Proving that self-confidence is a funny thing, it’s taken almost a quarter-century for Australian singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin to feel like she might actually have something important to say. The payoff for the long lead-up to her debut album, Don’t Let the Kids Win, has been pretty much universal acclaim, the record having been hailed as a triumph everywhere from the Guardian (“lovely”) to the Australian edition of Rolling Stone (a perfect four stars). As a result, she’s been on the road constantly, scoring invites everywhere from Glastonbury to SXSW.
“I’m enjoying the travel so far, mostly because I’m getting better at sleeping upright,” Jacklin says with a laugh, speaking on her cell from Australia while waiting to board a plane to New Zealand. “That was a big challenge for me in the beginning. I was always so excited to be on a plane that it would keep me awake, and that would send me into this almost insane kind of place.”
That she’s been so in demand has surprised her, mostly because she initially thought Don’t Let the Kids Win—which found a home on the Polyvinyl Record Co.—would get nothing but a Bandcamp release. Instead, she’s been praised for her storytelling cleverness as a lyricist—Courtney Barnett might be impressed by “When you saw my face in the line/Said if I just focus I could get laid anytime” from “L.A. Dream”, or “Don’t let the time go by without sitting your mother down/And asking what life was like for her before you came to be around” from the title track.
Musically, comparisons have been made to the likes of Lucinda Williams, Sharon Van Etten, and Angel Olsen, all of whom the 26-year-old would fit magically with on a Spotify playlist. But still, despite Jacklin being the latest breakout artist from a country that’s been producing a lot of them, one thing comes up repeatedly with the singer. As great as everyone else thinks she is, she wonders if she deserves the acclaim.
“I dunno—it comes from so many different things that it’s hard to explain it without getting too deep,” she replies when asked about self-doubts. “I think a lot of it comes from not having ever studied music. I always felt like the least competent person in the room when I was there with my friends. I’d shoot myself in the foot a million times because I didn’t want to participate in jams or things that would help me improve. I mean, I took singing lessons, but never really delved into things too deeply. I was much more into writing than the craft of being a musician.”
Along the way, though, something changed. After graduating from high school Jacklin did time in a go-nowhere Americana-obsessed unit, spent some time travelling the world, and briefly thought about becoming a social worker. In her 20s she decided to take songwriting a bit more seriously—which eventually led her to New Zealand, where she recorded the self-financed Don’t Let the Kids Win in 2015. The surprise acclaim given the record is deserved, with Jacklin as comfortable cranking the amps for the blazing “Hay Plain” as she is going the spartan and reflective route for the lovely “Sweet Step”. And despite whatever self-doubts she once had, the singer now realizes that she’s onto something.
“It’s interesting—I’m going back to New Zealand today to the same studio where I recorded the album,” Jacklin says. “I haven’t been there since the recording, and it’s crazy to think about how different I feel now and how everything has changed. I had no idea how things were going to pan out—I was just going to release the album on my own. So to be in this position now makes me feel proud of myself.”
Julia Jacklin plays the Cobalt next Thursday (April 20).