Interview: Montaigne

Jess Cerro, also known as Montaigne, is a bubbly and enthusiastic pop starlet making waves in the Australian music scene. We were lucky enough to find out a little more about her.

Hi Jess, welcome to Beauty and Lace. Thanks for talking to us.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in music?

I wasn’t 100% certain about it until maybe June or July last year? I mean, I’d always wanted to do it, since I was very, very young, but I’d conceptualised a music career as this magical dreamland in which only the chosen ones had the prerogative to wander around. And so between then and the realisation that I wanted to do it, other fleeting interests dipped in and out of my life – photography, teaching, botany, zoology, medicine, forensic anthropology, novel writing, journalism, graphic design, video game development, football, language translation – with music always the passion that I dismissed as a hobby. When I was gifted the opportunity of being a a triple j unearthed high artist, I was torn between capitalising on that and wanting to be a professional footballer. And then later between that and being a teacher, and later between that and being a linguist – mostly because people around me were saying that it’s very difficult to make it in music. And god damn it is, hey! But I’m willing to commit the time and hard work needed to make this a thing, because I think I have the talent to balance that out. Hopefully.

You have recently finished a national tour, can you tell us about it?

Wasn’t it all sorts of fun! My band has a great dynamic and they’re all great players and people my three boys so travel and shows are always fun and exciting, and of course finding out that you actually have fans is pretty encouraging and a nice boon to the ego. The Brisbane show was amazing because my mates Katie Noonan and Hannah Shepherd (Airling) swung by and we had a chance to hang out afterwards, and fans were so great to talk to. It was a cute little venue and they were really nice, and the weather was great (we’d just flown away from the Sydney Storm). Melbourne was very cold and rainy and I was battling a petulant throat problem (probably brought about by worry, pure placebo effect). The venue staff were also kind of adolescent and rude? But it had a nice big red curtain and the crowd were great. By the time we hit Perth, my voice was totally fine, it was sunny and warm, I walked up and down the city for several hours and started writing a few songs, and there was an open tab at the Aviary bar for food and drinks so the times were good. And the crowd was fairly large! The staff there were incredibly nice and hospitable. The Aviary is a good venue. Lots of jokes and good times were had and shared. I feel like it was a success, both professional and personal, overall.

Where did the name Montaigne come from?

From the old philosopher Michel de Montaigne. He was this cool French dude with a good perspective on life and what’s important and I read about him in Alain de Botton’s book The Consolations of Philosophy (which is great) and thought, hey, I’m very on board with that worldview and I speak French, I’ll use the name so that perhaps I reflect some of Michel’s cool written ruminations by association. Also, it’s a lovely name. Apparently difficult for English speakers to spell though.

Can you tell us a little about A Cinematic Plea For An End?

I sure can! It’s about the frustration of being expected to live up to other people’s unrealistic idealisations of you. It’s about being forced to live in someone else’s warped reality. It’s also about falling into the trap of expectations and the hurt and disappointment that comes with those expectations not being met. The bridge and last chorus were written during pre-production and take on the “learn from mistakes” slant that I often tout in my songs and in interviews. People who endeavour to become better people deserve forgiveness. This song was, for a long time, my favourite on the EP. It used to mean very, very much to me.

What inspires your songwriting?

I write songs mostly about personal crises or emotions, or people in my life, or things I believe. I write about what I know (which is another thing I share with Monsieur de Montaigne). I believe and feel a lot of things, and know a lot of people who stimulate feeling and shape what I believe, so I write lyrics quickly and often. I come up with melodies by playing around with my voice, and increasingly less often by fiddling around on my guitar or a piano (when it is available to me).

Montaige CINEMATIC low res

How did you come to work with Masses Collective and Adrian Breakspear?

A mate of mine at The Artistry uses the Masses Collective dudes a lot for their visual media, and we’d worked on a video interview (here) before. The Artistry guys approached saying they wanted to film a live performance, which I was totally down with, and naturally, the Masses guys were used. Adrian works at Sony, with whom I’m signed, hence he was hired for mixing.

You love to tour, can you tell us a little about what audiences can expect from a show?

Oh god, I wish I could tell you. I think they mostly expect to hear their favourite artists perform well! And if they haven’t seen you before and have no idea who you are and have been dragged along by a friend I think they still expect you to perform well! I do think people like a little bit of drama though. That’s something I do naturally though, perform dramatically, it feels wrong if I don’t throw my whole self into it. The way someone like Björk performs feels right to me. It’s a way of being ~in the moment~, not being totally conscious of what you’re doing. Which is why I HATE playing the guitar while performing, because you have to be present and aware of what your hands are doing; when I sing I don’t need to focus on my voice and I can just have fun and run around and get lost.

Can you tell us a bit about how you got your start in the industry?

triple j unearthed high! Without the momentum gained from that competition I don’t think I’d have had the will to pursue a music career. I didn’t know it was something you could work at, like I said, I thought you were just a ready-made star somehow. A label picked you up and then made you. I was very sheltered. But that’s pretty much it.

What’s been your career highlight to date?

Alain de Botton emailed me the day I got back from the last show on the Life of Montaigne tour in Perth and said he thought my music was beautiful and asked me to play gigs at his schools. That was ridiculous and I still can’t believe it actually happened.

Who were your favourite artists growing up?

I went through phases of artists who defined certain periods in my life, so in chronological order, people I loved were Nikki Webster, Delta Goodrem, Paramore, Secondhand Serenade, Cute Is What We Aim For, Utada Hikaru, The Jonas Brothers, Aly & Aj, Feist, Regina Spektor, John Mayer, The Temper Trap, Sigur Rós, Jónsi, Björk, Lorde and now the ones I always cite are The National, St. Vincent, Florence & The Machine, Bat For Lashes, Bombay Bicycle Club, Marina & The Diamonds, Lana Del Rey, Everything Everything, Arcade Fire, Gang of Youths, Owen Pallett, Sufjan Stevens, Florence + The Machine and of course Sigur Rós and Jónsi and Björk who I already mentioned. I also really like Linkin Park, Phoenix, Big Scary, No. 1 Dads, Yann Tiersen, M83 and innumerable others.

What does being a woman mean to you?

I think it means being a human being with equal rights and respects as all other human beings. It means making your own decisions and mistakes, and learning from them. I wish women were able to move about this world without the fear of what a man who violently disagrees with their existence might do. Because we are just people, you know. Violence is so stupid, and abuse of any kind is absolutely not to be tolerated in my opinion. It’s a difficult question to answer. I don’t actually know how to answer it other than to say that they’re just a person which uses feminine pronouns, but even now some women prefer to take gender-neutral pronouns. So they’re just people.

You can follow Montaigne on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and her Website.

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