- 16 Jun 20
Following the release of his acclaimed new single 'I Need You To Hate Me', Derry's most exciting pop export JC Stewart discusses Normal People, finding a new fan in Jennifer Aniston, life in lockdown, and the importance of using his ever-growing platform to speak out.
The last time Hot Press caught up with JC Stewart, he was on the cusp of ocean-transcending stardom. One year, and a global pandemic, later, the Derry singer-songwriter continues to forge full-speed ahead – having raised his profile to almost two million monthly listeners on Spotify, and scoring a coveted appearance on Good Morning America.
JC has spent the last few years jetting between LA and London, co-writing with Lewis Capaldi, and hanging out with some of the biggest names in the global industry. His current reality, however, is somewhat less glamorous: "I'm sweating it out in the flat in London," he laughs. "There's no air conditioning!"
Even so, he returned last month with his first single of lockdown, 'I Need You To Hate Me' – premiered by Zane Lowe on his Beats 1 show.
"That sound is exactly how I've wanted to sound," JC says of the new track. "They're some of my favourite lyrics I've written, too. Out of the songs I've written, it's one of the few I can actually to listen to – usually I can't listen to my own stuff!"
Although he's keeping himself and his fans occupied these days with acoustic performances recorded at home, one of the last live shows JC played before lockdown was a dream gig at Other Voices in Ballina.
"It was an amazing experience," he enthuses. "It’s something I’ve grown up watching, but it's honestly something I never thought I’d get to do. I do pop music, and a lot of the time you have to miss out on getting to do some of that cooler stuff. So getting asked to do that was lovely, because it’s a really respected thing to do. As a songwriter, literally all my heroes have played Other Voices."
Within a week, he was over in LA – and swiftly back again.
"I was meant to be in LA for a month, but I was only there for six days," he laughs. "We had gone over thinking, ‘It’s going to be fine!’ And then it wasn’t fine – and we had to get an emergency flight back. I ended up in London for a day, and then I was back in Magherafelt, Co. Derry with my parents for two months."
If that wasn't all surreal enough, in the middle of lockdown, Jennifer Aniston became the latest celebrity addition to the JC Stewart Fan Club – after she shared a video of JC performing his own lockdown-inspired parody cover of Friends' theme song with her 32.8 million Instagram followers.
"I got up and was like, 'Look what happened!'" he recalls. "And my family were like, 'You didn't do the dishes last night'. There's reality! But the whole thing was crazy. If I'd know that was going to happen, I would've put a bit more effort into it. I didn't even iron my shirt, or do my hair!"
Like the rest of the planet, JC also kept himself busy during lockdown by devouring the hit TV adaptation of Sally Rooney's Normal People.
"I watched it in a day, and now I think I'm in love with Paul Mescal," he laughs. "What a man. Daisy Edgar-Jones, too. It's fantastic. What's funny is how real it is. It literally shows what it's like growing up in Ireland. Going to school has never been more accurate in a TV show."
Now that he's back in London, JC's "itching to get back" to his music – but he's also engaging with the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests that have taken place around the world following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month. As an artist, he feels he has a responsibility to use his ever-growing platform to speak out.
"As soon as all of this started happening, a lot of people, including me and my friends, started looking inwards, and realising, ‘We’ve avoided this for a long time’," he reflects. "I think a lot of people have done that – thinking, ‘Oh, it’s not my problem’. Now everybody has realised that it is our problem. I’ve been trying to do what I can, and we’ve been out protesting on the streets.
"It was so powerful, and emotional," he continues. "We heard John Boyega speak, which was amazing. We were talking to a lot of people who have been incredibly hurt by stuff that I, as a white man, had missed – even though it was happening right in front of my eyes. It was amazing to just be a part of that – to use my voice and my feet to say, ‘This is wrong’. I feel very proud to be part of a generation that’s doing that. I’ve been posting what I can, but I’ve also realised that I’m not educated enough on the issue to say exactly what I want to say – so I’ve also been sitting back and listening to the people who really do know what they’re talking about. I’m trying to take that all in, and learn, and grow from it."
Undoubtedly, as JC notes, it's "a weird time to be a musician."
"You have to set your personal ambitions aside – which is hard for a lot of people to do initially," he says. "But you’ve got to realise that there are bigger things at play here. London is an amazing place for artists – there’s a massive sense of togetherness, especially among the younger generation. Everybody my age is like, ‘This is it – this is what we’re shouting about’."
'I Need You To Hate Me' is out now.