At 18 years old, Montaigne (the artist formerly known as Jess Cerro) is enjoying astronomical success. After winning Unearthed High in 2010, Jess Cerro disappeared from the music scene to focus on high school. She returned with a brand new sound, image and name, releasing “I Am Not An End” in 2014. After touring with the likes of Megan Washington and San Cisco, the singer is about to release her first EP, Life of Montaigne and embark on her maiden national tour in April.
Lot’s Wife spoke to Montaigne about life, career and the importance of one’s identity.
Being so young and already so established in the Australian music scene, how is it balancing life and a growing music career?
Ahhh *laughs*. So, at this point in my career, I don’t yet have a recording contact. So that means I don’t get money that I can spend and use for my life. So I still work at some shitty newsagency that’s local to me, and I get paid not very much an hour. It’s difficult to actually work and earn money so it’s so fun doing the music thing, but at the moment it’s not earning any personal income from it. It’s difficult trying to do work and trying to find work because I’m doing other things in the industry, I don’t have time to print off resumes and hand them out. I have to figure out what kind of job I can take that will allow me to have flexibility like ‘hey managers, do I have a recording session next Tuesday or Wednesday?’ and they’re like ‘yes.’ I need to find a job that’s cool and can accommodate my schedule. But yeah, in terms of work it’s kind of difficult because I’m not at a point where I can purely live off music. In terms of the rest, I keep in contact with friends because it’s easy over social networking. I don’t see them face to face often, because I’m moving around so much. It’s tough. I try to comment back to everyone, because sometimes I get busy.
How did your hiatus affect your music?
I’d say a lot. I just grew up a little bit, and my music changed and developed and expanded and because I used to be into pure pop, which I’m stressing that there isn’t anything wrong with pop. I still enjoy pop, I just listened to the Veronica’s new album and I actually really enjoyed it! I mean, these things I enjoy mostly for their selling value and not for their technical music sound. I do enjoy it. And then I started listening to some more challenging things. And yeah, I started listening to bands that have a really grandiose sound and really tried to create sonic landscapes that you can visualise. When I listen to my favourite bands I can see clouds, filling into an open sky and mountain ranges and things like that. For example, when I listen to The National and Bjork, all these things that flash and so yeah my music also became a little more angsty because teenage angst developed into existential angst as you grow. But yeah, I think I matured a little bit.
Do you feel like your name change is a result of that kind of development into a kind of more adult person?
I definitely think so. You can create a whole new identity just from your personal one, from the one you had before. It’s very easy to change yourself because everything you work for is attached to this new name. This new person that you created. It was very easy for me to be like ‘okay, this is the transition I’m making,’ you sort of just imagine that there really isn’t a transition… So Montaigne was just different from me, from Jess Cerro who is some indie folksy songwriter who’s some shorts wearing, plaid wearing young girl who’s very poppy and wrote pop songs to this new artist who’s very much different in many respects.
How are you looking to grow and develop your music from all the support and hype you received in 2014?
To be honest, I feel the natural response but there are two responses that I expected for this question. one of them is: given that I’m increasing my fanbase and popularity I feel an expectation to appeal to my fans and make music that I think they’ll like or the other response is I am going to make the music I like, despite how popular I get, despite the expectations that the industry or commercialism has on me to make a particular brand of music. Despite my popularity and my growing fanbase, I want to make the music that I want to make, I still want to make music that I enjoy and that moves me and I have fun performing. I love my fans, HELL YEAH, but they don’t have a say in my process of creativity. Unless it’s really something constructive or beneficial for me then maybe but if it’s like ‘oh, you should really dabble in heavy metal.’ then no, that’s not my thing *laughs* you know? The most important thing for me despite my growing reputation, I want to remain myself and I want to remain true to myself in my career and personally.
As someone who was interested in your live show, what can we expect from you?
So… *laughs* you can expect a lot of me flapping my arms about incoherently and stuttering of my work in between songs. I can sing pretty well, I promise you that in terms of the songs and the music, you’ll enjoy yourself; you’ll feel something. It’s not necessarily danceable music, but it’s something you can sway to. It’s quite dark music in its own way. It’s sort of like an emotional experience rather than a get down and groove.
What can we expect from Montaigne in 2015?
So I’ll be doing a lot of touring. Just a lot of touring – I’ve got my headline tour coming up this April. I’ll probably be going overseas at some point. You’ll probably see a lot of me in the studio on social network doing a lot of co-writes at the moment. I don’t know. The future is a murky swamp for me; more like a murky valley of opportunity and I don’t know where it’s going to take me.