Kickstarting what’s set to be a breakthrough year with the release of “Lying That You Love Me,” JC Stewart sat down with Atwood Magazine to discuss the song, his adoration for performing, tackling creative conflicts, penning accessible lyricism, and more.
“Lying That You Love Me” – JC Stewart
Within the music industry, it’s getting harder to know what’s going to work. There are more variables and unknowns than ever before. Although, what’s never going to change, at least for the foreseeable, is the ability of live music to connect artists to their fans in an almost indescribable meaningful way. With that in mind, before his upcoming May headline tour, JC Stewart headed on ‘The Secret Tour Before The Real Tour.’
“It was amazing. We came up with the idea really last minute, which is cool. We were looking at the year, and we were, like, touring in May and we’re gonna be touring the last half of the year but there’s no supporting tour or anything that we’re doing right now. So yeah, let’s go tour. We’ve never done a headline tour, so it was amazing to see people actually turn up. Because every show I’m like, ‘nobody’s gonna be here,’ but it was amazing.”
I’ve been doing this for a long time now so it’s really nice to see it sort of starting to feel like it’s paying off a little bit in this really small way.
Reflecting on the absurdity of having thousands of fans come to see him perform at such short notice, Stewart shared “It’s weird. It’s honestly really strange. It’s like ‘who are you people? Have you not got better things to do?’ But honestly, I’ve been doing this for a long time now so it’s really nice to see it sort of starting to feel like it’s paying off a little bit in this really small way.”
It’s about to pay off in an even bigger way when JC Stewart brings his poignant anthems to iconic venues such as Belfast’s Limelight and London’s Scala this May. Bubbling with palpable excitement as he pondered the prospect of bringing his enthralling live show to bigger audiences, Stewart said “I just can’t wait. Obviously, I did that small tour on my own, but with the band, it’s a whole different show. I love it; I just have way more fun. Not that I don’t when I’m playing on my own, but with the full live show a whole other alter-ego comes out on stage. It’s so much fun so I just can’t wait.”
Part of the reason Stewart has already amassed such a dedicated fanbase is his relatable lyricism, but, surprisingly, lyricism doesn’t always come easy to him. “Lyrics have always been really hard for me to write. I could always sing melodies, like, there are videos of me as a kid singing. But with my lyrics, I have to think about them a lot. I can’t just go in and write like some people can. I have to go in thinking about something otherwise it will be complete trash. Like, 90% of the songs I write I come away and I’m, like, ‘that has some of the worst lyrics anyone has ever written.’ So I have to think about it. When it all comes together, that’s when I know if it’s worked or not. A lot of the time I work off of one central phrase, and I’m, like, ‘what does that mean? How can I make that mean a few different things?'”
If someone in my close circle tells me they really like a song then I’ll believe it because if they don’t, they’ll literally tell me.
It’s such a testament to his lyricism that even in the relative infancy of his career, his penmanship has allowed him to connect with so many. “My favourite song that I’ve ever written is only my favourite now because everyone seems to like it. Like, when I wrote it, I just thought it was alright. Now, everyone else likes it, it’s my favourite too. Most of the time I have no idea what’s going to work. I wrote a song yesterday and currently, in my mind, I’m thinking that it’s the best song I’ve ever written. But I’m sure when I hear it back in two weeks time, I’m gunna say ‘nah this isn’t good at all.‘”
He continues, “I like to bounce off people when it comes to those sort of things too. My management is really good at it, and, obviously, with the label, that’s their job to be like, ‘we want to release this song then.’ I also have a lot of musician friends who’ll tell me when something is terrible. Then also there’s a couple of songs that I’ve released where a couple of months later they say ‘yeah you shouldn’t have released that one.’ Whereas, with ‘Lying That You Love Me,’ it’s actually quite funny because it’s the first one where everyone around me is, like, ‘actually, this is a really solid song.’ If someone in my close circle tells me they really like a song then I’ll believe it because if they don’t, they’ll literally tell me.”
Even with that reassurance, similarly to most artists, release dates can prove to be all-consumingly nerve-wracking. “I’ll never not be stressed on release date; I’m the worst person to be around. I’m obsessively like ‘I’m not going to look at the playlist.’ But yeah, I love that song. We’ve been holding onto ‘Lying That Love Me’ for a little bit so it’s just really nice to put it out and it seems to be going down really well, which is really exciting. Because you can tell. Even if people tell you they like it, you can tell when people really like it or when in their mind, they’re just in their minds like ‘yeah, it’s cool.‘”
At least part of the reason behind Stewart’s ever-increasing success is that masterful way he utilizes production to amplify the emotional sentiment of his track’s lyrical sentiment. While some singer-songwriters can be drowned out by expansive, anthemic-like production, Stewart seems to come to life. Reflecting on the production process behind “Lying That You Love Me,” Stewart shared “Basically, when we decided we wanted to look at the song a few months ago, we went back into a studio in wales and I did the piano part of it. Then a produced called Koz, who’s based in Toronto came on board.”
I hate conflict and confrontation. Especially when it’s with the sort of people who definitely know what they’re doing. I have such massive respect for them, and to their face, I’m like, ‘I love everything you’ve done, but I think you’re wrong.’ That’s ridiculous.
We went to Ireland for a few days and just got on really well. Then, after that, all over Christmas, we were just on Facetime the whole time. Like, on Christmas day, we were just talking about the song. I remember really wanting that song to feel epic, but don’t feel it’s to be epic. So honestly, he just sent version one and instantly I was like, ‘yeah, that’s pretty good.’ He’s amazing. Within the song, there were also a couple of different elements we very strongly disagreed on, but. to be honest. I went full diva mode and said ‘I want it.‘”
Reflecting on how he manages that artistic conflict, Stewart shared “I find it really hard. I hate conflict and confrontation. Especially when it’s with the sort of people who definitely know what they’re doing. I have such massive respect for them, and to their face, I’m, like, ‘I love everything you’ve done, but I think you’re wrong.’ That’s a ridiculous thing to think but I’ve never been the cool artist or the indie weird guy.”
So, my artistry is just saying ‘this is just exactly how I want it and I don’t know if it’s right, but in my gut it’s right and if it’s wrong then I’m going to hold my hands up.’ That’s where I’ve started to get to, and this song was one where I’m like, ‘this one is on me.’”
He continues, “I really love everybody I work with and I never want to disrespect anybody, which is very easy, and people take everything personally. Like, I take it personally, everyone at the label takes it personally and, at the label, people are so into this right now so it’s at a point where everybody’s taking everything personally. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing, but it’s just like, ‘I think this because of this, I might be wrong, you might right.’ But, at the end of the day, I’m like, ‘it’s my song. It’s my name on it. I wrote it and it’s my voice on it, so I want to want it to be this way.’”
Increasingly, even if someone adores your music, they still want to also meaningfully connect with an artist through social media before becoming a die-hard fan. Given his upwards trajectory, Stewart is ever-increasingly sharing his exploits at high-profile events, where he’s still not become entirely comfortable with the limelight. Reflecting on the absurdity of attending those events, he shared “Most of the time, I’m turning up like, ‘who let me in – this must be a mistake.’ It’s funny. At the Brits, I was sensible this year, but last year I was a complete disaster. I discovered there was free champagne, and they just filled it up as soon as you’d finished. Most of the time you’re not even halfway finished then there’s already a whole other glass, and it’s like, ‘well, I’m not gonna not drink it.’ I remember last year going up to Labrinth and telling him that I was in love with him. Not that I loved him, but that I was in love with him. I got selfies with Jared Leto, Khalid, and told Shawn Mendes he had the greatest biceps in music. This year was much more sensible, but, yeah, I’m enjoying it while simultaneously realising I’m not from this world.”
Even though those events are becoming more commonplace in his life, they don’t feel anymore normal. “Every time I go to something like the Brits, I’m like, ‘this is hilarious.’ Like, you’re peeing beside someone and you’re like, ‘that’s such and such!’ It’s just weird. Obviously, Lewis (Capaldi) has been amazing. He’s me essentially, like, he’s from a different country but it’s the same sort of vibe as where I’m from. Now, he’s a double Brit winner and we were both on a boat going down the Thames the other night. It’s cool that there’s a big bunch of us who essentially have no idea what we’re doing here.”
I just want to put out a song. I’m just going to write songs that I love – I don’t want to have to write a song for Spotify, Tik-Tok, or whatever.
Much like Capaldi, Stewart has the unique ability to craft songs that feel intimately personal while still being accessible and reliable. With songs such as his breakthrough “Like I Did” and more recently “Lying That You Love Me,” the directness of his lyricism remains untarnished. Reflecting on that, Stewart shared “A lot of the time if it sounds like I’m trying to be unambiguous, it just sounds like I’m trying to be a prick. It’s just like, ‘c’mon, say what you want to and get over it.’ It’s hard to be more direct sometimes and to make it fit. But if you can find an interesting way of saying the simplest thing, then that’s the most interesting thing. I want every line I write to mean something. Even if it means a different thing in my head to how the majority of people will receive it.”
Similarly to most other lyricists, explaining the detailed backstory of the inspiration behind their music doesn’t come naturally. He explains, “It’s really weird because I know what it means, but it’s really hard to say what I think it means. It’s not that you don’t want to say what you’re thinking about, but sometimes when you’re playing you don’t access what it’s truly about – you’re just playing a song. Whereas on the day I know exactly what we’re writing about. There are a few songs that I know exactly what they’re about. ‘Lying That You Love Me’ isn’t even about me really; it’s about a friend of mine. Especially for radio and stuff, when people ask, I just make up an answer, like, the strangest thing I can say that still sounds interesting on the radio. But, like, there’s always a specific story and sometimes you don’t want to talk about it and sometimes you do.”
Delving into what it’s like for people who explain their own meanings behind his song, his face lights up describing it as one of his favourite parts. Going through his discography, he describes how a lot of his music thus far aren’t even love songs, they’re just presented that way. He also illustrates how a lot of the time inspiration comes through just talking to people and hearing their stories.
“A lot of the time you’re in the studio, and you’re just like, ‘what’s going on’ and someone just dives into it. With ‘Like I Did,’ my mate was just off the train, he looked awful and he just says ‘bro, she was going out with the yoga teacher the whole time.’ Then with ‘Lying That You Love Me,’ a friend of mine was just talking about his ex and was like, ‘she was the worst.’ Then I was like, ‘but you’d still go back to her?’ and he was like, Ohh yeah.‘”
Within our conversation, Stewart speaks longingly about his desire to release an album that’ll serve as a book stop for the first 23 years of his life and reflects on his success on streaming services thus far. His track “Bones” has quickly become his most streamed songs. Reflecting on the ambiguity that surrounds the uncertainty of a release, Stewart shared, “there’s a certain science behind it, but it’s all guess science. With ‘Lying That You Love Me,’ we know what we want to achieve with it. It’s weird because the label is also like, ‘we’re going to target this and do this,’ but I’m just like, ‘I just want to put out a song. I’m just going to write songs that I love – I don’t want to have to write a song for Spotify, Tik-Tok, or whatever.’”
That unflattering determination not to compromise extends to his live show too. He shares, “Playing live is what music is to me. Like, when you go to concerts, you go see people play and you watch and feel that. I just want to be able to do that too for my fans.” With his upcoming tour starting soon, he’s prioritizing creating a full band to deliver an unmissable live experience, energized by the prospect of taking his music across the globe too.
I don’t care about being the biggest artist in the world…. Just being happy with where I am and being with it all is the dream.
With a number of international festivals already lined up, it’s clear that Stewart dropping out of studying international relations with a minor in Arabic to pursue music fully has well and truly paid off. In his journey so far, he fondly mentions Snow Patrol, whose drummer offered him a publishing deal after seeing him perform at Brighton’s Great Escape. While writing experiences with the likes of James Tw and Lewis Capaldi have also seemed to have made a massive impression on him as an artist and songwriter.
Even though he’s co-written songs that have ended up on chart-topping albums and released his own much-adored tracks, Stewart still understandably relies on the support of others. He shares, “I have no idea what I’m doing at any point of this. So that’s why you rely on, like, management and your label level to tell you, like, ‘we’re gonna do this, this and this.’ I’m just like, ‘here’s the music, you guys tell me what to do with it.‘”
You’ve got to relinquish control a little bit. That’s tough, especially when things don’t go right all the time. But yeah, it is what it is. I can’t do all of it. So, like, I’m writing the songs and doing a lot of creative stuff and everything. Then they’re like, ‘we want to put it out on this day because we can promote it the best,’ and I’m like, ‘sweet, let’s do it.'”
That way of working has obviously worked well for him so far, with his biggest headline tour on the horizon. Reflecting on the future and what he wants to achieve, he shares “I don’t care about being the biggest artist in the world. I want to make a living off of this tour, tour the world, and just have a really nice time. I don’t even believe the pinnacle of what all musicians are trying to achieve even exists. Just being happy with where I am and being with it all is the dream.
The May tour that’s coming up is going to be amazing, that’s such a huge step up for me. Places like Scala are amazing, and what’s coming after that and what we’re looking at doing is just amazing. If it all comes off, then my goodness it’s all going to be mental. I know everyone says this, but with the music that’s coming out this year, we were holding it back last year and it’s been for this. I don’t know if it’s going to work out or not, but I’m 100% committed and can’t wait to see what happens.”
📸 © Rosie Matheson
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