And what that word can mean
On a late November day in 2018 I picked up Julia Jacklin in east London and we drove two hours to the edge of the country, to Dungeness. It felt like the right place to go, despite a number of things.
If I was trying to make Julia feel at home, I was doing a bad job of it, even by the usual standards of a British winter day welcoming an Australian visitor. The Blue Mountains that border Sydney, where Julia grew up, will have never seen a sky so low, or felt a wind so cruel. The Blue Mountains are luscious and green and impossibly beautiful and, as mountain ranges never fail to be, continuously undulating. Dungeness, chinning out from the Kent coastline into the freezing Channel, is exposed and grey and so flat and empty you could see a pigeon a mile away if it was standing on the ground. Its answer to the mountain’s famous, monolithic Three Sisters rock formation is a nuclear power station owned by EDF.
“Actually, it’s very me,” says Julia as we stare out of a restaurant window. “Beautifully bleak. Not me as in my personality, I mean, but it’s what I enjoy aesthetically.”
Of course I wasn’t expecting Dungeness to compete with or be remotely similar to the Blue Mountains any more than I’d expect Julia or anyone else to only feel contented in a place that reminds them of where they spent their childhood. And besides, it wasn’t until she moved into Sydney and became involved with the live folk scene there that she “found her people”. What Dungeness does have, though, which I intrinsically attach to Julia’s music, is wilderness. Alt. country built from folk traditions often does, but on her 2016 debut album, ‘Don’t Let the Kids Win’, Julia managed to imbue a sense of the great outdoors on tracks straight out of suburbia – on songs like the waltzing ‘Pool Party’, about a boyfriend who gets stoned too much. Julia wasn’t pretending she was sat on a back porch singing to the prairie, it just sounded like she was.
It still sounds like it on ‘Crushing’, her startlingly open second album. Its slow-rolling lead single, ‘Body’, lives more explicitly in the wild in its perfectly pitched road-movie video full of shots of Julia at the wheel through the rearview mirror and wide angles of single-lane tarmac slicing through grassland.
Where music is concerned, the road is all part of the wilderness, and so we drove two hours to Dungeness.