It’s a simple title, but Crushing does an exemplary job of summing up the new record by indie-folk luminary Julia Jacklin. Words by Matt Doria.
It’s a common trope that sophomore efforts are always seeped in years of tumult, but Julia Jacklin was determined to rebel against that. The indie-folk Sydneysider didn’t feel any pressure to one-up her acclaimed debut – 2016’s heady and hardhearted Don’t Let The Kids Win (henceforth Kids) – when she was writing its follow-up. In fact, she made a cognisant effort to approach the music with as laidback a vibe as she could.
Crushing doesn’t necessarily reflect that – with its booming instrumentals, impassioned musings and overall amplified sense of fortitude, it’s worlds bigger than Kids. But there’s a recalcitrant looseness to it; a palpable sense of laxity and a lack of restraint that offers a peek at Jacklin in her most defiantly human state.
“I wanted to experiment with different song structures on Crushing,” she tells us. “I didn’t want to fall into the same structures that I was used to. Because when you write a song, most of the time you’ll think you’re finished, and then you’ll look at it and go, ‘Ah crap, I still need a verse,’ or, ‘Shit, this doesn’t have a bridge,’ or, ‘Oh, this isn’t a song yet because I don’t repeat the chorus three times.’ And instead of following that road, I wanted to just be like, ‘Well, it is a song, and that’s all it needs to be, and I’m going to honour whatever structure it takes on and wherever the song takes me.’
“II love minimal instrumentation, and that carries on some of the songs on [Kids], but for this one, I wanted it to hit a bit harder. I wanted people to really feel the bass and the drums, and we put a lot of time and effort into getting all of that right. Whereas I think with [Kids], I was so green in the studio that I was just kind of like, ‘Yeah, yeah, cool, that sounds good, sure, next song.’ I wasn’t spending heaps of time fine-tuning those little elements.”
To bring the aptly titled Crushing to life, Jacklin and her bandmates dug themselves into the esoteric serenity of New Zealand, working night and day (sessions would often start around noon and crack on ‘til sunrise) to hash the record out with acclaimed producer Burke Reid. And as it turns out, Reid would prove crucial to the acuteness that Crushing embodies: where Jacklin embraced the writing with a mellowed attitude, Reid was keen to push her to – and then beyond – her breaking point.
“I find that some producers really are the unsung heroes of this industry,” Jacklin says of her time in the studio with Reid. “He put so much work into the record, just in terms of his presence. Like, we were there for three weeks and I don’t think I ever saw him switch off. He was so good at… I don’t know, just pushing me to be a better musician, and not be as lazy as I might’ve been otherwise.
“Because sometimes in the studio, it can be so exhausting; especially with the nature of these songs – some of them were quite musically and emotionally demanding to get through, so there were a few times where I was like, ‘Yep, that’s all I have in me today!’ And he had a really good way of just being like, ‘Okay, you can take a break, but you’ve definitely gotta keep going.
“It was like entering the second realm of energy. I think in the past, I would have stopped when I thought I couldn’t do something anymore, y’know? I’ve never run a marathon in my life, but I’m sure it’s like what marathon runners feel at a certain point – you get to a point where it’s like, ‘Oh okay, my body is done now, I need to stop,’ but then you suddenly get some kind of second wind and you’re able to power through it. And I feel like a lot of this record was made in that second wind. Because that’s where the greatest recordings come from – not when you’re all hydrated and well-rested and you’re all playing your instruments perfectly – the best recordings come when everyone’s a bit exhausted and feeling a bit strange.”
Most of Crushing saw Jacklin rip out on a hollowbody Gretsch, its bluesy jangle a perfect match for the rich, walloping lines she has on exhibit. But when it comes to the live show, and her day-to-day jamming, Jacklin is almost synonymous with the classic Fender American Standard Telecaster. It’s remained a cornerstone of her arsenal for almost seven years now, and as far as she’s concerned, that isn’t about to change any time soon.
“I didn’t think I was very sentimental about things,” Jacklin admits. “I bought that guitar because I was obsessed with Anna Calvi at the time and she played a Telecaster, so I was like, ‘Well, she probably knows what she’s doing, I’ll just follow her lead!’ And so I bought it, and… I don’t know, initially I didn’t really feel connected to it. I love the way it sounds for sure, but I think what I love about it most is that it’s a really durable tool that I can have by my side.
“It goes through so much pain, that guitar – I fly with it all the time, and I’m not particularly careful of it; y’know, I have a soft case for it, but I never have it in a guitar stand, so it’s always getting kicked over and knocked about onstage… But it’s never let me down! It just feels like a really good, solid work friend. So that’s kind of why I’m really attached to it now – I’m just like, ‘Thanks, Telecaster!’ It’s really shown up for me over the last four years of touring, and I never have to worry about it. I just have to worry about me.”