Jet's High Times

Rock's new party boys thrive on Seventies sounds, champagne and insanity

Jenny Eliscu

At MJQ, an Atlanta dance club where saturday is Eighties Night, Jet singer Nic Cester is doing his best to ignore the drunken advances of a brunette whose glittery black eyeliner has smudged beyond the point of being sexy. She clutches his arm and pets his shoulder while she wobbles atop her knee-high black boots, but Cester is unmoved. She takes a crack at bassist Mark Wilson, who's already making time with a cute and bubbly local girl named Kendall. As George Harrison's "Got My Mind Set on You" blasts over the sound system, guitarist Cameron Muncey notes how random the DJ's choices are -- and then, just as randomly, explains why he stopped reading Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho. (The lengthy description of the psycho's personal-hygiene products annoyed the shit out of him.) Wilson saunters over and offers a sip from the bottle of cheap champagne he's toting. After a few swigs, he gets a woozy look on his face. He lurches forward as if he might puke, but little more than a few gobs of spit land between his enormous, gaudy cowboy boots. "I've had a bit of coke," he says, and soon ducks out with Kendall to have some more. It is Eighties Night, after all.

"We used to be even more insane," Wilson tells me afterward. "Used to be, we'd drink ourselves to the point of collapse every night, or if we were tired, we'd buy a big bag of cheap speed. We were so excited to be touring and wanted to live every second of it. Everyone was always saying, 'Those Jet guys are a big drinking band!' and we got kind of caught up in our own myth. But we wouldn't be around for very long if we kept that up."

For now, Jet are best known for being that long-haired Australian band whose song "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" dominated Apple's recent iPod commercials. You know the one: It starts off aping the bass line from Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" before erupting into hand claps, ragged guitar strumming and Cester's attitudinal snarl: "One, two, three/Take my hand and come with me/Because you look so fine/That I really wanna make you mine." The band is loath to associate with the "rock is back" trend launched by the Strokes and the White Stripes, yet its admitted influences - both musical and sartorial - are pretty much limited to the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Faces and AC/DC. It's working for them. The retro sound and spirit of "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" have made Jet - Nic, his brother Chris, Wilson and Muncey -- one of the most successful garage-rock outfits going: Their album, Get Born, was recently certified gold, and their new single, "Cold Hard Bitch," is starting to get heavy airplay.

"There have always been bands that sounded like the Sixties, but we don't see ourselves as a band from that era," says Muncey. "We don't draw a line in the sand between now and then. Maybe in 200 years, the distance people put between 1970 and 2000 won't matter. Who knows who was first, Mozart or Beethoven? Does it even matter? A good song is a good song."

Jet have played more than 200 shows during the past year, but they're still up for a party after every gig. They hang around MJQ until 4:30 a.m., a full ninety minutes past bus call. They are worried about getting in trouble with their tour manager but not worried enough to call and warn him that they'll be tardy. There's a ten-hour ride to Washington, D.C., ahead, but tomorrow is a day off and the band is making the most of it. Since Jet finished their show at the Coca-Cola Roxy Theater, Chris has hardly shown his face. "He's balls-deep in his girlfriend," Wilson notes, referring to Alexi Wasser, who is visiting from L.A. for a few days. The two have been dating for more than a year and recently got engaged. But, until tonight, they hadn't seen each other for two months. "You've got the shit bunk," Wilson tells me, laughing. "Above Chris and Alexi. Good luck getting any sleep."

The next few hours are spent listening to the Faces' A Nod Is as Good as a Wink. . . to a Blind Horse, and then Danger Mouse's Grey Album, while Nic and Muncey compare stories about scat fetishes. "I heard about a girl . . . " Muncey begins. "Are you sure you want to hear this? OK, so this girl had sex with this dude, and he told her to leave as soon as they were done. So while he was sleeping, she took a shit on his chest."

Muncey and Nic have been best friends since they were fourteen, which is when they started playing music together. Though both went through a fleeting period of grunge fandom (preferring Soundgarden to Nirvana), they were always most in love with music from the Sixties and Seventies. "When we were in school, we felt quite alienated, but in a good way," Muncey says. "We didn't want to be like these surfy middle-class kids dressed up in Fubu. It was cooler to be down at the music house smoking cigarettes and doing your own thing."

For Nic, that meant mostly sitting around listening to his dad's old LPs. For Chris, it meant sitting around listening to Nic listen to old LPs. "If he'd started wearing A-Team shirts and a mohawk, I would have done the same thing," says the twenty-two-year-old drummer. "He'd pick out records, and I'd be sitting next to him with my legs crossed and listen to everything. I wasn't even old enough to leave the house on my own when he started putting on Beatles records."

With their flared jeans, tight T-shirts and moppy hairdos, the Jet boys -- all between twenty-two and twenty-four -- even look like they emerged from a time warp. "I remember coming home one day and my mom goes, 'What the fuck have you done with your hair?' " says Nic. "I'm like, 'You know, fucking Rod Stewart!' "

In early 2002, with the garage-rock revival in full swing, things started heating up for Jet. They hooked up with a management firm that represents fellow Aussies the Vines, and began attracting label interest. While several different companies were vying for them, the band devised the perfect strategy to find the right one: All interested parties -- including the A&R man from Elektra who wound up signing Jet -- were required to fly to Sydney to see them play. "That really separated out who was serious," Nic says. A few months later, the band took its first trip beyond Australian shores when it headed to Los Angeles to record Get Born.

"When I first started hanging out with them, I don't think they'd heard more than a few records made after 1980," says Get Born producer Dave Sardy, who has worked with the Dandy Warhols, Supergrass and Marilyn Manson. "They're just totally real, and that makes the band greater than the sum of its parts. Of course, the best thing about the Jet record doing well is that maybe it will help open up these goofball programmers to playing rock & roll on the radio again."

"We're never backwards in saying that when the Strokes came along, it changed everything," says Muncey. "How did this stripped-down, really cool band do it? I really don't know. But somehow, after them there was a whole new paradigm for rock bands. Just look at the body types of the people playing music now, compared to the body types of these massive steakheads playing tunes with their fucking biceps out. Now you've got these skinny, no-ass rockers like us. We're not doing yoga before the show, we're doing it like it should be."

"The record industry follows trends, and we were in the right place at the right time," Wilson adds. "But we're also the right band, and we write good songs. It doesn't matter what your fashion is. If you don't write good songs, nobody's gonna give a shit."

At 8:15 A.M., Nic is still up, smoking what must be his hundredth cigarette and drinking his hundredth beer in the front of the bus. The band's guitar tech thrusts forward a plastic cup full of scotch and Coca-Cola, but Nic refuses. "Never trust another man's mix," he says. Several hours later, he mixes up his own concoction in his Washington, D.C., hotel room: a bit of Berocca, an effervescent hangover cure. Still dressed in last night's outfit -- a T. Rex T-shirt, faded flares and a tiny beige sweater -- he reclines on his bed, exhausted. Tonight, he says, he thinks he'll stay in.

"I'd like to think that people are gravitating toward this kind of music because they want something that is actually heartfelt," he says. "We're four guys who are actually turned on by what each other are doing and feeding off of that. You hear someone fuck up or you see someone who is so visibly excited by what he's doing that the way he's playing guitar sounds exciting. That's real emotion, not some cheesy dickhead standing on the edge of a cliff wearing leather pants and a clenched fist. But if all we ever achieve is to get some people to go back and listen to what's inspired us, that's fucking great."

(April 7, 2004)

Watch an exclusive performance of "Are You Gonna Be My Girl?"

Posted Apr 08, 2004 12:00 AM


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