Record of the Week: Julia Jacklin’s ‘Pre Pleasure’ (plus a rare acoustic performance)

Julia Jacklin feature

Julia Jacklin’s third album, Pre Pleasure, finds her in love. A love so powerful that she could walk out into traffic and cars would spin out around her like a dance because of its emotional force. A love that could stop a plane’s impact by somehow softening the ground to the point where the craft carrying her lover would gently touch the ground. A kind of love with a hyperbolic and mythic strength. “Love is all I want now,” Jacklin declares in “Love, Try Not To Let Go.”  

But she is also careful with what she wishes for. “I’ve never had an uncomplicated love,” she told me during an interview.  In the album’s lead single, “I Was Neon,” she recognizes the white-hot electricity that this love makes her feel. But the song is also a warning sign: “I don’t want to lose myself again,” she sings. “I quite like the person that I am.” Much of this album is devoted to a quest for love and recognition of the complications that love brings. 

Jacklin’s great pursuit on Pre Pleasure takes her in front of the mirror during the song “Ignore Tenderness.” Again, it is complicated. She grapples with having been a good, Christian student and trying to be turned on. She’s in her room, watching porn, and then, “right when pleasure begins my education creeps in,” she sings. Conflicting advice and past trauma combine to make self-love a difficult and complex task.   

The quest for love is at its most complicated when Jacklin focuses of her relationship with her mother. “Do I intimidate her?” she sings in “Less of a Stranger.” During our interview, she further unpacked what she’s getting at in that song: “I was reading all these celebrity memoirs. People basically spend 65% of the book talking about the relationship with their mothers. And I think the only reason they feel confident writing about their mothers is because they have died. That sucks. I want the relationship I have with my mother to be though-about and improved while we’re still alive.” Jacklin said that we are often led to believe that we have to say that we either love or hate our parents, and we need to be able to say that it’s complicated.  

In the end, Jacklin wants her mother to be less of a stranger, because Jacklin loves her. And the artist wants to be turned on by herself, because she loves herself. And she wants her love to stop a plane from falling out of the sky, because she loves another. Love is all that she wants now. Surely, it’s love like this that keeps us alive.   

A couple of weeks ago Julia Jacklin stopped by the studio at WNXP to perform some songs from Pre Pleasure and to talk about the album. She brought an electric guitar and a small amp, but when technical difficulties intervened, she gamely and generously adapted by picking up an acoustic guitar and playing these songs on for the very first time. In fact, she said it was the first time she’d played an acoustic guitar at all since she was 19-years-old. So the acoustic performances below are extra special.

On the Record: A Q&A with Julia Jacklin

Justin Barney: What is the first song that you’re gonna do?

Julia Jacklin: I’m going to do “Moviegoer.”

JB: “Moviegoer” is a song that I feel like is a bit of a mystery to me. I’m not exactly sure who the movie goer is or what it’s about. Could you explain?

JJ: Yeah. I feel like because most of my songs are very obvious, that people are like, “What’s this one about? We used to knowing exactly what you’re talking about.”

It’s about so many things.

It’s this period in time when I went away for the weekend to try and write songs. Which is not something I usually do. And I was in this cabin and there was no wi-fi, so I was just watching lots of DVDs, and I just watched a couple of movies where I was like, “Oh, they not need to be made.” And I was in a headspace where I was just really questioning the role of art in society. And how much we talk about how important it is, especially during 2020. You know, it was just relentless on the Internet about like how important art is. But it didn’t really feel like that was being met with financial compensation for artists. But we were always like, “Art is so important! Art is so important!” Without acknowledging who makes it, who gets to make it, and who can afford to make it. So I was just feeling real down on everything. And I also stupidly listened to this podcast where these people were reviewing my first album or something, and they were talking about that it was pretty bad. And I think my skin was really thin at that point and I was just thinking about, “Is making art that cathartic? Is it good for me? Is it good for anybody else? We constantly talk about how cathartic it is to make and consume art, but everyone’s so miserable. Like, is it important?” So that’s kind of where I wrote this song from.

I think my opinions have changed here and there. I do think art is important. But yeah, I don’t know, I was just really down on the whole thing.

I mean, I go through lots of cycles of like, “Is this a good thing to do with my life?” Like, just in terms of is it good for me? And is it good enough that it’s worth doing for other people?

JB: That is a very big question.

JJ: It is a big question and I don’t think you can ever fully get the answer to that question. You kind of have to just keep doing it or just quit and do something else. You can’t really ever get to the end of that thought process. I don’t think.

JB: Can we listen to the song?

Julia Jacklin “Moviegoer” acoustic on WNXP

JB: So the next song is that you’re going to do is “Less of a Stranger.”  That’s a big one. When I was listening to that I was soo blown away that you can write with such honesty. Do you question that?

JJ: I do. I didn’t when I wrote it. I didn’t when I recorded it. And I did when I released it. It’s more like other people’s reactions make me question if that’s a good thing to do. I think there’s a lot more focus on, “Oh my God, it’s such a crazy thing that you’re so honest” and less focus on the actual sentiment of the song. Because I think if you actually step away from maybe the initial shock of that, it’s a very common feeling that literally every single person I know has with their parent in some way or another. And your parent had that with their parent. Because this is actually just a very normal feeling that we have with our parents. Even if you have a really good relationship with your parents or your mother or whatever, it’s like you grew up in completely different circumstances, just in terms of the era in which you were born. I think that that can make it really difficult to know each other on a level that I think we all want to know our parents or want them to know us. And I think we just don’t say it, because the parent child relationship is supposed to be so sacred. And you’re never supposed to say anything other than just, “I hate my mom,” or, “I love my mom.” Whereas those relationships are so complicated and there’s so much nuance. I just think it’d be so much better if we could just talk about it in that way, because otherwise I think that feeds into just having toxic relationships with your family because you either have to hate them or love them. You can’t just be like, “It’s complicated.”

JB: I think that and I think that’s why the song you hit so hard is because we often don’t say that. 

JJ: Everything I’ve read that people have written about this song on the internet says like, “Oh, and this song is about her relationship with her estranged mother.” There is not a single part of the song that says that I’m estranged from my mother. That annoys me. Because I’m like, “Do you feel super close to your mom?” This is what you get when you write personal songs, though.

JB: It’s not black and white. You can still be close to your parent and still wish that you were closer or wish you understood them better. It doesn’t mean that if you say these things out loud that you’re estranged from your parents.

JB: And it is also a very loving song.

JJ: Exactly. It is to me. I’m like, “Come on, guys. It’s a love song.”

JB: It is. I think that’s the nuance that I love so much in the song, because you can want your mom to be closer. Who doesn’t want your mom to be closer? It’s like the relationship that you care about the most. I would want my mom to say “I love you” every minute of the day. There’s not more that she could say. It’s impossible for her to relay how much she loves me. But but at the end the song is still loving your mom. And it is still saying that.

JJ: I’ve been in a real like celebrity memoir phase. Been reading a lot of memoirs. A lot of these memoirs, people spend basically 65% of the book talking about their relationship with their mothers. And I think the only reason that they feel confident usually is because their moms have died. And I think that that’s something also, we feel like we can’t talk about our relationships with our parents until they’re dead. That sucks. I want the relationship I have with my mother to be thought about and improved while we’re still literally alive. 

Like, I don’t want to wait until she’s dead and then finally be able to be like, “Alright, mom, here are my thoughts.”

JB: What does your mom said about it?

JJ: She was cool. She understands that I’m a songwriter as well.  We haven’t sat down and unpacked it because I think the idea of the song is that you don’t fully have that relationship where you can sit down and really talk about feelings. But yeah, she wasn’t, like, mad or anything. She was like, “Yeah, cool.” And she’s super proud of me and excited for all of her friends to hear the record. It’s fine.

JB: Great. I love it. It is. And I thank you for it. Can you do the song? 

Julia Jacklin “Less of a Stranger” acoustic on WNXP

JB: What was the celebrity memoir that made you come to that realization?

JJ: Sally Fields memoir, “In Pieces.”

It kind of changed my life.

JB: Really? How so?

JJ: I think she does this incredible job at showing how childhood trauma effects your entire life. In a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in film or read anywhere. It’s one of the bravest things I’ve read. I mean, we know that that’s what happens. We know that trauma in childhood obviously affects your entire life. She’s written from childhood to now and she doesn’t shy away from showing all the bad decisions that she’s made in her life.  I honestly feel like it has made me more empathetic to people.

JB: Ultimately, I always feel like that is the aim of art, you know?

JJ: Right? .

JB: What’s the last song you’re going to do?

JJ: Well, I was thinking I’d do “Too in Love to Die.”

JB: Is it harder to write a song about being in love? I feel like it’s more vulnerable than than a breakup song.

JJ: Yeah, because I think breakup songs are, like, a dime a dozen.

You can kind of dip into the pool of breakup songs and just kind of  pick your flavor or whatever, because they’re everywhere. Even if you haven’t been in a through a breakup, you can write a breakup song. And even if you haven’t been in love, you can write a love song, because there are a lot of love songs. But I do think that a lot of love songs are a bit one-note or something. Like I’ve been obsessed with that Keith Urban song: “I want to love somebody, love somebody like you.” I do love those kind of songs that are just so simple.

I just feel like I’ve never felt uncomplicated love like that. If I’ve been in love, it’s always mixed with many other intense feelings. And that’s just me. And I don’t know, sometimes I feel a bit self-conscious. I feel a lot. I’m a big feelings person.

So I think the only way I felt I could write about love is kind of tying it to loss. Because I think that’s what love is. The feeling is so powerful because once you really love someone it’s like, “Wow, if they died, that would be so sad.” And that is love. It’s like the fear of losing someone in a way. So that’s what makes sense to me in terms of writing a love song.

JB: I think there is like also a beautiful paradox of being so happy that it makes you sad.

JJ: Exactly. I love that. Yeah. Sometimes I’m so happy I’m like, “Oh, it’s so devastating. It’s so sad. I’m so happy. Cause soon I won’t be happy.” Oh god. I annoy myself.

Julia Jacklin performing “Too In Love To Die” acoustic on WNXP

JB: The last question is, what is a song that you have been listening to a lot?

JJ: Great question. Um, I’ve been listening to, “Why Must We Wait Until Tonight” by Tina Turner.

JB:  I’ve been listening to it a lot because whenever I’m on tour and I’m starting to perform again, I just need to listen to other women who seem really confident.

JJ: So I can listen to it and try to embody even just 3% of their confidence. And I think that song in particular, she’s just singing about getting it on. And you know, she’s, like, in her fifties when she recorded this song and she’s just sooo confident and sexy.

I just love that song.

I’m really into ’80s production right now. Lot of chimes. A lot of synthetic sounds. Really big.