How Nic Cester went from Australia’s biggest band to going it alone

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How Nic Cester went from Australia’s biggest band to going it alone


When answering questions, Nic Cester – singer, songwriter, frontman of Jet and blossoming solo artist – has the tendency to start his responses the same way. Each answer begins with a variation on “to be honest” or “if I’m being honest.” It’s a small observation, but not one to be ignored – Cester is putting himself out there and allowing himself to be a little more vulnerable. There has no doubt been instances in the past where Cester has been a cog in the wheel, spouting press release quote after press release quote. There’s something about this, however, that feels different. Even though he’s days away from releasing Sugar Rush, his debut solo LP, Cester seems to be in a position where he feels like he’s got nothing to prove – this is all just for fun; for the love of making music.

“One of the biggest reasons why Jet came to an end in the first place is because it just wasn’t fun for me anymore,” says Cester. “Unfortunately, the friendships in that band had become pretty tense by that point. It all added up – the pressure in that band was building up from day dot. We were young. We were doing a lot of foolish things. I was burnt out, emotionally and artistically. I think after five years of disappearing from view, I was able to get to a point of being excited by music again – and that’s honestly the best part. It’s the most important thing to me again.”

Indeed, Cester has not done his return to the world of music by halves. Not only did Jet reunite for a series of high-profile shows, including sets at Taronga Zoo and Hanging Rock, but Cester made his first-ever ventures into performing under his own name. With a new backing band, the Milano Elletrica, Cester has already performed at Bluesfest, in London, in Sydney and in his native Melbourne; playing songs from Sugar Rush live for the very first time. It may seem quite the leap, going from doing no shows at all to making such a full-scale return, but Cester assures there’s been no noticeable rust in his performance.

“It’s honestly just really nice to be back,” he says. “I’m finding real pleasure in being musical again – whether that’s playing the songs I wrote back when I was 18 or finally playing the brand-new stuff that I’d been sitting on for nearly a year. It’s really fun for me again. I felt as though I had unfinished business with regards to writing music. Being able to confront that was a really constructive, cathartic thing.”

Cester was able to do that by starting from scratch – literally entering a recording studio with only his instruments in tow, not even so much as a melody written. Sugar Rush came to formation while Cester was living in Berlin, in what he describes as “the cheapest studio I could find.”

“There was no plan,” he says. “I didn’t even have the idea of doing an album at that point. This was really about seeing if I was still able to do it. It was about regaining my confidence. Soon enough, it all came into focus and I was able to find that creativity again. As the vision for this music became clearer, so did my confidence. I found a real freedom in being able to go wherever I wanted musically. For the first time ever in my life, I didn’t have a band. I didn’t have a record label. I didn’t even have management. I was free to make music how I wanted to make it, playing music in the same way I did when I was starting out as a teenager in my bedroom.”

This freedom lead to Cester being able to explore musical territory that was never on the cards as far as Jet were concerned. Sugar Rush sees the vocalist entering the further realms of psychedelia, vintage pop and ’70s grooves. You can tell it’s the same voice behind hits like ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’ and ‘Rollover DJ’, but it’s far removed from the pubs that first made it famous. According to Cester, Sugar Rush is a natural extension of his own tastes in music – perhaps even more than Jet was ever able to accomplish. “I would say that all of my favourite albums are quite eclectic,” he says.

“Genre, for me, has always been completely irrelevant. I just like music, y’know? I like good songs. I don’t care what genre they belong to. That’s just who I am. With Jet, it wasn’t exactly possible to do that – it wasn’t within our framework for a variety of reasons. I feel like making this album was a real escape, in that sense. I set out to make music that I was drawn to personally – something that I’d want to listen to.”

Nic Cester and the Milano Elletrica had only been playing together for two weeks when they got the call to perform at Bluesfest. Although their maiden voyage was certainly a baptism by fire, he is glad they did it – after all, he reasons, “The more time you have, the more time you take.”

“I probably would have procrastinated in putting a show together otherwise,” he says. “The end result was honestly better than I could have ever hoped for.”