Nic Cester – circa 2006
“So one, two, three, take my hand and come with me / Because you look so fine / And I really wanna make you mine” – ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’ (Nic Cester, Cameron Muncey)
A tambourine shakes. A bass guitar shuffle picks out a melody. Somebody clears their throat. A stern drumbeat is laid down. An electric guitar sparks up with a sound like someone has stuck their finger in an electrical socket. A chugging rhythm guitar propels the song forward. And then the vocals start…This is the introduction to ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’ by Australian rock band Jet. For most people, it is also their introduction to Jet in any way, shape or form. Although this song may start this way, the story of the band of course starts at an earlier point.
Nic Cester is born Nicholas John Cester on 6 July 1979. His father, John Cester, is Australian born but of Italian parentage. John Cester runs a spice factory. Nic’s mother is Scottish. Nic’s uncle on his father’s side is Eugene Cester, who performs as Eugene De La Hot Croix Bun with T.I.S.M. (This Is Serious, Mum), an Australian band of musical pranksters. Nic claims it was watching his uncle play guitar that made him want to take up the instrument.
Nic Cester is the eldest of four brothers. Also crucial to the story of Jet is Nic’s younger sibling, Chris Cester (born 16 September 1980). Nic and Chris Cester grow up in Dingley Village, in the suburbs of the State of Victoria. They attend St Bede’s College in Mentone. Cameron Muncey (born 4 February 1980) is a school friend of Nic’s and the two boys decide to put together a band. Like most school boy bands, this outfit duly runs its course. In 1996, Nic and Cameron decide to start again, this time including Nic’s younger brother, Chris, on drums.
By 2001 Chris Cester is working as a forklift operator in a local factory (perhaps the family business?). The band he formed with Chris Cester and Cameron Muncey is now rounded out by keyboardist Jason Doukas, an old High School friend of Chris, and bassist Doug Armstrong, whom the Cester boys met while working at their father’s spice factory. In this form, they play their first professional gigs and take the band name, Jet. Allegedly, the name is chosen because it is short and so will be written larger on advertisements where multiple bands are listed. Given the boys’ interest in ‘classic rock’, it may also be inspired by the Paul McCartney And Wings song, ‘Jet’.
Jason Doukas’ stay in the band proves brief. The new four-piece Jet secure a regular gig at the Duke of Windsor, a pub in Chapel Street, Windsor, Victoria. It is here they are spotted by Dave ‘The Major’ Powell, who becomes the group’s manager.
One night in 2002 Mark Wilson shows up at a Jet concert. Mark is playing bass in a band called The Ca$inos. Although Jet already have a bassist, they offer the job to Mark Wilson. He initially declines because of his existing commitments, but a few days later reconsiders and says he will join Jet instead.
The line-up of Jet is now fixed as Nic Cester (vocals, guitar), Cameron Muncey (guitar, vocals), Mark Wilson (bass, keyboards) and Chris Cester (drums, vocals).
Jet records a vinyl-only EP called ‘Dirty Sweet’ (after a line in the song by T-Rex, ‘Bang A Gong (Get It On)’: “You’re dirty sweet and you’re my girl”). This quickly sells through two printings and is re-released by Elektra Records in 2003 (UK no. 131). ‘Dirty Sweet’ includes ‘Take It Or Leave It’, a song that will be included on Jet’s first album. Jet are signed to a recording contract by EMI Music in Australia.
Nic Cester is the main vocalist for Jet. Chris Cester sings a few numbers and Cameron Muncey gets one lead vocal, but Nic’s the most familiar voice of the band.
“Everyone in the band writes,” notes Nic Cester. “We are all pretty passionate guys,” adds Mark Wilson. “We won’t fight, but we will argue.” Roughly a quarter of Jet’s material is written in conjunction by the trio of Nic Cester, Chris Cester and Cameron Muncey. Equalling that is the number of songs co-written by the Cester brothers. Aside from that, the group members write in different combinations. Only Chris and Nic have solo songwriting credits (three songs and six songs respectively). What this boils down to is that Nic Cester is probably the main songwriter in Jet, but it is far from total domination.
Jet are best known as a hard rock band, but this is a slight distortion. Around half their songs are ballads, slower numbers or more introspective compositions. These tracks are less often chosen as singles so it is understandable that the band’s image is more readily linked to the aggressive, flat-out pieces.
Jet have a gift for writing songs that seem instantly familiar. Although the song may be new, there is a nagging feeling that it is reminiscent of something some other artist has previously recorded. It ranges from very difficult to impossible to identify the source material inspirations for Jet’s songs. A list of artists whose work may be seen as incorporated into Jet’s oeuvre may include AC/DC, The Beatles, The Easybeats, The Faces, The Knack, John Lennon, The Loved Ones, Paul McCartney, Iggy Pop, The Rolling Stones, T-Rex and You Am I. Nic Cester regards ‘The Beatles as his greatest musical influence.’
Just as Jet’s compositions are instantly familiar, their image similarly strikes subconscious chords of recognition. The shaggy hair, the occasional three-day growth, the sunglasses, the leather jackets, Chris’ military dress cap, Cam’s Flying-V guitar, Nic’s fabulous collection of scarves…all these things are classic rock style items. If a computer was programmed to produce a definitive rock band, it would probably closely resemble Jet.
Jet’s first album is ‘Get Born’ (2003) (AUS no. 1, UK no. 14, US no. 26). There is a story that the title is inspired by the movie ‘The Bourne Identity’ (2002) in which various nefarious persons attempt to ‘get’ the amnesiac super-spy Jason Bourne (played by Matt Damon). More likely, ‘get born’ is simply a way of saying ‘get started’ or ‘begin here’; an appropriate sentiment for a debut album. The first single – and Jet’s greatest song – is ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’ (AUS no. 20, UK no. 23, US no. 24). It’s elemental rock and a definitive statement of their musical style. Nic Cester’s narrator is bewitched by this girl’s “Big black boots / Long brown hair / She’s so cute with her / ‘Get back’ stare.” The song is co-written by Nic Cester, Chris Cester and Cameron Muncey and features ‘crisp guitars and stop-start tempos.’ ‘Rollover DJ’ (AUS no. 31, UK no. 34) is more pop-oriented. As Beatles fans, Jet would be thrilled to have here the services of keyboardist Billy Preston who played on Beatles songs like ‘Let It Be’ and ‘Get Back’. The song is also something of a back-hander to dance music being favoured over rock: “I wanna move but it don’t feel right / ‘Cos you’ve been playin’ other people’s songs all night.” This Cester brothers co-composition dismisses the disc jockey with the sentiment “I know that you think you’re a star / A pill-poppin’ jukebox is all that you are.” ‘Cold Hard Bitch’ (AUS no. 33, UK no. 34, US no. 35) is a galvanising, straight-up shot of rock. Nic sings, “Cold hard bitch / Just a kiss on the lips / And I was on my knees.” Equally bracing is ‘Get Me Outta Here’ (UK no. 37), re-recorded from the ‘Dirty Sweet’ EP. In the song, the narrator boasts he will “Drink all night and talkin’ s*** all day / I’m gonna get me / Out of here.” This song refers to “L.A.” and the album is recorded at Sunset Sound Studios in Los Angeles, California, in the U.S.A. This is early evidence of Jet’s international focus. Yet, they are not ignoring their origins either. One of the slower songs, the countryish blues of ‘Move On’, nods toward “Ten thirty-four / Flinders Street Station [the major railway stop in Melbourne, capital city of Victoria, Australia] / Lookin’ down the tracks.” Nic Cester’s solo composition, ‘Look What You’ve Done’ (AUS no. 12, UK no. 28, US no. 37), is perhaps the most satisfying of the downbeat numbers. Mark Wilson plays piano on this track, as Nic urges “Take my photo off the wall / If it just won’t sing for you.” The closing track, ‘Timothy’, is said to be dedicated to Cameron Muncey’s elder brother who died before Cam’s birth. ‘Get Born’ is produced by Dave Sardy and stands as Jet’s best album.
‘Get Born’ is a tremendous success commercially and creatively. Almost immediately, there are doubts about whether Jet can repeat the feat or if it is just a fluke. “Obviously, there’s a huge amount of pressure,” Nic Cester acknowledges.
One of the ways Nic Cester copes – and spends some of his newfound income – is buying a home in Como, Italy. This is relatively removed from the rock music scene. Nic also maintains a home in Melbourne though, and says “I always get pretty excited coming back to Melbourne. Home is home, wherever you’ve been.” Nic shares his homes with Pia McGeoch, his girlfriend (later fiancée).
In August 2004, John Cester, the father of Nic and Chris Cester, dies of cancer. “That was the most horrible thing that ever happened to me in my life,” claims Nic. It seems to hit Nic particularly hard. It derails his songwriting and delays Jet recording a second album. Chris Cester steps up to get the process started and his elder brother soon follows suit.
‘Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is’ (AUS no. 14, UK no. 23, US no. 61), written by Nic Cester, Chris Cester and Cameron Muncey, is the first single. Audiences are surprised because Nic sings the verses (for the first and last time) in a high falsetto. “She’s a loaded gun / In my shaking hands / Am I in hell / Or the promised land?” asks Nic. This song is included on the album ‘Shine On’ (2006) (AUS no. 3, UK no. 13, US no. 16). Nic Cester alone writes the title song. “Shine On’ (AUS no. 54, UK no. 114) is written from the imagined perspective of his late father: “Please don’t cry / You know I’m leaving here tonight / Before I go, I want you to know / There will always be a light.” Guest musician Steve Hesketh plays piano on this aching ballad whose emotional content is enhanced by a chorus of gospel voices. A handful of numbers seem concerned with women’s self-esteem and trying to live up to the images perpetuated by models. There is the acoustic ‘Shiny Magazine’, and ‘Skin And Bones’ pleads “Please don’t go too far / I swear I love you, just the way you are.” Paris Hilton, jet-setting heiress, is rumoured to be the target of ‘Rip It Up’ (AUS no. 49): “From the bedroom baby to the city a’ light / You look pretty good / But you’re not so bright / Flashing your stash ain’t nothing new / I’ll get you my pretty / Your little dog too.” ‘Shine On’ is, again, produced by Dave Sardy, and is described as ‘another joyfully old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll album immersed in the classics.’ Yet ‘critical reaction to the album is mixed.’
For their third album, Jet act as co-producers with Chris ‘Frenchie’ Smith. ‘Shaka Rock’ (2009) (AUS no. 5, UK no. 53, US no. 27) is heralded by Chris Cester’s ‘She’s A Genius’ (AUS no. 20, UK no. 124), though it is Nic Cester who provides the lead vocal. This buffeting song states “My girl’s ready to take control / She just blows my mind / She only listens to the radio to see who’s alive.” ‘Black Hearts (On Fire)’, a mixture of tension and release, is the second single. However, Cameron Muncey sees the third single, ‘Seventeen’ (AUS no. 31), as “a step forward for us songwriting wise.” He co-writes the song with the Cester brothers and it features a dynamic contrast between guitar and piano: “I get back home at a quarter to four / What you doin’ with you keys inside my door / Seventeen and you’ve never been here before.” “We put a lot of time and energy into [this album],” notes Nic Cester.
Just as a new album seems to be about due, on 26 March 2012 these tidings appear on Jet’s website and on Facebook: “A message to our fans: After many successful years of writing, recording, and touring we wish to announce our discontinuation as a group. From the many pubs, theatres, stadiums and festivals all across the world it was the fans that made our amazing story possible and we wish to thank them all. Thank you and goodnight.”
A few weeks later, Chris Cester says in an interview, “I think the band’s been slowly disintegrating and slowly breaking up since the ‘Shine On’ sessions…Nic’s the one who is mainly responsible for pulling the pin professionally.”
The success of the mighty ‘Get Born’ both ensured Jet’s fame and blighted the rest of their career. It’s such a great album, their other discs paled in comparison. This unfairly obscured the charms of those later works. There is much to like about ‘Shine On’ and ‘Shaka Rock’ and if the debut disc had not been so impressive, that might be more readily acknowledged and appreciated. Jet’s work ‘sounded like The Rolling Stones, the b**** out stadium rock of AC/DC and the soundtrack to the coolest chewing gum ad of all time.’ The group offered up ‘skuzzy [sic] old-fashioned hard rock.’
- wikipedia.org as at 25 March 2013
- ‘Australian Story’, (Australian television program, ABC Network) (25 April 2011)
- allmusic.com, ‘Jet’ by Mackenzie Wilson as at 13 April 2013
- Winnipeg’s Best Rock Power 97, Canadian radio interview with Nic Cester and Mark Wilson conducted by Casey Workman (25 August 2009)
- ABC Radio National, Australian radio interview with Nic Cester and Mark Wilson conducted by Robbie Buck (13 August 2010)
- lyricsfreak.com as at 25 March 2013
- New Musical Express (UK Music Paper) quoted in (1) above
- New Musical Express (UK Music Paper) quoted on a sticker on the CD case of ‘Get Born’ (EMI Music, 2003)
Song lyrics copyright Universal Music with the exceptions of ‘Skin And Bones’ (Universal Music / Steve Hesketh (Control)); and ‘She’s A Genius’ and ‘Seventeen’ (both Get-Jet Music, Inc. (ASCAP))
Last revised 26 August 2014