Interview: Nic Cester

Nic Cester, best known for his tenure as frontman of legendary rock outfit Jet, spent several years out of the public eye after the group dissolved in 2012. Following a stint spent travelling Europe and eventually relocating to Italy, Cester knuckled down to write and record his debut solo album, Sugar Rush, set to hit shelves on November 3. The album showcases a phenomenal side to Cester’s diverse musicality and marks a radical departure from his days of Aussie rock’n’roll.

CLIQUE sat down to have a chat with the musician about the process behind writing the album, the recent reunion of Jet as well as getting some recommendations for his favourite Italian hotspots. Get keen to hear his new music — we promise you won’t be disappointed!

I had a listen to Sugar Rush last night and it’s a pretty amazing album. It delves into everything from blues, psychedelia and folk, just to name a few — how did it all come together?

I guess coincidentally — I wasn’t really trying, I didn’t have a record deal, I didn’t have a band, I didn’t have any expectations. I just started writing and I had the freedom to do anything I wanted. I’ve always listened to all sorts of genres despite the fact that I was in a rock’n’roll band for a long time. I just had fun. I booked myself some time in the studio and went to work three days a week and did whatever I wanted, and in doing so, I fell in love with music again and got really inspired and excited.

So when did you start writing the album and getting ideas for it?

I moved to Berlin four or five years ago, and that’s when it all started. I hadn’t really done anything musical for five or six years, but when I moved I was anonymous again and [it] felt like a brand new beginning. That helped give me the freedom and the confidence to start again and take some risks. That’s when the whole process began. I was writing for on and off for about two years, and slowly it all came together. Then I met with the producer Jim Abbiss and the recording took on more of a serious nature, and [I] finally finished it.

What did you keep busy with in between the disbanding of Jet and writing your solo stuff?

I was drinking a lot of wine! I did a lot of travelling [with] my wife. After Jet split up I was a bit lost and not quite sure what to do next, so we travelled around for a while. I went back to school, actually, and studied German for four months, and I was studying Italian at the same time as well.

It was good for my ego to be sitting in a classroom, just being a regular Joe in a classroom with a bunch of strangers, having to be organised and disciplined again and actually apply myself to something completely different.

What was it like working with Jim Abbiss on the album?

It was good. It was really necessary for what I was doing because two-and-a-half years before he got involved, it was just me on my own in a room, playing all the instruments myself. I think one of the best skills to have is to be able to be objective about your own [work], but after working alone for such a long time, I kind of wanted that objectivity of working with someone else. It was necessary because I got too close to everything, so it was good to have some fresh ears, eyes and ideas to help round it off and get the songs up to where they needed to be.

As well as kicking off your solo career, I’ve read that you’ve also opened a restaurant.

Yeah, with Sergio, the drummer [from my backing band]. It was his project that he’d been working on with a friend of his for like a year, and my own family background is more from the food industry. Me and Chris were the first two in our family to do anything outside of the world of food. [Sergio and I would] have drinks and talk and at a certain point he just said, “why don’t you do this with me?” So I said okay, and all of a sudden I find myself opening a restaurant with my drummer. It was certainly an unexpected thing, but it’s been a lot of fun, a lot of hard work.

What led to the reformation of Jet last year?

Just timing. I was finishing up my solo album, so I was in a pretty happy place musically for the first time in a long time, and I felt like something that I needed to do for a long time I was now finishing, and coincidentally we all met up in Australia — which was the first time in like five years or something — and we all realised that enough time had passed that we forgot about all the unhappy things and were able to just talk about the good times again. There’s been lots of offers over the years but none of the offers coincided with a moment that felt right, so we all tentatively agreed and ended up having quite a good time. So we agreed to do a few more shows and see how it goes. You know, no real big plans other than just keep playing, see how we feel about it for now.

That would be a much nicer approach to take, rather than feeling the pressure of writing new music.

It’s true, it’s kind of weird. With Jet, we were so young. Our first album was written when I was like, seventeen. The songs that appeared on the album were the first songs we ever wrote. None of us expected the success that first album was gonna have. It just meant that from day one there was always enormous pressure around everything we were doing. So it’s kind of nice to just play these songs for fun with no expectation, we get to sort of have a gap year or something.

To wrap up, what are some of your must-see destinations in Italy?

I really love Milan. Milan was a city that I came to kind of reluctantly in the beginning. I thought it was a bit industrial, and compared to a lot of other Italian cities, the more famous ones, it doesn’t have that good a reputation. Interestingly, it’s a city that’s not [superficially beautiful] but it’s full of hidden secrets, which, if you spend enough time there can be more rewarding. You have to earn it, and once you discover these places it’s a really fantastic city.

Specifically, there’s an area called Navigli. Milan used to be a series of canals quite like Amsterdam, but unfortunately they were all filled in during the fascist era. But there’s two of those original canals that are left where all of the nightlife is, all of the restaurants and bars and stuff. I’d been coming [to Milan] for years before I even came upon it, it’s strange because it’s so beautiful but it’s not really in any of the tourist books.

Sugar Rush will be available from November 3. Keep up to date with Nic Cester here.

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