Ninajirachi is quite the in-demand producer, so much so that Montaigne, one of Australia’s most established and sonically interesting pop performers of the last several years, reached out to her before her debut mixtape had even dropped.
The result was “One Long Firework in the Sky”, one of the standout tracks from Ninajirachi’s first mixtape, Second Nature, a title that could describe her accelerating gift for electronic music at this point.
Having been a finalist in triple j’s Unearthed many years ago, Second Nature has been a long time coming, but it somehow just feels like the beginning for Ninajirachi; collaborations with Montaigne and fellow acclaimed pop star Kota Banks don’t just happen to any producer before their first full-length album.
It was also a productive year for Montaigne, with her third studio album, making It!, dropping in September, a striking dive into hyper-pop that drew praise from critics.
As this busy year drew to a close, Rolling Stone AU/NZ asked the two collaborators to discuss their music together. You can read Ninajirachi and Montaigne’s free-flowing conversation below, where they discuss their respective recording process, theatrical live shows, Discord and everything in between.
Ninajirachi’s Second Nature is out now via NLV Records.
Montaigne (M): Do you remember how we ended up deciding to do a songwriting session together?!
Ninajirachi (N): I think you hit me up.
M: That sounds right!
N: But we had worked together before at a camp. I think you hit me up in that time in 2020 when Sydney wasn’t completely open but you could do things in small groups. It wasn’t a dicey time for COVID.
M: And I’m so glad we did because now we have this cool song together. I kept thinking that I wanted to hang out with you, like non-professionally, because we have a flow in conversation that’s really nice.
N: Definitely! We’ve had a couple of sessions now and every time it’s been like four hours of talking and two hours of making music. When I’m back in Sydney we’ve got to go climbing.
M: Oh, we’ve got to go bouldering! We should definitely do that. Anyway, I think it’s in the press release or somewhere like that, but I said that our song is the horniest song I’ve ever made. It’s funny but also true.
It’s a nice foray into writing in that world because I used to feel like I was the kind of person who couldn’t write a song like that. I felt out of touch with my sexuality and all that stuff.
N: I feel very privileged to have added the means! We did have a lot of boy talk in those sessions, especially because it was in a time when – I don’t know about you – I wasn’t spending a lot of time with my friends because we couldn’t. I was also single at the time so I didn’t have a boyfriend to hang out with. It was so nice to hang out with another person I had so much in common with. There was so much to talk about!
I wanted to ask something: you’re so versatile and so comfortable in so many different worlds, and this year you also released a song with Hilltop Hoods, who are such a different artist to me. If there was a Montaigne Venn diagram, where would the parts overlap with me and Hilltop Hoods?
M: (laughs) That’s so funny. I’d say spiritually I sit more at the Ninajirachi end. Like you said, I do so many different things, and that’s because I’m interested in everything and I find it hard to make choices that lead me down a monotonous path.
I would guest on a metal song or a folk song if the opportunity arose and I liked the artist and felt that I resonated with them. But right now I’m very into the electronic, sexy twinkly bangers thing.
N: I’ve never had the chance to meet them (Hilltop Hoods) but they’re such icons. The Hilltop Hoods to Ninajirachi pipeline is through Montaigne! This year you also released your third full-length album which is amazing. I was wondering what your biggest learning moments were between each of those three big releases?
M: I think the biggest was production stuff. For the first one I was too scared to ask about production stuff. On the second one a few of the producers I worked with were actively encouraging me to pay attention to the production stuff. And by this one with Dave (Hammer), I was very much wanting to know what was happening for once. That made making this last record different, I felt like I could steer to where I wanted with more precise instruction.
Anyway, congratulations on your mixtape, I’ve been listening to it and I love it so much. It’s so good. I’m so glad I can finally hear the songs and play them on loop.
N: Thank you. I’m so glad you like it because you have such an amazing palette. I’m truly flattered and I’m so glad you’re part of it as well! How did you come to meet Dave and start working with him?
M: Dave worked on some of the Genesis Owusu stuff that came out in 2020. “Don’t Need You” came out and I was like, ‘holy shit this rules.’ Dave was already keen because he knew of me and was a fan. We had apparently also met in passing at a songwriting camp years ago. He remembered but I didn’t remember.
We hooked up a session and did a song during the day. It was so good, he worked so quickly, and a big thing for me is people working quickly because I work quickly. I find it interrupts the flow if you’re deliberating on things too long in a session. We kept doing sessions and it kept being really good.
He’s very encouraging and positive and pays a lot of compliments, which I like, and made me feel good and safe about the process. He’s also really into pop music, Charli XCX and hyperpop, so we were on the same wavelength and shared music with each other. Now he’s a good friend of mine and I love him very much. Have you worked with him?
N: I actually have. I had a session with him in maybe 2019, and we worked on a song that we never finished. But he’s working on some music with Kota Banks that I’ve heard, and for a while I was going to work on it as well but I was too busy with Second Nature. It’s so good, it’s one of Kota’s best songs. What song of mine did you hear before hitting me up for a session?
M: It was Blumiere EP. I was like, ‘this is so fucking good.’ Every single song on that is a huge banger, I still listen to the whole thing. I really love the way you write songs, I think you have a natural way with it and a distinct style. And the production as well is actually the kind of thing I like.
N: That is so cool to hear because putting out music where I’m the songwriter and singer is new to me. And also you’re incredible so that’s a massive compliment.
M: Likewise. The way music and time works now is weird because you make a body of work and release it and it’s already time for the next thing! Are you going to hang out with this release and enjoy it and savour it or are you already thinking about the next thing?
N: I’m already thinking about the next thing, for sure. I thought over this EP for too long. Making a full-length is hard but writing and producing a full-length is another thing. It’s an indie release as well so I’m doing the visuals and stuff too of course.
This LA trip I’m on is the first time I’ve made new music in six months. I’m very ready to make a new thing. I know what you mean though. It’s like when you do press and they’re like, ‘so what’s next?’ and you’re like, ‘I dunno! I’m not telling you that!’
M: I don’t know what stuff is going to look like in three months let alone six. I’ve been working on things on and off sporadically for the last couple of years. Once I’m resettled in my life, I’m going to have a music set-up to be making things.
I have one more record with my label so maybe I’ll just do a hard pop sellout album to make them happy and have some money and then I’ll fuck off and do an indie thing, a weird thing that I want. We’ll see.
N: I would be so interested to hear what a full-blown pop record from Montaigne would sound like.
M: Me too!
N: I would love to help you make it.
M: I’d love that! We should definitely do some sessions soon. When you’re back and settled and not on tour.
N: I’m just so keen to make stuff again. I’ve got a few shows until January, but after that I’m making music. Something else I wanted to ask about was your Discord server and streaming. That’s another world where we cross over. Since you started those, has it changed the way you make music?
M: I made none of my album on stream. That was always just in private corners with Dave. I got my chops going with production on streams though. I just started making silly quick-decision songs on streams in front of people and it did the job.
It made me be like, ‘oh, I can do this.’ People were enjoying it and they were encouraging. I’ve started record-worthy songs on streams but generally people are just there to spectate. I enjoy the instant gratification! It makes me want to do it more. You’ve told me you’d like to do it as well?
N: I’ve got my Discord server running now. They helped me build the Second Nature world.
M: What do you mean?
N: Have you had a chance to check it out?
M: No! Send me the link!
N: All these algorithms are so bad now, no one sees what I post. Basically for the mixtape release, we built an interactive online world. All the assets in it were built by people in my Discord server, it’s really cool.
M: That’s sick! That’s shit I’ve wanted to do on album releases. It makes me kind of depressed that I haven’t been able to achieve that yet but I’m also inspired.
N: I’ve only had my server for a year but it’s been really nice. Having a group of people react makes it feel so real, like you’re in a big group chat with people. And I do want to start streaming. I did a few guest streams and stuff in lockdown and I loved it. It’s like what you said, you’re so productive and inspired there because people are watching you. I can’t just pause and check my phone. I’ll look so boring, I need to entertain these people! So I always come out with a beat or a song.
M: Just the practice is cool.
N: Before I came to the US, I was in Australia for two weeks and I said I’d start streaming but I didn’t! I will start, that’s my massive goal for 2023 at the latest.
M: I always stream the least when I’ve got shows on. I’ll hopefully go back to it again once I’m settled. Tour time is impossible.
N: I don’t think we spoke since I saw your show but congratulations, it was stunning.
M: It was a fun time. I made them a little bit silly. I don’t think there are many shows where it’s pop music but I’m talking for 50% of the time!
N: I loved it! I would love to do that at my shows but it’s dance music so it’s hard.
M: It was an interesting experiment in the structure of the show, having silly bits. The set design wasn’t pulled together properly so it was just me putting my tour manager in an astronaut costume (laughs). Maybe I should do more of that weird shit. Just fun and stupid and not edgy and sophisticated. It was a fun space to try that out. Do you have any fun prop comedy bits in your show?!
N: I’m DJing most of the time! There are DJs that do that stuff, the big EDM DJs, like Steve Aoki will throw a cake into the audience. I don’t even like to talk on the microphone, I’m a little bit shy.
M: I didn’t expect you to do prop comedy, just so you know! I don’t want you to feel peer-pressured.
N: Next time you see one of my shows, you never know!