Montaigne (Jessica Cerro) is sailing from strength to strength. They Sydney artist first turned heads last year with her debut EP, spawning the gorgeous singles I’m a Fantastic Wreck and I Am Not An End, and the momentum hasn’t stopped. Most recently, her latest single Clip My Wings has thrust her back into the spotlight – deservedly so. If you haven’t heard it, it is explosive, passionate and encapsulates all the power behind this young voice. At only twenty years old, she has been appropriately compared to Regina Spektor and Fiona Apple, producing the kind of music that makes you ache. It’s raw self reflection at its most honest and beautiful.
We recently caught up with Jess on the eve of her national tour amongst her busy schedule.
Congratulations on the new single. How has the reception been so far?
Pretty much all positive. I think one person was like “this song sucks” but the rest of it has been very positive and you know, it’s Triple J’s number one most played for the last week. So it’s doing pretty well!
Every time I get in my car I hear it, so it’s obviously doing the rounds, which is great. For me it definitely feels like a song that’s about being your own person and standing up for yourself. It’s a bit of an anthem in that way. So what does the song represent in terms of changes in your approach to life since you released your EP?
It shows how much of a push over I am. I think I am less of a push over now, that’s pretty much it. My attitude towards life has been fairly consistent. And my attitude is that you should be good to people and you should also improve yourself wherever you can, so that’s remained the same. Something I’ve failed to do in the past is be a little bit more selfish. I think that’s what I have learnt – that a degree of selfishness will not hurt you. It may be offensive to other people, but those are the sorts of people you wouldn’t necessarily want to be around anyway.
Absolutely, I think that’s a really spot on observation. I mean, I think especially as a young woman, it can take a while to learn that, but once you do it’s a really eye opening experience and opens you up to do all these new things. Congratulations on taking that step.
Thank you very much.
The video as well is really awesome. When I read that it came from a place influenced by Kingdom Hearts I could really see that. Do you play a lot of video games?
These days I don’t play them as much, simply because I’m the kind of person who feels like if I’m not doing something actively helping my life, that I need to be doing it. So if I’m thinking I should play Kingdom Hearts, I know I would enjoy it but I would also hate it because I’d be sitting there thinking I could be listening to a podcast, or working on music, or going for a run, or going for a bike ride. There is also a psychological thing where my TV is downstairs, and it’s really cold and dark downstairs so I don’t really want to be there. If it’s a sunny day I want to be out in the sun. In terms of video games I haven’t actually played that many. I’ve played Skyrim, Halo, Jack and Baxter, Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy. I used to play more video games than I do now. And I still love them, but I just love other things as well that I feel like I should prioritise in my life right now.
Yeah, it makes sense. I guess when you’re growing up it is such a big part of your life because there are so many other things you can’t do. I guess as you get older you change what your interested in.
It made me think though, video games probably aren’t given enough credit for influencing people creatively. I found that an interesting statement from you in the release for the song, that it influenced much of your creative style. Can you tell me about how the game influenced you?
My creative style is less of “it’s these instruments that define me” and more of “it’s these feelings that define me.” And Kingdom Hearts always gave me this ineffable feeling, something I feel can only be described either through music or visual media. I don’t think it can actually be explained what the feeling I am talking about is, but the general idea is just key words like “abyss” and “transcendence” and “alternate plains of reality.” You know, like altered states of consciousness. I have never done drugs so I don’t know how that feels, but I think that’s what I am trying to describe in a sober way. Like that’s how I can get that feeling or intimation of feeling while being sober, whilst playing Kingdom Hearts. It inspires me with wanderlust, and to want to adventure, and to want to be a strong person, and be someone who can jump really high and fly to places with nothing but my body and yeah, it’s that feeling that I seek to replicate.
With your music…
And, in the plot line to Kingdom Hearts there are these characters who get separated from each other because one gets consumed by darkness and one gets swept away to another world and the other one is the chosen one who lands in Traverse Town and has to do a bunch of shit. This kid, all he is trying to do is find his friends and figure out why people are saying all these weirdly obscure things to him. I think that’s kind of the experience of being a child as well. Everyone is saying things to you that you don’t understand, and you are trying to figure them out and you take steps until you gradually figure them out. And in doing that you become that chosen one. You become that knowledgeable person who now understands what they once couldn’t, and can work at becoming the best at that thing. I think that’s true with anything, whether it be sports or music or whatever.
That’s an interesting way to look at it.
Yeah, I think the big thing about Kingdom Hearts is it’s aesthetic. I love all that sparkly bullshit and things that look weird, but in a pretty way. I am very much driven by beauty. I am a very superficial person in that respect. I like beautiful things. Not necessarily in a Kim Kardashian way, more things that have a delicate beauty. And I think Kingdom Hearts has that. The relationship between characters, and the way people talk in the game has that. I think because it is originally a Japanese game and it has been translated there is a certain weirdness.
Like otherworldly almost. It’s almost like there is an extra layer of meaning because of that weirdness?
Yeah, Haruki Murakami for example, actually writes books in English first then translates them to Japanese, which is interesting. But a person who is not writing in their native tongue will have different idiosyncrasies to the language, even in music, like Of Monsters and Men. They all have this really beautiful, poeticism. So there is that as well.
For some reason there was this character in the second game called Roxas who I strongly identified with and I couldn’t understand why because his whole thing is that he’s not a real person. He is the shell of a person who isn’t supposed to feel things and he doesn’t know that. He just thinks he is living in a small town with his friends and all these weird things start happening to him and he is like “What is going on? What is happening to me? I don’t understand. All these people are saying these really vague things that are mysterious. Stop it!” And for some reason I really liked him and felt for him on a social level.
Do you think musically that is kind of similar in a way for you? That your music gives you that outlet to free some of those emotions and make sense of things?
Yeah probably. There are many songs that I identify with where I used to make music videos from the cartoons in the games. For example, I’m Still Here by John Rzeznik is one song that I strongly identify with.
Note: This is not Jess’s video, but another with the same idea. A Youtube search has opened me up to a whole world of Kingdom Hearts fan clips.
There are things that go in my head… I don’t know what goes on in my head. I don’t think I ever will. And that’s what I am doing in my songs. My songs are never about one thing. I’m just so confused all the time.
But when you write the song does it help you process what’s going on in your head?
Yeah, that’s definitely something that happens, a few weeks after writing and reflecting on it. For a little bit, I’m like ‘Alright, okay, I got it.’ Maybe that’s why I identified with Roxas so much. Because I am just so confused about myself all the time.
So you’re about to go out on this national tour. Probably the biggest one you have done so far. What are your secrets going to be for staying sane on the road?
It’s actually a really different tour, because every show is on a different weekend, and they are all split, so I go home in between. I hate that. I like doing shows all in one run. I did that with San Cisco where we did four shows, then we had a week break, then another five. Same with Japanese Wallpaper, we had so many shows in a row. I prefer that actually. This one, you go to a city for a couple of days then you are back home for two weeks. It will just feel like taking a day trip – I prefer long tours. There is not really a secret to them, unless you hate waiting. I am a pretty patient person and I can occupy myself slash I just enjoy being displaced.
There are a lot of regional stops too. Is it really important to you to get the music out to those smaller places?
Totally. That’s how you make progress as a musician. You get the music out to more people, who show people, then you get sales which actually allows you to make money to do the job you want to do. As with anything growth is what makes something into a career and that’s what touring to more places is going to do for me.
It’s been a pretty incredible ride for you so far. What else are you hoping to achieve before your 21st birthday next year?
Well I would like to be overseas at some point to do some work. I am not even sure what that would be, but I’ll definitely be overseas by February next year. Not necessarily to play public shows, but to play to labels, so that will be cool. I just want to get out of the country for two seconds. I am here all the time, and I don’t really have the money right now, but I’d just really like that opportunity. Also, I would like to be playing bigger shows. Baby steps all the time – which is why this tour has smaller rooms. I can’t be so presumptuous to expect that 800 people are going to show up to one of my shows, that’s simply not going to happen. But, I can’t wait until the day where I get to play big shows. Hopefully before my 21st.
And an album?
There is definitely an album. That will be out early next year. And I want to run like 20km. That’s something I want to do.
What are you running at the moment? Is it anywhere near there? Or are you just starting out fresh with big goals?
I’m pretty good. I don’t really ever measure my distances. I think right now if I wanted to, I could comfortably do ten kilometres. I haven’t tried anything beyond that, but we’ll see.
Well, I believe in you. And I will definitely be at your Brisbane show. So good luck with everything and I’ll will chat to you soon!
Sat 3 Oct: Jimmy’s Den, Perth WA
Sat 4 Oct: Mandurah Performing Arts Centre, Mandurah WA (All Ages)
Sat 17 Oct: Lake Kawana Community Centre, Sunshine Coast QLD (All Ages)
Sun 18 Oct: Pilbeam Theatre, Rockhampton QLD (All Ages)
Fri 6 Nov: Northcote Social Club, Melbourne VIC
Sat 07 Nov: Goodgod Small Club, Sydney NSW
Thu 19 Nov: Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane QLD
Fri 20 Nov: TheGRID, Toowoomba QLD (All Ages)
Sat 21 Nov: Mullum Music Festival, Mullumbimby NSW (All Ages)
Sat 28 Nov: Gorgeous Festival, McLaren Vale SA (All Ages)