Nic Cester Talks Latest Album, Writing a Children’s Book, The Jaded Hearts Club & More!

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Talented singer-songwriter, Nic Cester made his name as a driving force behind Australian rock band, Jet, whose iconic noughties indie anthem, ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl?’ is still a staple on indie nightclub dancefloors far and wide. Cester has taken on a variety of other projects outside of Jet over the years, including The Jaded Hearts Club with the likes of Miles Kane and Matt Bellamy, as well as a successful solo career.

The release of his latest album, ‘The Skipping Girl (The Soundtrack)’ sees Nic Cester at his experimental best, pushing his creative boundaries not only musically, but also with the release of an accompanying children’s book. We spoke to Nic all about the new album and book, as well as discussing what the future holds for Jet, The Jaded Hearts Club and plenty more!

NC: Was the new album a lockdown project or something you had been working on for a while?

Nic: “It was kind of born out of lockdown but it was an idea I’d had for a long time, put aside for when the right moment to explore it arose. The lockdown was a platform in which it was possible to do something a bit different. I found myself at home in Milan with my partner and daughter, and was able to share the journey of the album with my family, which eventually also became a children’s book which I found quite a beautiful thing.”

NC: Can you tell us a bit about the story of ‘The Skipping Girl’ and how it came to fruition?

Nic: “It came from a point of curiosity. The central character is based on a neon sign in the city of Melbourne where I’m from. There’s a factory in the industrial part of the city that manufactures and bottles vinegar, and the emblem on each bottle was that of the skipping girl. The neon sign was a promotional tool and it was one of the first in Australia back in 1936, so it has a lot of importance and cultural significance in Melbourne and has been a permanent fixture of the skyline ever since. One day when I was stuck in my car, I saw myself reflecting back and thought if I chose to see it as a metaphor, it was fascinating and interesting to me. On the surface it’s bright and beautiful but when you look a bit deeper, it’s full of melancholy and sadness too because it’s a girl stuck in an eternal loop that she can’t get out of.

“I saw myself represented in the sign at that moment in my life, so I stored the idea away. During the pandemic I found myself stuck in a similar loop, so it was easy to tap into those emotions connected to the original feelings. Eahc song is an episode in the life of the girl, as she tries to unlock herself from the loop she’s in. The truth is I’ve been doing this for a long time now, the process of writing an album, recording it, going out on tour was getting a little bit repetitive and becoming a loop of its own, so I found a more interesting and immersive way of presenting an album with the children’s book alongside it.”

NC: It references ‘the soundtrack’ in the album title and it does have quite a cinematic feel. What was the thought process behind this creative direction?

Nic: “It was written for vinyl and the vinyl version begins with Goodnight Beautiful, which begins and finishes the story. In my mind it was me singing a lullaby to my daughter, and when she falls asleep the story unfolds as if it was a dream. As well as a story, this is conveying emotions and feelings connected with nostalgia, so in order to enhance that communication there’s a lot of techniques I use. The way it’s told in a cinematic way is one of those devices to provoke an emotional reaction. We all react to music in different ways, so the use of strings is important because it creates a different reaction to a distorted guitar. These are all tools that enhance the storytelling.”

NC: You posted about the imperfections on the album, with no autotune used for vocals etc. What was the thinking behind making the album sound quite raw in this way?

Nic: “Laced throughout the stories are insights that I have from my childhood, which are aimed at my daughter, and the truth is that life isn’t perfect. These imperfections don’t have to be bad things, they can often be quite beautiful. So when it came to the record I thought it was important to leave certain musical imperfections in there, which again is an important part of the communication of the storyline. I thought it would be nice to share with the fans because a lot of people had asked about the orchestrations. I found the orchestrations provided a nice warm velvet jakcet that sits on top of the music, which is a nice thing to have in contrast to the musical imperfections.”

NC: Have you managed to play the record live at all or do you intend to in the near future?

Nic: “It’s still a difficult period, I know the situation is different from country to country but here in Italy it seems a lot more rigid when it comes to concerts, so touring is difficult. At a time when you’re only allowed to fill venues at 50% capacity it makes it difficult economically to tour with the musicians and crew, but I would love to take this music out on the road. I did some instore performances at book stores which was interesting as it’s something I’d never done before. It felt like the perfect way to perform the album as I got to to play a few songs and talk about the book and the stories behind the tracks.”

NC: In terms of the book, is this the first time you’d delved into this form of writing and did you enjoy the process? Could you see yourself doing this again in the future?

Nic: “Yes it was. It was tricky but an interesting challenge. With children’s stories, you need to find a way to simplify as much as possible and find a crystalised form of the core communication. So it was really useful for me, it’s not too dissimilar to a pop song or a single, where you need to find the simplest way to communicate what you are trying to say. I really enjoyed the process but I can’t say at the minute if it’s something I’d do again.”

NC: And what can people expect from the book itself, is it an out and out children’s story?

Nic: “It’s up to the individual. I read the story to my daughter, she understands the music but not necessarily the meaning behind the lyrics. The album stands alone as it’s not aimed at children, but the book just felt like an interesting thing to do and the album acts as a soundtrack. I’m keen to see how my daughter’s relationship with the story and songs evolves over time as she grows older and gains a better understanding of it.”

NC: How do you feel becoming a father will influence you as a songwriter and as a person?

Nic: “I feel like as a person it will always have an influence, but in terms of songwriting I’d like to think I got it all out of my system with this project and the next thing I move onto will be as far removed from this as possible. I’ve always gravitated to bands and artists like The Beatles and Beck who have the capacity to tap into many different genres and change from project to project. It fascinates me to explore different sides of myself.”

NC: Your admiration for The Beatles leads us onto The Jaded Hearts Club, with whom you released a live album this year. How did this come about and are there more plans in the pipeline for this project?

Nic: “The band provides a sense of release. It feels like it did at the very beginning, at 16 picking up and instrument for the first time. There’s no agenda, no motive, just playing music for music’s sake. Nobody needs to be doing this, it’s just born out of friendship and an enjoyment of playing music, which is very refreshing after this becoming my job for such a long time. It’s very easy to lose sight of these aspects unfortunately. I didn’t really know Miles and I’d never met Graham before, so it’s nice to work with such interesting and talented people. I’d known Matt for 15 years but never worked with him, so it was nice to see my friend in a different light. It’s so much fun, we’ve no intentions of stopping anytime soon, it’ll keep ticking over and when the time is right we’ll re-visit.”

NC: And in terms of Jet, are there any plans for new music in the near future?

Nic: “I don’t think so. Again, it’s far more interesting flipping from one project to another, these days I’m more stimulated and excited by trying new things than re-visiting old stuff. I feel like I’ve been there and done that.”

NC: So as someone who is constantly trying new things creatively and innovatively, does it surprise you that ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl?’ is still so popular today?

Nic: “It’s a good song, it’s a nice thing it’s still appreciated by so many people, it makes me happy. It’s weird when things take on a life of their own, I don’t feel like it’s my song anymore, it doesn’t feel like it belongs to me. I was 19 years old when I started writing that song in my parent’s house, so it almost feels like a different person wrote it now.”

NC: Finally, what are your plans for 2022?

Nic: “The most exciting thing on my horizon is that finally it’s possible to visit family in Australia, that’s the first thing on the cards. Before the lockdown began I’d actually finished writing my second solo album, so I’m in the studio today putting the finishing touches to that. That should be out early next year and then I can finally get out on the road touring, seeing a bit of the world and playing music with my band!”

You can watch the clip below from our interview where Nic discusses The Jaded Hearts Club, Jet and the longevity of ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl?’ Listen to The Skipping Girl HERE.

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