Montaigne Talks Tits, Sexuality and What Inspires Her

By Isabella Cornell

We had a chat with the formidable rising star and ARIA winning singer-songwriter Jessica Cerro, better known to most as Montaigne. With 2016 seeing the release of her debut album, Glorious Heights, an ARIA win for Breakthrough Artist of the Year, and a stack of packed shows and festivals, it has been a massive year for Montaigne. We caught up to hear about her inspirations, struggles and personal philosophies.

First of all, congratulations on your ARIA nominations. It’s been a pretty amazing few years for someone so young, from unearthed finalist in 2012 to your 2016 ARIA nominations. Up for Best Breakthrough Artist, Best Female Artist and Producer of the Year for your debut album Glorious Heights. How do you feel?

I’m sorry this is so belated, I’ve been real busy – I’ve won Breakthrough at this point so I feel pretty dang chuffed! It’s a marvellous recognition and I feel very grateful to have so many supporters in my industry looking out for me.

After a sold out tour and three nominations, is this where you saw yourself at the end of 2016?

Kind of? I mean I don’t want to sound arrogant but I do believe in my talent and I believe in the record Tony (my producer) and I made, and I mean, if you don’t want or strive for the best for your figurative child then what’s the point in pushing it out of your figurative vagina after 9 months of slowly and painfully growing it inside your figurative uterus?

What do you draw from in your music and lyrics? What inspires you?

My inspiration is usually other music in regards to sound, and in terms of lyric, I’ve probably been influenced by all the things I have read and lyrics I’ve heard in my life, as well as my education in English at school. But in terms of narrative content, my songs are about me and my life. Or else inspired somewhat by fictional relationships I weave my heart into. You know, geeky shit like Harry Potter or Sherlock Holmes or Kingdom Hearts.

Glorious Heights deals a lot with the themes of love and relationships. Does your music help you to reflect on these areas?

I think it does, but very much after-the-fact. The act of writing is generally just an expulsion of instinctive feeling which undergoes only the slightest amount of filtering. My writing is descriptive, but because of that I’m able to glean a moral from the story in post.

You’ve spoken a few times about your bisexuality. Your music is highly personal and I guess quite autobiographical. How does your sexuality influence this in your music?

Well, I’m not afraid of using pronouns in regards to romantic partners that aren’t just “he”, for one, haha. I mean I’ve written songs about women, as well as men (to be very binary – I just haven’t had feelings [that I’ve been aware of] for anyone beyond the gender binary). To be honest, I’m pretty demi verging on asexual, I’m a much more romantic person than I am sexual, and I think that comes through in my lyric much more because the way I write is – simultaneously to its vulnerability – cerebral or analytical I guess. Or that’s how I have it in my head. You know how you’re supposed to suspend recognition of the wild absurdity of sex while you’re in the act in order to actually enjoy it? I’m very poor at that. It’s weird though because I’m good at “acting”. But I’m aware that I’m acting. So deep down I’m not truly enjoying it, because I’m still making a conscious to act like I’m enjoying it. And I feel like my use of language is reflective of that deep-seated embarrassment I have about it all.

I love your style. You seem to find ways to embrace a combination of androgyny and femininity. You’ve talked about the song Lie to Myself as being quite self-reflexive in terms of body image and as you put it being a part of society and ‘playing the game’. Have you ever found as a female musician, that the industry tries to influence the way they want you to look or act? If so, how do you respond to this?

I’m in the fortunate position of being able to decide exactly what I want to do and how I want to look because my label signed me trusting my sense for aesthetic art and self-representation. I don’t really know if other labels exert that kind of pressure on their artists. I guess more for pop stuff, I don’t think it matters as much (from a label’s perspective) in the world of non-mainstream music.

I oftentimes feel stressed about not looking “fit enough” in the public eye because Western society is inundated with and celebrates images of lean, perfectly symmetrical humans. But when that happens, I splash some water on my face, remind myself that our notions of beauty are all ephemeral and meaningless, and continue to live my life. I think society’s beauty expectations exert themselves upon us because of the ubiquity of the beautiful image (through social/advertising media), but in the end I think it’s up to the individual to push through that mentally and psychologically. We’re always going to be swimming in an ocean with beautiful, intimidating things travelling alongside us, and other fish who shower more attention on those things. Surviving and thriving is therefore (in my opinion) just about perspective and mindfulness, realising that those fish are doing their thing and the opinions of those paying more mind to the shiny, alluring fish are slaves to their desire and in the end all that shit is fake and everything we do is a construct and ultimately we’re programmed to eat, shit, and procreate, and we’re as base as that. Everything else is a silly game. You win your own heart when you cease to care. It’s that thought that helps me keep my shit together.

As an openly bisexual, female artist, do you think that you have a responsibility as an artist to use your art as a platform?

Yeah I guess! I mean, I try to advocate subtly. I lead by example. People don’t like being attacked about their long-held beliefs and values (see: veganism). The key to success is just positive representation, you know. I think changing the minds of the bigoted is all about showing them a reality they are comfortable with which exists but which they didn’t perceive before, i.e.: “You do not educate a person’s palate by telling him that what he has been in the habit of eating – watery, overboiled cabbage, let us say – is disgusting, but by persuading him to try a dish of vegetables which have been properly cooked.” (W.H. Auden) I behave in a manner that I believe to be reasonable, level-headed, and generally personable on my social media, and the incidental fact that I am queer hopefully will then be internalised by the people who interact positively with my online persona and they will come to realise all on their own that queer people generally can be someone they like too. Those who fail to make that transition in thought are living in a state of cognitive dissonance and are unlikely ever to be able to cross that threshold. Like people who hear all the arguments about veganism and still eat animals!

In your music video for In the Dark, you are quite, well… bare. Given what you have spoken about in terms of body image, was this a big deal for you? Or just another day in the office?

Again, all our beliefs about the body are constructs. The body is just a vessel for consciousness. A tit is just something a baby sucks milk out of. People generally are too attached to their ideas about things which are in fact quite simple and uninteresting.

Where did your Moniker Montaigne come from?

It came from a French philosopher from the 16th century named Michel de Montaigne. Here are some choice quotes that I get down to:

Lend yourself to others, but give yourself to yourself.”

“Even on the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our bottom.”

“Not being able to govern events, I govern myself.”

“I quote others only to better express myself.”

I saw your set at the plot, you just brought so much energy on stage, and frankly backstage too. Your presence is quite formidable, like you really genuinely have a lot of fun performing. Is this the case?

Yes, I do. :)

Also, all creepiness aside, I also caught you seriously jamming out backstage to Vera Blue’s set. How do you feed off the energy of other artists?

I was seriously jamming, not necessarily because the music was hella danceable (even though it was), but because I was with my sister, and I can do anything around my sister. That combined with the fact that Celia is a very good friend of mine whose talent I glorify in my mind just made for some serious uninhibited action. Getting some sweet fructose energy from other artists is all about openness and comfort. The best relationships are the ones that lack any negative judgment or fear thereof, and that reflects in a writing session or during a performance as well.

You’ve worked with some pretty amazing artists, Hilltop Hoods, Megan Washington, San Cisco, Japanese Wallpaper to name a few. How has working with them influenced you as a writer and performer?

I watch them and figure out who they are and in what ways I am not them. Or in what ways I can take parts of them, break them down, and then re-synthesise them into something that is me. Being a good artist is all about perennial evolution and so I watch artists’ idiosyncrasies and work out what’s good or bad about them for me.

Who else inspires you professionally and personally?

David Byrne, Bjork, Bo Burnham, my sister & parents, Freddie Mercury, the Hilltop Hoods, Porter Robinson, and I recently wrote with a dude of artist named Mr Hudson who was so damn knowledgeable and skilful about the things of which I want knowledge and skill so that’s a very very recent addition but I think it’s a worthy one. Jon Hume who was in that session too was also a champ.

Is there anyone else you would love to work with in the future?

Hell yeah pimp: David Byrne, D.D.Dumbo, Vera Blue, Willow Smith, Owen Pallett, Porter Robinson, Lady Gaga, SAFIA, Hannah Georgas, Twenty One Pilots, Tkay Maidza, Thomas Rawle (DRELLER), and probably a million other people I don’t even know about yet.

It’s been a pretty hectic few months or years even, of performing and releasing music. How do you find balance and what do you do for down time?

Hahaaaaa I try my best to stress less by doing yoga and eating well and exercising regularly and meditating before I go to bed and generally being mindful when I do things but I *have* of late found it difficult to not just be constantly tired or have my mind be on overdrive about who I am because of how public a figure I am. But it’s worth it because I get to live my dream!

What’s next for you?

Lots of writing, doing festivals here and there (incoming: Beyond The Valley, Lost Paradise, Southbound), supporting that Cyndi Lauper/Blondie tour (!!!!!), and who knows what else!! I’m hoping to go on a writing trip to LA soon. I really enjoy doing co-writes. There’s a lot of risk in hooking them up because you might get stuck with someone you’re not vibing on but when it works, it’s ultimate.

 

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