After selling 6 million records with the resurgent rock ‘n’ rollers Jet, Nic Cester returns after a long hiatus with his debut album Sugar Rush. Spanning psychedelia energy, Latin-tinged rhythms and slow-burning deep cuts, Sugar Rush is an album that lives up to Nic’s self-declared mission statement. “The goal was to challenge myself to find a new way to express myself musically,” he adds. “I took myself way out of my comfort zone and took a lot of risks. The end result was well worth the journey. It’s definitely my best work to date.” Mark Millar catches up with Nic to find out more.
Your debut solo album Sugar Rush has been a long time in the making are you glad the album is finally released?
I am, a lot of love and a lot of passion has gone into this project, and I'm very proud of it, so it is important to me that it has a voice and people know that its there.
I am enjoying the album especially the song ‘Hard Times' it has to be my favourite track on the album. Can you tell me about that song?
When I started writing that song, I felt like I was on to something good. It was the first song of real substance that I wrote when I began writing for this album because I hadn't done anything for almost six years and I tentatively started writing again when I was living in Berlin, and I wasn't sure what to do. It took a while the first couple of things I wrote were not very good, but I slowly started getting better and better. When that song came up, I thought "I can still do this." I wanted Hard Times to be about something of substance and importance. I was reflecting on my relationship with my father who passed away and the fact that I was about to become a father myself. I thought if there was any message that I could tell to my little girl was to take the fear out of life by accepting the fact sometimes things will be hard but that’s ok and its nothing to be scared about.
Your band Jet split up quite a few years ago why has it taken so long to put 'Sugar Rush' out?
I was done. The situation in Jet had got pretty nasty between us all, and I had had enough. I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I knew I needed to get as far away from where I was as possible. I mean literally, I went to the Middle East and travelled around there for a while with my now wife. I wanted to hit the reset, and I wanted to make a lot of changes in my life both personally and professionally and start again and put myself in a place where I would be challenged. I went to Germany, and I started learning German then I began to learn Italian when I moved to Italy. I wanted to be way out of my comfort zone in a place that would be challenging and interesting.
Did you find it hard writing songs without your Jet bandmates?
I did yeah. My contribution in Jet quite often came fully formed in terms of melody and stuff but actual song construction is a lot quicker when there are four other guys in the room because you can hear what everything sounds like immediately whereas I had to physically play every instrument which actually ended up being what made the whole process a lot of fun. Most of the songs were written on bass which is not my traditional instrument, but it's not a big stretch from the guitar. It was fun approaching songs from the perspective of the other guys in the band which has been useful now we have got back together.
The album is a different sound from Jet. It’s a more psychedelic, soul-influenced blues-rock sound. What inspired you to move in that direction musically?
I always have liked music – I have listened to all sorts of genres from Jazz to soul music. My favourite singer is probably Dean Martin, and I wanted to set myself a challenge and see how many different styles I could touch on and how I could make it cohesive. I wanted to have as many twists and turns as possible, and I was pushing myself to go to new places.
What was the song you realised you were going down the right track?
One of the earliest songs was Eyes on the Horizon which is kind of a hybrid. I used a drum machine, and there is a little hint of soul in there. That was the catalyst for what was to follow and where it began I guess.
Was it an enjoyable experience recording the album?
In the beginning no! because I wasn't really that committed, to be honest, I thought I owed it to myself to give it a go and see what happened because I just kind of walked away from everything. There had been a bit of a cloud hanging over me for a few years, and I knew sooner or later I would have to confront that. I just picked a moment when I was at peace with myself and my life and started reluctantly. It took me a while to get my confidence back and find a bit of direction. The first few months were pretty tough actually but things came together slowly, and I got a bit of momentum, and then it became an absolute pleasure – it was the most fun I ever had. I found a cheap studio in Berlin and went in there for three or four days a week almost like a job. I would go to work and tinker and pick up a bass, play the drums for a while and play a bit on piano. It was great and a really happy period of my life.
What would you like people to take away from listening to the album?
I don’t know I'm just happy that was able to do something on my own and hopefully show people that there is more going on with me than what people previously thought.
What are you most grateful for about being able to be a musician every day?
I think having the freedom of being able to do something that I genuinely love. First of all, I found that it became something that I love again because it wasn't for quite a while and the freedom that has subsequently come from that. I'm grateful for the paths that music has led me down. I've lived in different countries all because of music, and I've met some incredibly talented and exciting people that I have been lucky enough to work with.
Do you have a record that you always return to?
The artist that I listen to the most and I don't know why has always been Dean Martin for me.
What have you been listening to recently that you could recommend?
Other than Dean Martin (Laughs) I have been listening to the Leon Bridges album a lot lately which is fantastic.
The ‘Sugar Rush’ tracklisting is:
1. ‘Sugar Rush’
2. ‘Eyes on the Horizon’
4. ‘Hard Times’
5. ‘Strange Dreams’
6. ‘Who You Think You Are’
7. ‘On Top Of The World’
8. ‘God Knows’
9. ‘Not Fooling Anyone’
10. ‘Little Things’
11. ‘Neon Light’
12. ‘Walk On’