Julia Jacklin Is Finally Living In The Moment On The Witty And Fun ‘Pre-Pleasure’

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“Life isn’t about optimizing every part of it,” Australian songwriter Julia Jacklin says over Zoom. She’s right, but the cult of optimization and life hacking is hard to escape from. The billion-dollar self-help book industry pushes the idea that optimizing your life can lead to winning influence, friends, that big promotion, and even “mastering your mind” (whatever that means). The idea of life hacking is meant to be beneficial, but when everything is seen as a problem that needs to be fixed or improved, when do you know you’ve solved it? How can we ever enjoy something when it always feels like there’s more work to be done?

Jacklin was thinking a lot about this idea of optimizing, particularly when it came to her emotions, and how it kept her from living in the moment when working on her masterpiece of a third studio album, Pre-Pleasure. She realized she had become so concerned with figuring herself out, it was hard to actually enjoy all the hard-earned success and acclaim the past few years had brought her.

She had spent much of her late 20’s traveling the world and sharing her music, only to feel burnt out by giving away her raw emotions on stage each night and being away from her hometown for months at a time. That is, until she suddenly found herself with a lot of free time on her hands, more than she’s ever had in her life. And as someone who needs to be busy to feel creative, Jacklin began reflecting on her constant urge to move on to the next thing; whether it be the next career highlight or bit of personal growth. Finally, Jacklin realized it was time to stop feeling like she needed to work on all these aspects of her life, and simply enjoy them. This realization is weaved through her 10-track project Pre-Pleasure, an album that explores pleasure, boundaries, and the art of finally living in the moment.

The title Pre-Pleasure speaks to the difficulty of reaping the rewards of hard work. “I realized in the record I was talking a lot about my relationships — with people and with my own sexual pleasure — and this constant grappling for understanding,” Jacklin says. “I’m always thinking that I need to work on all these aspects of my life, and that one day I’ll be able to just sit around and enjoy them. I’ll have a really healthy relationship with my sexuality, family, friends, and everything will be great, but first I have to do all this work.” The term “pre-pleasure” sums up what she was feeling: always on the brink of happiness, but never actually experiencing it. “You have to just enjoy where it is at the moment, and not keep expecting it to improve all the time.”

One way Jacklin began enjoying life was reconnecting with pop greats who inspired her early love of music. “Coming into making this record, I was listening to a lot of pop music from my childhood; music that just is engineered to make people feel good,” she says. “I love my genre of music, but it’s an intense genre to listen to exclusively.”

She means, of course, the indie rock genre. More specifically, the kind of music that can controversially be labeled “sad girl music,” a category her debut LP Don’t Let The Kids Win and 2019 opus Crushing are oftentimes be lumped into. Jacklin has found her genre of music can be pretty pretentious; there’s a lot of pressure to be “cool,” “irreverent,” and “full of sarcasm.” There can be certain aversion to earnestness, something Jacklin found herself wanting to combat the best way she knew how: by listening to the likes of Celine Dion and Kylie Minogue. “I think I’ve just been trying to uncomplicate [songwriting] over the last little while and remember that it’s just music. It’s meant to be fun.”

Jacklin was able to keep making music fun for her by switching up the way she writes songs. The exuberant, ’70s folk-infused piano pop number “Love, Try Not To Let Go” was the first song Jacklin ever wrote on the keyboard. “It was like, ‘How do I reconnect with songwriting and be able to remove some of the pressure out of my own head?'” After touring her intimate and personal album Crushing, Jacklin was left emotionally drained. “Guitar brings with it a lot of baggage,” she says. “You can get stuck in the same string patterns and you just feel like it’s quite easy to write the same song over and over again.”

So she instead turned to piano, an instrument she knew next to nothing about, to relieve some of the self-imposed pressure of songwriting. “I’m not proficient in any way. I think that made me feel a bit more excited at myself, excited at things that I was doing, because it just felt new and different,” she says. “Whereas the guitar was just starting to make me feel a bit sad. We’d been through too much together, so I think playing the piano was a fresh element.” Her experimentation paid off, as “Love, Try Not To Let Go” is one of the more buoyant songs on the album. Jacklin’s voice reverberates over a delicate, swirling melody. The chorus breaks down to a frantic mix of fuzzy guitars and hurried snares before floating back to the piano-driven beat, like a wave swelling then lulling back on itself.

I Was Neon” is another danceable number on the album. It shows how Jacklin was letting go and having fun with music. An upbeat, fuzzy riff establishes a jaunty tempo while Jacklin’s lyrics find her appreciating who she is at this current moment. “Am I gonna lose myself again? / I quite like the person that I am,” she repeats. Whereas her more sanguine songs on Crushing were still, well, crushing at times, tracks like “I Was Neon,” “Lydia Wears A Cross,” and “Be Careful With Yourself” maintain a joyful quality while not losing Jacklin’s unique ability to speak directly from her soul.

While several songs on the album reflect her current state of mind, tracks like “Lydia Wears A Cross” and “Ignore Tenderness” unpack lessons learned in her youth. Like most women, Jacklin had a lot of learning — and unlearning — to do about her sexuality as an adult, which was only magnified by her Catholic school upbringing. “Lydia Wears A Cross” lays out a realistic vision of indoctrination, with a young girl going through the motions of prayer and praise without fully grasping its meaning. The girl sees her Catholic school uniform simply as a dress to feel pretty in, and thinks listening to the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack is a pious act.

Meanwhile, “Ignore Tenderness” is a lesson on combating society’s lessons on what sexuality should be for women. “There was no [sexual education] in school or family, it was just like zero information about anything to do with sex as a young person,” Jacklin recalls. Any messaging she’d get about sex as a teenager was from an abstinence-only framework, which has time and time again been proven harmful, or disingenuous sex tips from Cosmopolitan designed to be more scandalous than insightful. “Living within rape culture and living in the early-mid 2000s, which was when I was a teenager, I thought that as I got older, I would naturally shed all of that. But it’s been a lot harder to shake all of that shame and stigma. That stuff is fused into your psyche.” “Ignore Tenderness” addresses this early messaging, with lines about watching porn and getting “conflicting advice” like “be naughty but don’t misbehave.”

While Jacklin has done a lot of work from unpacking her religious upbringing to unlearning those weird Cosmo sex tips, she still hasn’t fully figured herself out. And that’s okay. For now, she’s content in liking the person she is in this moment, and trying not to over-analyze it — especially in her music itself. “I think if songwriting was super cathartic, songwriters would be like a happier group of people,” she says. “It’s important to put your feelings down on paper or in a song, but there’s so many other things you need to do to live a fulfilling life.” For Jacklin, part of that fulfillment comes from conquering “pre-pleasure” and finally living in the moment.

Pre-Pleasure is out now via Polyvinyl. Get it here.