Northern Irish singer, songwriter, and musician JC Stewart is famous not only for his own pop songs “I Need You To Hate Me” and “Lying That You Love Me” but for teaming up with pops big hitters Lewis Capaldi and Niall Horan. He catches up with me about finding his feet in lockdown, new music, and of course the TikTok parody of Friends that went viral after Jenifer Aniston re-posted it last year.
Unlike the miserable Monday weather, Stewart was of a sunny disposition, dispelling his sadboi label as we sat down at the iconic Hawley Arms pub (famous for hosting many a drunk celebrity) over a coffee and dove in on his journey into the music industry and his current and future projects.
On being asked how he coped during the pandemic he was honest about how he got through the corona rollercoaster. “I was better at the start, but this year has been rubbish, for no reason. Last year was good in terms of releasing music and the weird viral stuff, then this year I put out music and it went really well, I think it just hit me that it was the fourth song I’d released which was being played on the radio all over the world, which is class but I’m sitting in my bedroom and I’m kind of watching everything I’ve ever dreamed of passing me by.
I kind of got stuck in my head for a while, I stopped writing for a month because my record label thought I was sending songs I didn’t care about and they were right. I was worried about missing my chance so I wrote songs that I thought people wanted me to write. This next song I’m releasing was the first one I was like “lads, I don’t really know what I’m doing anymore, I did this, take it or leave it”. I think it’s my favourite thing I’ve ever done. It’s really exciting and it’s been up and down, but I’m happy to be on the other end of it”.
It was evident the pandemic impacted how he now makes music and has changed his process of songwriting, a story shared among many artists over the past 15 months. “I used to go into a session every day with songwriters. I was on the other side of it writing for other artists. But then I switched to working with producers and songwriters. You’d come out with a cool song, I did those five to six days a week and you had this bank of songs. A lot of them have come out and they’ve done well, some of them haven’t and because of the pandemic, we had to do it all by zoom. I hated it straightaway. It was not a vibe. Working with all these people I’d dreamed of working with my whole life, seeing them on zoom for two hours and never hearing from them again. It was weird, like speed dating songwriting. I needed a break from it. So, I taught myself how to produce and set up a little studio in my parent’s house where I quarantined, staying there for 14 hours a day, every day, for two months learning new things. Now I have my own studio I’m there on my own ten hours a day.”
As a music graduate, I also attempted to write songs with other songwriters via Zoom during this period, I found it challenging and almost impossible to be creative at times. It was comforting hearing that Stewart also felt detached when writing this way. Having struggled with grasping the ins and outs of music production on my course and regularly needing my peers’ help, I wondered how he developed his production skills and what software made the transition easier.
“Just logic, a keyboard, a little podcast mic and my guitar. That’s all I needed. It was great fun. I learned purely using YouTube; I already knew the basics having watched people do it for the past four-five years, but still every day I YouTubed about 20 different videos searching for the most stupid stuff. I love production, but I’m limited to what I can do. I’ve worked with a guy in Toronto for two years now and he is teaching me a bit as well. I send him stuff, he adds a bit, I add a bit more, and we kind of build it up that way. It is really fun and something in 10 years I could see myself doing properly.”
Stewart admitted he co-wrote “Break My Heart” with superstar Niall Horan over email, it was impossible not to wonder if the experience was difficult.
“It was the least Rock and Roll writing of a song ever! We began emailing back and forth, with a chorus suggestion and the rest of the song around it. I sent my version and he responded with “I don’t like the lyric in the second verse”, I made changes, sent it back, and it came together. We never got the chance to be in a room together, that would have been class. But it’s just one of the things of the pandemic, isn’t it? We made it work with just WhatsApp and email.
“Break My Heart” saw a significant musical change for Stewart who has been known to pen more sadboi style tunes. I ask him about whether he still identifies himself with that genre and if going forward we’d see more upbeat songs from him. “My sister came up with the name. She’s good with branding ideas, she pointed out “you’re just a professional sad boy, you’re happy all the time, you sing sad songs for money and then you get on with your life”, so yeah, I think I still am. But the sad songs come from the realist place but I like to be a normal happy person too”.
“Music-wise, it’s gotten slower and more depressing” he laughs “there’s one coming up let’s call it mid-tempo, I’m excited about it. It’s more of a head bopper, but the stuff coming out at the minute is four and a half minutes long piano songs. We’ll see how it goes. I find it natural to sit down, play the piano and sing songs as all the music I listen to, are old men singing songs at the piano like Tom Wade and Sir Bob Dylan, let’s go and do that, it’s what makes sense to me. Similar to Snow Patrol and Foy Vance, that’s what I’m better at than writing a Pop Bop.”
More and more artists from both sides of the Irish border have been breaking into the international charts of late and talking with Stewart, it’s apparent that the local music scene has influenced his musical style. “I’ve been inspired by Foy Vance, Van Morrison, and the Script back in the day and I wouldn’t be doing music if it wasn’t for Snow Patrol who paid for me to live in London, they signed me to my first publishing deal four years ago, and honestly, it was a stupid business decision for them! I was doing nothing but they were like here pay your rent, go try this, see what you can do. They took me on tour for six months, I even wrote my new song in one of their houses whilst house-sitting for them. I was writing my new song looking at the Ivor Novello trophy for Chasing Cars on the same piano that they wrote it on, thinking that’s what I have to aim for! I’ve got to do something as powerful as that, nowhere near there yet but I’m striving to.”
His natural comfortability behind the keys is inherited from his grandad who used to sing in local pubs and his mother who sings “a little”, but the rest of his family, he says, aren’t particularly musical. “Depending on how many bottles of wine have been passed around, my mum and I do a mean version of summertime by George Gershwin. She’s a really good singer and is in the gospel choir in the local town. She forced me into music. I absolutely hated it as a kid; I just wanted to be a rugby player even though I was really bad at rugby! It was tough to take as a twelve-year-old, I knew every rule, knew all the theories, I just couldn’t play it. At fourteen I was sent to the local theatre to a songwriting class, my mum said “you’re going that’s it” and it just clicked. I wrote my first song and loved it, literally from that day everything shifted. I don’t know what would’ve happened if I hadn’t gone to that because I’d never thought about writing songs before. I still play tag rugby and hurt myself all the time because I’m not really a sportsman. I just go for the pints after”.
That little push set Stewart on the pathway to insurmountable success for an artist only 4 years into his career, I ask him about some of his highlights so far. “I Need You To Hate Me” going well was nice, being top ten in Europe and being played on the radio in Europe was mad, it surpassed my expectations. The moment I’ll always remember is playing in Lisbon with Snow Patrol, I had supported them and it was the best gig ever, they dedicated “Chasing Cars” to me, I was with my parents, so that was special and I’ll never forget it. I’m working with my hero’s day in, day out, I’m pretty grateful. I used to be so worried about the next step, now looking back and having the time to reflect, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve done but there’s more to come.”
Capaldi and Horan are only some of the huge names Stuart has found himself in the company of, having toured with Anne-Marie and Lauv and written with Justin Parker, Tom Odell and Nile Rodgers. Now an expert on collaborating (he even did a TedX all about it) I asked Stewart to share his three do’s and don’ts when workign with other artists.
“Come prepared, sounds like a silly one but you have to do your homework, come with an idea it might be rubbish but it gets you started, be open to other people and also be picky in terms of your idea, it’s something that I’ve learned, just because something sounds good it usually is. But go around the houses a bit just to make sure. On the other side you can say the opposite to all three of those but also don’t shut stuff down, be open to things, don’t chase other people’s work, just because something is on the radio now and sounds good, it’s not you if you’re chasing that, just do whatever feels right, even if you think people won’t like it. If it’s completely from you, then there is something magic about it. Also, don’t be late, I know people who are two-three hours late for a session and nobody wants that.”
“But ’Ive decided to sort of stop collaborating for a while not because I don’t think other songwriters are amazing but you end up having to compromise to suit everyone else. Probably in two months, I’ll go back to the sessions because I’ll have changed but you definitely have to meet in the middle when you’re writing with other people, which isn’t a bad thing all the time but just not for me now.”
We move on to discussing his latest EP When The Light Hits The Room, Stewart shared that his favourite song is a song called “Hard to Believe” “It’s where the title is from, it’s a really simple song, my potentially only happy song. The whole EP was written about being lost in the whole thing and then finding myself and waking up at the moment and realising, this is good, this is ok, and that song is about that moment. Meeting my girlfriend, all sorts of stuff, this is nice to listen to, it’s a happy one and the next one takes us back to dark and depressing.”
As a songwriter, I wanted to learn what has been the most challenging song he has written, personally, writer’s block has been something that has been paralysing for me, and giving up on the process and accepting defeat is something I try to fight against mentally all the time, so I really wanted to hear if he has been affected by this at all.
“The last song I wrote I had to take a break; I went to Kent for two weeks by the sea. I didn’t bring a guitar and I wasn’t allowed to play any music, I just wrote in a book. I kind of accepted in my head that my career was over. I don’t know why, there is no reason for it; I just went into a weird place. Then I went to my girlfriend’s parents’ house and there was a piano in the hallway, I was watching something and getting really stressed about nothing. I just sat at the piano and played the verse for the song for the first time, it just clicked. Then I went to my publisher’s house, played the piano and wrote the song, and sent it off. It was the nicest feeling ever, getting it back, as It had been months, writing it was easy, but starting was the hardest process because it felt like a long time to get there”.
I wondered if this meant Stewart ever felt daunted when creating. “If I wasn’t playing the piano every day I’d go mental. If I’m super stressed I sit down and don’t even necessarily write. I don’t even really know how to play piano, I can’t read music but I’ve been playing for seven years. I can play my way and if I play I feel better. I’m never daunted by creation or creating, I’m excited by it but it’s because I have to do it as well, it’s therapy, it feels like an extension of me and if I don’t do it I feel weird.”
I imagine Stewart must tire of being asked about the Friends parody. As someone who has never seen an episode, I still enjoyed it, and couldn’t avoid asking him about the impact on his career and if he had any regrets.
“People ask me all the time why I picked the friends theme tune because I’m not a major fan. I can’t stress how little I thought about doing it. I was trying to do TikTok, I was watching Friends on TV and my sister wouldn’t even move from the sofa. My mum wasn’t happy, the fridge hadn’t been cleaned and everyone in the world has seen the inside. I got a few new followers on Instagram, who I think now hate me as I’ve not posted anything about Friends since. On my gravestone, it will say the guy who did that friend’s video during the lockdown. That’s it. It was a fun time, a mental few days being on Good Morning America while sitting at my parents’ house. No one cared about the fridge and Jennifer Aniston never replied to my numerous DMs. She didn’t follow me, she didn’t tag me and I asked her to marry me and nothing!”
Looking to the future as the world starts to open up again, Stewart is looking forward to playing live music and gigging again. “I’m looking forward to Ulster Hall in Belfast, I just announced it. I supported Lewis Capaldi there once, whilst the last gig I played in Belfast was to 90 people and this one is to 14 hundred, so it’s terrifying. I hope people come, I never thought in a million years I’d go that far. Also, supporting The Vamps as I met Brad over lockdown, we went to the pub a few times and he asked if I wanted to come on the tour. Hopefully, I might have an American tour coming up too, but it’s not confirmed yet, if that happens I’m quitting.”
“Just meeting other artists, playing all the shows, and traveling. I miss just going places, my music does quite well in Asia, and I’ve never been able to go. I’ve been in the top 10 in Malaysia for 6-9 months with a song called “Lying That You Love Me” that came out a year and a half ago. So, it’s that, seeing the world, hanging out with all my band and crew who are also my best mates.”
Having achieved TikTok success, millions of Spotify streams, and collaborated with his heroes so early in his career I asked where Stewart sees himself in five years.
“In five years, I’d love to still be doing this, still playing shows because that’s what I’ve missed in the last two years and to release a second album. I also want to start a ridiculous restaurant that only sells chicken goujons. That’s my biggest dream at the moment. In Northern Ireland, you can give people sushi and fancy food and all they want is chicken goujons. I’m going to do five different types of goujons with spicy goujons for the spicy challenge. I have the best name ever, honestly, it’s happening, I’m going to be a goujon mogul! It will be at all my gigs for people to buy. Imagine the opening party. I want a big blimp with it on and dropping goujons from the sky. I got a bit of inside information, my mate works in a pub in Northern Ireland and the first weekend of opening again he said they sold double the amounts of goujons to pints of Guinness. Give the people what they want. They want chicken goujons!”
Informing him that someone may steal his ideas when they read this interview, Stewart proclaims he is trademarking it straight away tonight.
JC Stewart isn’t just a talented musician but a likeable one, someone you want to support because he comes across as a good person. He has been working hard on his craft for years and is humble, grateful not to take it for granted despite all the amazing people he has worked with. He has a wicked sense of humour and I love that he took me on a chicken goujon journey, a project I’m now pretty invested in. I felt like I was part of some sort of market research and yes I’d buy his goujons. With such enthusiasm from him, why wouldn’t I?
Words: Tonya Antoniou
Mason Gooding is a charmer. As he bursts into our Zoom interview full of excitement the first thing he does is compliment my British accent. He’s won me over. In a few hours, he’ll be getting styled up for our cover shoot in sunny LA with our amazing on-location team while I’m sat in miserable London wearing my trusty and well-worn lockdown tracksuit. But hey, it’s not pyjama bottoms right. Mason points out that is exactly what he is wearing from the waist down “It’s a lifestyle now”.
As we talk about our last holidays before lockdown, coincidentally talking about mine to LA and his to London a couple of years back, it’s clear we both have ants in our, incredibly comfortable, pants to get out of our usual routine and fly the nest. Another coincidence - both of us were in the middle of moving house when we were doing this interview.
“I’m actually in the middle of moving. I figured I spent enough time collectively in one place to last three leases. So once this one was up, I was like I should probably get out and find somewhere new. About halfway through the pandemic. I was blessed with a dog. His name’s Iggy, He’s a French Bulldog. He likes to have attention so I had to put them in my bedroom while we chat, otherwise, he’d be going nuts. But he’s been the biggest change, and motivator to sort of making it through the pandemic, obviously alongside my loving family and friends.”
As someone who struggles to keep house plants alive, as much as I’d love a dog, for now, it’s a responsibility I don’t need although he tries to persuade me otherwise. Mason is convinced house plants are harder, pointing out to me his suffering one in the background. Whilst on the topic of change we speak about when something tends to go wrong in life, how we end up making changes, especially in the way we express it.
“For me, it’s tattoos, definitely. There’s something about body art and self-expression through that, that makes me feel both fulfilled and artistically kind of satisfied. When I work as an actor, obviously one of my first jobs aside from giving the director what they want is becoming this character, embodying their roles, their ideals, who they are as people, their upbringing, it’s best to have a blank slate or at least as much as possible. So I decided I’d make that as hard as possible by basically covering myself in tattoos. But my thought process has always been despite the inherent selfish decision to want my body to look my own when I sit in a makeup chair and the lovely makeup community on Love Victor - her name’s Kathleen, she’s amazing at her job - cover me in makeup and they dissipate all the tattoos and ink on my body it helps me mentally kind of step into the idea that I’m now becoming someone different. When I look in the mirror and I no longer see the body art that I have, it allows me to make a cognitive switch between Mason and I guess in the case of Andrew or whoever else I portray.”
I asked what his favourite would be if he had to pick one. “I’ll tell you, I have to pick the one that would be the most meaningful. It probably varies every time I get a new one. My most personal which was my first would be a ship and in the compass, circling it, instead of north, East, South, and West it says C S S P standing for Cuba, Spencer, Sara, and Piper, my father, brother, mother and sister. I wanted to get something to commemorate the family dynamic that I have and how much I love them because they are everything to me. I’m a big Anime fan, and I frequently get these tattoos of artwork from Manga, mostly from a source material done by Raman, and he’s brilliant. He does these really fine, meticulous ones. You got me talking about them now. I have another one of my back by Shlomi The Homie on Instagram, he does such great shading and detailed work, especially with white ink on black, and I have a lion on my back subtle, you know, nice, streamlined. That’s usually the one that gets photographed the most. It’s hard because I love them. I love them all.
With Mason’s dad, Cuba Gooding Jr., being a household name I wondered if Mason felt any pressure to live up to his example when he started his career. Although he’s earned his roles in his own right, you do wonder if being the child of a well-known face is more a help or hindrance.
“He’s done an amazing job, in tandem with my mother, who is my rock and my foundation, both of them. When it comes to my personal life he’s never made me feel as if there was pressure to live up to anything, and I think that’s just carried over and echoed throughout my professional life. He is an impeccable actor, and he’s found a way to convert general charisma into character study, finding every nuance of a character’s emotion. He always said, it starts with a walk, you got to find out how they move their bodies and then the insights for the rest of their character. I hope aspects of what makes him so talented and amazing come through in my performances, but I think I am a different type of actor or a different type of performer or artist than he is, so the pressure to me is mostly attributed to my desire to uphold what is a storied legacy of a great performer. He’s always said, for better and for worse, all you have is your word and your name and that’s something I take very seriously, I want people to hear the name Gooding or Mason Gooding or anyone in my family or my circle, and think of it only with the utmost of respect.
Any pressure I feel in my career is just to make sure that when people talk to me, or they interact with me, or they see my work, it reflects positively on the rest of my family and the people that I associate with so that at the end of the day, I know that I’ve done my little part to make sure that people are entertained, they feel seen, happy, appreciated, because that’s all I care about. I just want to make art for other people and to make them feel, that sounds altruistic, but I feel like if I did do it solely for myself I’d have quit long before I got my first rejection. The best motivator is to make sure people enjoy it. At the end of the day, you can succeed on your own all you want but if you don’t have other people to share it with, and embrace that success, then to me it doesn’t mean as much. Don’t get me wrong, being self-motivated is important as well. My dad’s good at doing that, he’s good at teaching. I hope I can do some stuff on my own at this point. He does do a great job of allowing me to find my way through my career and navigate the industry on my own. He would say at the end of the day, no matter what people assume, having the name of Gooding doesn’t mean you can be a puppet while you’re on set, you’re gonna have to carry your weight. Knock on wood, but I certainly try my best, and that, at the end of the day all that I can do.”
Now horror is a genre of film I have actively avoided in the past, but I find myself promising Mason I will (bravely) tackle the latest instalment of the Scream franchise to catch him take on his latest role. It will probably be something I think twice about closer to the time but will all the hype behind the 5th outing I figure it may be worth not going anywhere in the dark for days afterwards.
“Production wrapped in November of last year. I really couldn’t be more excited for people to see it. Scream and Wes Craven, who originally made the first one, had something to say about the entertainment people so readily consumed at the time and for those who aren’t a big horror fan a lot of that satire maybe go over their heads. What Wes pulled off so effortlessly with the original Scream, was a marriage of new concepts. Something fresh that people hadn’t seen, some things that played on those familiar tropes that allowed people to feel comfortable, a more nuanced sort of setting, while also working to subvert those expectations and scaring the sh*t out of them. This is why I’d say if you aren’t a big fan of the horror genre, Scream is a rough one to get stuck in with, because it’s scary, but it’s also why I’m telling you there’s a lot of comedy in it. I don’t think you’ll regret watching it because it is in equal parts horrifying, as well as exciting, engaging, interesting, and compelling. And I feel like, regardless of your thoughts on horror, and how that makes you feel, they all lead with this level of confidence in entertainment first that makes the story engaging, as well as scary, as well as hilarious. And you’ll have to let me know if we pull that off.”
I’ve always ascertained that comedy and horror are much closer in terms of genre conventions than any other genres or mediums considering the level of care and thought that has to go into timing, either for jokes or for scares. It is very closely related. The way that you set something up has a payoff. And in the case of great comedy and great horror, that payoff either grows or carries throughout an entire sequence. Wes and the amazing writing team pulled that together and that has remained throughout all five iterations. He’s taken horror and comedy and he found a way to marry them both and make it this double whammy of exciting, hilarious, horrific content. I can’t speak highly enough of the people that have made this next movie, it speaks for itself. They are brilliant. And Scream Five is just another notch on that belt of brilliance.”
Mason is one of these individuals that have the power to making you feel at ease instantly. So we got on to the conversation of our struggles with mental health over the years very easily.
“It’s a loaded statement, as it is, considering the pandemic we’ve had. I feel like the idea of isolation and loneliness that people subject themselves to simply based on a social perception that they need to suffer in silence, or they need to do things alone… I feel you have a generation of all ages, who have shared trauma that I certainly wasn’t subjected to. And while I would consider myself at the base a very positive and happy-go-lucky guy, when faced with such prolonged periods of isolation or social ostracization, through social distancing and whatnot, I discovered that I have this proclivity for I’ll call it like a negative self-reflection and anxiety that I hadn’t been privy to before the year 2020. And now, through an understanding of a shared experience that many people have had, I’ve realised that talking about those things, especially with people that have experienced similar trauma, or similar experiences can benefit greatly, especially if you find that you feel a certain way about yourself about your circumstances and don’t necessarily know the root cause of it.
Either talking to a professional or someone that you trust, for me at least did leaps and bounds for my mental health in my sort of personal situation. Beyond that my most memorable, I’ll say, moment in terms of understanding mental health is, I noticed when I interact with people, specifically, in vulnerable settings, maybe one on one, that people are so willing to enact a level of self-deprecation or self verbal self-harm to themselves, in a means to connect with other people as if putting themselves down. Interestingly, people feel that they need to put themselves down to connect with others as if that’s the shared experience when I feel rather than allowing other people to speak negatively about themselves and attend in an attempt to connect, I’d rather start a conversation on a positive foot. That’s what I love and it’s rare on social media, but the moments you get where people leave with positivity and compliments to one another or speaking highly of someone that they’re interacting with that they maybe haven’t, all that often, to me is so much more uplifting and beneficial than what I think has been pretty rampant that people will bond over this mutual negativity.
I’d love to see a switch in the social dynamic that rather than normalizing hurtful or negative rhetoric, that people are much more comfortable complimenting one another. And that also plays into receiving compliments because I can’t tell you how many times either in a dating setting or an amicable social setting a compliment will throw someone off way more than an insult. Whereas people nowadays know how to combat an insult but when you say something about someone’s hair, or how lovely they look, it can catch them off guard to a point where it’s like, I don’t have a response to that. I don’t know what to say. That’s my hope just that after a prolonged period of isolation and loneliness that people will take from this time, despite their potential anxieties or social discomfort, that to lead with positivity is way more fulfilling than to allow a negative thought about yourself and other people to elude in the beginning stages of relationships.”
It’s an interesting approach that I must admit I had never thought too much into, but I think Mason has a point, he’s not knocking empathy and connecting through mutual experiences, but we have become a society that romanticises self-depreciation and mistrust positivity. It seemed fitting to talk about Love Victor and the role that the show is playing in understanding the idea of ‘finding ourselves’.
“Similarly, I think there’s a big difference, dissonance, between understanding oneself and then having to present yourself, especially in a high school setting as your true self. For Victor, the protagonist of Love Victor who’s dealing with the idea of sexual identity and coming out both to his family as well as in school, he feels this pressure to know exactly what and who he is. It’s something I hope we hit on with both narratives in season one and season two, that there is value and positivity in not necessarily knowing exactly who you are, and instead allowing yourself to have the time to figure it out.
For example, Victor makes a point to go on dates to figure out his feelings for a girl in season one and ultimately realises that he is gay and he would like to pursue a relationship with a guy. And although how he goes about fulfilling that desire may be a little morally grey, or just objectionable in general, I think it is a good example of how if he had just allowed himself to the time and the space to consider who he is and his identity, that he maybe would have been able to make a more informed decision that wouldn’t have led to so much heartbreak. But to that same token, specifically, as it relates to coming out and being true to yourself, and who you love and how love influences you and your decisions. It’s also incredibly understandable that you wouldn’t necessarily be able, to be honest with yourself in that way. If there’s one thing I can commend ourselves for on our show is it’s taking an honest look at that high school setting and that social dynamics and how being yourself and honest with yourself benefit you in the long run, rather than being deceitful or trying to hide any aspect of yourself that you maybe think is unsavoury or unpopular. But I love love love it, if you’ve watched it, it’s super cute and everybody’s incredible in it I speak at length of the amazing talent Michael Cimino, who plays Victor is a force. Rachel Hilson, who plays alongside me, with whom I have most of my scenes with is unbelievable and overshadows me in every scene we have. Anthony Turpel, who plays Felix, is my best friend and I love him dearly. And of course, Isabella Ferreira, who plays Pilar his little sister is a light. We’ve got new actors this season, Anthony Keyvan, and Ava Capri who just blew me away in every scene that we got to work together, and I honestly can’t wait for people to check it out.”
Mason just oozes positivity and has so much authentic love for all those around him it was hard to get him to talk about himself for more than a few minutes before he shone praise on another coworker. I wanted to pull the spotlight back on him and what he’d like to see in his acting future, in particular a role he’d like to play.
“See, I have two answers to that question. One potentially obnoxious, one that is maybe self-promoting. I love to write and I love to direct, I’ve finished directing this short film that hopefully will get finished soon to the circuit. I would love to star in something I’ve created to write and perform alongside actors that I trust. I didn’t want to gas myself, but I would love to create a persona and then see it come to life alongside actors and talents that I trust. A more concrete answer would be to star alongside Henry Cavill, he’s quite nerdy and pretty incredible. I would love to be anything opposite Henry Cavill and just to have time with him either acting or to speak with him about video games. I would like to see in my career in terms of his level of dedication to a role and also to his loved ones and his fans that I, I can only hope and dream that I can.”
Mason is eloquently spoken, humble to a fault, and a loving and loyal friend, but do not think these qualities overshadow his downright impeccable talent. Even if he won’t admit it himself, his future is a bright one.
Words: Alice Gee
Photography: Jaden Walker
Stylist: Lady Maximo
Assitant Stylist: Sheena Medina
HMU: KC Free
As I jump on a Zoom call, with Snuffy in New York I find
myself checking the time again in the reassurance that it’s not the crack of
dawn. Thankfully it’s 11 am New York time, with Snuffy raring to go.
As we start with pleasantries, I’d very much been looking
forward to the call, a call/interview which is something a little different
from the content we often immerse ourselves in. Having come from a later
session in the gym over lunch we find ourselves on an even keel with both of us
finding solace in exercise not so much physically but more so the effects it has
on both our mental health. “This whole move a muscle thing has been a
game-changer. It really is the kind of thing that helps my brain start
working”, I not only completely agree but I understand on a level that when
I’ve exercised in some form I am my better self.
For me, I have been searching a void for what seems like
forever in the hope of finding solace and Snuffy seems to be in a similar
position. “I think you and I are on the same wavelength. I’ve said to people in
the past that I knew Tattooing was the right thing for me because the whole
world disappears when I’m doing it”. To find something that allows this element
of escapism is no mean feat especially when other methods seem more
tantalising. I sense that Snuffy, similarly to me, has found himself down a
rabbit hole when it comes to finding any way to express himself, not only to
avoid his feelings but mostly because understanding the best and healthiest way
to express himself tends to end up at either a crossroads or even worse the
very hole that you’re trying to get out of. “That’s what tattooing has done for me, it’s
helped me evolve and fill a void. I had always been creative, but as far as,
you know, if I ever thought I’d be a tattoo artist, absolutely not. It just
sort of spawned from when I was in a dark hole.
Having walked by a book stand in Union Square Snuffy with an
overwhelming need to draw, found himself taking to a pen before getting
his tattoo license. It’s funny, as we talk about how he fell into the
profession he loves, I can’t help but relay how I genuinely feel everything
happens for a reason. I love to hear how although it’s something he didn’t
initially intend on doing he didn’t hold himself back when it came to doing
something new, which he would eventually find as his calling. “As I grow as an
artist, my scope broadens. And I’ve realised, not only do I not want to be
pigeonholed in my art, my tattooing, but I don’t want to be pigeonholed in the
broader strokes of life”. As Snuffy explains to me his fear of being
pigeonholed, I sit nodding in agreement, having had feared the labeling of
Bipolar for so many years. Although over zoom I can sense the pride he has in
his work. Having picked up a pen and learned the art to tattoo in several
weeks, yes you heard me right, It’s a pleasure to hear how his style and artwork come
to fruition for every customer all whilst maintaining a level of creativity and
personality that there is no mistaking as his.
Snuffy tells me that he’s found it hard to care as much
about projects that simply don’t mean anything to him. He tells me that if he
hasn’t a connection, then it becomes a struggle to put his soul into the piece,
ultimately making it harder on himself. With that in mind, I assumed there must
be a way he avoids the situation, a way in which he can be a part of the
artwork not just as an artist but emotionally. If you know anything about
Snuffy you will have heard how he asks customers for a personal gesture for
each piece of work; “I kind of make it hard on myself, but it comes out way
more meaningful to put people through my process. And so my process is that
everybody has to write me a story and I sit with it, reading it on repeat until
it just triggers something, which usually has to do with just me identifying
with the story.” As Snuffy mentions in acknowledgment that of course he is paid
for his work, there’s more to it, as someone who avidly journals Snuffy explains
how he doesn’t believe many people are forced to sit down with their feelings
and if they do there is often only a limited time they have thought in depth
about how they feel. So when they are encouraged to write the meaning behind each
piece of work it can become better thought out. I love the approach. For each
of my tattoos are very personal with a story behind each in the hope they will
stay with me forever. I bask in the idea, as although there’s nothing wrong
with impulse, and trust me, I for one am extremely impulsive, it brings every sense to the meaning of opposite of impulse to the process, ultimately meaning more. For Snuffy he
tells me he leaves a piece of himself with every piece of work, “so, in that
sense, I insist that they give me a piece of themselves as well. And it becomes
For those who’ve never been introduced to Snuffy, you may
not have known that you’ve most likely seen his work before, with regular
clients including Pete Davidson and Machine Gun Kelly. In a short space of
time, Snuffy has become dominant in the world of tattooing. As an individual,
he tells me how tattooing has become his outlet. Having struggled previously
with addiction Snuffy seems to have found his balance with over 10 years of
sobriety under his belt. As we delve into each other’s experiences and vices
with addiction I explain how when in recovery it was made harder as someone who
struggles with relaxing. Whilst he laughs and asks are you sure we aren’t from
the same parent, I wanted to know if tattooing to him has not only become an
outlet but even a distraction, something he can immerse himself in whenever and
however much he likes. “ I guess (addiction) it’s just part of our lives, sometimes it can be annoying that we can’t say these things
without huge over the top congratulations, as for us and others it’s just part
of our lives, no different from brushing our teeth. To me it’s not a big deal”.
As Snuffy mentions this I find myself a little stunned, in a positive way, as
it’s something so true which we rarely think about often because of the size of
the initial problem. Snuffy, having had experience and rocky paths with mental
health has recently thrown himself into a new project with friend Pete Davidson
in the hopes of raising mental health awareness amongst hope and positivity.
The project, The Addiction Series is a 5 part NFT series that dissects
addiction, something both have had their demons with. Finding commonalities in
their addictions Snuffy explains how he hopes the series will help others find
light and escape whilst coming to understand how addiction manifests. “Two of
the pieces were originally called manifestation because I mean, it may not always a firm choice the road we go down but I guess we can choose where we manifest our
addiction. It’s something that can be a positive or negative thing.” Snuffy
explains that even when we feel in control of our addictions they can creep up
on us from other angles, where even the healthiest of ways can become bad
habits. “You find you get sucked into our work or love or food, good and bad
habits. So there are two pieces, they’re called ‘Addicted’ and one is called ‘New Drugs’. You have to learn to manage it, for example, I guess a positive sort of
positive manifestation, my addiction is art. And the negative one is having to
be on social media so that I can promote myself. It’s
Something apparent throughout our interview is how Snuffy’s
outlets haven’t just enabled him to deal with his vices but the experience has
enabled him to channel his emotions into ways he can understand himself better enabling him to digest the trauma he’s experienced. “I can thank
sobriety for giving me clarity and forcing me to process emotions more rapidly.
When I was using, I was suppressing emotion, and those connections in my
brain. Going through the traumas, I ended up forcing myself to digest these
traumatic experiences in life which armed me with the ability to be more
stone-faced when I get hit with the dark stuff”. Having had to face 25 years to
life in jail and been on the verge of bankruptcy Snuffy had to take a direct
look at the trauma in his life which he thanks sobriety for the clarity he
feels now. “When it comes to my general mental health I’m able to pinpoint why
I feel a certain way, and I think that’s the most relevant way for me
to create my art, that I’ve become in touch with my own emotions so that I have
the clarity to identify with others. Obviously, with your experience you
understand, it’s something that we are constantly battling. The only thing that
that I can do is be the best version of myself, and then that’s how I can have
a ripple effect on others in helping them”
Hearing Snuffy’s approach and awareness creates peace of mind
and relief that it’s possible to manage and succeed following difficult
points. As we come to a close I wondered
whether, following the pressures and restrictions of the pandemic, if he had
any burning desires to take a hand to something different or new. “So I am
doing everything that I would do right now. If I was a billionaire, I wouldn’t
change a thing, I’m grateful that I’ve unlocked the key to fulfillment for me.
But if there were two things I could do at some point in the future one would
be to write a movie with my brother and the other I’d love to have a housing
project, I guess more of a humanitarian project, to help others who’ve been in
the positions I’ve experienced”.
For me, not only am I thrilled to hear about the 5 part
series that will have such an effect on those struggling with addiction but I
finish the interview with an overwhelming amount of hope, that it is possible
to take control of not only vices but for your happiness. Snuffy is living
proof that with right tools the world is your oyster.
The Addiction Series Snuffy N.Y.C & Pete Davidson 4th July