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Interview: Jillian Jacqueline opens up about debut album ‘Honestly’ and getting back out on the road

Jillian Jacqueline has been building a very loyal following here in the UK over the past few years, making countless trips to this side of the pond to play live.

Following the release of her EPs ‘Side A’ and ‘Side B’, fans have been eagerly awaiting Jacqueline’s debut album. ‘Honestly’ finally arrived last week, showcasing all of the things that make Jacqueline such a special talent and earning a rave review from us in the process.

I caught up with Jillian to discuss the arrival of the record, the long path to releasing it and her plans to get back on the road this year…

Your debut album ‘Honestly’ has finally arrived. I was looking back at the setlist from your headline show in Hoxton, London and I noticed a couple of songs you played there – ‘The Ocean’ and ‘When It Rains’ – made it onto the record…

Yeah. That was such a gift, I have to say, being able to live with songs that way and being able to play them live for years. That tour that I played them on, they were brand new, and then the pandemic happened so I was playing a lot of them over Zoom when I would do lives. It gave the songs a lot of time to breathe and for me to really figure out what was the best way was to record this. Despite all the challenges we’ve all gone through, that was definitely a positive for me. I really got to hone in (and understand) what songs really translate well live, and I really wanted to create them on this album, sonically, you know, what are they? What do they really need? That was a huge benefit of that.

Those two songs were obviously written pre-pandemic but what about the rest of the record? Was it written most before the pandemic or are there songs from across a number of years?

There were a few that happened actually in 2018. At the end of 2018, I did a Spotify writing camp. Tofer and I had other writers come in every day. That was when we wrote with Daniel Tashian, we wrote ‘Hummingbird’, and then we wrote ‘Sure’ with Lori McKenna. Then we wrote ‘Iconic’ with Kate York all in the same week. I hadn’t been writing for quite a while before that time because I had been on the road so much. That was the beginning of me pouring into this new love song territory and really figuring out how to write about being in love because in the past, I had only been writing about heartbreak a lot and it was it was definitely new for me. ‘When It Rains’ happened at the top of 2019. ‘Magic’ was the oldest song. I wrote that even before ‘Side A’ came out so ‘Magic’ was the bridge into the new. Better With A Broken Heart’ was actually one of the last songs I wrote, and ‘Honeymoon’. Those two really became two of my favorite songs and ‘Better’ sort of became this sonic cornerstone of the record, where once we had that song locked in, it helped us figure out where everything else was going to go. That song felt like the most traditional, if you will, of the batch.

Jillian Jacqueline
Credit: Jillian Jacqueline

‘Better With a Broken Heart’ is definitely the most commercial leaning song on the record. I wouldn’t have necessarily put your voice and TJ Osborne’s voice together, but it works really well. What was it like having him on the track?

It’s funny you say that because when I first wrote it I had thought about his voice because I am a huge fan of it. It’s very deep and resonant, and warm. Everything he sings, I feel it when he sings so that’s really what excited me about it. When he came into the studio, we really had no idea what it would sound like when he started singing with me, and we were very pleasantly surprised. He even was like, ‘you know, if you guys hate it we don’t have to use any of these parts’ and we were like, ‘we’re not going to hate it’. He started singing and I just had these full body chills, and he owned it, he really had his parts worked out. It was one of the most exciting moments in my career, just hearing him starting to sing on that song because I am a fan and it had taken a little while for me to find out if he was gonna do it or not. He lived with the song for quite a while and it had me sweating bullets, because I was like, ‘Oh God, is he going to do it? Or not? Maybe he doesn’t like it?’ What he was really trying to do, I think, was figure out, ‘can I sing this and really believe it for myself?’ because with duets, it’s interesting when both singers are not singing to each other. They’re both owning their own version of the lyric. TJ has come out now and it’s not a romantic song between us. It’s about both of us saying when we go through a heartbreak like this, this is what it feels like. I love that about it, that he got to have his own version of the story.

I must admit there was a part of me that was worried this album was going to be too happy now that you’re married and a mum. I’m 100% here for the heartbreak and misery, and the way you do that is so different to anyone else out there…

That means so much, thank you!

When I listen to your music, I know I’m going to hear something that will resonate strongly, even if I’ve not been through the exact scenario. I wish I could put into words what I’m trying to say but you just have something about you and your lyrics that isn’t like any other artist…

Wow. Well, that’s the best thing you could possibly hear as a songwriter. That’s definitely what I hope for when people listen to it, because I do feel like there’s a certain amount of pain and uncertainty, and all over pretty much challenge that I feel like I’ve walked through in the last couple years of my career, that I feel like I couldn’t avoid bringing onto this record. Just from a personal standpoint, I feel like I’ve gone through the dips of a career and had to really figure out why am I doing this and what is it that is really keeping me going. I think owning who I really am and owning what my life really is, and what my priorities really are, in a very intimate way, was the only thing that I knew how to do in the last few years. We were all stripped of our busy lives. I had a lot of time to get very introspective. I left my first record deal and I was struggling a lot with what things weren’t looking like and I really had to sit with that and say, ‘OK, at the end of the day, you’re really the only one that cares about all of this as much as you do’. I’ve had this connection with the fans, I could feel that people like you really understand what I do and connect to it on a deep level. I know (the audience) is out there so I just have to keep talking to them and not worrying about all of the other shit of the industry, because there’s a lot of it, and you really have to wade through a lot of it. I feel like I got back to the basics and I feel like this record was me owning the kind of music that I want to make, and the kind of music that I feel like people really want to hear from me, and hear in general.

I feel like there’s a lot a lack of self-reflection and introspection and wisdom, and just perspective that I miss in a lot of the music (out there). It’s out there, you just have to find it. I just wanted to make a record where someone felt like I handed them a piece of a brutal honesty, and something that no one else could tell them. I hope that it feels that way and I really appreciate (what you said) because it took us a lot to get to this point, Making a record with my husband and my brother-in-law was a beautiful thing, and it was also a very challenging thing because we are family and we all know each other very well. There was no clocking in and clocking out, it was 24/7. We all had our own little impulses and battles that we wanted to fight with the music and wanted to make it great, and that’s all you can ask for is people that care about it as much as you do.

Jillian Jacqueline - Honestly
Credit: Jillian Jacqueline / Virgin Music

We’ve known each other for a few years now and the one thing that’s always remained constant with you is your vision. You’ve never compromised your music or the visuals or aesthetic that goes along with it. I really admire that and I think fans understand and see that too…

Wow! Thank you. That means a lot. I’ve been very lucky that people have given me the leeway to do things the way I want to do them, and they’ve also respected my vision. It’s the most exciting thing for me, this moment right now, getting to talk to you about it and feeling like someone understood what I was trying to do, and understood that when I look at an album cover, I want it to really pull me into the world that the music is going to live in. I really feel like this one sets the tone for what you’re about to listen to. Thank you for saying that.

The song I keep going back to is ‘Compliment’. It gives me ‘Hate Me’ vibes and it’s an interesting perspective I don’t think I’ve heard in a song before. What’s the story behind that one?

I wrote it with Tofer and one of my favorite artists, and a very good friend, her name is Madi Diaz. She’s not a country writer, per se, she’s an incredible artist in her own right. Her stuff’s more singer-songwriter contemporary and she brings her own unique voice to the song as well. When we were sitting down to write that day, we were unpacking that unfortunate feeling that can happen when you know that the person on the other end of the line is really OK without you and you are just wallowing in what could have been. You’re still just stuck back in that same spot and I definitely live that with someone.

There’s nothing more painful because you know that they’re okay and they are thriving even, and just hearing them tell you all these nice things. They don’t have any angst and they’re not trying to take any anger out on you anymore. There’s no resentment underneath, they’re evolved and they’re moved on. That can happen even not with the partner but with a family member. I’ve had these sorts of relationships with family where there’s so much not being said, from your end, and you realise that they have no idea of the grief that you’re holding on to underneath. (The song is) really honing in on that very specific, nuanced moment in a relationship. It’s so exciting to me and the day we wrote it, I just knew it was going on the record. What I didn’t know was how different it was going to sound from the day we wrote it to now. What you’re hearing on the record sounds nothing like the way we wrote it. It (had a) dark kind of brooding electric guitar and it had this very throbbing rhythm going underneath it. It was heavy and it was very dark.

We really only cracked the code on the version it is now, (maybe in the) last three months, when we were finishing the record. This was the last song that was outstanding. Tofer started playing almost like a French jazzy kind of guitar part. He was doing all these passing notes that made it feel (like there was) more of a lilting sadness to it, and not as much of the angst. It felt like it counteracted the lyric really well and I’ve never done a song like that. ‘Compliment’ is very unique sonically for me, and I really appreciate that. I feel like when you’re listening to it, you could be walking down the street in Paris, and you could hear someone in a cafe playing this guitar part and singing this song. I even felt like maybe I should learn how to sing the song in French, because I feel like it would lend itself to that.

Jillian Jacqueline
Credit: Jillian Jacqueline

That would be interesting. Is that something you would do? Do you speak French?

That was the only language I studied in school so I know enough, but I would definitely have to do my homework.

Now the record is out, what do you have coming up for the rest of the year?

We’re doing a tour with Cam in the US. My UK agent is actually here now and so we’re going to start putting our heads together to figure out how to get back to you guys in 2023. This year, because my baby is still so young, the Cam tour is going to be the biggest, busiest thing we’re doing. We play the Ryman with her, which is really, really exciting. I don’t think I’ve played a full show as an artist at the Ryman. I did one song with my old label but this will be a really beautiful night for me. We’re gonna do some Christmas things we have planned, which starts in October. By the time that the Cam tour is done, I’ll be already figuring out what November and December looks like, and then we’re into the top of 2023. The vinyl will be coming out right at the end of the year and it has a special song on it that no one has heard yet, which I am so excited about. It’s another collaboration moment that I am just beside myself about so that’s gonna be really exciting. We’re doing a visual for that as well.

This year we’re trying to not go crazy with the touring just because I have to ease back in. I feel like we all do. I don’t know about you, just with work, but it did kind of feel like we’re all still trying to get our feet wet again with how to do this job after COVID. We’re relearning a lot and even being out on the road, it’s like a muscle that you have to work and get back into. I think this will be a really good kind of ramp back up. I’m sure 2023 will be pretty crazy!

Jillian Jacqueline’s debut album ‘Honestly’ is available now. Watch the visualiser for ‘The Ocean’ below:

Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip is the Editor of Entertainment Focus and the Managing Director of agency Piñata Media.

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