On the cusp of releasing her debut album Glorious Heights, Sydney indie-pop sensation Montaigne was kind enough to speak to Fashion Industry Broadcast about the beautiful LP, personal change, song writing, and touring.
Jess Cerro, a.k.a Montaigne, first burst onto the scene in 2014 with her stunning single ‘I’m A Fantastic Wreck’. Since then she’s quickly been moving skyward on a path of success, becoming a darling of Triple J radio and recently playing Splendour In The Grass. To say we’ve been eagerly anticipating her first full-length record would be somewhat of an understatement. Additional singles ‘Clip My Wings’, ‘In The Dark’, and ‘Because I Love You’ have had us positively itching. Receiving a sneak peek before the August 5 release, I can safely say it’s one of the better debut albums you’re likely to hear this year or any other. So it was about time we caught up with the woman herself to find out more.
FIB: Thanks for taking the time to have a chat.
MONTAIGNE: No problem, my time is all yours.
FIB: Awesome. I’ve probably got more questions than time so let’s get straight into it.
MONTAIGNE: Yeah I talk a lot too so let’s do that!
FIB: Coming into this debut album, you’ve already had music out for a few years now and I personally fell in love with your sound when ‘I’m A Fantastic Wreck’ was released. Do you think you’ve changed much as an artist since breaking out and, if so, how?
MONTAIGNE: Oh totally. I’ve changed as a person dramatically. I was 18 then and a lot of things change from your adolescent years, even though it’s only been two or three years now. I’m very good at changing quickly! I read a lot and I analyse myself a lot. I pick out the things I’m doing wrong and doing right and try to capitalise on them. I’ve also gone through a lot of experiences since then with relationships and family etc. so the change in me personally has led to the change in me as an artist. Those two things are inextricably linked, the artist and their outer life. My influences have changed too, I’m into a lot more music now, I was more selective back then.
FIB: So are these changes something you realise in retrospect or do you consciously feel yourself change through certain moments or experiences?
MONTAIGNE: I think there are things that happen where you think “this is a turning point” but you know what, it mostly happens in retrospect or some way along the track, like meeting the Hilltop Hoods guys. Suffa is like an older brother now and I’d say he’s definitely taught me quite a bit about who I am. Meeting him I think has changed my life, and meeting my ex-boyfriend changed my life. But you sort of only start to realise it all in retrospect, which is where I think ‘Because I Love You’ comes from. I didn’t realise how much I’d changed until I wrote that song, and how much of a different person I was during that relationship until after it.
FIB: Definitely, well let’s get into the album now. I was a bit late getting the stream this morning so I’ve only managed to listen through once.
MONTAIGNE: Thanks for bloody taking a listen this morning then! Especially since you just got it.
FIB: I was pretty keen so it was easy. Just on first listen I think I can say it’s pretty special.
MONTAIGNE: Thank you.
FIB: But I was listening to the singles beforehand, trying to figure out which of them would be typical of what I’d hear on the album but the difference between them should have been a hint to me in itself because the album has turned out to be quite diverse. Do you think that will surprise anyone or are the fans pretty keyed into your experimentation?
MONTAIGNE: I think between ‘In The Dark’ and ‘Because I Love You’, those are two very very different songs, so maybe they’ll know because I’ve already set that contrast as a precedent.
FIB: Was there a large amount of time that spanned the writing of the album, are there songs that are much younger than others?
MONTAIGNE: Kind of yeah. I wrote ‘Lie To Myself’ when I was in Year 12, three years ago now. I think that’s the oldest song. A lot of them were written last year but ‘What You Mean To Me’ was early 2014, ‘The Debt’ started then too and I sort of adjusted it as time went on. So yeah there was about a two to three-year span of time.
FIB: Did that effect the composition and diversity of the album?
MONTAIGNE: Well we produced all the songs at the same time, so the sound of them is entirely dependent on what I was into at the time of producing them late last year. I was listening to a lot of Talking Heads, St. Vincent, and David Byrne, and 80’s music, but also a lot of Arcade Fire, Bjork, The National; all my favourites. Also, Bat For Lashes, Bombay Bicycle Club. All those guys were an influence musically. The music that I write lyrically just depends on where I am with my life but musically, I don’t think about that.
FIB: Some of the new tracks that I loved were: ‘Glorious Heights’, ‘Till It Kills Me’, ‘Lie To Myself’, I thought they were all really fantastic. But I was wondering if you could tell me a little about ‘Consolation Prize’ because it’s really beautiful and maybe my favourite on the album.
MONTAIGNE: It’s funny because a lot of people say that and it’s probably my least favourite, musically anyway. I think the lyric is quite devastating and beautiful as people tell me, but I find it a little boring compared to the rest of it. I think people like that contrast. All the songs are quite dense and loud and that one is just a strange lull in the energy. It’s still very charged but it’s quieter. I started writing the verses, actually I’d written the verses already and was put in a room with Kate Miller-Heidke, Rob Conley, Georgi Kay and I didn’t have a chorus. I said I need a chorus can you please help and so they helped me write the chorus. I definitely needed a second pair of ears and tongues. It’s an interesting song, it’s quite emotional.
FIB: Yeah it certainly is, that’s what drew me to it and I think it’s a pretty big highlight. What’s your favourite song on the album?
MONTAIGNE: At the moment it’s ‘Glorious Heights’, the title track. It feels really good, it’s a very cathartic track. It feels victorious but it’s very dejected with its lyric and that’s the point of it for me. It turns the sadness into a beautiful artistic thing and it makes it endurable, that’s a big plus for me. I really like the sound of it as well, it’s the most Arcade Fire-y sounding track and I fucking love Arcade Fire.
FIB: Tell me about it, they’re awesome!
FIB: It’s pretty obvious you’ve got one of the more amazing voices going around at the moment and you can do so much with it. Was it a plan when making the album to really utilise your range to its fullest extent and play around a bit?
MONTAIGNE: It wasn’t necessarily a plan. It’s just where the melodies took me. They all ended up being quite dramatic and difficult to sing. While I was recording the songs I was like “fuck I have to tour these live!” but it’ll be worth it I think. I really like the melodies and I can sing them live, Splendour was proof of it so I think it’ll all be okay. So, no plan, it just happened.
FIB: Nice. Do you have a go-to process for song writing or does each song come in its own way?
MONTAIGNE: Yeah each song sort of comes in its own way, I kind of just fuck around with my voice for a bit. With ‘I’m A Fantastic Wreck’, I was just in the shower and then [the opening that you hear] it just happened. I came up with that on the day I took the song to Tony [Buchen, producer]. He said okay let’s just record it, and then looped it and then it just stayed. So that’s often how melodies come about. I’ll just fiddle around.
FIB: Cool, so was there any particular narrative or themes that you were working with? It seems like a record of the heart, there’s a lot of emotion flying around.
MONTAIGNE: Yeah, there were a lot of emotional things happening to me at the time. Lots of dramatic and traumatic things happened last year, it was a very turbulent and unstable time for me. That’s how the songs came about because that’s what was happening.
FIB: Who are some of the important people we should know about that helped create this album?
MONTAIGNE: Well obviously Tony Buchen, who is crucial. Without him, it wouldn’t be what it is. Asta and E^st helped me do backing vocals and so did my sister and Hannah Robinson. Joji Malani from Gang of Youths played guitar. All the session musicians did a beautiful job.
FIB: I’ve always been interested in how artists choose the track listing for their albums, is there a magic formula that dictates which order the songs are put on?
MONTAIGNE: Sort of. I wanted it to follow a sort of sonic narrative but my management was like “we’ve got to put the singles at the beginning so that we can hook in people who don’t know you yet and can identify you with those songs”. For the rest of it I was very adamant that it followed a certain trajectory, this narrative wave that had natural peaks and troughs, which is why ‘Consolation Prize’ was right in the middle and then it builds back up into the interlude and ‘Come Back To Me’. I think when you’re bigger you have the artistic license to put it in any fucking order you want but when you’re at my place you’ve got to chuck the singles at the beginning and throw one in at the end so the album picks back up for people who don’t appreciate it for its artistic flow. So I guess there’s a formula, you still have to play it by ear though.
FIB: Sweet. Well it must be pretty exciting to be doing a significant national tour. Are there any venues you’re particularly excited about playing? There’s a couple of festivals in there as well.
MONTAIGNE: I’m excited about the Oxford Art [Factory] and The Corner [Hotel] because Oxford Art, I’ve seen a trillion gigs there and it’s exciting to actually be headlining. And The Corner, that was one of my first venues in Melbourne because I supported San Cisco for like three shows there and now I’m headlining that one which is really bloody awesome! That’s kind of a milestone for me, they’re representative of that. Brisbane should be awesome because that show is part of Brisbane Festival, Pharrell is headlining there so that’s pretty cool. All the other places I haven’t really been to so I’m excited about those as well! I always love going to new places. I really just enjoy performing.
FIB: Do you find much difference between the crowds at a festival and your own shows because to me there can be a whole different vibe?
MONTAIGNE: Absolutely, it is different you’re right. At festivals there’s a mix of people who know you and people who have decided ‘this could be a fun thing to check out’. Your own shows are full of people who already love you. I think your own shows are both easier and harder work because you can get complacent. You know they’re going to love anything but that shouldn’t stop you from putting the effort in, and it can be easy to fall into that trap of not working as hard because you don’t have to but I think it’s important to always put the best show possible on. You also have to work really hard for festival crowds because they don’t know you and you want to snare them. But it’s a great experience at festivals because it’s generally a party-hard vibe so you’re almost always going to have a good time anyway. That’s the difference though I think, gauging what you have to do for people who don’t know you and for people who do.
FIB: That’s probably all the time we have. Thanks so much again for having a chat. We’ll see you out on tour.
MONTAIGNE: No problem, it’s been my pleasure.
Montaigne combines an extraordinary vocal range with emotive writing and supreme production to deliver an altogether unique sound.
Trust me, you’ll want to wrap your ears around the album and put those tickets in your shopping cart.