When Sydney singer Montaigne (a.k.a. Jess Cerro) released I Am Not An End triple j's Music Director, Richard Kingsmill, uttered in a review, 'Wow. This song should get her name well and truly out there'. With a new live single Cinematic Plea For An End (released in May) Montaigne is certainly not ending anything. In fact it could well be new beginnings. She's been recording in hometown Sydney and fans will be pleased to know the next gig, August 8 is in Kangaroo Valley.
During her last recording session she explained, 'you get a lot of free time, because you're not always doing the work!' and said things were going good, but slow, 'it's always slow – trying to get things perfect you do things over and over again. It's preeeeeeetttty intense!' While there are no real plans for a national tour anytime soon (next gig is August 20, at the Manning Bar in Sydney) she says, 'I don't know maybe later. Melbourne and Brisbane are physically easier because it is cheaper than Adelaide or Perth. Those two I struggle with, because we don't have the money yet.'
No stranger to struggles, Montaigne has endeared audiences with her very personal, evocative lyrics and heartfelt singing. 'I write about myself a lot because I know myself best and what is going on in my own head. I don't know, maybe it comes from being a selfish person.' Her latest live release A Cinematic Plea For An End is by no means self-contained, if anything, there is a certain selflessness by putting out a raw and intimate experience. 'It is not like completely autobiographical, there are bits that are made up and dramatized, stuff like that.'
When asked if songwriting is self-reflexive, she agrees wholeheartedly. 'Yeah, I find it very important to work on myself as a person because I'm a person living in a world full of people and it is very important that I treat them well. There's a reason why all religions have that … 'love one another as I have loved you' type of thing – it's a good one!' Pausing she mentions it might not be the right saying, 'love one another; I don't know … whatever it is'!
Escapism and phantasmagoria may be elixirs for Montaigne, but she is surprisingly human as the rest of us. 'A couple of weeks ago, I received this awful, awful email from someone that was harassing me for several months. As soon as I read it, I cried a little bit, and within 30 minutes I wrote a song – a really angry and brutal song. But it's a good song!' The process is incredibly cathartic, helping to get it out of her system and releasing things physically really works for her, 'if you ask anyone that has seen it (I'm A Fantastic Wreck), I just get lost it.'
Montaigne sees music as having texture and movement 'for me, especially dancing – not actual dancing – I can't do that bullshit (!), it can be very feminine, and I am not feminine – I don't feel very feminine.' She diplomatically states, 'what I do is like, sporadic, jerking of my limbs – that's what I call dancing. You just get lost inside the beat of the music. It's various rises and falls, that's basically it really.' Getting lost inside the music makes sense, and fans of very early 80s music will remember the herky-jerky and flamboyant style being a hallmark of this era and creating an immersive technique.
St Jude by Florence and the Machine has this effect on Montaigne. 'I have played that many, many times. It meant a lot to me at the time as I was like in the middle of a crisis with my boyfriend – he's not my boyfriend now – "I'm trying to find the meaning. Let loss reveal it …" I think that is very beautiful lyrics. It's something I would write actually, I'm kind of jealous that I didn't!' The other song is Sweet Disposition by The Temper Trap, 'I feel like I am having an out of body experience y'know. Yeah, I feel infinite, that kind of thing.'
There is a pattern and thematic stamp to her music – it is the idea of people attaching themselves to others expectations, 'it can be really damaging'. She cites a recent break-up as being indicative of this. 'My ex, was very, very romantic and in such a way that it pressured me into being something that I wasn't. I felt like I needed to live up to his expectations … and I was like what the fuck am I doing? Why did I let that happen to me, to be this really feminine, dress wearing girl …'? Her mother also expected this during her younger years, and it took its toll. 'I tried to tell her … I was like, I am sick of this, I am so done with this'.
Love features strongly on Montaigne's roadmap and she remembers during highschool being, 'really in love with this girl for about a year and a half and I knew she didn't like me back, she was one of my good friends. I told her once, I always visualised these sort of 'rom-com' type scenarios when she would figure it out and then realise she didn't want to be with me!' Some of her songs point to this notion about expectations being 'really, really terrible and especially idealism and romanticism.It is very much about allowing people to be themselves y'know. It's okay to have dreams and goals for yourself, but don't expect or encourage it from others'.
Montaigne's personal mandate is, 'everyone loves different things, everyone has different desires. I like being someone that wears Docs everywhere and wears pants – that's how I roll. If someone who wasn't a family member were to say to me, "ohhhhhh you would look so pretty in a skirt, you should do that – I would be like fuck off, what the fuck? Stop, I don't live to please you"'. While life does throw up these challenges and risks, she says the bigger fear is her immediate reality, 'losing my voice'. When doing several shows in a row there is a real impetus to 'take care of yourself, make sure you don't stay up too late, make sure you are sleeping, drinking the right things, not talking … which is an issue for me, because I fucking talk all the time!'
When getting up on stage, she still wonders if people will like it. At one festival, her keyboardist started playing out of tune for half the set. She shrugs and says, 'you can't really control that, it just happens. For me it is not necessarily about confidence, I feel confident in myself, I know who I am and I feel confident in my voice'. However, she says it is different when people she knows are in the audience. 'They know you as a person and you are completely different when performing, they might think you're weird! Even then I don't think I'm worried, as I'm not weird enough. Like, I'm weird on stage, but not in a 'I'm questioning her sanity kind of weird'.