Jet has just played its last European show before heading to the United States, and drummer Chris Cester is fulfilling his interview quota by cell phone from London. The Australian quartet is crossing the pond for a mini-tour advancing its sophomore CD, Shine On, due to be released in early October.
"It's fucking disastrous here!" he says, laughing amid an audible cacophony of activity and voices. "Hold on a second, I've got to say good-bye to some people."
Jet's 2003 debut, Get Born, spawned an impressive four singles ("Are You Gonna Be My Girl," "Cold Hard Bitch," "Look What You've Done" and "Rollover DJ"). The band -- which also includes brother Nic Cester (lead vocals, guitar), Mark Wilson (bass) and Cameron Muncey (guitar) -- does not disappoint with the follow-up.
Finished with his good-byes, Cester comes back to the topic of Shine On. "The general idea was to take what we had with Get Born and just build on it, but not overthink things too much," he says. "Songs are like little babies: You can listen to them, but you can't tell them what to be."
If that's the case, then the rugrats on Shine On are some tough kiddos. The music is fuller, richer and more commanding than Get Born, though admittedly not a giant step forward lyrically. Highlights include the anthem-like, big-balls numbers "Stand Up," "Rip It Up" and the rocking first single, "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is."
Nic Cester has said that the songs on Get Born were written for pubs, while those on Shine On were written for stadiums. But Chris says this statement isn't about ego. "When we were touring the first record, sometimes we'd have between four and 50 people in the audience." Then the group got asked to open for the Rolling Stones and Oasis. The experience gave the group a taste of life on the big stage, and they changed their music accordingly. "The music this time had to be more punchy, and it just started to expand. We're now trying to play to the back walls and not just the front rows."
U.S. television viewers may know the band's music even if they don't know the band. "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" provided the soundtrack to a memorable iPod commercial, and the current single "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is" hawks Verizon Wireless telephone service.
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Cester admits the commercial use of Jet's music has resulted in a bit of a backlash. The group has been accused of selling out its music, but the instant exposure, sales and Web site hits, particularly beneficial for newer acts looking for mass exposure on a level that terrestrial radio no longer provides, are too tempting to resist. "Radio is just going backwards. Some stations won't even play 'Put Your Money' because they say the falsettos make it sound too suggestive. It's garbage!" says Cester. "And believe me, we didn't get much money for that. It was about getting the song out there. We've copped shit for it, but even Franz Ferdinand sold their music for a shampoo commercial."
Most articles about the band concentrate on their "retro rock" sound, as if making good old-fashioned guitar-based music with a tinge of the '70s and no hint of hip-hop, pop fluff or emo whining were somehow a mark of unoriginality. Jet openly acknowledges being influenced by the Beatles, the Who, T. Rex and the Kinks but maintains it's not attempting to imitate anyone. "It's strange that a lot of bands who are [critically lauded] are doing the same thing. What was Interpol doing but trying to be Joy Division? Bloc Party the Gang of Four? Even the Strokes were ripping off [Tom Petty's] 'American Girl,'" he says.
Shine On includes two passionate ballads -- "King's Horses" and "All You Have to Do" -- but it's the touching, elegiac title track that's the record's emotional epicenter. On the surface, it's about the end of a romantic relationship, but it actually addresses the death of the Cesters' father at the age of 45 while the band was on tour for Get Born. The family was close-knit, and their father was enjoying his sons' growing success. According to Chris Cester, about 20 minutes before he died, the Cesters' father was watching a rerun of the band's appearance on David Letterman. The brothers reportedly took the death very hard, and Nic Cester has said they went to "some pretty dark places" as a result. The loss colored the Cesters' songwriting, adding layers and depth.
The incident is mentioned prominently in the band's bio on its record label's Web site, but the Cesters are uneasy about making it a focus. "I've talked about his death endlessly for the past month. I know it's in that [bio], but I wish they'd take it out. It definitely cast a huge shadow over the record," he says. "We just had to fill up this massive hole he left." Jet appears Friday, September 22, at Warehouse Live, 813 St. Emanuel, 713-225-5483.