Nic Cester is renowned for his debut solo album Sugar Rush as well as being part of the all-star rock ‘n’ roll collective The Jaded Hearts Club and for his huge breakthrough success with Jet. But now the singer-songwriter reveals a very different side to his creativity as he has released his debut children’s book and companion album Skipping Girl.
Multiple factors influenced Nic’s desire to write a children’s book. As a father stuck in lockdown, he had the responsibility of finding ever more imaginative ways to keep his daughter Matilda entertained at their home in Milan, Italy. His own storytelling was inspired by the tales his own father would conjure back when Nic was a child, using sights from their home city of Melbourne as the launchpad for his fervent imagination. On a subconscious level, it also gave Nic a fresh connection with the place he grew up – a city that he has been unable to return to for several years now.
It was the famous Skipping Girl sign that sits gracefully above Victoria Street, Melbourne, that triggered Nic’s creative process. And so commenced a story in which the Skipping Girl embraces life and all of its riches. Nic tells Hi Fi Way more about the book and the music that accompanies the book.
Congratulations on the book and accompanying album The Skipping Girl, did you ever think in your wildest imagination you would be releasing something like this?
No I didn’t, although it is an idea that has been forming for a long time. I wanted to do something and presenting something in the most interesting way possible. Whenever I have an idea I file it away, if it continues to germinate in to something interesting then I’ll start exploring it I guess. This specific idea began a long time ago and it has been in the back of my mind for a long time. To answer your question, yes and no.
Did it take on new meaning as it was for your daughter and trying to find interesting ways to keep her entertained during lockdown?
Totally, it is absolutely connected to the whole pandemic experience. As you said, I really started to concentrate on it during the pandemic as all of a sudden it connected with so many aspects, being a father and having to come up with interesting stories or ways to entertain my daughter but also on an emotional level as I finished an album just before that which would have been my second solo album, which is still in the can and ready to go but where all that stuff stopped happening particularly here in Rome, it is really heavy, ambulances going past the window every five minutes and there’s people in our building who had died. It was heavy! You felt that in the air and after working on my album which was quite happy, it was a positive moment in my life and musically it reflected that. All of a sudden it did not feel right to move ahead with that record, so I put it on ice and was wondering what to do. From an emotional level musically this stuff just resonated because it is brooding and very dark. It was easy for me to tap in to that music on an emotional level even though some of those songs I began a long time ago they were so present all of a sudden because of what was happening in our world here.
Was your daughter a tough critic in embracing the concept and connecting with it?
It has connected us, she is three and a half, but she thought it was about her and the girl in the story and she will disappear and come back dressed as close to the girl in the picture. She is convinced it is her in the story.
Did writing the book bring back a lot of positive memories for you as a young boy growing up and the stories your mother or father might have told you?
Definitely, memories of Melbourne because that sign is so much part of the city landscape that you cannot really separate them. It brought back a lot of memories for me as a kid and I also had forgotten that my dad used to tell stories and make up stories using things that existed in the city and that is where a lot of the ideas for this came from. He would make up stories to keep us entertained in the car after long trips and making buildings come to life and give them personalities, that is exactly what I did in this. It began with my father, he was a really good story teller and always had interesting ways to keep us entertained. All I have done is done the exact same thing but for my daughter.
How hard was the lockdown experience in Milan and did you learn a lot about your own personal resilience?
I don’t know about my own resilience but it made me realise how happy I can be or how much happier I can be with so much less without so many distractions, white noise and general interference that comes with daily life. Also, I’ve never had a 9 to 5 job, so it’s quite social and that can be problematic sometimes as there is no on or off, it is all very grey, during the pandemic all of a sudden it provided my life with structure for the first time since pre-Jet days which I found that I flourished. I was very productive and healthy. It was interesting how productive I became for the first time in such a long time I found myself being in such a structured routine.
Did you find that the music for the book came really easily and pretty much write themselves?
It is a collection of songs that I have been working on for quite a long time. Some old stuff, some new stuff and melancholy is a place I fall in to quite easily and whatever song comes out from one of those places I was filing away because it was so different from what I usually do. I didn’t quite know what to do with this stuff. After ten to fifteen years I accumulated quite a lot and some of them are quite old. Because some come from the same emotional place they fit together quite easily. It is still me at the end of the day.
Do you think with this book you might continue with this pathway with that character for a follow up book?
Maybe, it was a challenge to get this out to be honest because it is hard for me at this point in my career having done what I have done to make such a big switch like this and it take some convincing for people in my own team and label. It was hard to convince everyone that this was a good idea but I was so passionate about it that I didn’t care. Everything is me, I played every instrument, I produced it and I had to do everything because there wasn’t a lot of support. Finding a book publisher and getting someone to believe in that and making all that happen. It was trouble finding everything and support in general was not easy for this project. Now that it is done I am relieved that I was able to pull it all together. The thought of a follow up is the last thing on my mind. Who knows! I am very attached to this project and this music, I feel very close to it. I would love to do more but I like to do whatever seems to be the most interesting thing at the time. If it seems interesting at a later date I’ll do it, if it doesn’t I won’t.
Was presenting the complete book and music must of been a proud dad moment for you?
It was, being able to read it to her for the first time in two languages, it is Italian as well, she speaks both languages now, is amazing.
Are you feeling really satisfied musically right now given how well The Jaded Hearts Club is going?
It is weird, it is great to be a part of that and we’re all friends, it is a lot of fun and having said that it happened in the middle of this fucking crisis. There’s been one show, two albums and one concert! It is very frustrating to think we have this Ferrari we can’t drive.
Are there plans to tour Australia with The Jaded Hearts Club?
I hope so, I think Matt has gone back to Muse world at the moment and gets pretty absorbed in that but I hope so and I expect it will. Sooner or later it is going to happen.
Is Jet still bubbling away in the background?
I don’t think so, we’ve tried so many times to see if there is any life left in that. It just doesn’t feel right, there’s too many underlying issues between us and such a nightmare every time.
Is the release of the next Nic Cester solo album on the cards for 2022?
I have been sitting on it for two years, it will be out early next year. I can’t wait to put that out and it will be a nice shift after this. It is really positive and happy celebration of music. It is the best thing that I have ever done. I can’t wait to be able to put that out.
Interview By Rob Lyon