Australian music heroine Julia Jacklin made her latest album in Montreal

“There’s absolutely a creative energy in Montreal. You could feel a sort of vibrancy. Montreal buildings are all painted on, and I always thought that was a good indication of a creative city, a city that likes artists.”

Julia Jacklin recently walked into a café in Thornbury, Melbourne and heard her music playing on the speakers. Given that the singer/songwriter is known particularly for her intimate lyrics, gutting and all-baring performances, and songs that generally swell with raw emotion, one can only imagine the humility felt by the introvert in that moment. It was humbling, but a jarring disconnect all the same. One evening (EST time zone for me), and morning (GST time zone for her), over a terrible internet connection, I made certain confessions to Jacklin over a video call. 

In 2020, I found myself living in the suburbs with my parents, confronting the end of a five-year relationship. Hard as it was, the bad thing that never seems to end started at about the same time. I am grateful every day for the serendipity that brought Jacklin’s music into my life at that precise moment. A time when her use of the word “isolation” in “Pressure to Party” — a song about not knowing how to navigate running into your ex — hit, not only close to, but directly into my suburban home.

Of course, this is how all her fans feel about her work, regardless of their own moment of encounter. Unsurprisingly, audiences predominantly filled with women flock to the musician’s confidentiality. I compare her songwriting to that of artists like Fiona Apple, whose fans similarly feel emboldened by songs intended as pep talks for the musician herself, not necessarily public audiences.

Does she feel a difference between singing for herself and singing to all of us? “I think I’m lucky in that each time I’ve made a record, there’s enough of a gap in between touring that I can almost forget that I’m slightly famous, so I can sort of directly focus on the music. Truthfully, that has changed a little bit more. I think I’ve actually gotten more candid in my songwriting with every record, because I’m just at a point now where it’s like, why not?”

“You should cover ‘Extraordinary Machine,’” I say. 

“I used to, all the time!” she says.

“Be Careful With Yourself” by Julia Jacklin

After a long absence, Jacklin returns to her fans this year with the gift of a new album: Pre-Pleasure. Admitting it was a title she had to settle on purely based on a deadline (similarly, she says she knows when a song is done — when it’s due), she notes that, for her, the album explores the idea of “trying to approach relationships, you know, romantic, or platonic, and how to figure that out with this idea that once that’s done, you can kind of one day just enjoy your life and enjoy your relationship. But the reality is, you can’t get to that place, and I think it’s kinda scary when you realize that you’ve operated your whole life like that. Do you get to a certain point that’s just like pure pleasure? It’s really not like that in many ways. A lot of stuff is going to be kinda ongoing until you’re no longer alive (laughs).” 

Jacklin’s work has persistently explored physicality and sex. This emerges on Pre-Pleasure too: “Ignore Tenderness” croons in advising the listener to “be naughty, but don’t misbehave.” A song like “Magic” captures Jacklin’s particular skill in inflating the tension of a melody, until it bursts with an uncooked account of intimate sex. Women of my generation are congregating to what she’s revealing but is otherwise not being said about our intimate lives.

“So many of my early sexual experiences were, in retrospect, quite traumatic and shrouded in shame and I had no understanding that it could involve my own pleasure. Even when you think that you are in this incredibly, like, open and progressive society—in order to be that confident person, you still have to do such deep, deep, active work to find yourself. I think this is just something I think about a lot.

What is Jacklin’s favourite song about sex, I wonder, and am gifted with a brief moment where she sings directly on screen: “‘Why Must We Wait Until Tonight’ by Tina Turner. It’s so sexy and confident.”

And if she, like all the reviews say, is in fact a combination of Doris Day and Britney Spears, what’s her favourite Britney tune? “‘I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman,’ written by Dido, in fact.”

Given her massive lyrical skill, is she a reader? “I’m a big reader. I’m currently reading Samantha Irby.”

As it turns out, Julia Jacklin also loves karaoke: “I do Celine Dion’s, ‘It’s All Coming Back to Me Now’ a lot.”

“I Was Neon” by Julia Jacklin

Pre-Pleasure features songs mostly written in Canada and, in fact, Pre-Pleasure is a record produced in Montreal. A “beautiful city,” she says, “that has such rich musical history. I was still in Australia for most of the pandemic. I basically didn’t even pick up an instrument most of that time. I definitely didn’t miss the stage, since I was so incredibly burned out from the last tour. And then when I moved to Montreal, I began to start working on music again. But I also got to actively live in the city and experience it outside of work. I would bike around, which is sort of crazy in Montreal,” she says, noting our infamous construction. “It’s like a new route everyday!” 

“But yes, there’s absolutely a creative energy in Montreal. I think what I always really liked about it, especially coming from Sydney and having lived there for a really long time, was that it always seemed to be a city that liked artists. I liked that Montreal was quite loud, for instance. People aren’t precious about noise like they are in Sydney. People in Sydney complain about noise all the time, which just doesn’t really go well for musicians. I could just sit by my apartment window in Montreal, and always hear something. I feel like when I went for a walk or when I was in the city, it just felt like I could always hear things. You could feel a sort of vibrancy. And Montreal buildings are all painted on. I always thought that was a good indication of a creative city.”

Jacklin fans unite and rebel against the cliché of “sad girl music,” because, when I bring it up, she sighs, and says, “I have definitely played into that because it feels like that’s your box, but to be honest, I don’t even know what that means.” 

“Girls have been sad forever! It’s not new!” I say.

“Read the news! Like, what’s there not to be sad about? Everyone’s sad (laughs). It’s literally just a part of being human. To be alive is to be sad,” or, as she sings on, “Ignore Tenderness,” to be “​​brave, a little leaf catching a wave, strong but willing to be saved.” ■

This article was originally published in the August 2022 issue of Cult MTL. 

Julia Jacklin plays Montreal with opener Katy Kirby at Théâtre Corona (2490 Notre-Dame W.) on Sept. 20, 8 p.m., $32

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