How I wrote ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’ by Jet’s Nic Cester
The Australian singer-songwriter and frontman reveals how the single that launched the band’s stellar career was written on the toilet
Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, the rock band Jet found international popularity during the early 2000s. Fronted by Nic Cester with his brother Chris on drums, Cameron Muncey on guitar and Mark Wilson on bass, the foursome self-released 2002’s Dirty Sweet EP before signing a deal with Elektra and releasing their debut album, Get Born, in 2003. Launched by the worldwide radio play of its lead single Are You Gonna Be My Girl, the album went on to sell over three million copies and earned six ARIA (Australian Record Industry Association) awards.
With Jet reuniting to tour in celebration of 15 years since the release of Get Born, we took the opportunity to hear how their breakthrough hit took shape.
“We were young, and that’s the first thing that struck me when I’ve been revisiting all the stuff lately. With songs like Are You Gonna Be My Girl and Look What You’ve Done, I was between the ages of 17 and 19. Obviously, I didn’t know too much beyond the small town I was living in at the time, and the little things that were happening in my life, like my parents’ divorce and trying, unsuccessfully, to shag as many girls as possible!
“I used to live in a bungalow at the back of my parents’ house. It was only two rooms – a bedroom and a small bathroom – so I would sit in the bathroom and the only seat I had was the toilet! I’d put the lid down, obviously, and just sit there with my guitar and write stuff. And I remember the first, early version of Are You Gonna Be My Girl came out there.
“I was listening to a lot of The Who and I noticed the stop-start nature of My Generation. I know we were heavily criticised for the Lust For Life comparison, but that was never, ever on my radar – it was more Motown, like You Can’t Hurry Love, or even [The Jam’s] Town Called Malice. That was where my head was at. It’s just that Motown groove that’s been used a thousand times in a lot of other songs. I guess the end result – if you play that riff in a guitar band – is that it’s going to come out the other side. In fact, at the same time, there was a Strokes song that was very similar.
“I was fascinated by singers like Mick Jagger and Van Morrison who are able ‘speak’ words out and choose words based on diction rather than actual poetry. I knew, with the song, I was on to something. I presented it to the band and we ended up playing it at a concert before I even had words, and I would make stuff up. It was crazy but I knew it was more about the diction, so I could kind of get away with faking it a little bit.
“The original [title] lyric was ‘She’s just like every other girl,’ because I was frustrated about a girl I really liked. It was just about my annoyance at my feeble attempts at going out to try and pull a girl, and going home, unsuccessful. So I was bitter and Chris and Cam picked up on that and were like, ‘Dude, that’s so negative. Why don’t you make it more positive, like ‘Are you gonna be my girl?’
“The cough at the beginning was purely accidental. It was on the very first demo that I did and then when we recorded it with Dave Sardy in LA, we played it to our managers for the first time and they were like, ‘What happened to the cough?’ I said, ‘Of course, it’s not there. What are you talking about?’ and they said, ‘No, no, no guys, you have to put that back in.’ So we actually cut out the cough from my demo, because I said, ‘I’m not going to pretend to cough!’ and they said, ‘Just use the original one.’”
Interview: Aaron Slater