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Jet Survive Tragedy, Writer's Block to Rock Again

After multiple flubbed studio sessions, the Aussies return with an album that combines epic anthems with darker ballads

June 20, 2006 5:40 PM ET

In the late Sixties, Bob Dylan's touring band moved to Woodstock, New York, where they rented a large pink house to write songs and rehearse new material. Ultimately forming the Band, the group's early sessions initiated their aptly titled debut, Music From Big Pink, and went on to inspire future generations of musicians -- including, somewhat surprisingly, Australian rockers Jet.

"We've always been really into the Band," frontman Nic Cester says during a studio break in Los Angeles, where a string quartet is laying down arrangements for the follow-up to the group's hit 2003 debut, Get Born. Fueled by romantic thoughts of Big Pink, Jet rented a "log cabin" at Massachusetts' Long View Farm Studios. "It looked all cool on paper," Cester reminisces, "and then we got there, and it was fucking minus-ten! That's too fucking cold!" The Aussies packed their bags after about a week.

That was more than a year ago, in March 2005. Prior to that, the crew had tried another climate completely: hot, hot Barbados. "We just brought a couple of guitar amps and kept it pretty simple, pretty primitive," Cester says of their first round of songwriting in the Caribbean. But that stay also proved less than productive. "It was just a cool holiday," says Cester. Between Barbados and Massachusetts, a sophomore slump was threatening to take hold. "The first time around, we were a pop band from Melbourne, and this time around we're playing much bigger venues," explains the singer. "We wanted to make sure the new album was going to be five times better."

Adding to their creative block was family tragedy. In late spring of last year, Nic and his brother and drummer Chris finally returned home to Melbourne for a few months and had time to deal with the death of their father after his two-year battle with cancer. "The whole time things were going well for us," says Nic, "things were getting worse for him. It was a weird paradox."

But, while in Melbourne, that very personal loss began to work its way into the record, resulting in an album that brings together both Jet's signature rock anthems and surprisingly meditative ballads. "The ballads are a lot deeper," Cester admits citing "Shine On," a track he wrote for his younger brothers and his cousins. "It's all resulted in a journey. It was a way to vent a lot of issues, feelings and anger. We ran a whole gamut of emotions over the last few years. You don't bury dad and go out and write the fucking party classic."

With an album mapped out that brings both their signature rock anthems and surprisingly meditative ballads, Jet -- the Cesters, bassist Mark Wilson and guitarist Cam Muncey -- returned to Los Angeles. Re-teaming with Get Born producer David Sardy, the band was finally ready to record, whittling down some forty tracks to a final fifteen. A string quartet was brought in for a number of songs, as well as a full-time keyboardist. (The recently departed keyboards legend Billy Preston had contributed to their debut.)

Other new songs include the road-tested "Eleanor," which Cester describes as having an Everly Brothers vibe, and the blues-y "Holiday," which takes inspiration from Captain Beefheart.

That's not to say they've neglected the band's wilder side. Their as-yet-untitled release is packed with "epic fucking rock songs," Cester claims, including "Stand Up" -- "the biggest rock song you've ever heard."

"Obviously we're still Jet. We're still a rock band," he says. "It's not like we've done a 360. We like to stay healthy, so we mix vodka with fruit juice. As the cash flow increases, we drink nicer wines -- but we don't know the difference really. The only difference we know is the change in the scale of the hangovers."

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