Passionate, bold, striking, raw, intoxicating — these are just a few of the words that come to mind while listening to the sounds of Sydney-based singer-songwriter Jess Cerro, who goes by moniker Montaigne. Several of the young musician’s tracks have been circulating the airwaves since 2014, and even if you hadn’t heard her name until now, you’ve definitely had hooks from I’m A Fantastic Wreck and Clip My Wings stuck in your head for days at a time before.
The songstress is now back and bigger than ever with her debut album Glorious Heights set to be released on August 5, followed by a huge national tour kicking off in Brisbane in mid-September to celebrate the launch of the LP.
Because I Love You, the first single off Glorious Heights, was released at the start of June and embodies the quintessential sound of Montaigne: poppy piano juxtaposed with a hint of ‘80s-inspired drums and synth, revolving around the rich tones of her confident voice.
“When I wrote [Because I Love You], I’d already broken up with my boyfriend and while I was writing, I realised how shit our relationship was,” Jess laughs.
“It’s one of those stories of love is blind. While I was in it, I lost a lot, I cared for him a lot and put a lot of myself in a closet while I was with him and just attuned myself to him because I loved him.”
The album itself came together relatively quickly, and was brought to fruition in close collaboration with producer Tony Buchen (Andy Bull, Spookyland, The Preatures). Blending a mishmash of influences including Talking Heads, Arcade Fire, Owen Pallett, Florence and the Machine, Bat for Lashes, Bombay Bicycle Club, Depeche Mode and The Cure, the LP offers up a truly unique sound in both content and production that is difficult to attain in today’s pop music scene.
When it comes to creation, Jess is driven by the rawness and depth of her emotions and personal experience.
“I’m not one of those people who is capable of setting a scheduled time for writing, sitting down and using that time to write with. I’ve tried it and sometimes it works, but I usually let the songs come to me,” she tells Clique Mag.
“The drive to write a song comes about when there are particularly dramatic or emotional and turbulent times in my life, which is why I was so prolific last year because there were a lot of things that happened.”
Her lyrical content is highly self-reflective and honest (I’m a fantastic wreck / Wrecking everyone around me), conveyed with utmost emotion through the power of her unbridled vocal abilities.
In a press release for Glorious Heights she states, “I want to preach empowerment by means of self-improvement; to be able to identify one’s weaknesses, analyse them, and mitigate them. I want people to realise that the warrior of this age is the kind that combats evil by refusing to take part in the processes that sustain it.”
Jess’ perceptive attitude towards her life and music is represented through her choice in stage name. Named after French renaissance philosopher Michel de Montaigne, Jess states that the handle helps to remind her of who she is while keeping her grounded.
“I wanted to choose the name of a philosopher because…even though online, I may sound like a total millennial dweeb who uses Internet slang and replaces ‘you’ with ‘u’, I wanted [people] to know that there is a little bit more substance to me even if I don’t show it on the daily. That’s why I wanted to choose a name associated with wisdom and knowledge, as wanky as that sounds — but I’m a wanker, I admit,” she laughs.
“[Montaigne] is very much an ‘I’m gonna write everything that’s in my head and tell everything to everyone without any censorship’ [kind of person]. I also identify as quite an honest — almost brutally honest — person sometimes, and I do that in my lyrics.
“I like to tell it how it is in my songs and I like to investigate my inner self, the way I feel and reflect upon those things and reflect upon the things I believe, and the way that I live, if it’s right or wrong and just is it even worth contemplating and—”
At this point, Jess emitted some gibberish noises. Philosophy, right?
As for the future of her musical career, Jess has big ambitions. She shares that she definitely does not want to be in a band as she is a “control freak when it comes to everything I do”, and is eager to continue releasing music as Montaigne.
“I’d love to co-write with David Byrne, Owen Pallett and Lorde, and I’d love to collaborate with people who aren’t just from the music industry, with comedians, artists, visual artists, writers, philosophers and all that. I want music to be fruitful enough for me to have the money to invest in the projects of people I believe in and to help this world be a better place and save itself from its own self-destruction…
“I have many goals and plans — but none of them are in the immediate future,” she concludes calmly.