For what seemed like a quick catapult onto our national radar last year, MONTAIGNE has been working pretty damn hard since her Unearthed High days. With an album now released and an attitude well beyond her years, Montaigne is powering up the proverbial ladder. She doesn’t fuck around and as LOUIE SMITH chats with her further, it’s clear Montaigne’s dedication to her craft will eventuate into great success.
Well I just wanted to congratulate you on your Arias win.
I loved the “People Over Profit” quote that you had painted on your chest. Was it directly related to the Proudly Pokies Free Campaign?
It wasn’t necessarily for them. I just wanted that slogan and it happened to also be the pokies free Sydney campaign slogan, which I’m happy to affiliate with but I also meant it in terms of the lock out laws, in terms of the way governments deal with a budget in any country, in the way that anyone deals with anyone because I just think that compassion is much more important than the pursuit of wealth. Unless your pursuing wealth in order to enable your compassion in a financially tangible way.
Many of the winning artists expressed causes close to their heart in their victory speeches including Flume who advocated for the Keep Sydney Open Campaign. What’s your opinion on the Sydney Lockout Laws?
Well there’s steps being taken at the moment from what I hear. I’ve talked to almost everyone about this. Apparently there was an appeal of some sort, like there’s been a mitigation of the law and the lockout has been taken back half an hour or something like that. So that’s good and I think if that proves to be effective and doesn’t increase violence then I think that paves more stepping stones for the future. We haven’t been complacent about it and there’s continually been rallies and protests, so if we keep that up they have to listen to the people at some point otherwise no one’s going to vote for you if you’re seen as being at total at odds with the people your governing.
So I wanted to talk about your debut album Glorious Heights, it’s such a masterpiece. I hear influences from Washington but then your style is much more dramatic and anthemic.
I do have a shred of drama in me. I’m not a particularly dramatic person in real life divorced from art and music so I think any small particle of drama that exists within me comes out in my music.
How did you overcome the nerves you experienced on stage as a teen? Is Montaigne kind of like your Sasha Fierce?
No I don’t have those issues anymore. I was nervous about performing when I was a kid I think mostly because I didn’t have confidence in my voice. It wasn’t fully developed because I was still a kid and I mean it’s daunting getting up on stage in front of people singing lyrics that you wrote that are personal to you and using a talent that people can plausibly judge. I just got used to it because I did it more and more and my voice got stronger.
Is there a point where you felt you had completely overcome it or was it a gradual thing?
Ahh I think it was gradual. I mean I don’t think it ever completely goes away. The beginning of this year I did Rockwiz and I was nervous because it was in a room full of an older audience and I wanted to earn their respect. It’s just one of those audiences that wouldn’t usually be on top of my music. I do have older fans but like statistically most of them won’t know who the heck I am and would be like who is this young hooligan panicking and I didn’t want to be that to them. I wanted to show them that I am actually an educated young woman with self respect and respect of others. So yeah that made me nervous. Sometimes I get natural nerves when I’m about to go on stage but once I get on, it all goes.
When did you know that you had such a strong musical connection with Tony Buchen?
Well I guess when we worked together on the first EP. As soon as I met him I was like this is the dude. It was probably commonalities and just the way he expresses himself that I was akin to. There was something just natural there. He was just open about my ambitions and creative aspirations and it was easy to work with him for that reason.
Are there any special touches on the album that he’s contributed that make you think he was the right decision?
Oh yeah, heaps of it! Like he does almost all of the production, basically 99% of the production and he’d do things and I’d be like yessss that’s perfect. There’s all these little easter eggy instrumental bits in ‘Because I Love You’ and ‘Til It Kills Me’ that are just so good.
How do you think the album would have turned out if you hadn’t found Tony, if you were working with someone else?
I don’t know, it would have been different I guess. It still would have been me. I’m very good at doing me and enforcing me with whomever I work with but yeah it would have had a different sound because it wouldn’t have been Tony.
You said in an interview with Richard Kingsmil that you write songs on piano. Do you have a specific writing process?
I write with my voice. I used to write from guitar and piano a lot but it was too limiting because I don’t have a very large vocabulary in either of those things. Often lately I’ve been doing co-writes so usually someone else will be on the instruments and then I’ll just come up with the top line and guide the chords by humming them instead. I find it easier to start with words or with vocal melody with my voice.
Triple J Unearthed played a huge role in the beginnings of your career. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists in the same boat as you once were?
Yes, ahhh make good music. The more you do it the better you’ll get at it. I would try to get out to as many gigs as possible just because you learn from other people and it reveals to you what you don’t want to do, which is as important as figuring out what you do want to do. Be kind because no one wants to work with a dickhead. Stay healthy because it’s your career it’s not just a fun game. For some people it is a fun game but the more responsible you are the further you’ll go and I think where I am is a testament to that. It’s been a very quick journey and I work really hard and don’t fuck around. I’m also good at what I do but I’m lucky as well.
The other thing is a lot of it is luck. I was unearthed high finalist and that got me radio play and then I signed with a publisher because my mum sent them stuff. They would get me into gigs for free so that’s how I got to heaps of gigs and everything else fell into my lap because people liked shit and they signed me. It’s one of those things where you could work really hard and never get there because of bad timing but I don’t think that makes the hard work any less worth it. Even after all the hard work you put in if it doesn’t work out the way you want at least you can say now I’m good at this thing and I can take that experience with me. It’s worth it for the story I guess, the personal development story and you learn a lot about yourself doing creative things. Also if you’re doing it because you want to get famous or want heaps of money that’s probably not the right reason.
So my main things would be, be nice, stay healthy, work hard, practice lots and put your stuff everywhere. Put it on unearthed, Youtube, Soundcloud, send it to people, send it to labels keep sending it to labels.
Get your mum onto it
Exactly! I know a girl who’s now killing it over in LA, writing for Demi Lovato, Kelly Clarkson and LDRU because she would send CD after CD of her shitty piano songs to Sony ATV and after months and months and CD after CD and hearing nothing back finally they were like hey we want to talk to you. They had a meeting and signed her under a publishing deal as a writer and she’s done it so much now that she’s amazing at it. It’s persistence, it’s perseverance and if you have that as well as talent, (which it’s up to you if want to develop) you might get there, if you’re lucky.
Lastly, how was Matt & Alex’s 5 raves in 5 days!!?
Yeah that was funny, it was bloody sweaty let me tell you. It was a shower in there.
Will you be sad to see them leave Triple J?
I am going to miss them. They’re just good people and they’re very very funny. I enjoy listening to their voices and watching Friday dance off. It’s going to be sad but I mean hopefully I’ll see them around the trap. Matt’s looking to do some music stuff and he’s also writing a show and still doing his comedy thing. I love comedy so I’ll hopefully get around to some stuff to watch him. Alex is travelling but you know I travel so maybe we’ll run in to each other.