As apparent by the title of his upcoming sixth studio album, which McCartney tells Billboard will be titled New Stage, Jesse is in a brand-new space both mentally and musically — with some of the most inspired love songs he’s ever penned on the horizon. “I’ve given myself to so many people over the years. I’ve really been a part of so many people’s lives,” McCartney says.. “And I think what’s special for me is that I’m going to be a part of this one person’s life in a much more meaningful way. That represents a new chapter, it represents a new stage. That sense of gratitude that I have is just overwhelming.”
For McCartney, life has given him a lot at a time when he needed “a real touchstone.” “I really needed this sort of grounding, this person that is my rock,” he explains. “The album title is exactly what it sounds like — it’s a new stage in my life.”
New Stage will be the 34-year-old’s first studio album in a lengthy seven-year stretch when it arrives this fall, which McCartney himself chuckles about when reminded of the longest period he’s gone without a full-length release. In that time, he hasn’t been completely without material to share — as he’s embarked on three major tours, dropped a 2019 live record (The Resolution Tour Live) and landed in second place on The Masked Singer, where he performed a personal favorite in “Kiss From a Rose” by Seal, and finished behind Kandi Burruss of Xscape. “That show’s a ton of work,” he says. “It doesn’t seem like it and it is very goofy and it’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever done in my career, frankly. But it was a hell of a lot of fun.”
But it’s the three-years-in-the-making record that fans have been asking for. McCartney calls the material “easy listening pop,” which spent the last 12 months shelved due to the pandemic and still holds up even after a year of collecting dust (he’s made some minor tweaks), only because he sees it as far more organic than “trendy.” His last two projects — 2008’s Departure and 2014’s In Technicolor — saw a six-year break between them. And as lengthy as that break may seem even with his latest album hiatus in mind, the vocalist knows that no matter how long he waits to share projects or no matter how long they wait to be cleared, time will continue to be on his side.
“I’ve been writing since I was 16 years old and it’s hard sometimes. And I think you do need real-life inspiration, you need life to happen in between projects, so that you can talk about things that are relatable and accessible,” McCartney shares. “But in order to have that information, you need to actually have life happen. For me, it’s just been great having six years. [Even though] it feels like it’s too long between projects, quite frankly when I look at it on paper. But it is nice to have some time to just experience new things.”
McCartney’s current era, like his last several, is yet another reinvention, this time with a crisper pop sound to match, reminiscent of more radio-friendly material of this decade with a bit of a classic singer-songwriter edge. It’s set to follow the trend of each of McCartney’s records, as he matures into the latest iteration of himself, from his 2004 debut Beautiful Soul’s post-boyband makeover, to 2008’s R&B reinvention, to the added instrumental technicality in In Technicolor. He’s not exactly who he was when he put out his previous bodies of work, McCarrtney explains, but exploring different musical avenues and now even giving country music a deeper look has helped him sharpen his “songwriting pencil” for New Stage.
“I’m 34 and I just feel like I have a lot more wisdom than I did when I was, even six years ago, certainly 12 years ago. I just know a lot more,” he shares. “I’m well-traveled at this point, I’ve met every kind of person you can meet. I understand the dynamics of really every kind of relationship. I just have more human interaction and I just know more things, you know, and I think that’s really helpful when it comes to songwriting. And you can certainly evolve as a songwriter.”
Today, McCartney’s songwriting is right where he wants it. New Stage is, with a few exceptions, a collection of breezy love songs dedicated to his fiancée, Los Angeles-based actress and blogger Katie Peterson. The pair met in 2012, when Jesse strolled into a bar during closing as Peterson was bartending, and they intend to tie the knot this fall during album season. Since then, they’ve been inseparable — one look at their Instagram accounts makes that abundantly clear — and even pieced together a creative save-the-date video to commemorate the wedding news last month.
Sure, the wedding planning is far from over (McCartney admits that Peterson is manning the ship on most of that while McCartney preps the album rollout), but the singer is starting to feel more stability as wedding and album season creep up simultaneously.
“Having this part of my life settled and feeling settled in sort of my private life, and having this relationship that just feels just so strong, it really allows you to open up creatively and just just relax,” he says. “This album is very much about my relationship with Katie… There’s a couple songs on here that were very, very specific to our relationship. And even some of the lyrics, I don’t think some people will understand. Some of them are just true love letters that only she and I will understand. But the general feeling that you get, I think will be relatable and accessible to all.”
Some of the songs are so personalized to McCartney’s soon-to-be wife, that Peterson says he even wrote a song on the record specifically to play for her the night of their engagement. As she explains, even with the personal touch, New Stage is a record that she’s confident will illuminate the man her fiancé has become to the world. “This new album is really stripped back and coming from a real place, he’s speaking from his heart and his soul,” Peterson shares. “And I just think it shows the security and the confidence that he has as a man, that he’s able to be so free and open about his life with me, but also just as a musician.”
McCartney also promises that the new album is “reflective,” following his 15-plus years in the industry, and touching on how he maintains his gratitude for teenage stardom and where it’s brought him in his adult life. His longtime manager, Sherry Kondor, who has overseen his career since he was 15 and has known him even longer, has been around for all the haircuts and musical shifts with each passing era. And over the last three years, as he’s chipped away at New Stage, McCartney’s growth has been nothing quite like what she’s seen from her first client before.
“I think the big turning point that I saw in these past couple of years is sort of parallel with his commitment to Katie,” Kondor said. “I just saw a new part of him open up. It’s like finding a room you didn’t know was there in your house. We’ve all had that dream. That’s what I’ve seen happen with Jesse like, I didn’t know this side of him. It just seems to have made him just a wholer person.”
While the record is pretty much an extension of his admiration for Peterson, McCartney and his manager say there are a few exceptions. “Yours,” a smooth and stripped-back 2020 single that Jesse used as an ode balancing everyone’s visions of who he is, doubles as both a love song and a reflection on his previous decades in the limelight. Everyone has a certain idea of who he is, Jesse shares, and sometimes the best thing to do is to just let go of that.
“You can drive yourself nuts if you try to pander to every single person’s expectations. In many ways, I struggle with trying to appease everyone, and make sure that no one’s offended, or no one’s unhappy. And sometimes to my detriment, I think that what I’m learning as I get older is that you have to do what’s true and authentic.”
As his other recent single “Friends” reminded fans to appreciate those who stood by them during the worst of the pandemic, McCartney’s newest July release and most recent taste of New Stage, “Kiss the World Goodbye,” further elaborates on the pandemic messaging as an ode to overcoming the anxiety that comes with isolation. “It’s the Bonnie and Clyde sort-of moments, you know, where it’s just us against the world,” McCartney says. “I think everyone knows that feeling. jumping in the car and just driving just to drive. It has that kind of feeling. And it’s very anthemic-sounding, and I felt like it was just a good way to come back out.”
While he prepares for this coming fall — a real season of change in his life — McCartney is bursting with gratitude. He’s marrying the woman he loves and showing the world the version of himself that he’s spent the last seven years becoming, by releasing a body of work that helped him learn what’s most important. It’s a new stage for McCartney, but he’s been on enough of those already.
“I just have a sense of pride and gratitude, a real sense of gratitude for everything that’s been given. And I think maybe it’s like, that comes again, with just settling down and maybe perhaps getting a little older and understanding what talents and what matters in life. And I just have this sense of gratitude for the people who are very close to me, my friends, especially my family — now my fiancée. And you know, I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned is, those things are the most important. Everything else is a bonus.”