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Byron Shire
January 25, 2021

Interview with Montaigne

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Montaigne is a featured artist at Falls Festival this year


Falls Festival  |  30 Dec–1 Jan

Sydney musician Montaigne, aka Jess Cerro, is Complex. It’s the title of her impressive second album – an album in which she digs deep into her inner monologue through songs that deal with: an ex-boyfriend with a literal Messiah complex, gas-lighting, body image, critical loneliness, long distance love, intense self-loathing, being a people-pleaser, gaming, sex robots, gender pay imbalance, burn-out, environmental issues and a serious health battle. At just 23 years old, Montaigne has a wisdom and humility that is beyond her years. She’s really quite astonishing.

‘I find every single day of my existence an attempt to work out how to go deeper’ she tells me. She’s currently reading Codependent No More by Melodie Beattie, the seminal text for anyone trying to break their addictive patterns in relationships – particularly women who have an addiction to ‘bad’ men, those whom they want to fix!

‘I think women are conditioned to have those tendencies’ says Montaigne. ‘You feel you have to look after the other person. We are seen as caretakers. You can care, but in doing that you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your own needs. I learnt that making an album can be a similar process.’

One of the tracks Because I Love You deals with her ex boyfriend with a Messiah complex. A friend of her ex sent her a message after hearing the song;

‘He thanked me for writing the song, because it said everything his friends needed to hear and say,’ Montaigne explains. ‘He explained that after we broke up, my ex became really religious, started calling himself a Prophet, asking his friends to call him Messiah and moved to Israel to become a holy man. It was super weird, but also makes complete sense in the context of our relationship. He’s an extremely interesting human – a character in the full sense of the word. He’s trying to be a good person, he’s trying to figure it out.

‘He was a complicated person. Very charismatic. He could be generous and kind, but I think he had a lot of deep insecurities and not a good deal of self-awareness. He certainly couldn’t read my emotions at all. I am only starting to get used to asserting my needs and wants. When we were together, we fed into each other’s most destructive tendencies. Now I am in a new relationship – it’s only been two months but it’s someone I have known for four years. It has instantly raised my insecurities, so now when I write about relationships, the songs are about me – I’m working with all those old internalised patterns.’

So how does a young woman become so emotionally articulate?

‘I was always self-aware’ says Montaigne. ‘We can be self-aware, but not insightful, and the state of insight is almost unsettling – I think for me it started when I turned 17. I had a bad year at 16 with my friends, the next year I thought – I’ll study hard and be an active participant. I got into eastern spirituality and had a tumbler dedicated to Eckart Tolle and became vegan. I had a connection to nature and the earth, and I felt like I had this connection because I didn’t feel like I belonged to the other groups.’

Montaigne, on stage, in the studio, and in her life is clearly a seeker. She’s a lover not a fighter.

‘There is a book called How Should A Person Be?  and that was sitting on the shelf when I was in LA, and I saw the title of the book and I said “Yes please! I need that book!” It didn’t given me the answers – I am still trying to triangulate the point where I sit, and where I feel normal… I feel there has always been this battle around my worthiness, nothing I do is my right or normal thing… that’s how I felt. Then I found out everything I do is normal!’

Montaigne is not your average 23 year old, as she notes in her lyrics.

‘I didn’t go to Schoolies, I don’t like drinking, I’ve never taken a single drug and I don’t want to,’ she says. ‘I like to go to sleep early, I like meditating, I like reading, I like to focus on politics, I like Dungeons and Dragons.’

Montaigne chose the album’s title to represent how complicated relationships are – both with ourselves and others.

‘As well as the psychological complexes we find ourselves with, owing to emotional repression,’ she explains. ‘I also like to visualise each song as a distinct gallery room in a museum complex, often containing contradictory furnishings, but which all combine to make up one big museum (me) that people (listeners) can inspect as curated art spaces (songs).’

Montaigne is a featured artist at Falls Festival this year – Byron, 30 Dec–1 Jan.

For tix and details go to fallsfestival.com

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