Music

Meet JC Stewart, Who Writes 'Sad Pop' Music

The 23-year-old singer-songwriter from Northern Ireland is set to hit it big in 2021.
IMAGE Mark Mattock/Warner Records
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Something about music we universally agree on is the appeal of songs that speak to us. Or better yet, music that speaks for us. The ones about the ones that got away, those that we’d rather forget about but can’t, or love unrequited, all of which happen to be everyone’s absolute guilty pleasure. JC Stewart’s got that incredible gift of turning all that delicious pain into music and lyrics for all the world to enjoy. 

This 23-year old is no newbie to the industry. “I’ve been doing it for quite a long time. I’ve taken the slow road but it’s been the scenic route,” he tells Esquire Philippines during a virtual chat. Starting his career at age 15, Stewart wrote songs and played in festivals with a band. He then tried to go solo and performed in pubs around his native Northern Ireland for a couple of years doing mostly cover songs while simultaneously working at a local whisky factory.

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Photo by Mark Mattock/Warner Records.
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“I was always trying to be an artist but it wasn’t working out for a long, long, long time,” he says. Stewart then moved to England for university where he found his luck slowly begin to change. In 2018, he released a couple of singles, “Medicine” and “Like I Did,” which got the attention of label execs and finally landed him a record deal.

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“It took ages. It wasn’t like people were biting my arm off to sign me,” Stewart recalls. “That was a couple of years ago and it’s been really lovely since then. Slowly growing, more people hearing my music, and people actually wanting to hear more. It’s been new for me and really nice.”

'Depressing pop'

The musician’s brand of what he calls “story-telly songwriting” is totally relatable to listen to and, like peeling off the scabby remains of an itchy already healed wound, oddly satisfying. Because, really, we’ve all known heartbreak at one point or another and the masochist in all of us compels us to dig up all those feels that have long been dead and buried every single chance we get. We love reminiscing just to see how far we’ve come.

Stewart lists Tom Waits, Kanye West, Mark Ronson, Chance the Rapper, The Killers, Coldplay, Snow Patrol, James Bay, and Sia as some of his many musical influences. “Big storytelling proper lyrics, big songs not pulling any punches, their live shows are amazing. That’s really what I want to be and what I want to do,” he says about what he admires most about all these artists. The diversity of these artists and the genres they cover somehow contribute to the unique sound Stewart gives his own creations. “It’s definitely pop music and a lot of times it’s sad mixed with a bit of a few other things,” he explains, “but mostly depressing pop.” 

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This promising musician would be the first person to tell you he never would have imagined having a conversation with Esquire Philippines about his new EP When the Light Hits the Room from his London bedroom halfway across the world but yes, JC Stewart, his music, and the many stories he has to share have inevitably reached our tropical shores.

Photo by Warner Records.
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“The whole EP is about searching for happiness,” he says as he talks about traveling the world, partying, and money—things that used to define success back when he was much younger. “I thought that when I got those things that I’d be happy but it didn’t really work like that,” he shares. “It ended up being things that I always had like my family and my friends and going to the pub. Simple things that made me happy.”

Not a bad year 

When the Light Hits the Room was essentially the moment when Stewart realized just that and this project is a coming of age for this talented young singer-songwriter. Stewart also worked on the record with industry giants such as BRIT and Ivor Novello Award winner Tom Odell, who helped write the EP. It was also recorded by Grammy-nominated producer Two Inch Punch. With tracks like “Hard to Believe,” which Stewart intimates is his personal favorite, and “Valium,” the track this writer enjoyed listening to the most, each song from the EP takes us all on strangely familiar, bittersweet journeys for about three minutes at a time.

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2020 may have been quite forgettable for most of us but the leaps and bounds Stewart’s career has made this past year have made his goal to conquer the world just that much closer. “This year has turned out way better than it could have done for me in terms of my music reaching so many more millions of people than it did before and that’s been incredible,” he says. “I’ve spent some time in the studio, learned how to produce, do more things, and it’s not been all bad.”

According to Stewart, Asia is his biggest plan next year. “On Instagram, half the messages I get are from Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and people listening to my music there is just mind-blowing because I’ve never been,” Stewart says. “It’s pretty crazy to think that halfway across the world, my songs are on the radio.”

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After four unsuccessful planned trips to our neck of the woods, 2021 looks to be the year he finally gets to visit Manila. “I cannot wait to come. I’m going to eat all your food. I heard it’s the best and I’m going to play some shows for you guys it’s going to be amazing.” Until then, we’re looking forward to more of this artist’s music about the numbers on our phones that we don’t call anymore.

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Mikko Abello
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