Jess Cerro, who is known for her luscious, baroque pop songs that she releases under the name Montaigne, has had a pretty great year so far. She sold out a national headline tour in April, appeared on Triple J's much-loved Like a Version, collaborated with Gang of Youths, and now she has released the stark, arresting video for "A Cinematic Plea for an End" (check it out below) from last year's amazing Life of Montaigne EP. She was nice enough to tell us - in her bright and enthusiastic style - a bit about who she is, what inspires her and where to get great Vietnamese rolls.
- Your Life of Montaigne EP is very personal. What sort of experiences shaped the songs on the EP?
Part of it was being in high school and feeling trapped and uninspired, another was being so attached to the same one person that didn’t reciprocate my feelings to the point of agonising overfeeling, another was a long period of me attempting to be very spiritual and subscribing to pantheism and feeling that all things were beautiful when I was struggling with very societal issues like body image, a lot of it was just trying to figure out who I was, as all adolescents, and even adults, do. A lot of my life is me trying to figure out how to be a good person, too, and my songs often deal with the mistakes made and negative feelings felt on the way.
- You just covered Sia’s “Chandelier” for Like a Version on Triple J. Is Sia a big influence on your vocal style? What performers would you list as influences?
Sia actually isn’t a huge influence on my personal style, but I find her very impressive and inspiring. My biggest influences are Marina Diamandis [of Marina & the Diamonds], Regina Spektor, Björk, Lana Del Rey, Natasha Khan [a.k.a Bat for Lashes], Win Butler, and even Conor Oberst.
- Your new video for “A Cinematic Plea for an End” shows a more stripped back arrangement of the song. How is your performance of a song affected by playing live versus in the studio?
Well, in a studio, you can afford to spend money on session musicians because it’s a one-time thing. When playing live I’ve only got my three boys on drums, keys and bass with some tech to trigger electronic or non-diegetic sounds (strings, horns etc). That’s as much as we can do because I can’t afford to hire out an orchestra every time I play live. That will be the day. So that’s perhaps why it sounds a little thinner, because you don’t have the full impact of a complete live band on stage. I think it’s still cool to play a variation of a studio track live though, you’re paying to see something different to the record which you could listen to for free over and over in the comfort of your own room.
- What’s your favourite Sydney venue that you’ve performed at and why?
Probably The Metro, simply because it’s the most familiar, feels like home. It was the first place I performed ever, and heaps of great acts play there, and it has a great vibe.
- When you’re not making music, what do you like to do/watch/read/eat/drink?
Right now I’m really back into How I Met Your Mother (even though half the time the jokes/characters are misogynistic) because we have Netflix at our place now, and I’m also into The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. In regards to books, I’m reading Tina Fey’s autobiography Bossypants and struggling through Battle Royale, which is a manga. I’m very bad with graphic violence, gore, and general harm done to others. But it was a recommendation and I don’t know I liked the Hunger Games so we’ll see. I also watch Game of Thrones but again, I’m quite faint of heart so I’m struggling to watch it, I get severe anxiety when watching suspenseful things.
I love Japanese food so much, man. Tempura-ed anything is the best, and I’m also a massive fan of Vietnamese rolls, there are these great vegan ones at Great Aunty Three in Enmore. Drinking - I’m mostly a water/tea human but when I’m out I’ll go for a drink. Can’t do anything but spirits though, I hate the taste of alcohol so I try to avoid things like beer or wine.
I like walking a lot. Once, I walked 14km around Sydney city all at once. Yesterday I walked 10km and ran 7km. It’s good because I get to listen to new music/write new songs. Walking around cities is inspiring for me. Best at night time.