By Robert Moran
Stella Donnelly and Julia Jacklin, two of Australia’s best songwriters, release their new albums on the same day this week.Credit:Aresna Villanueva
Julia Jacklin and Stella Donnelly, two of Australia’s best songwriters, have a charmingly close relationship. They’ve toured together, directed each other’s music videos, and saw their last albums — the acclaimed Crushing and Beware of the Dogs, respectively, both released in early 2019 — break through internationally at the same time. “Julia is the person I call when it’s, like ‘hey, this thing is happening. Does this happen to you?’ It’s nice,” says Donnelly. “We like to check things out with each other.”
Well, not everything, it seems. By sheer coincidence, they’ve ended up scheduling their anticipated new albums — Donnelly’s Flood and Jacklin’s Pre-Pleasure — to be released on the exact same day. It’s a boon for fans of both, but it’s almost like a local indie version of the infamous 2007 chart battle between Kanye West’s Graduation and 50 Cent’s Curtis. Can there only be one winner? “Yes, it’s exactly like that,” laughs Donnelly.
Over a Zoom chat, they caught up to discuss their creative process, pre-release jitters, the support they’ve garnered from each other from life on the road, and that (not very) competitive album drop.
Stella: I’ve got a question for you, Julia. What was it like creating your record in a place [Montreal] that isn’t your usual home? Was it stressful or fun?
Julia: I’ve never made a record at home [Melbourne], not even demoing or anything. I don’t know why. I just think I need to be somewhere that looks, and feels, completely different, so I can’t be reminded of who I am [laughs]. Like, I want separation from myself in order to make music.
Spectrum: Is it because your music’s so vulnerable, that you need that space from your daily life just to feel the freedom to go to those places?
Julia: Um… not really. [uncomfortable silence] I actually have “vulnerable” written down right here because I’m really hating that word right now.
Spectrum: Wow. Well, I’m glad I jumped right in with that…
Julia: [laughs] No, it’s not your fault. I totally understand why people use that word all the time. But I feel like me and Stella get that word a lot. I don’t know how you feel about it, Stella, but sometimes I feel like I should be the one to determine whether or not my music is vulnerable. When other people tell me my music is vulnerable, I’m like, well, if it was truly vulnerable I probably wouldn’t put it on record. It makes me feel like people don’t think I’m in control of my own art, or something. Because I’m just this emotional woman who’s, like, putting all my feelings down and then I’m terrified when it’s put on the internet because it’s so “vulnerable”.
I don’t know, maybe I’m a sociopath. But it’s not a vulnerability thing and it’s not an emotional thing. It’s literally just, the way my brain works is I need new things happening around me in order for it to kick into gear musically. I need to be always on the precipice of failure, or it needs to feel a bit like it could go any way possible. I can’t be relaxed; I need to be pretty uncomfortable, personally. Do you find that, Stella?
Julia Jacklin: “I want separation from myself in order to make music.”Credit:Nick Mckk
Stella: Yeah, I feel the same. Generally, if I’m in some sort of pain [laughs]… Not in a masochistic kind of way but just, like, you know, I’ve written all my favourite songs when I’ve had intense period pain, which is interesting. When music is almost the last thing you could possibly do, that’s when I find I get the most done.
Spectrum: What does this period, just before a new album comes out, feel like for you? Is it tense, stressful? Does it feel like the beginning of a new chapter, or the end of one?
Julia: For me, it’s overwhelming because it’s all those things at once. I find it all just a bit sickening [laughs]. That sickening feeling can be exciting, though. At the moment, I’ve been listening to this new record quite a bit because it’s like, this is the last little stretch where only I have it. I always find an album release is weirdly anticlimactic. There’s so much build-up to it, you’re listening to the songs a lot and thinking about how they’re going to be received, but then you wake up one day and it’s on Spotify.
Stella: There’s no fanfare, no fireworks outside your window, your mum’s not coming in with a cake to wake you – although that would be nice.
Julia: Each time I’ve released something I’ve been on tour, and] you’re just kind of working and you don’t really feel it. I was thinking this time I wanted to try and make it a bit more of a moment with the release day. But I don’t know. How do you feel, Stella? Did you feel that with your first record?
Stella: I remember it well because I was touring the day that record came out and I called my manager, crying: “I’m never touring the day a record comes out again!” Just obviously so emotional and so not coping with my shit at the time, because it was a lot. There’s a lot of press going on and then trying to play a show and all that, it’s too much.
Julia: People always compare making a record to having a baby, which I think must be insulting to anyone who’s had a baby [laughs]. But I was listening to it just before this chat, riding my bike and just thinking about how, yeah, it is a useful analogy. Because it’s the last time that it’s, like, within you.
Stella: Before you send it off to school.
Julia: Before it comes out and it’s influenced and exposed to the elements. Bullied by critics and the internet.
Spectrum: So is it just a coincidence that your new albums are coming out on the same day?
Julia: We both realised afterwards because we both released our first singles on the same day and announced our albums on the same day. And then, I can’t remember if I texted you or something, but I was just like, “What the hell?”
Stella: [laughs] Yeah, Julia was awful. She said, “Bitch! You better f—ing move it!”
Stella Donnelly: “When music is almost the last thing you could possibly do, that’s when I find I get the most done.”Credit:Olivia Senior
Julia: “Take it down!” [laughs] We should have manufactured some beef just for the press coverage.
Stella: We should have! But yeah, we didn’t know. It’s one of those things where it’s like, “Oh, okay. Is this bad? Is this good?” It’s just what it is. There’s the whole thing of you can only put out a record on a Friday. Well, there’s only a certain amount of Fridays there, and so it’s always gonna be the way.
Julia: For me and you, we also have that thing where you have to release singles at, like, 10pm Tuesday because of the international time zones. I remember that day because the first single off a record is always the worst, just like, “Oh god, how’s this gonna go?” Having to spend the whole day waiting until 10pm just to post the Instagram link, I felt like I was having a heart attack. And then I couldn’t get to sleep that night because I was just coursing with adrenaline. But it’s always an anticlimax. The lead up is, like, terrifying, but then you realise you’re just putting something on the internet. The internet is massive! Everyone’s putting stuff on there every second, so it’s fine.
Stella: I found it funny because I was in the UK when my first single came out. I put it on there and then I went to refresh my Instagram feed expecting to still see it up the top, but it was, like, someone’s holiday photo. And I’m like, “Oh well, it’s over.” There you go, already old news.
Julia: That’s it, you’ve had your allocated two seconds of attention. I wanted to ask you, you recently opened for Mitski. I opened for Mitski in, like, 2017 or something, just after Puberty 2 came out. The shows were great, but she has risen to massive heights since then. What were the shows like?
Stella: So, just recently one of her songs went mad on TikTok, and so it went from the average age at a Mitski show being probably 20 to 40-year-olds to now there being 12-year-olds there with their parents, screaming and lining up outside the venue from midday to get in. It was mania.
I was really nervous, you know, because sometimes the support act gets a bit of, like, “Ugh, hurry up so Mitski can come out!” But they were just so beautiful. They screamed, waved their torches, threw roses at us. It was so lovely, and such a beautiful opportunity to put my music before an audience of that age, you know? It was really special.
Julia: I haven’t played band shows in, like, years now. What was it like getting back?
Stella: We did the UK and Europe for two months. For the most part, it was just the gratitude you could feel from the crowd. To be at a show, at the festival – a lot of these kids, this might have been their first time. There was an element of like, “I can’t believe I’m here.” I felt that myself. Like, “This is great. I’ve only slept an hour, I’ve had Pringles and beef jerky for breakfast, but I’m having the best time right now.“
Julia: I feel like we have connected over the years, here and there, and kind of commiserated over how exhausted we were [laughs]. I’ve heard from quite a few people who used to say about me and you, “Are Julia Jacklin and Stella Donnelly okay? Because they are never not touring.” Like, we toured a lot.
Stella: We were both always sick, I remember that. We got absolutely flogged, pre-COVID times.
The covers of Julia Jacklin’s Pre-Pleasure, left, and Stella Donnelly’s Flood.
Julia: I just didn’t really know how to not do it. You’re learning on the go, you’re learning on the job, and I think we both kind of lean towards being real people-pleasers. And so it was, like, both of us navigating that space and trying to figure out our limits and when you can actually turn things down. I distinctly remember you saying to me at some festival some place, when I was just an absolute wreck: “You know you can cancel, right? If it’s getting too much, you can cancel.” And I feel like I didn’t know that! It felt so novel to me that anyone would say, like, “You can prioritise yourself, you know?”
Even if we didn’t follow that advice ourselves, when you said that to me I was just like, “Oh my god, I can! It’s my life!” I just felt like I was on a fast-moving train and there was no getting off – like, no matter what, I didn’t realise I had any say in how anything was going. I feel like you had that realisation a bit earlier than me, and I very much appreciated that.
Stella: Oh, that’s really lovely, Julia. Maybe I was just more f—ed up? [laughs]. I remember that moment; I cancelled this American tour the day before we left. It was just one of those things. Literally, I’d only had two weeks off from touring in 2019. I didn’t know if I was Arthur or Martha anymore. So I just had to cancel. I had no choice. I just couldn’t keep going.
Julia: And the ramifications are never… I think I built it up to be, like, the biggest deal in the entire world if I cancelled a show. I’d be thinking of all the people I’d be letting down, you know? You start with worrying about letting the fans down, then about letting your band down, then about management, and then people who are employed at the venue. But it’s just pointless, that way of thinking. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but a very important one.
Julia Jacklin’s Pre-Pleasure and Stella Donnelly’s Flood are both out on Friday.
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