Scoop caught up with dazzling Sydney songstress Montaigne in the lead up to the release of her first full length album, Glorious Heights, which drops Friday August 5th.
The twenty-year-old singer/songwriter has had quite the start to a career that only seems to be going further and further upwards since listing as a Triple J Unearthed finalist back when she was 16. Since then she's performed and recorded with Hilltop Hoods, opened for artists such as Boy & Bear and Megan Washington, and completed a sold out national tour of her very own.
Last time Scoop spoke with Jess Cerro (the woman behind Montaigne) was just over a year ago; catching up with her now we reflect on what a productive year it's been - on top of recording the album she's played numerous gigs and festivals, collaborated with some great artists and become more and more recognised within the international music community. She describes happily how artists she respects have been praising her work and organising collaborations, and tells us proudly how Marina Diamandis (of Marina and the Diamonds) contacted her to say she was loving Montaigne's music - last year Cerro told us Diamandis is one of her biggest influences.
Glorious Heights launches on the back of her debut EP Life of Montaigne back in 2014 and a string of successful singles. Recent releases 'Because I Love You' and 'Clip My Wings' feature on the new record, along with a host of other catchy tunes and some thoughtful, introspective lyrics. Does that seem an odd combination? That's part of this musician's creativity - putting some earnest self expression and honest personal experience into songs with deceptively upbeat pop hooks. Listen in to fully appreciate the juxtaposition.
'Because I Love You', for example, is at first listen a gloriously infectious pop track, but within it is a retrospective analysis of a relationship that, with the benefit of hindsight and a little more experience, was not what it seemed at the time.
Cerro tells us about the story behind another number, 'Lonely', which she explains is founded on the struggle of asking "am I in love with this person or am I in love with being in love?" It is also another of her characteristically upbeat tracks covering more sincere ideas in its lyrics. Asked about this interesting contrast she uses, she modestly refers to the "intentional subconscious" behind her writing - it suggests to us that the complexity comes quite naturally to her.
It's not all dance pop though: aching ballad 'Consolation Prize' details a search for positivity in a time of sadness. It also helps showcase the strength and versatility of the singer's vocals, which have been compared not unjustly to Bjork and Regina Spektor. This will be a powerful track to see live.
When asked whether her music is still quite personal, Cerro replies "absolutely". "Everything I write is somewhat autobiographical... and I don't think it'll ever be different, really".
The album continues Montaigne's creative partnership with producer Tony Buchen (The Preatures, Andy Bull) who also co-writes several of the album tracks. Talking about the recording process, Cerro describes how after some intensive songwriting and pre-production sessions, it "felt pretty quick" with the final process coming together over just a couple of weeks in the recording studio.
The album's cover art depicts Montaigne and two dragons. She describes this as a nod to her love of video games, as well as being a figurative representation of life's troubles and adversity: how after 'slaying' one problem there will eventually be another on the horizon somewhere. Montaigne says this notion can be troubling but each success is worth celebrating: "you are the hero of your own life and you have to keep going with that unrealistic optimism, but use your endurance".
Don't get distracted towards the end of the record. When asked about any lyrics particularly worth listening for, Cerro suggests we listen in to the first verse of 'I'm Behind You'.
After just playing Splendour in the Grass, Montaigne will soon set off on her national album launch tour. When asked about the experience of performing live, she speaks about a strong sense of focus: "the rush of being entirely in the moment", as well as wanting to connect with her audiences. "I try to reach out to people", she says, and explains how different venues make this possible in different ways.
The other thing going through her mind on stage is apparently "I hope I'm singing well" - like we said: modest. This Scoop reviewer doesn't think Montaigne need worry, and is looking forward to being a part of the crowd at her Sydney gig (and will probably still be humming the fabulous earworm that is the chorus melody of 'What You Mean to Me').
Glorious Heights drops August 5th.
The 'Because I Love You' tour kicks off in Brisbane in September, with the Sydney leg at Oxford Art Factory on October 8.