Exclusive: JC Stewart talks return with pensive Hey Babe, I'm A Mess, I'm Sorry

The Northern Irish singer-songwriter has broken free, making the most emotionally mature (and devastating) music of his career as an independent artist.
jc stewart

JC Stewart had to take some time to breathe. 

Two years ago, the rising singer-songwriter, who had by that point steadily been releasing a stream of slick, pop-leaning records (and earned his first Official Singles Chart entry with 220 Kid collaboration Too Many Nights) put out a statement on Instagram, announcing that he would be taking a step back from releasing music for the near future. 

It's taken a trip back to his home of Northern Ireland and a gathering together of some of his best friends to enable JC to return in 2024, in some ways a completely different artist, making completely different music. 

The song that signals JC's return to the music arena, Hey Babe, I'm A Mess, I'm Sorry is a song that's almost startling in both its emotional honesty and vulnerability, a painfully thorough examination of all the reasons why a past relationship failed, and why all those reasons are kind of his own fault.

Not only the start of a brutally honest new emotional direction for JC's work, but his first-ever release as an independent artist, Hey Babe...strums along on a quiet acoustic beat at first, before swooning and swelling with choral accompaniments that make the loss, hurt and anger contained in the song feel all the more real, all the more world-ruining. 

"I tried everything to numb the pain," JC admits on the lament. "But I've gone too far...because I can't feel a thing."

Ahead of the song's release today and a small, intimate show to be played in London next week, we rang JC up to discuss what made him such a leap musically and lyrically.

jc stewart hey babe im a mess im sorry

Hey JC! Welcome back...literally! How are you feeling?

I'm just trying to do what I always do in life which is running away from my problems at the minute so...it's fantastic. Joking! No, I'm really exciting. It's one of those things where you've spent two years [working] on something that gets you into a really artsy mood. "It doesn't matter," you know, "I'm making it for me," but then it comes out.

And you do care. I definitely do care, but I'm really excited and I know I couldn't have done anything more with it. 

That's the best place to be in surely, knowing you couldn't have done anything more

Yes, and now especially because it's the first one I've done on my own. I'm going pretty much on instinct, nobody's had too much of an opinion on it until [I finished it]. And now it's too late!

It did, in the best way, want to make me have a little cry

It is a bit depressing. I played it for my parents for the first time and they were like...do we need to get you home? Do you need a cup of tea? I did write it when I was going through a bit of a dark time, but then you come out of it and you go...bloody hell!

But that's what I love about music and art, you can put those emotions, these intense emotions into something. 

It's extra special that this is your first song in two years, too. Why did you choose to return with it?

Do you know what? This song wasn't even meant to come out. For a long time, this was the song I wrote that kind of lead me into...writing other songs. But this was just a song for me. Then, I played it for friends who liked it, we developed it a bit and my new team unanimously said they'd love to help me put this out as the first thing we do together. 

I actually, now, think this is exactly the right move.

It's also your first release as an independent artist, what made you make the leap from being inside the big machine to operating more by yourself?

The big machine has its positives and its negatives, you know. I had a good time at [Warner, JC's former label] and then I had a bit of a tough time. It came to an end mutually, I would say, from all sides, then I left my old management at the same time. I didn't straight away go and hire anyone new or write anything new, I guess I had to discover I really wanted to put myself [through it] again. I thought about all these different versions of the person I could be...then I realised that had been the problem the entire time. 

Sometimes, it does take us leaving everything behind to have that lightbulb moment that, in hindsight, probably seemed quite obvious, right?

Literally. I just had to go "I'm a Northern Irish guy from a farm in Magherafelt and I make the music the people who are my heroes - the people from 30 miles away - make and that's what I do. That's kind of where I ended up, and I had to go away and make something first before I tried to see if anybody was interested. I couldn't do it any other way.

Hey Babe, I'm A Mess, I'm Sorry by JC Stewart is out now via Stanley Park Records.

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