JULIA JACKLIN wept when she learned Leonard Cohen had passed away. She had never met the iconic crooner — or even seen him perform (she was on tour when he played her native Australia the final time).
However, as a folk singer trying to make sense of the world through her art, Jacklin felt an intense connection. Moreover, with Donald Trump elected president of the United States two days previously, it already felt the apocalypse was nigh. You’ll forgive her a few sniffles.
“I cried a lot,” she nods. “With Donald Trump in the news and so many horrible things happening in the world, it feels sad to lose someone who could so powerfully communicate the human experience. I carry a book of Cohen’s lyrics in my bag. I read them all the time.”
Jacklin is one of the musical discoveries of 2016. The 26-year-old singer songwriter from suburban Sydney quit her office job just last summer. Since then her star has ascended at remarkable speed, with critics in a unanimous swoon over her debut LP Don’t Let The Kids Win. With characteristic cool-headedness she can’t quite understand the fuss.
“It was my first record — there were no pressures or expectations,” she shrugs. “I thought I’ll just put it out and see what happens. It’s the second album where the pressure comes. This was came together in a vacuum. Nobody was paying any attention.”
She was in her teens when she discovered Cohen. It was as if a veil had lifted — as if, to paraphrase her idol, light was allowed seep through a crack. She had until then struggled to escape cliché in her writing. Cohen showed her the path to true self- expression was paved with honesty, generosity and humour. You didn’t have to be a different version of yourself.
“When you start writing folk music you tend to come up with stuff that is very removed from yourself. I was this teenager in Australia writing about the Mississippi Delta or what have you. It doesn’t mean anything — but you feel that’s what a folk singer does. When I started listening to Leonard Cohen it was proof that you don’t have to be endlessly serious. You can still sing about sad things and have a sense of humour.”
In person she is polite and thoughtful. On record, though, Jacklin cuts a plaintive figure — whether singing about generational strife (as on the title track of the LP) or sending a boyfriend on his way (early single Pool Party). She is of course aware her music is intense — but grows annoyed hearing herself described as a cliched old soul in a young body.
“I’m a young person who sings about what it’s like to be in your mid 20s,” says Jacklin.
“To write that off with the whole ‘wise beyond her years’ thing is bizarre. What should I be writing, as a 26 year old? I’m a woman. I write about the anxieties of my age, hopefully with a little optimism.”
She’s on a brief visit to Ireland and is glad to be back. Growing up in the Blue Mountains just outside Sydney, her childhood was suffused in Irish culture. Though her family has no Irish blood, Jacklin’s step-father was a dedicated Hibernophile and she was exposed through her youth to traditional music and dance.
“I did Irish dancing — which I was pretty bad at. I have this vivid memory from my childhood, from when I was about seven. My mum made me a dress for Irish dancing: it was black velvet and had moons and stars all over it. When I arrived for the class I was teased because it wasn’t a ‘proper’ Irish dancing dress. I’d only just started and my mum hadn’t wanted to invest in a full dress. Anyway — I am obviously scarred for life by the experience.”