Montaigne | Credit: Jacinthe Lau

Track By Track: Montaigne Draws Back the Curtain on ‘Making It!’

Montaigne‘s third studio album, making it!, is here. Montaigne created making it! alongside producer Dave Hammer. The album was preceded by the singles ‘now (in space)’, ‘make me feel so…’ (featuring Daði Freyr), ‘die b4 u’, and two tracks recorded with Talking Heads’ David Byrne: ‘always be you’ and ‘gravity’.

Montaigne’s Jess Cerro will hit the road in support of the album later this month, playing headline shows in Adelaide, Perth, Byron Bay, Maroochydore, Brisbane, Sydney, Newcastle, Melbourne, Geelong, Ballarat and Wollongong. Here, Cerro shares the stories behind making it!, one track at a time.

Montaigne: making it!

1. in the green room

I wrote this song in a single improvised take in a green room in Perth while my band were line checking. I was in a period of prolonged heartbreak over something out-of-reach and touring was a very lonely time, more so than usual. All the same, I strangely remember that time fondly – my feelings felt important to the point of a kind of transcendence. I felt connected to the world, even if the conductor for that feeling was hot and painful.

I initially sang it in a kind of Joanna Newsom timbre, child-like, but the song transformed significantly when I took it to Dave Hammer. We were listening to a lot of electronic pop and I was attracted to anything that sounded video game-y, hence some of the electronic noises on the track. I also liked that the FX suggested electricity crackling, or something inorganic being turned on.

The vocal really pushed my range at the time, which was the intention, and AutoTune caught all of the gnarliness, made it listenable and added to the sense of alienation, I think.

2. embodi3d

This song was written from the perception of the parasitic cordyceps fungus. I read about their life cycle in Michael Pollan’s How To Change Your Mind. I later found out that the premise of The Last Of Us – the video game – is predicated on this life cycle being able to be carried out through human bodies.

It’s very spooky and I found it very fascinating, kind of exciting, and we banged out ’embodi3d’ in a day, bringing this freak of nature into pop music. Most of the lines are references to specific parts of the cordyceps’ life process. I also wanted it to feel like it was written from a human perspective. Kind of Jennifer’s Body-esque – seducing in order to kill or control. Writing this was fun because it is nothing like the way I think or feel.

I’ve talked a lot in public about how this is an album about being in love. Songs like this I think I’ve been able to write because I am so comfortably ensconced in my relationship. I feel happy enough not to have to vent my frustrations in music all the time now, and I feel accepted enough to let my brain run wild with all the wacky shit that wants to emerge from it.

3. die b4 u

This song is about wanting to die before your partner. Fairly straight forward. Just another way to say I don’t want to live in a world without you. But darker. The voice that says “I am air” at the end is Bernie Van Thiel, who beatboxes throughout the album. It’s a reference to an Adventure Time episode where BMO and Bubble go on an adventure to find home again. At the end, they decide to get married and be together forever.

The bubble gets popped by Jake and BMO is devastated, but quickly the entity formerly-known-as Bubble alerts BMO to the fact that they’ve actually been Air this whole time, and now they can be together forever. It’s a creepy monologue that is redolent of ‘Every Breath You Take’ by The Police, but at the end BMO cheers “YAYYYY!”

My attachment to my partner isn’t quite so intense, but I like to caricature it in these songs because there does lie an intensely needy thing that I have to suppress and force a bit of independence upon.

Montaigne – ‘die b4 u’

4. jc ultra

Another weird one. The straight-forward love songs are in the second half of the record, and that was on purpose. ‘in the green room’ is about someone else, ’embodi3d’ signifies a shift away from that pre-occupation, but a shift into another kind of darkness. The following songs are manifestations of the intense anxiety I endured in the first eight months of me and Pat’s relationship – I had a lot of baggage, as you might be able to tell, from my previous monogamous relationship – but also are a foray into play. There was anxiety but there was also delight.

‘jc ultra’ is a bit of both: what if aliens had come to earth, were living among us, but hadn’t any power or popularity, and so started a major music label where they brainwash artists with pro-alien propaganda, help them become huge stars, and so surreptitiously help the aliens’ approval ratings increase? It’s not supposed to be that deep, though I have had questions about whether or not it’s a comment on colonialism or capitalism. It is if you want it to be.

5. now (in space)

‘now (in space)’ is a song about doing a long-distance relationship and finding it really hard. Not at all the reality I live in – except when I’m travelling for shows extensively, which is not long-distance, I am just being pathetic – but it was for the character I had created named The Space Lady.

She was a surveyor who scouted land and resources in the cosmos for some company. There was all this detail, but it was all kind of dumb in the end. I was trying to retcon this conceptual junk into the album and I realised it was me trying to avoid just being a bit sincere about how much I love my partner. Still a good song though. So, here it is.

6. sickcrydie

I started having panic attacks for the first time ever when I started dating Pat. There was one day where I lay in bed for four hours listening to Angel Olsen’s 2019 album, All Mirrors, crying endlessly. I think Pat ended up coming over eventually and I struggled to articulate what was happening in my brain and body, but I was convinced that we’d have to break up (I did not say this to him).

Anyway, we haven’t broken up, and we’re great now, but this is a song about how things might be pretty good in your relationship but one seemingly insignificant thing can set off a massive overreaction that isn’t really within your conscious control.

7. make me feel so… (feat. Dadi Freyr)

Now we are getting into some nice love. There’s not much to explain here. It feels like it’s possibly my most clear and straightforward song yet. I actually have that feeling about a lot of the songs on this record – I really wanted to play the lyrics a bit straight and tell a clear story on this record, especially because there can be so much going on with the sounds. Also, that’s just where I’m at. I don’t have as much to hide behind poetry. Though, I do like a bit of cryptic poetry. Maybe I’ll go back to that eventually.

Me and Dadi Freyr wanted to do something together since we met through Eurovision and I’m glad it was this. His voice is gorgeous and he means what he sings and you probably know this if you’ve listened to ’10 Years’.

Montaigne – ‘make me feel so…’ (feat. Dadi Freyr)

8. always be you (with David Byrne)

Lots of Bernie beatboxing on this one. I wonder if people can tell what is a human doing it and what is pure electch. It’s a song about how you might disappoint each other from time to time but ultimately you know you’re going to be together forever. My first song on the record with David Byrne. A dream come true. And singing lyrics I wrote too. David told me that he resonated with the whole premise, which was nice. He’s a very nice man.

9. gravity (with David Byrne)

This is the song I wrote for David, my first pitch. Thankfully he was a fan. It’s such a relief that he likes my music. Goodness. I really wanted to move in with Pat and he was feeling less ready. The Space Lady wanted to settle as well – no more flying off, no more adjusting and re-adjusting to zero gravity, no more working. Just a quiet life in a house on grass, maybe with a garden. Isn’t that what we all want?

This song is also a declaration akin to this one. I don’t really want all the clamour of being very famous. I think all it is that people really want, even if they don’t know it, is to be well-loved, to be free to be creative, and to not have to worry about staying alive and well. All the fame and materialism and all that… it’s not my bag, and I don’t think it’s productive for anything except accruing capital. Though it is a by-product of the work I do. I struggle with this conflict constantly.

10. comet death (feat. Maika Loubté)

This is a song for when you’re exhausted. I feel really calm while listening to it, despite its existentialism. It’s just very gentle and Maika’s voice sounds beautiful on it. I’m so lucky that I get to call all these people my collaborators and friends. There’s so much I have fumbled in life but not this specific thing in this specific time, regardless of how commercially successful this album is or not.

Montaigne’s making it! is out now.

Further Reading

Montaigne Shares ‘die b4 u’, Announces ‘making it!’ Tour Dates

Montaigne, Harvey Sutherland, Becca Hatch Set For Sydney All-Nighter

Hilltop Hoods’ New Single Provides A Collaborator Reunion

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