, I can see him as an artist and I have a lot of time for him."

Other singers had a more seismic effect on her. "Fiona Apple was a big game-changer for me. She made me realise I don't have to write the same stuff as everyone else. She had such an individual voice that she was able to reduce experiences to the moment, the very essence of what they were about."

Jacklin also found she had to adjust to changes in how she actually used that voice compared to her training as a classical singer. “I found it difficult to sing in a lower register, not because I couldn’t but because I felt people didn’t want to hear that from me. I thought they wanted me to sing in a really pretty, high, flawless voice.

“I felt it wasn’t rich and didn’t have any emotional depth. It took me a really long time to lower my voice and that changed everything. I felt I’d a bigger range, I could write a lot better songs, I felt a lot of power onstage and in the studio.”

Leap of faith

She recorded Don't Let the Kids Win with producer Ben Edwards in Lyttelton in New Zealand. "I emailed him and he said 'sure, come over', so I went over for a month and lived with him and his baby and his partner. It was a total leap of faith because we'd never talked before I went over there.

“I kind of thought recording meant you had to get in and do everything perfectly and not make any mistakes. Ben taught me that a lot of the mistakes are what make the record stand out. It was hard for me to shake off my classical singing background and that emphasis on note-for-note perfect singing. That was a revelation for me.”

Another surprise for her was the reaction at the SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas, in March. “I was shocked to even get accepted for SXSW, to be honest. I was told by so many people that it was not worth going because I didn’t have a buzz or hype around me. But I decided I was going to go anyway to check it out and have a good time and go travelling afterwards and make a holiday out of it. My bandmates wanted to come on the trip too and paid for themselves.

“I’d prepared everyone for the worst and said it would be rough and we’d be playing to no one, but it was pretty awesome in the end. It was the first time that I realised I had good songs. That to me was validation: I was playing the songs in front of an audience who didn’t owe me anything and they responded so well.”

A couple of weeks ago, Julia Jacklin quit her job and became a full-time musician. She’s now got a schedule that will keep the Australian singer away from home for months.

“I think the Australian temperament does suit touring. A lot of people have said to me lately that I’ve got such a hectic schedule and if I like being away from home for so long. I’ve been trying to get away from home since I was 16 (laughs). I’ve been going travelling whenever I can.

“I love Australia, but it is very isolated. Ever since I was a kid, I used to dream of going away and running around the world and meeting new people. I’m going to tire of it eventually, but right now I feel very lucky that my love of travelling and love of music have met in the middle like this.”

- Don't Let the Kids Win is out now. Julia Jacklin plays Dublin's Grand Social on November 11th