Ahead of the release of her new album later this week, Sydney musician Montaigne got personal with Grok about making a difference in the world, showing off and the human experience.
Your latest single, READY, has received a great response, especially towards the video clip, What was the inspiration behind the track?
Thank you! When we made it, which was at a songwriting camp at a single-day effort, it was a song for Eliott. We were writing for Eliott, so it was kind of an impersonal thing for me—impersonal as in it wasn’t for me and I wasn’t writing it out of emotional compulsion, I was actually trying to solve this puzzle of pop songwriting, I guess.
I drew it out of her by talking about her experience of working in the music industry, and she’s fabulously talented, but it’s slow work. There are only so many opportunities in this industry and no matter how talented you are, it can also sometimes just be down to luck and timing. She’d just come off this big tour and she woke up the next day after coming back and was like ‘I’m doing nothing with my life’. When she told me that I was like ‘that’s fucking absurd, you’ve just come back from a big tour’ but you do get plagued with that feeling, the belief that that’s the case. We sort of just ended up thinking a lot about that and trying to put it into song.
We realised we wanted the song to be about the potential you do have and the ability you do have and knowing that you have this weapon to unleash, it’s just a matter of opportunity coming along and when those opportunities do come along, you’re ready for them. That’s kind of how the song came about. Also, we mentioned that bit about giving women equal wage and that’s an acknowledgement of the fact that some of the barriers that you experience are also sometimes just systemic and it’s fucking hard. So, that’s where the song kind of came from. Where it’s at now for me is it became this kind of activistic anthem about wanting to create change and just being frustrated because things are unfair. Our political system where the cultural value lies in the way that governments look at their people, even in democracy, everything is so conservative and far right and selfish. But still feeling I have to persist and I’m ready to persist to try and make good shit happen.
So following on from that, with your music you have a platform to be a voice for this generation. Do you feel it’s important to use your platform for activism?
Yeah, I do. I feel really strongly about that. I don’t think I’m a perfect activist. I mentioned to an interviewer before this one that I do the bare minimum [laughs]. As a public figure and as an activist most of my efforts are in awareness-raising and that means just putting some paint on my face or on my chest when I go to the ARIA awards, you know, making some Instagram post or sharing some links. I don’t do anything super substantial, but the thing that amplifies my efforts is that I do have a big audience and I’m very influential because of the art I make.
It wouldn’t make sense to me to have a public platform and not do those things because they’re so easy to do, you know? To me, power is totally useless unless you’re doing it to create positive change and do good for someone. I could just spend my life being an artist that’s introspective and introverted and never leave the house and doesn’t want to chip in but I feel compelled to because the world sucks.
I think it’s really good that you do utilise your platform and actually care about social issues. Even talking about them and just raising awareness, doing small things when you have so many people listening and looking up to you does make a change.
Yeah for sure.
Moving on to your new album, Complex delves into themes ranging from loneliness, isolation, self-image issues and relationships. I guess you could say everything involved in the complexity of being human. Can you tell me about these themes?
I was going through a lot of shit in the last few years, as we all do, and I guess I just decided to write it down and sing it. I think there’s this really great quote from Werner Herzog who’s this German director, such a strange human, but he says this really great thing about being articulate, about how his dreams are no different to anyone else’s dreams. Everyone has dreams and everyone has an imagination and everyone has the capacity for daring thinking, the difference between an artist and someone who can creatively think but doesn’t apply it anywhere is just that the artist articulates the dream. He says this thing and the final line is like if it weren’t for the articulation of our dreams we’d all just be cows on the field [Laughs]. But that’s kind of what happened with this album. I was just going through some shit that probably a billion other people out there in the world have also gone through and I just wrote it down. That’s kind of where the themes came from.
I think everyone’s kind of encountered the themes that are in this album on a daily or semi-regularly basis, those themes of being lonely and isolation and feeling like you don’t belong in your own body and feeling like you’re going to be plagued in darkness for the rest of your life. The fear that your whole life is just a tango between pleasure and pain, and is there any more meaning to it than that? The fear that things are inherently meaningless or maybe they’re not, so if they’re not inherently meaningless then what is the meaning and why can’t you grasp the meaning? And then toxic relationships… I think everyone deals with that stuff either directly or through other people; it’s just life and I’ve articulated it.
What was the writing process like for the tracks on Complex?
A lot of it was done in co-write sessions with producers, so it would be me and one other person and we’d get into a room and try make a track in a day. That’s the way most of the songs got made actually, but there were a few that I brought to the table already formed or that I brought formed and they got altered when I took them into production space. I had dregs of lyrics here and there recorded in my notes that I hadn’t finished or pieced together yet and when I got to the studio I ended up piecing them together. So, it’s a very random and varied process, but a lot of it was just finishing the song in a day and then just leaving it forever until you finally fix it and get on with it.
Your debut album, Glorious Heights, was released in 2016. How do you feel your music has developed for the release of Complex three years later?
I mean I’ve changed as a person and with that change comes a change in ability and taste and style. I think one of the big changes is the fact that I worked with eight producers compared to just one so everyone song is infused with a different personality and a different person’s sense of style and ability and personal touch. That definitely has determined the shift in sound this album.
You’re heading out on national tour in November. What are you most looking forward to about that?
Being on stage. One of my favourite things in the world is just being up there singing and moving and being alone in front of people. I hate every other aspect of it, all the other parts can go to hell, but being on stage is worth it [Laughs].
What’s your favourite thing about being on stage and performing live shows?
I think I inherited my dad’s love for showing off and I think I’m very good at what I do. So, I get to go on stage and show off how good I am at what I do [Laughs]. It’s very deeply fun, but of course, you also end up receiving the nourishment that comes with people hearing your music and knowing that audience has really connected with it in some way and by default everyone there is connected. One of our most human needs is to feel like we belong and have community, as soon as you get into to that room it’s like you do have a community even if it’s transient. Me as the person on stage, I kind of made that community and that is a very special feeling.
Montaigne’s new album ‘Complex’ is out August 30 and she’s heading out on a national tour in November.