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Interview: Jillian Jacqueline talks Highway Festival, one year of ‘Honestly’ and what’s coming up next

It’s not a secret that we’ve been long-time fans of Jillian Jacqueline here at Entertainment Focus. Since she released her breakout EP ‘Side A’ back in 2017, she’s won us – and plenty of other UK fans – over with her open, honest lyrics and dreamy melodies, and has worked with the likes of Keith Urban, Charlie Worsham and TJ Osborne. Her latest album ‘Honestly’ was released independently last summer and she’s recently been out on the road with Kip Moore on his tour in the UK and Europe, after her trip to play at C2C festival back in March.

I spoke to Jillian after her appearance at the Songwriters Round at Highways Festival last month to talk about how she found the event, the one year anniversary of ‘Honestly’, how her music has evolved, the experience of being an independent artist and what’s coming up for her this year.

Welcome back to the UK!

Thank you. I didn’t know I’d be back so soon.

I was going to ask you about C2C – how did you find that? As I know you were originally supposed to come in 2020…

Yeah, and then that didn’t happen. So when we were doing C2C I actually did not know I was gonna be on the Kip Moore tour at the time. So I think I got a call from my manager at the end of March and she was like, “hey, this is a possibility, would you wanna do it?” and I said yes. And then this [Highways] also came up so it all worked out perfectly where it just kind of lined up.

But it’s always such a treat to come over here. It really just fills me up. And so I’m already talking about “hey, can we go back in the fall maybe for Long Road or something?”. If we can make it work we are here.

What is it that’s kept you coming back to the UK?

Well I think now, because country music is so global, it’s not just in the States any more, I think it’s so important as an artist to continue to get to the markets that sometimes are harder to get to. But if we make it a priority at the top of every year, we’re guaranteed to kind of make those trips happen. So my manager and I just know that over here there’s a growing fanbase of people that just really love country music. But also I think there’s this sort of subgenre that’s now existing, where it’s sort of the authentic country that I grew up on. It’s not necessarily the stuff you’re hearing on the radio, but it’s the stuff that a lot of country music lovers really gravitate towards, which is the stories and getting to know the artist as a person outside of whatever their singles are. I think for someone like me, I put songwriting right next to being an artist. It’s all very important to me. I think for me I’ve just felt from the first time I came here in 2017, there was an awareness and an acceptance of what I do that felt really significant to me.

Have there been any standout moments or highlights from your tour with Kip Moore whilst you’ve been over here?

Yeah. I mean, actually Germany was where we started, and Germany was great for many reasons. I’ve only played smaller rooms there. I did a tour a couple of years ago with Austin Jenckes and Lauren Jenkins, and it was great. And that was our first time. I think those audiences too were like, “hey, this is all new for us, but we came to see a country concert” [laughs]. And then this time around with Kip we played much bigger rooms, and the audiences were just incredible. I mean, the room was packed like sardines at the first show in Hamburg, and you could hear a pin drop, which just never happens. Rooms that size, you don’t have an attentive audience like that. And I just felt so fulfilled and excited to be there.

Are there any songs you’re particularly enjoying playing live at the moment?

Yeah. I always really love playing ‘God Bless This Mess’. I always end my show with that ’cause it just feels really special. But I’ve been really loving ‘Hurt Somebody Else’. I feel that song, for me, it surprises people. I get a lot of messages about that song after shows because it’s something that we don’t always talk about, about being the one that did the heartbreaking. I always get these messages like, ‘I didn’t want to say anything but during your set, that song, it made me feel someone understood what I’ve been through’.

It’s been almost a year now since ‘Honestly’ came out. How have you found the response to the album has been in that time?

Yeah, I know. We’re about to celebrate our one year anniversary of it, which is so amazing. I couldn’t be prouder of what that record did, and the art that we got to create around the record. I mean, it was just a dream scenario for me. The videos, the photos, all the touring that we did with Cam – that was just a dream tour for me. And just the response and the support that we got. I got my first billboard which was such a dream of mine. And I got to do a live performance with TJ Osborne that I’d always wanted to do of that song [‘Better With A Broken Heart’]. So I’m just so proud of it. And it was such a moment in time.

You know, I think putting out an album that I made through the pandemic, it held a lot of weight. Because there was a lot of pressure and intensity and like, “OK, we’re all back in our lives now, we get to release our music”. But it was so much pressure, it was like a pressure cooker. And so when the album came out it felt like a release. And so now I’m about to start making another record and I just feel a little bit more of, like, a light-hearted excitement. So yeah, the ‘Honestly’ era I’m very proud of, but I’m also excited for what’s next.

Is there anything you learned from the process of making ‘Honestly’ that you’re taking forward into the next project?

Yeah, I think I’m really trying to surprise myself and challenge myself, even as a songwriter. I think ‘Honestly’ was a lot about stripping things back to the song, when I’m actually now in a phase where I wanna be more experimental and do things that I haven’t done yet. So I think I learned from ‘Honestly’ that you have to accept as an artist you’re going to have seasons. And every great artist that I love, they have an album from years ago that sounds nothing like what they do now. I think it’s important to allow yourself to have rebirth and evolution and change, and create art that represents that.

Do you feel your songwriting has evolved from when you were starting out to where you’re at now?

Yeah. I mean, I try not to be too critical of my older work, but I do feel as a songwriter I’ve started gaining a lot more wisdom into how to write songs that, when I play them live, I really feel something. I think when you’re living in Nashville writing songs so much of it is about the craft, and I think sometimes we can get too much in our heads about that. We forget that… like Kip is a great example of that. When he plays his show live it’s just such a feeling. And I really wanna capture that, where I make a record that when I play it live it’s like, “oh my God, this is such a vibe”.

I also wanted to ask you how you’ve found the experience of being an independent artist – has that impacted the way you’ve approached your music at all?

One hundred per cent. Yeah, I mean it’s really me and my management team, and then I have a distributor, so Virgin is basically overseeing all of the album. We’re in charge creatively, and I get to be the mastermind behind everything. Which was always the case even when I was at Big Loud, but I don’t have to check with all these other people before I do something. So I will say being independent keeps you on your toes, because you really have to be the fuel for the engine. Because no-one else is gonna do it for you. And ultimately, what you’re reaping from what you sow is so much more meaningful, because it’s yours. There’s no-one else benefitting from it. So in that way I think it’s been a very empowering process for me, and very liberating in a lot of ways. When you don’t have a lot of noise around you, you get quiet and you start to think, “what do I really want my career to look like?” Because it doesn’t have to follow any of these other paths. It can be my own. So that’s where I’m at.

What song do you wish you could have written?

Oh! [pause as Jillian thinks] I mean, I always come back to ‘You Don’t Even Know Who I Am’ by Patty Loveless. But then also ‘Sometimes He Does’ by Lori McKenna is one of my favourite songs of all time. I mean every line just rips your heart out.

What does the rest of the year look like for you? You mentioned new music and I know you’ve got some more shows coming up…

Yeah, the rest of the year is really gonna be hunkering down in Nashville and working on the next record. We’ve kind of started gathering songs, but we have to get back in the studio. So I’m gonna go into hibernation mode [laughs]. I mean I’ll still be posting and stuff but it’s gonna be mostly about getting back into that creative space where we’re making music again.

Can you give us any hints about what the new music is going to be like yet?

I’ll just say that I’m having a lot of fun. I don’t think the last record allowed for as much of a carefree take and I think I’m just really excited to get back in with a band and just have fun.

And lastly – have you got any plans to come back to the UK yet?

I mean, right now we don’t have anything on the calendar, but literally my manager could call me and be like, “hey, we’re gonna come back for The Long Road or something”. I don’t know. It’s all in the air. I would love to get back here again this year, you know I have a son at home so that makes it a little harder, but we’re gonna try our best.

Jillian Jacqueline’s latest album, ‘Honestly’, is out now.

Laura Cooney
Laura Cooney
Laura has been writing for Entertainment Focus since 2016, mainly covering music (particularly country and pop) and television, and is based in South West London.

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