Interview: Jessie Ware

Interview with Jessie Ware

Jessie Ware


Since starting out as Jack Peñate’s backing singer, Jessie Ware’s worked with SBTRKT and Joker, and bagged a Mercury Prize nomination for her soulful debut, Devotion. We spoke to the lady herself to find out all about the journey so far.

Questions and answers

Hi Jessie, how’s the tour going?

Well, we’ve been away from less than a week, but it has been brilliant so far. We did the Pitchfork Festival in Paris, and London Calling in Amsterdam, and then our first official date was in Dublin.

I actually thought it wasn’t going to be very good: I just thought people wouldn’t really know who I was! But we sold out this beautiful cinema – that felt like something out of a David Lynch film – and the crowd were amazing.

It’s just really interesting to discover what people that listen to my music are like because, apart from two headline shows in London, I’ve only really played festivals. And because we haven’t done this before, it’s really exciting.

Were you surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response your album’s had?

Yeah. I mean, I just didn’t know what people would think. I knew that I liked and was proud of it, and that was the most important thing to me really, because I’m the one that lives with it when nobody else likes it. Luckily, people do like it so I’m happy.

Is it true you used to be a journalist? And what made you swap journalism for singing?

Well, I did the training but, to be honest, I’m not very good at writing. (Laughs) I thought I wanted to go into TV and documentaries, but I found it very competitive and cut-throat. I know that sounds bizarre because I’m a singer now...

So I wasn’t happy in the job I was in, and I’d started doing backing vocals for my best mate [Jack Peñate], playing festivals, and it got to the point where I just thought, “This is going ok, maybe I could be a session singer...” And then I got the opportunity to tour America with him for a month, so I took a leap of faith and went for it because I didn’t want to regret anything.

A big congratulations on the album, it’s great. What did you want to achieve artistically with Devotion?

Thank you! There was really no real agenda apart from me exploring how to become the artist I wanted to become. So, artistically, I just wanted to find my voice, make something that was cohesive – in terms of having a beginning, a middle and end – and to celebrate my opportunity to be a singer releasing material.

My producer Dave Okumu and I were doing it together as a team because it was his first time producing a full album. It just felt like a load of special moments for everybody involved, and [it was] such a positive and nurturing time for me.

We spoke to Dave recently and he was talking about what a joy it was to work with you...

(Laughs) Oh my god, do you want me to talk about Dave Okumu? Because I will and it will last the whole interview! He just helped me discover what I wanted to be and say and do, and has changed everything for me in the most positive and wonderful and generous way. I love him dearly and I’m just so glad that I’m sharing this with him, because he was the person that really made it come together for me.

Are you planning to work with him again in the future, then?

Yeah, absolutely! It’s the only way we’ll get to see each other because we’re both so busy. (Laughs) I want to work with him forever!

So were there any key musical reference points for the record?

I love singers like Sade and Aaliyah, Chaka Khan and Prince. And I love dancing to soul singers and to those big dancefloor bangers that have got that kind of nostalgia to them. So I wanted to combine those diva moments with more intimate moments, and dreamy soundscapes, to make songs that people could groove to and, hopefully, get lost in as well.

It’s a pretty unique sound: where do you feel that you fit in the musical landscape?

I don’t know... I’d like to think that I’m British electronic soul. Hopefully I fit into a few things. I like so much different music myself that I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself.

Is there a track on the album you’re proudest of?

I think maybe ‘Running’. It came right at the end of the album, and maybe that was when I was at my most relaxed and content and confident, so it became I easier to write. I feel so proud of that song: it sounds like everything that I wanted to achieve, with the references to old soul and dance, and the groove and electronic feel.

Devotion was nominated for the Mercury Prize. Were you disappointed not to win?

No. I mean, Dave was next to me and he was like, “You think you’re going to win, don’t you? Everyone thinks they’re going to win.” But, honestly, I never had. And then you have all your bloody friends coming up to you, telling you they’ve put money on you, and then you feel very guilty for not winning because they’ve spent money on you!

I had fun, though. It was really nice to have my mum there and Dave, and Julio Bashmore and Kid Harpoon and everybody that was involved in the record, to celebrate that it’s come this far. The Mercury Prize is such a helpful and generous award, and I’ll always have that: that I was shortlisted for an award which I respect so much.

You’ve got a really strong track record of working with up and coming, or underground, producers. How do the collaborations usually come about?

Joker approached me, but I was brought to the attention of SBTRKT by a friend, and I’ll never forget them for doing that for me. And then I wanted Disclosure to remix me and I always wanted to work with Julio Bashmore, so it’s a bit of both, really; them finding me and me finding them.

Have you got any more collaborations in the pipeline?

Yeah. But I can’t say anything because I don’t know whether it’s definitely going to happen...

Is there anyone you’d particularly like to work with in the future?

Frank Ocean, I think.

So what has been the highlight of the year for you?

I mean the Mercurys were pretty cool, but just playing in Dublin, to a crowd that’s away from home, felt like the start of something and that was really amazing. And I think the day that the album was released was one I’ll never forget.

What’s your ultimate ambition as an artist?

Just to be able to carry on doing this!

And finally, what have been your favourite albums of 2012?

I would say Rispah by The Invisible, Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange and Given To The Wild by The Maccabees.