Written by Krissy Bryant
If you haven’t heard of Montaigne in the last 12 months, you may have been living underneath a rock. The 19 year old singer songwriter (Jess Cerro) has stormed the music scene and is absolutely killing it with her quirky tracks and incredible voice. We chatted to Jess about her love for Japanese food, her new film clip and her band’s unorthodox warm ups before gigging.
Krissy: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat! What have you got planned for the rest of today?
Montaigne: That’s alright! I’m probably going to go get some more Japanese food and watch TV.
K: I just want to start off by saying – please tell me your secret! At just 19, you’ve achieved such an amazing amount already. It seems as though the last 12 months has been a crazy whirlwind for you! I mean, you’ve toured with some incredible musicians, released your debut EP, featured on Triple J’s Like a Version, won FBI Radio’s ‘Next Big Thing’ award only recently, signed with Wonderlick Management and you’ve been featured in a million write ups. When you took a two year hiaitus from music, did you ever expect this kind of burst of achievement and acknowledgement on your return?
M: I think there was a certain expectation given that I had that stint with Triple J Unearthed High and they (Triple J) basically said, you have our allegiance. So, I did expect something from there but I didn’t expect people to remember me from the first track I came out with. My first track was shit. A lot of people were like “no, it wasn’t that shit” and I’m like “yes, it is. Don’t lie to me.”
K: Yeah, your sound is so different compared to the first track you released.
M: Yeah a little. I did a little bit of growing up.
The Next Big Thing Award was a huge shock. I did not see that coming, at all. I was really stoked about that. Also with Like a Version, my manager called me and was like “Triple J wants you to do Like a Version, would you like to do it?” I was like “yes!”
I don’t really have any expectations, ever. I don’t imagine the worst and I don’t imagine the best either.
K: You just take it as it comes…
M: Yeah, go with the flow. I don’t have any expectations ever. I’m not really surprised about what’s happened. I’m just happy to be doing this, to be honest.
K: You’ve just released your debut EP, Life of Montaigne! Congratulations on that. I have to say, this is one of my favourite albums to come out of 2014. I find myself stuck with I Am Not An End in my head every other day. How was your experience working with Tony Buchen in the studio? He’s worked with so many great artists.
M: Really strange actually because I have a very different relationship with him now [to when the EP was recorded.] I actually babysit his kids and I’m older and now have different types of conversations with him. Back then, I was only 18 and when we recorded the album I was literally 4 days out of high school. I was still a nervous youngster. When I was in the studio I didn’t know how to articulate what I wanted to be produced in terms of sound, but was very comfy and he was very good at extracting what I wanted out of me. It was quite a collaborative effort, I’ve written all my songs (the majority of the melody and guitar bit) and he really helped me define them.
K: Your tracks are very orchestral- with the strings and the almost experimental use of the percussion. Was that a major influence from Tony or was this from your own taste and vision for the album?
M: That was a mutual idea. I really like alt. rock/contemporary stuff like Coldplay, Arcade Fire and The National but I also really like the really quirky stuff from artists that are doing some really cool stuff lately. I’ve always been into percussion – I don’t play it myself, I’m totally incompetent.
I really hate four to the floor beat. I don’t like that traditional drum beat that most people use. I like doing something different. Laurence Pike did percussion on the track. He was like “yep, I’ll do whatever. Just hit a bunch of things. Be really experimental” and it turned out really great. There was one part on the track (I’m a Fantastic Wreck) where he accidently knocked over some stuff and we kept it. You can hear a big slam on the piano and everything crashing down. It was great.
K: I can hear a massive Florence Welch vibe flowing throughout the tracks. Is she an artist you have drawn inspiration from and been influenced by?
M: Yeah I think so. I only actually found her last year. During highschool I was listening to mainstream pop music and then I got introduced to Triple J. I never really listened to Florence, I thought she must’ve been totally overrated- then I actually listened to her and was like “Ha, okay, this is good!” I think her stuff is really fucking great. She’s definitely someone I take inspiration from.
K: You’ve also just released a film clip for I’m a Fantastic Wreck which was directed by Guy Franklin who has directed four of Kimbra’s film clips. How was it all on set?
M: It was really great, but we filmed it on a really cold day and it hailed. I was wearing a long black skirt, an off-shoulder shirt and some Docs. That was the first time I wore them and they were super fucking uncomfortable. If anyone’s had experience with Docs before, they’d know that it takes months to wear them in. It wasn’t too bad though because I couldn’t really feel my feet – it was that cold. Between takes I was wearing a down jacket, two bathrobes and holding a waterbottle. I remember we went from 10am to 10pm. It was really awesome shooting the clip though. Everyone was awesome and actually good guys and there wasn’t too much stress going around. They really took care of me and they were really passionate and excited and I was as well.
Guy is so fricken talented, it’s crazy. I think his was the first proposal for a video idea that I received from my managers, I read it and was like, “That’s what I was thinking.” When I say that, I don’t mean “I had an idea also that I should be in an old mansion and have half my face missing with animation coming out of it,” but it’s the general vibe I was looking for. It’s kind of like once it was mentioned to me it was like, “Oh yeah, that was I was hoping for the entire time.”
K: You’ve just announced your first headlining tour beginning in April! How exciting! Yay!
M: I know, I’m really excited. I just really enjoy performing. It’ll be cool to play my own show. I’m keen to see how it will turn out. I have it in my head that I don’t really have fans – I have no idea, I’m a bit delusional. But I have like 3000 fans on Facebook so clearly people do enjoy my music. I’m keen to play at shows for people that come for me. It’s not just “Hey, there’s another artist here that’s supporting” – they’re actually going to be coming to see Montaigne which is really cool.
K: What city are you most looking forward to playing in?
M: I’m just excited as a whole. I just love playing for people. I feel that most Australian cities are pretty similar. I mean, obviously some are bigger and some have taller buildings, but thinking about it, most Australian cities are almost the same. In saying that, every city has its own culture, but on the whole, if people come and see live music, they’re there for the music. I don’t discriminate between crowds – if people want to come see my music, cool. I think the traditional answer here is “I really like playing in Sydney because that’s my hometown.” On the whole, I’m just happy to play.
K: Your first show with Megan Washington is this Saturday in Sydney. How are you feeling about that? Excited? Nervous?
M: I’m really excited. The Metro Theatre is a really great venue. I really enjoy it, I think it’s because it was one of the first...[Pause] Truly my first gig ever was when I was 13 and Chris Brown and Rihanna were playing at the Acer Arena. I think my second gig experience was watching John Mayer at the Entertainment Centre. But then I was playing at gigs at that point and I was opening support at The Metro. It was just myself and my friend who plays the guitar. So that was one of the first venues I played at. It’s kind of reminiscent.
K: Do you have any pre-show warm up rituals or lucky charms that you take with you on stage?
M: [Laughs] I just drink a lot of water all the time and usually have to pee 50 times a day because of it. It’s good for you. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a musician or not, you should just do it.
Have you seen the Mighty Ducks? Before they go into game, they have that motivational speech and put their hands together and go “Quack… quack… quack… QUACK!” Sometimes my band and I do that before we go on stage. So that’s our lucky charm type thing. If we’re supporting, we always go to dinner before the show. So our routine is kind of like, rock up, line check, dinner, come back, drink lots of water, hang around for a bit, do a vocal warmup and play. I don’t really have something special that I do. Maybe one day when I’m bigger. Hopefully that happens.
K: We were talking about cities and playing in cities just before- Is there a country or a specific city in the world you have always dreamed of playing in?
M: Either Tokyo in Japan or Reykjavík in Iceland because those are my two favourite places. I’ve always had this weird fascination with Iceland- actually I don’t think it’s weird, I think it’s totally justified. It’s a pretty great country. And Japan because I’ve always been really obsessed it. I used to be really into anime and manga and this game called Kingdom Hearts. For my 13th birthday I had a party and was like, “Mum and Dad, please take me to this Japanese restaurant in the city” and for my birthday present I ordered the entire 9 disc instrumental soundtrack from all of the games. That obsession has kind of carried on. I’m so obsessed with Japanese food right now.
K: If you could play in either Japan or Iceland with any two artists, who would it be?
M: Shit. Okay. I really love Arcade Fire, so they would have to be one. And Bjork, no one tops Bjork. She’s phenom.com.
K: I like that. Phenom.com
M: I didn’t create it, sadly. My friend made that up. If she reads this, I just want her to know I mean no copyright infringement!
K: I feel as though the quality of music and artists coming out of Australia at the moment is absolutely wonderful. Are there any emerging Aussie acts that you’re loving right now?
M: Right now? Japanese Wallpaper, Tkay Maidza and Gang of Youths. They’re all mates as well and fabulous people. There’s another awesome act called Banff, he’s really good. Also Airling – she’s amazing and the loveliest person I’ve ever met. There’s also this guy called Dead Language – do you know how Client Liaison has that corny but cool 80’s pop vibe? Well it’s kind of like that. He’s really cool.
K: I’ll have to look him up.
M: Yeah, do it! He’s on Unearthed and Soundcloud.
K: Well thanks so much for chatting with me today. Good luck for Saturday!
M: No problems whatsoever – it’s been lovely. Thank you so much.
Catch Montaigne on her headlining tour