Talking 'Are You Going to Be My Girl' with Jet's Nic Cester

Talking 'Are You Going to Be My Girl' with Jet's Nic Cester

The loved—and maligned—2003 hit has been played at bucks nights, football stadiums, video games and television commercials.
03 April 2017, 3:48am

This article is part of our series 'Nice Song, What's It About?,' where we revisit old greats and go deep to get the stories behind them. To see the column's archive, click here.

It starts with a cough. The sound of someone clearing their throat before tambourine, a rumbling bass line and a guitar riff, that yes, does sound an awful lot like Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life," kicks in.

As far as bombastic and boisterous rock songs, it doesn't get much bigger than Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl." With hooks, handclaps, and hokey lyrics about girls with big black boots and long brown hair, it distilled the style and swagger of 60s rock acts like The Who and The Rolling Stones into three-and-a-half minutes.

It's a song that made a lot of people happy, a lot of people annoyed, and it made Jet superstars.

Of course Jet wrote other songs over their career but "Are You Going to Be My Girl" is the track that put the Melbourne four-piece on the musical map and has since been played everywhere from bucks nights, football stadiums, video games, television commercials and recently again on stage as Jet reunited for a number of Australian dates opening for Bruce Springsteen.

Recorded at Sunset Sound Studios in Los Angeles with US producer Dave Sardy and released in October 2003, Jet's debut album Get Born went on to sell 3.5-million copies worldwide. Co written by guitarist Cameron Muncey and vocalist/guitarist Nic Cester, "Are You Going to Be My Girl" was the first single from the album, released in 2003 in Australia and the United Kingdom, and in 2004 in the United States.

The song and accompanying black and white video, that featured the band performing with fringes, flares, and swaying silhouettes, came to represent Australia's contribution to the early 2000s rock resurgence lead by The White Stripes, The Strokes and The Hives. The song was also used as part of two major worldwide advertising campaigns, for Apple's iPod, iMac, and for Vodafone.

We caught up with Nic Cester, who now lives in Como, Italy, to find out more about the band's signature song.

Noisey: Who had the big black boots and the long brown hair?

Nic Cester: It's not about any girl in particular. All the descriptive words were chosen more for their diction than anything else. The diction was very important to be able sing it in the right way.

*It's a cocky and confident song. Would that describe you at the time? *

I wouldn't say I was or am particularly confident, maybe a little shy if anything. I don't do 'chit chat' very well. Then or now.

What can you remember about putting it together? Did you realise how big it was going to be?

I remember trying to evoke the excitement of stuff like the Easybeats, early Stones and early Who. All that early 60s stuff which I was listening to a lot at the time. We had no clue it would be listened to by so many people. We were just trying to write a rock'n roll tune that you could dance to.

*How did it go in the early days when you used to play regularly at Melbourne's Duke of Windsor? *

I'm pretty sure we played an earlier version at the Duke that was slightly different although I didn't remember how. I only remember that there weren't any words and I was just making stuff up hoping to bluff my way through it. No one seemed to notice.

*When recording the album did you feel that some songs would perform better than others? *

Well I guess there were some songs that we new were particularly catchy or hooky. But not really. We always gave the same amount of attention to every song.

What was it like recording the track with Dave Sardy?

Working with Sardy on the first album was a lot of fun. All the songs arrived fully formed with very strong identities already so recording was very straight forward. We'd been already been playing them too live so we knew how to play them well.

You performed the song on SNL in 2003. By that stage you must have played a lot!

SNL was really good. We were all pretty relaxed. All the American label people were freaking out though. I don't thing we realised at the time what a big huge deal it actually was.

What was it like playing again on recent Australian shows? Has there been any changes to the song over the years?

The recent Australian shows were great, particularly after such a long break. I don't think there were any changes to the songs. If anything we were probably more loyal to the songs then back then.

By the time "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" was released as a single in the U.S. in late spring of 2004, Get Born had already been out for about eight months, and hadn't gained much in the way of commercial or critical traction. When did the track start to blow up?

It's hard to remember exactly what was happening at that time. We weren't really paying much attention to that side of things. As far as we were concerned it was already a success in the sense that we'd just recorded a great record and were now touring the world.

The track was one of the first used in Apple ads. How much influence do you think the ad had on the songs success?
That was definitely a tipping point. That kind of global exposure is game changing definitely. Particularly then with the iPod because it was 'the' new product that everyone was taking about.

The "Lust for Life" comparisons have been there from the beginning. Have you grown to accept them?

I've always accepted the comparison, it's true. I would say our song is just another in a long line of songs with that rhythm. "Town Called Malice", "Can't Hurry Love" etc. There are many.

It's a song that many associate with partying in the 2000s. A lot of the same people now have families and more responsibilities. Is it a reminder of freedom or escapism?

I really couldn't answer that. My relationship to that song is too intimate.

How do you feel about the track being considered your signature song?

I can live with that, although, I ain't done yet.

Illustration: Ben Thomson