Don't lock out Montaigne

Jessica Cerro (aka Montaigne) is on the edge of a breakthrough. After the debut of her album Glorious Heights and an ARIA for Breakthrough artist, the 21-year-old – who described herself to us as a “a bisexual, quirky, middle-class artist who dresses somewhat eccentrically and holds liberal views” – hits the road on a national tour next month. By Mia Abrahams

You wore “People over profit” on your chest during last year’s Arias to protest Sydney’s lockout laws. Why is it so essential that Sydney keeps supporting nightlife and the arts? 

It seems so self-evident to me — imagine the streets without people on it at night, without music, without entertainment, and art! Humans require a sense of belonging to community and social connection in order to feel well, stable and happy, and the arts provide that in spades. Music, dance, visual art, any other form of entertainment – they fill the void, physically, emotionally and spiritually, and as much as we wish it were otherwise, these activities require financial support in order to survive.

You take away the public spaces in which these things occur, you’re taking away avenues of connection, and people will start to feel alienated from society, and bet your bottom dollar it will result in a dire mental health epidemic.

If you had 5 minutes with Premier Mike Baird, what would you say to him?

Anything I have to say contrary to his beliefs would go through one ear and out the other. There’ve been studies done where people with negative views about queer people were made to sit and talk to a queer person for an allotted amount of time and afterwards the views of many of the participants softened, because they’d come face to face with what they hated and realised that they were as “normal” or human as they were.

I think Mike Baird is probably pretty disconnected and dissociated from the people he’s governing, [but] I think if he had more positive, personal exposure to all the groups he seems to antagonise, perhaps he’d have a change of heart. Or maybe not!

Are you working on any new music? What is your creative songwriting/recording process like?

I am. My songs are a chain of spontaneous decisions to sit down and channel my emotional instability into words or sounds. I never allot time to songwriting. I’ll write the songs in a desultory fashion, sometimes in one sitting, sometimes over several months, and when I feel I’ve got a batch of shitty acoustic demos recorded on my iPhone ready to go through production work, I find someone to produce and polish them with my guidance.

If I had one night to spend in Sydney, what should I do and where should I go?

Redfern Shanty Club at The Dock (in Redfern), 9-11pm on Mondays. A ritual for me, and one that fills me up. I imagine it does so for everyone that goes too. It’s basically a bunch of people, drunk or not, singing songs together in a schvitzy, dimly lit, nautically-themed small bar. And it’s the greatest.

Check out dates and buy tickets to Montaigne’s shows here.