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  • Writer's pictureKyriakos Tsinivits

Getting to know Montaigne

Montaigne won ‘Eurovision: Australia Decides 2020’ and garnered a new allegiance of fans with her Eurovision 2020 entry ‘Don’t Break Me’.

Unfortunately Eurovision 2020 was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but in good news she was selected to represent Australia in 2021.

Before her performance on SBS 'Big Night In!' find out more about the unique artist Montaigne is.

Who is Montaigne?

Montaigne may be her stage name but she was born Jessica Alyssa Cerro, in Sydney, Australia on the 14 August 1995. Her family background is an ethnic mix, her mother is half Spanish and half Filipino and was raised in the Phillipines. Her father was raised in Argentina and is Spanish. She was raised in a Catholic family who lived in Canberra before moving to Kula Lumpar, Malaysia because her father played professional football there in the national league for Negeri Sembilan FA and Pahang FA. Her father now teaches and runs his own football school. They then returned to Sydney, Australia when Montaigne was 5-6 years old.

Football (soccer) is in her blood but music is her passion

Montaigne’s father Gus was a football player in the Australian National Soccer League. She naturally got into football at a young age around 12-13 years old. She played for her school and then played for Super League. When she entered the Premier league she played for the Marconi Stallions and North West Sydney Koalas, she was even the captain in her first team.

When she applied to be recruited to play football in the US college system to pursue her football career, her mother suggested that she record a cover of a song over her football highlights reel to showcase her multiple talents.

The young Jessica opted for a song she wrote herself and got it recorded. When her parents watched the video they were moved and they nudged her to record more songs and get into the studio.

In an interview with Günsberg on the ‘Better Than Yesterday with Osher Günsberg’ podcast Montaigne explained that she had been into music from a young age:

“I started writing songs when I was 13, I started writing things before that, like from a really young age I have always been a ‘journaler’ and or tried to write poetry, stories and prose. But when I 12-13 I started to get piano lessons and then picked up the guitar and tried to teach myself and ended the piano lessons because I hated them to this day regret it because I like the piano more now. I can play enough piano now to write songs…”

One of the songs from her first recordings ‘Anyone But Me’ was entered into Triple J Unearthed High School competition (a competition run by the youth national radio station looking for fresh and new up and coming artists).

The indie pop track ‘Anyone But Me’ was selected as a finalist in 2012.

Though she didn’t win, Triple J Unearthed gave her the exposure she needed and she signed to Albert Music (Australia’s oldest publishing company) which was sold to BMG. She didn’t pursue her music career any further until after she finished her schooling.

Why the name Montaigne?

Montaigne took her name from a French philosopher and author, Michel de Montaigne (Feb 28, 1533 - Sept 13, 1592). You can definitely see influences of the philosopher in her performances, like at ‘Eurovision: Australia Decides 2020’ and like the cover of her latest album ‘Complex’.

In the press conference after her ‘Eurovision: Australia Decides 2020’ win she said she chose the French philosophers name because of his “open minded[ness] for the time, his ethos aligned with his open minded edge for silliness”.

Australian chart and ARIA award success

Montaigne is no stranger to the Australian music charts. In April 2016 she featured as a vocalist on Hilltop Hoods track ‘1955’ which reached No.2 on the ARIA singles charts. As recently as February 2020 she joined Hilltop Hoods for the ‘Fire Fight Australia’ fundraiser concert singing their joint song.

Later in 2016 Montaigne released her debut album ‘Glorious Heights’ which peaked at No. 4 on the ARIA Albums Chart. She received high praise for the album and for her vocals. ‘Glorious Heights’ earned her an ARIA award for ‘Breakthrough Artist - Release’, she was also nominated for a further three awards including Best Female Artist, Song of the Year for ‘1955’ and Best Video for ‘1955’. Her producer Tony Buchan also got nominated for an ARIA for Producer of the Year for ‘Glorious Heights'.

Interestingly ‘Glorious Heights’ features a song called ‘Consolation Prize’ which she co-wrote with ‘Eurovision: Australia Decides 2019’ Kate Miller-Heidke together with Georgi Kay and Robert Conley. The song was noted by music critics for being one of the stand outs on the album.

You can watch a live raw and intimate performance Montaigne did for the Queensland Music Festival in 2017.

Montaigne has also had radio success. She has featured twice in Triple J’s Hottest 100 list, both times in 2016. She reached No.25 with her song ‘Because I Love You’ and No.4 with her collaboration with the Hilltop Hoods ‘1955’.

In 2019 she released her latest album ‘Complex’ which debuted at No. 19 on the ARIA album charts. It was well received by music critics and was supported by a tour in November 2019.

The activist

Montaigne is quite an activist. She is a vegan (she got her parents into being vegan) and doesn’t drink. She supports school striking action on climate change and idenfies herself with the LGBT+ community.

She has previously taken part in a sing along of ‘You’re the Voice’ as part of United Voices Against Domestic Violence in 2017.

Montaigne has also featured in a song with Amanda Palmer ‘Truganini’ for ‘Forty-Five Degrees - A Bushfire Charity Flash Record’ for bushfire relief and as previously stated in February 2020 she joined the Hilltop Hoods for the ‘Fire Fight Australia’ fundraiser concert performing ‘1955'.

Montaigne and clowns

Yes, the clown aesthetic is on purpose.

In an interview with Aussievision before the ‘Eurovision: Australia Decides 2020’ show Montaigne had explained:

“I have this obsession with clowns and the clown aesthetic and I like the idea. Most clowns we see in history and culture are men and I was like it would be fun to be a lady clown and the thing is I really resonate with the qualities of a clown. I don’t know what that says about [me] and how I feel about myself. It’s a good mask to wear when you are trying to augment feelings or experience.”

She was always into the clown aesthetic which morphed from her touring. It is something playful and not to be taken seriously.

On her album 'Complex' Montaigne has a song called 'I am a Clown' which is about a reminder to herself about the behaviours that are indicative of a healthy crush or relationship, where you shouldn't have to mask yourself to impress someone you're interested in.

Don’t Break Me

Montaigne’s Eurovision 2020 song was co-written with Montaigne and the DNA duo Anthony Egizii and David Musumeci. They were songwriters for three previous Australian Eurovision entries. They are Dami Im’s ‘Sound of Silence’, Isaiah’s ‘Don’t Come Easy’ (co-written together with Michael Angelo) and Jessica Mauboy’s ‘We Got Love’ (co-written together with Jessica Mauboy).

In an interview with Aussievision Montaigne elaborated on the song and her look and feel for her Australia Decides performance of ‘Don’t Break Me’:

“The song inspired the blueness, I feel like the song sounds blue…the thing I think of when I hear the song is like ‘bladerunneresque’ like scifi future city. Its raining all the time I’m looking out my apartment window, everything has this faint tinge of blue in it.”

For the choreography she got Marko Panzic involved, he is the founder and Artistic Director of Australia’s first commercial dance company ‘The Dream Dance Company’ and for those of you who were in the ‘Eurovision: Australia Decides 2020’ crowd he was the ‘nozzel guy’ spreading the mist in Vanessa Amorosi’s performance. The performance incorporated five dancers from Sydney and the dance routine was inspired by a three minute interpretative performance Montaigne has given of the song.

Don’t forget to catch Montaigne where she will perform an approximation of ‘Don’t Break Me’ as it would have been performed at Rotterdam on ‘Eurovision 2020: Big Night In!’ which will premiere on Saturday May 16 at 7.30pm AEST and will be hosted by Myf Warhurst and Joel Creasey. 

Reference list:

Insane in the Montaigne podcast - Eurovision 11 February 2020

Better Than Yesterday with Osher Günsberg podcast - 148 Montaigne 29 August 2016


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