On Devotion: Jessie Ware

Photograph by Kate Moross

It’s been less than a month since the release of Jessie Ware’s debut album Devotion, and critics everywhere have been nothing short of floored with the beauty and freshness of it. Jessie’s unique brand of R&B, Hip-Hop, and ‘90s Pop sentiments have carved her out from an oftentimes predictable sea of Pop music.  It is no wonder that she is on the brink of full throttle success, and with critics everywhere praising her, Jessie Ware is certainly a name which will be on everyone’s lips in the coming year.

Bennett Cordon: I have to say, it sounds like you have really good musical relationships with those involved in the making of Devotion. How do you explain that?
Jessie Ware: I think that the overall sound, mood and however many genres I’ve got in there, were executed and made coherent by David Okumu, who produced pretty much the whole record. He’s actually in a band called The Invisibles. They’re an amazing band, and he’s an incredibly talented guitarist. We started working together before the album, and we had written these songs together, so it made sense because I just loved what he was doing sonically. I felt so comfortable with him, so I asked him to just do the record. He was kind of the main person, but there was also Kid Harpoon who brought out the big ballads in me, most of it being on “Wildest Moments.” He’s a great songwriter and he made me think quite big. He told me not to be scared of doing big ballads, fuck it. So that was all because of Kid Harpoon. Then Julio Bashmore and I had a lot of fun playing around with this nostalgic sound that we did together, it was quite ’80s and a bit loungy, so we wrote “Running,” “Sweet Talk,” and “110%” together. So, basically there were three main people—Kid Harpoon, David Okumu and Julio Bashmore.

 You mentioned the track “Wildest Moments.” It is such a slow anthem of love, and very reminiscent of soulful sounds of ’90s Pop music, while still maintaining a sort of completely new spirit with modern pop sensibilities. How did writing that track come about?
It was because I had a fight with my best friend Sarah. We had a ridiculous drunk argument at my manager’s wedding, and we ended up having a food fight which kind of got out of hand. It was really silly, especially because we were living together, and we weren’t getting along. You know those friends you’re just not supposed to live with? Well we kind of weren’t speaking to each other and it felt really wrong, and Kid Harpoon knows Sarah, and whenever we write together we always go out for a big lunch and we just chat for ages, and then a song comes after that. So, I was telling him about the situation with her and we just started writing a song. I kind of wanted to show the good and the bad in a relationship, and how we could fight so passionately, and then ignore each other so passionately, and then be upset by each other. You know, all these extremes. I think it’s quite common with female relationships, but I was also thinking about other relationships that I knew could relate to that. The idea of thinking of your best friend and how sometimes you can be so terrible together, so that’s how that came about. 

A lot of people were really surprised when they first heard “110%.” It unleashes this really slowed down ambient hood beat and then your lovely vocals kick in and flawlessly blend with it. Explain the idea for that one?
That was me and Julio Bashmore’s first time working together. I was really struggling with the writing and I was really not confident about it. I knew what I loved, and I loved Aaliyah, and I loved that thing that Aaliyah would do with Timbaland. Where her sweet voice would carry over these hard beats. I always loved that about R&B and especially with Aaliyah and how she worked together with Timbaland. So, I was just kind of struggling to write something, and he had this beat that sounded a bit like Kelis and Andre 3000 that I really liked, but I didn’t know what to do with it. We were flipping through this Hip-Hop magazine and there were all these portraits, and there was one of Big Pun and we were like maybe we should do it about Big Pun? I just found it easier to talk about somebody else. We thought, why don’t we do it about a girl trying to get Big Pun to dance? So we sampled Big Pun and it just made it easier that I was writing a song for somebody else and I could pretend that I was somebody else, and that is how that happened. It was a really awkward way to write a song that actually sounds quite dreamy and romantic and kind of effortless, but it was definitely full of dread in the beginning. Then me and Bashmore continued working together because it clicked and I eventually got over my stage fright.

What are your plans for coming to the US?
I really want to come, but it has to make sense for me. I’m just trying to work it out with my manager, but it will probably be at the beginning of next year. I think it just makes more sense to come in the new year, and I cant wait! I love America and I want to see what it’s like to perform out there, but I prefer to wait and have people wanting me to come rather than just come, do you know what I mean?

So you want to build momentum and have fans really anticipating you?
Yeah, and it’s got to make sense, even though everything that’s been happening to me is so incredible. I can’t tell you. The news I get every day is just so ridiculous. I feel so lucky and happy, but going to America is not cheap, and it needs to make sense. As much as I’m having the best time at the moment, I need to be real, you know? I don’t want to spend a shit-load of money in going there, when I could come in January and it’ll be okay.

I remember a couple months ago, when I first heard a track off your new album. It was kind of an obscure vague description, where no one really knew where you had come from. Now it’s just an explosion of people hailing your name, it feels likes it happened overnight.
[laughs] That’s so weird! How does that happen? I don’t understand. Like who tells somebody to listen to somebody?

The internet is a weird place. It’s a vivacious realm for talent, music and art. So it’s really interesting to see that explosion happen so quickly.
My sister lives in America. She just moved to Los Angeles, but she’s lived most of her time in New York, and tells me that they know about my music. She tells me she’s heard my remixes played in clubs, and I’m like, “That’s so fucking weird.”

Ahh, so you have even more of a reason to come to Los Angeles. Now with your sister out here, I definitely see you coming out here in the near future.
That would be nice. She wants me to come over for her birthday. They want me to come over to Malibu. They call it the ‘Bu, apparently. So I guess I’ll be going to the ‘Bu with her. [laughs]

So you’ve been to Los Angeles before?
Only once. When I was a backup singer. We played at the Echoplex. We were supporting Miike Snow. I remember there being some really good shops, and it was lots of fun.

What kind of vibe did you leave with after coming here?
I didn’t see enough of it. We were doing KCRW and stuff. I just remember doing a lot of driving while I was there. I imagined going down a street where I would see Larry David, and that was what I was longing for. We would go down these streets that looked like Curb Your Enthusiasm, and I was hoping that he’d pop out, but sadly he didn’t. I just love how sunny and chilled out everyone is in Los Angeles, which is nice. Nobody’s chilled out in London. Everyone is highly strung. I felt that Los Angeles does have time for people.

I wanted to address your style, which I find refreshing and elegant. It is a welcomed contrast to the sexually glamorized idea of pop music and women, with a tasteful, and (for lack of a better word) lady-like sense of style. I think it works very well and would like to see more follow suit.
Thank you. Can you just get me a gig now please? [laughs].

I would love to. With your fan base growing it’ll only be a matter of time, but in the meantime I’m sure you’ll be touring all over the UK and Europe?
Yes, I’m doing a headline tour of the UK, and I’m going to loads of European places. Places I’ve never been to before, like Copenhagen. I’m also going to Poland. I seem to be very popular there. It’s so funny that Poland is the second most popular place where people like me, so I’ll be doing a few gigs there. The festival season is kind of stopping soon here, but I’ll still do a couple. I’m a bit of a homebody, but I remember when I was on tour as a backup singer in America I was going to places like Cambridge, Boston and going through Montana; and I couldn’t believe that that was my job for the month. Going around and touring around all these amazing places. Thinking about how beautiful America is, I can hardly wait to get back. It’s going to be lots of discovering new places in the next few months and playing and singing to people, it’s wicked.

It’s going to be unreal!
Really unreal! Like when you saw me on BBC Breakfast. I watched that show every day before I went to school. That’s just always been on, and then to be on it and be interviewed. There was this woman who was on a TV series here, but it’s one that’s been going for years, and she was like, “Oh my God, can I get your autograph for my kids?” I was thinking to myself how weird it was, and how I’ve been watching her on the TV since I was 11. That was really funny to me.

Has that been happening a lot lately?
Not really, not loads. I’ve been getting some people asking for autographs, and I did some in stores at Rough Trade, which is a really nice record store here, and somebody made me a friendship bracelet, which was the sweetest thing ever. I mean it’s happening a bit, but I’m still very unknown so it’s okay. I can still go out of the house with no make up on and people don’t know who I am, so it’s fine. I like it that girls come up to me because they’re the ones who really like me.

I’m sure they even look up to you as sort of a role model?
Oh I don’t know about that. I just hope they think I’m approachable. I think it’s really important for girls to like girls in music. I’m never going to be wearing hot pants or shit like that, as much as I think they look fabulous on some people. I hope that people can relate to me a bit.

I think you would make a great role model.
I hope I can be a role model and not be someone that leads everyone astray, but I’m pretty boring, so that might happen rather than me being the one that influences people getting their tongues pierced or things like that.

How was your childhood growing up, as far as music? Where did you get your first love for music and wanting to sing?
Really wanting to sing in an original way came from listening to jazz standard singers like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Their music is so beautiful and has a certain romanticism about it. I also loved the way they would tell stories. This is music that I’m not hearing on the radio. When I discovered them, not everyone was listening to them. I also remember listening to Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston being played in the car by my mom. They have such soul, and when they sing it’s like it’s the last song they’re ever going to sing, and I loved that.

Did you ever play in any bands or do any musical things at school?
I was in musicals, so I used to be in Guys and Dolls, but it wasn’t like glee club. They didn’t do it as well here as they did in America, but I was in musicals, and I was classically trained and had singing lessons.

What would you say are some artists that you have on your radar at the moment?
Two Inch Punch. His production is so exciting. You should definitely check him out. It’s like really romantic electronic music. He’s also on my label and I love working with him. Been doing stuff with him recently. He’s a really great songwriter, but hasn’t really shown what he can do yet. These electronic EPs that he’s done are really enchanting, really romantic and really honest; and that’s why I really like it. I’ve also been listening to Melody Gardot. She’s sort of a jazz singer. I think she’s American. She’s just got a really beautiful voice and I’ve really been enjoying her. The Invisible’s new album is also great and interesting. It’s called Rispah. It’s really intense.

It has been an absolute pleasure speaking with you. Is there one last bit that you can leave us with that people might not know about you?
Hmm, well I guess that maybe I appear a bit austere in my videos and quite unapproachable. I’ve had people tell me, “I thought you were going to be a real bitch,” and they are surprised when I’m not. So, I hope that when people see me live, they’ll kind of see that I’m just a real geeky, awkward person in front of people. [laughs]

Do yourself a favor and get Jessie on iTunes here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>