Jessie Ware: "Left to my own devices it would have been a horrorshow"
To say it’s been a big year for Bristol’s siren Jessie Ware would be a vast understatement. Dragged kicking and screaming back into music by a combination of her mother, good friend Jack Penate and first collaborator SBTRKT (on 2010’s ‘Nervous’), Ware finally turned her back on being a nice Jewish law student and went all-out with the release of her excellent debut, Devotion.
With a huge sound and an even bigger voice, Ware’s album, created with collaborator Dave Okumu of The Invisible and producer of the moment, Julio Bashmore, is an un-ironic, glorious return to the torch songs of divas past, mixed in with some very obvious twenty-first century production.
TheVine caught up with Jessie in Austin, as she began her largest international tour yet that will lead her to Australia this week for Laneway. Turns out for a self-proclaimed boring girl, she’s rather interesting after all.
Sorry for getting up in your grill; I didn’t realise you had a show tonight!
No that’s OK! But I’m being such a bore in these interviews because I’m trying to be really good with my voice, you know? I’ve got such a crazy schedule here.
Where are you playing tonight?
Austin, in America. It’s Day 1 of my tour. I go straight to Australia from San Francisco which is in a week and a half. All in all the tour, with Laneway and the sideshows is about a month.
Have you done an international tour of this scale before?
No and I’m like really freaking out about how much I can handle, which is just the voice, really. It’s quite daunting; I just have to really look after myself.
Have you got a voice coach?
I don’t have one here but my coach has given me voice practice stuff and I’ve got so many vitamins, and Echinacea…I’m practically a walking pharmacy here. I am like the driest person to hang out with (laughs). I’m either trying to not speak or I’m popping a vitamin.
I was reading up on your history before this chat and you and I have quite a similar same career trajectory. I started off as a musician and then decided—because of what my Jewish parents wanted me to do, and to be pragmatic— that I’d become a lawyer. Then I fell into journalism instead.
Oh my god! That’s so bizarre! Are you going to be an R&B singer?
Well now I feel like I can be. I mean, I’ve done the math and…
You completely can! Of course you can! I’m just very lucky that my Mum was so supportive, saying that I could do anything I wanted and that she was proud of me no matter what. ‘You want to be a lawyer? Brilliant, try it out, I’ll back you…’
If I’d known I’d never have had a chance as a singer, I think I’d have been really happy doing law. I would have thrown myself into it. Obviously I’m really happy that I do this now, but I would have loved that, too.
Having come from that background, does being on tour throw you a bit? Like you feel like you’re not plugged into the real world? Especially because you worked as a journo, too?
Oh yeah. I mean you don’t read the newspaper. You listen to loads of music in the van. I feel like I get more plugged into some great, old music. But that doesn’t really help you in knowing what’s going on in the world. It’s a funny old world where you don’t really see much; venues, dressing rooms and roads. But I’m trying to be as romantic about it as possible because I’m really appreciative!
People assume that touring is romantic anyway.
Yeah, they all think it’s—I don’t want to be a moaner, because my job is performing for one hour for people who actually want to see me sing and it’s amazing—but I do get very homesick, especially for my boyfriend. I’m worried that he’s going to say ‘Well fuck this, I can have a girlfriend that’s actually here.’
Yeah but now he has a famous Jewish girlfriend who’s only like, one country away from [Ware’s idol] Drake.
I think he’s more worried I’m going to run off with Tinie Tempah, really. (laughs) I don’t know what the deal is with that, because Tinie and I haven’t even met.
No! I think me and Tinie are fine and nothing’s going to happen. I’m happy with my boyfriend but oh my god, am I lucky. I mean, if it was the other way around I’d be the biggest nightmare. ‘Why aren’t you answering the phone? What are you doing? Where’s my reply?’ So yeah, he’s been really cool.
In your liner notes, you thank Julio Bashmore for helping you to write "late night prom songs forever". Your music takes me back to all those TV dramas I watched as a teenager like The O.C. and Dawson’s Creek. Is that the vibe you were going for?
What about She’s All That with Freddy Prinze Jr? With that pretty girl in it who’s really annoying and she’s all like ‘Am I a bet? Am I a fucking bet?’ It’s all those movies with the prom scene at the end. It’s like, Ten Things I Hate About You, these things always escalate and they always conclude at the prom. I didn’t know why, but those songs make me really happy.
I wanted to imagine [my] songs in that scene of a film, that I would watch.
So when somebody calls you up and says ‘We’re making the new Love Actually, and we’d like your song to be in the penultimate scene.’
I’m like ‘Yes. Take it all. Let’s fucking do this.’
You've mentioned previously that you found banter between songs really diffic-
-Oh and now you can’t fucking shut me up! It’s fucking unbelievable. It’s gone the other way, because I’ve sort of realised people are there to see me! So now, instead of bring quiet, especially because I’m headlining shows, it’s just verbal diarrhoea. And not even good diarrhoea.
What is the good kind?
I don’t know (laughs.) Let’s get off this subject. [But] literally, my drummer has to start playing in while I’m talking, so I know it’s time to shut up.
What really struck me about many of the songs on your record was the restraint in the guitar parts, which I assume Dave [Okumu] was responsible for. They seem to be choked right before the ring out, which is so rare in pop music at the moment..
He is the king of good taste, that man. Whereas I’d be like, ‘Let’s make this fucking Staus Quo, man.’ He made sure it wasn’t, which was really good.
He has actually just taken what I love and made it into music that can be mine. I’ll never forget that. All the things I was saying that I wanted, he helped me make that and I’m so thankful for that. If I’d been left to my own devices it would have been a horrorshow.
You would have made an '80s stadium album.
I would have been overexcited about the ‘80s synths or that guitar solo…One song that really got me was ‘No To Love’, which doesn’t really have any obvious structure at all. It’s maybe my favourite song on the record.
Well I’m glad you like that one, because I didn’t write any of that! (laughs) It was an idea Dave had kicking around and then we pared it back. Sometimes it’s difficult – I mean, I love a good verse and chorus – to go outside of that. That’s why I really like working with [SBTRKT foil] Sampha; we never do anything with regular structure. We wrote that ‘Valentine’ song, it’s two and a half minutes and has no repeats except the chorus. I love that, but it has to be the right place at the right time.
I wanted it to be about seven minutes longer than it was.
We thought about extending it actually. Maybe we will.
Especially with all these huge EDM songs coming out now from the States, it is about having one really great hook isn't it?
Yeah, but of you have three good hooks, that’s an epic. That’s going to be alright, if you’ve got three good hooks.
What about over-salting the recipe? You mess up the recipe.
That’s exactly what Dave always said! It’s just like cooking. You have to get the ingredients just right.
LANEWAY FESTIVAL - 2013
Brisbane - Friday 1st February 2013
RNA Showgrounds - TBC
Sydney - Saturday 2nd February 2013
Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) – (Subject to Council approval)
Melbourne - Sunday 3rd February 2013
Footscray Community Arts Centre – (FCAC + Maribyrnong City Council)
Adelaide - Friday 8th February 2013
Fowler's Live and UniSA West Campus
Perth - Saturday 9th February 2013
Perth Cultural Centre – (Subject to MRA Approval)