One of Richolly Rosazza’s illustrations from the ‘Skipping Girl’ book.
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 announces the release of his debut children’s book and companion album ‘Skipping Girl’ on November 5th, with physical formats to follow on the 12th.
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.
“I was looking at it during a pivotal moment in my life,” he recalls. “For the first time I saw it as a metaphor. On the surface it’s very beautiful and colourful and lights up the skyline, but there’s also a deep sadness to it. For me, it’s always been very melancholic because it’s a child who is trapped in this eternal loop that’s not going anywhere. And for me that was a really powerful metaphor for someone who is trapped in a repetitive loop of any kind: it could be alcoholism, an unhappy relationship, or a job that you’re dissatisfied with.”
Nic had originally planned to collaborate with an author for the book, but his own supposedly rough draft of the text attracted the attention of a publisher. The idea had lurked in the back of his mind for some time and suddenly it was taking shape, with Richolly Rosazza coming on board for its childlike but also intricately detailed illustrations. His work on ‘L’ospite’ was already a firm favourite of both Nic and Matilda.
The companion album works on two levels. On one hand, they offer chapters of where the Skipping Girl’s future adventures may have taken her. But they also allow the adult emotions behind the story, which are too nuanced to be conveyed in a children’s book, to come to life.
Nic adds, “The songs are a mix of vignettes of stories from my own life, with stories from my own childhood, and ideas I’d like to impart upon my daughter. Hopefully when she grows up, she can listen to the songs and explore those ideas a little deeper.”
The songs were written in a variety of different time periods, with the mood-setting ‘Goodnight Beautiful’ dating back some ten years. Others were written and filed away when Nic was in Berlin writing ‘Sugar Rush’ (released in 2017) while others were crafted much more recently. It’s a quietly elegant collection of introspective and calming material, with highlights including ‘Forever’ which builds its increasingly rich sonic palette as the Skipping Girl comes to life, while ‘Cry Baby’ (written with his brother, Jet drummer Chris Cester) is a poignant, cinematic-scaled ballad.
Aside from an appearance by his Italian backing band The Milano Electricca on ‘Forever’, Nic played almost every instrument (including some designed for children) on the album, avoiding autotune and keeping every imperfection intact to maximise its warm, organic sound. That approach did, however, bewilder the Orchestra Italiana del Cinema (best known as the late, great Ennio Morricone’s orchestra) who recorded the album’s luscious string arrangements during a memorable session at the Forum Music Village in Rome.
That session was also Nic’s first time out of Milan after lockdown restrictions were eased. “It was amazing to have the chance to go to that incredibly beautiful studio, which is also mind-bogglingly interesting. Suddenly we could go to a restaurant and a studio and listen to an orchestra. It was a sensory overload! Carbonara, wine, music: it was beautiful.”
Nic hopes to present and film a multimedia event in Milan to launch ‘Skipping Girl’, combining a live performance, a reading of the book, and a display of its full-sized illustrations. Then his attention will turn to the release of his second solo album, which has been long delayed due to the COVID situation.
‘Skipping Girl’ will be released in English and Italian (‘Uno Giorno Una Ragazza’) editions, and physical formats are available to pre-order here. Formats include a combined book/vinyl edition, while the standalone book features a QR code which directs readers to download/streaming links for the album.