Speaking to Montaigne: her past, present and future

Jess Cerro has had an interesting couple of years under the moniker Montaigne. Between preparing for her upcoming chain of tour dates and releasing a video clip for her new single, Clip My Wings, I was lucky enough to get her chatting about all sorts of things surrounding the past, present and future.

Jordan: You said in a recent interview that you’re recording an album to be released early next year. What can we expect from that?

Montaigne: I think the goal is 11 – preferably good – tracks. I feel like I’ve been writing very much about the same two things for the past eight months though, so it will probably have a bit of a theme inter-relationship related, and so far I’ve written a lot about myself. I do think it’s important to be self-aware and music is a way for me to navigate myself as well as the world, but this one will definitely be a lot more about my relationships with other people and how I’ve experienced them and the lessons I’ve taken from them. I’d never been in a romantic relationship before and now that I have and it has ended and I think it will come across in my new music.

I feel like this is a weird word to describe it because it’s not universally true about all the tracks on my EP, but it’s a little more melancholic, the sound. A little more introspective, I suppose, introverted. Whereas the stuff that I’m coming out with now is a little bit bolder and a little bit more daring. My attitude towards how to treat people and how to treat myself has changed and a lot of my beliefs have changed. I am trying to change in a way that is good for me as an adult now, existing independently, completely independently, so that I don’t get screwed over by others, basically.

I do think it’s important to be self-aware and music is a way for me to navigate myself as well as the world.

Jordan: Clip My Wings seems to feature a much bigger instrumental section, much heavier than what has been displayed in your past work. It gives it a vast arena kind of feeling. Is this the direction you see the new recordings heading in?

Montaigne: Absolutely, and here’s what I say to everyone: my goal is Florence and the Machine. I don’t want my music to sound exactly like theirs, but that’s the epic vibe that I want to go for. I want to go for something that is way bigger than the boring reality of me going for a run and eating breakfast you know? I want to be able to emulate the feeling of gigantic mountains and hiking up those and struggling.

The game Kingdom Hearts is the foundation of my entire musical personality and imagination. To this day it means a lot to me. It is the feeling of Kingdom Hearts that I want to convey in my music. The game involves three characters that want to find other worlds because they live on this tiny, little island and they’re like, “Surely there’s something more.” That’s the sentiment I want to capture: surely there is something more.

That’s the sentiment I want to capture: surely there is something more.

Jordan: You performed beside Japanese Wallpaper as a part of his Splendour show; what were some of your highlights from the festival?

Montaigne: A lot of Australian acts. I’m really happy with the state of Australian music right now. Obviously Japanese Wallpaper, Alpine … I saw Florence and that was incredible … so were No. 1 Dads, and Everything, Everything, which was the second time in two days for me, because I saw them the night before. I am in love with them.

If I really love an artist, I’m going to go and see their side show over their festival set. I think it’s a much better environment to be seeing artists perform. Except Florence – I don’t think I can see her any other way anymore. It would be difficult to go see that band without another 20,000 people around you and the huge stage where she can run around; I think she absolutely works on the festival stage.

Jordan: The video clip for Clip My Wings has just been released. How was the filming process for that?

Montaigne: Very interesting. I wasn’t actively not enjoying it, but I wasn’t enjoying it either. Actually, I was convincing myself that I was enjoying it because it was a cool experience, but the conditions were awful. If I didn’t stick through it and persevere, then it would look awful for the clip though. It was in a warehouse in Melbourne in winter. I was performing in dust. I was inhaling the dust. I was wearing very little clothing the whole time. In between every single take, I was holding two hot water bottles, wearing two dressing gowns and standing in front of a heater. I also left the shoot with a lot of bruising. It was very much a struggle, but so worth it in the end. It was also made easy by the fact that everyone that I was working with was totally on top of their shit and really lovely. Not necessarily in a good mood – everyone had a little bit of stress because of time constraints – but no one became aggressive or mean, which is good.

Jordan: A little while ago, you featured on Gang of Youths’ track, Benevolence Riots. How did that come about?

Montaigne: It’s funny, actually. I met the Gang of Youths boys for the first time at one of their shows in August last year. I’d just signed with Sony, actually, and I was meeting all the Sony people for the first time that night at that gig. They introduced me to Dave and the first thing he said to me was “I fucking love your voice.” Something just clicked between us and we got along really well, and later that week, I got a message saying, “listen, Dave wants to you to sing on the new track.”

Jordan: Do you have any future collaborations on the cards?

Montaigne: I’m not sure about ones that will be released at this time. I’m going to get into the studio and do a co-write with Dustin Tebbutt sometime next month, hopefully. I don’t know what will come out of it though. I did a lot of co-writes and they don’t necessarily result in released materials, but I don’t know, we’ll see.

Jordan: You’re very vocal on your Facebook page, and there are some really great, in-depth conversations between yourself and your fans.

Montaigne: Absolutely. Someone who’s a role model to me is Imogen Heap because she’s very interaction-heavy with her fans. Also Dave from Gang of Youths – he makes really great friends with fans. I think it’s important to not alienate your fans and make them feel lesser than you, because that’s just not true. We’re all people with opinions and interests and it’s interesting to find out what those opinions and interests are. If I need advice or an opinion on something, if I have that outlet where I have 5,000 people willing to hear what I have to say and respond to it, why not use it?

I also really like talking to people, as you can probably tell. I can go for days. That’s another issue in my songs. I can write verses for days, just because I have so much to say. I can’t really write choruses that much because choruses tend to be one-line repetitive things and I just can’t do that.

If I need advice or an opinion on something, if I have that outlet where I have 5,000 people willing to hear what I have to say and respond to it, why not use it?

Jordan: After introducing yourself to the public at 18, you decided to follow on into your secondary studies while continuing to produce these amazing tracks. How do you think you’ve matured as an artist over the last couple of years?

Montaigne: I think I have opened myself up to different kinds of music and, really, when I say different kinds of music, I mean pop. When I was a teenager, I was really into pop and then I went into that young adult elitist/wanky phase, where I was like, “Oh, I can’t listen to pop music. It’s not sophisticated enough”. But all music has its merits. If a good song is a good song, there you go, it has done its job, I don’t care who made it. That new Justin Bieber song, What Do You Mean – I love it. That’s a great song. That’s great pop music, you know? I think that’s one way in which I’ve matured.

In other ways, I know the industry better now. Just getting out there and being serious and meeting people. The industry in Australia in particular is tiny and I know so many people now, it’s ridiculous. The good friends I’ve made, those have helped me mature, those have helped me become a better musician, become a better songwriter, become a better human being in this society of other human beings.

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