Jessie Ware Interview: "It Feels Like Everyone Is On My Side"

She's just released her debut album, and it seems set to hit the charts. Here she tells us about songwriting, Sade and how her fella doesn't like the tune she wrote about him...
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Jessie Ware is a girl on the edge.  The Clapham born, Brixton resident releases her album Devotion today, and it’s a slice of 2012 neo soul with nods to the low key electronica of The xx, and the 80s ladylungs of Whitney.

Since dropping singles ‘Running’ and the ballad ‘Wildest Moments’ Jessie’s been gradually worming her way into the affections of the wider world, and it seems she is likely to be next in a line of richly talented British female singer-songwriters that are giving us such a good name.  Drawing on some rich musical tapestry- fans of Massive Attack and SBTRKT (who Jessie worked with on the songs ‘Nervous’ and ‘Right Thing To Do’) will find much to like, as will those who are fan of the throaty sultriness of Kelis- Jessie has delivered an album that can be put through the indie, electronic and acoustic filter, and still come out smelling of the top 5. In ‘Night Light’, ‘110%’ and ‘Wildest Moments’ Jessie has some Very Big Tunes, and with the lary 90s garage revival boring the arse off everyone already (or is that just me?), the time is ripe for Jessie’s laidback atmospherics to guide us to something a little more restrained.

It’s not a perfect record by any stretch, and bits of it can blow past with the clink of sleazy keys, but there’s more than enough standout moments to ensure it should get a run at the big boys and girls.  We met Jessie just before she was about to play a gig in the Spotify offices, and she seemed incredibly self-assured; not in a me!me!me! sense but in one that is the preserve of people with the inherent self-confidence that makes the rest of us fiercely jealous.

In between chat about our favourite Clapham restaurants and the perils of losing expensive sunglasses we managed to have a talk about her upcoming album Devotion, which was produced by Dave Okumu, lead singer of Mercury-nominated band The Invisible, Julio Bashmore and Kid Harpoon.

How are you then Jessie?


You must be excited at the moment, with your album just about to drop
I am excited, but I can’t really believe it’s happening…(pause)

Excited, slash nervous, slash….
No, not even nervous.  I’m like, it’s there, I love it and I hope other people love it.  I don’t know, maybe I’m just being protective of it but I always just expect the worst…

Are you confident in the material though?
Yeah, absolutely, if other people like it it’s a bonus but I really feel that I’ve made a special album for everyone that wrote it and I’m glad for all the people that wrote on it.

Your previous work was with SBTRKT, Sampha and Joker, where you shared the billing- how does it now feel to be the centre of attention?
It feels alright now.  At first it felt really weird, but I think I was gradually introduced to it, like with SBTRKT we’d do PA’s, but it was only one song in a club which you’d do then go so if people didn’t like it, you’d be like “well that’s cool, I’m off.” But when I started doing solo shows I was like: “how do I hold an audience there and talk?”  I mean, my chat was ok last night (at her album launch in Brixton's Plan B venue), but normally my chat is rubbish.

How rubbish?
Well my voice either sounds like it’s breaking or I'm being self-deprecating. Which is just boring.

Surely that’s got to better than self-aggrandising?
Yeah, I mean I just know what I want when I watch performers and you want to relax an audience.  Sometimes you just have to remember it’s not just about you, that you are there as a performer for other people.  Like if you are performing at a festival you can’t flip out screaming “oh my god, my sound isn’t right." you’ve got to put on a show.  I’m just getting used to it, we’ve only done about 20 gigs.

Your stuff is pretty genuine- it’s clearly you on the page. You seem like you are comfortable about being on stage, but how comfortable are you with people knowing about the brain of Jessie Ware?
I wasn’t comfortable about it

You weren’t but you are now ?
I wasn’t because I was like, “who gives a fuck about what I’ve got to say?” I mean, people are like “oh right Jessie, who do you love, who dumped you etc etc," but I felt a bit exposed- I never wrote a diary and I didn’t really feel like I had anything interesting to say.

Is it something that’s come naturally or have you had to work on it?
I’ve had to definitely work on it, and I’ve written a load of rubbish songs to separate the wheat from the chaff.  It’s definitely been a case of trial and error.  I mean it’s absolutely a craft and that’s why you look at someone like Adele who I think is a wonderful songwriter and it looks like it comes so easy to her.

But she’s probably got loads on the cutting room floor?
I doubt it, you know, she’s just a great songwriter.  I don’t know, Wildest Moments and Running were the last two that I wrote.


Well that’s a good trajectory.
It’s probably all shit to come now!

Or it means you can get better?
I hope so, either that or I’ve just lost everything!  I kind of feel that I need to keep on writing.

You mention Adele, there’s a lot of different touchpoints on the album.  The xx , Whitney, Kelis, trip-hop.  Is there anyone you feel particularly has had a say or influence on it.
I think loads of R n' B.  When I started it Aaliyah was really in my head, then as time went on Sade became a huge influence, hence the Running video being a bit of a homage to Smooth Operator.  And I think Whitney is so good at…

The song Night Light is pure Whitney.
Cos it’s a bit Queen Of The Night?  It’s actually the next single.

Is it?
Yeah, do you like it?

Yeah, it stands out as different to all the rest.
Oh, phew.  You know what? When it started out in the demo it didn’t really work.  It was really saccharine, and it felt a bit happy clappy, then Dave got his hands on it and edged it up.

Now it’s a bit sultry, sassy and all that good stuff.
My boyfriend hates that song and it’s about him.  He so prefers Sweet Talk and I’m like, “it’s nothing about you.”

You talk about Sade and how she was an inspiration- do you have a lot of input into the style side of things?
Yeah, completely.  Like I know what I want and I know what I like.  I’m not precious though, and it really feels likes it’s been collaborative with everybody.

You seem very happy and content with the way things have turned out.  Like a lot of people  when they’ve got a big label behind them don’t always seem totally pleased with the hoops they have to jump through.
I just think, like, I made that record before I even…I mean, I'm with PMR which is through Island.  Island have been wicked, they just let me go and do what they did.  Then I showed them and they were like “ok, wicked.”  And I just really appreciate it.  I’ve heard all the horror stories of A n’ R and I haven’t experienced that.  I mean, I know it sounds really sickly and it worries me a bit but it feels like everyone is on my side.

What a lovely place to be.
It’s really nice and, erm, I am content, I mean I like it and I’m going to be the one that has to live with it in ten years  time when no-one buys it…

Let's assume that won’t be the case…
But you know what I mean? I never wanted to regret anything so we really thought about what we wanted on the album.

How long has it been in gestation?
The song Devotion was the first one that really clicked for me, and that was like January 2011, then we finished recording most of the album at the end of that year and since then we’ve just been tweaking.  And now here we are.  It’s actually been quite quick.

And now you are about to set off on the touring cycle?
Well it’s been a bit of a weird one because at the start I didn’t get many bookings because people were like “we’ve only seen you do a PA, maybe at the Boiler Room.” So nobody knew what the records was, nobody knew what it was going to be like, people maybe thought I was going to do more of the dancey thing. So I’ve just gradually got more gigs.

But now you can look ahead, though it seems ridiculous now, to maybe next summer for the festivals. People need to live with these things for a while.
Yeah, yeah.  I think that’s going to be really exciting, fingers crossed I can do Glastonbury.  In some ways, I’m kinda happy it’s not this year!  If all goes well hopefully I’ll get to go and play next year, and Bestival again.  I’m playing this year which I’m really excited about, though I’m gutted Frank Ocean isn’t playing now.  He was going to be on the same stage as me, and I was going to make a proper bee-line to be his mate!

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