Friends in high places

JC Stewart told David Hennessy about cancelling his first tour, gaining a fan in Jennifer Aniston and his new single I Need You to Hate Me.

Rising Irish pop star JC Stewart was in Los Angeles and supposed to be embarking on his first tour when the world went into lockdown. While it was impossible to share his music with America at the time, he returned to his family home in Magherafelt in Derry.

JC Stewart told The Irish World: “I literally arrived in LA on the Sunday. I was there to make a video and play my first shows in LA. None of that happened sadly but next time, whenever that is.

“I was out with a few other Irish boys and Thursday they were all flying home. I was like, ‘Boys, it’s fine, you’re all over-reacting. It’s going to be grand’. Then by the Sunday, I was on an emergency flight home.

“So I got it quite wrong. It was a weird one going from LA straight back to the family home in the space of two days. It was a culture shock.

“It’s disappointing but I think I kind of had a weird two weeks where I was heartbroken and then I just kind of picked myself up. I think just ploughing ahead has been the best thing I could have done. Hopefully we come out stronger the end of it.”

It was while back at home that he made a video that earned him a new fan in the form of Friends star, Jennifer Aniston. JC shared a version of Friends theme tune, I’ll Be There for You with new lyrics inspired by the lockdown. Jennifer, who played Rachel in the phenomenally successful sitcom that started in the 90s, shared the songwriter’s playful video gaining him millions of new fans in the process.

“That video would never have happened if it wasn’t for coronavirus. If it wasn’t for lockdown, I definitely wouldn’t have made a parody of the Friends theme tune. I don’t know why I did that in the first place to be honest.

It was a very weird day. Obviously Jennifer Aniston sharing your video is a strange one. I was buzzing. I was literally running down the stairs, ‘Mum and dad, guess what?’ They didn’t believe me. Also, they were telling me off for not doing the dishes the night before but then I finally convinced them that it was real. It was a very weird day.”

The cast of the hit show, Friends including Jennifer Aniston who reacted to JC’s parody.

JC appeared on Good Morning American and The Today Show from his isolation in Ulster.

“It was the weirdest thing ever. I haven’t lived with my parents for five years. I was sitting back in my childhood room. It felt like the last five years hadn’t happened. Then I was on American national TV during the biggest news story of our lifetime. It was a really weird thing and there was nobody to tell. I wanted to celebrate. I was like, ‘Will I go run around the fields or something?’

“I’ve had so many people go, ‘How did you have the idea for that?’ And there was no idea for that. I made about 300 stupid videos over lockdown. That was just the one that happened to work. It was just one of those things. I was just so bored that I was like, ‘What can I do here?’ And that for whatever reason popped into my head.”

JC believes it was Snow Patrol guitarist Johnny McDaid, who is dating Courtney Cox, that played some part in bringing the video to Jennifer Aniston’s attention.

“That’s the only way I can think it happened. A paper in Ireland was like, ‘This is how it happened..’ I was like, ‘No, I specifically said I made it up in my head that that’s what happened’.

“It was a funny one. It must have been through Snow Patrol. It’s my only link at all to Friends and it’s a very, very small one. You never know. She might have just seen it as well.”

Snow Patrol have already played a significant role in his career.

“They signed me three years ago. They gave me my first break in music. They gave me my first chance and gave me a little bit of money so I could pay rent in London, stay here for a bit and then they brought me on tour for two months around arenas in Europe. I got to spend a lot of time with them. They’ve been one of the biggest influences in my career so far.”

JC has just released his latest single, I Need You to Hate Me to an overwhelming reaction.

“It’s starting to move in some countries that I’ve never had songs reacting before, charting in places like The Philippines, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Ireland as well.

“It’s really exciting to see people enjoying it.  It’s a bit frustrating that we can’t go onstage because that was like my first big live song where we turn the guitars up to eleven but it’s going to be even better when it does happen.”

The song is about wishing a break-up was more volatile because that would be easier to deal with than seeing a past love in passing.

“I’ve written a million break-up songs. Most songwriters have. I wanted to just do the other side of it where you’re not angry, you don’t hate the person but you kind of wish you were a little bit.

“I always listen to these songs that sound like just falling out of love and never seeing them again but that rarely happens. I kind of wanted to write that side of it. I think having spoken to people that most people kind of sit in that zone of break-ups as well whenever they happen.”

The song is accompanied by a stylish video that starts on a burning car. Setting the car was JC’s idea although he was half-joking.

“I was just like, ‘Can we set a car on fire?’ They’re like, ‘Probably could’. I’m like, (hesitant tone) ‘Aah, do it, I guess’.

“We just ran with it. All of a sudden the fire brigade turned up to see these guys who essentially petrol bombed a car.”

What crazy half-joke is JC going to try on his next video? “Maybe set a private jet on fire? I don’t know. There’s a lot of things to set on fire in the world.”

JC is quick to point out that he won’t be bombarding us with songs about lost love.

“I’ve got a lot more things to talk about and write about. Honestly, the last break-up I had was three years ago. I think I’ve written about it now. I think I’ve got it out of my system.

“I live in London. I’m from a little town in Northern Ireland. I travel all over the world and have this really weird job, meet a lot of weird people and read all this different things about what I do and where I’m going and what I want. I just want to write about that.”

A hugely successful songwriter, JC wrote Hollywood with and for Lewis Capaldi who he has been friends with for many years.

“We’ve been mates for years. We were mates before he was famous at all. He’s blown up now. We still hang out.

“I’m a songwriter. That’s my roots. I was trying to be an artist but I was getting more opportunities being a songwriter so I pursued that for a bit and then the artist thing came back around. It’s something I still do and love doing.

“I got really lucky when I first started out. A lot of people gave me a lot of breaks.

 

“If someday I was able to get to the songwriting level of Hozier, I would be a very, very, very happy man. I’m writing a lot at the minute and just trying to push myself. Dermot Kennedy is another one I love, his lyricism. That’s something I’m trying to push into at the minute, is just write better and better lyrics and try to really dig deep into it.”

JC took to his social media recently to appeal to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to do something for the live music industry. What does he think of the almost £1.5 billion rescue package? “I am pleased to see it. I think it’s not gonna save everything. Things are going to be different. People aren’t going to have their jobs. Obviously for venues, it’s going to be unbelievable.

“I know my crew and I’ve got ten guys that I usually tour with. They’re all self-employed and they’re not going to get much benefit, they’ll struggle. I think that’s going to be the big issue for live music: Crew. Their work stopped one day and it’s not coming back for a long, long time. Hopefully we’re able to sustain that a bit.

“It’s cool that we have that but I think there’s more to do, on the side of musicians as well, to help the crews out.

“They’re some of the most talented people in the world. A lot of them are working in Tesco, working wherever, which is fine but that’s not what they’re meant to do. They’re the most trained, technically brilliant people in the world and their jobs just vanished overnight.

“A lot of my band have been working on building sites back in Northern Ireland. I think they’ve been loving it. It’s also not what they’re trained for and not what they’re meant to be doing. Hopefully we get back sooner or later.”

JC is based in West London: “I’ve been in London for two and a half years now so I’ve been here for a while and I love it.

“There’s a lot of Irish musicians in London. There’s a massive scene. I live with Conor from WIld Youth. The Picture This boys are over all the time, you’ve got Niall Horan sometimes, there’s a big crowd of us so it’s good fun. A lot of my mates are Irish musicians and everybody’s just so sound and if you’re not, you get told pretty quickly.

“I’ve got a lot of friends here. My girlfriend lives here. It’s very chilled.

“There’s a lot of great pubs as well. There’s a bar called Homeboy in Islington. It’s my favourite Irish bar in London. We went down on Sunday night and it was glorious, had a couple of Guinness. Honestly, it’s just full of Irish boys. If you’re Irish, they treat you like a king.

“Apart from that, you don’t really do much because you can’t afford to do anything because it’s London.”

JC recently went knocking on some of his London fans’ doors to play them a song and brighten their day while there was no Glastonbury.

“It was the most socially awkward I’ve ever been. I’m usually okay in social situations. I don’t know if you’ve ever gone around and knocked on random people’s doors and sang for them but it’s a very weird thing to do. It’s like busking on steroids essentially.

“It was one of those ideas that was a complete joke until it wasn’t and then it had gone too far and I had to do it.”

Although it started as a joke, the joke was somewhat on him when he got a request for another artist’s song.

“The first one was really funny. She opened it and then I’m like, ‘What do you want me to play? I can play anything…’ I was thinking, ‘These people know I’m coming, they’re fans of mine’.

“She’s like, ‘Oh, can you play a Niall Horan song?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, sure, I can play a Niall Horan song’. The first one wasn’t even one of my songs. But it was lovely. I got some families. There was a guy who had actually learned my song on the guitar and I sang along and he played it which was kind of cool.”

JC sees himself staying in London long term but is also keen to spend a lot of time in Northern Ireland.

“I’ve told myself I’m going to take up golf at some point this year. That will be my new thing but I currently can’t hit the ball. I’ve a lot of work to do.

“I’ve always wanted to be sporty and I’ve always given it a go and I’ve always been absolutely terrible at whatever sport I’ve tried to play. I used to play rugby. I was terrible but I knew all the rules. I probably should have been a referee or something. I studied it. I knew all the theory, had it down: If I just do this, I’ll be good at rugby.

“Sadly couldn’t run or tackle and those are very important things in rugby so I struggled there. I’ve always wanted to be good at sports and love them but sadly it’s not in my genetics.

“I’d love to go back to Ireland some day. I want to spend more and more time in Ireland. I really loved being back home. My hometown was always somewhere I had mixed feelings about, as most teenagers and kids do. You look back and you’re all angsty and everything.

“I went back as a 20 something and I really loved it and I really fell in love with the place. I want to go back more and more but I’m here for a while, seeing what the future holds.”

I Need You to Hate Me by JC Stewart is out now.

For more information, click here.

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