Montaigne tops Glorious Heights with three ARIA nominations
“Sometimes musicians just arrive fully formed, raring to go,” said Cameron Adams, music writer at the Herald Sun, about Montaigne, the moniker of 21 year old Jessica Cerro. And after listening to her full-length album Glorious Heights, it’s hard to disagree. Glorious Heights is a big album with fun pop, reflective ballads and soaring anthems, all threaded together with a huge voice and a lyrical sensibility that belong to a very thoughtful, philosophical and caring woman.
Jess has just been nominated for three ARIA awards (Best Breakthrough release, Best Female Artist and her producer was nominated for Best Producer for Glorious Heights), just as she was finishing up her national, sell-out headline tour. It is the icing on the cake in a great year where glowing rave reviews peppered music blogs and newspaper arts sections across the nation as the album ascended the charts. Jess officially responded, “Number 4, baby. What a time to be Montaigne.”
We were chomping at the bit to interview Jess about Montaigne and Glorious Heights. So, grab something to eat (vegan, please) and enjoy the musings of the extremely talented and wonderful Jessica Cerro. But first, some facts.
- Before she was Montaigne, Jess was a Triple J Unearthed High finalist in 2012 when she was 16 with her indie pop song, Anyone But Me
- Jess is a gifted soccer player and was putting together a video reel of her playing in order to secure a university scholarship and wrote a song to accompany it – and that’s when the shift form soccer to music happened
- Her stage name Montaigne is inspired by the 16th century philosopher and essayist Michel de Montaigne
- She won the Next Big Thing Award in 2014 at radio station FBi’s annual SMAC (Sydney Music, Arts and Culture) Awards
- Her first EP released in 2014 was called Life of Montaigne and featured the very popular single I Am Not An End
- In November 2014, Montaigne performed a cover of Chandelier by Sia for Triple J’s Like A Version (goosebumps, my gosh)
- Jess is a self-identifying ethical eater and documents her food passion on her Instagram account @nomtaigne
Images L-R: Glorious Heights album cover, news.com.au, montaignmusic.com.au, Adam Taylor News Corp Australia at the 30th ARIA Award nominations, supplied.
What does music mean to you?
I suppose it’s something to decorate the mundane space of life. To give moments and feelings some sort of story-like significance when everything is just chemicals revolutions around the sun. It’s the thing that distracts me from purposelessness, where for other people it might be painting or cooking or speleology.
What was your life like growing up in Australia?
It was pretty good. I was like a middle class white moderately attractive athletic and smart child so for the most part it was pretty easy. Of course all lives come with their hardships though. It’s just that if we’re talking about the system, I was quite protected.
Do you still play soccer, or any other fitness activities?
Yes I do, I play 5-aside, and I also enjoy yoga and long walks and a bit of weight training.
You are quite entrenched and well-versed in philosophy - who are your favourite thought leaders?
Oh I wouldn’t say I’m “well-versed” in philosophy. Like, I dabble. I have a smattering of knowledge. I really love Montaigne and Alain de Botton (whom a lot of people in the discipline more or less cynical would probably call “pop” philosophers and not look upon with much respect). I used to be right on board with stoicism, now I am but only to an extent, and I think Epicurus and I have similar feelings about how to live.
What are your favourite books? Do you read fiction?
I do read fiction, I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction lately - my all time favourite is of course the Harry Potter series, but I also really enjoyed Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, Life of Pi by Yann Martel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams, etc. There are a few. I’m currently reading Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari in simultaneity with The Magicians by Lev Grossman.
You are pretty disciplined in mind and body, and particularly with your eating and drinking habits. Where does that discipline come from?
I’m just speculating, but I think it’s that my parents disciplined in me a very strong respect for the values they believed to be good and right. They always had expectations for me represent the family name well so that people look upon our family with respect and admiration. This meant treating others kindly, engaging in behaviours and attitudes which we could not say we were ashamed of in any way, being generous and not borrowing too much unless we could absolutely promise that we could render back what we were borrowing. And of course, to be great. They believed we could be great, so they pushed us. I hated it as an adolescent, but look at me now. I work hard and I’m good to the people I work with. And my eating and drinking habits, well, they were formed upon the basis of compassion, and I can no longer exploit animals and call myself an animal lover. I need to be healthy in order to be happy and get shit done, and so I don’t drink and I eat clean. And the body adapts to that state and learns to love it. I try to do what I say I am, and it’s been working out for me so far, because people trust me. Honesty and reliability are key to being human in this life.
Images L-R: Glorious Heights album cover, news.com.au, montaignemusic.com.au, Adam Taylor for News Corp Australia, supplied.
Who are your favourite Australian women in music?
Lisa Mitchell, Celia Pavey (Vera Blue), E^ST, Asta, Elizabeth Rose, Rosie and Jenny from I Know Leopard, Michelle Pitris (She Is Aphrodite), Jess Gleeson, Okenyo, Sarah Aarons (Paige IV), Nicole Millar, Meg Mac, Bec Sandridge, Alex Lahey, Sampa The Great, Thelma Plum, Emma Louise, KLP, Woods, Tijana, Gretta Ray, Victoria Kelly (APRA AMCOS NZ), Jo Lukis, Tammy Hofbauer, Michele Porto, Katie Rynne, the list goes on and onnnnn...
Tell us about your time and team in the studio , and your process in songwriting and producing.
It was a very intimate and personal affair. I was writing about highly personal things, with honest detail, and Tony (Editor’s note: Producer Tony Buchan) absorbed it and together we transformed pain into something enriching. Tony fiddled and I thumbsed up or down, I fumbled with words and Tony synthesised them into sounds, we had lunch and talked over what we were doing and went through those few months of our lives together with all the ups and downs and the vagaries both musical and emotional went into my music. We had Gus Gardiner, Miles Thomas and Niall Anderson (my touring band) in to play and fiddle a bit too. I’m pretty comfortable with those guys now. A lot of my lyrics are very vulnerable but I’ve learnt to be open about my feelings publicly. The lyrics were either spontaneously written or extracted from a backlog of lyrics I’d written when I felt them come to me, noting them down for later.
What was your daily routine like when you were in the studio?
Wake up in the morning, eat breakfast, prepare lunch, run, walk or bike to the studio, spend half an hour to an hour waiting for Tony who was usually late, spend an hour or two either messing around on the guitar or piano or wasting time on social media while Tony messes around with melodies/beats or mixes a track or whatever. Get in and work on whatever it is needs to be worked on for like half an hour to an hour, and then have lunch. Then spend the rest of the afternoon chipping away! Home at about 6 or 7pm
What are you favourite songs from Glorious Heights?
My favourites are Lonely, Come Back To Me Interlude, and Glorious Heights.
Any stories from tour that spring to mind?
A young girl named Caitlyn made sure security passed along to me an envelope at my last Corner Hotel gig. I read the letter very late at night after my gig and I was so enthralled by this girl and the way her personality translated itself through writing, and of course by her love for me and my music. She’s just finished school and often young girls are so radiant with their love for music artists. Music was so important to me as a teenager because it filtered my loneliness through beauty and elevated me from the feeling that life was going to be small and boring forever, and I grew great big romantic and emotional attachments to a bunch of artists and songs. Those processes are so important because they motivated me to do something with myself and thrust away from the black hole which exists inside all of us, to keep working on my life things and get into a healthy place from the inside, rather than relying on external forces. I mean, I still get into unhealthy places - life is a constant balancing act - but music still helps me wade through those waves. So whenever young girls make a connection with me, I cherish it so much because I’ve been them and are them still to this day, and Caitlyn in particular like, I just know she’s going to be okay. She’s going to be so okay and achieve so much because she’s soft but she’s also determined and works hard and she is a little bit deprecating when she speaks of herself and in comparison to someone like me with whom she uses laudatory language but I think with the right influences around her she become this dazzling woman who believes in herself. And it’s always just really to find out that you’re a part of someone’s life in such a positive way like that.
What is your daily routine like when you are on tour?
Wake up, find breakfast, go to the airport, fly to the next city, get lunch, maybe rest or do promo for a few hours before soundcheck, soundcheck, dinner either during or after soundcheck depending on time allowances (I eat at least three hours before a show), then hanging out doing very little until the show. On this last tour our band got right into Bejewelled Classic and I started drawing pictures for them on their set list. Mostly just lots of water and bad jokes. Play the show, say hi to punters, go back to the hotel, brushing teeth/removing make up etc, bed! If I’m up to it I’ll shower before I sleep.
What was your favourite gig that you’ve ever performed at?
This sounds like a cop out but truly, I can’t choose. I feel ecstatic performing wherever and whenever, and it’s difficult to rank ecstasy.
What are your favourite songs from your back catalogue?
From EP, my fave is Cinematic and I’m A Fantastic Wreck.
You are 21 and there is so much to be celebrated already about your achievements. What next?
More tours and festivals and big supports and records and taking the world by storm!!!
What is your favourite place in Australia?
I really fell in love with Cape Tribulation in Far North Queensland when I went in Year 9.
What is your favourite Australian café/restaurant?
Lentil As Anything.
Who is your favourite Australian fashion designer or retailer?
I love Macgraw, who I use a lot of stuff from, and also Phoenix Keating, who made my outfit for me tour just passed and who’s let me borrow a bunch of stuff for promo shoots and what not before! All fab people, too.
ARIAs. Wow and yay. Do we even need to ask how you feel?
I feel good :)
Montaigne plays the Yarrabah Music Festival on 5th November, a show in Tasmania on 12th November and will be taking part in Her Sound, Her Story for Melbourne Music Week from 11-14 November. More info, just head to www.montaignemusic.com.au