When in 2012 Nic Cester walked away from Jet — the Melbourne rock & roll quartet with whom he found worldwide fame thanks to their multi-million selling 2003 debut Get Born — he did so without any specific plan in mind. "I was hugely relieved to be out of Jet and had a wonderful few years with my wife travelling around and experiencing different cultures, but it was strange," he offers, calling in from a cafe in Milan, Italy. "I was excited to have a new lease on life but also not quite sure what that meant at the same time."
For the next two years it meant not writing a note of music. "I had zero desire. I wasn't sure if I even wanted to pursue music. I was assessing all my options." A pause, then a chuckle. "Which weren't many. It was a quick thought process as I scanned through my options. Five seconds later..."
A move back to Melbourne was short-lived ("It didn't really feel right"), before he and his wife set their sights on Berlin. The fresh surrounds kickstarted his creative juices, as did a newfound work ethic. Having booked months of studio time, each day he'd turn up and tinker with songs, sounds and equipment. "The moment I started treating it like a serious profession, it just got a little easier and the ideas got clearer," he says.
Over the space of three years Cester penned the songs that comprise his debut solo album, this month's Sugar Rush. The first six months of writing, he says, were both "awful" and "liberating", due to the fact he had no pre-conceived notion of what it was he wanted to do. "A lot of false starts and a lot of awful things," he sighs. "But at the same time it was fun, cos I knew no one necessarily had to hear it. I just had the freedom to go and make mistakes, which was a luxury I didn't have after the first Jet album, where there was so much pressure and expectation."
After writing and recording all the songs in Berlin, Cester and his wife relocated to their current home of Milan, where he started working with co-producer Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys, Adele). Recognising he'd need a band to play the songs live, Cester enlisted the services of Italian cinematic funk act Calibro 35, with whom he re-recorded the album. It was a good match, the Italians bringing a particularly European, multi-instrumental flair to what is easily the most sophisticated work of Cester's career. Rich in blissed-out organic grooves, sweeping, string-laden drama ("God Knows") and rough-hewn pop (the Tame Impala-meets-Seventies Euro-buzz of "Eyes on the Horizon"), Sugar Rush somehow manages the feat of sounding from another time, while being perfectly of the time.
At points in the record, Cester addresses the demons of his past. Witness "Strange Dreams" and the line "So I wake myself from the strangest dreams of broken chords and melodies". "It's about wrestling with feelings of regret and waking up having nightmares about some of the low points in Jet and moments of self doubt in the more uncomfortable years of my life." Then there's "Who You Think You Are", an upbeat song about a relationship of a different sort. "That's about my overindulgence in drugs and alcohol," he offers.
Cester is about to hit the road in earnest with his backing band the Milano Elettrica, with whom he performed at this year's Bluesfest. "These guys are so fucking good, I have a new sense of confidence when I play," he smiles. "All these guys have completely got my back in every single way."
From issue #793 (December, 2017), available now.
Topics: Nic Cester