Every capital can lay claim to their share of success stories. From art to architecture, tycoon to tradie, there are always those who manage to distinguish themselves from the mass and step into a larger renown.
Yet while each is celebrated in their own particular fashion, it is a city’s musical community that is arguably the most vibrant and diverse. Musicians are the great cultural leveller, and in Sydney, despite the beatings it has endured these past few years, this community remains strong.
Such is the context for Julia Jacklin’s rise from fledgling solo performer sailing from one open mic night to another, to an internationally lauded festival-favourite. The local landscape may have changed, but Jacklin still finds fertile ground across the Harbour City as she prepares for her sold-out show at Sydney’s Metro Theatre this week, wedged between two sold-out gigs at Melbourne’s Corner Hotel.
I’m kind of glad, but also feel sad for the people who are at the stage I was five years ago, trying to do it today.
“I found a really great community here,” Jacklin explains in a speaking voice not far removed from the timbre of her music. “It’s funny that there’s a lot of shit talked about Sydney in terms of music, and it definitely does feel very dire right now. And I’m kind of glad, but also feel sad for the people who are at the stage I was five years ago, trying to do it today.
“For me, places like the Newtown Social Club were kind of the place. [That’s] where I started doing proper gigs, and getting support slots there was such a big deal. I don’t really know where they’re going to go now. But I found a really nice community that felt quite far away from the industry. Doing a lot of house gigs, playing Hibernian House. And meeting Fran [Martin, live music advocate], getting under her wing with a whole host of other people. It’s something I genuinely miss now that I’m away all the time.”
And despite a touring itinerary that makes your eyes water – honestly, between a day-stop in Glasgow, six weeks touring the US with Andy Shauf, and four months of festival circuits across Europe, life isn’t going to calm down for Jacklin until October – she still endeavours to dip back into that scene whenever the opportunity rolls around.
“Every time I’m back, I try my hardest to go and see people. I saw Maia [Marsh] there recently at Folkswagon, and my friends all play those shows. I try and get around as much as I can. A couple of weeks ago I played at the Woolpack at the open mic night, which was one of my old haunts, just to try out some new tunes on a forgiving crowd. I definitely try and see as much as I can, but I’m hardly back, and when I am, I’m a bit of a tired wreck who needs to be dragged out.”
Jacklin laughs. She sounds happily bemused by the state of life these days, though also rather weary. It’s little wonder; her commitment to her craft has seen a career that many would envy, but step away from the spotlight and you’ll find an artist who has been sedulously shaping a life in music for many years.
I definitely try and see as much as I can, but I’m hardly back, and when I am, I’m a bit of a tired wreck who needs to be dragged out.
She grew up in Springwood – the second largest town in the Blue Mountains, perched on a ridge between two deep gorges – and it was there, playing Evanescence covers in the wake of classical vocal training that she began to discern the path her music might follow.
“I guess there were really two things. My friend Liz [Hughes] asked me to join her band as a backing vocalist. She was listening to a lot of Anais Mitchell at the time, so that was kind of the style. I guess in a way I got pulled into that whole folk revival thing. Fleet Foxes and whatnot. Thinking, ‘This music has never existed before, and here it is now, totally amazing and new!’” Jacklin chuckles. “And from that, you go back and start getting really into Gillian Welch and Leonard Cohen.
“I think that to me, it seemed like the easiest music to make. And I don’t mean that as an insult to that music. I just mean that it’s very accessible for someone who was pretty shit at guitar, and didn’t really know what they were doing. You can also do it at open mic nights and not need a full band. Just you and a guitar. So it seemed like a good entry into gigging. Before, I always sung at classical concerts and couldn’t play anything, couldn’t sing my own songs. [Where I am] now seems to have just happened, and I think I’m going to stick with it for a while.”
It seemed like the easiest music to make… it’s very accessible for someone who was pretty shit at guitar, and didn’t really know what they were doing.
It’s an evolution that has seen some remarkable accomplishments; Don’t Let the Kids Win dropped back in October, and scored her a J Award nomination for Australian Album of the Year (it’s also interesting to note the influence Cohen still holds; ‘Suzanne’ is her #1 favourite song, followed by Otis Redding’s ‘Drift Away’ and Fiona Apple’s ‘Not About Love’). Her immediate future will see Jacklin take to the skies, to showcase her songs from country to country, town to town. She says she will stick with her current sound for a while … and yet, the potential of what lies ahead is not far from her thoughts.
“I guess I’m thinking of that right now. There’s obviously a worry after a first record that you’re going to overthink the second one. God, maybe I should learn an Eastern European guitar technique just to add some interesting flair! Right now, I’m just focusing on writing good songs. Songs that aren’t lazy, that aren’t lacking depth.
“Maybe in the future when I’ve got more time, I might venture somewhere weird. I’m trying not to overthink songwriting, because I think it can really damage the moment. ‘Is this what I do? Is this relatable enough? Is this Julia Jacklin?’
“That was messing with my head a bit, so now I’m writing and trying to play it to people, even if it’s not going to be what’s on the next record. I’m just pumping them out and trying to find some gems within.”
Tickets are still available for Julia’s show in Auckland, NZ this Saturday, joined by two sold-out shows at Melbourne’s Corner Hotel and one at Sydney’s Metro Theatre, as well as a set at the sold-out Splendour in the Grass festival this July.