Interview: Montaigne’s new SBS musical finds the humour in the housing affordability crisis

Interview: Montaigne’s new SBS musical finds the humour in the housing affordability crisis

Words By Peter Hodgson

The housing affordability crisis is no laughing matter, and yet there’s a dark humour just below the surface that’s painfully hilarious.

Most of us have had it with shitty landlords, shoddy apartments, crappy flatmates and escalating costs, and that’s before you even set foot into the hellscape that is trying to get a foothold on the property ladder.

Sometimes the only way to disarm all of this dismay is to take a dig at it. That’s exactly what SBS’s The Feed has done with Time To Buy, an episode-length original musical about the Australian housing market. Feed regulars Vic Zerbst, Jenna Owen and Alex Lee are joined by Montaigne (Eurovision), Tom Cardy (Triple J Hottest 100), Susie Youssef (The Project), Marty Alix (Hamilton) and Rob Carlton (Paper Giants) for a depressingly funny look at the hurdles, setbacks and obstacles to simply living a home life.

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Montaigne, who plays one half of a couple looking to get out of their nightmare of a share house and into a home of their own, didn’t have to dig too deep to connect with her character. “I paid really cheap rent in my first share house – I think it was like $150 a week in Surry Hills in this house of five or six people, and it was cheap because it was falling apart! Like, one of the bathroom windows had rotted out, so in winter we just had to bear with how cold it was in there. There were several rats living in the property and that was just a pain, really difficult to get out. There was a hole in the kitchen floor going to another floor below! It was great for being 19 and not having that much money and just needing somewhere to live.”

The songs of Time To Buy are silly, catchy and fun (including a killer cat-flap joke), with Montainge deftly swinging between acting and singing with that heavenly, beautifully natural voice that has propelled hits of her own, wowed Eurovision and been heard in collaboration with everyone from Hilltop Hoods to Aunty Donna.

How does one develop such a natural and yet technically flawless style? “I grew up singing a lot,” she says simply. “I have a sister who sings and so we’d sit in the back of the car with the radio on and practice our harmonies to our favorite song on the radio. And also, my grandma is an excellent classically-trained singer, piano player and guitar player. I didn’t hang out with her heaps growing up but the genes are there!”

This effortless-yet-otherworldly delivery is all over Time To Buy, hitting that perfect balance of the sincerity of the performance and the silliness of the lyrical content. Of course, selling comedy isn’t a new thing for Montaigne, whose choruses to Aunty Donna’s ‘The Best Freestylers In The World’ are simultaneously musically epic and comedically classic.

“I met Aunty Donna at Splendour In The Grass in like 2015 or 16 or something like that,” she says. “We were both playing, and then they all came to my set straight afterwards and we connected over mutual appreciation. And we’ve all gone to Disneyland together in LA and hung out a bunch, and I have a nice music correspondence with Mark Bonano who is really into music. So they asked me to do that song and I had to write the lyrics and the melody. It came fairly quickly. I went and saw the Carole King musical in Sydney with my grandma, and for some reason, after arriving home at about 11pm I suddenly had this brain wave and the whole thing came to me.”

The connection between musicians and comedians has always been a great springboard for creativity. Clearly the two art forms come from a similar place. “I’ve always had friends in comedy,” Montaigne says. “We have so many talented comedians in Australia, but I think they’re often outside the mainstream of comedy, because the mainstream is not as weird. And I like the weird stuff, like Tom Walker and Demi Lardner and Aunty Donna and all these guys. I love stuff which is very bizarre and probably challenging to the average person.”

Other than Time To Buy, Montaigne’s other big offering at the moment is ‘Always Be You,’ an adorable pop ditty that features one Mr. David Byrne of Talking Heads (even his legendary bicycle makes an appearance in the video). “It’s pretty amazing,” Montaigne says of the collaboration. “It kinda feels unreal because it was all done over email and online, but it’s pretty sick! It’s kinda the thing I’ve always wanted and I feel very grateful.”

Time to Buy airs on Tuesday 8 March on SBS On Demand or you can watch The Feed weekly at 10pm.