“It was the loudest thing I’d ever heard in my entire life”: Jet’s Nic Cester on the time he auditioned to be the new singer in AC/DC

AC/DC in 2023, Nic Cester
(Image credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images/Roberto Finizio/NurPhoto)

Sometimes in life it is important to do things that scare the bejesus out of you. This was the approach taken by Jet frontman Nic Cester when he was asked to audition to become the singer in AC/DC in 2016. The Aussie legends, whose Bon Scott-led output was a huge influence on Jet’s sound, were deep into the tour to support their 2014 record Rock Or Bust when singer Brian Johnson was ordered to stop touring immediately as a result of hearing loss. It meant Angus Young & co. needed to find an emergency replacement for the remaining 22 shows. That spot ended up going to Axl Rose, but Cester was in the running and he recounted the audition process in an interview with Australian radio station Triple M earlier this week.

“I was staying with my in-laws and I got up in the morning and read the paper and it said that Brian Johnson was not in the band anymore,” Cester recalled. “I remember saying to my father-in-law, ‘You would not want to step into those shoes’. Literally 20 minutes later, the phone rang saying, ‘Would you be interested in going to Atlanta, Georgia to audition and potentially fill in for this next round of dates that we’ve got?”.

Cester said it was with a ‘Oh my god’ that he decided to take the trip. “I was like, ‘I think I’ll say yes just for the life experience, I wasn’t really expecting to get the gig to be honest but I thought, ‘How could I turn this opportunity down?’,” he remembered, noting that the offer came after he’d performed Back In Black with Muse on a handful of occasions in 2010. “I called Matt Bellamy and said, ‘Hey, thanks for that!’,” Cester laughed.

Moving onto the audition itself, Cester recalled being pushed to his limits.  “It was pretty weird because they’d stopped where the tour had stopped and it happened to be in Atlanta, Georgia,” he said. “They were in the Black Crowes’ rehearsal studio and it was a tiny place but they were set up there with the enormous backline and I remember watching AC/DC and thinking, ‘There’s no way all of those amps are on’. Let me tell you, they were all fucking on! It was the loudest thing I’d ever heard in my entire life.”

Angus Young was running the show, he said. “Angus put me through my paces. Everything was a test to see how I’d handle it – the volume and him going, ‘OK, let’s do this song’, and I didn’t know [some of them] off the top of my head so he’d just go, ‘Go over there and learn it’ and the whole band would be waiting there for ten minutes and I’m just going, ‘Oh fuck’. It was pretty intense, but I realise now Angus was a super professional guy and he wanted to push me to my absolute limit to see how I would react.”

Cester said he “smashed out a couple of Bons” but it took him longer to get to grips with Johnson’s singing style. “I remember trying to practice and I was like, ‘How is he doing this?’. It’s a very unusual way of singing and someone told me, ‘You’re making the mistake of thinking he’s pushing out an enormous amount of volume, which is how I sing. But he’s not, he’s whispering directly into a microphone with this enormous volume behind him so it sounds like the loudest thing in the world but it’s not at all, he’s barely pushing out.”

Despite his efforts, the job went to Axl Rose but, as you can see from Cester covering Back In Black with Muse below, the Jet man would’ve given it a good crack:

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.