JC Stewart doesn’t care if you like Coldplay — because he really, really does. In fact, Chris Martin and co top Stewart’s list of musical role models. Along with songs by Kings of Leon, Thirty Seconds to Mars and The Script, Coldplay’s Paradise, Viva la Vida and Clocks just do something to the young Northern Irish singer-songwriter.
“They punch you!” he laughs. “Right in the gut! And that’s my favourite feeling with music. When you go to a concert and you’re just like ‘Woah. Wow’. And it doesn’t have to be energetic. It doesn’t even have to be happy — it’s often sad. But it needs to punch you in the gut. Coldplay does that. But so does Beyonce, and Ariana Grande, and Bob Dylan. All that stuff gets me.”
Hopefully you’ll feel a gut-punch of your own when you listen to Stewart – and, given he’s the first performer in the Gentleman’s Journal Lockdown Sessions series, you’ll get a chance to hear an exclusive track further down this page. While playing from the bedroom of his parent’s house in Londonderry may be a far cry from the crowds he’s used to — Stewart admits that self-isolation has reminded him why he first fell in love with music.
“I was 15 when I wrote my first song,” he explains. “It was the first time music made sense to me. It had never crossed my mind that I could write a song. But, as soon as I did, I knew it was going to be something I loved. I knew then that I wanted to do this as a job. Well, a pretend job.”
Stewart may be joking, but the job looks pretty real to us. Eight years since that first song, he is signed to Warner Music and (usually) spends his days touring the world. He’s got a co-writing credit on Lewis Capaldi’s No 1 album Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent, well over one million monthly listens on Spotify, and an undeniable talent that’s been recognised by some of the biggest DJs on British airwaves. In fact, the first time Stewart heard himself on the radio, it was Scott Mills playing his music.
“That. Was. Mental.” Stewart laughs. “I was driving to the airport with my dad, and I didn’t even know I was going to be on Radio 1. Then, all of a sudden, Scott Mills just says: ‘And, up next, JC Stewart’. It was just the most ridiculously insane buzz. Even now, every time I hear myself come on the radio when I’m just hanging around in the kitchen, it’s nuts!”
And there’s been a lot of hanging around in the kitchen lately. Two months into lockdown, Stewart reveals that he’s been spending most days staring into the fridge, or binge-watching Tiger King on Netflix. He even worked his new daily routine into a parody of the Friends theme song, I’ll Be There For You. The video, which he shared on TikTok, even tickled Jennifer Aniston — and she shared it to her 33 million Instagram followers.
“Yeah, that was weird, wasn’t it?” Stewart smiles. “I woke up, checked my phone and Jennifer Aniston had put my video on her story. So yeah, I don’t know how that happened — but I hope she marries me someday!”
So, aside from making some new Friends, how has lockdown been treating Stewart?
“Selfishly, I’m really enjoying it,” he shrugs. “I know that’s not the popular thing to say, and that, during lockdown, there’s a lot of pressure to be creative, but I’m just enjoying getting stuck in. But social media can put a lot of pressure on musicians. I hate that. Not that I hate social media — but, back in the day, you could go away for an entire year just to write an album. These days, you have to be doing two TikToks every day, not to mention that musicians have to also be comedians.”
Nevertheless, it’s a side of the industry that Stewart seems to have a hold on, with his TikTok account gaining more traction than most. But the singer-songwriter is also working on a lot of new material. His songwriting process, which he admits changes all the time, is currently using up a lot of paper in his Londonderry home.
“Because,” he explains, “at the moment I’m writing a lot of what I call ‘one-liner’ songs. Essentially, I get one line — and I might not even know what that line means yet — and I’ll write it on a page and brainstorm around it. Just write a stream of consciousness until I realise what it’s about. That’s how I’m working. Although I’m also doing a song at the moment where I wrote the melody first — and that’s proving really hard.”
“I’m loving just sitting and writing and having nothing to do but this,” he adds. “Of course, I’m missing touring. I’m missing travelling, missing LA, Berlin, even London. Because, let me tell you, going on tour is a whole different thing. You’re just living on this adrenaline buzz — this fake life. You’re in your own bubble with your own band on your own bus. And you’re playing to people who love your music! It’s amazing.”
There’s been a fair share of tours already for the 23-year-old. In recent years, Stewart has packed his bags to support everyone from Vance Joy and Anne Marie to Lewis Capaldi and Freya Ridings. And, now he’s confined to his bedroom, he truly appreciates the privilege of performing live — and can even pick out his favourite ever gig.
“There’s two, actually,” he claps, “but they were both in the same city; Lisbon. Oh my god, it goes off there! I played with Kodaline there, and I played with Snow Patrol there. And we played these coliseums, these amphitheatres. It’s just the most crazy place I’ve ever been.
“I’d also give an honourable mention to Warsaw,” he adds, “where I played with James Bay. I broke one of my guitar strings mid-set, and James Bay had to come out and give me one of his guitars. That was really cool.”
From Bay to Lewis Capaldi, there’s an enviable roll-call of big names in JC Stewart’s career. Now, with his star rising — Aniston-amplified exposure to 33 million new fans can only help — the boy from Londonderry likely has his pick of duet partners.
“My dream duet?” he asks. “Right now, I’d say it would be Madison Beer. That would be amazing. Although Rihanna and Yebba would be as well. I’d also love to do something with Foo Fighters.
“Oh, and Coldplay,” he adds hastily. “Coldplay would be amazing. You know, I think that if you don’t like Coldplay, you just don’t like being happy. There you go, that’s your headline.”
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