Published Apr 03, 2013When Jessie Ware's Devotion album was released in the UK last summer, the coolly sophisticated amalgam of electronic, R&B and pop music was met with instant critical acclaim. Featuring tracks like mid-tempo slow-burner "Running," bittersweet power ballad "Wildest Moments" and the delicately skittish "110%" (now retitled to "If You're Never Gonna Move," more on that later), Ware's versatile and coolly sophisticated voice garnered enough attention for Devotion to be shortlisted for the UK's prestigious Mercury Prize. While a recognized success in her native UK, South Londoner Ware's following in North America has a comparatively grassroots feel, cultivated by the favour of music bloggers, tastemakers and good old fashioned word of mouth. Aiming to elevate her profile further, Ware returns to North America this month and will play her first Canadian dates April 6 in Toronto and April 8 in Vancouver to coincide with the official U.S. release of Devotion on April 16. Ware will also be playing the Osheaga festival in Montreal later this summer. Exclaim! caught up with Ware in Amsterdam during her recent European tour.
How are your shows going?
They're going good. I'm really happy. I'm feeing really positive and really confident. I was feeling a bit of a nervous wreck about everything and it's been really good and it's been really nice to meet all these audiences and having fun on stage. Just learning to be the performer that I want to be.
You've done lots of shows in Europe and the UK and last year you did a bit of a swing through North America...
Missed out on Canada, though. I'm coming now and I'm really excited about coming and doing it, it don't think it's been announced yet, but Osheaga....?
Yeah, Osheaga in Montreal.
There you go, that's another bit.
Yeah, that's a big festival. You did that swing through North America. What's been the main differences you've noticed between the shows [in Europe].
Crowds are far more vocal [in North America] and I like that. It's how I want it. I hate silences. So whenever anyone's really polite and they don't like speak whilst I'm singing or whatever ... They're just more vocal over there and I love that and it's cool and I always fill the silences with terrible anecdotes. Like nervous chatter. I don't have to do that there because everyone's chatting to me, so I enter into conversations instead. It's much better.
Actually I do remember one of the things that you did say on stage in North America last time.
It was about the Big Pun situation. [According to a December 2012 Pitchfork article, Ware reportedly said "F--- Big Pun" during a show at the Box in New York. A vocal sample of the late rapper Big Pun saying "carving my initials on your forehead" was used prominently on "110%," itself a reference to the rapper's hit single "100%." A legal dispute over the sample use led to "110%" being retitled "If You're Never Gonna Move," which is also the name of Ware's U.S. EP, released earlier this year.]
Yeah, yeah. And that got me in trouble and it was like, completely misconstrued. So it was kind of like a shame, really....Were you at the show?
No, I'm in Toronto.
So you just read the fuckin' Pitchfork thing... It was a real shame. It just learnt me, it just taught me to shut up and actually be kind of...Nah, actually, I haven't learned at all. I still say loads of shit.
I'm looking forward to this show already.
I'll probably talk about my sweaty upper lip, or the fact that I've got a wedgie, or that I'm in inappropriate knickers. Or that I'm not wearing knick—. I'll probably say something really stupid, it's probably not even true, it's just a way of filling the silences. Hopefully they'll be noisy so it will be OK.
The thing about this, which is great, is that you seem to be very down to earth and relatable even though if you look at the album cover and the videos, you convey an elegant image.
Thanks very much. I'm the least elegant person in real life so that's why I had to do it in photos and in videos where you can edit.
To go back a little bit though, you're in a situation now where you're touring North America now. Was this something you were even envisioning when you were doing the tracks with Joker and SBTRKT?
No! I was so chuffed to be a dance vocalist. Turning up to some shitty club or like a really cool club and going in and doing one track and running off and getting in all my mates for free, 'cos I'd be able to have a guest list. And now I've got an album and I get to tour the world and this is definitely not planned, but it's really wonderful, the surprise.
The first time I did hear you actually was on a Joker track.
The reason I mention it is that Joker's from Bristol, which is where I'm originally from.
And he's also from Easton in Bristol which is where I grew up. So I was following his career kinda closely. And when his album came out then I came across "The Vision" .It's interesting that you've done that and the SBTRKT stuff and I can see now what you say about the image thing because when I saw you in the SBTRKT video, the image you had then is not really what you have now...
...But you've always been working with very tasteful producers.
Yeah, I like a good producer and somebody that makes me excited and makes me... I think that's the wonderful thing about some of the UK producers that are doing their own thing and it's exciting. That's what I love about electronic music as well.
I just mentioned Bristol, so I have to mention Julio Bashmore, I guess.
He's also from Bristol and you've worked with him quite a bit. Well, I believe he's from Bristol, I know he lives there.
Yeah, yeah, he's from Knowle.
Yeah, I know Knowle West. You've been working with him a lot and I know there's another [new non-album] single that came out, "Imagine It Was Us," as well. I know on the album you mainly worked with one producer, Dave Okomo , but at this point you seem to be working with a lot of different ones. What are the plans going forward?
Um, I still want to work with the people I've already worked with. I just did this new Bashmore track, but maybe I'll get the opportunity to work with some other people that I wasn't able to on the first record. I just want to work with nice people and people that I get on with and feel comfortable with. So I know that the people I've already worked with, they're all my family and friends, really. And so I want to work with them more, but yeah if there's the possibility of working with some other people you know, that's amazing too, but the main thing is that I have to get on with them whoever they are. However good they are, we've got to get on.
It's a definite that you're in the studio situation with the person, not just sending tracks.
Yeah, I've got to be in the studio with them for the album. It's a very different thing doing dance tracks. You can get away with that for dance tracks I think. If a producer has a beat and you contribute. But for my own things, it's got to be from scratch.
One thing that probably wasn't from scratch was the Disclosure remix. I imagine it's been a huge hit, the remix of "Running." Do you envision working with those guys at some point?
Disclosure? Yeah, definitely. In fact, they're in bloody Amsterdam tonight [as well] and I'm always tempted to just hop on their set. I did it in Birmingham a few weeks ago. Um, yeah I love those boys. I think they're so talented. I think they're gonna be huge. And I want to do something for their album, so fingers crossed we'll do something.
"Running" is a good song in itself, but they gave it a whole different flavour. Was that something you expected, the success of that remix?
Well, they're signed to my label that I'm on [PMR Records in the UK]. I saw them right at the beginning and I was so excited by them and I was like, these guys are gonna be big. So I approached them to remix and I knew they would do something quite garage-y or upbeat or house-y but like i think it's one of the best remixes I've ever had. It's just so accessible and it's just wicked. But I had every faith they were gonna do some wicked, that's why I only got one remix for that one. I thought, 'Nah, they've got this.' I loved it. They still surprise me.
I wanted to ask you a bit about '90s R&B. You did this cover of Brownstone's "If You Love Me" with Benzel. You've done a few. You did this , you did the Bobby Caldwell song "What You Won't Do For Love" as well. Can you talk a little bit about your links to the R&B songs you're covering?
I dunno, it gets me. There's something about R&B that I never fail to be excited by it. Whether it be Usher's "Climax" last year, y'know or Miguel last year. I love it and I've got an affinity for it and I feel like I learned a lot from singers and singing from watching too much MTV Base. So I just love it, I probably feel some songs are untouchable. Like with the Brownstone track it's like a proper girl group and they're still very prominent in there. It's just giving nods to all the things I love and who influenced me really.
I'm hopefully going to be speaking with Lianne La Havas [who you were nominated with for the Mercury Prize]
Oh, cool. Send her my love.
I will and I know you've done a track with Katy B.
And when you were coming up you went to school with a number of vocalists who are now pretty famous. What's your feeling where UK music is with these female singers that you kind of know and maybe some you don't. What do you feel like you are bringing to music at this point?
I dunno a lot of the female singers from England have good voices and that's really important. Lianne has got such an incredible voice. Katy B's got a wicked voice. Emeli Sande's got a wicked voice. Adele, Florence, they're good singers and that should be the most important thing. Well, not the most important thing, but it's got to be there if you're going to be a singer. So yeah, there just a lot of good singers in the UK at the moment.
OK, second record. Are you working on that at this point and what sounds and themes do you feel that you might explore.
I'm starting to work on it, but you know I'm touring all the time, so I've got no time to do it but I am trying. But I think it's going to be an extension of this record. I dunno, I think I'll do a few more upbeat ones potentially.