At a recent show in London, Nic Cester, frontman for Australian power-rock quartet Jet, collapsed not once, but twice on stage as the band performed new material from its third album, “Shaka Rock.” After the first fall, his bandmates (including his brother, drummer Chris) finished the song and Cester eventually popped up and cracked a joke about having swine flu. But after the second, he was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital and treated for dehydration. The band’s tour resumed on schedule two days later.
That type of resilience has become routine for the members of Jet, who have seen their share of ups and downs in the past six years.
Blast spoke with the Cester siblings earlier this year (pre-fainting) about the making of “Shaka Rock” which was released in the U.S. on August 25. Unlike other sibling bandmates, say, for instance, (the now-defunct?) Oasis, the Cesters try to keep whatever tumult exists in their relationship out of the spotlight. They come off as goofy and affable, an at times comic duo who both claim allergies to aluminum and Lady Gaga.
“Shaka Rock” is Jet’s first offering in three years. After they finished touring behind their previous record, 2006’s “Shine On” the band members took a much-needed hiatus, to regroup individually and collectively from a roller coaster ride that had begun three years earlier.
Jet found near-instant success in the wake their debut album, 2003’s “Get Born” which spawned the hit singles “Cold Hard Bitch” and “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” the latter of which was used in an Apple commercial. The Cesters admit their sudden, explosive rise to fame left them feeling dazed.
“I have no memory of 2003″ said Chris, 27. “It really was just one big show and one big canopy and one big whiskey slug. It was pretty nuts.”
While both gushed about being able to share stages with the likes of the Rolling Stones, they said the monotony of touring can be less than inspiring.
“(Musicians) are the kind of people, generally speaking “¦ that want to sort of be excited, and they generally are excitable individuals” Chris said. “On tour, that usually results in, you drink yourself to sleep every night because you’re going out of your fucking mind. So, touring can really rip you apart.”
The band’s follow-up, “Shine On” was marred by the death of Chris and Nic’s father, who inspired the title track. Chris describes the time surrounding “Shine On” as “a black hole.”
“Mentally, physically … just, we were fucked up” he said.
After taking time off and with both tragedy and triumph behind them, the band set out to make “Shaka Rock” with a healthier outlook and nothing to lose.
“I think we definitely felt a lot of pressure the last time (after the success of “ËœGet Born’), but this time we didn’t really feel as much pressure at all” Nic said. “We always put a lot of pressure on ourselves, but this time there was a noticeable lack of. We were in a happier place in our lives, and we’d been through some serious shit and got through it. And, (we’re) stronger and more equipped. So, I think it was a really good, natural sort of energy that these songs were borne from.”
The band channeled the positive vibes into a large-scale comeback concert of sorts, with an appearance at the Sound Relief benefit this past March for victims of the Australian wildfires.Jet played two televised shows in one day, one in Melbourne and one in Sydney, debuting new material in front of tens of thousands of audience members and countless other TV viewers.
“What a way to walk back onto a stage” said Chris, widening his eyes. “I think everything sort of feels sort of better, including being able to come back on stage for the right reason, having produced your own album, and doing something beneficial to everybody else and playing for such a huge crowd. It’s just like, I haven’t felt this sort of confidence and happiness about doing what we do since our first record.”
Their sense of ownership is not misplaced. The band decided to adopt a new approach on nearly every aspect of the production of “Shaka Rock.
“Sitting down to write a record can be a real fucking drag if you don’t explore different ways of going about it” Chris said matter-of-factly. “You need to find ways to keep yourself interested.”
“We just thought it was time to do something a little different than what we’d done in the past” added Nic. “We took every measure to set that up. “¦ We got away from L.A., and we changed record companies and we changed management. We shook things up and we ended up with an album that really sounds like we have.”
First up was a change in scenery. “Shaka Rock” was written and recorded in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as U.S. locales including Miami, Brooklyn, and Austin, Texas.
With the four band members spread out across the globe (in Italy, Australia, Los Angeles and London), the tracks were written, produced and rehearsed in different locales out of necessity.
“It can be a pain in the ass sometimes, but one of the positives that comes with that is that, every time we meet it’s in an interesting part of the world” Nic said. “And you really get the buzz off the energy that place has to offer for a while. It’s kind of fun, especially because we’re kind of gypsies by nature, and we’re kind of used to traveling a lot.”
The geographical new direction is reflected throughout the record “" both overtly, as on the bluesy “Goodbye Hollywood” and more subtly, on the summer-y disco track “Beat on Repeat” which was recorded in Miami.
“I think Australians are generally like that” Chris said. “Often we can’t agree on one spot, because we can’t go to London, (for instance), because then (guitarist Cam Muncey) just gets to go home every night and we have to stay in a fucking hotel room. So we tend to move around.”
Some of the new approaches that resulted in “Shaka Rock” however, were not so calculated. An accident with a kitchen knife, for instance, forced the multi-instrumentalist Chris to begin composing songs on bass rather than guitar.
“When I returned (from a post-breakup vacation in Morocco) there was literally nothing in the house” he recalled. “So, for the first time in my life I thought, well, yeah, I like to cook. So, I’ll go down and buy myself some German steel knives, like really good knives so I can cut anything. And then literally about half an hour “" ”
“They really can cut anything” Nic interjected.
“Yeah, it can cut human flesh. I can attest to that” Chris affirmed. “I actually chopped the top of my finger off. “¦ So I had to learn how to play the bass, and that had a huge influence, a really dramatic influence, on the way I write songs. It’s more about rhythm.”
One thing Jet has stuck to is the tried and true swagger rock style a la AC/DC and the Rolling Stones that propelled the band’s popularity in the first place. Though the band members began expanding their musical horizons between records, listening to more electronically-tinged acts like Daft Punk, don’t look for any bells and whistles on “Shaka Rock” aside from the occasional pre-programmed hand clap.
“I don’t really abide by the electronic background track” explained Chris. “I think it’s cheating, to be honest. So, while we’re inspired by a lot of those sort of newer things, we definitely kept it organic. It was just sort of more from an inspirational standpoint, rather than trying to capture the same sort of sonic ideas.”
Acting as co-producers on the album gave the band more control over which elements they wanted to incorporate and to what extent.
“I was a bit concerned about how that was gonna go down, because obviously we’d never done it before and basically there was five producers in the room at any one time” Nic recalled. “That immediately resulted in a different sonic sound, and a bit more of an exploratory thing, because we’re just a bunch of guys in a room, having fun, trying shit out.”
But both say the process turned out to be a relatively smooth one, likely due to the fact that they’ve been friends with guitarist Cam Muncey and bassist Mark Wilson since they were all teenagers.
“We all write and we all have completely different outlooks on life, and they often don’t agree with each other” Chris said. “(But) I think often with one guy or one girl who’s running the show, it can really sort of be monotonous. “¦ I don’t want to hear two songs about one thing. If I want that, I’ll buy a Britney Spears record.”
Of course, some of the tension in the studio inevitably comes from an innate sibling rivalry between the Cesters. But both say that they consider all their bandmates brothers, even if they are the only two who are related by blood.
“Your brother really is the first person you want in a band, and the last person you want in a band” Chris said. “It’s an interesting dichotomy.”
“Obviously, it’s a big factor” according to Nic. “It is really difficult sometimes, and sometimes it’s really fun. … The good thing is there’s always one guy in the band that we all agree is an asshole for a while, and it just keeps switching around. We all get a turn.”
Kidding aside, though, one gets the sense that it’s this family dynamic that has allowed Jet to persevere where other groups have faltered, to adapt and grow rather than giving up.
“To be honest, there’s really nothing that we haven’t had to face as a band together” Chris said. “We’ve had massive success and we’ve had disappointment. You see what it’s like to be loved and to be hated, and you just get to a point in your career and your life … where you just go, fuck “Ëœem all. Just make your music, basically.”
“The music always brings you back” he went on. “It’s like a good friend that you always have no matter what happens in your life. That’s what’s so precious about rock ‘n’ roll in particular, I think. There’s a lot of great genres and there’s a lot of things that I enjoy, but nothing really has that personal, close feeling that rock “Ëœn’ roll has. It really is just like your best friend, because it never lets you down.”
I like this interview a lot, especially the part about electronic backing tracks being “cheating.” I think these guys have a good head on their shoulders and I respect them for doing what they do, regardless of whether or not it’s trendy. It reminds me of another interview they did with Walmart Soundcheck (http://soundcheck.walmart.com/risers/jet) where they talk about the Aussie music scene and recording in Texas.