Montaigne: "My music is very personal out of necessity."

Words by Hannah Lally

2016 was a massive year for Melbournian singer Montaigne, Jessica Cerro, and her distinctly weird, beautiful sound. With this year kicking off with banger New Year’s shows, festivals, a new album in the works and a debut appearance on the WOMADelaide lineup, her future is looking cooler than ever.

You’ve just wrapped up a huge 2016, how does that feel to look back on?

Pretty good! I feel pretty accomplished, I feel like I’ve spent the first half of my 21 years well! But there’s still so much I want to do, so much music I want to make, so many people I want to collaborate with, so many awards I want to win and milestones I want to reach. Not just musical either, there’s so much more stuff I want to do.

Your first album Glorious Heights was huge and full of personal and private lyrics, how important is it for you to make it personal?

Really important, though not always in a conscious way, because that’s the way I experience music – in an emotional, visceral, personal way. I imagine that is the same for many, if not all people, like music has an emotional connection or importance or significance to them to be danced to! In that way, my music is very personal out of necessity, not really out of conscious decision.

Anything ever off limits because it’s too personal?

Not really. I omit things which might effect or harm other people, like I won’t ever disclose a secret but I’m pretty comfortable with not having any of my own!

Well your music is stronger for it! It’s always super bold and confident. Does that come from any influences?

I think the bold, forthcoming-ness is me not really having a filter and coming from a set of parents who enjoyed keeping things in the family and therefore I felt the need to rebel and tell everyone everything, which kind of stayed with me. I have a pretty high sense of self and self-esteem, like on my worst day I’m happy to be – and I hate these words – the ‘creative martyr’; the one who puts themselves up for scrutiny so other people can have that catharsis vicariously.

It doesn’t bother me, I just possess a good bedrock of values which remind me what’s important when other people are mean or rude, that they’re projecting and it’s not so much about me but their insecurities.

It’s been a pivotal time for women at the moment, with the Women’s March and you're set to play with two of the biggest female musicians soon, Cyndi Lauper and Blondie. How do you respond to the idea that there is a particular role and responsibilities for a female in music?

It’s a difficult question to answer because there are cultural stereotypes that are different for men and women that have existed for so long, because women are a certain way and men are a certain way, but not all of them are that certain way. So when women represent themselves in music, some women feel more comfortable expressing themselves through their femininity and so on. I feel like women and men feel entitled to talk about whatever they want in music, but sometimes a prerogative is oppressed by the expectations put on them. I feel like the responsibility of women in music is to be honest about themselves, though not everyone is comfortable with that.

Are you excited for the future of Australian music and women in music?

Yes definitely! Currently there are a lot of great, talented and hard-working women in music. I’m impressed by (and through a totally gendered perspective) about how responsible people are getting. The culture of sex, drugs rock ‘n roll and getting fucked up is dying which I really appreciate because everyone is producing really good, interesting work and not just to fuck around. Especially for women, now there are people doing lots of weird stuff – like me I guess, and Tkay – it’s cool that it doesn’t matter and opens it all up to cool and unique stuff.

Once you see the Women’s March, you realise that clearly there’s strength in women and strength from women to do something great and impactful. Things are good and will be good.

New album on the way for this year?

Yeah for sure. It is still very early days, just prepping and gathering songs to show my management before more writing later in the year with other people, but yeah it’s on the way!

The difficulty for me when making an album is figuring out exactly what I want it to be. I want too many things; I want to do a concept album, I want to do an album that’s a film score, I want to have three central motifs that repeat throughout, it’s ridiculous.

Are you keen to be playing at WOMADelaide soon?

I’m very excited, everyone always says how it’s the best festival to play at and I’m very curious to see what it’s like in real life!

See Montaigne at WOMADelaide on Friday March 10

Follow her on Insta: @actualmontaigne