“Basically, we want to declare war on all that crap music”.
“The past is a foreign country,” L.P. Hartley observed at the start of his 1953 novel The Go-Between. “They do things differently there.”
Fifty years later, Melbourne band Jet landed on the music scene with their debut record. In many ways, it feels like only yesterday. But it really was a different time and a different world.
At the start of the 2000s, Jet turned a previously nondescript pub on Chapel Street, the Duke of Windsor, into a mecca for rock fans. Like Men At Work two decades before, they drew the eyes of the music world to Melbourne. Suddenly, international record company executives were popping up at dingy rock venues, desperate to find the next Jet.
Before embarking on their journey into major label land (EMI in Australia; Elektra internationally), Jet issued an EP, Dirty Sweet, on Melbourne indie label Rubber Records. All four songs – Take It Or Leave It, Cold Hard Bitch, Move On and Rollover D.J. – would later turn up on the band’s debut album.
One weeknight near the end of 2002, we all huddled together in the upstairs office of Rubber’s David Vodicka – it was my task to put together Jet’s first bio.
The band members were wary of a journalist they didn’t know and were bemused when I was raving about my favourite band, Horsehead. Their manager, Dave Powell, also loved them. The Jet guys had never heard of them.
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I felt old.
We were on safer ground when we talked about our mutual love for another Melbourne band, Manic Suede (that band’s singer, Andre Warhurst, contributed some tasty slide guitar to Move On).
I started the bio with a simple statement:
Their name is Jet. They play rock music. If you need to know more, play their record. It’s all there.
“From the opening line – ‘Just take it or leave it’,” I continued, “to the closing cut, a savage shot at the rise of the DJ culture, it’s clear that Jet is four guys who know what they’re doing.”
Despite not having done many interviews at that stage of their career, the band members all provided some colourful quotes for the bio:
“I think people are just sick to death of hearing all those manufactured sounds,” drummer Chris Cester said.
“Basically, we want to declare war on all that crap music,” added guitarist Cameron Muncey.
Chris: “We just wanted to make an honest-sounding record. No gimmicks. It’s a rock record.”
Jet felt like a gang: us against the world, filled with big talent and big personalities. “And probably, truthfully, it’s got a little bit to do with ego,” Cam noted. “Everyone wants to be the frontman.”
Nic Cester told me how he and Cam started the band at Mentone’s St Bede’s College (a school that also gave the world record producer Tony Cohen, The Screaming Jets’ Jimi Hocking, and would later spawn British India and stage star Eddie Perfect).
“It was a real sports school, so when you meet someone who hates sport as much as you do, you connect,” Nic recalled. “Cam had this uncanny ability – wherever we were, he would just roll up on his bike and find us.”
Nic’s younger brother, Chris, later joined on drums. After a few name changes (including Mojo Filter, Hi-Fidelity and Duosonic), they settled on Jet, taking it from the Paul McCartney & Wings song from the 1973 album Band On The Run.
Bass player Mark Wilson was the final piece of the Jet puzzle, joining just before the EP release, while manager Dave Powell hooked up with the band when he booked them at the Duke of Windsor. “Dave was also playing in his own band at the time,” Cam explained. “In the same week, he dropped his band, dropped his girlfriend, and got us. We’re forever indebted.”
The EP’s title was a nod to Marc Bolan and the perfect description of Jet’s sound: Dirty Sweet. Here was a band that loved AC/DC and The Beatles.
Rollover D.J. (and Chris’s ever-present “Disco Sucks” T-shirt) summed up how the band felt about the rise of the DJ superstar: “Well, I know that you think you’re a star,” Nic sang. “A pill-poppin’ jukebox is all that you are.”
The original version also included the lines: “Amazing record stack you’ve got/ I don’t care … I’m salivating at the way you push play.”
Not that you couldn’t dance to Jet. “That was the thing,” Cam pointed out. “We thought, ‘How are we gonna ruin this dance culture? We’ll have to write some rock tunes that people can dance to!’”
Like all young bands, Jet didn’t want to be pigeon-holed or lumped in with any “scene”, refusing to accept they were part of the New Rock “movement”. “We like a lot of those bands,” Chris told me, “but we don’t want to be in the garage rock scene. We don’t have a ‘The’ in front of our name.”
Yep, this was the era of the “The” band: The Strokes, The Vines, The Datsuns, The Hives, The Pictures, The Anyones…
But it was just Jet, not The Jet. And by the way, has there ever been a better band name? Everyone can say it, everyone can spell it, it looks great on a poster, and it lends itself to headlines covering every stage of their career: Jet Land. Jet Takeoff. Jet Grounded.
I left that first meeting with no doubt that Jet were ready to take on the world.
“Our heroes – AC/DC, the Stones – they’re hard-working bands who tour their arses off,” Cam said. “That’s what we want to do.”
Even before Jet had released a record, NME declared: “2003 will belong to them.”
And it did.
Get Born sold more than five million copies worldwide, won six ARIA Awards, topped the Australian charts and peaked at #14 in the UK and #26 in the US.
Mark Wilson has vivid memories of a gig in Oxford in the UK: “I went to the back of the van to help our sound guy load the amps. He said, ‘Mark, you don’t do this anymore.’ Wow! I’ll never forget that day.”
“I’m not gonna bemoan the use of roadies, because they rule,” Chris laughed when reminded of Mark’s story. “But when you don’t have to do anything for yourself, you get fat and lazy. It can corrupt you.”
The dream of becoming rock stars didn’t necessarily match the reality. “I never actually felt like we arrived,” Cam told me when their third album, Shaka Rock, was released. “I always felt like the uninvited people crashing the party. But I enjoyed every moment of it.”
Chris admitted that fame took its toll. “If you take anyone and put them in a jail cell or something like that for enough time, you’ll start to hallucinate. If you don’t have contact with the outside world, you will hallucinate – I’ve fucking been there. Your world is filled with cotton wool, and it’s not reality, and you start thinking you’re something that you’re not.
“It’s a fucking bizarre world.”
Things started to turn when Jet released their second album, Shine On. Pitchfork infamously reviewed the record by showing a chimp urinating in its own mouth.
Three years later, I mentioned that review to Nic. “They say opinions are like arseholes: everyone’s got one,” he snapped. “But that’s not true – at least everyone’s only got one arsehole, people have too many fucking opinions.”
I asked Nic if he could summarise the three Jet albums: “The first one was naïve excitement. The second one, laboured pain. The third one is starting fresh again.”
Get Born opened with Chris remarking to the record’s producer, Dave Sardy: “Can you just give me one more try at that?”
But as Nic later sang on the album, in Lazy Gun: “Change nothing.”
Get Born remains a classic debut. You wouldn’t change a thing. It’s the sound of a band embarking on a grand adventure.
Are You Gonna Be My Girl still elicits a rush in any rock fan and is an undeniable classic, Look What You’ve Done is a near-perfect ballad, Take It Or Leave It has a wicked groove, Move On shows the band’s songwriting smarts, and Get Me Outta Here is brimming with bravado, the sound of a band out to conquer the world.
But amidst the rock thrills, for me there’s a sadness at the heart of Get Born, knowing that the world has changed. I’m reminded of that fact every time I walk past Jet’s spiritual home, the Duke of Windsor. It’s now known as Lucky Coq, a venue that promises “cheap eats and good vibes”. It’s home to DJs and no rock bands. For those who remember the heady days of the early 2000s, it feels like a foreign country.
Maybe Chris was right when he sang in Move On: “It’s such a waste to always look behind you/ You should be looking straight ahead.” But 20 years on, you can’t help but think:
Maybe the crap music won.
Little did we know it at the time, but when Get Born was released we were witnessing rock’s last hurrah.
The album featured just a single, simple acknowledgement: “Thanks to the true believers.”
The “New Rock” movement is now 20 years ago. Get Born is all grown up, surviving its difficult adolescence and emerging as a young adult.
Rock’s obituary has been written many times. But there are enough true believers to ensure that the album’s 20th-anniversary tour will be a 2023 live highlight.
As the authors of The 100 Best Australian Albums stated, “Records like this come along so rarely.”
Take it or leave it. Yeah.
Jet’s ‘Get Born’ 20th Anniversary Tour starts at The Forum in Melbourne on September 22. You can buy tickets via the Live Nation Australia website.
FORUM THEATRE, MELBOURNE FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 22 (SOLD OUT)
HINDLEY STREET MUSIC HALL, ADELAIDE SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 23
FORTITUDE MUSIC HALL, BRISBANE FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 29
ENMORE THEATRE, SYDNEY SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 30