How far would you go to escape the time of your life? For Jet frontman Nic Cester, the answer is "as far away as possible". When he unplugged his guitar and walked off Brisbane's Riverstage on November 13th, 2010 – Jet's final opening slot on Powderfinger's Sunsets Farewell Tour – he wasn't looking back.
"Literally 48 hours after that last show, I was in the middle of the Jordanian desert with a Bedouin guide and a bunch of camels," the singer-guitarist recalls, fielding his first interview in six years from his home in Lake Como, Italy.
"I stayed there for months: me and my wife in a four-wheel drive. That's where I was physically, mentally and emotionally."
He's laughing about it now. But by the end of his world-conquering rock band's mad sprint to Madison Square Garden and back, relations with his comrades were so strained that it took another 18 months for the official "Thank you and goodnight" press release.
So the fact that Jet are currently on tour with Bruce Springsteen around Australia – and late-2016 reissued remastered versions of their first two albums, Get Born and Shine On are – surprises nobody more than Nic's younger brother, Chris.
"Offers have come in for years; good offers that I definitely would've taken," the drummer says from his recording studio in Los Angeles. "But never anything Nic's been ready for. And the only reason I don't talk about the other guys [guitarist Cameron Muncey and bassist Mark Wilson] is that Nic's the guy who decided he didn't wanna do it anymore."
It's not hard to understand the burnout that led to that decision, shortly after Jet's gold-selling third album, Shaka Rock. After primary ignition with their U.S. Top 10 single of 2003, "Are You Gonna Be My Girl", the garage rock poster boys from Melbourne had endured perhaps the most dizzying ride of any act in Australian pop history.
With Get Born, they hit platinum sales in the U.S. and UK within three years of their first gigs. Highly publicised personal problems – the sudden passing of the Cesters' father; Nic's difficulties with cocaine – conspired with the inevitable critical backlash and second album blues to exert unsustainable pressure.
Chris has spent most of the past six years producing in L.A., not least the Mystic Knights of Amnesia, his electro duo with Jet keyboard player Louis Macklin. Wilson was last seen playing bass with Peter Garrett. Muncey has kept the lowest profile. "I heard he's really into flying," Nic offers.
For his part, the singer has occupied himself studying languages in Berlin and Milan while slowly working towards a debut solo album. Recorded with Italian funk band Calibro 35, that "probably self-titled" return has played an ironic part in his decision to rejoin Jet.
From the exhilarated vantage point of that "incredibly satisfying" endeavour, he addresses his former band's collapse from a personal position of creative necessity.
"Part of the reason why Jet became a place from which I needed to escape is that it had stopped being a creative, fun, interesting place," he says. "Unfortunately it had become a place that was a bit stagnant and I wasn't able to contribute to the best of my abilities anymore. I needed to break free and do something completely different."
He stresses that good times "far outweighed the negative" on the rollercoaster that seemed to catch Jet opening for the Rolling Stones one minute and recording with Iggy Pop the next. "But it was an extremely full-on experience. It left me feeling a bit thin at the end of it – like Dorian Gray after 10 years of extended adolescence."
Something of a Liam to Nic's Noel, if you will, Chris paints a more carefree picture of the eternal teens at play. "We really were the best of friends, constantly taking the piss out of each other. It was not for the faint of heart. On the tour bus, by the middle of the
tour, you'd better be wearing armour and a sword. If we weren't drunk we were hungover. It was just a daily riot."
Small wonder that memories were sometimes hard to come by when it fell to the drummer to sift through bonus B-sides and pen liner notes for the remastered albums. His default position while revising material, he says, was "crying laughter".
"Making the B-sides was hilarious. Our popularity grew faster than our base of material so we found ourselves in the weirdest places, like a blizzard in Colorado, and you'd get woken up on a day off because you'd forgotten you have to record a song that day.
"It would be, 'Right, has anyone got anything?' 'Well, I've got this riff...' and you'd build the song in an afternoon, put it down, get back on the bus and forget about it. So for a guy like me to be sitting on a couch 10 years later, trying to remember how it all happened..."
Both brothers stand proudly by the songs that defined the commercial face of the Noughties' "back-to-rock" revolution, providing soundtracks to every product from iPod to Spiderman and World Wrestling Entertainment's Summerslam. But Chris makes it clear that there's no harsher critic of Jet's legacy than the band itself.
"We like to make each other laugh about all the dumb shit that happened," he says. "I get texts every day from Mark, who's super-pumped. Photos and set lists and funny messages about songs we hate and we're never gonna play again. For example, I hope nobody's holding their breath for 'Rollover DJ' because there's no fucking way that's happening! It feels nice to be in the situation where we're not beholden to just playing Get Born songs or whatever. Particularly in Australia, where we always did pretty well, that's a really liberating thing."
The band is already batting away questions about U.S. and European dates in the wake of the reissued albums. The short answer is that nobody knows what lies ahead, though both Cesters are palpably relieved that their relationship is no longer defined by what lies behind them.
"In Jet world, I have learnt to not get excited about anything anymore because you just never know what's gonna happen," says Chris. "I might get a phone call from our management saying, 'Check out this song that Nic's written', and go, 'Fuck, that's the best thing I've heard in 15 years.' And then I might get another phone call saying, 'Yeah, but he hates it'."
The chance of hearing that song or anything like it on Jet's current Springsteen run is slim to non-existent, Nic says. "You never know, but between now and then, I think it's gonna be hard enough to just remember all the words." Far more certain in the short term is the solo album that's reignited the passion he thought he'd spent. How that plays into Jet's future is anyone's guess.
"It's mostly curiosity, at this point," the frontman says of the reunion. "I'm open-minded and curious. And hopeful. I really want this just to be fun. If it did end up being the last thing we ever did, it would be a nicer note to end on than we had. And if it did go exceedingly well, then we'll let you know."
Top photo: Jet onstage in Melbourne in 2009. Credit: Martin Philbey.
From issue #784 (March 2017), available now.