Former Jet frontman Nic Cester answered our questions about his solo debut Sugar Rush; the expansive, vibrant and fiercely dynamic album was recorded with Cester’s double-drummer band The Milano Elettrica.
Tell us how the awesome Milano Elettrica was assembled, and about your own connection to Italy.
Well, the band are a collection of some of the best musicians in Italy. They are all from quite successful bands in their own right and are all quite well known. Sergio [Carnevale], one of the drummers, was actually the only one who I knew personally before starting the project. We’d been friends for a few years, but the others were suggested by an Italian producer friend of mine. They are a nice bunch of guys… extremely talented.
There’s a great psychedelic jam-out three quarters of the way through Psichebello – is this kind of reflective of how your sessions with The Milano Elettrica begin or evolve?
Actually no; the songs were already written before the band got involved. I just wanted there to be at least one moment on the album where the band could put their stamp on it – and live is a different thing altogether. There are a few moments in the set where the guys can take over and expand on my themes.
You use straight, square, plinking piano triads often across the record (Eyes On The Horizon, Strange Dreams, God Knows, the organ on Hard Times); did you have that idea in mind to provide a sort of metronome or counter to the funkier, syncopated elements?
Because I was mixing so many genres together in the songwriting, I felt that some ‘glue’ was needed to help stitch it all together. There are a few themes that are repeated throughout the album for that reason.
On Top Of The World is a beautiful little interlude. How confident were you initially with such a close, raw rendition of your voice, before those swelling strings come in?
To be honest when it comes to vocal stuff I’ve always been pretty confident. It’s always come very naturally to me and has never been anything I’ve really had to think about too much. Most of the vocals were done very quickly, and often at the very beginning of the recording. I don’t like getting too cerebral with vocals. It’s much more important to me to try and catch a mood, convey something emotionally, even if it is a little ‘flawed’. I guess that’s the point… to me, the scratches and tiny imperfections aren’t flaws.
God Knows is an absolutely enormous, aching, swaggering beast. How did its components come together?
I woke up one morning when I was living in Berlin with the melody in my head. By the time I got the U-Bahn to the studio I was working in (40 minutes later), the whole thing was written. I recorded the drums, bass and guitar before lunch and the whole song was done by late afternoon. That had never happened to me before, but I was really focused and the song just seemed to pour out of me very quickly. I had a very clear idea about it in my mind, and I just tried to get it out as quickly as possible, before it was diluted.
During the recording of God Knows you were allowed access to the private guitar and amp collection of the Italian studio’s owner, Mauro Pagani. Which of his vintage pieces particularly entranced you?
All sorts of amps with strange names… Binson, Echo, Farfisa, Crucinelli. It was all very exotic and just added to the atmosphere. Mauro’s Crucinelli guitar was the stand-out though. I would have bought it in a second if it was for sale. Yes, I did try.
You let your scream super loose on the very dynamic Neon Light – one of the first songs you wrote for the album. Conversely, are you going to save that track for the ends of your sets, so you don’t blow a vocal gasket too early?
We do leave that song to the end although God Knows is a hell of a lot harder to sing than that one.
In that vein, you’ve got a couple of live dates coming up. You’ve already played much of Sugar Rush live; did any songs present significant problems when translating them to a live setting?
Nah, nothing too tricky. Again, the guys are so talented that it’s been surprisingly easy to get the show together. I don’t even really need to play guitar all that much. It’s nice to just be a singer now that it’s all written and recorded.
Sugar Rush is out November 3 via Liberation.