Montaigne talks life during lockdown, and connection after isolation

Montaigne is ready to re-take the stage, and reconnect with the queer community this November. Photo: supplied.

The Sentinel sat down with Aussie pop star, Montaigne, ahead of the first ‘Express Yourself – Queer Discovery’ Showcase. By Mike Hitch.

When this year’s Eurovision was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, lovers of pop music shed a tear for the no doubt dazzlingly dramatic performance that wasn’t to be.

We missed the chance to see our homegrown pop star, Montaigne, light up the stage like her predecessors, Guy Sebastian and Dami Im.

While drunken Eurovision parties couldn’t get the all-clear this year, Montaigne is still doing what she does best after announcing her headlining performance at the inaugural Express Yourself – Queer Discovery showcase at the Beresford Upstairs on Saturday, 28 November.

In the lead-up to the event, the Sentinel caught up with the 25-year-old ARIA award winner and budding producer, to discuss Express Yourself, ‘hyperpop’, and what an artist gets up to amidst isolation.

“It’s affected me in various ways. I lost a lot of work … I mean we all did, so that’s, you know, whatever,” Montaigne says between ‘umms’ and ‘ahhs’ over a Zoom call. 

“Honestly, it’s forced me to re-evaluate what I want for my career. It allowed me to take a break that I couldn’t afford to take [before], and just try to reflect on the things that were going well for me, things that were in line with my values, and things that weren’t.”

Montaigne is keen to return to the stage after the cancellation of Eurovision 2020. Photo: supplied

Montaigne took Australia by storm in 2016 following the release of her album Glorious Heights, which displayed her penchant for pop, amalgamating soulful lyrics with upbeat production.

Since rocketing to stardom, she’s remained a local pop-powerhouse on the up-and-up, and her 2020 Eurovision show would’ve only sealed her place further in the global pop industry. 

However, after that opportunity went down faster than Virgin Australia’s net profits, and the grieving period that followed, Montaigne decided to broaden her talents in her newfound spare time.

“I’ve started making my own music on [digital audio workstation] Ableton. Hopefully, I can arrange, produce and mix my own songs for a record one day. I’m enjoying doing things far more independently than I have before,” she says, as we talk about the rise of DIY pop stars, and the opportunity to join the ranks of autonomous pop acts such as Grimes and Sophie.

“I love to play with everything. But the thing I’m fixating on at the moment is Adventure Time [and] the music from Adventure Time, which I think is fucking amazing!

Hyperpop has also been a mainstay during lockdown, she says.

“I’m obsessed with the genre of hyperpop – I fucking love that music so much! I’ve gotten deep into it, but I don’t necessarily have the chops to make music that’s that sophisticated quite yet. But, while I’m by myself, I try to make ‘dungeons-and-dragoney’, silly songs with retro game-synth sounding things.”

For fans who were wondering if we’ll hear any new music at the upcoming Express Yourself showcase, the answer is almost certainly “no”.

“I don’t know how it goes debuting unreleased songs … I don’t have the standard for these things yet … maybe. I don’t know!” she laughs, thinking out loud about her upcoming performance.

“The songs I’m making are far less translatable to standard keyboard, and bass, and drums and all that stuff. I don’t think I quite have the resources to translate those songs yet, especially in time for the Express Yourself event.”

It’s heartening to hear a figure as successful as Montaigne admit they don’t entirely know what they’re doing – it’s a self-deprecating uncertainty that many other people her age are feeling, and it’s what’s inspired her to pursue other hobbies outside of music.

“I’ve started doing Twitch streaming, which is something I’d like to do a lot more of. Because of that, I’ve had to learn how to use Adobe, and edit together my own footage.”

“I used to feel quite alienated and a bit scared of my fans … it’s such a weird dynamic, right?”

– Montaigne

An avid gamer, Montaigne says that connecting with fans through Twitch has also inadvertently allowed her to “humanise” her audience.

“The pandemic allowed me to experiment and navigate that, and I realised I fucking love it! One, it’s an excuse to play video games, which I already love, and two, it’s been a way for me to ‘humanise’ my audience and [connect].

“I used to feel quite alienated and a bit scared of my fans. I don’t know them … and it’s such a weird dynamic, right? My friend told me there’s a term for it called ‘parasocial’ where a celebrity to a fan will always be in a higher position of emotional power – naturally the fan receives a lot of the celebrity, while the celebrity doesn’t receive a lot of the fan. 

“It spooks me, and Twitch has allowed me to talk to fans and get to know these people. I’ve created this lovely community, and they’re just so funny and kind!”

Montaigne is hopeful that her community connection can be expanded further through the Express Yourself showcase. A panel of judges is set to select two of the emerging artists to perform at a Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras event in 2021, and Montaigne hopes these opportunities will allow aspiring musos to do what “they were born to do”. 

“People are trying to do creative jobs and do what they were born to do. Venues are the hot springs of opportunity and income for people who work in those fields – live performance is basically the only lucrative work opportunity for musical creatives,” she said, before steering into a discussion about the evils of music-streaming giants and the under-appreciation of art.

The showcase is taking place as a part of Great Southern Nights, a new initiative to resurrect the live music industry with 1,000 Covid-safe gigs across NSW in November. 

Performers on stage at Mardi Gras Fair Day. Mardi Gras is bringing queer performers to the forefront with their inaugural Express Yourself – Queer Discovery showcase. Photo: Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras/supplied.

Montaigne hopes this reintroduction to live music not only lands queer musicians some paying gigs, but will allow people to see themselves reflected on-stage. 

“It’s important to have these events, opportunities and spaces and representatives that reflect queer people back at them, so that they feel like they themselves can achieve what other queers can.

“Music and art connects people in a way nothing else does, and it fosters a spirit of togetherness and fun – it’s what human being really need,” she said.

The Express Yourself – Queer Discovery showcase kicks off at 6pm on Saturday, 28 November at The Beresford Upstairs. While the event is free, ticket registration is required and seats are limited – so get in quick!

If you’re interested in gaming with Montaigne, you can visit her Twitch streams at www.twitch.tv/actualmontaigne.