The starch-stiffened Elizabethan ruff Jess Cerro wears on the cover of her new album Complex was a garment popular with the European noble and academic classes in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For Cerro, it’s a nod to her moniker and French philosopher namesake Montaigne, but it also signifies an equal and not-so-opposite approach to life.
“I am an academic person, I’m a bookish person, and I was really studious at school,” she says, “but it is also a clown thing, too. Just because you’re intelligent doesn’t mean you have to be self-righteous or a dickhead about it. It doesn’t mean you can’t also be goofy and silly and not take yourself seriously – that’s important to me.”
Curiosity and imagination are threaded throughout Complex, as is the passionate eloquence of a musician whose messages span her insular, macro environment (personal insecurities, relationship anxieties) way out into socio-political beliefs and how to rally fellow believers. “I think [imagination] is what facilitates curiosity,” she says. “Playfulness is conducive to the open mind, or being creative. It’s kind of how I’ve got through my whole life, too. Growing up I went through some f-cking tough stuff, and continue to, and if I didn’t have a sense of humour [or] my creative outlet to deal with it, I think I would be pretty f-cked. But I’m not! That’s an important thing to me.”
She describes her favourite parts of the record as “just the consequence of mucking around in a studio and feeling free, trying things,” with venerated musician and producer Dave Sitek (TV on the Radio, Foals, Weezer, Yeah Yeah Yeahs). “He’s just an amazing human being,” Cerro attests.
It probably wasn’t a randomly-flung idea of Sitek’s or Cerro’s to open the album with the marching snare drum, noble horns, and cymbal crashes of CHANGE; likewise, the album’s other all-caps track is its closer, READY, which connects and closes the arc. “CHANGE has the same energy of READY, but it’s a bit more manic – ‘I want to cry’, that kind of energy, where I’m trying to be an open hearted, tolerant person, but I’m being met with these intransigent idiots who don’t want to do what is best for other people,” Cerro explains. “I think that is a really appropriate beginning to the album because it is a lot of struggle – not just interpersonal, but intrapersonal. And I think READY is then going out and being like, ‘Actually, now I believe in myself, and now I’ve just got to fight.’”
Complex by Montaigne is out August 30 via Sony.
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