Like a lot of Sydneysiders, Australian singer-songwriter Montaigne was low-key during the three months between March and June last year under COVID lockdown, pottering in her garden, playing video games; and giving herself a dramatic haircut.
Inspired by Tumblr and Pinterest pictures modelling colourful buzzcuts etched with patterns; she enlisted the help of hairdresser Prescillo, a fellow gamer, who became the official stylist for Australia’s 2021 Eurovision contestant.
“I didn’t know you could do that! Make those patterns in your hair, and I was like 'I want to do that'!’ the 25-year-old told SBS Voices.
“Prior to colouring my hair I’d already shaved it off. My partner had undergone the shaved head look before I did, and a month or two after I was like, 'My hair is getting too long and I think I should just shave it off too'."
“As soon as it was off, I was like, 'this was great!'…I like how I feel with it and it’s easy to maintain.”
The quiet period marked a creative renaissance for Jessica Cerro (her stage name comes from French philosopher Montaigne) who used the time to move away from the pressure of making music. “The pandemic was a really welcome break from things I had the responsibility of doing and I was able to do things I was just curious about and wanted to do."
Living in a share house at the time with a large backyard gave her the opportunity to try her hand at gardening: “I tried my hand at planting as many things; and buying seeds, and repotting things.” It was an apt metaphor for her slowdown, allowing her to rest and germinate new ideas.
“Like a lot of people I didn’t have anything to write about at that point. I read a lot about other creatives; about their processes and views on creativity; and my favourite idea or theory about writers' block is, there’s no such thing as writers' block, you just run out of things to say.
"It’s a natural thing for everyone to undergo. One day you’ll have things to say again but it’s not now, and that’s how I felt at the time. I have nothing to say about this moment and I don’t feel compelled to try.”
Relieved from the pressure to produce, she added skateboarding, sessions of video game Animal Crossing, and watching streaming site Twitch to her list of hobbies. She also went down a rabbit hole of discovering retro hyperpop videos – a genre of exaggerated pop music as well as animated kids' shows like Disney's Kim Possible and Totally Spies!. It would eventually become the creative inspiration for her new look and sound; paving the way for her to pen her Eurovision song entry ‘Technicolour’.
“Once I started making music again after the break, I was making different music… It went from very placid and quiet and slow to very fast and intense and full throttle pretty suddenly.”
"Once I started making music again after the break, I was making different music"
It was this freedom to dabble and play that was key to her creative nimbleness. Montaigne, who doesn’t drink, practices meditation and is a vegan, was almost on track to play soccer professionally. “It’s why I couldn’t be a professional footballer – 100 per cent of your time is eating, training, sleeping early. I was just not interested in living a homogenous life.”
It’s the second year the artist will not be able to travel to the Netherlands’ Rotterdam for Eurovision after last year’s Covid-cancelled contest. Despite being grounded in Australia again, it was another chance to compete in the revived live show. She hopes the excitement build-up will begin closer to the 5am SBS broadcast of her live performance on Wednesday, pre-filmed in front of crowds at Sydney's March Mardi Gras.
“I’m not heaps good at creating a vibe, I’m mostly self-serious and anxious; but I’d like to do some things with my family and friends for sure and that will make it feel more fulfilling,” she said.
“The final moment where I get to watch me live on the screen amongst the show, with my friends and family, it will feel like closure.”
The 2021 Eurovision Song Contest, held in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, will be broadcast exclusively on SBS in Australia from 19 to 23 May. Stay tuned to the SBS Eurovision website for updates: sbs.com.au/Eurovision. Join the conversation #SBSEurovision #ESC2021