INTERVIEW: Montaigne

“I discovered that whenever I try to plan music I do anything but the plan” Montaigne confesses in the opening moments of our chat about her sophomore album ‘Complex’ (Out Friday 30 August). From learning this important factor she was able to live in the moment and authentically and sincerely tell her truth in it’s rawest form. 

Drawing influences from the likes of Queen, Twenty One Pilots, Bjork, Arcade Fire and Marina, this record is a diverse collection of tracks that serves as a giant rollercoaster of emotions. There are moments that you will want to dance, moments that you will want to sing and moments that you will want to just reflect. 

The cinematic and theatrical record will be brought to life on her upcoming national tour in November which she admits will have a lot of physical expression. “There’s a lot of anger and passion in my songs and I require myself to exert that in a physical and connective fashion”. And when she’s on that stage, she really doesn’t hold back. 

I recently chatted to Montaigne about the theatrical elements that inspired ‘Complex’, the mystery illness she found out she had during the recording process of the record, addressing her personal body issues in ‘Is This All I’m Good For’ and the political driving force of the lead single ‘Ready’. Check out the chat HERE; 

TB: ’Complex’ is a diverse record that addresses a lot of your inner thoughts and hears you delivering a very theatrical sound through songs like ‘The Dying Song’, ‘Love Might Be Found’ and the title track ‘Complex’. So when you went into the studio what was inspiring you sonically? And what was your goal for this collective?

M: At the beginning I really wanted to do a record that was a crystalline pop version of ‘Vespertine’ from Bjork. I wanted it to involve a lot of glockenspiels, twinkly elements and harps but it also have electronic fusions. But it just didn’t end up being that. That was the plan but I discovered that whenever I try to plan music I do anything but the plan *laughs*. And that’s not intentional of course, but I had to learn to just go with the flow.

What ended up happening was that I would turn up to a session and be like “this is what I’m into today” and we would draw influences from that. But that could be anyone from Queen, Twenty One Pilots, Fiona Apple, Ryn Weaver to even the original Swiss Army Man Soundtrack by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell. We were also listening to a lot of world music which you can probably hear in the percussion with a big influence from the Middle East. 

TB: ’Losing My Mind’ immediately stands out to me with it’s bold nostalgic production and theatrical soundscape that had a bit of a Marina And The Diamonds nod to it. So do you mind if we jump into the creation of this song for a moment because I would love to know how it came about?

M: I wrote that with Thomas Rawle who used to be in the band Papa Vs Pretty but now works under the artist name Dreller. He lives in London now but we did in Sydney. At the time of writing I was severely ill, I had what they now medically recognise as burn out. But at the time they didn’t know what it was and how to manage it or how to fix it. So most of my days were spent languishing and exhausted without any motivation and completely disinterested in other people *laughs*. I wanted so badly to connect but I just couldn’t. 

I had these two days with Tom and on the first day we did ‘Losing My Mind’ and that came about because I literally couldn’t sit up right in my chair because of exhaustion and he was so tired. So I wrote a song about how exhausted I was. I understood why I was probably where I was with my health because I tend to push too hard in everything. 

Part of it was that I used to suppress emotionally a lot and that would build up in my body and then I would do too much exercise, do too many shows and never know when to say no to a request and I think that was sort of my demise. 

So the song is about coming to terms with the fact that I’m not as insoluble and invisible as I thought I was. Sonically when I think of the song I think of Arcade Fire. Tom is really influenced by the likes of Prince, The Beatles, Radiohead and classic bands like that. So we referenced those sort of sounds. We also referenced Air during the bridge with the atmospheric vocal build. We just went with our gut the whole way through.

TB: Your music has always had a very vulnerable soul to it, but ‘Complex’ hears you diving even deeper. So what would you say is the most vulnerable and personal moment for you on this record as a songwriter?

M: There are so many on there but probably ‘Is This All I’m Good For’. I feel like that one is the obvious one because it’s so point blank in terms of the rawness that I’m revealing. I think it’s a very difficult thing to talk about body image issues and insecurities in a way that makes sense and feels comfortable in pop. 

It’s funny because I didn’t struggle lyrically with writing that song but I do feel like that song is lucky it exists because I could’ve pulled the plug on it and thought that it was too much and that people would cringe at this. But It’s become the most important song to me because it captures the whole concept and feeling of the record and binds together everything I am saying. It also provides some reasoning as to why some certain things have happened in my life. 

I’m telling people everything which is perceived to be difficult in my head but I’m actually fine with it because I’m under the belief that these kinds of conversations need to happen, especially in pop culture. Body positivity and an honest and frank discourse on body issues and how our society creates and deals with them is happening but we still have a long way to go. There’s been no cathartic songs that I’ve heard that has straight up talked about this in a confessional way and I want to change that. 

TB: Well I was going to talk about this song in particular because you actually premiered it on your recent tour with a beautiful acapella performance. So with the raw intensity of this song, how did you find performing it live in this setting and in this stripped back nature?

M: I was pretty excited actually! Again, I love the song and I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written so I just wanted to premiere it. I thought it made sense in acapella form and I don’t really have any reservations with performing live in no matter what setting because I am so confident about the betrayal and my skills. 

What I was nervous about was the story I was telling before I performed the song as I hadn’t written a script. I was like “I will just get up there and see what happens” *laughs*. I’m not particularly good at storytelling cause I get lost in tangents, but I think it got received well. I also trust my fans with those things because the music I make draws an audience who would be sympathetic and compassionate towards the stories and feelings I am expressing .

TB: ’Ready’ is a soundtrack for activism. And being politically aware and charged is something you’ve always waved proudly. So why do you think it’s so important for people to stand up more than ever before and speak their truth? 

M: They say that the tipping point will come in eleven years in regards to the climate but I kinda feel like we are already there in some ways. Not necessarily environmentally but on a political and social level. 

The leadership we have internationally right now is really conservative and destructive and lack any empathy for people that require help and simply refuses to help them. That kind of attitude toward the population in the world and the systems in place are unacceptable to me. It’s increasing on the daily because of all the leadership we are electing. You’ve got Scott Morrison in Australia now and obviously Donald Trump in the US, Rodrigo Dutere in the Philippines and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. And then the UK is about to go through their elections and all of that is very concerning. If only the 1 percent is healthy and the rest of the world is suffering, how is that okay? Also the world wouldn’t work if we are constantly in war and everyone is unhealthy and dying. That’s why being an activist is important because we need to stand up and say that we give a shit and cannot allow it to happen any longer. We also live in a democracy so you can beat your bottom dollar that I’m going to use my voice to try make a difference. 

In one sweeping look around the world and our own country you should be able to acknowledge that things are worse for wear and that should make you want to stand up and do something. It’s crunch time! You can go to rally or write a letter to your local MP and just let your voice be known. 

TB: I first saw you live 4 years ago when you opened for Megan Washington and since then you’ve done a lot of touring with headlining shows, support slots and festival sets and I saw you even doing a DJ set once. 

So from playing live and watching your crowd grow and evolve too what is the biggest thing you’ve learnt about yourself as an artist and how do you want to continue to elevate your theatrical sound with your upcoming ‘Complex’ Australian Tour in November? 

M: I guess the thing I’ve learnt is that I’m very physical and I need to express physically what I’m singing. There’s a lot of anger and passion in my songs and I require myself to exert that in a physical and connective fashion. 

I think I just want to keep working on that over the years. I’ve been getting better at singing because I’ve realised I have a mother fucking voice, so I keep working on it and looking after it better so I can perform better. With touring it’s really easy to not look after yourself because of lack of sleep. It’s such a fucking hard thing to do. So I’m trying new ways to try look after myself better on tour too. 

‘Complex’ is out Friday August 30

You can pre order a SIGNED copy from Sanity HERE; https://www.sanity.com.au/products/2427189/Complex–SIGNED-COPY 

Montaigne Australian Tour

Thursday 7 November – The Gov, Adelaide 

Friday 8 November – Badlands, Perth

Saturday 9 November – Mojo’s, Fremantle 

Thursday 14 November – Solbar, Maroochydore

Friday 15 November – The Zoo, Brisbane 

Saturday 16 November – The Northern, Byron Bay

Thursday 21 November – Tap House, Bendigo 

Friday 22 November – Torquay Hotel, Torquay

Saturday 23 November – The Croxton, Melbourne 

Thursday 28 November – UC Hub, Canberra 

Friday 29 November – The Metro, Sydney 

Saturday 30 November – UOW Unibar, Wollongong