Chatting humanity, philosophy and creepy guys with Montaigne

At Alberts Studios we get a glimpse into Montaigne’s creative process. After laying down a few demos, Jess Cerro takes some time to discuss the big issues; avocado, The Matrix and empathy.

Montaigne Interview Jess Cerro

Photos by Liam Cameron

MONTAIGNE: I ran here once from Surry Hills. It was insane.

HAPPY: You ran here form Surry Hills? Holy crap!

MONTAIGNE: Yeah it’s an hour and twenty minutes, maybe.

HAPPY: Oh so you weren’t running late and had to make a dash, you ran here for exercise?

MONTAIGNE: (laughs) It was like an exercise thing, I’ll run to Neutral Bay and it was wild.

HAPPY: Man I had a hard time driving here from Enmore.

MONTAIGNE: (laughs) I like to run or walk to places when I can. Just because it’s the only sport I do. I don’t have time for team sport, I can’t commit to anything because I don’t know where I’ll be on any given day. I don’t have a gym membership, so my exercise is running, walking, kicking a soccer ball around. I have a bike now, but I’m scared to ride here because I’m very much in the novice stage of riding a bike in the city with the cars. So I know the bridge has it’s own enclosed bike path, but getting there. One day!

HAPPY: I know! There’s like 50 lanes you have to manoeuvre!

MONTAIGNE: Yeah! Riding a bike in the city is fucked.

HAPPY: There are sidewalks!

MONTAIGNE: Yeah! Oh man, you government, you piece of shit!

HAPPY: So we’re both Westies, so we’re used to people riding their bikes on the sidewalk. You come to the city and it’s dangerous.

MONTAIGNE: Yeah, it’s like you have to risk your life. The population’s growing at a rapid rate anyway, we may as well cull a few (laughs).

HAPPY: It’s a conspiracy theory man. This is how we’re going to control the global population, Sydney’s biking laws.

MONTAIGNE: Oh man, absolutely. The government terrifies me. I believe in that conspiracy shit that governments – It’s not even that, it’s media. I don’t mean media as in you guys, I mean Rupert Murdoch kind of thing. That public manipulation of our consciousness. And then the government will be like “We should also act in accordance with their proliferated views“. Like that stupid Gayby thing. How the school showed that film and there were some complaints according to The Daily Telegraph, which there weren’t, so the government is like “Ah! Let’s ban it since people are complaining“. That’s sounds to convenient to me, especially since our government is so conservative. It hurts me.

HAPPY: I feel the same, how can something like same sex marriage be taboo?

MONTAIGNE: I know! It’s fucked. Our government is secular! Ah! It’s so annoying!

HAPPY: We can stage a coup, and get bike’s back on the sidewalk where it’s safe.

MONTAIGNE: (laughs) I don’t know what I’d do in that. I can write the soundtrack, all the dramatic music in the background while everything is happening.

HAPPY: This reminds me, I saw on your Facebook page you posted about The Matrix while I was doing ‘research’ for this interview.

MONTAIGNE: Oh man I LOVE that film. So I saw it a few years ago. I’ve been very grandmother-ish, I’d make dinner and practice some bilingual and watch a film. Probably because it’s been cold lately. One day I was really exhausted, so I put on The Matrix since I’ve already seen it. It’d be lovely and I’ll fall asleep. It was so enthralling I kept watching it, it was mind-blowing. I’m so obsessed with that kind of thing. Where human ability is augmented in a certain environment. That’s why I like Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy and anime. I’m obsessed that. I watched the second one a couple of days ago. Heaps of people say to me the second one is awful, and I get why people like it less than the first but it’s still a great film.

Montaigne Interview

HAPPY: It kicks a lot of ass. The philosophy really fucks with your mind.

MONTAIGNE: It discusses in a really interesting and subtle way the human condition and what makes us human. That great quote from the first movie, where that dude dies. I hate how the whole crew of the Nebuchadnezzer gets killed by that fuckwit!

HAPPY: Fucking Cypher!

MONTAIGNE: I hate him! Anyway, one of the things the guys says is “To deny our desires is to deny what makes us human“. I was like “Oh my god!!!” That’s such a good quote! I love it so much.

HAPPY: Considering what you said earlier about augmented realities there are times when we may really be living in a sort of Matrix.

MONTAIGNE: Yeah! With that, a great part of what The Matrix tries to get at is whether or not we are enslaved by something. In that film they’re enslaved by those machines, but obviously the parallel to that in real life is the way we live, the structure of power and distribution of wealth is totally dictated to us. How much of that do we actually have under control? The answer is not much really. It’s fucked. Similar to the movie people fight back. There was a vigil the other day for that boy who drowned. The Matrix is a good metaphor for what we do.

HAPPY: You know when Sci-fi is good when it gets more relevant over time. 2001 is good but it’s not that accurate of the future really.

MONTAIGNE: I still haven’t watched that, if it’s on Netflix I will.

HAPPY: (laughs) I love how everyone has so quickly become addicted to Netflix.

MONTAIGNE: I like watching the documentaries, I watched one about birds the other day which was really stressful! (laughs).

HAPPY: Are you scared of birds?

MONTAIGNE: No! I fucking love birds. I’m just very anxious about violence and gore. I can’t watch Game of Thrones, I used to watch it with my ex-boyfriend until we broke up then my friends took me to a screening of episode eight. I felt sick because I was so anxious.

HAPPY: The one with the White Walkers at Hardhome right?

MONTAIGNE: Yes, that was fucked. It was so intense. Also in episode nine, when everyone starts to kill each other at the fighting pit, oh man. So the birds right (laughs), there’s this bird that coasts along to pick up fish for its kid, but there are these other birds that interfere. They don’t kill them, but they grab their tails and force them to let go of the fish. And that injustice, I can’t deal with it!!!

HAPPY: Well that’s a good thing, you empathise.

MONTAIGNE: That’s the problem though, I think my empathy centre’s are too strong. I can’t deal with, just for example I’ll be walking on the street listening to some music, looking at people and woman will walk past me with her dog and suddenly I’ll have this crazy vision of the dog running off onto the road getting crushed by a truck. I’ll think about that for a second and go into a daze and have heart palpitations. That happens regularly, I have really violent visions. It’s really scary. It’s not dogs in particular. There can be a dude on a ladder, and then my head imagines him falling and cracking his skull open. It happens and I have no idea why.

HAPPY: Have you ever seen that happen in real life?

MONTAIGNE: No! Besides Game Of Thrones. This gratuitous violence, what good is it actually doing you? I don’t need that to plague my dreams! I’d like to live peacefully without anxiety, hence avoid watching violent media.

HAPPY: And walking down the street.

MONTAIGNE: (laughs). That’s why I love The Matrix. It’s not violent. There’s blood but it doesn’t feel quite artificial. Especially martial arts, you know these films don’t end with people’s arms being snapped off or their eyes being crushed by a giant man (laughs). Usually it’s a guy been punched many times. It feels more palatable to me. Video games as well, you hit them but there’s no physical damage done to them. Like Tekken (laughs). It’s nothing really. Kingdom Hearts, Assassin’s Creed is okay. There’s something about the suddenness of violence that scares me and gives me a huge anxiety.

HAPPY: Well maybe because in those games and anime you know there will be violence, so in a way you’re ready for it.

MONTAIGNE: Have you heard of an anime called Attack on Titan?

HAPPY: Yes. I’ve seen a bit of it.

MONTAIGNE: Oh man that shit – I just can’t emphasise! I was staying a mates’ couch for a couple of months a while ago and they were watching this show. Because I’m sleeping on the couch I had no choice. And it was the worst! The concept is great and really confronting, but god, it’s so violent.

HAPPY: That first scene alone is quite harrowing.

MONTAIGNE: Harrowing is the word! Absolutely terrifying! It’s like the Game of Thrones of anime. Everyone dies, anyone you think has a chance of saving the day dies in an irreverent way. Fucked up things happen to people and it’s just ridiculous. Anyway, that’s that. I hate that show. It’s great on a conceptual level, but the violence is too much.

Montaigne Interview

HAPPY: Yeah, you just want to do something peaceful like take a nap or eat some fruit.

MONTAIGNE: Like avocado! Man I love avocado. It’s like my butter (laughs). That and a bit of Facon (laughs).

HAPPY: (laughs) See, I can’t make the jump to vegan, I like my meat too much.

MONTAIGNE: You should watch Speciesism.

HAPPY: Is that a doco?

MONTAIGNE: Yeah. Actually have you heard of Earthlings? It converts 99% of people who watches it to veganism because it’s basically the butchering. This one isn’t like Earthlings at all, I couldn’t watch that. That would destroy my sanity. But the Speciesism one is really good. It tackles it from a logical and philosophical perspective. Its starts with the guy who made it doubting all these animal cruelty stories, so he goes out to debunk the myth and the he tries to answer all the reasons why people aren’t vegan, or being anti-vegan. How can you be anti-vegan? Why? We’re doing a very good thing and not bothering you! When people are militant about something I don’t want to hear it.

HAPPY: Well since we clearly like a lot of the same stuff I’ll believe you and watch it. Maybe on the plane to BIGSOUND tomorrow!

MONTAIGNE: Oh you’re going? Nice! My first festival was last year. I volunteered at Falls, then I went to Groovin the Moo and Splendour. Groovin the Moo I stayed for my performance and then I left straight after because my band and I were going to the same gig back in Sydney. I wish I could’ve stayed for more of it, it had a good vibe. Splendour and Falls attract a certain demographic but I’m not in that because I don’t drink that much alcohol and I don’t do drugs. I’d rather just talk to people most of the time.

When I watch a gig I think how I can do it better now. It becomes study for me.

HAPPY: So who have you studied?

MONTAIGNE: So I’ve seen Meg Mac, SAFIA, Alpine, Florence + The Machine, Eves the Behaviour, #1 Dads, Porter Robinson. I love him because he loves that anime stuff and he incorporates it into his act. Obviously I went to the Japanese Wallpaper gig, which I had to because I had to sing. I almost missed it too, I was late and showed up when he started playing the track. That was fucked. We drove up that morning and almost didn’t make it.

HAPPY: What happened?

MONTAIGNE: He was just hanging out on stage, and afterwards he told me he told the crowd “My friend Montaigne’s here“, and he looked stage left and thankfully I just got there (laughs). He didn’t know I was going to be there! I saw Everything Everything’s sideshow, they were so amazing. I got to meet Jonathan Higgs backstage and I went up to him and said “Listen, I love you. You’re a magnificent role model and everything you’re doing is incredible and just keep doing it, please“. I just word vomited at hime and he goes “Oh, thank you“.

That was a highlight. But, as you’ve noticed, I like to talk, and when I go to a gig the music so loud you have to strain your voice to be heard, so I’m not a huge fan of going to gigs. I end up leaving and talking to people. Festivals aren’t really my vibe. What do you even do at a festival? You wander around, buy some shit which I can’t do because I’m poor. Splendour my was talking to people, eating food, watching gigs and staying out of the mud. And I was on my period which made things hard (laughs).

HAPPY: The shitty thing about festivals is that there’s a constant undercurrent of FOMO.

MONTAIGNE: That’s true, there’s always that feeling like you’re missing out on something. But going to BIGSOUND will be good for you, the weather will be really good. I find the weather has a way of effecting my mood, even the way I talk. My attitude, the way move in public, everything.

HAPPY: The way you move in public?

MONTAIGNE: Yeah! So if it’s sunny an warm, when I’m at my best, I’m not afraid to be like “Yeah! This is the fucking shit!” I’ll be bopping my had at the bus stop. When it’s winter I’m just “I don’t wana be here, it’s fucking cold and I don’t want to do this“. I don’t really want to talk to anyone, but in the summer I’ll be like “Hey girl, your hair looks great!“. I’m nicer when it’s summer, it seriously effects my character so much.

Montaigne Interview

HAPPY: Does it effect your songwriting at all?

MONTAIGNE: Probably, I haven’t observed that enough to know right now. The thing with songwriting is that it’s less effected by weather and more by events in my life. I will write prolifically when something bad has happened to me. When I’m in a good mood I write very little. It doesn’t even have to be something big, there has been stuff like that and that’s where Clip My Wings has come from, and there are some smaller things. Listen to this!

So this dude was staying in our terrace, he was from Melbourne. He was nice, we hung out a little bit. One night all of us housemates went out to this party, I didn’t really want to go but they nagged me into. I stayed for an hour and then I didn’t want to be there. I was sitting in bed in pyjamas practicing Italian. This guy came home early before the others. He knocked on my door and started talking to me. I was listening to Bon Iver so he asked if he could listen with me. We were talking music stuff and then he was like “Hey, this is a forward request but do you mind if I sleep in your bed with you tonight? Platonically! I’m just sleeping in the open living room and it’s cold there“. I was fine with it, it was platonic. I had work the next day so he got into the bed. Then two minutes later he turns me over and tries to kiss me!

That is such a dick move! You piece of shit, he said platonically! I said “Oh to be honest Im not interested in kissing you“, and he was like “Well weirdly enough that doesn’t stop me from wanting to kiss you“. This is so rapey! I’m very much a pacifist and I’m not good with conflicts, and to any other woman out there I’d say push him out of the bed. Instead I said “Listen, I’ll let you kiss me for one minute, and then we’re going to sleep“. (laughs) So I let him kiss me for one minute, I did not put any effort into it. He just had his mouth on my face. So I wrote a song about that. It makes me so angry because one he thought it was okay to do that and two, I let him kiss me! (laughs).

HAPPY: The best part of that is you negotiated him down to a single kiss.

MONTAIGNE: So that’s a minor upset in my life that I’ll write a song about. The worse something is the better the song will be. Like I Am Not The End, that was written around the HSC, which is the shittest thing alive. It was a sheltered private school, I didn’t let anyone close to me. I’d lost a billion best friends in high scholl and I didn’t want to do that anymore, I juts didn’t want… I was not social. I listened to music and studied hardcore but didn’t know what I wanted to do.

My parents were like “No you have to know what you want to do! You’re 18. You choose now and that’s what you’ll do forever!” I just felt like nothing was going to happen to me after I graduated from high school. I was a goodie two shoes. I studied really hard, I was nice to people. I was trying to detach myself from everything, and that’s what that song is about. It was an emotionally intense time for me. I didn’t know how I felt about anything, I hated it and I didn’t know what to do. The same with I’m A Fantastic Wreck, each line is about something different, and that’s what I love about songwriting, it doesn’t have to be cohesive, it can be about a lot of stories.

HAPPY: Totally man. Well it looks like I should ask you our final question, even though I haven’t asked you any real questions.

MONTAIGNE: (laughs) Did you want to ask me any of your real questions?

HAPPY: Nah, we’ve got some good stuff. Well we always like to talk about stuff that makes us happy, so what makes you happy?

MONTAIGNE: Well you already know avocados do (laughs). I’m gonna be specific; Go the record by Jonsi, also Gobbledygook, that songs is incredible. Also Peanut butter and jam on any kind of thing, bread, wraps, Lebanese bread, Turkish, any kind of bread. Crackers, rice cakes, pan cakes. Also love languages, I’m doing five right now. I already speak French, and I’m also doing Spanish, Italian, German, Swedish and Turkish. Turkish is a crazy language. Those are things that make me happy. And music, I love Arcade Fire. And Keanu Reeves! (laughs).